Give the Devil His Due

Monday, October 31, 2011

I haven't dressed up for Halloween in years--not until Saturday, when my writers' group read at the Lake County Library. None of my writings fit the theme, so I volunteered to get Edgar Allan Poe to emcee the event.

On the way to the library, I tuned into Christian radio station WMBI and listened to the host and his guest discuss whether Christians should participate in Halloween. Nobody asked that question when the guest was a child or when I was growing up. My brothers and I always dressed up and went trick-or-treating on Halloween, and my minister father never called it a pagan holiday or worried about its effect on our young minds. It just wasn't an issue in those days.

I admit it. I let my children dress up and go trick-or-treating when they were young, and I hand out candy every year. For me, it's still a non-issue.

In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis said, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." So yes, we do need to give the devil his due. But what is his due?

My edition of The Screwtape Letters includes quotes by Martin Luther and Sir Thomas More. According to Luther, "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." And to shorten the Thomas More quote, "The devil . . . cannot endure to be mocked."

Are we really showing an unhealthy interest in the devil when we let our children go trick-or-treating on Halloween? Or even when we dress them in red suits with horns and a tail and give them a pitchfork to carry? If it has any meaning at all (and for most people it doesn't), isn't it closer to scorn and mockery?

Yes, Satan is a force to be reckoned with, and both Christians and non-Christians should be on guard against him. But his influence is more subtle than what occurs on Halloween.

Christians give the devil too much due when we forget that there are three things he is not. He is not omnipresent (God allows Satan to walk this earth but he cannot enter heaven without God's permission); he is not omniscient, or he would have known better than to enter Judas and bring about his own defeat; and he is not omnipotent. God, and only God, is in control. When we view Halloween as a threat, we take Satan too seriously.

So give the devil his due--but no more.

Dream Small

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dream small? If we don't dream, we won't accomplish anything. And don't bigger dreams lead to bigger accomplishments?

Not necessarily. Few people get the chance to be president of the United States or to play in the NBA. If the person who dreams of being president isn't willing to work for it or the basketball player has no talent, then the big dream means less than a small dream that the dreamer can accomplish. Yes, it is good to stretch yourself, but bigger doesn't always mean better. Butterflies add as much joy to our lives as elephants do.

So what brought this on?

Now that Roland and I are empty nesters, we are thinking of making a slight lifestyle change and moving from a house to a condo. I want a dedicated office, Roland wants a place to exercise, and we both want one-story living so we won't have to worry about stairs when we get older. But unlike many of the home buyers on HGTV's Househunters, 2000-3000 square feet isn't one of our requirements. Neither is a jetted tub or a walk-in closet, although we will take them if we can get them.

A large home isn't in our budget, and it isn't our dream, either. Why pay for square footage we would rarely use? Our dream is small, but it is also realistic.

That doesn't mean I don't have any big dreams. I aspire to write the great American novel and make the New York Times bestseller list. But it will never happen unless I put in the time and effort to write.

Because all dreams--big or small--need a touch of realism.

Taps for Sailing Season

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky,
All is well, God is nigh.

Another sailing season is over. A week ago, Roland and I took the wings off our bird as we stripped her of her sails. Yesterday, we emptied her stomach by packing up dishes and cushions and other sailing gear. And on Friday, we will lift Freizeit from her nest and bury her for the winter.

Well, not quite. Our bird doesn't die and it doesn't fly south for the winter, but it does hibernate.

Sort of like a phoenix.

No, Freizeit doesn't combust. Still, I feel a bit like the children in Edith Nesbit's The Phoenix and the Carpet saying goodbye to their beloved feathery friend as he left them with these words:
"The sorrows of youth soon appear but as dreams."
Right now, the end of sailing season is a sorrow. Soon, it will become more like a dream as our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas and Valentine's Day and Lent and Easter.

Then an egg will appear in the ashes, and Freizeit will rise again.

My Favorite Season

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autumn is my favorite time of year. An artist's palate filled with shades of orange, yellow, and red. Crisp air tickling my nose, tantalizing my tongue, and caressing my skin. Anticipation of upcoming holidays with family and friends.

But there are other people who capture the feeling better than I can. So today I'm going to yield the floor to Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet born shortly after the Civil War ended.

Merry Autumn, by Paul Laurence Dunbar

It's all a farce,--these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o'er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd--
I care not who first taught 'em;
There's nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn time, when grief holds sway,
With countenance distressing,
You'll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e'en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o'er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can't contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don't talk to me of solemn days
In autumn's time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it's the climax of the year,--
The highest time of living!--
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.
I couldn't have said it better.

Miracles Still Happen

Monday, October 3, 2011

I should be dead.

Thursday night I was cruising down an unlighted expressway at the 70-mile-an-hour speed limit. Suddenly a dark car loomed in front of me, parked sideways across my lane of traffic. In the split second before the impact, I thought I was going to die. As our cars collided, mine continued moving forward through an inky blue mist, which must have been pieces of the other car flying into the air. Then my air bag deployed and my Honda Accord coasted to a stop on the right shoulder, safely out of the way of oncoming vehicles.

And I realized that I was not only alive but virtually unhurt.

Not something I can say about my car.

This picture shows the front right of the car while it was sitting on the bed of the truck that came to haul it away. Unfortunately, it was dark and the only camera I had with me was the one on my cell phone. But maybe you can see a little of the damage from this photo.

The seat belt (which I always wear), the air bag, and the safety engineering of the car had a lot to do with saving my life. Although the front end was almost unrecognizable, the damage stopped far short of the passenger compartment. Thank you, Honda engineers and U.S. safety standards.

But the fact that I was able to walk away? That was a miracle that can only be attributed to God. He obviously has something left for me to do before I die.

The other miracle is that no one was in the other vehicle at the time. Just minutes before, the driver hit a deer and his car spun sideways across the freeway. It isn't a heavily traveled road, and the light traffic gave him time to flee from his automobile before another car (mine) collided with it.

So even though his car ended up looking like a skeleton with shattered bones, my sprained wrist was the worst of the injuries, and that came from the air bag rather than the actual collision. Not that I'm complaining. A sprained wrist is nothing compared to what could have happened without the air bag.

At the time of this post, I'm still waiting for my insurance company to tell me whether it considers the car totaled or just in really bad shape. However, it was bad enough in my eyes that I went out and replaced it with another Honda Accord. And what they had in stock was the same color, so no one can tell I bought a new car. Oh well.

For those of you who may ask, no, my life did not flash before my eyes. I didn't have time to hit the brakes, and I didn't even have time to feel afraid. But I don't fear death, anyway, so I am more likely to have worried about how it would affect my family. And although I am prepared for death, I'd rather it didn't happen yet. So I praise God that I'm still here.

Some people would call it luck, but I call it a miracle.