The Queue: The Great Divorce #1

Books capture me when they capture my experience. The first few pages of a book are often enough for me to know whether or not I care to continue. If an author speaks directly into my life, captures my imagination with something I understand, then my guard is down and I’m in for the ride. Lewis grabs me from the beginning.

I hate waiting in line. I would never choose to wait in line. This is why I jump back and forth as I approach check out counters and toll booths (my apologies to the shopping and driving communities). The brilliant image of the first chapter is that waiting in line is actually the best thing going for the writer. Every other aspect of his existence is bleak – not dark, yet nowhere near bright. Endless walking in a lifeless backdrop. The best thing going is this line. Miserable people surround, but they are the only people and so he waits.

 

“But for the little crowd at the bus stop, the whole town seemed to be empty. I think that was why I attached myself to the queue.” (the Writer)

 

An angry woman, the bitter man at her side. The scowling short man, the proud beefy man. The indifferent pair. The cheating man, the whiny woman. Hanging out in this line with these people was the option. I hate waiting in line. I even like people and I hate waiting in line.

Ah, but the bus driver is different. Full of light. Comfortable driving. A look of authority. Moves with purpose. The striking difference is that the writer seems to observe the difference with calm, while the bitter crowd growls. Even the driver himself notices something, swatting at the greasy steam in his face.

Then there’s the tousle-haired youth, also different, but a different different from the driver. He observes. He engages. But the youth is part of the queue. The writer is quickly annoyed, grabbing an excuse rather than read the youth’s stuff before the bus took off… into the air. Yes that happened.

In the preface (yes, you should absolutely read the preface), Lewis makes it clear that he is not trying to expound on the biblical realities of heaven & hell. Rather, he is presenting a story with a moral, creating a sequence with a sense of the reality we face. One quote in the preface stuck out to me.

 

“But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”
(Lewis, Preface)

 

People in the first chapter seem to be caught in this very situation, inhabiting an “earth” that is, in fact, either a region of hell or the departure ground unto heaven. In our story, the queue exists. The bus exists. Few join the queue. Fewer persevere the queue. Most board the bus grudgingly.  Two slink to the back.

I once heard a preacher say that, for some, this life is as close to heaven as they’ll every taste. Amidst sin and brokenness, pain and sorrow, evil and death, “heaven” is but a temporary pleasure on the third rock from the sun. For others, this busted life is as close to hell as they’ll ever taste, for one day the old will pass away and only glory shall remain. Lewis takes the eternal reality and extends it into our current situation through the queue and this bus ride. His story takes off (literally) in the heart of this choice about eternity made from an earth that is either a region of hell or a slice of heaven.

Random Thinking

(No, this is probably not related. But if you follow me around long enough, you find that virtually everything and everyone I encounter has the potential to send my head somewhere)

I’ve had a long internal dialogue lately about the way that I view people. More often than not, I’m guilty of viewing people through a selfish lens – either as a project, a distraction, or as a means to an end. I believe we’re all guilty of this, it’s the nature of sin, but I’ve been more acutely aware of it in this most recent season of life. I’m grateful for the conviction, though conviction leads to change, and change is not always easy. As I read the writer’s thought process through the queue, I was challenged to think about the last few lines I endured. Do I remember any of the people who waited alongside me? Could I even describe them as “well” as the writer in the Divorce? Was I at all attentive to their needs?

I think about the writer’s encounter with the tousle-haired youth. When was the last time I met someone who wanted to talk when I wanted to be left alone? Or someone who wanted to show me something and I instinctively moved to my excuse without even giving them a chance? What holy compassion and generosity was I suppressing? Actually, as I type this I think of a man I met at the hospital last week. He was lost. His English was rough, but he and I were looking for the same place and so we were walking together. We shared the small talk about how easy it is to lose our compass in this maze of a medical facility. When we arrived, he started talking about his hair. He styled hair for a living, and he wanted me to see his work. There was a conversation there somewhere, but not for me. I smiled, I offered a brief compliment, but like the writer’s reading glasses, I searched for the fastest avenue out. He was another guy in the queue. Tuesday morning conviction.

Good fiction takes you places. Good fiction takes you where the author wants to go, but I also believe good fiction draws on reality and takes you places you never saw coming. I’d love to know where The Great Divorce takes you. Share a random thought if you’ve got one!

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right. 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading: An Invitation

(I’ve set up a page for this project. You can visit the page and follow along by clicking here.)

I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Works for months. I don’t spend much time in fiction, but I love Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle does a wonderful job of drawing me into short stories. I find they challenge me to think along, to observe, to try to solve the case. They also provide a literary framework in which to appreciate the thespian efforts of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

This summer, I’m laying down Sherlock Holmes, though, to take an interim adventure. I’d like to invite you along for the ride… on a bus. No joke. It’s a literary bus ride.

I have a set of books on my dresser. They’ve been there for years. They consist of books that have had an impact on me for one reason or another. Among these books is a work by C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce. I can remember being drawn into this strange bus ride, being challenged and convicted by the encounters of the book. The idea of the interaction of heaven and hell is intriguing.

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations about heaven & hell. These conversations have prompted me to pick up Lewis’ great work again. Because I can’t read multiple works of fiction at the same time, I have also been prompted to put down all 1090 pages of Sherlock Holmes for a season.

So what is the invitation?

I know summer is a time when folks pick up books. I want to encourage you to pick up the Great Divorce and give it a read. 160 pages. It is about as far from intimidating as possible. Though a short work, I believe it will challenge you and provoke thoughts and conversation. I believe the book is suitable for everyone, which means it is an opportunity for individuals – young and old – couples, and families to read together if that’s your situation. Perhaps reading it out loud would be a unique experience? It will be guaranteed dinner conversation and quantity time together.

Will you join me?

Summer Reading

Each week, I’m planning to post thoughts & reflections here on a chapter of the book, as well as encouragement for those who maybe pick up a book every summer but rarely find the motivation to finish!

For those who are part of the FCC family, or those who are local to Grove City, this is an invitation to discuss the book over coffee at Beans, ice cream at Sweet Jeanie’s, or even to track me down on my front porch (it won’t be hard – I’ll be there more often than not for the next few months!) I believe the book will be a blessing. I look forward to hearing how you’ve been challenged as I share the same!