Flappers and Fancy: Gulliver #9

If you are following along in the Summer Read, it would be helpful if you’ve read through Chapter IV of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels.

Gulliver - 16This week was slow for reading. Our schedule (and a couple nights of illness) didn’t allow for the same time in the story. That makes me sad. It happens, though. I’ll catch up with the kiddos tonight, and then we’ll be off for voyage #3. I hope you’ve been able to enjoy your time in Gulliver. I know our family has found reasons to smile throughout. Even our three-year-old asks for it by name (I’m not sure he knows what’s what, but that doesn’t stop him from asking for “Gover”).

Satire knows no rest. At least, not in the world of Lemuel Gulliver. A mere ten days after arriving home from two extraordinarily strange journeys, he is invited yet again to sail the seas. Two months later, he is adrift. If I’m being honest, though the first two voyages are perhaps the most well known, it is the final two which stand as my favorites. They are, in many ways, the most absurd. And yet, at the same time, they offer us an even larger mirror through which to view humanity – sometimes in particularly relevant ways.

The floating island of Laputa, unusual as it may be, doesn’t hold a candle to the natives in terms of absurdity. Two particular features scream with modern application… flappers and fancy.

 

Flappers

Image result for laputa flappersLaputans are known to drift mid-conversation into a world of their own self-important imaginations. (We know nothing of such problems here in the sophistication of the 21st century!) What happens when an island is entirely inhabited by humans incapable of sustained focus on other humans?

Flappers.

Flappers, or Climenoles in the native Laputan tongue, follow the natives, carrying a pea-filled bladder strung from a stick which is used to flap people on the ears and mouth (and occasionally the eyes) in order to reset their span of attention and welcome their inflated minds back to earth. Swift is believed to be jabbing at London’s Royal Society, a learned group of scientists established sixty-six years prior to the publication of Gulliver which still exists today. While Swift may have had a target in mind, I think it’s safe to say his commentary extends comfortably into our modern context.

It would seem that these Laputans do have the capacity to dial in and focus… just not for another human. They are content to chase their own thought processes, their own calculations, their own discoveries. But along the way, it is the inclusion of another member of the species that requires an extra jolt. In other words, it is in relationship that they most desperately fail. In communication.

Think about the last person you met, for the first time for the last time. (Sorry, Spaceballs was on last week). What was their name? I am excessively guilty of this. I meet a person. I get their name. I immediately forget their name and go back to thinking about myself. What do I want to say next? How can I make this person like me? How can I get rid of this person? (Hint: forgetting their name helps) So often in conversation, my mind drifts to the next thing I’m going to say – and in the process I stop attending to the living, breathing human in front of me. This is probably why I need 2-5 quality interactions (preferably at my house, for some reason) before I remember anything of value.

Personally? I could use a flapper. How about you?

 

Fancy 

Image result for gulliver's travels laputaAnother key feature of the Laputans is their apparent inability to bring their brilliant encounters in the clouds down to earth in any practical way. For example, they are renown for their mathematical prowess, yet they cannot use simple geometry to craft a shirt. The illustrated version pictures limp third sleeves, baggy proportions (and horrid colors?!). All the intellect in the skies over Balnibarbi is useless without practical application. Somehow, their servants are able to carve food into geometric shapes – a clearly useful skill – but they cannot properly clothe themselves.

This is probably something of an extension of the whole flapper business. But here I am convicted of a very basic principle… a killer reading list, a puffed-up noggin, and a top-notch vocabulary (anybody knock out the vocab assessment on facebook this week?) are useless if the knowledge attained never finds its way into practical application. At the same time, I would emphasize that I view this as no reason to avoid study, but rather as a clarion call to pursue studies that produce practical fruit in our lives.

As I write this, I am preparing for my summer run of camp preaching. I’ll be speaking 23x in 26 days. I am thankful that 19 of those occasions allow for me to overlap material, but there is still a ton of preparation involved, which means (for me) a boatload of reading. Regardless of my audience, I choose to challenge myself deeply in preparation. I will read biblical and systematic theologies, scholarly papers and books, commentaries and novels… to teach children. (for the first 10 messages, anyway!)

Now granted, I will never share 97% of what I read, but I’m always feeding the conversation inside my head in order to gain a better understanding. I chase knowledge to the exclusion of everything around me, at times beyond my own comprehension, just so I can stand in front of a group of kiddos and say “Jesus loves you” with an extra measure of confidence.

If I’m not careful, I pay closer attention to the conversation in my head than the one in my living room. If I’m not careful, I spend so much time reading that I forget to apply the most simple expression of truth to my own life. If I’m not careful, I confuse more than I instruct, failing to pass on the wisdom I’m called to impart.

 

Gulliver - 17This Laputan business is not stuck on another continent, in another century. This is my life.

I laugh at the flappers. I think about sending flappers to friends and family. But who needs the flappers more? Could it be *gasp* me?

I laugh at the thought of a three-armed shirt. But how often do I misapply the knowledge I am fed?

More and more, I’m thankful for the light Mr. Gulliver is shining!

 

Heaven and Hell – Literally: The Great Divorce #5

I could spend weeks reflecting on Chapter 5.

I felt a sting as I read and reread a conversation between two members of the clergy. Two men who gave their lives to the consideration of biblical things, though never submitting to biblical truth. Two men who spent a lifetime knowing about God, while wasting precious lives that could be spent knowing God. In the end, one submitted to the truth, the other submitted only to himself. And their eternities – though they intersect here for a moment – remain separated.

My sting in this chapter is twofold. The first comes from knowing how often my heart defaults to its sinfulness, treating God like a philosophical construct instead of a being. In fact, as RC Sproul often says, God is the only being… the rest of us are still becoming. He himself is unchanging, all the while constantly changing me. How often has my heart ignored him personally as I’ve pursued him intellectually? How often have I chosen to think and talk about God rather than talking to him? I can hear my own voice in the voice of the episcopal ghost.

The second sting comes from my tendency to generalize, another error corrected by our bright friend. This is a symptom that comes with an intellectual approach to matters of eternity. If I can just keep the reality of God, sin, and salvation vague and general, then I need not let my heart be affected. Because I occasionally have a platform to preach (or blog), the occasional attempt to speak in general language certainly infects my ability or desire to see the truth as the Lord speaks to me. I’m fighting that one.

 

“Excuse me. Where do you imagine you’ve been?” (Dick)

 

This conversation finally gives names to the bus stops. Heaven and hell. Not the idea of heaven and hell. Not the subjective understanding of heaven and hell, but the real life, literal, honest to goodness heaven and hell. It’s worth remembering again the statement in the preface that CS Lewis had no intention of describing the biblical and theological revelation of heaven or hell. Rather he sought to place the reader at a crossroads – a crossroads where human interaction is rich, where the weight of eternity is real, where the condition of our hearts is more important than the intellectual framework. Don’t go digging for specifics, let the conversations carry you to the crossroads!

This conversation also names Jesus as the Lord of heaven and hell. Here, God is real. Jesus is real. Eternity is real. I’m pretty sure Lewis’ agenda is now on the table! Eternal destinations are set by the response of the heart to the revelation of God in his Son. Grace is unfathomable and accessible. Forgiveness has been accomplished and is being applied.

 

“Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions?” (The Fat Ghost)

 

Relativism. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-everything. These terms define a great deal of the prevalent thinking in our culture. There is an idea that we’ve moved beyond the idea of Truth. As a culture, we’ve collectively matured such that we no longer need to seek objectivity and absolutes. I’m reminded of the third episode of Star Wars, though obviously not for reasons of cinematic excellence. As the classic face-off between Obi-Wan and Anakin launches, Anakin says something along the lines of, “If you are not with me, then you’re my enemy.” Obi-Wan responds by saying, “Only a Sith (evil) speaks in absolutes.”

The sentiment is widespread that absolutes are evil. Even the possibility that right exists apart from self is downright combative to many. For such thinkers, much like the Fat Ghost, the thrill is often found in the question, more than the answer. Stirring doubt raises excitement. I can certainly appreciate the anticipation of the intellectual chase. I love asking questions. But I’ve come to love even more the realization that there is stability in Truth, and joy in that stability.

Our bright friend encourages childlike inquiry. Rather than remaining satisfied at asking a good question (a real zinger!), a child simply wants to know. The beauty of inquiries into the heart of God is that, as he has revealed himself to be incomprehensible, while every answer is satisfying in and of itself, every answer will also likely raise a deeper question. In my opinion, God is the refuge for the modern thinker, providing a constant wellspring of investigation, all the while providing sweet contentment as the source of unending Truth. In him there are worthy questions and, better yet, real answers.

The Fat Ghost is no fan of absolutes. He acknowledges God is real, as long as that reality is defined subjectively. I’ve posted on this subject before. The American population is undeniably spiritual, but when the conversation is narrowed to the idea that there is one legitimate, personal, and eternal source of life, things get a bit more tense. That this one true Deity has declared a death sentence over humanity because of sin, causes the proverbial rubber hits the road. But friends, there is good news in Jesus.

Both Ghostly conversations thus far have been a direct struggle with the reality of sin. The Big Ghost just wanted his rights. He had tried as hard as he could, and that should be enough. The Fat Ghost was honest and sincere, and that should be enough. Neither considered the possibility of real sin with real consequence.

 

“Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?” (Dick) 

The bright folks plead with the ghosts to come to the mountain. To dwell in the midst of the Truth long enough to let it penetrate the grey heart – to gaze upon the face of God and find grace in the midst of deserved judgment. To take a long walk that will hurt, but ultimately will heal. The invitation to walk with Jesus, for us, is no less an offer. Bring your doubts, your pride, your intellect. Bring them to the mountain. But know that an honest encounter with the Truth (He has a name) will cause you to lay it all down.

 

 

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