Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

It’s been said that Cheez Whiz is one molecule away from being plastic, and I actually don’t like it at all, but the song is catchy right?

Cheez Whiz has nothing to do with the Inklings because I am certain none of them would have deigned to touch it with a ten-foot pole. “Not authentic enough,” perhaps Tolkien might say. Or he might have been suspicious that it was made with a machine. (George Sayer relates, “[J.R.R. Tolkien] said whimsically that he ought to cast out any devil that might be in [a recorder] by recording … the Lord’s Prayer.” Tolkien hardly even used a typewriter and Lewis wrote everything by hand.) However, while Cheez Whiz might add personality, the Inklings most assuredly had personality. And happy ones at that! And it’s something that might be overlooked when reading their works. This is notable because it’s relevant to recognize that these literary heroes were also people.

It’s easy to assume that since a C.S. Lewis or a Charles Williams wrote such serious material, they were serious people. (i.e. seriously un-humorous.) Just crack open Lewis’ The Discarded Image or English Literature in the Sixteenth Century and let me know if too many smiles slip past your cheeks. Similarly, for Williams’ The Image of the City and Other Essays. Others associated with the Inklings like Dorothy Sayers etc., don’t often come across as overly mirthful either. They are serious. They deal with serious topics. Terry Lindvall, writing on Lewis, comments on a deleterious approach to levity,

When reading religious writing (or, what is often worse, writing by a religious person), the last thing we expect to discover is laughter. We expect the religious writer to handle truth, ethics, and other serious concerns with appropriate decorum. Treating issues of ultimate reality with levity is the habit of the fool, the mocker, the jester, the idiot.

This is all rot. (By the way, Lindvall’s book is most excellent.)

Consider that Charles Williams not only had a cockney accent (very different from C.S Lewis’ and Tolkien’s prim and proper intonation) he had a hilarious side to him that often burst out in theatrics. (He also loved the theatre.) Similarly, Lewis after settling down with a pipe and pint, had no problem with guffaw. Lewis mentioned in The Four Loves that “In a perfect Friendship … each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest… each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.” I was so pleased to see that “funniest” was included in the best.

I try to keep reminding myself when I read other important authors that the hefty ideas and concepts are not the only connections with such people—they had humor as well. Theirs was a personality not limited to just the serious, but also the seriously humorous, because a good personality will most likely include humor. G.K. Chesterton—you will remember that he played an important role in Lewis’ conversion—ysaid “being serious is much easier than being frivolous and light.” He also asserted that “seriousness is a vice … It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. … For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

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The Problem with Giving Money to the Church

I have an issue with giving to my local church: my money no longer goes toward social services—or at least it is highly unlikely. I, however, very much want at least some of my money going toward these things.  …
Source: Off The Page

Creativity Connects

Suzanne Szasz, 1915-1997, Photographer

Lunchtime Classical Concert in Bryant Park – Suzanne Szasz (1915-1997)

I was in a porn film. The previous sentence is actually factually incorrect, but it’s an attention grabbing introductory line, right? Where substance doesn’t grab us, spectacle usually does the trick. I seem to recall coming across a McSweeny’s Internet Tendency entry that suggested a simple fail proof way of attracting (and keeping) more readers: insert GIFs of jiggling breasts throughout the text. For those of us who laugh, is there a ring of fatigued disillusionment in it? As song writers or poets or visual artists or composers our creations feel sterile without some type of social interaction, or at least recognition. Having an audience is nice.

We yearn to connect. It chafes the less mature of us when we see mere scandal and spectacle reap a harvest of readers/watchers/listeners that objects of genuine artistry are likely to never see. Ever. The mean-well people (often non-creatives) who empathetically suggest a genuinely creative spirit doesn’t need any sort of audience because the joy rests in the act of creation are, well, wrong. (In part, Jacque Maritan’s reminder that true creativity is not mere self-expression or cathartic release of personal feelings; rather, it is the building of something for its own good, seems to make sense here.)

We are an interactive people. It’s not mere egotism which drives our desire for communicating our work; it’s the desire to connect, to grow, to truly communicate. This impulse to share is not one that should be repressed or bemoaned, but rather one to be celebrated because it reflects the desire for communion with others. In God Has A Dream, Desmond Tutu relates the concept of ubuntu beautifully: “[ubuntu] does not say, ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate I share.’” This insight is especially pertinent for us in a culture that, despite all our communication technologies, urges us towards isolation and the tendency to see success as the achievement of ultimate independence.

In a lecture on virtue based ethics, Bill Dejong suggested that there can be a sinful element in the “in the comfort of your own home” culture. (I.E “Enjoy theatre or gormeau cooking or symphony or whatever in your own home” that we hear from the advertisers of giant television screens etc.) He suggests that to deliberately participate in practices of isolation is to indulge pride: pride that we can be happy and fulfilled only with ourselves—that we don’t need the participation of others in our emotionally, spiritually, and perhaps even physically, isolated lives.

I’ve been thinking that creativity, with its deep longing for resonance, perhaps, could be part of a solution for the dehumanizing idealization of the isolated hero. After all, creativity yearns for relationship, for response, for connection: for the acknowledgement that we are human and that we belong.

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Assembly Required

I have been greatly bothered by Hebrews 10:25 for a while. You might have already felt it clouting about your ears if you aren’t someone who gets overly excited about attending church.   “Thou shalt not forsake the assembly of…
Source: Off The Page

I Hugged a Monk and I Liked It

A number of months ago, my sister and I made a snap decision to visit a monastery in the boonies. Unfortunately, we planned in haste (you might remember Tolkien’s quote, “Short cuts make long delays”0, thus, upon arrival, we found…
Source: Off The Page

Why Leisure Matters – Part 2 of 2

Read Part 1

For Josef Pieper, leisure is certainly connected to the older Platonic and Aristotelian concept of leisure as contemplation; however, it’s more than just that. For him, in the classical sense, leisure was something tied to the liberal arts: human activities that are separate from the servile works (those works that have a utilitarian purpose) and which have an end beyond themselves—a practicable, utilitarian result.

But leisure is not merely contemplation. Pieper calls it “a mental and spiritual attitude” and “a condition of the soul” that goes against the “exclusive ideal of work as activity.” Instead, this attitude is one “of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being busy but letting things happen.”

It is possible that some may read Pieper’s views and wonder if he considers work ethic alone as a bit … shallow. Is he saying that leisure ameliorates a working life?

No indeed. Yes, Pieper believes leisure can restore a person’s mental, physical, and even psychical state, but its impact is far greater than that. He goes so far as to call leisure “the power of stepping beyond the workaday world, and in so doing touching upon the superhuman life-giving powers which, incidentally almost, renew and quicken us for our everyday tasks.” He sees leisure as a means to opening the “gate to freedom,” where one can escape the world “where work and unemployment are the two inescapable poles of existence.’”

Many times we do not attain leisure precisely because we haven’t a clue about the function of work and what humans are actually placed on earth for. It is a confusion related to issues such as materialism and consumerism.

When another excellent author, Sebastian de Grazia, was asked what his book Of Time, Work, and Leisure was about, he said his questioners laughingly had responses such as: “when you find out where to get it, let me know, because I desperately want some.”

To read Pieper is to rediscover “the point and the justification of leisure.” It is ultimately a pursuit of wholeness.

To be human is to be whole; and work alone will never make us whole. Work is but a part of our life: it contributes to our needs. However, it is never an end. Pieper tells us that if we feel that we must always be working, it may

be ultimately due to the inner impoverishment of [that] individual: in this context everyone whose life is completely filled by his work … has shrunk inwardly, and contracted, with the result that [he] can no longer act significantly outside his work, and perhaps can no longer even conceive of such a thing.

This last part “and perhaps can no longer even conceive of such a thing,” seems to speak to many of our culture, no? How tragic. Thomas Merton, who loved silence for its stilling and centering effect, spoke against the seeming need of our society to dull our real human desire to be whole. He saw noise as an opiate.

We want noise because we are not comfortableyet we know something is amiss. You will probably recall that Pascal spoke of this a long while back: “All human unhappiness comes from not knowing how to stay quietly in a room.” Pieper speaks to the silence issue as well. He tells us “leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear.”

And so back to the initial assertion about work being divine, and to repudiate it is to commit suicide. This is partly true. We are to take value in work. But this is not the ultimate conclusion of our life. We are to live, and to know why we live requires leisure.

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