The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters: A Reflection

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a collection of letters between two fictitious devils, “Uncle Screwtape” and his nephew “Wormwood”. This insightful little book follows the letters of advice from Screwtape, higher up in the satanic ranks, to Wormwood, a tempter on earth, on the methods and tricks to steer his patient away from the enemy “God and his kingdom”. This book, like no other, lays out all our tendencies and failings as human beings, while at the same time giving you, as a reader, incentive to rise above them. It opens your mind so vividly to the exponential power and light of Christ, that it can not help but bring you into the ever so real struggle between the kingdoms of Good and Evil, even if only in little ways. As a review in the New York Times put it, “Somewhere in the inferno there must be a considerable annoyance.” 

One of the biggest reasons I think The Screwtape Letters is such an effective and powerful book is because it is written from the devil’s perspective. In this form the book captivated me in an entirely original way. It gave me the powerful feeling of understanding, it was like a breeze in the fog, temporarily forcing me to face the distance. I really believe it is one of the most brilliant books written. The whole idea of Screwtape writing letters on the finer points of temptation to his nephew Wormwood, combined with an opportunity of sitting down with the edited thoughts of one of the greatest Christian thinkers, had an amazing effect on me. The result was, an opportunity for me to clearly face my faults and to see my potential.  By having the stereotypical perspective on Christianity reversed, I had the wholehearted satisfaction of feeling I was in some way outwitting the devil. This in particular had such an effect on me, that in recent weeks when had I found myself frustrated and about to lose my temper or discontent and snappy I would suddenly realize the benefit this would be to Screwtape, which would instantly cause me to check my behavior, and than to smugly feel I had outmaneuvered his trap, muttering under my breath a gleeful cry of “Not today Uncle Screwtape.” 

There were so many sections of this book that either introduced me to a completely new thought or concept, or phrased in clear English a foggy picture I might have otherwise never clearly understood. For example one of the points which hit me as a literal prescription to one of my biggest problems, which is me constantly over analyzing of the past, is the part where Screwtape says of God that, “His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.” Too often I completely miss out on the present by indulging myself in a degrading self critique of every instance where I messed up in the day. I don’t commit these instances of failure, that I was probably the only one to notice, to heaven, then wash myself of them like God wisely says to do. Instead I dig through them all and let them define me. I dont give myself the love or grace God offers me. I unfairly give the past the power to cheat the present. 

Another passage that stuck out to me is where Screwtape says God, (the enemy in the book’s context) “wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.” This passage is by far my favorite. Everytime I read it, it creates wonder in me, adding glorious details to my painting of what hope looks like. It speaks to me of a wonderful invitation, to begin a journey, a journey towards a kingdom that is full, but always has room for one more. Where people build cathedrals and know they are just right. As the passage goes on, it adds that, “The enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors talents or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man to recognize all creatures ( even himself) as glorious and excellent things.” I love the fact that we were created to create and to someday have the kind of perfect love for our neighbors and ourselves, that we can say of what we have done, that, “It is good.” 

I think The Screwtape Letters is an important book to read. It has equipped me with answers to so many questions I have had and given me no choice but to confront myself honestly and begin to intentionally seek out my problems. It has opened my eyes to so many temptations I fall into daily but at the same time I see the incredible grace and love God has for me more than ever before, so rather than being discouraged I feel grace. Being reminded that if I fall I will be caught has filled me with the courage to keep on leaping forward. As C.S.Lewis says so well in his book,“He wants them to learn how to walk . . . and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.

Today’s article is a guest post written by Sonora Myers. She is my daughter and quite the writer – among many things – in her own right.

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

The Transformative, Shaping Power of Books

This last year I read significantly more than years past.  Too much perhaps, but reading has become a sort of hobby for me, an activity away from work that allows me to unwind and relax. I’ve heard that hobbies are important.  A few years ago tried to take up fishing but never caught anything and so, whenever someone asked me what my hobby was I’d reply, “casting.”  It seemed right to name it what it was.

While I”ve always been a reader, last year I read more books than any previous year. The final count came in at sixty six books.  I read widely too: youth fiction, biography, Christian non-fiction, personal development, history and increasingly, those books who find their way into the category of classic literature.  A good two thirds of the books I read were audiobooks and I regularly have two to three books going at any one time. I never read more than one book of fiction at a time but I’ll often have several works of non-fiction that I am working through.

C.S. Lewis said, “Those of us who have been true readers all our lives seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our own being which we owe to authors.”  When I think about who I’ve become, my own journey of discipleship and how I think about the world this rings true.  Books are perhaps the single most constant source of my own personal formation.  They’ve shaped me both directly and indirectly.  Besides good friends, books continue to fire my imagination, challenge my thinking and shape the narrative, the worldview of my thinking.  

Dorothy Sayers said that, “the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves.”  There is little in life that allows me to continue to educate myself beyond books.  Youtube can give me the information I need to fix a faucet but little more.  Books however, and good books for sure, cause the mind to work at the task of cultivation, tilling the soil of the mind and the soul, planting seeds of old ideas made new, waiting in patient anticipation for new growth and, if all goes well, a harvest.  Speaking of reading history, John Lewis Gaddis said, “Standing in the past is no sure guide to predicting the future. What it does do, though, is to prepare you for the future by expanding experience, so that you can increase your skills, your stamina, and, if all goes well, your wisdom.

A good book is more than just paper and ink.  It is a vehicle for formation and as Gaddis hopes, for the gaining of wisdom.  And so I continue to read.  Perhaps not at the same rate as last year but I’ll read on nonetheless.  

How about you? What good books have you read lately?

Understanding Well: Reading From A Broad Range Of Perspectives

I have been reading Mustafa Aykol’s book Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and it has been enlightening to hear the scope of Islamic history told from the point of view of a Turkish, Muslim scholar and journalist.  Aykol’s perspective serves to reinforce the value and importance of reading widely and from a broad range of perspectives, of reading patiently while waiting for a more nuanced, deeper understanding to emerge before casting judgment.

By way of example, Aykol’s handling of what we in the west call the Armenian genocide – for indeed it was a genocide – is framed in the historic backdrop of the rising tide of nationalism which was sweeping through Europe at that time.  What happened in Germany to the Jews because of this rabid nationalism had happened in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Crimea twenty years prior as countries there waged wars of independence from the Ottoman Empire and in a victorious wave of nationalism, drove out or slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Turkish Muslims and Jews.  These atrocities fueled the Ottoman people’s own nationalistic impulses which led to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in the second decade of the 20th century.  What happened in the Balkans in no way justifies their actions toward Armenians in Anatolia, but it does frame these terrible events in the complex context of the tension of those times.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of the historical and cultural context  helps us to have more meaningful and respectful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  Remaining outside of this place of deeper understanding leads to intolerant and insular positions bound up in the darkness of falsehood, slander, hypocrisy and injustice.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout that, “You never really understand a person until you consider his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  He might well have added historical events, people groups and even religions to his statement for unless we are willing to climb into the complexity of the historical and cultural context of those, we will never truly understand them.

What book have you read that took you outside of your own perspective in challenging and helpful ways?

Click here to find Islam Without Extremes at Amazon.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan – A Book Review


I just finished listening to Francis Chan’s Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God for the second time.  I read it first a few years ago while we were home visiting from Turkey.

Now we have returned permanently and it was just the book I needed to remind me of what I want to be important in my life.

I’ve always really enjoyed Francis Chan.  I listened to his sermons on iTunes and have shared his Balance Beam video countless times.

Chan is decidedly a Jesus follower and this book is written to the church in America, those who would call themselves evangelicals and Christians.

He is a straight shooter and a hard hitter.  He reads the Bible and when he comes across a command, he obeys it.

Chan’s writing style is much like he preaches.  He weaves personal experience with the scripture of the Bible in a way that is easy to follow and compelling.

Crazy Love is a challenging read.  Chan’s conversational writing is easy to digest but he keeps coming back to these points that we seem so often to rationalize in our lives as followers of Christ.

Chan calls us again and again to step out of our comfortable, highly managed lives and into a life of discipleship.

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

This is one book I would buy for friends and would like to read with our Sunday school class at church.  We need to be shaken up at times.

Crazy Love will do that!

 >>Click here to get your copy of Crazy Love. <<

Here are a few quotes from the book:

Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”

Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

It is true that God may have called you to be exactly where you are. But, it is absolutely vital to grasp that he didn’t call you there so you could settle in and live your life in comfort and superficial peace.”

…when we love God, we naturally run to Him-frequently and zealously. Jesus didn’t command that we have a regular time with Him each day. Rather, He tells us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ He called this the ‘first and greatest commandment’ (Matt. 22:37-38). The results are intimate prayer and study of His Word. Our motivation changes from guilt to love.”

This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, those who would rather die before their convictions do.”

Other Books by Francis Chan

Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and What We Made Up

*All links to the books in this post are affiliate links.  While the price won’t change for you, you will be helping me out by purchasing products through these links.  If you do so, Thank You!

More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 8.46.06 PMI just received a free copy of Jeff Shinabarger’s new book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity.  My receiving it free highlights one of the true advantages of the digital age – advanced copies of books are virtually free to give away and help spread the word.

I am excited about the book.  The endorsements and table of contents get me very excited. Living simply is a topic rich in the history of my personal journey and one that was put far back on the shelf when we lived in Turkey.

I’ll write a proper review when I finish it.

You too can get a free copy of the book if you would like.  [Click here to get yours.]

Now that we are working to settle back into life in the states, simplicity – living more with less – is a value I’d like to recapture and I am hopeful that this book will be part of that journey.

We’ve enjoyed nearly six months house sitting a grand home but will be moving into a new home at the end of the month.  We are looking forward to getting into our place that we can take a bit more ownership over, even as we rent to begin with.  We just today got a package in the mail filled with packets of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

Very Exciting.

[Sorry for the long intervals between posts.  Life is a bit crazy and I’m working really hard to develop the business over at The Everyday Language Learner.  I’ll try to be a bit more regular]

Book Review: The Lazarus Life

A good story offers a window to peer through in order to see something we could never come up with our own.  A great story ignites something within us that can’t be ignored and will never be forgotten.  A good story informs us.  A great story changes us.

Author, pastor and spiritual director  Stephen Smith outlines the journey of spiritual transformation through the story of Lazarus in his devotional book, The Lazarus Life.  Using Lazarus as his plumb line, Smith draws parallels to our own life, a life he believes should be marked by transformation.

Smith says, “The life offered by Jesus, taught to us by Paul, and experienced by the early church, is a life of transformation.  It is deep-down change at the DNA level of our souls.  It is a life that comes only from Jesus, who identifies Himself as the only life we need.

Lazarus of course is the brother of Mary and Martha, friends of Jesus who hosted he and his disciples at their home, who listened to his teachings and watched his miraculous acts of healing and power.

In the story Lazarus falls ill, so ill that Mary and Martha believe the only way to save him is to send for Jesus, who they know from personal experience as a healer.  As their friend, surely he will come.  But Jesus doesn’t come right away.  He lingers on where he is at and Lazarus dies.

Days later and after Lazarus has been in the grave four days, Jesus finally comes.  Reading the story from our perch in history, we know what comes next.

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Through Lazarus’ journey from death to life, Smith introduces the reader to the idea of spiritual transformation.  By leading us into the drama of this particular Biblical narrative, The Lazarus Life acts as a guide that will help readers like me to understand what spiritual transformation might look like and what we might need to do in order to enter into it.

Smith breaks Lazarus’ story up into different stages of the journey.  These of course are not hard and fast stages, but rather a way to talk about the sometimes messy work of transformation.  It made it possible for me to read a chapter a day and to pull from each chapter helpful ideas and insights to think about and meditate on.

It also allowed me to sink into the Lazarus story, to slow down and watch the plot unfold and put myself in the place of the on lookers, of Mary and Martha and of Lazarus.

This proved incredibly helpful as I have always read the story knowing the ending.  This robs the story of much of it’s power.

  • Mary and Martha must have faced severe disillusionment, discouragement and fear.
  • Lazarus died.  His body had begun to rot and as he stepped out of the grave, the stench of death must of stepped out with him.
  • After Lazarus had been raised, the Jews began plotting his death.

Transformation isn’t always pretty and it doesn’t always lead to a life of ease and tranquility.  Smith reminds us that “authentic transformation is always messier than we expect it to be.”

Transformation is rarely easy, but in the end, it is always good and it is always best for us and leads to the life of abundance that Jesus promises.  Stephen Smith makes that fact abundantly clear and offers a helpful guide on the journey in The Lazarus Life.

A Few Quotes From The Book

Waiting on Jesus is not a passive act.  Waiting on Jesus is soul work.  As we wait, we relinquish control, surrender our wills, give up our false hopes, and realize that if anything is going to happen at all, it will have to be  God’s doing.

Here’s a simple truth: God can use any circumstance, any tragedy, any wronged heart as an instrument for our transformation.  No tomb is dark enough, no situation hard enough, no life broken enough that God cannot use it as fodder for the fire of transformation.

The rhythm of Jesus’ life is the rhythm of a transformed life:  a time of activity followed by a time of reflection.  Both are vitally needed.

We get one life but many opportunities in this one life to get it right.  To live a transformed life is a life-long privilege.

Hey, those links to the book above are affiliate links.  They don’t change the price for you if you’d like to pick up a copy, but I’ll make about 7% from Amazon.  If you are in the Freeman, South Dakota area of course you can borrow my copy.  Buy The Lazarus Life.


Book Review: The Man Who Quit Money

Money is the root of all evil – an oft quoted maxim that no one I know actually believes.  Belief would lead to action, lead toward an avoidance of the cause of evil, a shunning at least, and if you were an evangelical par chance, maybe even a well organized boycott.

And yet no one I know personally or whom I’ve read about in story has actually quit money.

No one until today.

In The Man Who Quit Money, author Mark Sundeen tells the subversive, interesting and unsettling story of Daniel Suelo.

In the autumn of 2000, Daniel Suelo deposited his worldly wealth – all thirty dollars of it – in a phone booth.  He has lived without money ever since.  And he has never felt so free – or at peace.

So begins the masterfully written story of Daniel Suelo.  Sundeen mixes personal interviews, philosophical extrapolations of the money systems of our world, spiritual journeys, analogies and personal reflection in the telling of Suelo’s twelve years lived without earning even one dime.

While Daniel Suelo’s life is one that few will desire to emulate – he lives in a well stocked cave, eats food found in dumpsters or found in the wild and has no plan for retirement – there is a certain freedom in his bohemian existence that is to be admired.

Living outside of Moab, Utah, he has a rich social life, eats well and maintains a blog from the public library.  Daniel is not one to just pull away from society to live a hermit life of solitude.  Rather, he has decided that living in what he perceives as a broken system is no longer an option.  And so while others work to reform the system, he has decided to live without it.

Suelo’s philosophy on money is highly nuanced, influenced from both the right and the left and in that sense both Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street folks can find kinship in his presence.  His influences include Abbie Hofman, John Birch Society Member, C. Edward Griffin and political reporter for The Nation, William Greider.

He is also influenced by eastern Buddhism, Hinduism, and his own roots, Christianity and the teachings of Jesus.  The son of Plymouth Brethren parents, Suelo abandoned much of his Christian faith on life’s journey.  He embraced an alternative lifestyle, wrote his own theology and wandered the globe in search of enlightenment.

This spiritual journey was of great interest to me as it chronicled this man’s abandonment of the faith his parents professed.  As someone who desires to encourage young men and women to grow in their own faith in Christ, Daniel Suelo’s journey is one from which many lessons can be observed.

His thirst for truth was meted out in the beginning on the Boulder University campus where the Campus Crusade and Inter Varsity groups he had  joined were ill prepared for questions he asked and the spiritual dilemmas he faced.  For him, Evangelicalism was not a safe place to bring his doubts and questions.

Issues of money and greed were especially troubling to him as he observed Christians mixing the American Dream and the faith they professed into a strange brew that little resembled the Jesus he read about in the Bible.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air;  they do not sow or reap or store away in the barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them . . . who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?


It was Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount however that eventually convinced him that he actually could give up money.  He’d been hanging on to his last fifty dollars in case of an emergency, something big.  When he left those last thirty dollars in a phone booth in Pennsylvania though, he stepped permanently out of the money system that rules the world and into the life of dependence;  dependence on the goodness of others and for Suelo, of fate.

The story of Daniel Suelo is an interesting one.  As someone who has a subversive streak myself, I enjoyed the questions that this book posed, and left it with new questions of my own.  Sundeen’s writing is well woven, inviting and at 259 pages, can be tackled in a week of reading.

If you are interested in learning a bit more, be sure and watch the video above from the BBC.

I found this book at our great small town library.  You can also order it from Amazon HERE. [affiliate link]