Prayer, Plain and Simple



“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it…”

So begins C.S. Lewis’ classic work, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” The feature film version opened yesterday in theaters.

I know Eustace, the pouting, self-centered, peevish tormentor. He makes me smirk, chuckle and squirm, because I see actual people I know in his character, including – mostly – myself…

“Dawn Treader” is Eustace’s story, and mine: how a human soul can descent to monstrous depths, then find un expected and undeserved redemption through surrender to One who alone can convert.  

Spoiler: On an island where Eustace is supposed to be helping the mission at hand, he instead sneaks off and finds a dragon’s lair. There, fed by his greed for the horde of treasure Eustace is transformed into a dragon. At first he relishes the power, but soon isolation and shame make him realize the truth: he is an intolerable monster. He begins to want to change.

That night, a lion comes to Eustace telling him to “undress” out of his dragon-ness. Eustace tries to scratch at his skin. At first it seems to work, as the scales slip off like a banana peel. But just as soon Eustace discover that another layer of dragon skin lies beneath the first. In despair Eustace realizes he cannot cure himself. He isn’t merely wearing a dragon suit; he IS a dragon…

But wonders never cease; there is no magic, even in Narnia, but there are miracles… Eustace via Lewis later describes what happened next…

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, but I can tell you, I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it…. That very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”

Lewis tells truth: Conversion begins only when I recognize that I cannot change my skin. There is no “self-help,” no “extreme soul makeover.” I can never cure myself. Only if and only when I surrender to the One who rips deep the fibers of our dragon-ness, can I ever hope to be the boy, the man I was created to become…

I am Eustace Scrub… Then, and now…


Nobel.jpgAn empty chair represents imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo at Friday’s ceremony in Oslo, Norway

The empty chair was itself his acceptance speech. Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia today in Oslo, Norway.

China has not sat by silently. They have leveled furious protest since the Nobel committee announced on October 8 that Liu would receive the prize. Chinese officials label Liu a common criminal and say the award is a Western plot against China. Their rhetoric heated up again today when they called the ceremony for Liu a “political farce.”

“The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee does not represent the wish of the majority of the people in the world, particularly that of the developing countries,” said Jiang Yu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official.

Liu, a professor of literature, serves an 11-year sentence in a Chinese prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” Neither he, nor was his wife, Liu Xia were permitted to travel to Norway to accept the prize.

In response Nobel chairman Thorbjorn Jagland today, likened Liu Xiaobo to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who fought the apartheid regime. Jagland then placed Liu’s medal in the empty chair.

“God, we pray for China and for the many millions who wait and hope and pray for true liberty. We pray for the brave men and women who stand boldly for freedom of conscience and spiritual belief and expression. We pray for the many Christians suffering persecution and oppression and we pray for those Christian leaders who choose today to obey God over the unjust restrictions of a fearful regime. We pray that even under the grip of oppression many in China would find genuine spiritual freedom in Jesus.”  

Westboro Baptist Church, a small Kansas-based fundamentalist group has gone over the edge into hell once again. The sect, with a history of holding controversial and vehemently offensive protests, said today that its members will march with signs at Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral in Raleigh, N.C. this weekend.

Please… Can we imagine Jesus where Jesus stands in this matter?

Westboro is led by the infamous Rev. Fred Phelps, famed for picketing military funerals. His website,, accuses John Edwards, the surviving but estranged husband of the deceased of “spewing blasphemy” and mounting a “smash-mouthed assault on His deity.”

No, Mr. Phelps, your nauseating hatred is the actual “smash mouth assault” in this story, and when you name God as your co-conspirator, you blaspheme is name and his character. Yes, God is judge and he will sort all the light from all the darkness. But when he does he will do so in a way perfectly consistent with his love and mercy and justice. The moment you and yours begin to play his role, you yourselves have become the focus of his wrath. Beware…

“God, we pray for mercy on all those who have wronged and offended you. That is, have mercy on us all! And for those who cast judgment on the sins of others and refuse to plead mercy for themselves, as you say, may their own judgment fall upon their own heads. In Jesus…”



Today is St. Nicolas Day. Cheers to the Jolly Old Elf and kudos to Claire Suddath for the following bio…  

Santa Claus doesn’t talk about it very often, but he’s actually Turkish. The world’s most famous toymaker has had a diverse career — that’s what happens when you stick around for over 1,700 years — and has dabbled in everything from raising the dead to working at the mall. A timeline of St. Nick’s illustrious life:

circa 280 A.D.Nicholas is born in Patara, Lycia — part of modern day Turkey. Like others of the Emperor Constantine generation, he enters a life of religious servitude. He works his way up from abbot to the archbishop of Myra — a nearby town — and gets his first nickname: Nicholas of Myra.

325 A.D. Nicholas attends the First Council of Nicaea and helps create the Nicene Creed, which millions upon millions of Sunday School children will later memorize. Tip: children who mention this in their annual letter to Santa receive an average of 3 extra toys.

330 A.D. When a father doesn’t have enough money for his three daughters’ dowries, dooming them, apparently, to forced prostitution, Nicholas leaves three bags of gold outside the girls’ home (or, according to a different version of the story, in their shoes) to keep them from having to pull an Ashley Alexandra Dupré. This is one of the few stories based on some sort of historical record and it explains Nicholas’ reputation as a gift-giver.

320-340 A.D. Nicholas becomes famous for performing great miracles. Once he saves a ship from a terrible storm by calming the waves. Another time, he flies through the air to return a kidnapped boy. And most impressive of all, he discovers a triple homicide and brings the victims — three children who had been chopped into bits and stored in pickle jars — back to life. Compared to this, making an Xbox by hand is probably child’s play.

Dec. 6, 343 A.D. Nicholas dies and is buried in Myra.

6th Century A.D. Nicholas becomes a saint. The Catholic Church had not yet regulated its canonization procedure so it’s hard to tell exactly when he is sainted. Nicholas is a very popular saint, especially in Europe. He becomes the patron of more objects and places than any other saint (except maybe Mary), although his primary role is as a guardian of children.

1087 Some Italian sailors steal Nicholas’ remains and transfer them to Bari, Italy. Nicholas likes his new home — well, he doesn’t complain — and his tomb becomes a major pilgrimage site.

The next several hundred years St. Nicholas’s “name day,” Dec. 6, coincides with the end of harvest and slaughter season in many European countries and becomes a favorite holiday to observe, especially in Holland, where he is known as “Sinterklaas.” Kids leave their shoes out in the hopes that he will bring them a present. Nicholas has perfected his ability to tell naughty from nice by this time: Good children get a toy or candy; bad children receive a switch (with which they can be beaten).

16th & 17th centuries Puritanism sweeps England and America. Saints fall out of favor. Many countries stop observing St. Nicholas Day — excepting Holland. The Dutch are really into shoe gifts.

1659-1681 No-fun Puritans fire the first volley in the war on Christmas, making the holiday illegal in Massachusetts.

1809 New York Historical Society founder John Pintard declares St. Nicholas to be the patron saint of New York City. To back up his friend’s claim, Historical Society member Washington Irving publishes a History of New York, which includes a story about Nicholas — something about the Dutch and “New Amsterdam” and the fact that they’re still leaving gifts in children’s shoes.

1810 No one really celebrates Saint Nicholas Day in New York, but they do celebrate Christmas. The New York Historical Society publishes a broadside that features a picture of the newly declared patron saint delivering gifts to children during the Christmas season. Nicholas still looks like a saint — he wears a priestly robe and has a halo around his bald head.

1821 Nicholas delivers presents on Christmas Eve for the very first time. An anonymous poem calls him “Santeclaus” and describes a sleigh pulled by one reindeer.

1822 Clement Clark Moore writes a poem for his children, beginning with the iconic lines, “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” Within one reading, Nicholas shortens his name to Nick, gains weight, starts smoking and adopts seven more reindeer (probably to pull his excess weight). He embarks on his first breaking-and-entering spree.

1841 The nickname “Santa Claus” has been growing in popularity, so St. Nick adopts it when he greets thousands of children at a Philadelphia department store. He also appears in newspaper advertisements around this time, urging people to buy Christmas presents.

1863Well-known Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast — who also popularized the Uncle Sam image — draws a red-coated, white-bearded Santa Claus for the very first time. Later Nast drawings will reveal Santa’s workshop and home at the North Pole.

1889 Santa Claus gets married.

1897 New York Sun editor Francis Church answers a young reader’s letter with the phrase, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

1924 Santa takes his first ride in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

1931 Artist Haddon Sundblom draws a round-faced, red-nosed Santa Claus for a Coca Cola ad.

1934 Santa makes a list and checks it twice.

1939 Santa adopts Rudolph — the creation of a Montgomery Ward store employee

1947 Santa Claus performs miracles on 34th Street

1952 Santa kisses Jimmy Boyd’s mother underneath the mistletoe.

1969 The Catholic Church overhauls its liturgical calendar by de-sainting over 200 people and making the celebration of 92 others, including St. Nicholas, optional.

1979 An elderly woman is run over by one of Santa’s reindeer. No charges are filed.

1995 Santa Claus gets his own website.

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