The Fragile Kingdom
I once heard it said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he does not exist.
The fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis's death (November 22, 2013) has sent me back to Lewis's classic work The Screwtape Letters. In this hellish drama, he alludes to this same devilish idea when the book's senior demon, Uncle Screwtape, informs his nephew Wormwood that demonic hiddenness is indisputable hell-policy (Chapter VI). "That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us be the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves."
While only a fool would contradict the patron saint of latter twentieth-century Protestantism, I think the devil has a much more devious trick than mere demonic disappearance.
The hard work of deeper risk
Recently I sat in a circle of men who have been meeting together for over twenty years. It is a diverse group, as diverse as any I have ever witnessed. Looking around the circle, there are rich men and poor men. Young men and old men. Black men and white men and native men. Like I said … diverse.
I have been a member of this circle for about eight years. They have been my weekly, often daily, companions in the life of faith. These are passionate men. Honest men. They are wise men and fools … often at the same time. They are full of intuition and integrity … along with vanity and violence. It is as spiritually nurturing as any community I have ever sat amongst in my four-plus decades of life.
This group exists for many reasons. Ultimately it exists to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Essential to that work is the reconciling responsibility of God's people. This reconciling work requires that white men learn to live alongside black men (and vice versa, though the first is much more difficult because white men have often had little experience living in the black world, while the reverse is as commonplace as climbing out of bed in the morning). This reconciling work requires that poor men have a voice in confronting rich men (and vice versa, but again this typically goes in one direction).
On this particular day, we were sitting in our circle, already deep into the endurance work of personal (and interpersonal) transformation. In an unexpected act of group chronicling, we began a list of names on the whiteboard. The list began twenty years in the past and tracked up until the present. The list grew and grew. In the end there were maybe three dozen names on the board. What was the common denominator? These were all men who had once been among us and now were gone … often long gone.
This was not a list of those who had moved away from the area. No, they were still around the city. Most of them, we still encounter time and again in other contexts, but no longer in our struggling circle of reconciling faith.
"What led to their departure?" we asked. "Why have these men gone?"
The next hour was spent in storytelling. Those who still had contact with the "old" friends shared the stories of their loss. It was a time of remembering. It was a time of sadness. Most important, it was a time of confession.