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Filtering by Tag: Matthew & Joy Steem

Cheez Whiz and The Inklings

Joy and Matthew Steem

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.

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What’s Wrong with the World: Why Chesterton was Right

Joy and Matthew Steem

9 Squinty Owl Sometimes the problem with especially pertinent ideas is that they sound too simple. We read or hear the timeless ideal, whatever it is, and then all too quickly the largesse of its truth is lost to us. After all, it just makes so much sense, and is so simple! “Oh, yes, that is a most helpful truth,” we will say upon receiving it. Perhaps it contains too much truth for us to wrap our heads around? Many axiomatic statements are like that. They are just so replete that it takes a rather large aperture of mind to be able to actually suss out all their import.

In one of his more widely read books, What’s Wrong with the World, G. K. Chesterton makes a statement just three pages in: “What is wrong [with the world] is that we do not ask what is right.” So majestically large a proposition, isn’t it? It’s something like Heidegger’s question, “why is there something rather than nothing.” There is just so much truth in the statement that I don’t know where to start.

So for Chesterton, the first problem is to define what is right. Not necessarily what is wrong, but what is right. At first this sounds rather odd, not? It did to me. Isn’t that exactly the problem in our world—that we don’t talk enough about the troublesome issues? Whether injustice to humans, animals or the environment (thus the great attraction to social justice*), or problems in the community or church, it often seems that we need to spend more time discussing the problems. After all, it is easy to think that these problems are being ignored because they’re not being talked about enough, right? “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”! Not for G.K.

As Chesterton sees it, “we agree about the evil; it is about the good that we should tear each other’s eyes out.” Here is why he wants us to argue about the good (or the right): we all basically already agree about what is wrong. We agree that poverty should be dealt with; we agree that there are problems in the government (whichever country we live in); we agree that there are problems in the church (whichever one we attend); and we even probably agree that there is a problem with prostitution. In fact, Chesterton says that in being able to see such problems, we are unlike doctors. We all energetically nod in agreement “about the precise nature of the illness.” However—and herein lies the rub—we don’t agree about what is actually healthy.

“We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood; but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one,” says G.K. And with a little retrospect—and just consider the various flavours of theology we all adhere to—it’s a good point he makes about us not being in agreement about what kind of religion we want. “We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity,” he rightly quips. Touché Mr. Chesterton, touché. (I am reminded that in another piece Chesterton humorously suggests that the day on which the Puritans finally left England should be marked as a national holiday.) Even in issues like social justice, we disagree over how to solve the problem. In general, we can all agree on the state of insanity, what we don’t agree on is what actual sanity looks like.

So, what is the solution? Being able to agree on what is right: thus his statement, “what is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.” Chesterton seems to think that only then will we agree on what the solution is and how it is to be implemented.


*Disclaimer: I actually detest the term “Social Justice” due to its confusing justice and mercy and rights and responsibilities. With that said, for the sake of convenience it is sometimes just easier to go with it.

Love Letters from Cell 92

Joy and Matthew Steem

JBandsmer_Bonhoeffer-1 Not long ago I had a conversation about a few of the respectable – or at least often mentioned – names in Christian theology. You know the ones, people who are associated with the “serious” kind of precise Christian foundational, and pristine – if not a little tart – triune doctrinal correctness: the first names that come to mind are Calvin, Luther, Knox, Edwards etc. For many, the term “serious” often identifies the most pertinent associations with theologians. Indeed, while the Oxford English Dictionary has quite a few connotations associated with the word “serious,” amusement, pleasure-seeking and amour are not – most gravely too, we might note – associated with it. “Serious,” I am afraid, means just what we think. It seems to me, most people think that “if it ain't heavy, sober and serious, it aint theology”! Indeed, seeing the name Bonhoeffer— the author of the sober sounding The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, pretty weighty texts for those who know them on a conference announcement sprung my mind into “serious” mode. Even while reading about his “religionless Christianity” and the inseparability between a theologically-centered life and a life-centered theology, I was still reading with my “serious” eyeglasses on. Concepts like God’s “ineluctable reality” and God making himself a mediator between man and reality can often sound rather ... “serious.”

Then I read Love Letters from Cell 92. This correspondence between Bonhoeffer and his fiancée, Maria, made the “serious” part melt like a popsicle beside a Jacuzzi jet. To be sure, in the aftermath I realized that I had not lost any of the good stuff, only the “serious” took on a newer, more replete and vibrant meaning. I found that in the midst of the deep stuff there was also the soft and delicate and gentle flowering of beautiful emotionally dripping romance in ... yes, Bonhoeffer. Reading Love Letters alongside his other works is like putting on a pair of 3D glasses which bring to clarity the fuzzy image before us; it seemed that here in Bonhoeffer was serious theology concomitant with joyous[1] emotionality.

I heard fizzing sounds come from my head. Sure, both of those things can fit together conceptually, but in actuality? Many can even connect the blood and flesh in the Eucharist, but a theology that is both serious and joyous? Is it possible? Apparently, Bonhoeffer the serious theologian could just as easily entertain solemn ideas of thick theological import as enraptured romps of romantic fancy. Take the following note to his sweetheart, “you need to know what I am really feeling and not view me as one born to be a hermit on a pillar ... the desires I have ... are very earthly and tangible.” Bonhoeffer ends his letters with soft sentiments of love: “I give you a long tender kiss and embrace you”; and, “now, my beloved Maria, be tenderly embraced and kissed and loved, more and more, by your Dietrich.” In case we are wont to think such words as mere formulaic convention, Bonhoeffer laments in a letter to a friend that, as a couple, he and Maria had to “deliberately repress” all the normal aspects of engagement: this included the “sensual and erotic elements.” I figure this adds a good bit of clarity to the not being “a hermit on a pillar comment” for any who might be confused.

So, in returning to Bonhoeffer’s idea that a theologically centered life (let’s insert the word “humanity”) is inseparable from a life-centered theology, I am reminded that true life/humanity has, along with its seriousness, both joy and – at least for some – a good bit of romance. I was reminded that we also need not be trepidatious about embracing the most joyous aspect of humanity – love. After all, Bonhoeffer did – seriously.

[1] In a letter to Maria, Bonhoeffer quoted Adalbert Stifter, who said, “pain is the holiest angel who reveals treasures that would otherwise have remained hidden.” Bonhoeffer continued on in saying that, while he appreciated the angel pain, ”there is an even holier angel than pain and that is joy in God.”

(Photo by Judy Bandsmer)