7 Most Popular G.K. Chesterton Quotes He Never Said

G.K. Chesterton is practically infinitely quotable, a fact that I have put to the test over the past several years curating the Daily Chesterton Quote site and service.

However, when you combine such a prolific writer with a legacy over a century old, plus the Internet, you stumble upon a few misattributed quotes. Some of these have become incredibly popular, taking on a life of their own; but there is no evidence that G.K. Chesterton actually said these things.

Even the well-read experts have mistakenly repeated the misquotes; I am almost certain I have repeated some of these myself.

I had thought of doing a series of Chesterton misquotes in a “Not said by Chesterton” series on GKChestertonQuote.com, but that could just add to the confusion.

“Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

The only place I can find attribution on this is the American Chesterton Society, which states it comes from Heretics – but searching the etext does not turn up any parts of the the exact phrase.

Everyone else cannot seem to find this quote in GKC’s works, even though it comes in a few different forms, such as, “Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all,” or ” To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless,” or “Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”

The closest thing I have been able to find is in Orthodoxy: “Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things–pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people.”

Update: Jonathan Watson pointed out that there is another similar quote in Heretics: “But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.”

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

This one really took on a life of its own, and in recent times. This brief, succinct, beautiful expression is actually first found in the epitaph of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

This has sparked quite a literary issue on the Internet, but Gaiman actually set the record straight on his blog:

It’s my fault. When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then  ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.  I’m perfectly happy for anyone to attribute it to either of us. The sentiment is his, the phrasing is mine.

If you read enough Chesterton and his critics, GKC did the same thing; he could read an entire book in minutes, and often wrote from memory. While exceptional, it was not perfect. So Gaiman “pulled a Chesterton” while paraphrasing GKC.

It is worth mentioning that Gaiman is a big fan of Chesterton, and GKC has directly influenced Gaiman’s Sandman, Coraline, Good Omens, Neverwhere, and probably a lot of other books.

Here is the original that Gaiman cites, from The Red Angel in Tremendous Trifles – quoted a bit more at length than usual for context:

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it– because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy tales restored my mental health, for next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart. Sometimes the sea at night seemed as dreadful as any dragon. But then I was acquainted with many youngest sons and little sailors to whom a dragon or two was as simple as the sea.

“A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

I heard this one most recently in a Bible study; but it was actually from author Bruce Marshall in The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith, in which the quote appears, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.

Guess it sounded Chestertonian and someone got it mixed up.

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but a single letter changes a word, and a changed word can change the meaning.

The correct quote, from the essay Too Simple to Be True, collected in Where All Roads Lead is “If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

The misquote helps fuel the misconception that GKC’s point was that with out a Creator, there would be no one to deny Him. That is a bit pedantic for Chesterton, and the meaning of the quote is best expressed in the context:

“Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But, anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement, by which the atheist lived, was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

Chesterton’s point was not that atheists would not exist without God to create them, but to point out that atheism only subsists because it is a blasphemy or rejection of something real; after all, there is no serious organization or movement that is denying the existence of unicorns or leprechauns.

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

A reader asked me about this quote, which he had heard from Ravi Zacharias. It seems to be a repeat of the Gaiman fairy tale quote, where someone beautifully paraphrased a longer, more involved Chesterton quote.

G.K. Chesterton did state in The Everlasting Man:

“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society
begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old.”

and in Charles Dickens (which I wrote about here):

“There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil… The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something — war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.”

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

Wikiquotes has explanation of this and the other form it takes, “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.”

This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts’ book The Laughing Prophet : The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in “The Oracle of the Dog” (1923): “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.” Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: “‘It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: ‘And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'” Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts.

“What is Wrong With the World?” “Dear Sirs, I am.”

This seems to be the ultimate Chesterton myth, in the truest sense of the word. It was even the inspiration for a documentary entitled  I Am that came out a few years ago. However, while it might be full of truth and Chestertonian wit, no one can find it.

The Times and other English papers have been searched through their archives, and yet no one can find the fabled essay request or the incredibly short response from GKC. It could be that the letter was written and not published, but as of the time of this writing no one seems to be able to find the source of the story or any evidence that it is true.

Many theories surround the fact that Chesterton did write a book called What is Wrong With the World. In the dedication, GKC writes:

“I originally called this book “What is Wrong,” and it would have satisfied your sardonic temper to note the number of social misunderstandings that arose from the use of the title. Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually, “I have been doing ‘What is Wrong’ all this morning.” And one minister of religion moved
quite sharply in his chair when I told him (as he understood it) that I had to run upstairs and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute. Exactly of what occult vice they silently accused me I cannot conjecture, but I know of what I accuse myself; and that is, of having written a very shapeless and inadequate book, and one quite unworthy to be dedicated to you. As far as literature goes, this book is what is wrong and no mistake.”

In a review of the book, St. John Ervine wrote, “‘The book is called ‘What’s Wrong with the World,’ by G.K. Chesterton: it should have been called, ‘What’s Wrong with the World’ is G.K. Chesterton’.”

If there are any new sources that are discovered that validate these quotes, however, I would very much like to hear about it! If you want to do your own research on Chesterton quotes, check out the G.K. Chesterton search engine here.

 

A Want of Something to Do: Guest Post by G.K. Chesterton

This post is an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s personal notebook, published for the first time in his biography by friend and publisher Masie Ward. According to Ward, he did not yet consider himself a Christian, but noted the disparity between modern Christians chasing a cause (in this case Socialism) and Christianity as Christ preached it. 

Now, for my own part, I cannot in the least agree with those who  see no difference between Christian and modern Socialism, nor do I  for a moment join in some Christian Socialists’ denunciations of  those worthy middle-class people who cannot see the connection. For I  cannot help thinking that in a way these latter people are right. No  reasonable man can read the Sermon on the Mount and think that its  tone is not very different from that of most collectivist speculation  of the present day, and the Philistines feel this, though they cannot  distinctly express it. There is a difference between Christ’s  Socialist program and that of our own time, a difference deep,  genuine and all important, and it is this which I wish to point out.

Let us take two types side by side, or rather the same type in the  two different atmospheres. Let us take the “rich young man” of the  Gospels and place beside him the rich young man of the present day,  on the threshold of Socialism. If we were to follow the difficulties,  theories, doubts, resolves, and conclusions of each of these  characters, we should find two very distinct threads of  self-examination running through the two lives. And the essence of  the difference was this: the modern Socialist is saying, “What will  society do?” while his prototype, as we read, said, “What shall I  do?” Properly considered, this latter sentence contains the whole  essence of the older Communism. The modern Socialist regards his  theory of regeneration as a duty which society owes to him, the early  Christian regarded it as a duty which he owed to society; the modern  Socialist is busy framing schemes for its fulfilment, the early  Christian was busy considering whether he would himself fulfil it  there and then; the ideal of modern Socialism is an elaborate Utopia  to which he hopes the world may be tending, the ideal of the early  Christian was an actual nucleus “living the new life” to whom he  might join himself if he liked. Hence the constant note running  through the whole gospel, of the importance, difficulty and  excitement of the “call,” the individual and practical request made  by Christ to every rich man, “sell all thou hast and give to the  poor.”

To us Socialism comes speculatively as a noble and optimistic  theory of what may [be] the crown of progress, to Peter and James and  John it came practically as a crisis of their own Daily life, a  stirring question of conduct and renunciation.

We do not therefore in the least agree with those who hold that  modern Socialism is an exact counterpart or fulfilment of the  socialism of Christianity. We find the difference important and  profound, despite the common ground of anti-selfish collectivism. The  modern Socialist regards Communism as a distant panacea for society,  the early Christian regarded it as an immediate and difficult  regeneration of himself: the modern Socialist reviles, or at any rate  reproaches, society for not adopting it, the early Christian  concentrated his thoughts on the problem of his own fitness and  unfitness to adopt it: to the modern Socialist it is a theory, to the  early Christian it was a call; modern Socialism says, “Elaborate a  broad, noble and workable system and submit it to the progressive  intellect of society.” Early Christianity said, “Sell all thou hast  and give to the poor.”

This distinction between the social and personal way of regarding  the change has two sides, a spiritual and a practical which we  propose to notice. The spiritual side of it, though of less direct  and revolutionary importance than the practical, has still a very  profound philosophic significance. To us it appears something  extraordinary that this Christian side of Socialism, the side of the  difficulty of the personal sacrifice, and the patience, cheerfulness,  and good temper necessary for the protracted personal surrender is so  constantly overlooked. The literary world is flooded with old men  seeing visions and young men dreaming dreams, with various stages of  anti-competitive enthusiasm, with economic apocalypses, elaborate  Utopias and mushroom destinies of mankind. And, as far as we have  seen, in all this whirlwind of theoretic excitement there is not a  word spoken of the intense practical difficulty of the summons to the  individual, the heavy, unrewarding cross borne by him who gives up  the world.

For it will not surely be denied that not only will Socialism be  impossible without some effort on the part of individuals, but that  Socialism if once established would be rapidly dissolved, or worse  still, diseased, if the individual members of the community did not  make a constant effort to do that which in the present state of human  nature must mean an effort, to live the higher life. Mere state  systems could not bring about and still less sustain a reign of  unselfishness, without a cheerful decision on the part of the members  to forget selfishness even in little things, and for that most  difficult and at the same time most important personal decision  Christ made provision and the modern theorists make no provision at  all. Some modern Socialists do indeed see that something more is  necessary for the golden age than fixed incomes and universal stores  tickets, and that the fountain heads of all real improvement are to  be found in human temper and character. Mr. William Morris, for  instance, in his “News from Nowhere” gives a beautiful picture of a  land ruled by Love, and rightly grounds the give-and-take camaraderie  of his ideal state upon an assumed improvement in human nature. But  he does not tell us how such an improvement is to be effected, and  Christ did. Of Christ’s actual method in this matter I shall speak  afterwards when dealing with the practical aspect, my object just now  is to compare the spiritual and emotional effects of the call of  Christ, as compared to those of the vision of Mr. William Morris.  When we compare the spiritual attitudes of two thinkers, one of whom  is considering whether social history has been sufficiently a course  of improvement to warrant him in believing that it will culminate in  universal altruism, while the other is considering whether he loves  other people enough to walk down tomorrow to the market-place and  distribute everything but his staff and his scrip, it will not be  denied that the latter is likely to undergo certain deep and acute  emotional experiences, which will be quite unknown to the former. And  these emotional experiences are what we understand as the spiritual  aspect of the distinction. For three characteristics at least the  Galilean programme makes more provision; humility, activity,  cheerfulness, the real triad of Christian virtues.

Humility is a grand, a stirring thing, the exalting paradox of  Christianity, and the sad want of it in our own time is, we believe,  what really makes us think life dull, like a cynic, instead of  marvellous, like a child. With this, however, we have at present  nothing to do. What we have to do with is the unfortunate fact that  among no persons is it more wanting than among Socialists, Christian  and other. The isolated or scattered protest for a complete change in  social order, the continual harping on one string, the necessarily  jaundiced contemplation of a system already condemned, and above all,  the haunting pessimistic whisper of a possible hopelessness of  overcoming the giant forces of success, all these impart undeniably  to the modern Socialist a tone excessively imperious and bitter. Nor  can we reasonably blame the average money-getting public for their  impatience with the monotonous virulence of men who are constantly  reviling them for not living communistically, and who after all, are  not doing it themselves. Willingly do we allow that these latter  enthusiasts think it impossible in the present state of society to  practise their ideal, but this fact, while vindicating their  indisputable sincerity, throws an unfortunate vagueness and  inconclusiveness over their denunciations of other people in the same  position. Let us compare with this arrogant and angry tone among the  modern Utopians who can only dream “the life,” the tone of the early  Christian who was busy living it. As far as we know, the early  Christians never regarded it as astonishing that the world as they  found it was competitive and unregenerate; they seem to have felt  that it could not in its pre-Christian ignorance have been anything  else, and their whole interest was bent on their own standard of  conduct and exhortation which was necessary to convert it. They felt  that it was by no merit of theirs that they had been enabled to enter  into the life before the Romans, but simply as a result of the fact  that Christ had appeared in Galilee and not in Rome. Lastly, they  never seem to have entertained a doubt that the message would itself  convert the world with a rapidity and ease which left no room for  severe condemnation of the heathen societies.

With regard to the second merit, that of activity, there can be  little doubt as to where it lies between the planner of the Utopia  and the convert of the brotherhood. The modern Socialist is a  visionary, but in this he is on the same ground as half the great men  of the world, and to some extent of the early Christian himself, who  rushed towards a personal ideal very difficult to sustain. The  visionary who yearns toward an ideal which is practically impossible  is not useless or mischievous, but often the opposite; but the person  who is often useless, and always mischievous, is the visionary who  dreams with the knowledge or the half-knowledge that his ideal is  impossible. The early Christian might be wrong in believing that by  entering the brotherhood men could in a few years become perfect even  as their Father in Heaven was perfect, but he believed it and acted  flatly and fearlessly on the belief: this is the type of the higher  visionary. But all the insidious dangers of the vision; the idleness,  the procrastination, the mere mental aestheticism, come in when the  vision is indulged, as half our Socialistic conceptions are, as a  mere humour or fairy-tale, with a consciousness, half-confessed, that  it is beyond practical politics, and that we need not be troubled  with its immediate fulfilment. The visionary who believes in his own  most frantic vision is always noble and useful. It is the visionary  who does not believe in his vision who is the dreamer, the idler, the  Utopian. This then is the second moral virtue of the older school, an  immense direct sincerity of action, a cleansing away, by the sweats  of hard work, of all those subtle and perilous instincts of mere  ethical castle-building which have been woven like the spells of an  enchantress, round so many of the strong men of our own time.

The third merit, which I have called cheerfulness, is really the  most important of all. We may perhaps put the comparison in this way.  It might strike many persons as strange that in a time on the whole  so optimistic in its intellectual beliefs as this is, in an age when  only a small minority disbelieve in social progress, and a large  majority believe in an ultimate social perfection, there should be  such a tired and blasé feeling among numbers of young men. This, we  think, is due, not to the want of an ultimate ideal, but to that of  any immediate way of making for it: not of something to hope but of  something to do. A human being is not satisfied and never will be  satisfied with being told that it is all right: what he wants is not  a prediction of what other people will be hundreds of years hence, to  make him cheerful, but a new and stirring test and task for himself,  which will assuredly make him cheerful. A knight is not contented  with the statement that his commander has hid his plans so as to  insure victory: what the knight wants is a sword. This demand for a  task is not mere bravado, it is an eternal and natural part of the  higher optimism, as deep-rooted as the foreshadowing of perfection.

The Christian Art of Judging Others

 

Jesus said, “Judge not.” That’s about as much of the Bible as many non-Christians can quote. It has proved useful, considering the number of Christians that use it, or are cowed by fear of being condemned by it.

As always, the context makes it a bit clearer:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

That last sentence seems to conflict with the idea of the “not judging” as an absolute rule. Looking elsewhere in the scriptures:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Pretty harsh, considering that the Jewish people were prohibited from entering the home of, or inviting in, Gentiles and tax collectors.

“If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.” Ezekiel 3:18-21

The wages of sin is death, but if you do not warn the wicked then you could pay that wage. Ouch.

“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Timothy 5:20

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:1-4

And there are of course more on this topic. But the point of the sampling here is that if you take the first two or three words from Matthew 7:1 in isolation, it is a pretty gross misunderstanding of the point.

We are called to be perfect like our Heavenly Father, and he who is loved by God is corrected by God (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). So it is an act of love and charity to correct when we see someone doing something wrong. Is it wrong to tell a child not to play in the street, where they are in danger, or to try to talk a friend out of suicide? How much worse is it to keep silent when they do something that will kill their soul?

The Scriptures paint a pretty clear picture that we are not to “judge not,” but to in fact, under penalty of sin, admonish, rebuke, and counsel someone who we know is committing a sin.

There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to give counsel, admonition, or to correct someone. Surprisingly, one of the most detailed and helpful passages I have ever read on this topic comes from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai:

“To give a person one’s opinion and correct his faults is an important thing. It is compassionate and comes first in matters of service. But the way of doing this is extremely difficult. To discover the good and bad points of a person is an easy thing, and to give an opinion concerning them is easy, too. For the most part, people think that they are being kind by saying things that others find distasteful or difficult to say. But if it is not received well, they think that there is nothing more to be done. This is completely worthless. It is the same as bringing shame to a person by slandering him. It is nothing more than getting it off one’s chest.

“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not. One must become close with him and make sure that he continually trusts one’s word. Approaching subjects that are dear to him, seek the best way to speak and to be well understood. Judge the occasion, and determine whether it is better by letter or at the time of leavetaking. Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one’s own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him. Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults.

“This is extremely difficult. If a person’s fault is a habit of some years prior, by and large it won’t be remedied. I have had this experience myself. To be intimate with all one’s comrades, correcting each other’s faults, and being of one mind to be of use to the master is the great compassion of a retainer. By bringing shame to a person, how could one expect to make him a better man?”

This passage has a certain factor of surprise in that the pagan samurai warriors had such a careful and compassionate way of describing the correction of faults, especially when there are those among us Christians who rely on shame to correct not only strangers, but their family, their friends, and even their children.

There are several things we need to be mindful of when we are charged with the task of correcting someone else:

Judge the act, not the person. There are no good people; we have all sinned. If someone is doing something obviously and publicly wrong, address the thing they are doing wrong.

Watch out for being verbs. Remember these from grammar lessons? “Am” “is” “are”? If your statement has one of those as the main verb, it’s a sign you are making this about the person, not the action. “He is a thief,” is passing a judgement on the person; “He stole that watch,” or, “He is stealing by pirating movies,” is describing the action.

Give counsel privately. Matthew 18:15-17 describes the process of escalating an issue, but insisting that counsel is private. No where does it list public condemnation. Correct others’ faults’ as you want them to correct your faults. After all, that seems to be the point of Matthew 7:1-2.

Do not assume. So often people are accused of sins they did not commit, or the thought processes they employed, the alternatives they rejected, or their intentions. Stick to correcting the act itself, if it is in fact wrong. Ask questions of the person if you are concerned about what might be going on, and offer to help remedy any injustice they might be suffering. And absolutely do not go discussing your assumptions with others who have no need to know.

Give advice, not shame. The samurai’s advice made this point repeatedly – the goal is not to make the person ashamed, it is to remind them (or inform them) that what they are doing is wrong. Doing it in public, telling them how they should feel about their actions, and getting emotional about the issue are all ways of inflicting shame. State the problem, and give them a reason to hope they can correct it.

Remember, it is not about you. If the person you are correcting is doing you harm and persisting, it is time to set some hard boundaries. Treat them as the Jews treated a Gentile, or shake the dust from your sandal and walk away. As God told Samuel, they are rejecting Him, not you (1 Samuel 8:7).  In fact, using your own faults if you have a similar struggle, is a humble and encouraging way to suggest a change is needed.

 

Lord, What Do You Really Want Me to Do?

This past week I was wrestling with a choice between two paths. It was one of those matters that would significantly change the focus of my work and my family’s way of living. Either choice would have been good, but the difficulty was which path was God’s will.

Someone gave me wise counsel on the matter, and while our discussion was much more in depth, the question that seemed to sum up the matter, that question that stuck in my head was, “What is the more courageous thing to do?”

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Becket, about Thomas Becket and Henry II of England. After a dangerous dispute with the king, Becket retreats to a monastery for a time. While life there is not easy, Becket discerns in prayer which path is, for him, the more courageous:

Lord, what do you really want me to do?
To remain here a poor monk in simplicity of the spirit? Is it a path to bring me nearer to you, or is it too easy a way, perhaps even a luxury?
The path to holiness in this monastery is too effortless. I think it will be too easy to buy you like this, bargain price. It has pleased you to make me archbishop, and to set me like a solitary pawn face to face with the king on the chessboard. I think you mean me to defend your honor, peacefully if I can with argument and with compromise. And if I cannot, then with the full challenge of my office and the soaring force of what I know to be right. So I shall take up the mitre again, and the golden cope, and the great silver cross, and I shall go back and fight with the weapons it has pleased you to give me. For the rest, thy will be done.
It is impossible for us to correctly guess what God wants us to do in every choice in life, and even those that we think are most important may in fact be the least important in His plan for us.
However, we should still strive to do what we can best discern to be His will. Assessing what strengths and talents He has bestowed on us, or as Becket calls them “the weapons it has pleased you to give me.” Considering also the needs of those that share the time and place in which God has placed you, or whose needs have been made persistently and clearly to you so that you can meet them. Finally, recalling that He has called us to deny ourselves, reach beyond our comfort zones for the courageous thing to do; very often He answers our prayers of “Disturb us, Lord,” though in unexpected ways.
Once we have decided on a path, with prayer and consultation with whose whom you share your life, pray for the strength to persevere. Accept though all trials of your calling that His will be done, just as you have prayed that His will be known when you set out.

The Lightness of Evil

A colleague of mine recently wrote me and told me he appreciated the good vs evil theme of my work. Which got me thinking.

I never could get into the horror of H.P. Lovecraft.

The idea of a great and terrible ancient god, with a mighty tentacled head, rising out of the sea, worshiped by thousands of deranged cultists driven insane… It all strikes me as terribly amateurish. Not on Lovecraft’s part, but on Cthulhu’s, Yog-Sothoth’s, and the rest of the elder gods. They completely lack subtlety.

How I wish evil were so apparent, so obvious, so grossly disfigured and so hauntingly wrong. But it isn’t.

It presents itself as dazzlingly beautiful and familiar. Easy. Simple. Peaceful.

The history of Eternal Revolution – that is, this tiny effort of mine, is full of starts and stops, radical changes. I wish it wasn’t, I wish it was more consistent. I’ve merely explained it in the past as personal issues, a common euphemism.

But my erratic publishing schedule reflects the real Eternal Revolution well – a constant struggle against the crushing pressure of real evil. The kind that smiles at you as it throttles you. The kind that in the name of peace slowly destroys you. The evil that uses misdirection to point out that the world has gone wrong, that evil things are happening ‘out there’ while it lurks in your own home. In your family.

I don’t know why exactly, but my Facebook feed keeps bringing up Lovecraft and Thomas Kincade. Some articles keep getting cited about the freakishness of his peaceful paintings, and that something evil may have lurked there. There was seemingly something going on in his personal life as well. The theme is this: they look nice, they portray peace, but something is not natural, not right about them. After all, Satan appeared as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) .

You can’t keep a peace that does not exist. To keep a false peace is to insulate and protect evil. My family has kept horrors – true horrors – secret from the world for at least 5 generations. To break the silence has resulted in division of the family of biblical proportions. I’ve been disavowed, disinherited, broken and slandered by my own flesh and kin. It’s the evil that pelts you daily with toxic guilt, toxic shame, and misdirected anger. The wages of which are passed on to each generation until someone throws everything away to fight it, to resist, at all costs. That is the nature of evil. Invisible as long as you go along with it.

So let Cthulhu rise from the sea, or Congress, with all the strategy of a game of peek-a-boo. Such commanding display are pawns to distract us from the real terror, the true horror, that lies within. Look, there it is; don’t bother with your own knowledge of evil. Others are worse, behold them on the television!

Just because there is no camera on you, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of ruining lives and souls – actively or passively.

I can tell you from experience – experience many of you share, but that we seldom if ever talk about – you don’t know just how much faith is a gift, or what courage you have, until faced with the true horror in your own life. That evil, that calling to keep a deceptive peace and to remain quiet, is what you have been called to fight first and foremost. For such a time as this were you born.

Pray for Revolution.

This post originally appeared on an earlier incarnation of the Eternal Revolution Blog. Cthulhu painting by CPOKashew on DeviantArt. 

 

Fight With All Your Weapons

Some years ago an acquaintance confided in me about some relationship problems he was having. As a couple, he and his wife were drifting apart. Since we had talked before about Japanese culture, my advice took the form of a quote from the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings:

“Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the start with the sword and the long sword in either hand. This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.”

A relationship with another person, especially as a spouse in marriage, is one of self-sacrifice. To make the most of it, you have to utilize every weapon, or tool, at your disposal. It is not right to go half-way, holding back in such an arrangement. Rather than fearing that your significant other may not return your renewed passion to spend time with them, or pursue their interests, it is false to refrain from the attempt yourself.

This makes sense for more than just love and war; too often we hold back from using everything God has given us in living or promoting his Gospel, doing our daily work, or even in taking care of ourselves. We have already been counseled by our Lord not to bury our talents.

Part of making the best use of what we have is to keep such tools, talents, assets, and skills ready for whatever Providence sends our way. G.K. Chesterton writes in his book Heretics:

“A man who believes something is ready and witty, because he has all his weapons about him. He can apply his test in an instant.”
A well-armed Christian – that is one who is fully convinced of what he believes, is ready for anything in life. He needs only to put to use those convictions, even quickly making decisions about the most important things.
As a Christian, are you ever-aware of the armaments of your faith? Or do you squander opportunities to exercise the commands of your Lord? Put your weapons to use, and do not hold back!

The Saga of Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype

With the nostalgia of cleaning out old products (see my immediately prior posts about clearance Chesterton quote shirts) I thought it might be a good idea to revisit one of the most successful, most trying, and ultimately most distracting products I ever produced: Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype.

I still get emails asking about the game, and it is in fact sold out everywhere. I have not even seen used copies surface, and we have made and produced around 1,000 copies of the game.

It began with a joke, over a 100 years ago. G.K. Chesterton, of whom I write about and from whom I get a great deal of inspiration, created a game called Gype with his friend H.G. Wells. Chesterton writes in his Autobiography:

“I also remember that it was  we [Wells and GKC] who invented the well-known and widespread national game of Gype.  All sorts of variations and complications were invented in connection with Gype. There was Land Gype and Water Gype.  I myself cut out and coloured pieces of cardboard of mysterious and significant shapes, the instruments of Table Gype; a game for the little ones.  It was even duly settled what disease threatened the over-assiduous player; he tended to suffer from Gype’s Ear.  My friends and I introduced allusions to the fashionable sport in our articles; Bentley successfully passed one through the Daily News and I through some other paper. Everything was in order and going forward; except the game itself, which has not yet been invented.”

That is all there is; to date none of these references seem to have been located.

My brother Chris and I, in much more recent history, have been playing at making games since we were kids. As we got older, we discovered the hobby board game market. Euros, designer games, whatever you call them, we are into board games. Not the mass-produced junk like Monopoly and Life, but the kind of games that start with Settlers of Catan and wind you through titles like Thunderstone, Alien Frontiers, and Empire Builder. You will find my posts and BoardGameGeek.com.

So on a whim, and frustrated by modern and vague theories of “gype,” in a flash of inspiration we came up with the concept of Chinese Checkers, a chess board, and dice as pieces as a possible modern take on the game that was never invented. Simply get from one side of the board to the other, but with constantly changing rules of movement that are as random as the roll of a die.

Since it was not exactly what Chesterton had made, since he really did not make the game at all, we called it Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype. Uncle Chestnut was a nickname some local children had for GKC, and I had recently written a book about Chesterton for children using that nickname

 

Custom dice are expensive to produce, but our first 50 sets were done with industrial strength stickers and blank dice. Eventually we realized we could woodburn with a branding iron the images on the faces of a wooden cube, and use Rit dye as a safe – but unpredictable and limited – coloring agent. With the heat press I used to make shirts, we produced the board and the bag in house.

This is where the joke catches up to us. We submitted the game to the Mensa Mind Games competition in 2011. At this point we were using a hand iron, and if I recall it took us about 2 hours to make less than a dozen games. Rather, it took us that long just to stamp the dice. According to my shipping records, the games arrived on the very last day submissions were being accepted, and in a few weeks – Palm Sunday, 2011 – we got word from witnesses that Table Gype was one of the top 5 games of the year, and a recipient of the Mensa Select award.

Now, we suddenly had a product. There was a flurry of activity that I involved speaking with the games buyer for Barnes & Noble as well as a lot of other retailers, and the glaring problem that producing these games as we were was just not feasible. Positive reviews from Tom Vasel and others fueled interest in our little game. Table Gype was nominated for a Golden Geek award, and made Games Magazine’s top 100 games for 2011.

One of the most common questions we got was about pronunciation. I assume Chesterton and Wells used the Scottish pronunciation, which sound like “jip” – the root of that word, as it turns out, since gype means to joke or fool. To avoid spelling confusion, we pronounced the game with a hard “g” and rhymed it with hype.

Our solution to producing the game was to get a drill-press mounted branding iron, which you can see in use in our Kickstarter video. The rig worked well, and while time-consuming it was less expensive than plastic dice, more environmentally friendly, and a whole lot faster than the old method.

While our home-made aesthetics resounded well with some gamers, retailers did not like our packaging. There were others who strongly disliked the look and feel; our comment cards from the Mensa Mind Games event were pretty much split down the middle between getting highest marks for aesthetics (often citing that cloth and wood felt so much better than plastic and cardboard) and the lowest marks for it feeling “cheap.”

After 9 months of frenzied selling, a poorly planned but very rewarding trip to Gen Con Indy (we did not sell much, but made some really good friendships), sales bottomed out in early 2012. Marketing a single game is not a winning proposition, and the entire time I had been making games and promoting Gype, nothing was getting written or done with the rest of Eternal Revolution. There was really no crossover to promoting books inspired by Chesterton, or Chesterton apparel and a board game. Hobby gaming is its own niche world.

The last of the games sold in 2013, and while I have had some interest from publishers, there are no plans in the immediate future to produce Table Gype again. It has been a hard (and fun) lesson in chasing exciting projects that are outside of your calling. Chris and I did consider getting into full-blown game publishing, but it was clear it was not our path in life at this time. Shortly after the roller coaster ride of Gype, Chris began studies at seminary. I’m getting back to the core mission that I started Eternal Revolution to do.

There are a lot of good things we can do with our lives, but not all of them are the things God wants us to do with them. Table Gype must have had its purpose, even if only to teach that lesson. It was an adventure, but not a financially successful one.

If you are interested in Table Gype, any news will be announced on the BoardGameGeek.com entry for the game. The rules are posted there as well. You can also play the game for free online at BoardGameArena.com.

 

The Inspiration Behind the Way of the Christian Samurai

image

Even years after I wrote The Way of the Christian Samurai, I still get comments and questions as to why I wrote the book.

I don’t have a background in the martial arts, though I would appreciate a good sensei. My interest and inspiration into the concept of Christian lessons from samurai writings started with my own recognition that I was a terrible salesperson, especially for my own work and skills.

At my local library I found an intriguing-looking book called Samurai Selling. The idea behind this book was that the servant warriors of japan, the samurai, could teach the modern salesperson a great deal about what it means to serve.

The quotes from Musashi and the Hagakure captured my imagination. No one talks like that anymore. You could say that about any historical text, I suppose, but for me the ancient samurai texts rang particularly true, and I sought to read the source material.

While I suppose their was some inkling that modern Christians could get schooled in how to serve others and their Lord by these pagan soldiers for hire, the idea of matching up the writings and Christianity did not start to consume me until another unusual work.

Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. I have no idea why I chose to watch this movie initially. I’m not sure if most people would even consider it a good movie. Maybe there was something in a review about it drawing so heavily from the Hagakure.

Whatever my reasons for watching a movie about a mob hitman living as a modern samurai, at some point in the movie it clicked that these principles of loyalty, honor, living as already dead, and more exemplified the Christian way of life in a startling way.

Of course, the Way of Christianity and the way of the samurai are not the same. There are a lot of teachings that were irrelevant or contrary to the Christian life as I poured over the source material. But as I so often explore in my other writings under the concept of Eternal Revolution, Christian spiritual life in the modern world is one of warfare, and we are called to heroic levels of resolve, loyalty, and service.

Eventually, the book was finished, and I still get notes and emails about how life-changing the perspective is. Sure, some people miss the point and think I am trying to reconcile two schools of thought. But my point was, and still is this – if a pagan mercenary could serve his fat, greedy lord with complete self-sacrifice, resolve, and loyalty, what can he teach you as a modern Christian claiming to follow a most perfect Lord in Jesus Christ shirk even the simplest of his commands?

By the way – if you like the image in this post, it is available here as a t-shirt. 

Disturb us, Lord: How to Pray Like a Pirate

 

Don’t be forgettin’ to talk to ye Cap’n. Have ye been gettin’ too soft on the shores? Git out there an’ Pray Like a Pirate!

Too often we be too comfortable with the crosses we bear e’ry day. We git too lilly-livered and cowardly, stayin in waters we know to be safe.

But yer Capt’n, the Christ Jesus, told ye to go out to all the world and preach ‘is good news. To serve the poor. To trust ‘im on the stormy seas of life.

So muster up yer courage and  ask yer Capt’n to push ye out to the depths, where thar be monsters, storms, and big beasties of life that ye need to trust ‘im, and not yer own strength.

In the words of the cur Francis Drake – counted as a scoundrel by all but the English, who went and knighted ‘im for plundering under their colors:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

An’ fly the colors on yer gut with the Christian Pirate Shirt from Eternal Revolution.

(Originally posted on Talk Like A Pirate Day, September 19, on another incarnation of this blog. Hence the pirate-y composition.)

Deciding in Seven Breaths

 

One of the first sayings of the samurai that caught my attention was this one:

“In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takandobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.

When your mind is going hither and thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.” From the Hagakure

Decision making is not my strong suit. If you’ve been following my work for the past few years, you’ve probably seen me go back and forth on site designs a few times. Perhaps that is why a quote about making decisions in just seven breaths was appealing.

One of the burdens of free will is the ability to make choices. As humanity has developed more involved processes, more entertainment choices, and more opportunities the number of choices we make on a daily basis can be overwhelming.

Lingering too long on a decision leads to a state called “analysis paralysis” – the inability to act due to an inability to make a decision. Such as state can complicate a small issue, and turn it into a big issue; if you are afraid of making a mistake, often not acting is an even bigger mistake.

Naoshige’s counsel on decision making was explained a bit further elsewhere in the Hagakure, the book of the samurai:

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ …Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one would call great concern. If these are deliberated upon during ordinary times, they can be understood.
Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about. To face and event and solve it lightly is difficult if you are not resolved beforehand, and there will always be uncertainty in hitting your mark. However, if the foundation is laid previously, you can think of the saying, ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly,’ as your own basis for action.”

Many of our little decisions – what movie to see, what to eat for breakfast, are pretty insignificant. The big questions of our lives – what job to take, should I move or stay put, who to marry – these should be based first and foremost on principles we ponder every day.

As Christians, that means putting God and His will first. Considering what kind of company we keep, what kind of life He wants us to live, and what things are contrary to living our life to best serve God and our neighbor should make big decisions easier. When we forget those principles, when we doubt His plan for our lives, we get mired in indecision for those big things.

We too should be able to make decisions within the space of seven breaths. However, that requires being resolved ahead of time to follow a certain path.

Unfortunately, following God’s will has little to do with the singular choice of what to eat for a particular meal. For decisions so small, it is best not to waste time, and to remind yourself that the impact of such a choice is minimal.

Reflect every day, and pray for knowledge of God’s will for you. On that foundation of faith, you can make your decisions as quickly as a samurai.

Photo courtesy Anne-Lise Heinrichs on Flickr.