Friday, September 21, 2012

My "Screwtape Letter" (with apologies to C.S. Lewis!)

(We're gearing up for The PURSE-onality Challenge holiday edition"A Holiday-Ready Heart"–in October! Stay tuned for full details...Warm-Up Week starts September 24!)

September 5-23, I'll be blogging through Mary DeMuth's soon-to-be-released book Everything: What you Give and What you Gain to Become Like Jesus. Each week, I'll be giving way a copy of the book. You can enter the drawing via the Rafflecopter at the end of each Everything blog post!

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"To grow, we give up. We rest. We give God control."

(Here's the trailer for's an honor to have my story of healing included!)

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Over the last month, my AP students and I have read C.S. Lewis's classic satire The Screwtape Letters. This weekend, we'll attend Max McLean's superb stage adaptation. Today, we're sharing our first drafts of our "My Screwtape Letter" essays.

I say "we" because this year, for the first time, my students decided that I needed to write a "Screwtape Letter" along with them. They didn't even let me pick my topic (which I allowed them to do!)  No, they told me I had to write about sarcasm. (As if I know ANYthing about SARcasm! ;-)

Writing mine revealed, once again, how constantly I strive for control. My quote for today from Everything –- "To grow, we give up. We rest. We give God control" –- is yet another reminder that anything I try to do for myself, even something as seemingly "innocent" as a bit of sarcasm, stunts me spiritually.

My Dear Wormwood,

Your patient’s penchant for sarcasm must be approached with care. Yes, you are right in recalling (I’m glad to see you memorized something during your S.A.T.* Review course!) that the Enemy has instructed that his followers mean “yes” they say “yes,” and mean “no” when they say “no.” Sarcasm, of course, is the antithesis of this sort of folksy, do-gooder, so-called “truth-telling” form of verbal communication. But do not assume an easy victory.

Why and how sarcasm is used are of the utmost importance. (This is true also for skepticism and cynicism, but I will address them in future letters.) Your patient reaches for sarcasm to defend herself from the paradoxical twin fears that have dogged her since gradeschool: her terror of looking stupid and her fear of of seeming smart. Spend some time in the multimedia department reviewing her junior high years. In particular, watch the following two clips:

1)  the day when the boy upon whom she has a “crush” (such a deliciously destructive term) asks her, “Do you read the dictionary for fun?” and she naively responds, “Yes!”  Note the eager anticipation in her response, her thrill that he must be a fellow dictionary–or at least encyclopedia–reader. See how many days it takes her to figure out that his sideways glances at her and whispers to peers are not evidence of endearment but mockery. 

2)  the day when she comes home from school in tears, once again, and tells her brother “nobody plays with me at recess.” Note especially his advice (to keep her quiz and test scores carefully hidden) and the ensuing events that she associates as the results of masking her intelligence: invitations to girls’ birthday parties (notice how she actually equates these with true friendship!) and that meaning-fraught scrawled note with “Yes” and “No” checkboxes from a prepubescent classmate of the opposite gender (notice how eagerly she believes a checkmark in the “Yes” box will blossom immediately into true love!)

You may wonder how such minor (even silly) childhood events have the power to reach across decades to influence adult beliefs and behaviors. Trust me: thanks to our Self-Awareness** 
 Campaign of the 90’s, and Entitlement Crusade of the 00’s, you can turn any typical childhood tribulation into A Defining Moment! Re-play these scenes in her memory until the echos of silent vows of self-protection drown out the Enemy’s absurd plea to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  (Some of their authors dare suggest that the Enemy would even now “forgive” Our Father. As if! But I digress...)

Sarcasm affords your patient the illusion of control over her fear of looking stupid. Under the guise of “self-deprecation,” she plays the trump card of “I’ll-mock-myself-before-you-can.” This is a most excellent form of false humility, as she is careful to expose only those weaknesses calculated to impress her audience with her “vulnerability.” As she considers herself an amateur deadpan comedian, she has no clue how close to a master magician she is becoming. 

But your patient’s most maliciously manipulative skill is her use of sarcasm to cover her intellect. Raised in a family that values brains and education far above appearance, physical prowess, or wealth, she lives in a society that (thanks to our efforts!) treats the term “intellectual” as a swear word. So accompanying each seeming self-deprecation is a vague smugness. Keep this vague. And never let her question why she feels smug about her intelligence. She knows her IQ is the result of two factors entirely out of her control: genetics and upbringing. She chose neither her parents nor the home (a dreadful abode, disgustingly full of books and conversation!) in which she was raised. 

Should her vague smugness ever take the form of words, they can be none other than, “I’m better than you because I’m smarter than you!”  And the shock of such a stark revelation of core convictions will undo all we’ve spent decades devising. I’ve seen it time and time again: when faced with the incontrovertible fact that one’s talents are pure Gift and pure Grace, far too many humans willingly let loose their former death-grip on Pride and take hold, instead, of the Enemy’s incomprehensible vile paradigm known as Gratitude. And when the emotion of Gratitude decays into activities of Service, I need not tell you how desperate our cause becomes!

However, my decades of experience with your patient assure me that you have little to fear. She pays lip-service to truth (and even Truth) but her actions demonstrate a deep devotion to doing whatever it takes to achieve one thing: Security. Sarcasm is her best tool for keeping others at a distance for the sake of safety. She assures herself that her “kind” of sarcasm is harmless because she uses it mostly against herself. But when the wrong buttons are pushed by the right people, she switches instantly from self-mockery to scorched earth, and “I’ll mock myself before you mock me” becomes “I’ll destroy you before you destroy me.”

It’s droll how human psychologists believe they coined the catchy phrase “Hurt people hurt people.”  None suspect that they simply stumbled upon Our Father’s most practical doctrine. Most days, all you need to do is stand back and watch, in sublime satisfaction, as your patient partakes in this most sacred of our sacraments.

To quote one of their more disturbing movies, “Stupid is as stupid does”!



*  Seriously Abysmal Tempter

**  I must write an entire letter–or two or three!–on the glorious successes of our “Self” movements: Self-Defense, Self-Esteem, Self-Image, Self-Respect, and my personal favorite: Self-Righteous Indignation!

Your Turn:
  • If you were to write "My Screwtape Letter," what topic do you think you would select?
  • Fill in the blank: "The one thing I'd like to do differently this year for CHRIST-mas is ______________."
  • Anything else on your heart!

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  1. You are going to LOVE the play! I went last year and it was AMAZING!

    My Screwtape Letter? Hiding behind the "funny" mask. (Yeah...totally know I do that!)

    What I would do differently for CHRIST-mas? Tell my kids to pick a charity that they want to receive their "present money". They have so much STUFF and it would be better served to make a difference in the world instead of collecting dust in their bedrooms.

  2. @ Mindy...that is a great idea. What would I do different? I would work harder to make CHRIST my focus and not all the trappings that 'the world' calls Christmas. I would set aside more time to thank, honor and adore Jesus.

  3. Oh my gosh!
    I love Screwtape Letters!! I especially love listening to the audio book! It's hard sometimes to do the mental reversal to get what he is saying...But I love it. C.S. really "got it."

  4. This Christ-mas, I would like to be able to let my family be.... Not micromanage. Be filled with awe inspiring grace to glorify and shine for my God,that I will look and behave so differently to last year and every year before, that my family will definitely want what I have and have theirs eyes of their hearts opened to the only truth.