A softer and stupider version of this revolution is pushed in our schools, and many parts of our overgrown government, not to mention in the leadership of many churches and sects. The revolution seems like a good idea, until (1) you actually see what it entails, and (2) you recall that it’s the same bent and failing human nature out of which perfection and utopia will come, (3) “They”, the horrible ones with power, are the same as most of us, if we had their power & opportunities. Salvation comes not via good intentions.
What then? Shall we be enamoured of the old evils, or favour new ones?
“The Upside Down is an alternate dimension existing in parallel to the human world. It contains the same locations and infrastructure as the human world, but it is much darker, colder and obscured by an omnipresent fog…. [a] dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a place of monsters. It is right next to you and you do not even see it.” … “Nope. No parallels under here.” (Hilary White)
~ BINKS IS just about to finish ‘Stranger Things‘ on Netflix, Season 1. Must say, I love it.. and it’s hard not to binge-watch it.
No major spoilers ensue below. Promise.
Like ‘The Matrix‘, the hit-show Stranger Things employs that familiar & human sense of displacement, weirdness, that there is an Unseen all around us which sometimes breaks in upon us in our ‘ordinary’ lives. That there is more going on than meets the eye.
In the popular Netflix series, which overflows with references to 80’s pop-culture, there is literally an evil copy parallel dimension called ‘The Upside Down‘, where people can be trapped, and eaten by a monster. The dimensional doorways can appear anywhere and everywhere: the wall of a house, a tree trunk, the basement of a top-secret government lab.
What both ‘The Matrix‘ and ‘Stranger Things‘ lack to make them universal is a spiritual universe above and inter-penetrating the visible ‘ordinary’ universe.. and a clear sense of God & His guiding providence. Sadly, religion plays almost no part in the show, or the lives of the characters.
What ‘Meant’ Means
By comparison, the writer J.R.R. Tolkien repeatedly mentions providence without explicating that it is of the Valar (archangels) and Eru (God). The wizard Gandalf’s own long mission in Middle Earth was a sending from the Blessed Land to fight evil, help the free peoples via suffering and pity, and– ultimately– to defeat Sauron, the dark successor to Morgoth (a fallen Valar, the Satan-figure).
In that Lord Of The Rings scene– which Peter Jackson moves from Frodo’s kitchen to the Mines Of Moria– we read:
Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
That ‘meant’ bears a world of significance. Consider.
‘Meant’ is God’s providence, in the world, in events, ‘coincidences’, and via people. The Bible proclaims: “All things work together for good to them that love God.” [Rom. 8:28] Note: NOT ‘all things will be pleasant, easy, and straightforward’.
Remember: Christians serve a Crucified and Risen King, who still bears His (now glorious) scars. No easy path there: take up your cross. Follow, die.
Living Our Double Sight
And there’s another sense of “the unseen dimension”, our own actual “Upside Down”, which tempers our anger and enlightens our struggles. As Saint Paul teaches the Christians of Ephesus, and us:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” [Eph. 6:12]
Any battle with sin, darkness, heresy– in the church and the world, and in our own hearts, is a combination of many forces, many invisible, or acting through us or other people in a greater & darker pattern than the simply human (as bad as we can be).
Exorcists are still busy in 2018. Possessed people still exist– some in politics, and in the Church itself. Even some clergy may be thus.
The Disorientation Is Real
In the current pontificate of Francis, there is unprecedented darkness, division, dishonesty, confusion and discouragement afoot. Papal hyper-loyalists rally ’round the revolutionary throne, throwing accusations at critics and radical (deep-rooted) Catholics who demand the whole witness of the Church to be heard, respected, lived, taught.
Sometimes, it feels as if an UnChurch from some evil parallel dimension like ‘The Upside Down‘ has invaded our reality, and is seeking to proclaim itself as the real, true, and only thing to serve. There is a spiritual war afoot: each of us can play a double part, on earth as in heaven, for good or bad. The darkness is not simply the opposition themselves, nor we only the bright good ones– for humility and reality’s sake, we admit there are brighter and darker forces in conflict within what we see, and in each soul.
Holy loyalty and faithfulness and restraint are good: but we do not honour the Church or her current leadership via our blind obedience, nor forgetting Whom She really belongs to, and Whose Voice she is supposed to obey. His will is not simply to be identified with the novel dictates of people who seem bound to another message, an unKingdom, a utopia of exalted man making himself into a God, his desires and feelings the measure of all truth and goodness. OUR kingdom come, OUR will be done: and yet, even in this, a greater darkness can be felt, seeping through, pushing, ruining, distorting the Church, but also the fever dreams of utopia, too.
Some Christian Basics
That evil unholy being is not some exact counterpart to God, but a created and fallen Enemy, and likewise all the fallen angels and powers under his control. Alone, we cannot defeat such darkness, for we are but mortal and finite and compromised with darkness ourselves. From such, Christ came to deliver us.
Ancient Paganism sought to placate the dark powers; to deflect the ill will of spirits, gods, sprites, and malicious beings of every sort. Animal and human sacrifice was the trading of precious life for benefits, or being left alone.
The Incarnation changed all that. Jesus is become the Lord of the living and the dead. The suffering King Jesus lays bare the plans and pride and shining schemes of Lucifer; He bore in himself our sin, and has already won the victory over sin, and death, and Hell.. yet the long wrapping up of the battle will seem almost like defeat, as the faithful must abide darkness in the world, the Church, the human heart, and in malicious spiritual forces.
But, but– What To DO?
Read the headlines; pray; comfort one another; love the sacraments; repent. Read the Bible & the Church Fathers, and the saints. Read solid blogs and books. Same as it ever was, and there’s no greener grass elsewhere. Cheer up! It will very likely get much worse.
Stay faithful, for God is faithful, and will not abandon us, or leave us weak and comfortless and enslaved to the machinations of the Enemy and his minions, nor to our own sins, negligences, and ignorances. These bizarre times WILL be sorted by God, and by his judgment & mercy, and by better Church leaders and theologians in decades and centuries to come. +
“Lo, I am with you always,
even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
[St. Matthew 28:20]
~ SO THERE WAS your humble WebElf, reading (online) the Pusey translation of The Confessions of St. Augustine (Book VIII), and I came across pre-saint Augustine’s comments about how deeply moved he was by the book, The Life Of Anthony (of Egypt). Quotation below.
My brain is.. well.. not unlike a goofy hamster on caffeine, so away I went to find a copy of the said other book, and started reading that.. before having finished Confessions... which I promptly forgot to finish. Welcome to my world.
What’s not to like? A book written by a saint.. about a saint, which inspired another man to eventually become a saint. Doesn’t that insta-rate five stars.. or, perhaps, haloes?
The Book Itself
Written by St. Athanasius of Alexandria, The Life Of St. Anthony of Egypt, primary founder of Christian monasticism, is a readable, gripping, and inspiring Christian classic. St. Augustine, in his confessions, describes reading it along with his friends, and being deeply moved by it.
None of us knows the effect of our lives, actions, words– or failures in the same– on our neighbours and times, or those to come. For St. Anthony and St. Augustine both knew that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is faithful, and sow they spiritually sowed their seed and cleared the fields of rocks in their times. Lo and behold, those earlier heroes of the faith inspired one of the great Church Fathers in his day and age to fight the battles, the good fight of faith, in his day and age.
A reminder to abide faithful, however hard the slog or dark the times.
Binks, Elf of Web
14. Upon a certain day, then, Nebridius being away (why, I do not remember), lo, there came to the house to see Alypius and me, Pontitianus, a countryman of ours, in so far as he was an African, who held high office in the emperor’s court. What he wanted with us I know not, but we sat down to talk together, and it fell out that upon a table before us, used for games, he noticed a book; he took it up, opened it, and, contrary to his expectation, found it to be the Apostle Paul—for he imagined it to be one of those books which I was wearing myself out in teaching. At this he looked up at me smilingly, and expressed his delight and wonder that he had so unexpectedly found this book, and this only, before my eyes. For he was both a Christian and baptized, and often prostrated himself before You our God in the church, in constant and daily prayers.
When, then, I had told him that I bestowed much pains upon these writings, a conversation ensued on his speaking of Antony, the Egyptian monk, whose name was in high repute among Your servants, though up to that time not familiar to us. When he came to know this, he lingered on that topic, imparting to us a knowledge of this man so eminent, and marvelling at our ignorance. But we were amazed, hearing Your wonderful works most fully manifested in times so recent, and almost in our own, wrought in the true faith and the Catholic Church. We all wondered— we, that they were so great, and he, that we had never heard of them.
15. From this his conversation turned to the companies in the monasteries, and their manners so fragrant unto You, and of the fruitful deserts of the wilderness, of which we knew nothing. And there was a monastery at Milan full of good brethren, without the walls of the city, under the fostering care of Ambrose, and we were ignorant of it. He went on with his relation, and we listened intently and in silence.
He then related to us how on a certain afternoon, at Triers, when the emperor was taken up with seeing the Circensian games, he and three others, his comrades, went out for a walk in the gardens close to the city walls, and there, as they chanced to walk two and two, one strolled away with him, while the other two went by themselves; and these, in their rambling, came upon a certain cottage inhabited by some of Your servants, poor in spirit, of whom is the kingdom of heaven, where they found a book in which was written the life of Antony. This one of them began to read, marvel at, and be inflamed by it; and in the reading, to meditate on embracing such a life, and giving up his worldly employments to serve You….
~ SO WHAT EXACTLY DOES victory look like? Giant Roman triumph, with floats and captives, plunder, and conquering troops? Or an undignified mocking of the defeated, bared butts, raspberries, and ‘Neener! Neener!’? Dignity, and proper respect for the conquered?
Two World War 2 sea captains make me think that in some cases, there’s another way.
Binky’s Departed Loved Ones
My maternal Grandparents are interred in a cemetery overlooking the beautiful Grand Bay in West St. John, New Brunswick. Only a gravestone or two away from them is another stone, recording that the deceased was part of the crew of the HMS Jervis Bay.
That what-now, you say? How very last millennium!
A British Bulldog
The HMS Jervis Bay was a converted British liner off the England-to-Australia circuit, loaded up with some surplus turn of the century 6″ naval popguns and a few machine guns for convoy duty, and called– almost ironically– an ‘Armed Merchant Cruiser’. She was refitted for military service in the port of Saint John, New Brunswick.
The year 1940 had been a tsunami of defeats and disasters: Belgium, Holland, and France had fallen, followed by the miracle of Dunkirk; Norway & Denmark conquered, and Sweden left ‘free’ if she continued to supply steel and other war matériels to Germany.
All that late Summer, the shattered and almost weaponless British armies rescued from Dunkirk along with civilian militias and the tireless RAF had guarded Britain from a seaborne German invasion– Operation Sealion— which very nearly happened. Britain stood alone. Some counselled surrender to the obvious new order of things: but Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister, just wouldn’t hear of it.
In fact, Herr Hitler had jumped the German war-plans by 3 years (thank heavens), but still had enough u-boats and commerce-raiding pocket battleships to seriously threaten the survival of Britain. Merchant convoys were the only remaining life-line.
Our Story Begins
The chilly but ice-free wartime port of Halifax, late October 1940– 37 merchant ships gather in Bedford Basin, and set sail with their single escort, the HMS Jervis Bay, out into the stormy & U-Boat haunted North Atlantic. Bound for Liverpool, England, Convoy HX-84 sails into history.
The whole convoy had to go the speed of the slowest ship, and to stay together despite wind, fogs, night, storms, and sometimes the questionable seaworthiness or antiquity of the merchant vessels, some of which had served likewise in World War One. The HMS Jervis Bay had to herd these cats for the whole 2700+ mile trans-Atlantic voyage.
Worst Possible Day
One late November afternoon, 8 days later later and south-southwest of Iceland, the deep-laden ships of HX-84 struggled eastwards against cold and heavy seas.
Convoy commander Captain Edward Fegen of the Jervis hears from the lookouts: they’ve spotted something even worse than the u-boats: a foreboding silhouette– incoming fire reveals the German pocket-battleship Admiral Scheer, angling in for a leisurely turkey-shoot on Convoy HX-84.
Doom. A very nasty wolf chasing down a parcel of sheep and one semi-sheep-dog. The Admiral Scheer was a fast heavy cruiser with 6 powerful 11-inch guns, each able to fire every 17 seconds effectively out to 20 000 yards, or 11 miles. 38 juicy targets just ahead.
White flag? Run away?
Captain Fegen of the Jervis Bay had a decision to make, and little time to make them.
“Here’s our convoy to protect, and we’re it, lads– All hands to battle stations! Signal ‘Scatter the convoy, maximum speed’!”; and then came the surprising orders: “Turn hard to port, and full speed towards that enemy cruiser! Make smoke! All guns, fire as you bear! Let’s see if we can’t draw her fire.”
With her retro-fitted guns roaring more as defiance than damage-dealing weapons, Captain Fegen steered the Jervis between the enemy and the fleeing convoy. The eager German Captain Theodor Krancke needed to hit the convoy before nightfall. A collision or lucky shot could harm the Admiral Scheer: best sink the Jervis right away.
“Our captain knew just what we were going to get, but it didn’t matter”, one crew member later recalled. The Armed Merchant Cruiser drew heavy enemy fire as towering fountains of water exploded around the Jervis Bay, whose own shells mostly fell short of the enemy.
Behind the ocean-liner turned Armed Merchant Cruiser, her convoy scattered to starboard at various speeds; every minute of distraction and delay meant lives and ships and supplies saved. The Scheer’s 11-inch shells pounded into the Jervis, which was soon crippled, aflame, unable to steer or communicate– but for almost half-an-hour the outgunned 15-thousand ton ship had preoccupied the guns of the German pocket-battleship, as the daylight faded away, and had even managed to damage the German radar & ranging with a very lucky hit.
While the surviving crew abandoned the drifting liner for lifeboats, flotsam, and the bitter North Atlantic water, the pocket-battleship finally sailed past, and began to destroy 5 of the 37 ships of HX-84 in the twilight. But Captain Krancke’s frustration was far from over.
A little-known or remembered chapter of this story is the other convoy ship which fought the Germans. Following Fegen’s example, Captain Pettigrew and the men of the S.S. Beaverford, a Canadian freighter, likewise sailed interference against the Admiral Scheer, and bought even more valuable time for the convoy, allowing the other ships to scatter in the darkness. For over four-and-a-half hours, the Beaverford fired her two small guns, until she was sent to the bottom with torpedoes from the Scheer around 10:30pm. All hands were lost.
Sadly enough, there’s no movie, medals, novels, or memorials for the valiant S.S. Beaverford & her lost captain & crew.
Captain Fegen himself was killed at his station, but received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions. Sixty-eight survivors of Jervis Bay ’s crew of 254 were picked up by the neutral Swedish ship Stureholm (three later died of their wounds). One survivor went on to live his life in St. John New Brunswick, and to be buried near my Grandparents (I believe it may have been “MORROW. Everett. R.C.N.R. Scullion. Saint John, New Brunswick)”.
The Jervis Bay inspired many books, including Alistair MacLean’s novel H.M.S. Ulysses, and a short story in his book “The Lonely Sea”; the poem “The Ballad of Convoy HX84“, amongst others; and the final action of the Jervis Bay was portrayed in the movie San Demetrio London (1943, entire movie online here); and various standing memorials in Bermuda, Wick, London, and Saint John, New Brunswick.
Any Point, At All, Binks?
What does victory, or defeat, look like? Not always how we expect.
The seemingly captive and defeated Lord Jesus went down to a dreadful and criminal death, surrounded by mockery and the apparent victory of power over goodness. But in truth, it was a universe & heaven-changing sacrifice. God’s spotless Lamb for His flock; the one for the many; the Lord for his people.
It didn’t look like that, on Good Friday, or Holy Saturday, of course. ‘Another rebel rabble-rouser crushed‘, thought Rome; ‘Blasphemer dealt with‘, thought his enemies in the religious establishment. ‘So much for all that‘, thought the fickle crowds. ‘We thought he really was The One, the promised Messiah‘ thought most of the disciples. The came the bright morning after the Sabbath rest.
For surpassing all we could ask or imagine, God has the last word about Good Friday on Easter Morning when the Lord Jesus rose again bodily from death, and then came Pentecost day, and all the days from those days to this. One sacrifice, once, for all mankind forever. Jesus The Lord wins us eternal victory, through– not despite– his own suffering, death, and resurrection.
Victory In Defeat: There’s More Than One Way To Win
Sacrifice, courage, fighting on come death or defeat, not counting the cost– the HMS Jervis Bay and the S.S. Beaverford & their crews did not surrender, and did what seemed to be impossible: they put themselves in the way, at the right place & time to do the maximum good. As Christians, our prayers and plans and efforts neither arise from, nor go forth into emptiness. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”– ultimately, it’s all God’s business, and if we strive to be faithful, to speak up and act and pray and not despair in the face of evil’s apparent victories, He will bless and bring forth– even from our weak and wavering and unworthy faith– wonderfully good things.
Those incoming blessings may be elsewhere, and for others, or for future generations; they may be for us, and such a time as this. That’s His business, not ours.
As for me, I sail in the spirit of the HMS Jervis Bay and the S.S. Beaverford; with the angels and archangels, martyrs, saints, apostles, and all the company of heaven, following Jesus, the author and completer of our faith, under the victory-banner of the blessed and glorious Trinity– even the Father, and the Son, and The Holy Ghost, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. ~