Editor's note:

Oh Dorothy Say­ers, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways! Or, rather, let us just share with you once again at Ren­o­varé so oth­ers can count along.

If you can get your hands on a copy (it is out of print), do try to pick up the essay col­lec­tion The Whim­si­cal Chris­t­ian by Ms. Say­ers. It will sure­ly make you grin a heap, and you’ll come away from each vis­it with her sparkling prose refreshed, renewed, and ready to dig deep into dog­ma. Yes, dogma! 

In today’s excerpt, Dorothy pon­ders the way that aver­age Chris­tians have made a less-than-stel­lar impres­sion of Chris­tian­i­ty on the world at large by, as she writes else­where, effi­cient­ly par­ing the claws of the Lion of Judah, cer­ti­fy­ing him meek and mild,’ and rec­om­mend­ing him as a fit­ting house­hold pet for pale curates and pious old ladies” (14). What we need, she avers, is not to hide or change or cam­ou­flage or deny our com­mon ten­ants, but to live them out in the full dra­ma — the ter­ri­fy­ing” dra­ma — of God’s mag­nif­i­cent story.

—Renovaré Team

Per­haps we are not fol­low­ing Christ all the way or in quite the right spir­it. We are like­ly, for exam­ple, to be a lit­tle spar­ing of the palms and hosan­nas. We are chary of wield­ing the scourge of small cords, lest we should offend some­body or inter­fere with trade. We do not fur­nish up our wits to dis­en­tan­gle knot­ty ques­tions about Sun­day obser­vance or trib­ute mon­ey, nor has­ten to sit at the feet of the doc­tors, both hear­ing them and ask­ing them ques­tions. We pass hasti­ly over dis­qui­et­ing jests about mak­ing friends with the mam­mon of unright­eous­ness and alarm­ing obser­va­tions about bring­ing not peace but a sword; nor do we dis­tin­guish our­selves by the gra­cious­ness with which we sit at meat with pub­li­cans and sin­ners. Some­how or oth­er, and with the best inten­tions, we have shown the world the typ­i­cal Chris­t­ian in the like­ness of a crash­ing and rather ill-natured bore — and this in the name of one who assured­ly nev­er bored a soul in those thir­ty-three years dur­ing which he passed through the world like a flame.

Let us, in heav­en’s name, drag out the divine dra­ma from under the dread­ful accu­mu­la­tion of slip­shod think­ing and trashy sen­ti­ment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to star­tle the world into some sort of vig­or­ous reac­tion. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious — oth­ers will pass into the king­dom of heav­en before them. If all men are offend­ed because of Christ, let them be offend­ed; but where is the sense of their being offend­ed at some­thing that is not Christ and is noth­ing like him? We do him sin­gu­lar­ly lit­tle hon­or by water­ing down his per­son­al­i­ty till it could not offend a fly. Sure­ly it is not the busi­ness of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

It is the dog­ma that is the dra­ma — not beau­ti­ful phras­es, nor com­fort­ing sen­ti­ments, nor vague aspi­ra­tions to lov­ingkind­ness and uplift, nor the promise of some­thing nice after death — but the ter­ri­fy­ing asser­tion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the hea­then, and they may not believe it; but at least they may real­ize that here is some­thing that a man might be glad to believe.

Say­ers, Dorothy L. The Whim­si­cal Chris­t­ian: 18 Essays, pp. 27 – 28. Col­lier Books, 1978.

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