The Gaygrocer Flag

June is Pride Month, which means that in a couple days we’ll be inundated with some version of what I’ve started to call the gaygrocer flag.

Why ‘gaygrocer’? I‘m glad you asked.

In just a couple of days, look at your social feeds or your friend’s profile pictures or at the storefronts downtown. Have you ever seen so many different people and businesses agree on one thing? You won’t see that many American flags on the Fourth of July. But the thing is, I’m not convinced that they all agree with it, or even that they’ve given much thought to it. Some are true believers, sure, but for many (most?) it’s just the cost of doing business — like Havel’s greengrocer.

Václav Havel wrote about a greengrocer in communist Czechoslovakia who hung a sign in his window saying “Workers of the world, unite!” The greengrocer didn’t believe it — in fact, he very much disagreed with it. But he knew that the sign was the cost of doing business; if he didn’t put it up, things would start to get… well, uncomfortable. It’s not what he wants to say, or even what his customers want to hear; he’s only signaling to the right people that he’s on the right side.

Here are some relevant excerpts from Havel:

“Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

“I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions… The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: ‘I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace… ’

“The greengrocer declares his loyalty (and he can do no other if his declaration is to be accepted) in the only way the regime is capable of hearing; that is, by accepting the prescribed ritual, by accepting appearance as reality, by accepting the given rules of the game… The greengrocer had to put the slogan in his window, therefore, not in the hope that someone might read it or be persuaded by it, but to contribute, along with thousands of other slogans, to the panorama, that everyone is very much aware of. This panorama, of course, has a subliminal meaning as well: it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation, alienate themselves from society, break the rules of the game, and risk the loss of their peace and tranquility and security… ”

It’s the exact same way with the Pride flags in June. The flags don’t say, “I agree with the regnant progressive gender and sexual ideology,” so much as, “I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” (FWIW, I think it’s much the same thing with BLM, “Hate has no home,” and “We believe” signs.)

But what happens if the greengrocer takes the sign out of his window? What if the gaygrocer simply refuses to fly the flag?

Here’s Havel again:

“In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth… By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundation of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal.”

So, all that to say: If you really believe in progressive gender and sexual ideology, by all means, fly the gaynbow flag with pride. But if you don’t actually believe it — if you’re simply doing it to demonstrate your right to be left in peace, if you’re just playing the game, if you’re living the lie — well, then simply refuse to fly the flag.

Live not by lies.

(Excerpts from https://komorebieffect.info/glossary/havels-greengrocer/)

The Golden Sessions

By Josh Bishop

When first I read those C.S. Lewis quotes — 
there’s no sound like the laughter of grown men,
he wrote, and nothing like a group of friends
before a fire to recline and smoke, 
to drink and talk at ease: golden sessions,
rare and therefore precious — I didn’t know
quite what he meant. But, six years later, now,
six short years and countless, unearned blessings
— of joy, of friendship, wisdom, laughter, rest —
at last I understand and must agree:
life has few better gifts to give than we
five friends at this, our too-infrequent fest,
with manful laughter loudly sounding our
own souls’ communion, our own golden hour.


In case you’re wondering about the C.S. Lewis quotes, here they are:

“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs — or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college rooms talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.”

qtd. in The Narnian

“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

The Four Loves

Sentimental Pleasures

A gentle snow is falling slow outside
the windows. Pine and nutmeg, orange and clove
like incense scent the pleasant air inside.
There’s apple cider mulling on the stove,
and gentle snow is falling slow outside.

We deck the halls with baubles, lights, and bells,
a wrap of burlap garland, potpourri.
The vinyl spins, and Perry Como tells
the Noel tale, while on our fresh-cut tree,
we’re hanging Christmas baubles, lights, and bells.

The newborn Christ is watching from the crèche,
where Mary in her virgin arms holds close
the ageless Son of God in infant flesh.
He came for us, this babe in swaddling clothes,
the newborn Christ who’s watching from the crèche.

For us — for this — Emmanuel has come:
for common Christmas joys, goodwill to men,
the sentimental pleasures of our home,
for peace on earth, hot chocolate from a tin —
for all of this, and more, our Lord has come.

© 2021 Josh Bishop

The Crowning King

Two Roman soldiers stand in Bethlehem,
half-hidden in the shadows as, not far
from where they leer, and unaware of them,
a virgin mother labors in a barn.
In just a few short years, these streets will run
with babies’ blood; these soldiers’ hands will hew
the limbs of weeping Rachel’s thousand sons.
Tonight, though, Herod’s men stand by while through
the dark there dawns an unforeseen shining
of aural light, a glorious chorus
that sings the coming of the crowning King.
They cannot know this babe is born for us
and that, despite the worst of Herod’s plans,
this baby’s blood can cleanse their bloodstained hands.

© 2020 Josh Bishop

Come, Men of Christ, Be Strong

For this one, I wanted to write a manly hymn for the church militant, which is something I think is too rare in our contemporary songs (nobody sings “Onward Christian Soldiers” anymore, for example). I wanted a song that serves as a battle cry, rallying the troops and encouraging men to fight the good fight of faith and to live in a particular way. So this one is essentially addressed to Christian men and intended to be sung primarily by Christian men.

It’s set to DIADEMATA (“Crown Him With Many Crowns”) because I think its joyful, jubilant, triumphant tone is well suited to the words.

“Come, Men of Christ, Be Strong” being sung
at the 2020 Fight Laugh Feast Conference

Come, Men of Christ, Be Strong
To the tune of DIADEMATA (‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’)

Verse 1
Come, men of Christ, be strong!
Stand firm, and hold your ground.
Take courage: Though the battle’s long,
The Victor has been crowned.
Advance the cause of Christ!
Once more unto the breach!
Make sharp your swords and join the fight,
For triumph is in reach.

Verse 2
Come, men of Christ, enjoy!
God’s given all that’s fair.
The things of earth are for your joy,
Received with thankful prayer.
Take heart, glad men, have cheer!
Let loud your laughter ring!
And live as rowdy cavaliers
For covenant and King.

Verse 3
Come, join the Bridegroom’s feast!
The table’s set to dine,
Filled full with ale and fatty meats
And rich with bread and wine.
Lift up your glasses high,
And toast, “No king but Christ!”
Then eat your fill and fix your eyes
On Him, our sacrifice.

Verse 4
Sing, men of Christ, sing loud:
“Our banner is the Lord!”
First in, last out, and laughing loud,
We work for our reward.
One day we’ll hear, “Well done,”
And all our striving cease,
But ’til our lifelong race is run,
We’ll fight and laugh and feast.

© 2020 Josh Bishop

Our home contains the world, these days

A sonnet for the Covid-19 shutdown.

Our home contains the world, these days. Not all
We love, perhaps, but most and dearest-held
Is sheltered safe inside these shabby walls.
We hadn’t noticed how our lives had swelled
Like springtime floods that, everflowing, rise
To overwhelm the riverbanks but won’t
Recede again; our floodplain never dries.
Diversions tugged relentlessly (they don’t
Deserve the time we gave them). Swindled by
False urgency, we’d grasped toward each demand.
Turns out this busied frenzy was a lie;
The only tasks worth doing are at hand. 
This sudden, unexpected ebb has shown
How small, yet rich, our cares should be: our own.

© 2020 Josh Bishop

Lord’s Day, July 5, 1891

Adapted from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon

It is righteous, this pleasure in natural things:
In these star-speckled heavens – sky-scattered delights! –
In these meadows, pale garnished with daisies and kingcups;
In seas, where beasts creep from deeps darker than night’s
Vasty pitch; in these woods, sounding round as with wing
Beats swift minstrels mark time and, mid-carol, take flight.

They are madmen who marvel the mountains and say
Of their chisel-chipped peaks – here brushed light, there daubed dark –
“No, I see here no God,” though the Maker’s mark’s made
In pinched clay. There is something of him in this art.
Only look: Lift your eyes from that beauty-blind way
To rejoice – echo: “Good” – as God praised from the start.

O what gladness – what joy! – in the craft of his hands.
Hear our Christ in the hills – how he thundering raves!
Hear him whisper his hush at the sea’s pebbled strand,
Where his cadence sings soft in the sun-stippled waves.
When admiring these works of our Father we stand
All the nearer, among them, to him. If we say,

Then, that bulbs’ goblets gold, filled with sunlight in spring,
Speak of life newly waking from winter-wrapped rest –
How much more must the sight of a man new-born bring
News of goodness and grace? How much more should a breast
Choked with thorns, once – once withered with sin’s leeching sting –
Give us joy when revived by Christ’s cross-borne caress?

How much more than the buds of the silver-leafed birch
Bursting new should those walking, once-dead, now proclaim:
“Let this slum-become-temple, this whorehouse-turned-church –
This old life dawning new like the darkness turned day –
Spur your praise!” Though there’s joy to be found when we search
Shore and brake, glory’s more in creation remade.

© 2015 Josh Bishop

This poem was published by The Rabbit Room in August 2015.

Abraham, Isaac and Jack

I read novels to my oldest son, Jack, nearly every night. He’s 6. Our favorite stories are tales of imagination and high adventure—Narnia, The Hobbit, The Green Ember, Half Magic—but as good and beneficial as they are, I realized some time ago that the Bible was missing from our reading regimen. Not collections of Bible stories (we’ve been reading those for years), but the actual word of God.

I’m convinced that the Bible offers something that no other book can give: An encounter with the living Christ. So we bought Jack his own Bible in an easy-to-understand translation (NIRV) and started in Genesis 1 with plans to go straight through to the end. Little brother Ollie (age 2) listens in.

It’s been sporadic and slow-going, so far, but I think that’s okay. The point is that Jack will grow up in the habit of making time to read his Bible regularly, and he’ll see the priority Becca and I place on it. I’ve set a long-term goal: By the time Jack is 10, he’ll have read the entire Bible. Sure, there are some parts I’ll leave out this first go-round (Lot and his incestuous daughters, for example), but my philosophy, with very few exceptions, is: If it’s in there, I read it. Then we’ll talk about it.

This “most anything goes” approach has led to a lot of interesting conversations. Some are funny, like when Abraham died: “Abraham dies? He’s the main character!” and “He was 175 years old? If he had that many dollars, he’d have enough to buy the Smaug Lego set.” Some are difficult, like the covenant of circumcision or Sodom and Gomorrah. (You know, those.) Sometimes I don’t know what to say aside from, “Good question. I don’t know. Let’s find out together.”

Then there was the story where God tells Abraham to kill his son, Isaac—that story was trickier than most.

They reached the place God had told Abraham about. There Abraham built an altar. He arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac. He placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand. He took the knife to kill his son.
(Genesis 22.9–10)

Jack interrupted: “Wait, he’s going to kill him?”

“Well, God told him to offer his son as a sacrifice, but no, wait for the end—he’s not going to kill him.” (Spoiler.)

“What’s a sacrifice?”

“Remember I told you that the Bible says the punishment for sin is death? People used to make sacrifices so the animal’s death would pay the price of their own sin. The animal would die so they wouldn’t have to. But watch what God does here.”

I finished the story.

Abraham looked up. There in a bush he saw a ram. It was caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram. He sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
(Genesis 22.13)

I tried to wrap it up: “This is a tough one, Jack. In fact, this is one of your mom’s least favorite stories in the whole Bible. And I almost agree, because without Jesus, this is a really horrible story. But we have Jesus. It’s not horrible, because part of the reason the whole thing happened is so that Israel would know who Jesus was when he came. God gave this story to his people as a gift.”

That confused him.

“Look,” I said. “A dad took his son onto a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice for sin. Can you think of another time a son went on a mountain and died for sins?”

“Jesus?”

“Yes, Jesus. Look at what happens: God gave Abraham the sheep to be used for the sacrifice to save Isaac; and later, God provided another lamb, Jesus, to be the sacrifice to save you and me. Did you know they call Jesus the Lamb of God? This is why: Jesus was the sacrifice for our sin, so we don’t have to kill a sheep like Abraham did. Does that make sense?”

“Sort of.”

(Good enough for me, so I kept going.)

“That’s why this story is actually good news. God saved Abraham’s son, but later on he gave his own son to save us—to save you and me. God never actually wanted Abraham to kill Isaac, he just wanted to show his people about Jesus. They knew this story so they could remember it when they saw what Jesus did.”

Jack was quiet and crawled into my lap and snuggled into me for a hug, not looking at me. He never gets like this.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded.

“Are you bothered?”

Another nod.

“Are you afraid that God will tell daddy to kill you?”

Another nod.

“No, God won’t tell me to kill you. I promise. I promise a thousand times over.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because God already killed Jesus. He took all of our sin and put it on Jesus, so we don’t need to have another sacrifice for any of our sin. Abraham was pointing forward to Jesus, but we get to point backward to Jesus. Jesus died so that you don’t have to. God doesn’t want me to sacrifice you, because God already sacrificed Jesus instead. So he’ll never, ever tell me to kill you.”

Another hug, a better one this time, then we ended with a short prayer:

Thank you, God, for providing the sacrifice for Abraham to save his son. And thank you for providing your own son, Jesus, as a sacrifice to save us—to save me and mom and Jack and Oliver. Thank you that we don’t have to pay for our sin with death because Jesus already did. Amen.

I don’t know that I got the answer right, but I think I did okay. And I hope that, if you have children of your own, this dialogue encourages you to pile on the couch or gather around the dinner table or sprawl on the bed with your kids. Open up God’s word and jump in with them. Tell them the story of God. All of it. It doesn’t matter that you get all the answers right, or that you have answers at all, or that you do a good job pronouncing all those names and places. What matters is that you read it to your children, confident that in those pages they’ll find Christ—and trust that God will do the rest.

—–

NOTE: I’m grateful to The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Transformation Bible for pointing the way on this one. If I got lost en route, the mistakes are my own; these two guide maps are excellent, and I highly recommend them.

C.S. Lewis on Bicycles

This guest post is brought to you by C.S. Lewis. To be fair, in this essay, “Talking About Bicycles,” Lewis is actually quoting a conversation with a friend, and it is this friend who passes along the wise words below. Still, Lewis has the byline for the essay, so he gets this byline, too.

Before reading Lewis, though, take a moment to look at the bike pictured above. It’s my bike, and yes, it has a six-pack carrier. Does yours have a six-pack carrier? Didn’t think so. If you want one, I found mine here.

—–

“Talking about bicycles,” said my friend, “I have been through the four ages. I can remember a time in early childhood when a bicycle meant nothing to me: it was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on. Then came a time when to have a bicycle, and to have learned to ride it, and to be at last spinning along on one’s own, early in the morning, under trees, in and out of the shadows, was like entering Paradise. That apparently effortless and frictionless gliding—more like swimming than any other motion, but really most like the discovery of a fifth element—that seemed to have solved the secret of life. Now one would begin to be happy. But, of course, I soon reached the third period. Pedaling to and fro from school (it was one of those journeys that feel up-hill both ways) in all weathers, soon revealed the prose of cycling. The bicycle, itself, became to me what his oar is to a galley slave.”

Continue reading “C.S. Lewis on Bicycles”