Bleak House

         

Bleak House was serialized from March 1852 to September 1853 in his magazine Household Words. While this is his ninth novel, it is the first to be published in his own new magazine and is the first that scholars call his panoramic novels, the others being Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend.

Panoramic means that the author covers several story lines and wrestles with numerous issues. Panoramic can also be taken to mean big. Bleak House weighs in at a substantial 377,076 words. I purchased this Wordsworth Edition from Amazon for five dollars. It contains two modern introductions to help us understand the novel more easily. There are also 348 footnotes “translating” words and phrases long out of use.  Example: woolsack–cushion stuffed with wool, the Lord Chancellor’s seat in the House of Lords.  There are also 30 full page ink drawings throughout the story.

I first read Dickens in high school English in the condensed version of our literature book. It was Great Expectations and I loved it, but then, I also liked the full version of Crime and Punishment.

The opening paragraph is 178 word long, describing the muddy streets. The next paragraph, slightly shorter, describes the fog. After a couple of short paragraphs, we read: Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering conditions which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, hold, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.

And after another five or six hundred words we see the title of a lawsuit called: Jarndyce and Jarndyce. This is to be repeated throughout the book because it plays a central role in the lives of several key characters. The case is so old that none of the original litigants are still alive.

Dickens suffered through a small case in the Chancery Court and knew of many others that became gold mines for the lawyers who worked the cases. One case was settled in the 1840s only after the lawyers had collected all the net worth of 150,000 pounds sterling. Dickens hoped this book would lead to changes, but they did not come until a couple of decades after his death.

In this time of Covid, a book this massive may be just the ticket. But for the record, David Copperfield was Dickens’ personal favorite. I took two breaks after a few hundred pages to read the two books reported on before this post. This is not a beach read. Not a read when you’re tired or sleepy. You need to gear up for this one.

The cast of characters will drive you crazy. You never know how important someone will be. You may meet someone on page 67 and not see him again until 594, and he will walk in like you should remember him. But don’t worry, just keep reading. Dickens himself changed the first name of a character when he appeared much later.

Dickens often pointed out what was wrong with London as he does here, but he has included a mystery and frequent bouts of humor.

Mike Lawrence

The Living Sacrifice

Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

 

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worshipESV The first word in the Greek is parakaleo, meaning beseech, call for, exhort, intreat, pray. The second word is oun meaning but, now then, so, therefore, verily, wherefore. The I is understood in the Greek but not stated.

In the first eleven chapters Paul talked a good deal about living a righteous live. Now in chapter 12 he opens with a therefore. That is often taken in the NT as moving to another idea, but that is not at all what Paul does. Actually, he ups the stakes, expands the concept, moves to a new plane.

Here is Peterson’s opening sentence in his paraphrase version. So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offeringMSG Don’t miss what Paul means here. Everything you have, are, or will be goes to God. Hold NOTHING back.

Why should we do that? Because God held nothing back. He watched his own Son descend into Hell to battle Death and the Devil. When we failed God, He saved us with His mercies. By God’s example we show mercy when we help people who do not deserve our help.

I have mentioned before how poorly American Christians are at giving money where it is most needed, but let’s forget that for now.

Have I gone to school with the idea of making more money or the idea of helping people who need help? Have I taken a job that involves honest labor at honest pay? Does my work also help people, or at least not hurt them? Is my leisure time improving me physically, mentally, and spiritually? Do I always ask myself, WWJD?

In our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life, is all of it done for God?

Writing in the Third Century, Origen had this to say. Paul says that the sacrifice is living because it has eternal life in it, which is ChristACCS Writing in the Fourth Century, Ambrosiaster added, For now it is no longer the case that bodies are sacrificed for bodies, but instead of bodies it is the sins of the body which must be put to deathACCS

Easier said than done but we must work at the goal of purity. Why? Because God and His Son are pure and we are invited to join with that purity.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else;

if you help, just help, don’t take over;

if you teach, stick to your teaching;

if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy;

if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate;

if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond;

if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your faceMSG

 If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfullyNIV

It can be discouraging to read all of this and think, I can’t do it. Remember, you are only one part of the body of Christ. The kneecap is not an overly exciting body part but without it we would not walk very well. Don’t let others bully you into leading or teaching if that is not your God given skill set. Do what you do best even if it is only one thing. All of us can do small things in several of the categories listed while concentrating in the one area of our skill.

Perhaps you are the appendix. No one really knows what it does in the human body but if that is you be the best appendix you can be. God loves you no matter what.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence