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Music or silence?

I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis (C for Clive, S for Staples). When I read his books I tend to get the feeling that they were written for me personally. I suspect they were not, but I can’t prove that. When my wife and I were thinking of names for our latest child, I tried to convince her that Clive Staples Throneburg was very sophisticated and commanded respect. She then commanded me to be quiet. 

I have recently been reading Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters.” The book is a collection of letters written by a high-ranking demon to an underling. The underling has been assigned to a human and is working diligently to bring him into the Devil’s fold. The letters reveal the strategies and tactics he employs to complete his assignment. It’s a unique, and at times, amusing look at the struggle for our souls. 

The thing that strikes me over and over as I read the book is its relevance in our modern time. At one point Lewis even comments on the media and the way they can distract and distort. He wrote the book 70 years ago! In one chapter the human subject finds a girlfriend, which we all know is an experience that can be soul-changing, for better or for worse. The demons discuss whether this is a positive development for them or a setback to their efforts. They conclude the new relationship is indeed a setback in part because the girl comes from a home “where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.” The head demon, Screwtape, speaks to the dangers of such a home and goes on to promote the various benefits of noise to their diabolical cause.

It is here I should mention that I can be susceptible to rash decisions based on perceived epiphanies. For example, I donated to Jon Huntsman’s campaign this year after hearing him give a rational and reasonable speech to his supporters, and back in college I immediately asked a girl out after finding out she had watched the NHL Draft. I should sleep on things sometimes. 

I read that chapter with the house of music and silence and immediately told my wife we should get rid of our television. We discussed it and decided to keep it, but with closer monitoring of how frequently we watch it. I agreed to this, largely because I secretly enjoy Chuggington and Doc McStuffins on the Disney channel, and because those shows keep my son entertained long enough for me to take a shower in the morning. 

I think about Lewis’ quote often. We turn on some Gungor or Rend Collective Experiment in the morning at our house while we eat breakfast now, and spend less of our evenings watching talking heads, laugh-track driven sitcoms, and (gulp) sports. It’s not that talking heads, sitcoms or basketball games are inherently bad, but they are mostly just noise ... and noise distracts. 

The real question, then, is what am I being distracted from. What are the things I should be doing or experiencing that have been neglected while the noise has kept my attention? My answers would be different from someone else’s answers, but the point is that there is an answer to begin with.  

Lewis describes a home “where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.” Sounds like a nice place to live, so the next time you come to my house you really only have two choices: Sing or shut it.

Marcus Throneburg resides in Sheffield. He can be reached at marcusthroneburg@gmail.com.

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