It was a great weekend at the Whispering Pines B&B in Nebraska City with the Notting Hill Napoleons (Denny & Claire Hartford, Bill & Karen Coker, Quint & Carol Coppi, Ruth Densler, Karla Struble, Chet Thomas and Barb and I) discussing this years Dickens selection, “David Copperfield”. You won’t hear the common refrain, “I’ll wait for the movie to come out” with this group. Avid readers all, they come with their unique perspective on each book we read and enrich everyone else’s reading experience.

The Napoleons is the name of a book reading club that Barb and I have had the privilege of being a part of since 1992. Every year we read a Dickens novel in November and spend a weekend in Nebraska City with the group and choose our next years reading selections and discuss the Dickens novel. It was a lively and instructive as well as challenging discussion again this year. Among the wide range of thoughts we bring to the discussion, we always bring our faith to the read as well as the discussion trying to discern the Christian themes and how the author is challenging us.

I was particularly struck this year by three themes that we discussed. The first was the idea that when given an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else, if you capitalize on that opportunity you are able to forget about your own problems, focus on someone else and you will be blessed and you will change for the better.

There were numerous examples of this starting with David’s Aunt Betsy Trotwood. Betsy had turned her back on David when he was born but when given another opportunity to be his guardian, she put her whole self into that and became one of the favorite characters in the book. Mr. Peggoty, Traddles, Mr. Micawber also were part of this theme, but probably none more so than a minor character by the name of Martha. She was a fallen woman who had left her small town to hide in the anonymity of the London streets. Mentioned early in the book, we loose track of her until well past the middle of the book, a young woman (Emily) who had befriended her after her fall, went missing herself and for a similar reason to Martha. Emily’s guardian and uncle, Mr. Peggoty is determined to find Emily and thinks of Martha. He seeks her out and finds her about ready to jump into the Thames and end it all. The possibility of helping her friend Emily gives Martha a reason to live. She dutifully does all she can. Without giving away too much to those who might want to read the story, this purpose for Martha’s life is redemptive for her. This challenges me to remember that my life is best used up in reaching out to others or offering to provide lifelines. Do you want the blessing? Who are you blessing? The best way to ensure God’s blessing on you is to be a blessing to those around you.

The second theme I thought particularly interesting, coming from Dickens whose “Christianity” was somewhat spotty based on his life style and writings, was the idea that “Christians” could be un-Christian without Christianity being blemished.

There were two characters, a brother and sister Murdstone, who used Christianity as a veil or as a cover to be very unkind and even cruel. In spite of that and the fact that Dickens calls them out (“I find no support for the positions of Mr. Murdstone in the New Testament”) there is no trashing of Christianity per se’ in the book. Mr. Peggoty is shown as a very devout man who loves God. It is interesting in that Dickens portrays two very real situations in Christendom, the hypocrite who would bring disrepute to the church and the true man or woman of God who is in fact honest, trustworthy, kind and charitable. The first does not invalidate the latter and a bad experience with the first does not require the repudiation of the latter. How many of us have had bad experiences with Christians and have had a hard time maintaining a relationship with God or His people? God is good!

Finally towards the end of the book I was surprised to see a very clear presentation of a man laying his life down for another. What was so stark about it is that not only was this man able to lay his life down for another man, he was able to do it for his enemy. I was reminded of the scripture “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. The man, Ham who was severely wronged by Steerforth, waded into a raging tempest of a sea to try to rescue him. Did he know he would die in the attempt? Did he know who he was going to rescue? It is not clear. Did Dickens do it for irony sake, or was he trying to paint a picture of the great love our savior had for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ willingly died? I do not know what Dickens intentions were, but I do know that for me it was clear. Christ knowingly died for me and he did it even though I had severely wronged Him and even though He knew I would fail Him many times after my rescue. He also did it regardless of me accepting His plan of rescue or not. He also did it for everyone reading this.

So, as I sign off and look forward to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I challenge you to remember His rescue this Thanksgiving and give Him the thanks He deserves.

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