I caught up with Fr. Dwight Longenecker to ask him some questions about his new book, The Gargoyle Code: Lenten letters between a Master Tempter and his diabolical Trainee. You can purchase your own copy from Fr. Dwight's website at www.dwightlongenecker.com. This book was made to be read during Lent, so order yours today! (See sidebar on the right for book image.)
Hats off to you for writing such a captivating book! I got hooked during the Introductory Letter to the Reader – immediately I knew this book would be engaging, revealing and challenging. To my delight, I also soon found that it is wickedly funny!
How did you come up with the demon's names? Slubgrip? Pipteazle? And perhaps my favorite, Stanksizzle?
(FDL): I took disgusting, lascivious or hellish sounding words and played with them. 'Tease Grub Dog Snub Snip Grim Knob Sizzle Wart Grizzle, etc,' then put them in your brain blender and see what comes up.
Your book is a present-day take on C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. Did you take a slightly different approach to creating your demon characters and their “patients?” What inspired you to write this book?
(FDL): Of course I was inspired by Lewis' great idea. I started writing the book as a series of blog posts in Lent 2007. I wanted the situation to be updated, and for there to be modern technological temptations as well as the older classic problems. I also wanted the demons to be working with Catholic patients not only to appeal to my target audience, but to make the temptations and problems more specific to Catholic difficulties I spot in everyday ministry.
While a very entertaining read, this book is deadly serious in its subject matter – namely, the very real battle for souls happening every moment of every day. Are you hopeful that people who perhaps don't take Satan very seriously will change their minds after reading your book? What's the biggest lesson you want readers to take away?
(FDL): The biggest lesson is that the devil is real, and temptation is everywhere around us. He's subtle, he's crafty, and once we spot him the best defense is to laugh him away. He hates being laughed at.
What gave you the idea to write this book around the 40 days of Lent? Do you recommend reading each “day” in the book as they come, or can readers sit down and finish the book in one sitting?
(FDL): The Gargoyle Code started as a series of blog posts during Lent, so that sparked the idea that this also gave a structure for the book, a reason for the book and a nifty plot line. Most people actually read the book in a couple of sittings. They get interested in the characters and plot line. Then I hope they'll go back and re-read the book one letter a day during Lent.
One part in the book that really jumped out at me was the lecture to Dogwart in which Slubgrip explains that “because they are half animal and half spirit, what they do with their bodies affects their souls.” He goes on to warn, “Once they take control of their appetites Dogwart, it is only a short time before they take control of themselves, and then before you know it they will be taking control of you.” Clearly, in our modern age we have tried to disconnect our bodies from our souls, believing there is no spiritual consequence for our physical actions...a malady the discipline of Lent is tailor-made for, right? Do you think the Catholic Church is uniquely suited among Christian churches for teaching people that real freedom comes from taking control of our bodily appetites?
(FDL): The Catholic Church has a more 'physical' dimension to its reality because of her high emphasis on the sacraments. Satan hates the sacraments because he has no physical form. The fact that God gives us humans physical means of grace annoys and enrages Satan. That's why the attack on the church invariably comes as an attack on the sacraments, the priesthood or the hierarchy. As a result physical asceticism during Lent should not be neglected. Our bodies and souls are interlinked.
It is great fun throughout the book to watch the suspicious and snide backstabbing going on amongst the demons! Yet the point you make is critical, even if your manner of delivery is cleverly subtle: Satan cannot ever be trusted. His motives are always self-serving, even if it appears to be good for you at the time. His pat on the back is never to congratulate you, but to stab you. The only interests he looks out for are his own. What a contrast to the selfless sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and yet so many people still don't get it! Why not?
(FDL): Self sacrifice is counter ego, and we naturally live for ourselves. Only by supernatural grace can we change the direction. The transformation is like turning a great cruise liner. It's slow and it's risky.
You take on the Anglican church throughout the book, as well as Catholics whose practice of their faith is only for appearances, and also Catholics who think they're holier than everyone else because they reject the Novus Ordo mass. In each of these examples, you highlight a victory of the devil. Something tells me you're not worried about “offending” anyone!
(FDL): If anyone is offended I hope they know that I'm almost always preaching to myself. I experience and witness most of these temptations too.
The Holy Week section in the book is powerful yet still funny, especially their whining about the deviousness of God in becoming “one of the snot dribbling, snoring, defecating hairless chimpanzees” and thus defeating Satan by a “sneaky, low down trick”, and the migraine headaches suffered by all hell's army on Good Friday, rendering them weakened and powerless. Yet through their whiny lamenting, you drive home the bottom line: Satan and his minions are limited to one tactic: “The only hope we have is to blind our patients to the enemy's message, and get them into our own habits...” It seems so clear, like we should easily see him coming and send him packing right away, yet we are indeed blinded so often. There's the rub, eh?
(FDL): I think we miss the point that Satan is persistent and he will get us down through the little things. The little sins matter. Too often we excuse ourselves by saying this sin or that sin in 'only' venial. Most of us are soft. Most of us should be a bit tougher on ourselves, and Lent is a great time to get our act together a bit more and 'sweat the small stuff.'
One last question: can you clarify the parameters of “mindless drivel on TV” a bit? Otherwise, I may never be able to watch Throwdown with Bobby Flay again without worrying there's a Slubgrip or a Stanksizzle on my shoulder. How about Star Trek reruns? My husband and I are Trek fans. (C'mon – Spock is the greatest TV character of all time.) M*A*S*H?
(FDL): Sure there's good stuff on TV, I don't want to be a spoil sport, but I'm thinking of mindless entertainment like reality TV, endless titillating chatter, dumb adult cartoons, immoral soap operas. Why not watch the classics by renting them through Netflix or something? That's what we do. We don't have TV as such, but we watch what we want through choice.
Visit Fr. Dwight's blog, Standing On My Head to learn more about his ministry and order your copy of The Gargoyle Code.