Episode Show Notes
In this episode, Mike sits down with SFC’s Head of Schools, Rod Gilbert, and bible teacher, Steve Kim, for the third installment of the Eagle Perspective’s new mini-series “A Yard of Books.” Mike, Rod, and Steve talk about The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.
Rod Gilbert brings a fresh perspective as SFC’s Head of Schools. As a strong leader with a shepherd’s heart, Rod encourages SFC’s faculty, coaches, and staff to strive for excellence in all they do. At his core, Rod is an educator who wants children and their parents to see the world as something lovely, worth exploring and redeeming through Christ.
Steve Kim, Upper School Bible teacher, has faithfully served at SFC for 18 years, first as a Chemistry, History, and Math teacher. Then after going to seminary for five years, he returned to SFC in 2008 and has taught Bible to Upper School students ever since. He is beloved and respected by both his colleagues and students and is known for his passion for Jesus, deep wisdom, and discipleship heart for students.
00:00:00 – Introductions
00:02:54 – Focus of this podcast on The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
00:04:07 – Why The Screwtape Letters is a must-read
00:04:38 – Rod’s favorite part of the book
00:05:29 – What The Screwtape Letters is about
00:08:30 – Steve’s favorite part of the book
00:10:22 – Satan described in scripture as a trickster
00:16:28 – Sharing the devil’s tactics with students
00:17:08 – Using this as a teaching tool as a parent
00:18:41 – SFC staff reading The Screwtape Letters together
00:21:01 – Concept of highs and lows being part of a bigger plan
00:21:59 – Why read this book
Mike Siciliano [00:00:05] Welcome back to another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. We’re continuing on in our series with Mr. Rod Gilbert, A Yard of Books. I’m Mike Siciliano here, of course, with the one and only Rod Gilbert. Rod, welcome back.
Rod Gilbert [00:00:18] Thanks for having me back. It’s enjoyable.
Mike Siciliano [00:00:20] I’m pretty excited about our book today. I know you’re really excited. I’m also excited about our guest today, the one and only Bible teacher, Mr. Steve Kim. I refer to him sometimes as “coach”, sometimes still as Mr. Kim. First of all, welcome to the podcast.
Steve Kim [00:00:36] Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Mike Siciliano [00:00:38] So, true or false? I was in your very first class as a teacher, very first section on the very first day. Your first teaching moment, I was one of your students.
Steve Kim [00:00:48] One hundred percent true, and I was a wreck. I cried that morning. Before you showed up, I cried.
Rod Gilbert [00:00:55] Because of Mike?
Steve Kim [00:00:56] No, I didn’t know. I was scared, so scared.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:01] Okay. So, you were 22 years old at the time, and I think I was 16. All I knew was that wow, this guy’s really good. He knows his stuff. What a great hire by the school. Little did I know you were crying in your car.
Steve Kim [00:01:17] The trick worked. As long as they don’t know that I don’t know what I’m doing, then we’re fine.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:22] So, you’ve taught a number of things at Santa Fe. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your time here and the roles that you’ve had?
Steve Kim [00:01:29] When I first came to Santa Fe, chemistry. Then I taught history and also a section of geometry with the ever-famous Mr. Jelinek. Walked away from the school to go to seminary, then came back. The Lord had planned a Bible opening and so, came back to that. Then taught AP bio for a good number of years and now just all Bible.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:54] Okay. And you’re currently doing freshmen and senior Bible?
Steve Kim [00:01:57] Freshman and senior Bible and also a new class of sophomores.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:02] Okay. So, multitalented Mr. Kim. You said chemistry. You didn’t mention honors chemistry.
Steve Kim [00:02:07] Honors chemistry. I’m sorry. Honors chemistry with Mike.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:10] Let’s not let the audience think I was just in regular chemistry, although you can attest to maybe I should have been.
Steve Kim [00:02:16] No, no, not at all. Fun fact — I still remember Mike’s project on fluoride in the water. I don’t know if you remember that, but I definitely remember…
Mike Siciliano [00:02:28] I tried to forget, but I’m glad you remember it.
Steve Kim [00:02:31] I do. I do.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:32] So, that’s good. Well, we’re not talking about fluoride today, but we are talking about something even more integral to the soul, and a book that I think is one of the most creative, powerful books in a lot of people’s Christian walk. Rod, am I overstepping in saying this?
Rod Gilbert [00:02:50] It is for me personally. So, it’s been pretty formative, I would say.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:54] Okay. So, we’re talking about The Screwtape Letters with the one and only C.S. Lewis, one of the most well-renowned Christian authors around. This is probably one of his top two or three books, and that’s saying a lot. I know a lot of people think of him, of course, as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but he wrote a number of other works, including this one. He has a real gift for taking complicated things and figuring out a way to tell a story or a thing that makes us understand it. Not to give him too much credit, but the way Jesus used parables. So, Rod, I’ll start with you. As we’ve gotten into this podcast, every time we’ve been like, “What book should we do next?” This has been one of the nominees, and now we’re doing it.
Rod Gilbert [00:03:42] Yeah, I’m excited. He’s a great storyteller, and he’s a lover of allegory. So, one of his best friends… You all know J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings. Tolkien couldn’t stand allegory. So, they would meet every week in a little group called The Inklings, and they would argue profusely. Lewis could not stand how Tolkien would not put allegory into his book. Anyways, it was a good fight between two friends.
Mike Siciliano [00:04:07] Why is this one of the ones that, in your mind, is top two or three must-reads?
Rod Gilbert [00:04:14] I think it is one of those books that if you start reading in your 20s like I did, you’ll actually understand maybe a third of it. Is that fair, Steve?
Steve Kim [00:04:22] That’s how C.S. Lewis writes.
Rod Gilbert [00:04:25] So, I reread it every fall. Even rereading it last fall through the eyes of going through the pandemic, there were sentences or paragraphs in there that I don’t remember reading then.
Mike Siciliano [00:04:38] Well, say a little more about that. Do you have one in mind or a piece of it in mind?
Rod Gilbert [00:04:41] Yeah. I think the part that stood out for me was when Lewis was writing this book, it was during World War II. He mentions the war as an issue, but it’s not the prime issue. It allowed me to think, “Well, I can put the pandemic at a location in my heart without it overwhelming me. If Lewis can sideline World War II, I can sideline the pandemic and continue to live a life of the good things.”
Mike Siciliano [00:05:10] The pandemic and, in this case, the war, it’s just a piece of the greater narrative.
Rod Gilbert [00:05:15] It’s a small piece of a greater narrative. It allowed me to live a good life in spite of all the unknowns that we still have today, and it was calming to me. If Lewis could do that with the war, I could do it with the pandemic.
Mike Siciliano [00:05:29] I sure wish I’d read it a year ago now that we’re having this conversation. Okay. So, Steve, maybe you can take a crack. For anyone who’s not familiar with this book, what’s it about? What’s the baseline?
Steve Kim [00:05:43] So, you have, I would say, a chief devil trying to train an underdevil — what can I do to tempt, trick, get this human being away from following God? So, there’s a correspondence going on. These are what the letters are. There’s a correspondence going on of, “Okay. So, this is what’s happening. What should I do?” and then just going back and forth of, “Okay. Good job here. Don’t be alarmed about this. Maybe we can push this person to do this,” or, “Awful job. What are you doing? Stop doing that.”
Rod Gilbert [00:06:14] That’s actually more often. The old devil calls him an idiot.
Steve Kim [00:06:18] Yeah. “Why are you going down this road?” So, it’s a back-and-forth. I would say when you’re reading it, too, you’ve got to be in that frame of mind, because he calls it the enemy, and the enemy is God. So, you have to continually get in that frame of mind like, “Oh, yeah, we’re from the other side. We’re reading it from the other side.”
Mike Siciliano [00:06:37] Yeah. This is the dark side. Right?
Steve Kim [00:06:40] Yeah.
Mike Siciliano [00:06:40] You mentioned a couple things. The correspondence — that’s really the whole book is letters back and forth between these two that you piece together the story. Since I have read this less recently than the two of you — correct me if I’m wrong — you mentioned the senior devil writing back with, “No, no. You got it all wrong.” I remember it being when the younger devil writes his intentions, I was always thinking, “Oh, yeah. Well, that makes sense.” Then the senior devil comes in, and it makes you think like, “Oh, this is actually much deeper and more twisted than I was conscious of before.” Is that an accurate way of explaining it?
Rod Gilbert [00:07:21] One slight correction to it is we actually never see the young devil’s letters.
Mike Siciliano [00:07:27] Ah. Okay, that’s right.
Rod Gilbert [00:07:28] All we see is Uncle Wormwood just putting the screws to this dumb little devil.
Mike Siciliano [00:07:34] That’s right. It’s all one-way.
Rod Gilbert [00:07:35] Then sometimes the uncle will refer to, “In your last letter I noticed that you said something about that dumb head of school Slubgob. What kind of idiot is running the school? Is this what they’re teaching? They should fire him. I’ve contacted the board.” Of course, I find this really hilarious. So, it’s all one-sided. Then he refers to what the young devil has reported, but we never actually see the young devil’s letters. C.S. Lewis said when he was writing it, and afterward, it was actually the most awful experience of all of his writing, because the way Steve said it. He was having to get into the mind of an evildoer, and stay there, and represent it well in character. He said it was quite taxing to the soul.
Mike Siciliano [00:08:23] So, do you have a favorite part of the book or a particular piece that stands out, Steve?
Steve Kim [00:08:30] Yeah. So, if you know the boiling frog analogy illustration, that is definitely one of the things that, as I think about this book, stands out to me. So, the boiling frog analogy is in order to boil a frog, you don’t have boiling water and try to put the frog in the boiling water because it’ll just jump right out. You put it in the cold water, that it’s comfortable, and it’s nice. Then just little by little you turn up the heat until you turn up the heat so much that it’s dead, and it doesn’t even notice. So, C.S. Lewis talks about, I think, a couple times here throughout the book. He’s like, “Oh, he’s going to church.” I don’t know about that. Well, that’s okay, because as long as he’s going to church but there’s not really an effect on his life, we’re good with him right there.
Mike Siciliano [00:09:22] In fact, he thinks he’s doing great.
Steve Kim [00:09:24] Yeah. The more he thinks he’s just a good person because he goes to church, that’s where we want to keep him. He paints his picture. His own illustration is this. He says, “Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one, the gentle slope soft underfoot without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” You don’t even know you’re there until it’s too late. That’s how the devil works. He doesn’t want to show up as we think of him, this horned, fiery guy who’s just scaring you because we would all run away from him. He wants to appear as an angel of light and become your best friend.
Mike Siciliano [00:10:11] Yeah. If we knew it was the devil talking to us, we’d be like, “I’m not listening to you.” When we think it’s somebody else, then suddenly, we pay more attention. Is this something you ever talk about with the students?
[Rod Gilbert [00:10:22] Let me get back to something Steve said at the very beginning. He said the verb trick. We don’t want to be susceptible to the tricks of Satan. So, the reason that’s such a great verb is… I was rereading second Corinthians. Let me read this from second Corinthians. “Anyone whom you forgive I also forgive. Indeed, what I’ve forgiven, anything is for the sake of Christ so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” In my little New Testament that I tote around there’s about 16 New Testament references where Satan himself is a trickster. He’s a roaring lion. He must be resisted. He’s called the prince of the air. He is an evil one that’s doing bad things. This is a real presence in our world. It’s frightening to think that as fictional as this book is, it’s actually not as evil as the truth. It’s actually milder than the reality, and we are being searched for by the evil one.
Mike Siciliano [00:11:31] Yeah. I’m just sitting here and listening to you. It’s amazing. Even the first time we meet Satan in scripture, he’s a trickster, but we don’t think of him that way in our daily life. We think we know where he is and where he isn’t. We think we know. Like, “Well, that’s obvious. So, that’s good.” I’m just digesting as I listen to you say that I need to reframe that as I can be outwitted if I’m not on top of it.
Rod Gilbert [00:12:00] The King James called it the wiles of the devil. He’s actually not omnipresent like Christ. He’s actually a being that is somewhere in a location right now in the universe. His schemes are all around, and his minions are somewhere. I raised this because as the wild media-filled world we live in, there are just some truths of the metaphysical that are true. Christ believed in demons. So, I do, too. So, for us to live in a sanitized world of it’s all just morality, and let’s just be good people, there’s actually true evil lurking. And we should be vigilantly prepared to not be tricked. I’m sure you address this with the kids sometimes. I’m not trying to frighten people, but it’s just the reality of what it is.
Steve Kim [00:12:54] Yeah. I think the other thing I add, as well, is our purpose in life as a human being is to worship and glorify God. Satan’s purpose for us is not that. So, one of the things that… I think the thought that came out of this book for me is Satan is not in it for us to be Satan worshippers. If we worship Satan, he’ll be fine with that, but that’s not his goal. His goal is just what can he do to just get us off track of worshipping God? So, when I think about it that way — I don’t know if this is true or not — I think his job is so easy. Is there something in this world that can just get us off track of how we are supposed to look at God, and worship Him, and glorify Him? If he’s done that or if we do that, then he’s succeeded.
Mike Siciliano [00:13:44] It doesn’t matter how we get off track or which direction we’re headed as long as it’s not that one.
Steve Kim [00:13:49] Correct. So, that’s his goal. We don’t have to be satanic.
Rod Gilbert [00:13:56] God, no. Why bother with that? That’s too…
Steve Kim [00:14:00] That’s extreme.
Rod Gilbert [00:14:01] Yeah. Why do that?
Steve Kim [00:14:02] Just off track just slightly, perfect.
Rod Gilbert [00:14:05] You’re rendered useless. So, let me just give a little quote from it just to show you how evil this is. So, this is the uncle talking to his little nephew he’s trying to coach. The uncle, in his evil way, is comparing what he wants to get out of the Christian versus what God wants. He says, “We demons want cattle who can finally just become food for us. We want to consume them. He, the other guy, wants servants who he can eventually call their beloved sons. We want to suck in; he wants to give out. We are empty, and we want them to fill us. He, the other guy — God — is full, and he flows over. Our father below has drawn all beings to himself, and the other one wants the beings to be better of themselves.” So, there’s the sucking, emptying of the evil one, and then here’s Christ welcoming us. As Steve walks his Christian journey, he doesn’t become a carcass of himself. Christ wants Mr. Kim to be a continuing, growing better version of himself. We can only ravage the patient that we have. He, the other one, can only woo them to his side. We’re all being wooed to the bosom and to the side of Christ himself, who wants to love us and care for us. He’s wooing us every day, never smashing us on the head. The evil one wants to devour us. It’s so beautiful.
Steve Kim [00:15:48] I think if we see that reality and we really think about that truth, it’s so clear. But again, we get distracted. One is so beautiful, and one is so ugly. And yet, this is what happens. It should be so easy.
Rod Gilbert [00:16:08] Well, we’re just broken little bipeds.
Steve Kim [00:16:12] That’s the frustration.
Rod Gilbert [00:16:14] That’s why he says the war is just in and out, but he said it’s really the appetite. So, we’re going to spend more time on the appetites of the body. We’re going to spend more time trying to direct their lives through their natural pleasures and appetites.
Steve Kim [00:16:28] So, I revisited The Screwtape Letters, actually, in the New Testament class. Mr. Garcia actually came up with this idea. I loved it. He said, “When Jesus is tempted by the devil…” — the story out of Matthew, chapter four. I think we were in that story. So, now, same thing — “Students, what are the ways that the devil tries to trick you? What are the temptations that he…?” So, they try to come up with what are the arguments he would use, what are the scenarios he might put you in to try to tempt you to get you to sin. So, that was really good, because the kids then were able to think, “Okay. If I just do this, if I just do this, or this happens, then that’s how it gets me.”
Mike Siciliano [00:17:08] How about as a parent? Have you used this with your kids?
Steve Kim [00:17:10] I go back to that thought of it’s these gradual steps. So, I think in terms of raising our children, we don’t wait for the large mistakes to happen, the big, significant mistakes to happen, but little things along the way. We challenge their thinking like, “Okay. So, you lied about not eating all of your lunch. Let’s talk about why that’s not a good decision,” and to try to really tackle it at that point instead of now down the road it’s a lot bigger issue.
Mike Siciliano [00:17:40] Yeah. The water temperature is rising. Even though it’s not boiling yet, you need to have some sort of alarm system in there. That’s good. Rod, how about for you? You mentioned one part earlier.
Rod Gilbert [00:17:51] I’m glad you mentioned the thing about the kids. My kids are in their 20s. I don’t think I’ve ever actually referenced Screwtape specifically to Katie and Ryan. It’s more of my own little journey and because it’s difficult to quote it. At one point the uncle is just mad at the young nephew. Then he goes, “Well, I guess you can’t expect old heads on young shoulders.” We feel that way here. We have over 1,000 kids, and we love them the way they are. We don’t expect them to be older than they are. I don’t think I’ve ever actually referenced it in anything with Katie or Ryan, and I hadn’t thought about that until you asked the question. I think for me, it’s been an internal journey of myself and then maybe how I invest in adults around me. That’s probably the larger place.
Mike Siciliano [00:18:41] So, talk a little more about that, because I think it was… Was it this summer? In fact, the employees in this hallway.
Rod Gilbert [00:18:47] Oh, yeah.
Mike Siciliano [00:18:48] Why don’t you share a little bit about it?
Rod Gilbert [00:18:49] So, nobody in the hallway, out of the 14 of us, nobody had actually read it except for me.
Mike Siciliano [00:18:56] When we say the hallway, we’re talking about…
Rod Gilbert [00:18:54] Oh, I’m sorry. It’s the admissions office, the development office, the business office. I bought everybody a copy. “I’m going to show you how to read it,” because it’s an intimidating book. It’s not an easy book to approach. So, I bought a graphic novel version of it and handed that around. There was one letter I wanted them to all get. So, in order to get the letter, they had to have the whole book. It was letter eight. I have talked about this with my children. I just don’t think I’ve ever said, “Hey, I learned this from Screwtape.” He addresses the law of undulation in Christians. So, in math you have crests and then troughs. You have the top of a wave — everything’s great — and then you have the trough when things are not good. The highs and lows, highs and lows. The uncle explains to the really stupid nephew because the nephew had the patient, the Christian they were tempting, at a very low point. The nephew was so proud of himself. He said, “If you get too low, that’s where that other guy starts to do his work.” He said, “You’re just an idiot. You’re incredulous.” For whatever reason, the enemy that doesn’t want to be named, which for us is Jehovah, our Lord, he says when they get in that deep trench, that’s actually not our territory. There’s a magic going on down there. We don’t know what it is. We’ve all in the last year had very highs and a lot of lows, just exhausting for everybody, but most of our Christian life can be just humming through the middle. So, when we have a high elation moment, let’s not over accentuate that and depend on it. Let’s also realize that the trough doesn’t last forever. That one has helped me balance and I think some of the people that I’m involved with here. Let’s find the middle ground. The highs and lows are good, but there’s also just the even-keelness of this Christianity that we can really enjoy.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:01] I think you’re touching on something that is good for us as a school to grapple with as we think about our students at that stage of life. Steve and I are both in the high school. So, maybe it’s especially true in the high school. Every event is the ultimate high or the ultimate low. The future depends on whatever just happened. So, there’s a good message in here of look, this is all part of a bigger plan.
Rod Gilbert [00:21:29] There’s a bigger narrative, but as a teenager, they can’t see it. When you were a teenager, you didn’t see it.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:35] Oh, absolutely not.
Rod Gilbert [00:21:36] Steve’s here to tell us that.
Steve Kim [00:21:38] What you’ve been saying is totally true. We’ve been talking about this, too. The teenagers say, “That was the best thing ever,” or, “That was the worst thing ever. I’m having the best day of my life, and I’m having the worst day.” It’s always one or the other.
Rod Gilbert [00:21:55] Two excessive superlatives. It’s just exhausting.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:59] Okay. So, in light of everything we’ve just shared, which has ranged from funny to as serious as it gets and scary, even, at times, why read this book? How does it help us understand this more? What’s the reason to pick it up and read it?
Steve Kim [00:22:13] I think we get to see reality. I think as we live day-to-day, and I’m totally in the muck of it, it’s cloudy. I see it as cloudy. I’m trying to live each day. But then I think as a result of seeing the devil’s tactics, it’s not as fuzzy. I can see it. I can have more clarity. If I can see the truth more clearly, then that will help me live in a way that pleases God.
Rod Gilbert [00:22:46] As a little boy I was at a group in Vacation Bible School, Sunday School. So, I knew the armor of God out of the book of Ephesians. We all learn the armor of God. So, you have it in your head as a child, armor of God, but there’s something about reading the battle plans of the evil one to think, “Wow, I really do have to get the armor on.” So, there’s something about looking into the evil mind of a demon to say, “They really are trying to attack me, and I think it’s real. So, this armor is actually an essential part of my life, and I need to be ready for it,” because it doesn’t come like the little horned guy with the tail and the pitchfork like the Bugs Bunny cartoon. That’s silly. It’s far more than the temptations are all around us, and we have to be mindful that there is a devourer out there that wants to damage us in our homes.
Mike Siciliano [00:23:39] Knowing the tactics helps us with our own.
Rod Gilbert [00:23:42] I brought all the seriousness in here, but there’s so many funny parts to it, the silliness of this human existence. Look at us. Look at how silly we look and just the whole concept of this human biped walking around on this earth. The whole human existence, if you look at it, is really quite funny, and I think that God’s humor is amazing. So, there is a funny side to the book, too…
Mike Siciliano [00:24:12] You laugh out loud sometimes.
Rod Gilbert [00:24:13] A lot. I laugh out loud at how ludicrous it is. If you’re honest, most of the sins that he’s tempted with we’ve all had in some way. The guy is sitting in church one day, and instead of listening to the preacher, he starts thinking about how his mother-in-law makes this noise that just drives him crazy. So, he just obsesses about how much he can’t stand her. He’s just sitting the whole time, but he’s really being a holier-than-thou person because she’s the problem. The whole time we’re reading it, we’re going, “Uh, dude, you’re the problem. You need to be listening to whatever the preacher is saying.”
Mike Siciliano [00:24:46] Yeah. I can’t relate to that one. My mother-in-law is amazing.
Rod Gilbert [00:24:50] Mine’s perfect, too. Mine’s perfect, too.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:50] I just want everyone who might be listening, including my mother-in-law…
Steve Kim [00:24:52] Same. Just pretend.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:54] Yeah, totally. It’s fiction. Well, thank you both for being here today and for sharing your wisdom on this. This was a pleasure.
Steve Kim [00:25:03] Wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me.
Rod Gilbert [00:25:05] Thanks, Mike.
Mike Siciliano [00:25:06] Yeah. Well, we’re looking forward to joining you again on our Eagle Perspective Podcast and continuing on in our series, A Yard of Books, with another book coming soon. Please feel free to check out our other podcasts on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or other places where podcasts are available. Until then we’ll catch you next time.