Tag Archives: Christian

On faith and fairy stories, part 2

This is the second installment in a series on faith, myth and allegory. If you’re just landing here, read post No. 1 here.

Neither Lewis nor Tolkien claimed to be writing original myth. They both claimed that there was truth in their accounts and that their characters stood for something more and they imbued universal truths and morals. Both men recognized the difference in kinds of myths and were clear in their defining of the Gospel as a divine myth, a myth that is both historically true and universally true.[1] Both Tolkien and Lewis discussed fairy stories and myth as it relates to the Gospel. Both men were men of faith – Tolkien a devoted Roman Catholic, and C.S. Lewis a committed Anglican. Both give special status and attention to the Gospels as myth.[2]

How did the idea for Middle Earth and Narnia come to Tolkien and Lewis? C.S. Lewis said once that his stories came from images in his mind, “not with an apologetical teaching intention … I’ve never started from a message or a moral, have you? …The story itself should force its moral upon you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story.”[3] For Tolkien, the idea for Middle Earth also came from an image. He got the idea for hobbits from a student. Though the ideas came from an image, the image is a picture of a greater reality and a deeper meaning. Tolkien wrote about the glimpses of underlying reality in fairy stories. These glimpses lead to people asking, “Is it true?”[4] Tolkien says the Gospels include a fairy story; it is “a story of a larger kind that embraces all the essence of fairy stories.”[5] It has the beauty, miracles and marvels that are so beautiful in myths. Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe” to describe the turning of events in a story that lead the protagonist from harm.[6] In Lord of the Rings, an example of a eucatastrophe would be when Frodo and Sam are saved from death the eagles, Clyde S. Kilby, an author and professor, wrote in an essay on Tolkien.[7] Christ’s birth was the eucatastrophe of the history of man, Tolkien wrote. The resurrection was the eucatastrophe of the incarnation.[8] Theologian and author John Warwick Montgomery describes Tolkien and Lewis’ role in myth:

In a century when most secularists and theologians are busily stripping away alleged “myths” (in their sense of “non-factual stories”) from Christianity, our apologists of eucatastrophe find in myth (in the proper sense of archetypal tale) the objectifying literary apologetic for Christian truth—a pointer nonpareil to the fulfillment of mankind’s longings in the factuality of the Gospel story.[9]

For Lewis, all of Christianity could be described as a eucatastrophe. Lewis famously wrote, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also fact. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.”[10] The beauty, for Lewis, is the union of myth and fact, something that does not happen in the common myth. “To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other.”[11] Many philosophers and apologists shrink from calling the Bible myth, for the connotations that could be drawn, and the possibility of others drawing parallels in the world.

We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “Pagan Christs”: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoetic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less that to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.” Myth became fact.[12]

Evans writes that Lewis did not believe that the entire content of the Bible was present in pagan myths, just some semblances. Lewis was aware of the differences.[13] Evans summarizes Lewis’ arguments by identifying the human need for “psychological wholeness and healing.” Humans need to grasp the world they live in and how they fit in. By highlighting the element of myth in the Gospel, these needs are met.[14] “Highlighting the mythical dimension of the incarnational narrative helps one to see one of the reasons that the narrative is important to people now,” Evans writes. “The Lewis claim emphasizes the power of the narrative to articulate such truths without denying either its historical character or its unique status as irreplaceable divine revelation.”[15] Pagans recognize these needs and write myths to describe how the needs can are met, not knowing or believing in the original myth of the Gospel—a myth that man did not devise, but a myth that came from the Creator of life and the universe.[16] “For Lewis, classifying the story as myth is not rooted in a judgment about the literary style of the New Testament … It is rather a way of highlighting the way the story speaks to people at all times and places.”[17]

When arguing for the reality of literary myths, whether or not they actually happened is not really why people read them. One does not read Harry Potter truly believing that it did indeed happen, save for the most ardent Twitter fans who devote their entire online presence to Hogwarts and its inhabitants. No, the reader does not discard the story after learning it did not exist. Reading books like Harry Potter is an invitation to a journey and an adventure and this adventure is desirable. If the story wets the appetite, it succeeds, Tolkien would say.[18] Now, whether or not Tolkien would classify Harry Potter as a fairy story is unknown. Tolkien spends a portion of his piece, “On Fairy Stories” measuring stories on his scale of fairy status. Lord of the Rings is such a story – a story the reader does not base his or her enjoyment on whether Frodo really went on the journey with the ring – the enjoyment was in the story.[19] The beauty of the Gospel is that the stories are read because they are true and because they are desirable. The Bible transfers an adventure and truth in an enchanting way that has present and eternal benefits. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is not simply a made-up story that communicates truth generally. The Gospel is even more beautiful because the characters are not fictional ones who speak in generalizations. The beauty of the Gospel is that the characters are real people who lived, breathed and died, and the message they gave was just as true then as it is in the slums, cities and suburbs of 21st century.

Does this mean the myth of Narnia and Middle Earth should be completely discarded? No, stories like The Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Narnia series hold value and communicate truth. Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave” holds value and lessons for the current reader.[20] As mentioned before, there are different categories of myth and none of the literary or philosophical myths can match the ultimate myth of the Gospel. However, there are lessons and beauty to be enjoyed in other forms of myths. “I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed,” Lewis wrote.[21] Lewis advocated for a vibrant faith, one lived in communion with Christ. Myths can enhance a believer’s relationship with Christ. Somewhat controversially, Lewis continued, “A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it.”[22]

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Ibid., 3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Edmund, Fuller, “After the Moon Landings: A Further Report on the Christian Spaceman C.S. Lewis.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 90.
[4] Tolkien, 23.
[5] Ibid.,
[6] Ibid., 24.
[7] Clyde S. Kilby, “Mythic and Christian Elements in Tolkien.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 134.
[8] Tolkien, 23.
[9] John Warwick Montgomery, “Apologist of Eucatastrophe.” In Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: an Interpretation of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton [and] Charles Williams. ed. John Warwick Montgomery. (Minneapolis,: Bethany House, 1974), 29-30.
[10] C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” 3 [article on-line]; accessed April 15, 2013; article available from http://sunnybrae.org/sites/sunnybrae.org/files/MythBecameFact.pdf. Internet.
[11] Lewis, 3.
[12] Ibid., 4.
[13] Evans, 62.
[14] Ibid., 59.
[15] Ibid., 63.
[16] Evans, 61
[17] Ibid., 62.
[18] Tolkien, 13.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Charlie W. Starr, “The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen: C.S. Lewis on Myth, Fairy Tale and Film.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 20.
[21] Lewis, 3.
[22] Ibid.

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prayers for the persecuted

I recently read the testimony of a believer who experienced tremendous persecution.

He was beaten for being a Christian and nearly lost his life. He’s experienced what it means to suffer for Christ. I can’t even imagine.

Platt’s book, “Radical,” that I’ve referenced several times, encourages us to pray for the entire world as part of radical experiment in the next year.

I’d like to encourage you to pray for the persecuted believers around the world. Pray for the men and women in India and Bangladesh who take lashes for Jesus. Pray for Christians in Iraq, in the Middle East who die for their Savior. Pray for brothers and sisters in the most populated country on earth who meet underground.

These men and women don’t pray for the persecution to stop. They pray for strength and faith to stand strong. As you pray, pray that the Lord would be their comfort, and that He’d grant them faith and grace to withstand.

The Bible never promises being a Christian will be easy, and these believers aren’t putting their trust in Christ to be comfortable.

Stephen, the first martyr, didn’t have to give the speech he did, standing up to the authorities. He stood up for what he believed, even if it meant stoning. His last words were a prayer for his attackers, that they’d find forgiveness.

In the testimony of the believer I mentioned earlier, the believer said God has provided for all of his needs. He continues to pray in the midst of the storm.

How easily I complain about the minutest things. It’s a reality check to read testimonies of persecution, especially after I’ve just complained about something as small as someone who did something annoying to me.

I had an awesome Thanksgiving season this year. I was able to celebrate four times. And what I’ve realized, through Bible reading, personal experience and reading testimonies of believers, is that I think giving thanks, thanksgiving, is a crucial part of withstanding persecution. I don’t mean in the “Thanksgiving,” the American holiday sort of way, I mean in everything, giving thanks to the Lord. We have no right to demand anything from God. He is the Creator of all, who am I to demand an answer?

Giving thanks also takes the focus off of ourselves and puts it on God. When we’re giving thanks, we’re less likely to dwell on our pain.

Prayer also takes the focus off of ourselves. When we pray, we are, or should be, looking upward to Chris. In praying for the world, we are praying for others and not ourselves. We take a step away from self-absorption. The Bible tells us to pray for others. It also tells us to go and tell others about Him.

I have so much to learn. I look at the faith of believers throughout Asia who’ve been beaten, imprisoned or tortured, and I’m inspired and amazed. They’ve experienced so much, relied on the Lord and their faith is exuberant and unfaltering.

So now, if you would, take a moment and pray for the persecuted church.

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Playboy=Pansy, Fashion and Foibles

In Thailand, Playboy is a brand name for clothes, hats, jewelry and license plates.

True story. It’s not necessarily a magazine here. The playboy bunny is plastered everywhere. I’m not sure if all who don said bunny rabbit know what it means. Maybe it’s best that way.

For the record, all of the cars with Playboy license plates drive like pansies. Playboy=pansy.

If you are going to flash the bunny, at least drive like a playboy.

Playboy license plate drivers characteristically drive excruciatingly slow. They have a hard time committing to a lane, which I find ironic, and they can’t make up their mind where they are going and when they’d like to turn.

I’m sure most of you who know me know that I am a little bit of a crazy driver. This week, I have friends visiting from the U.S. — he’s the senior staff writer with my NGO. I had just finished cautioning them of my driving and telling them to let me know if I scare them when I rear-ended someone. Yep. I didn’t stop soon enough and I hit a car. There were not scratches or marks on either of our cars, but I was sufficiently humiliated.

I’m an impatient driver and I tend to ride peoples bumpers, hence the bump-age.

Also, I have a lead foot. Lead-footed drivers do not get a long well with playboy pansy drivers.

I think they need to own up to the brand they are wearing.

I was thinking today about how I wear the Christian brand and that many times I don’t live up to it. I’m not worthy to wear the brand sometimes. I need to buck up and live a vibrant faith. If we’re going to wear the label, ‘Christian,’ let’s live in a manner worthy of the cross of Christ.

Morale of the story: 1. don’t ride people’s bumpers 2. own your faith

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