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On faith and fairy stories, part 3

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

The Chronicles of Narnia contains strong biblical allegories, “woven into their very fiber.”[1] The theme, Montgomery states, is the redemption of mankind through Christ. “To Tolkien and to Lewis, tales such as the Narnian Chronicles can, by their very nature, serve as pointers to the great theme of Christian Redemption. Moreover, they will establish in the hearts of the sensitive reader and appreciation of, and a longing for, the Christian Story.”[2] Montgomery writes that Lucy, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comes across a story in the book of a Magician and she tries to remember the story. She is distraught that she cannot remember. She eventually does, and remembers the lessons she learned from Aslan. “A good story—one which will remind the reader of the One who was nailed to a trees on his behalf, and who now guides the believer, expects great things of him through faith, and waits to receive him into his everlasting kingdom when his work on earth is done.”[3]

Tolkien thought Lewis’ writing in The Chronicles of Narnia was too explicitly an allegory. Historian and literary critic Edmund Fuller agreed that Lewis is more explicit in his biblical allegory. He said that the Christian message is present in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it is deeply buried.[4] “Yet I believe that the relative explicitness of the Narnian books is a positive merit and value in them. It is not so clear that a completely uninstructed child would know it for what it is. But even for the uninstructed, it would lay down a foundation for understanding the Christian mystery in all its basic elements”[5] However, both authors’ writings have connections to Christian theology. Mariann B. Russell said her doctoral dissertation that the stories of Lewis and Tolkien, all “shared a belief that the thrill of adventure could be related to the romantic experience which in its turn could be related to Christian theology.”[6]

The Chronicles of Narnia are brimming with connections to the Bible. Author Lawrence Watt-Evans writes that, “In some ways, the history of Narnia parallels the biblical account of the history of our own world. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while ostensibly a fairy-tale adventure, retells in its way the Passion of Christ.”[7] In The Magician’s Nephew, the reader watches as Aslan creates Narnia. All of the elements are there, the garden, the forbidden fruit and the snake, which in the book, is Jadis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund and in doing this, he mirrors Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. The Last Battle is the story of the Apocalypse. The other books in the series continue with biblical connections.[8]

Tolkien wrote that the mind has the capability to create and add meaning to life. The human mind can observe, for instance, that grass is green, and can add meaning to occasions such as births, anniversaries and deaths. The human mind also has the power to imagine things to move. With the mind’s capabilities to create, Tolkien wrote that man is a sub-creator.[9] God is the ultimate Creator, Tolkien believed, but man becomes a sub-creator as an author and myth writer.[10] Tolkien was a sub-creator when he created Middle Earth. Authors, like Tolkien, create a “Secondary World” that one can enter in to mentally.[11] For a moment, when the reader reads the book, he or she believes what the secondary world shows, then, doubt enters and the reader re-enters the primary world, Tolkien wrote.[12] Tolkien acknowledges that human writers, as creators, transpose the stain of sin onto the characters in their tales. Not all fairy tale characters are good as is seen in the case of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. The beauty of the Gospel is that God has redeemed the fallen characters, redeemed the sin that is so inherent in characters.[13] God is the ultimate and original Creator and He created the universe. Aslan’s breathing Narnia into existence is similar to God bringing our world into existence. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is an example of a creator giving life to a world.[14]

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not just biblical allegories. Tolkien said that since he is a believer, this affected the standpoint from which he wrote. Kilby thinks that Tolkien shied away from saying The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is an allegory of Christ’s redemption because he thought that the “allegorical dragon might gobble up the art and the myth.”[15] The stories from Middle Earth, are “a story to be enjoyed, not a sermon to be preached,” Kilby writes. “Yet I think it is clear enough that for many readers the story deeply suggests the sadness of a paradise lost and the glory of one that can be regained.”[16] Redemption is a tangible theme in The Lord of the Rings. Through reading about the genesis of Middle Earth, the reader sees that evil was not always present and that the evil characters did not begin evil, they made a choice to choose the dark side.[17] “The basis for The Lord of the Rings is the metaphor, God is light.”[18] There are many symbols of Jesus in The Lord of the Rings. Kilby says that Gandalf’s struggle with Balrog, where he falls into a pit is similar to when Christ descended into hell. “After Gandalf’s resurrection—it is plainly called a resurrection—the Fellowship gazed on him with something of the same astonished joy that Mary Magdalene and others found at the tomb of Christ.”[19] The examples and connections to biblical themes in The Lord of the Rings abound.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

[1] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Montgomery, “The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader,” 109
[4] Fuller, 91.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.,131.
[7] Lawrence Watt-Evans, “On the Origins of Evil.” In Revisiting Narnia: Fantasy, Myth, and Religion in C.s. Lewis’ Chronicles. ed. Shanna Caughey. (Dallas, Tex.: Smart Pop, 2005), 27.
[8] Kilby, 27.
[9] Tolkien, 8.
[10] Ibid., 12.
[11] Ibid., 13.
[12] Ibid., 12.
[13] Ibid., 23.
[14] Montgomery, 108-111.
[15] Kilby, 141.
[16] Ibid., 143.
[17] Ibid., 137-138.
[18] Ibid., 130.
[19] Ibid., 133.

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oh oswald

Oh Oswald.

I love how Oswald Chambers always has just the words I need to hear.

It’s really not him, it’s God and the Holy Spirit using the daily bits of wisdom to speak to my heart.

April 29th’s entry is about gracious uncertainty, and boy, did I need to hear (or in this case, read) it.

“Our natural inclination is to be so precise – trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next – that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing,” Chambers writes.

Though I don’t consider myself a scheduled, detailed person and my Myers’ Briggs personality has me as a “P,” I like to dream and plan for the future. Forget about today and this week, let’s think about what could happen in six months or a year. Or two years. To-do lists? I usually get bored writing them and start actually working.

I do like to sit and think about the future and dream about what if I were in a certain circumstance. I love daydreaming.

“Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been.”

I know I’ve exasperated my parents with “what if’s” and my excessive need to think and plan for the future. Sometimes I focus so much on this I get lost in the present.”What if I don’t get into Baylor, what if I don’t get the writing job I want overseas, what if …”

My questions now are, what do I do after this three-year assignment? What if I come back right away, what if I stay in the US, and if I stay, will I be able to come back? What if I chose the wrong seminary?

The questions are endless and typically end up with me overwhelmed and exasperated.

“We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are uncertain in our certainty.”

I’m the type of person who likes surprises, but when it comes to planning the rest of my life, I like to have clues. For example, if I could just know that going back for seminary is what I need to do, I could be patient with everything else being revealed later.

But, as Chambers says, the nature of our spiritual life is uncertainty.

“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring,” Chambers writes.

Yikes. I think I’ve been taking certainty into my own hands. I want to know what tomorrow will bring, now.

“This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.”

I love this line. Breathless expectation. I don’t want sighs and sadness in my life. I want to take hold of the breathless expectation Chambers writes about. It’s like a kid that’s so ecstatic for Christmas morning they sometimes forget to breathe.

Life is a divine adventure and I fear I’m so worried about the future I am missing the adventure with all my sighing. God, I want to live in breathless expectation. I don’t want to schedule out my future and schedule you out of it.

“We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and to the task He has placed closest to us,  He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I’m even more in love with those two sentences. I cling so tightly to life and the future that I’m not joyfully doing or completing the tasks closest to me. Right now, the tasks I feel God has placed in my life are my job as a writer and social marketer and the ministry in the red light district.

The tighter I cling, the less God is in these tasks and the fruit of them isn’t juicy. Who likes dried, juice-less fruit? Hopefully you didn’t say, “Me!”

I obsess over my writing. I cling to the words in Microsoft Word. Writing is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. I want so badly to succeed. I want to do justice to the stories of the men and women who follow God in the midst of persecution most of us can only imagine.

I want to see souls freed from bondage in the red light district. I want them to know Jesus like I do. I want to be a better friend to them.

I take these burdens upon myself and it’s a burden I cannot bear alone.

The beauty is, I don’t need to.

I’ve placed them before God before, but I somehow seem to keep picking up my offering off of the altar.

“When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God – it is only believing  our belief about Him.”

Chambers continues, “If our certainty us only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled.”

As Chambers so beautifully put it, once we abandon ourselves to Him, “He begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

I love surprises. My parents started a tradition where on Christmas Eve, after we were asleep, they’d leave a small present under the mini trees in our bedrooms. I loved waking up to find what it was. I loved running out to the tree to see the presents they’d placed out under the bigger tree.

I want my life to be filled with godly surprises. I’ve been clinging to certainty too long.

“We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next.”

I don’t know where I’ll be after I head back to the U.S. this October. I don’t know the next step in my life.

“But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy,” Chambers writes.

I do know that I am going to focus on my relationship with God and I’m looking forward to the spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

“Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in – but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.”

Yes sir, I think I shall.

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Kickboxing with Bonhoeffer

It’s easier to fight visible enemies. Actually, fighting enemies in general is easier. I’m not talking about Muay Thai kickboxing.

Many times it is easier to try to fight the woes that ail us, thinking that our struggle will result in victory and sage-ness. With every Jackie Chan-like kick, we think we’re taking one giant step for man and one giant leap for mankind.

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Many people thought His coming to earth meant a physical battle. They thought Jesus would duke it out with Caesar.

That’s not the way of the cross.

I’m in the midst of reading, as I have been for quite some time, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” by Timothy J. Keller. It’s a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Keller writes about German pastors and their struggle against Ludwig Müller, the Nazi-appointed bishop of the German church. Ludwig agreed with views of an “Aryan race” and wanted to purge the country of Jews.

“While Hildebrandt, Niemöller, and Jacobi were thinking about how to defeat Müller, Bonhoeffer was thinking about God’s highest call, about the call of discipleship and its cost. He was thinking about Jeremiah and about God’s call to partake in suffering, even unto to death,” Keller writes.

Discipleship. It has a cost. Bonhoeffer knew that and chose to occupy his thoughts with God’s calling instead of inventing his own ways to struggle.

Bonhoeffer was first concerned with God and His calling on his life. He knew the key to victory was trust in Jesus. Through focusing on God, he fought his enemies. By choosing to look first to God and concentrate on discipleship, he allowed God to take control.

Bonhoeffer stood up to Hitler. Though I haven’t gotten to this part in the book, I know that Bonhoeffer didn’t sit around and he wasn’t resigned to his fate. Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was later hanged for doing so. He fought. He fought hard.

I’ve struggled the past few months with a fear of failure and crippling worry. Though these enemies are nothing like the Fuhrer, they were very real to me. I’ve been incapacitated at times from writing. I questioned my calling. I’ve heard and seen things not many people get the chance to see or hear and wanted so badly to do their stories justice.

I spent hours fighting, kickboxing at these fears, praying for strength as I did so. Many times it was a “in the midst of a crisis” prayer.

It’s easier to fight on your own sometimes, because you feel like you’re at least trying, that you’re doing something tangible to annihilate the problem. It’s harder to let go and allow the Spirit lead.

It’s downright scary. What is the Spirit going to ask me to do if I let go?

What I’ve learned is that I need to concern myself with discipleship and its cost. Being a disciple means suffering–it means blood, sweat and tears. Bonhoeffer knew this. He died for discipleship. He didn’t spend time trying to do things on his own without first submitting to God. He also knew he must faithfully suffer.

“Simply suffering-that is what will be needed then-not parries, blows or thrusts such as many still be possible or admissible in the preliminary fight; the real struggle that perhaps lies ahead must simply be to suffer faithfully,” Bonhoeffer wrote.

He kept his eyes fixated on the cross and followed his Savior’s lead. In Bonhoeffer’s case, it meant death. He already considered this though and had accepted it the cost of discipleship. The cost varies from person to person, but the calling to follow Him is the same.

Reckless abandon, fixation on the cross and wholehearted obedience.

That is what He wants from me. That is what He wants from you. He wants you to follow Him with reckless abandon. He’ll slay your enemies for you. It may not be the way you expect, but He makes good on His promises.

Hitler met his demise. Bonhoeffer’s struggle was not in vain.

Looking to the cross doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting evil is in the world. It means allowing our King, who knows better, to take kick in the Muay Thai arena in your life.

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Scrabble : triple word score

It’s easy to give up. It’s even easier to mope – especially when a seemingly debilitating and career-ending injury makes it look like you’ve reached the end of your dream.

Drew Brees didn’t give up or mope for too long. I’m taking notes from him.

This NFL player incurred a shoulder injury that almost ended his career. He had to re-learn how to throw a football. In his book, “Coming Back Stronger,” Brees shares about his injury and how he came back from it.

The book is also about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The book chronicles the NFL and city’s comeback from devastating circumstances.

It’s a good lesson in perspective for me.

Sometimes it’s easy as a writer to take one defeat – a poorly written story, or multiple poorly-written stories – as signifying the end of a career.

This story is a great reminder to continue in what you’re called to do. Where it gets tricky is allowing God control and not taking control for yourself. When you work with words, it’s hard let the Lord lead you and not keep typing your own words.

It’s like playing Scrabble. Sure, you can put together words, but are they going to be a triple-word score or a five-point concession?

If I let Him guide me in Scrabble, I’ll be dancing in triple-word scores.

It’s the difference in one letter sometimes – coping and moping. Coping means accepting the tiles you’ve drawn and making something of it, moping means pouting and resigning yourself to your fate. The difference is between the “c” and the “m.”

I don’t have to know the next play in the Scrabble game either. You see what letters you have to work with after you commit to a play and are able to draw two new letters. In life, committing to a “word” or “play” that the Lord has revealed will lead to the next wordplay.

Sometimes there will be low-scoring word plays. Not every one will be a whopper. But, we’re promised peace that passes all understanding and direction better than we could supply.

So, like Drew Brees, don’t let the shoulder injury keep you from pursuing God’s calling on your life.

Tyndale Media Center provided me with a copy of “Coming Back Stronger.” My thoughts and opinions are my own.

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treasures in teak houses

*I wrote this while in college. I’ve edited it some and added a few elements.

Childhood is now a silhouette, masked by adulthood. It comes back, my childhood, that is, quite often. It sometimes feels as if I’m living in a world of un-lockable memories. Well, they aren’t really un-lockable. I’ll be driving down Chiang Mai’s “super highway” and a memory will play before my eyes, like it was in real time. Just as quickly as the memory came, it leaves.

Allow me to relive a memory of my first home in Thailand.

It was a beautiful, Thai teak house.

Our first house is now a distant memory even though I now pass by the road leading to the green gate that encloses our former sanctuary.

Thai houses are covered in windows to combat the tropical weather. Central air and heat do not exist in Thailand. Heat is never artificially needed because heat composes every season. Window-covered houses are wonderful because of the amount of light they allow. I will never get used to the lack of windows in American houses.

Wood is an essential part of houses in Thailand. Wood floors, furniture and beds are staples.

Our kitchen in that house remains one of the largest I have ever seen.

There are no such things as garages in Thailand. Each home had a “carport.” Come to think of it, that sounds awfully like a Star Trek invention. Carport? Taking off somewhere? Not quite sure…

Our yard seemed as if it came from a child’s dream. Taylor and I romped daily  in the vast green expanse bordered by  mango and jackfruit. The yard truly  was mini-botanical garden — complete with tropical flowers. I wore frangipanis in my hair as my accessory of choice.

We held Christmas pageant in that yard. Mary was pregnant with a basketball. And the crew, a motley one at that, are now all adults.

I can’t tell you how many different worlds I traveled to in that yard. Imagination limitless, I sometimes lived in an alternate reality. Having just seen the movie, Inception, I would have imagined myself superior to the architect, Ariadne, in my ability to sculpt alternate realities.

My imagination never failing, I would get “in character” and try to trick Taylor into thinking I was a villain, or Zorro. It didn’t really work, but it upset him to no end.

We shared the yard with our cats. It started out with four–then they had babies. I believe we had 12 at one time.

One time, several of the kittens decided to climb in the gas canister. Someone turned on the gas stove and we found then blackened and with whiskers singed. These same kittens I dressed in doll clothes and kept my closet as a ward for. This closet cause the death of one of the kittens.

My room was huge. I had two double beds and a chest with a mirror that I would sing Testify to Love and Backstreet Boys’ songs in front of.

I played with my American Girl dolls, paper dolls, Polly Pockets, Pound Purries and Petshop animals on these wood floors.

On the wood floors in the den I watched Cartoon Nework. On those floors I received my first CDs.

My parents gave me a classical CD one Christmas and an extended family member gave me a WOW CD. That was the beginning of the WOW obsession and my love of music. I didn’t appreciate the classical CD then, but now I wish I had it.

There is something about listening to classical music that aids you in writing. I don’t know what, because I am just discovering this.

Does music make memories surface? Is it music that enlivens the writer?Do we have a way with words, or do words have a way with us?

We lived in four houses in Chiang Mai and I still think of that house with a sense of nostalgia.

This memory surfaced as I sat in my apartment in Waco, Texas, and listened to Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

I’m now sitting in my own apartment in Chiang Mai. It’s concrete, not teak, and I’m an adult now. Before, I’d banish the thought of ever becoming or calling myself an adult. But it has come. It’s the weekend before my 23rd birthday. I’m not sure how I got this old.

I do know that memories are funny things — they surface without a whole lot of notice. Memories surface for a reason and a season.

I also now know what treasures teak houses hold.

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Khrang naa

Next time, I’ll be better.

I’m aware that I’m not the best blogger.  I’m sure that seems ironic since I’m a writer. It’s not that I don’t want to blog, I truly do.

I find though, it’s hard sometimes to come home and blog when writing is your job. I’ve been writing all day, bein’ all creative, artsy and word-smithy and such.

But, next time, I’ll be better. Khrang naa means next time in Thai. So, next time I’ll be better at blogging.

Realization of the day: I’m an Asia girl. I realized I can’t see myself living in Europe. Europe is a whooo place to me–it’s seems so exotic. Asia feels like home. Africa feels like the ‘hard core continent’ and South America feels too traditional for me.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t live anywhere the Lord called me–because I would. In or out of my comfort zone, I’ll follow.

That’s one realization I made. Another is that I really like coffee. But you and I already knew that.

So, stay tuned for next post! Khrang naa!

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