10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Book Review

Anthony Esolen’s book, 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, probably has the best cover of any book published in paperback. Despite the old proverb about judging books by their covers, this modern In Praise of Folly could draw in even a reader who didn’t know that Esolen is a leading scholar on Dante who can quote the majority of Paradise Lost from memory.

In this book, Esolen turns a critical eye on the state of education and childhood in America. He points out that the adulthood awaiting our children really requires a deadened imagination. The best cog in the machine will be the unobtrusive one, rather than the truly unique and irreplaceable one.

Playing devil’s advocate, Esolen spends 10 chapters describing and “lauding” the modern stories we tell our children, the vices we present as virtues, and the portrait of the world that we paint for them. In Chapter 1, “Why Truth is Your Enemy, and the Benefits of the Vague,” he opens fire on the modern educational notion that rote memorization is a dried out husk of learning from when we didn’t know better. He points out that learning facts gives children the building blocks they can play with. In Chapter 2, “Never Leave Children to Themselves,” he turns the criticism from the schools to the parents, and their need to enroll their children in afterschool activities and organized sports.

This continues through 10 chapters, including, “Keep Children away from Machines and Mechanists,” “Replace the Fairy Tale with Political Cliches and Fads,” “Cast Aspersions on the Heroic and Patriotic,” and “Level Distinctions between Man and Woman.”

His discussion of the way America has come to treat history is especially poignant. Though we like to think that shedding light on the downfalls of those once called “heroes” is giving a balanced view, teachers and textbooks are more likely to present such individuals as frauds who were once praised for false virtue, rather than complicated people with shortcomings and sad lapses. It’s an excellent point, supported by examples from older books of history, which display a more balanced view of heroes than modern texts give of those heroes when they cut them down to size.

Now, the one failing of Esolen’s work may lay outside of the scope of that which is contained between those wonderfully decorated covers. The problem with his Erasmus and Screwtape style arguments is that, in this world, they happen to be sadly true. As long as we raise children who will be trapped in the 9-to-5 monotony of a normal job where they are disposable, they will be miserable if they have well-developed minds with no tolerance for deplorable wastes of human time and energy. What Esolen doesn’t tell us is how to create a world that children will be well-prepared for by having a healthy development as human beings.

Then again, in The Odyssey, Calypso offers to turn Odysseus into a god with no freedom. Later, one of his servants is turned into a pig with no freedom. Who is better off — the slave who is a pig or the slave who is a god? One is aware of his prison, one is not. Throughout his work, Esolen assures us that mankind is better off striving after god-likeness than settling for farm animal complacency.

And, though his hints don’t become chapters, it’s clear that he hopes that a generation of children raised to understand goodness, truth, and beauty could upset the complacent order of things.

Robin Hood and Christianity: Corrupting Christ’s Return

An episode of Robin of Sherwood, a delightfully dated 1980s Robin Hood television adaption, begins with a broad-bodied fellow laid in the dust, fending off the blows of a vicious little knot of robbers. Before we have time to worry about his fate, the Merry Men enter with swinging fists and shooting arrows, and the ugly little band darts off to the shadows. As Robin oversees it all like a hardened watchdog, the hearty heroes take the fellow back to their Merry Mancave to eat and drink and, of course, wrestle.  Before we know what’s going on, the chap lifts Little John above his head (?!?) and throwing him to the ground.

That’s when he reveals that he, himself, is King Richard the Lion-Hearted, come back from the East to restore England to right crown and rule and order. He shakes Robin’s hand, inviting him and the Merry Men to Nottingham, where there is feasting and song. That day, he issues the Sherwood gang a pardon and many praises.

Yet, something is rotten in the state of Nottingham. The universe of this particular Robin Hood is not the universe of the Robin Hood of the old myths. In all those tales, Robin Hood is just a man who does what he ought to do. His King being absent, the throne being usurped, Robin acts with a loyalty to the crown which makes him an outcast and a hero. However, in the universe of this show, it is Robin who has the Destiny.

From the first episode, it is clear: Robin is the hero. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when Little John begins to doubt the King’s sincerity. The other Merry Men follow, and even Maid Marian shakes her head. Their doubts are well-founded. When Robin is off screen, the King goes about angling for power, selling off titles and rights, and showing himself to be the equal to his evil brother. Loyal Robin realizes the truth last. He wants to remain faithful to his king, but his king fails him.

By the episode’s end, the King is just another bad man in authority.

The strangest part, perhaps, is how casually the screenwriters undo King Richard. This episode is not a series finale or a season finale or even a Christmas special. It is just another episode. It has no great consequence to the series.

How can Robin go on as though nothing has changed? What happens when you take a deeply Christian tale and pull Christ out of it? Absurdity. After all, King Richard presents a type of Christ, the king of a usurped throne, to which he is returning.

The tale of Robin Hood and Christianity have a common heart, and the long wait for Richard is not unlike half a dozen of Christ’s parables about stewardship and expectation for a returning master. And Robin, well, Robin is the faithful Christian who bears exile for the sake of remaining true to Christ. He continues to act virtuously and stand up against injustice, despite how closely it threatens his life. We, along with Robin, expect the return of Richard to be the coming of heaven to Earth. That moment will set everything right, because that is the effect of the return of Christ.

But long before the series exposed Richard, the writers created a different Sherwood than the one of the parables. By turning Robin into the man with the Destiny, rather than leaving Richard as the Destiny of all, they elevated the Christian above the Christ. When Robin got a destiny, he stopped being part of the greater story of King Richard. Without King Richard, who is Robin Hood? Without Christ, who is the Christian? At best, a nice guy trying to do nice things for the people around him. At worst, a law unto himself.

Moreover, the 1980s show unwittingly paints a dark picture of what Robin Hood becomes when he is the center of his own story. Rather than the joyful, often silly, Robin of the Howard Pyle stories or even the Disney movie, this show offers a broody, dark Robin pursued by a tiny rain-cloud visible only to his soul. This Robin is rightly depressed: the show has created a world where he can believe only in himself, which means that his greatest hero is not a King fighting for God and country, but a robber living in the woods. So it is that, despite the catastrophic implications of an evil King Richard, the show allows Robin to go on with his life in the next episode without reference to the royal disappointment.

The writers’ gesture suggests that the Christian can go on despite displacing the Christ, who does not have to be returning, does not have to possess the throne, does not have to be real; it poses no problem to Robin. Indeed, the underdeveloped spiritual philosophy of the show places deer-headed shaman beside God-fearing nuns with no sense of one being right and the other wrong. In this world, everyone can just believe what they like without it working itself into any of their actions or dispositions. So it is that the writers reveal that they lack an understanding of what it means to believe in anything. This is why they can’t imagine a Robin who needs to believe in a Richard.

The “Quieter Love” That Comes with Time

I met my husband when I was fifteen years old. We fell in love as kids. Jordan used to pick me up at my parents’ house in his white mustang to take me out on dates: to movies; to go swing dancing; to the local Albuquerque coffee shop where he had asked me to be his girlfriend in the first place. We dated for several years (broke up once in the middle) and married two months before my twentieth birthday.

The groundwork for our relationship was laid in the early days of our youth, which paired nicely with the pleasant dizziness of youthful love: love that is just starting out, just revving up, just blossoming and overwhelming you with its sweet fragrance.

Sometimes I miss those early days of being in love. I’ve seen more and more engagement announcements in my Facebook feed in recent years, always accompanied by photos of the smiling couple and the girl showing off her ring, always full of the particular excitement and giddiness that comes with still-young love.

Let me be clear: I love my husband more than anyone. He’s my favorite person in the world. I certainly haven’t “fallen out of love” with him (whatever that means). Our romance is still young in a lot of ways, and there’s always something new and exciting to look forward to next.

But our love is different than it was back in high school, or when we first got married, and I’ve learned that that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We have both changed over the years, because that’s what human beings do as they grow and learn. We’ve gotten to know each other (and ourselves) better. We’ve faced some challenges and made some big decisions together. We’ve seen each other at our worst, our most vulnerable, and our weakest. We’ve enjoyed each other at our best.

There’s a passage about love from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity I’ve been thinking on lately (and which I’ve mentioned on here before). It’s long, but it’s great, so here it is:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.

This quieter love is what, I think, Jordan and I are beginning to experience now, after entering our fifth year of marriage (and the eighth year of our relationship). Because not only do we as individuals change with time, but love changes, too. After you’ve left the stage of new, young love, you begin to experience what older love is like…not that I would classify what Jordan and I have as particularly “old,” but it’s older than it was eight years ago when we started dating or five years ago when we married. Like us, it’s aging and growing and changing. Love is not a static thing. And (Lord willing) in five, ten, twenty-five, or fifty years, I’m sure our love will be different than it is now.

Relationships are fortified through little, everyday things. Earlier this summer, Jordan and I were apart for over three weeks, which is the longest we’ve spent apart since getting married. (It unpleasantly reminded us of the roughly two years we spent long-distance dating, which, as I articulated in an exasperated Twitter post while Jordan was away, “SUCKED FOREVER.”)

Some of the things I missed most during that time were just the everyday parts of our relationship. I missed our evening routine of making dinner and watching something on Hulu or Netflix together. I missed having someone just to talk to about my feelings. I missed the silly little things we’d do to make each other laugh, like doing a dorky dance while taking the dishes to the kitchen or making up our own lyrics to cheesy love songs to sing to each other from the next room. I missed lying in bed together, staring up at the dark ceiling, and talking about our days or our future or how we want to raise our kids and all of the other little, secret things you only share with a spouse. This must be the stuff of Lewis’ “quieter love.”

I am excited by this new stage of love that, while not as flashy as its predecessor, is a little deeper and richer and growing more so day by day. I remember fondly the early days of our romance, but I wouldn’t trade what we have now to go back and start all over again.

Onwards and upwards.

Image via IM Creator.

The Future of Protestantism: Further Reflections

A note from the editor: We’ve been running a little low here at EO, but don’t fear. We’ll be back up to speed at some point in the relatively near future. Apologies to Nick Dalbey, who sent in the below article long enough ago that I had to adjust the first sentence to make it time appropriate. -J.F. Arnold

It’s been well over a month since the Future of Protestantism discussion, and Protestantism is alive and well. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion and the articles that have followed in the wake of the event not because everyone is agreed and divisions healed, but because the posterity of Protestantism is secure so long as these discussions continue.

Despite their obvious disagreements, and the backdrop of what Leithart calls protestant tribalism, the Future of Protestantism event illuminated the best kind of unity protestants can hope for: dialectic community. A dialectic community is framed by discussion, not debate; here, participants are friends, and a vision of the Truth is their only prize.

Unlike a debate, discussions don’t have winners and losers; no one is awarded a prize for the best argument; no one advances to the next round in a tournament bracket. All of the interlocutors in a discussion are friends in pursuit of a common goal: Truth. By means of argument, everyone rallies to whoever strikes a clearer path on the journey towards that goal.

As the pursuit of Truth, a good discussion will also inspire the interlocutors to virtue. Participation in a discussion requires rigorous discipline of the intellect and passions; it also requires that you desire the good for your friends as much as you desire it for yourself. It is by the help of your friends that you’ll discover whether your argument is the path toward Truth; and it is only with friends that you’ll ward off loneliness and the temptation to quit.

Disagreement, then, is essential to a dialectic community because it keeps people honest about what they think and, when done in friendship, spurs them on to virtue and to Truth.

John Calvin himself, in a similar vein, argues for this kind of accountability when inquiring into any area of theology.

In his Institutes, Calvin argues that personal virtue should not be separated from knowledge. Especially in theology where God is the subject of our search, Calvin argues that “…our knowledge should serve first to teach us fear and reverence.” Knowledge implies a particular kind of relationship between the knower and the known. In contrast to the popular phrase “knowledge is power”, Calvin suggests the opposite. Fear and reverence are a humble access point by which we can recognize God when we see Him. Similarly, these feelings of fear and reverence will naturally arise, as we better understand our sinfulness in light of God’s holiness.

Later, in the same passage, Calvin takes this thought one step further: “…the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself…It thus recognizes God because it knows that he governs all things; and trusts that he is its guide and protector, therefore giving itself over completely to trust in him.”

Piety is the recognition of God as the fountainhead of all goodness, and it is the mark of a pious soul that clings to God out of gratitude and trust. As a result, the reward for the pious mind is not the accolades of winning an argument, or proving itself superior, but the knowledge of God Himself.

Fear, reverence, and piety are the building blocks for the Protestant Church’s way forward in the years to come. Discussions, not debates, I think will be our greatest asset in this endeavor for unity in the midst of disagreements. Arguments will come and go, but for posterity’s sake, it’s not enough to be “right,” we have to be good too. Scripture itself, exhorts us to nothing less:

“Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

In the future, I hope to see Catholic and Orthodox Christians represented in such discussions. Diversity will only serve the dialectic community in its pursuits, and perhaps bring about a glimpse of the kind of unity we will experience in heaven.

 

Links of FoP Reviews

Sanders: http://scriptoriumdaily.com/prescriptions-protestants/
Jenson: http://scriptoriumdaily.com/whither-protestantism/
Escalante: http://calvinistinternational.com/2014/06/02/nature-future-protestantism/
Leithart: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/05/staying-put
LittleJohn: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/05/the-uncertain-future-of-protestantism

Why We Should Care (and Talk) About Mary

“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28

Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”

“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is —  presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.

It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary —  also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles —  is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.

Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.

Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”

After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”

Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.

Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.

Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.

Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.

Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42

*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and Westa podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”

“There Must Be More to Life Than Having Everything”

“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 5:10

I think Americans are generally uncomfortable with limits. Ours is a consumeristic culture: we want unlimited options; we want what we want, when we want it, and for the cheapest price possible.

We apply this consumeristic mindset to other aspects of life, too. We want to have accomplished careers and idyllic family lives. We want the promotion with the corner office and the healthy marriage, comfortable home, and well-adjusted children (of which we want one boy and one girl, of course, so that we don’t miss out on raising either gender). And, just as we have a list that guides us in the grocery store, when we act as consumers of life itself, it feels like our lives become ruled by an invisible checklist: impressive job title? Check. Spouse and kids? Check. Three-bedroom house? Check. Vacation condo in Florida? Check. 

Of course, having any or all of those things is not inherently destructive. It’s good to believe in ourselves, follow our passions, and try to do something meaningful and fulfilling with our lives.

There is danger, however, when completing the invisible checklist becomes the endgame. It’s harmful when the checklist weighs so heavily over our lives that our goals and desires overshadow what we have in the present. This kind of thinking is easy to slip into: “Once I finally get [blank], then I’ll be happy,” or “I’ll know I’ve really made it when I finally [blank].” I often lose sight of the good things God has given me here and now by fretting over what someone else has (or appears to have, from my biased and limited perspective), and the only real result of that is more anxiety and dissatisfaction. It is idolatry: I worship achievements, experiences, and myself. I expect these things to make me happy and whole. I know this, but I do it anyway.

Maybe life isn’t all about “having it all.” There’s a quote from a Maurice Sendak book that goes, “There must be more to life than having everything.”

Wow.

There must be more to life than having everything.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so relieved when I read those words. It’s such a refreshing thought that life is more than a checklist of accomplishments and milestones we must collect like trophies. Life is more than an increasingly exhausting “race to the top” or the next thing we want to say we’ve done, to somehow prove that we are valuable, capable, and satisfied (to others or to ourselves).

Maybe we should make our lives more about giving and less about having—more about serving and less about achieving. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not things or relationships in my life are making me happy. Instead, I should focus on what I can do to make those relationships stronger and healthier. Maybe instead of worrying that others are living better lives than I am, I should focus on how I can best love others.

Maybe I won’t visit all the places I hope to visit. Maybe I won’t get my “dream job.” Maybe I won’t live in the hippest city or have just as many kids as I want. Maybe I won’t ever publish a book.

And maybe I will get some of those things, or even all of them.

But I’m certain that my life will be emptier if those are the things I care most about, because really, all of those things translate into one primary concern: myself.

So instead of living life based on an obscure list of accolades that I think will make me happy or prove my value, I must embrace the life that I have and focus on grounding it in the God who created me and you and all things, the God who always loves us and keeps watch for our return, whether we have strayed for a few minutes or for many years. And maybe he has something in mind for all of us that’s better, more rewarding, and certainly more sanctifying than anything we could possibly think of to put on a checklist.

The Comedy of Christ

Comedy is usually thought of as beneficial but not necessarily significant or essential. However, there is actually a structure and significance to humor as seen in comedic pieces. For instance, during comedic movies, many times the events are going decently well but in time they begin to devolve and become somewhat tragic, that is until the arrival of the comedic turn. The comedic turn is what serves as the axis which turns tragedy on its head and the once sorrowful story suddenly becomes joyful and hopeful. In light of the structure behind comedy, it may play a larger role than initially believed.

The important role that comedy plays is to inject hope through a greater understanding of truth. In Harry Potter, students encounter a Boggart, a creature that attacks them in the form of their worst fear. One would think students would be taught a deadly, powerful spell to defeat the Boggart but instead they are taught to use the spell, “Riddikulus” which turns the Boggart into something humorous. Through their laughter, the students learn that the opponent they face is not indestructible but ultimately conquerable. The transformation of approach from terror to humor stems from understanding this truth and allows them to then laugh from an assurance of victory.

For Christians, we are able to similarly fight our enemy with laughter from the same hope of victory. Our hope stems from the unique comedic turn of Christ, the axis that turns tragedy into joy. Raskin, a distinguished professor of linguistics at Purdue, explains the link between the comedic turn and humor stating it comes from, “the idea is that every joke is based on a juxtaposition of two scripts. The punch line triggers the switch from one script to the other. It is a universal theory.” In the biblical story, there exists the two scripts: the present fallen world and the future perfect world. When Christ came, died, and rose again, he was the punch line that triggered the switch from the fallen world and bridged the gap to the perfect world.

Christ’s life and death was a miraculous act that suddenly and irreversibly altered the fight against sin. The fight against a once seemingly formidable enemy becomes a fight filled with the joy and laughter that accompanies ultimate victory. The consolation of a happy ending is labeled by Tolkien as the Eucatastrophe,  “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn.”  As a result of Christ’s life and death, we are able to fight against our enemy without total anxiety or fear. If Satan is our Boggart, Jesus is the “Riddikulus” which allows us to claim our assurance of victory. Because of Christ, we are able to recognize the ridiculousness attempt of Satan to rule and can wage war against us. This joy found in the fight against Satan does not trivialize or underestimate the battle but rather esteems the miraculous turn created by Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

We will face obstacles and struggles in the present world since Christ’s Eucatastrophe has not come to its full effect, but this does not mean His actions lack present effect. The underlying quality of the Eucatastrophe is,“It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’” While the Gospel’s Eucatastrophe creates a perfect hope for the future, it has the ability to deeply affect our present spiritual struggles by removing fear or anxiety in the midst of battle.

 

You should be especially nice at church: an examination of Galatians 6.10

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6.10)

This verse strikes me as being counter-intuitive. First of all, shouldn’t we do good to everyone equally? Secondly, if we are to do good “especially” to some, shouldn’t they be nonbelievers? The church is a place where people already recognize the goodness of God. I often think that since a person is saved, they are secure in their knowledge of the goodness of God, and there is no pressing need for my actions to serve as a reflection or reminder. On the other hand, I often feel a compelling need to point nonbelievers to God’s goodness by my actions, so that they too can become secure in God’s goodness. I can recall many times in which I have been more inclined to do good to a nonbeliever than a believer, simply because I want to win the nonbeliever over. When we see a world full of hurting, hopeless people, it becomes easy to be apathetic regarding your behavior around Christians and be more concerned with doing good to those who are lost. Yet, this way of thinking and accompanying behavior is not quite right.

To make sense of this command and readjust our way of thinking, we should start by examining the verse more carefully and then considering it in relation to Paul’s other teachings. The beginning of this verse, unfortunately, is easily overlooked. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone”. Paul is not calling us to neglect anyone in our good deeds. Paul is calling us to live with a mindset that leads us to do good to everyone whenever the opportunity arises. This verse is at the end of Galatians – a letter which emphasizes justification by faith and not by works. Paul teaches that we are not saved by good works. It is futile to try to save yourself or another by doing good. The reason we do good is because our Father is good, and we are created in his image. In other words, we ought to do good because we have been created to do so. When God use a good deed to be a reminder or a reflection of his goodness, then it is bonus.

With the proper reason for doing good in mind, let us consider Paul’s teachings on the church in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s letter indicates that church, as a whole, must be the starting place for the expansion of the Kingdom. Throughout the epistle, he discusses of the church’s obligation to share. The church must share in sufferings, forgiveness, and even material wealth.
In the context of sharing material wealth, Paul writes:

>Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. (2 Corinthians 9.14)

This is a tangible example of the sort of good that needs to be done within the church. We “do good” when we provide for our brethren; this could mean bestowing forgiveness, loving-kindness, or tangible goods. Likewise, our brethren ought to “do good” to us as well and provide in the places where we are lacking. When the church family does good to one another there is fairness and fulfillment. If we take Galatians 6.10 seriously, then members of the church should feel complete in forgiveness, love, and strength. Then, we can better serve to be a light in the world. Think of a stone lighthouse, in which the stones are the members and the whole structure is the church. Each stone lends its strength and stability to the others. Together, they make the structure strong, and are able to provide light to those out at sea. It is necessary that each stone is present and lending all of its strength.

As we consider Paul’s command to do good, we must keep in mind the proper reason for doing good. We bear the image of the Highest Good, and our actions should manifest this. However, by the grace of God, our good actions can also serve to transform those around us. This is what Paul is getting at in the latter half of Galatians 6.10. Ultimately, we do good because we can and should. However, when we do good especially to those in the household of faith, we are being used by God to form the beacon of faith that shines out into a world of lost souls.

The Power of Fantasy

When I was little, my parents chose to tell me the truth about Santa Claus. They thought if I knew this particular myth was false, I would be less susceptible to believing lies in the future. They didn’t want me to confuse fantasy with reality, especially when I began to learn about Christianity. Not surprisingly, a lot of Christians feel similarly about fantasy and ask why would you read or watch something that doesn’t exactly correspond with the reality we experience? While these concerns regarding fantasy are not ungrounded, I believe there is also a lot of good and truth that can be communicated through this specific genre.

Although the genre of fantasy is able to communicate truth, it does not mean it is free from potential danger. Scripture defines the line between myth and reality when Peter writes, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” and Paul warns to not, “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” These two verses clearly warn against the dangers of myths and fables since they have the ability to detract from the truth of the Gospel.

These passages were interpreted by many Christians, including my parents, to mean all fiction must be harmful since it was unrealistic and therefore untruthful. To these Christians, fantasy stories are made up of lies and deceit and are directly opposed to the Bible which is completely truthful. The works which include fantastical elements such as talking animals are deemed falsehoods since they promote worlds incompatible with the Christian reality. Whether or not one completely agrees, these types of concerns are truly valid when an individual begins to replace truth and reality with a fantasy world. Fantasy is not meant to be nonfiction and most would understand the label of fantasy to differ from reality. However, the distinction is not always easy for some, which is why prudence and discretion are important guiding factors when exploring fantasy.

However, in spite of the potential risks, fantasy was championed by Tolkien and Lewis as a powerful tool for Christians through its ability to engage the imagination. Their use of magic and myth is supported by many Christians because of their explicit ties to Gospel themes, but C.S Lewis believed fantasy was useful beyond direct connections to the Bible. He said, “At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.” Fantasy thus has the unique ability to extend beyond the present and introduce to the human mind the potential of a life beyond the tangible reality man experiences.

Fantasy’s introduction to the extension of life beyond the material then allows the mind to break the limitations of materialism and embrace truth’s existence outside materialistic bounds. Fantasy critics construct a false parallel between tangible reality and truth, believing fantasy’s venture outside the realm of daily life is an attack on reality. Tolkien said, “creative Fantasy is founded…on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it.” At it’s core, fantasy still maintains logical thought, but it simultaneously engages in a world which extends beyond an earthly framework.By doing so, fantasy breaks the spell of a mindset that truth only exists in this present earth and teaches us to realize greater truths beyond a material worldview.

 

 

A Journey of Sacrifice

“You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end.” (*The Hobbit*, 35)

This is my favorite quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s *The Hobbit*, because it communicates the very thing that makes an adventure great: sacrifice. Bilbo is suddenly presented with an opportunity for adventure. He’s used to living in a cozy hobbit-hole, with the comforts of home at his fingertips. Yet something deep within him prompts him to take the opportunity and go on a journey with companions who are practically strangers. He does not quite know what he’s getting into and he suspects there will be perils ahead, but he still chooses to go. Less than five minutes into the journey he remembers his pocket-handkerchief and wants to turn back. It is at this point that Dwalin, a no-nonsense dwarf, reminds Bilbo that if he wants to be a part of the adventure, he’s going to have to leave the comforts of home entirely behind him. Bilbo is reminded to anticipate sacrifice if he wants to get where he’s going.

I’m not going to say that the Christian life is like an adventure –after all, adventures are temporary. You return to the the comforts that you sacrificed once the adventure is over. The Christian life is not called the Christian adventure for a reason. It does not last for a few months and then come to an end. I will, however, say that this line from the Hobbit reminds me of the sort of sacrifice which Paul explains in Romans chapter 12. The Apostle writes:

> I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.1-2)

Paul is instructing believers to seek a radical transformation. When he tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, he means that we are no longer serving our flesh but giving ourselves to God. The world tells us it is okay to pursue our sinful desires. Paul is telling us to leave the world’s standards behind and change our mindset. If we want to be obedient we have to go all the way. We cannot be of Spirit with a mindset and a desire that is of the world. Yes, sacrificing our desires is uncomfortable and sometimes feels uncertain, but it is necessary if we want to get where we are going.

Returning to The Hobbit, it appears that Bilbo’s sacrifices actually improve him. Prior to his journey, he knew little of what happened beyond the borders of the Shire. He was content with his pipe, his food, and peace and quiet. He never had any need to exercise courage or push himself beyond his comfort zone. He learns with every step of the journey that there is more to him than he thought. He has a courage and strength within himself that brings him to confront incredible foes. In the end, he returns to the Shire as a changed Hobbit, with a beautiful story to tell.

It is okay if sacrifices scare you. You should feel a tinge of fear when you read the aforementioned line from The Hobbit, mostly because you can sense the risk and peril that is coming. You might feel a tinge of fear when you read Romans 12.1-2 as well. Saying no to a desire is painful. Christians know that they are on a life-long journey in which they will have to give up their desires. However, we can be comforted in the fact that as we make sacrifices we are being transformed and prepared for a future glory. Sacrifice is painful but necessary, frightening but transforming. As you strive to sacrifice the desires of the flesh, remember that you are on a journey in which you are becoming closer and closer to God. Not to mention, your journey ends with an eternity spent in his presence. With this hope in mind, press on in your journey of sacrifice.