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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Lavery_Maiss_Auras“Lavery Maiss Auras” by John Lavery – http://kevinalfredstrom.com/art/v/paintings/Sir+John+Lavery_Miss_Auras_the_red_book.jpg.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lavery_Maiss_Auras.jpg#/media/File:Lavery_Maiss_Auras.jpg

Reading can open up a whole new world of adventure, knowledge, and inspiration.  But who has the time, right?

I recently came across blogger Brandon Vogt’s “Read More Books Now” video series.  Vogt, an avid bibliophile, shares the secrets of a “big reader” and shows us how to find time for reading in the midst of a busy schedule.

If you are a bookworm like myself, I highly recommend you check it out.  The series is totally free, but is being offered on a limited-time basis…in fact, only three more days.

Here’s the link: http://www.readmorebooksnow.com.

Image from Wikipedia

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If you are going to accuse me of anything on the basis of this post’s title, let it be lack of originality (a charge I would gladly accept, as I think originality is overrated): I have chosen to construct my title out of those of not one, but two previously existing works — namely, Clint Eastwood’s recent blockbuster film “American Sniper” and popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ 1940 essay “Why I am not a Pacifist.”

First, the movie.  I won’t go into great detail, other than to say that it is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — hailed as the deadliest shooter in American military history — his experiences in the Iraq War, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home.

Ben ReedAt the beginning of the film, me meet a young Chris Kyle (Cole Konis), who fights a group of bullies in defense of his younger brother.  Chris’ father, Wayne (Ben Reed), tells his young sons that there are three kinds of people in the world.  Most people, he says, are sheep — that is, people who “prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world.”  And then there are the wolves, who prey on the weak and thrive on violence.  Finally, there are the sheepdogs, the strong who defend the vulnerable against the wolves.

Wayne, a Christian father raising a Christian family, intends for his sons to be the latter.  His goal in this instance is to make sure that Chris was acting as a sheepdog rather than as a wolf.

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“C.s.lewis3”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG#/media/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG

It is with that in mind that I cite the following passage from Lewis’ essay (which is published along with a number of others in “The Weight of Glory“):

The relevant intuition [used in support of pacifism] seems to be that (…) helping is good and harming bad.  (…) [T]hat intuition can lead to no action unless it is limited in some way or other.  You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man.  (…) [W]hen B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys intuition) or you must help one against the other.

Between these two citations — the scene from “American Sniper” and the snippet from “Why I am not a Pacifist” — we can gain a pretty decent understanding of how a Christian can choose to go to war, or use force in any instance.

americansniperposterIt is not my intention to get into a discussion of whether the Iraq War meets Just War criteria, nor whether sniping, as a practice, constitutes a form of just warfare.  But a lot of people tend to make this automatic, knee-jerk assumption that to fight in a war or use any kind of force is ipso facto incompatible with being a faithful Christian.

But, as Lewis and the elder Kyle suggest, part of one’s Christian duty is to defend the weak.  And sometimes, this requires force — on individual, communal, and sometimes even national and international levels.  To be sure, such force should always be as minimal as possible, restraint must be preferred to killing, and the death of a “wolf” should be avoided whenever reasonably possible.  But if we want to issue a wholesale condemnation of all warfare, it should give us pause that the weight of reason, history, and even Christian tradition itself is against us.

Needless to say, I am only scratching the surface of Lewis’ essay.  But since my main intention is a treatment of Eastwood’s film, I think I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself and leave it at that.

As for the movie, more to come.

Photo of C.S. Lewis from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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I thought I might be able to have my post-retreat reflections ready for tonight…alas, it didn’t work out.  I’ll try for tomorrow.  In the meantime, hopefully this will more than make up for its absence tonight:

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We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.  We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it … Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past.  But … (i)f Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.  The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

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-C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory

 

Image from Wikipedia

 

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Game_of_Thrones_title_card

I do find “Game of Thrones” enjoyable.  I find the characters, the world, and the story intriguing…if more than a little ambiguous.  Many people compare the show to “The Lord of the Rings,” some with attention to how its underlying worldview differs.  I want to take a look at that in this post.

The interesting thing about medieval fantasy is the time period that inspires the genre — and even more, the setting that inspires its settings: Northwestern Europe — especially Great Britain, which seems to be the prototypical setting.

England has a fascinating literary history.  The stories bound up with its ancestral traditions were, of course, passed on orally at first.  And when they began to be written down, they were given their Christian interpretations in translation.  Not only were the scribes immortalizing the great myths by committing them to the scrolls, they were drawing out what they perceived to be the “seeds of the Word” in these myths.

Tolkien_1916Now we turn to J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature.  Between his love for the lore and history of his country, his interest in how language is shaped by and shapes people’s lives and cultures, his tragic experiences as a child and as a young man, and his discovery of hope and solace in the faith given to him by the priests who cared for him as an orphan, he came to find a unique way of presenting Christianity to the modern world…not in a preachy or didactic way, but as something that speaks to the deepest heart, deepest hurts, deepest hopes and desires of mankind.

Hence, we have Middle-Earth and “The Lord of the Rings.”

George_R._R._Martin_signingLet’s admit that Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” is a little bit different.  On the surface, it does strike one as a “re-paganization” of fantasy.  We find ourselves in a world of many gods; and whenever a “true God” is proposed, this is usually regarded with great suspicion.

But I almost wonder if it is more of a postmodern fantasy.  Not that it necessarily adheres to the tenets of postmodernism, but it gives us a world that is deeply unsure of itself and groping for answers, albeit within a setting that reflects the genre’s pre-Christian roots.

Okay.  All that said, I can delve more deeply into “Game of Thrones.”

robb_stark_02The more I watch the HBO series, the more convinced I am (though I have felt this way from the start) that “Game of Thrones” does not celebrate spectacles of violence, savage lust, scheming, or betrayal.  The show can be difficult to watch at times, because our characters are living in a world rife with the brutality of old Europe and in which loyalty is fragile, people seek their own ends above all else, nearly no one can be trusted (at least not for sure), and there are almost no friends.

The Starks maintain a code of honor and goodness, but their family would seem to be an island amidst a great flood of divided loyalties.  Our friends in Westeros live in a dark and hard world, and no goodhearted person could be unaffected by that.

But there are here and there what I would like to call “moments of light,” shining intermittently and fleetingly like sunlight through passing storm clouds….

Tyrion_Shae

…whether it is Tyrion Lannister’s growing love for the prostitute Shae…

Tywin-and-Arya…Tywin Lannister’s father-daughter-like bonding with Arya Stark…

Cersei…Queen Cersei’s tender love for her children and regret over the grief her son Joffrey is causing everyone…

Tyrion-Lannister…Tyrion’s almost-effort to comfort her (or the “moment they almost have”)…

Stannis Baratheon…or Stannis Baratheon’s regret over killing his younger brother, who had been his opponent in the war for the Iron Throne.

Overall, I would say this: Good fiction, at its best, shows how the goodness of the human spirit can triumph even in the face of great obstacles, while at the same time not glossing over the ambiguity in human nature.  If we’re going to compare Tolkien and Martin, it seems we could say that “The Lord of the Rings” is more concerned with the former, and “Game of Thrones” with the latter.

Where there is life, there is hope, and the good always has a way, at least, of peaking its head in.  And I think we see that in Westeros.  So while it may not exactly resemble Tolkien’s vision of the Light of Faith illuminating the myths of men, it does give us shafts of golden dawn light illuminating the dark forest.

Top three images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Okay, okay…let’s start with a concession: This is a big time of year for the premiere of all kinds of movies.  But as a viewer, I have always felt it strangely appropriate that all three “Lord of the Rings” films came out at Christmastime.  And now the “Hobbit” films are coming out during the holiday season as well.  Somehow, it just feels right.

And maybe it’s providential…if for no other reason, because of the Hobbits.

TreebeardThere is an interesting scene in “The Two Towers,” the second book in Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy, in which Hobbits Merry and Pippin tell Treebeard the story of their journey.  Here is Treebeard’s response:

There is something very big going on … By root and twig, but it is a strange business: up sprout a little folk that are not in the old lists (of creatures), and behold! the Nine forgotten Riders reappear to hunt them, and Gandalf takes them on a great journey, and Galadriel harbours them in Caras Galadon, and Orcs pursue them down all the leagues of Wilderland: indeed they seem to be caught up in a great storm. (‘The Two Towers,” Book III, Chapter 4 — bold mine)

I highlighted the bold section for a reason.  With “little people” appearing during the Third Age of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s Christianity seems to be peeping through the rafters.

NativityOne of the best commentaries on Christmas comes from C.S. Lewis, who said — I believe in “Mere Christianity” — that Christ’s coming into the world as an infant, born into poverty at that, was a deeply subversive act.  Coming to reclaim mankind and the world and to free them from the tyrannical power of the devil, he had to slip into enemy territory — behind enemy lines, as it were — unseen.

And, like the Hobbits, Christ was pursued by those seeking His death from the moment of His birth.  Those familiar with the New Testament will recall the slaughter of the innocents and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

The Third Age of Middle Earth, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, would witness cataclysmic events that would decide the fate of the world.  Against the threat of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the might of Men and Elves would not avail.

Perceiving the oncoming storm, Gandalf the Wizard intuits that Middle Earth will need the help of a people with a whole new “skill set.”  Hence, he gets the Hobbits involved.

Still from The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugWhether it is Bilbo Baggins slipping into the dragon Smaug’s lair as a “burglar” or Frodo and Sam slipping into Mordor, the Hobbits are perfect “weapons” by virtue of their smallness and ability to creep into enemy territory unnoticed.  In this way, they are able to overthrow the usurpers that possess, or seek to possess, what is not theirs.

As we approach Christmas Day, let us celebrate Hobbits…and the birth of the Little King Who slips into the lair to defeat our Smaug.

Images of Treebeard and the Nativity from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search

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Mr._Fezziwig's_BallFans of “A Christmas Carol” will remember that Scrooge is bothered by the light that the Ghost of Christmas Past brings, and asks that the spirit place the cap it carries on its head to diminish it.

“What(?)” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!” (A Christmas Carol, Stave II)

What Dickens’ specific religious persuasion was I’m not sure, but I can’t help but think he might have been influenced, at least in part, by Christ’s words in John’s Gospel:

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. (John 3: 19-20 — bold mine)

Besides being linked to the mystery of time, the past is also a judgement.  How many of us cringe at the memory of past faults, whether serious or trivial?  How often do past embarrassments creep into our minds, causing us to blush?

The thing about the past is that it is set in stone.  It cannot be changed.  The past can be forgiven, but not erased.  A person can be redeemed and changed, but past actions cannot be turned into past non-actions.  The train of effects set in motion by a particular action can be arrested and fixed, but the action itself cannot be undone.

In Scrooge’s case, as well as in ours often enough, to confront the past is to face the forgotten, the wrong turn(s) that led to current problems.

Scrooge’s journey into his own past uncovers much that has been repressed — childhood loneliness, among other things.  Most significant, however, is a matter of guilt.  We learn that he was engaged to a woman named Belle, whom he spurned for the idol of money.

Ultimately, Scrooge’s miserly accumulation of wealth and the psychological distance he puts between himself and humanity are forms of protection against his own past — just as humanity’s wars, factions, attachments, etc. protect us against the memory of the Fall.

We can probably assume that the sequential location of the past among the three modes of time is not the only reason for the Ghost of Christmas Past having the first spot in Scrooge’s journey of redemption.  Oftentimes, it is in facing the past, acknowledging the problems that lie hidden, that we get the ball rolling on the healing process (after all, how are we going to know how to heal if we don’t even know what to heal?).

That is one of Christianity’s greatest secrets.  In Genesis, we have the revelation of both our origin — God’s all-loving creation of the world out of nothing, culminating in the creation of mankind, with whom He desires fellowship — and our root problem — mankind’s disobedience to and estrangement from his Creator and Father.

When we turn to God and acknowledge this, as well as our own individual sins, then we can begin to heal.  Not only that, but God Himself comes down to us to get everything started, before we even take our first steps.  That’s the real Christmas present.

Image from Wikipedia

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