17 October 2009

Once Upon a Time

"Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated."
- G. K. Chesterson

Last semester I took a pretty unique class, Folklore, which included nature hikes and basket weaving and lectures on all sorts of delicious mythology.  Basically, it was like school when I was 10 (thanks mom), except the tests were harder.  The first assignment was to read 15-20 of Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Best assignment ever, right?  I could get used to that kind of studying.  At the next class session, the professor asked,
"What did you all think of the reading?  I bet it's been awhile since any of you read fairy tales."
For most people, this is probably true.  Our exposure to fairy tales is usually limited to stories read to us as small children and Disney movies.  Every book of fairy tales I ever read is still on my bookshelf, without a single speck of dust disgracing their belovedly worn pages.  If eyes wore out ink instead of sun, those books would have been blank years ago.  This avid devotion is not a habit of the past, either.  It's difficult for me to go into a used bookstore and leave without some dingy fairy tale collection.  The latest, a book of Irish fairy tales, is currently sealed in a plastic bag with dryer sheets for the purpose of hopefully eradicating the forty-year-chainsmoker smell.  My little fairy-tale family also includes Grimm's (of course), The Big Red Fairy Book, Welsh fairy tales, Tibetan tales, Cherokee animal tales, George MacDonald, and many other compilations that aren't really intended for people over the age of 10.  My favorites of course include any tale where enchantment is broken by love and everyone lives happily ever after.  Heroes in disguise and princesses worth dying for are always a major plus.  But doesn't everybody agree with this?  Doesn't everybody love it when the stable-boy turns out to be a prince, defeats evil against all odds, and rescues the princess from her terrible misfortune?  Then they get married and everyone rejoices!  Except for the evil witch, who dances in hot-iron shoes until she falls over dead.

A friend of mine got detention in elementary school for talking back to her teacher who was trying to perpertrate the insidious lie that faries do not exist.  It's very important that we believe fairies exist, because if we don't then they die (isn't that a delightful metaphysical irony).  More important is the reason G. K. Chesterson said that fairy tales are more than true.  When you read a fairy tale, excluding some of the more bizarre tales involving cooking pots and foamy mermaids, something epic and very life-changing takes place for the characters.  An enchantment is broken, a true identity is discovered, a great treasure is discovered.  Most importantly, evil is always defeated (once again, excluding the foamy mermaids).  Everything good that was lost is restored, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Maybe the reason adults don't often read fairy tales is because they're jaded into believing that such stories cannot possibly be true.  Lost with childhood innocence is the belief that everything turns out all right.  It's not hard to fall into this; I think everybody does.  It is naive and stupid to believe that life is all sunshine and flowers, and if you do believe that you're in for a long hard landing.  But the moment we forget that dragons really can be defeated, that goodness is restored and evil dances to its death, we lose all hope.

Please put aside your faulty silliness filter for a moment and bear with me.  Read this tale with childish innocence.  We are living in a land under great evil enchantment.  We dripped tallow on the Prince's white shirt and brought it upon ourselves.  The castle has been usurped by a wicked witch of a stepmother.  Daily we must pick the rice out of the ashes in hope of going to the ball, with the threat of death if we fail.  But despite the fact that we didn't listen to the Prince's admonishment, that we did light that candle and drip the tallow, he's coming to rescue us.  He has disguised himself as the shoe-shine so he can fight the dragon and strike at the heart of the enemy.  But alas!  The wicked witch sneaked up from behind and turned the prince into a dove.  She now keeps him in a cage.  We ask the poor dove-prince, what can we do?  He tells us, stab me in the heart with a thorn.  Kill the beautiful prince?  Never!  But he demands that we do, and when the thorn pierces his heart he leaps up free, a prince again!  He kills the witch and breaks the enchantment.  The king returns to the castle and the entire kingdom rejoices!  And all of the land dances and celebrates as the Prince and we, the rescued Princess, are married.

Some things, friend, are too good not to be true.  Some tales speak so deeply into our hearts that we feel we have stumbled on something of the real truth, without which the world would not make sense and life would not be much worth living.  This is why we love fairy tales.  This is why they are important. 

 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.""
Revelation 21:1-4

07 October 2009

Cloth Calf

I went to Books-A-Million today, to find the perfect way to spend my birthday B-A-M gift card. I was contemplating getting Surprised by Joy, so I could finish it without having to return it to the library. I was in the Religion section when I saw it.

It was a cloth Bible case with Obama on the front.

Now, normally I wouldn't bring up El Presidente two entries in a row. But I have to say...what the heck? To say that putting Obama's head - or anybody's head for that matter - on your Bible is thoroughly unBiblical would be the understatement of the century.  It's idolatry.

I could say I expected better from people who make Bible covers - but let's be honest here. The variety and shallowness of Christian merchandise available is good evidence that their producers are in it for the profit - as good businessmen usually are.

What worries me more is if these good businessmen are producing pieces of crap like idolaterous book covers because there is a market for them.

Granted, we all tend toward idol-worship, whether we recognize it or not. Whatever takes our time, interest, or devotion away from God is our idol(s). Sometimes, our idols are people. Friends, mentors, celebrities - or presidents, apparently. Making people our idols is dangerous and disappointing. People are people - they're human. They are fallible and make mistakes, and for all their good intentions they will never live up to the pedastel you put them on - nor will you live up to the pedastel others put you on. It's why we need grace.

I really hope - no, I pray that not one Obama Bible cover sells. Obama has been deified too much already. People think he is going to save America. He may not be a bad guy - personally, I don't know, I've never met him - but he is no savior. He is a man, and that means he is limited and fallible. To make him more than that is dangerous for all involved.

Jesus saves. Jesus brings the best change.

05 October 2009

Let his soul run wild

Look at the leaves!

The dogwood outside our window is turning red - the first of the year, unless you count the black locust trees in front of the building that violently shed all their tiny yellow leaves the first day of September. With the rain and the sudden cold, however, it's felt more like Alabama winter the past couple days than fall. On any fall afternoon it's hard to go to work, but the cold and rainy ones make the thought of doing anything other than sipping tea and reading. My students have their off days, too. Lessons can go three ways. 1, Miracle of miracles, the student is engaged and enthusiastic. 2, They're fidgety and restless from being cooped up in school all day, and they have the attention span of a squirrel. 3, They're tired from school, football, gymnastics, karate, and baseball.

This makes me wonder what President Obama hopes to accomplish with a longer school day. I don't know about school nowadays, but when I was a kid the last hour of school was almost unbearable, and I'm sure it was worse for the teacher, having to maintain order in a room of 20-30 small children and somehow manage to teach them something! I'm not going to go into all that I think is wrong with the public school system, but I'm fairly certain that making kids spend ALL DAY in school is NOT going to help. They already spend too much time there, in my opinion. Then they have all 50 extracurricular activities they take part in after school! Kids don't have the opportunity to have a childhood anymore. No time to run around outside, making mud pies and building forts, too busy to play dress-up or help Mom make cookies. No hours left in the day to lay on the ground and name the clouds in the sky. Too tired at night to learn the big dipper. Too much homework to read Narnia!

I just wish every kid had a childhood as magical as mine, I guess. Childhood is for innocent fun, not hours and hours of structured activity.

Thanks, Mom!