Tolkien’s “Exodus”

First lines of the Beowulf manuscript. Note the opening “Hwæt” just as in Exodus.

As March 25th, National Tolkien Reading Day, draws to an end, I have much to celebrate. For today I discovered a new book. By a favorite author. A book which I should absolutely have known about, but did not. A book which cannot be found anywhere except on Abe Books, two copies, one just under $1000 and one just over $1000, which is pretty much the same as “cannot be found anywhere.”

Fortunately for me, I know someone who has more books than I do – more books than most public libraries, and who is a medievalist, and who is a Tolkien scholar, and who lives in my town, and who is very kind.

This person and I are both rule-followers. And our town is under a stay-at-home-except-for-necessities order. Getting my hands on this book was a necessity. So at noon:30 today, I ventured out to a quiet neighborhood, pulled up to a curbside mailbox, surreptitiously retrieved an unmarked manilla envelope of medium heft, deposited in its place a small hermetically sealed package of British cookies, glanced around nervously because what if someone thought I was making a ransom money-drop, and then drove off with literary gold settled gently on the passenger seat next to me.

And now, at nearly midnight, I am settling into The Old English Exodus, Text, Translation, and Commentary by J. R. R. Tolkien.

You read the correctly.

And glory be. The inside dust jacket has already filled my soul with delight. But the first lines – well, the first lines cause my heart to pound with joy.

Hwæt we feor and neah gefrigen habbađ
ofer middangeard Moyses domas
wrætlico wordriht wera cneorissum –

All of that valiant orthography. All of that Beowulfian pathos. Plus middle earth. And Moses. There are simply no words to express the wonder and weight of language.

Hold your heart. Rest your soul. And hear the opening lines of Exodus as translated by John Ronald:

Lo! We have heard how near and far over middle-earth Moses declared his ordinances to men, uttering in words wondrous laws to the races of mankind – to all the blessed healing of their life’s care in heaven on high after the perilous journey, to all the living enduring counsel: let him hearken who will!

This man did the Lord of Hosts, true King, by his own might honor in the wilderness, and to him did the Eternal and Omnipotent grant power over many miracles. He was dear unto God, prince of his people, a leader of the host, sage and wise of heart, valiant captain of his folk.

March 25th, 2020 was filled with far too little reading of Tolkien at my house, much to my dismay. But I am going to make up for that now by settling into a mere 590 lines of ancient epic, a mere 13 pages of translation, and a mere 44 pages of linguistic and literary commentary.

I cannot think of a better way to finish out this day of sheltering-at-home.

C. S. Lewis (not) on the Coronavirus

For almost a week, friends have been sending me emails and texts about this blog post (“C. S. Lewis on the Coronavirus”) asking if it is in fact genuinely Lewisian. Are these the words of Clive? The truths of Jack? During this time of COVID19 lockdowns and social distancing, does Lewis really want me to not only pray, read, and listen to music but to also chat with my friends over a pint and a game of darts in the local pub or tavern where presumably there are many other people for whom social distancing is a thing to be eschewed by smart folk who smirk?

They ask me this, I presume, because I get mighty curmudgeonly about the glut of Lewis misquotes in print, digital, and spoken discourse (see here and here and here for starters) as well as the egregiously errant mis-numbering of the Narnian books – but I digress).

In answer to my friends’ questions: Yes. Lewis did write the three paragraphs quoted in the blog post. And thirteen subsequent paragraphs, which are definitely not about the Coronavirus (not even obliquely) and not even about the atomic bomb (primarily). Instead they are about acknowledging and admitting (being “waked” as Lewis put it, which I suppose is akin to being “woke” in this, our superlatively advanced and intellectually brilliant 21st-century)

“that the important question is not whether an atomic bomb is going to obliterate ‘civilization’. The important question is whether ‘Nature’ — the thing studied by the sciences – is the only thing in existence.” (“On Living in an Atomic Age,” Informed Reading, vol. VI [1948], pp 78-84, par. 7)

Lewis wrote this essay in 1948, when the possibility of a civilization-obliterating atomic bomb was a very real thing, and when most Europeans, including Lewis, were living not just under but within and among the realities of a gruesome war that often pounded on their backdoor.

In other words, Lewis wrote this essay under circumstances that were entirely unlike those in most of today’s world, especially America, and were absolutely unlike our current battle (skirmish? combat? struggle?) with covid19.

We have been asked to wash our hands scrupulously. To not stockpile more than we need. To avoid unnecessary travel. To stay home if possible, as much as possible. And for certain to avoid such things such as crowded (or even under-crowded) taverns and pubs where one might be “chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts.” (par. 3)

Certainly do read Lewis’s full essay since true meaning is most assuredly found in full reading. And certainly do take the time to discern if there are relevant ideas and concepts worth pondering (e.g. the limitations of naturalism, the existence of a Creator, the true essence and meaning of life).

But as you read, contextualize wisely. Do not pluck a Lewis quote – even a real one – out of context in order to either satisfy yourself or to be smirkingly provocative (which is not what the referenced blog’s author seemed to be doing, but is certainly what some re-posters are doing).

Lewis played by the rules – whether he was teaching, tutoring, soldiering, rationing, caring for sick and elderly, or quarantining himself during illness. His letters reveal a man who, for all of his worldly renown, did not presume to knock aside the rules or guidelines delivered by those in authority, which isn’t to say he didn’t grumble or grouse about them if he was having a grouchy day or if the occasion warranted.

To those who have read just three paragraphs of Lewis’s 1948 essay addressing the very real fear of atomic annihilation and see within it Lewisian approval to toss aside what may feel like unnecessary and life-squelching limits on certain types of social interaction, I get it. No one likes to be told what to do. And maybe in months or years, the telling will turn out to have been overly reactionary and unnecessary.

But unless the telling defies the laws of decency or requires one to deny Christ, we would all do well to pay attention.

We would also do well to pay attention to Lewis’s underlying and ultimate messages in the essay.

Be sensible: do the necessary daily work (such as bathing babies) as though they matter and have value, which they do.

Be joyful: read books, listen to music, chat with friends as though such things matter to our souls, which they do.

Be thoughtful: consider how the deeper truths of life, the supernatural world, and the Divine inform and intersect with our very existence, which they do.

Be Christlike: sacrifice humbly, love deeply, embrace the here-and-now earthly things that embody this present life, but pursue the now-and-not-yet heavenly things that point towards and reflect the only Real & Lasting Life itself, which they do.

Postscript: And if the current events provide occasion to read (joy!), and if you should choose to read the Chronicles of Narnia (joy, indeed!), then be literarily and Lewisianly orthodox: read them in the order the books themselves propound and the author himself planned:

  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  4. The Silver Chair
  5. The Horse and His Boy
  6. The Magician’s Nephew
  7. The Last Battle

C. S. Lewis on “putting the clock back” (or: A Plague on Daylight Savings Time)

Lewis g'father clock
Lewis and his grandfather clock, having been either “put back” (Joy!) or “pushed forward” (Plague!).

C. S. Lewis had strong opinions about modern advancements that wiped out traditional truths. In the final chapter of Right and Wrong As a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe (which later became Book 1 of Mere Christianity), “putting the clock back” is what many modern skeptics assume religion does, with regressive and costly results.

Not so, writes Lewis, who quite thrived on argumentative disputes, both gentle and stern, both kind and curmudgeonly.

You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought I had anything new to say; but if it turns out to be only religion well, ‘the world has tried that and you cannot put the clock back.’ If anyone is feeling that way I should like to say three things to him.

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Per Lewis, if metaphorically putting the clock forward proved to be a critical error, then putting the clock back would be the logical and right thing to do.

This was not just a metaphorical issue for Lewis. Turns out he had similarly strong opinions about tinkering with time by changing actual clocks.

In a letter from autumn 1939, he wrote:

We had an hour extra in bed thanks to putting back the clocks.

Just days later he wrote in another letter:

Thank heaven the clocks have gone back!

Six months later, in the spring of 1940, he wrote to his brother:

Plague on this nonsense of putting [forward]* the clock which has docked me of an hour’s sleep and which for the next few weeks will give me darkness at shaving and dressing time when I want light, and light after tea when it is an impertinence.

For those who find it empowering to bolster their position with a Lewis quote, these three real quotes are gems: down-to-earth joy on one hand, grumbly snark on the other.

On November 3rd at 2 a.m. – (or more likely at 6 a.m. which used to be 7 a.m.) – when Daylight Savings Time ends and we** “put the clock” back to its rightful place, with fellow Lewisians I will declare:

Thank heaven the clocks have gone back!

*[Lewis actually wrote “back” instead of “forward” – perhaps because the notion of “putting clocks forward” was entirely anathema to him, or because they’d not yet embraced the annoyingly trite (yet necessarily helpful) remind to “fall back / spring forward.”]

**Most, but not all Americans, fall back/leap forward. Only a minority of the world’s population observes DST, and even then, it begins on different dates and has varying durations.

The Twelve Nights of Christmas (a dozen thoughts about birth, life, love, hope)

Stained glass depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus
Stained glass depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus

For those who are not quite ready to move beyond the miracle of Emmanuel …

Night One

Night Two

Night Three

Night Four

Night Five

Night Six

Night Seven

Night Eight

Night Nine

Night Ten

Night Eleven

Night Twelve

First Sunday of Advent, Second Coming of Christ

The First Sunday of Advent has arrived. In congregations all across the universal Church, chosen families will light the first candle in a liturgical wreath. In homes all across the globe, countless families will decorate a fir tree and open the first tiny door of the numerical calendar.

On this day, followers of Christ begin looking forward to his sacred birth – to that holy night when a helpless newborn babe was lain in a manger, God in flesh, wrapped in lowly swaddling clothes.

The season that begins today resonates in all the deepest corners of our soul wherein lie our heartfelt desires for hope, for joy, for peace, for goodwill, and for love.

‘Tis the season. Today it begins. Our spiritual longings quicken and engage. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set they people free.

But long ago, the First Sunday of Advent was not so much about awaiting the newborn babe but rather awaiting the returning victorious Christ. The Epistle reading was Romans 13:11-14, which in today’s language reads:

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

The gospel reading was Matthew 21:1-11, verses we usually reserve for Palm Sunday:

     As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead.  “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
     This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
     The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”
     The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The focus of Advent has shifted measurably over the centuries. As best I can remember, I’ve never heard about the second coming of Christ in conjunction with the First Sunday of Advent. How would that even work? In this holy season of tree and feast, candle and creche, glory and gifts (indeed, let us be sure to remember gifts, amen), how would we make sense of Christ’s triumphal return and his final judgment?

And yet, Christ’s first coming (an event that even non-followers and non-believers are often quite ready to celebrate) is intrinsically and necessarily tied to his second coming (an event that even followers and believers are often quite hesitant to consider).

The gentle newborn babe – accessorized with swaddling cloths and radiant stars – fills our hearts. The triumphant Rider on a White Horse – accessorized with blazing eyes and armies of heaven – unsettles our sensibilities.

And yet they are the same. The gentle newborn babe is the returning and reigning Lord.

We celebrate the First Sunday of Advent most truly and sincerely when we are willing both to sing with carolers, “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” and to declare with John of Patmos, “Come Lord Jesus!”

___________________

Anonymous, c. 1538, The pystles and gospels, of every Sonday, and holy daye in the yere (fol. ii recto) [Transcription below.]

Advent 1538 Here Beginneth the Epistles Advent text

The Pystels and Gospels in Englysshe
Here begyn=neth the Pystles & Gospels / of eue=ry Sonday & holy day in the yere.

The Pystell on the fyrst Sonday in Aduent.
The xiii Chapiter to the Romayns.
Brethren we knowe that it is tyme nowe that we awake out of slepe / for nowe is our saluaciō nerer thē we be=leued. The nyght is passed and the daye is come nye / let us therefore cast awaye the dedes of darkens / & let us put on the armour of lyght. Let us walke honestly as it were ī the daye of lyght / nat ī eatyng & drynking / neyther ī chāmbryng & wantōnes / neyther ī stryfe & en=uyeng / but put ye on our lorde Jesus Christ.

The Gospell on the fyrste Sondaye in aduent.
The xxi chapiter of mathewe.
Whē Jesus drewe nye unto Je=rusalē / & came to Betphage unto the mounte Oliuete / thē sēt Jesus two of his disciples / sayeng to thē. Go into the castell that lyeth ouer agaynst you and anone ye shal fynde an Asse boundē / & her Colte with her / lose thē & brynge thē un=to me / & yf any mā say ought unto you / saye ye that your lorde hathe nede of thē: & strayght way he wyll let them go. All this was done to fulfyl that whiche was spokē by the ƥphet / sayeng Tel ye the doughter of Syon beholde they kynge cōmeth unto the meke: & sytting upon an Asse & a Colte / the fole of an Asse used to the yoke. The disciples wente & did as Jes (end of fol. ii recto)

[For those unused to early English orthography, give it a try. It starts to make sense as you work through it.]

“May the real me meet the real you” – in which Lewis is again attached to blather

C. S. Lewis
Lewis in his especially dapper spectacles

(It is the 55th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death today. I will celebrate with turkey, stuffing, pie, and an earnest attempt to recover yet another Lewisian quote from its tangled and tortured digital revision.)

Most Lewis misquotes are multiplicitous, appearing hither and yon throughout the interwebbed cosmos. Some of the internet’s favorite snips of non-Lewisian blather are:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Gah.)

“True humility is not thinking of yourself less; it is thinking less of yourself.” (Ack.)

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” (Meh.)

Anyone who has ever read Lewis seriously will recognize these phrases as thoroughly non-Lewisian. The thought of him speaking or writing any of these vapid platitudes is ludicrous. Lamentable, even.

But I was recently sent a Lewis misquote that I’d not seen before. The subject line of the email read:

Did CS Lewis say “May the real me meet the real you”

The appalling grammar was proof enough of misquotation. (Grammar isn’t a mystery. Break the sentence down to its simplest elements: “May me meet you.” Indeed. Cough.) A quick web search showed the fuller misquote to be as follows: “The prayer that precedes all prayers is may the real me meet the real you.” The appalling punctuation was additional proof of misquotation. (Where does the quote within the quote begin and end?) But it provided enough context for me to consult a real book, written by the real Lewis, that sits upon a real shelf in my real office, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

After a frenzied textual search, I began typing my response, with gusto, while gritting my teeth:

Did CS Lewis say this? Absolutely not. It doesn’t sound even remotely like him. It’s trite syrup that drips of 21st-century populist-speaker-writer-religion centered around supernaturally vulnerable friendships. Ack.

It is similar to something Lewis actually wrote in Letters to Malcolm. The social media misquote makes it sound as though Lewis is concerned with people being completely open and honest with each other – no masks, no false selves, no posturing, no faking, blah blah blah.

But the original quote – the real quote – is concerned with the fact that in prayer, we are trying to place ourselves in the very presence of God, while also existing amongst earthly realities (i.e. four walls of the room in which we sit, our own physical self, our feeble attempts at introspection) that are both “real” but also very far from being ‘rock-bottom realities’. Until we realize and even experience that truth, our prayers are mere chatter that often entirely miss the actual intersection of Creator and created.

The real quote appears in letter XV, which deals with such things as dramatic constructions of realities, questions of ontology, the façade of consciousness, the confrontation of subject and object, and surprising theophany. You can find it in the final paragraph. It reads thus, with the prefacing context:

“The attempt is not to escape from space and time and from my creaturely situation as a subject facing objects. It is more modest: to re-awake the awareness of that situation. If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground; the Bush is burning now.

“Of course this attempt may be attended with almost every degree of success or failure. The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’ Infinitely various are the levels from which we pray. Emotional intensity is in itself no proof of spiritual depth. If we pray in terror we shall pray earnestly; it only proves that terror is an earnest emotion. Only God Himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, He must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.'”

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer (Harcourt, 1964), pp. 81-82.

There is nothing here about masks, false identities, curated selves, vulnerable friendships, or other social-psycho-theological deconstructionist babble.

For those who care about such things, I’d suggest reading the whole of letter XV and the entire book in order to understand the full intent and to enjoy the complete discourse.

That’s usually the best way to read a nuanced text and a brainy author. Misquoted snippet phrases overlaid on angsty photos is not.

Discipleship Resources

Below are new Young Life discipleship resources that can help both church and parachurch ministry leaders 1) focus and synthesize a discipleship framework, 2) generate conversations about discipleship and discipling, 3) self-reflect on their own life of discipleship, 4) envision ongoing spiritual growth in those they are discipling.

01_Deeper One Page Vertical 2.0
One-page summary of definitions, descriptions, and values.

02_Rooted in Christ 2.0
Visual metaphor of a disciple’s life.

03_Discipleship Garden and 04_Come and Go
Tools for ‘mapping’ the spiritual life and growth of those in their ministry.

05_Personal Discipleship Plan 2.0 and 06_Area Discipleship Plan
Tools for both personal and ministry discipleship goals and reflection.

00_Discipleship Tools Overview
One page summary of suggested ways to use new discipleship tools.

 

 

Purdue Football Senior Day: an ode to David Blough and Kirk Barron

Barron and Blough 2
The coin toss, Purdue v. THE Ohio State University – that was a Very Good Day.

[Nov 17, 2018: Purdue Football Senior Day, the final home game at Ross-Ade Stadium for all those players who graduate this December or next May. Also Day 3 of National Youth Worker’s Convention, St. Louis. In other words, my heart is divided across state lines.]

Graduation is a big deal. No more classes. No more quizzes. No more exams. No more grades. No more oral presentations. No. More. Group. Projects.

But also: no more college football. And for college football players, the final whistle of that final home game will carry a deep well of memories and experiences that can’t be weighed.

For college football fans, the final whistle of that final home game will carry its own deep well of memories and meaning, shaped by circumstances and context.

In the fall of 2017, my “ENGL 264 – Bible as Literature” roster at Purdue University included 25 amazing college students, aspiring to be nurses, engineers, teachers, managers, artists, agricultural specialists, social workers, pilots, and physical therapists.

They were, each and every one of them, wonders to behold (which is exactly how I feel about middle school students as well, an unexpected miracle of my inner-wiring bestowed upon me by my Creator).

Among those 25 wonders were two young men on the Purdue football team – a system and community that had for several years weathered what we might call turbulent times.

David Blough (#11, QB) and Kirk Barron (#53, Center) sat side by side in the far corner of my classroom on day one (far corners being prime real estate on the first day of class: from first-hand observation, I tell you that it is possible for 25 college students to all find far-corner seats in a room that has only four corners, which is a testament to their creativity and tenacity).

Having football players in one’s favorite class – when one is a hard-wired football freak and when said football team has just hired a new football coach to (in the words of Israel’s King David) pull the program out from bottomless pits of miry clay – might perhaps result in Boilermaker football reascending the rungs of one’s passion-ladder (not to the very top, obviously, since the very top spots of my personal passion ladder are occupied by Narnia, Middle Earth, and napping, a reality for which I am finally old enough and content enough to offer no apologies or explanations: I read, I nap, I aspire to be Narnian and Elvish, and I love football).

As a general rule, I truly enjoy not just teaching but also knowing my students. It’s the overflow of my Young Life and youthworker self.

So last fall, I enjoyed not just teaching but also knowing 25 wondrous students, including David Blough and Kirk Barron.

After many years of not inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays (which followed many years of faithfully inhabiting Ross-Ade stadium on autumn Saturdays), my husband and I climbed aboard the train (metaphorically) once again, attending home games, cheering on a team that was starting to emerge from the fog and find its collective feet. We did this because we knew certain players, and knowing people changes everything.

We cheered when they won, and when they lost – because there is always something to cheer (even when some refs botch calls and certain opponents are dirty rotten stinkers).

We roared with delight when face-painted fierce Barron stalked the sideline rousing his teammates and when fleet-footed fierce Blough launched breathtaking passes that connected with receivers.

We moaned with despair when Barron’s rousing roars came up short and when Blough was loaded into an ambulance with a thoroughly destroyed ankle.

We watched with joy when, after a stunning recovery and rehab by Blough, they once again both walked out to the coin toss, flanking pint-sized football fans who were special guests of honor.

We wept along with the world as they befriended, encouraged, and prayed with Tyler Trent, a young man who defies all worldly explanations of life and love and hope.

And today, we will proudly watch Barron and Blough run onto that field one last time [really truly the last time], walk to center-field for the pregame coin toss one last time, give and take the opening snap one last time, play as a team-within-a-team one last time, and (we all hope) put up a “W” at Ross-Ade Stadium [or Nissan Stadium, as the case may be] one last time.

Football is a funny thing. Some people hate it. Some people ignore it. Some people worship it. Some people bleed it. And some people simply and inexplicably love it.

I am of the latter ilk. I simply and inexplicably love football, which, being a bookish, academic, PhD-ish, theological, ministerial, Middle-Earthian, Narnian kind of person, is rather odd and unexpected.

But much of life is odd and unexpected. We can be confounded by it, or we can joyfully take it and run with it (metaphorically, that is – as a general rule and daily practice, I vehemently oppose and doggedly avoid running).

Today is a celebration for and about many people.

But these words right here are a celebration of two particular young men who in some odd and unexpected way have become “my” players for these past two years – the two players I watch most carefully on the field and on the sideline, the two I cheer for most enthusiastically, and the two I know most personally. And that last one, I would argue, is the most significant thing.

When you know people, things matter in different ways and to different degrees.

Knowing is the secret sauce of almost everything. Not knowing about, but knowing. 

know, in small ways and in small degrees, David Blough and Kirk Barron. They make me proud. They make me laugh. They are men worth knowing.

Today, I celebrate them. I hope the final whistle of this final home game brings them not just a victory but also joy, energy, excitement, anticipation, and wild hope for all that lies ahead.

The Tree of Life: thoughts on discipleship and roots

 

treeGrow.gif

The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor – God’s kingdom has arrived and it is a mustard seed.

As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand, and experience the embodied truth.

One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors – trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in scripture.)

God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Gen. 2:11). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Rev. 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God himself are described as trees (Ps. 52:8, Hos. 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Ps. 1, Jer. 17). Those who love, trust, and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in him (Col. 2).

Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.

Discipleship can be visualized in countless helpful ways: four chairs, a wheel, a directional triangle, a roadmap, and more.

In my new discipleship job with Young Life, I recently worked with some people to create a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality.

YL Rooted in Christ

(Downloadable PDF: Rooted in Christ 2.0)

The image can guide every follower of Jesus as we:

  • carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways
  • honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship
  • prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries, our families, our small groups, and any other community of believers.

Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:

  • How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?
    • roots – which are “time in scripture, time in prayer,” etc.
    • trunk – which is a strong core of love, trust, etc.;
    • branches – which are expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout scripture
  • In your current season of life, how do engage in, experience, or express each of the different elements in the tree?
  • What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance, or challenge?
  • How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?
  • What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?
  • For those involved in Young Life or youth ministry, think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific sub-cultures, socio-economics, etc.). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your 7th grade WyldLife Campaigner guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.
  • How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?

(A version of this article originally appeared here.)

Aslan Did Not Say That (Lewis misquoted again)

[UPDATE below]

Literary Lewisians – that is, those who view his written texts and his recorded readings as the only things that qualify as Lewis quotes (as opposed to cinematic adapted one-liners and outlandish self-empowering slogans) – likely expend too much energy seething about the ever-growing corpus of non-Lewis quotes cluttering (even polluting) the digital universe.

I do, anyway.

And perhaps I should stop caring. Or stop blathering about it. Or stop calling it out.

But I think it matters immensely, far beyond anything that has to do with being a devoted Lewisian, medievalist, literarian, or would-be-Narnian. (For these reasons and these. Also these and these. And so many more.)

This is not merely about misquotes. It’s about being thoughtful, careful, precise, clear. Truthful, even.

But I am once again disheartened and confounded by the most recent misquote because it is in printin a bookabout Lewisthat perhaps many people will read, and so there’s very little chance of retracting this particular absolutely-not-a-quote (just like there is very little chance of properly recovering the correct order of the Chronicles of Narnia, yet another reason literary Lewisians gnash their teeth).

The newly released book Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (by Patti Callahan; Thomas Nelson, 2018) ushers readers into Part I with this page:

Anyone who has read Lewis will recognize this “quote” of Aslan’s as not possibly having been written by Lewis, ever. It drips with modern self-actualization that appears nowhere in Lewis’s writings (who was thoroughly unmodern and utterly I-am-lost-without-my-Lord).

I suppose the cinematic-adapted CGI-leo might have uttered these words. But if so, the above quote should indicate such by 1) deleting C. S. Lewis as the intimated author and 2) clearly noting the cinematic-adapted-and-ravaged version as the actual source.

That seems only fair. And accurate. And clear. And precise. And factual.

I assume this “quote” comes from the cinematic-adapted scene wherein the Dawn Treader (“such a very Narnian ship”) enters the Darkness – a very real and very terrifying place of evil. A place wherein Aslan would never advise someone to defeat the darkness in oneself (which isn’t to say he denied inner darkness, or didn’t think it should be defeated). Those who know Aslan (and his earthly incarnated human-divine reality but please remember the Chronicles ARE NOT ALLEGORIES) know that when any of his children find themselves in the midst of evil danger – quivering hands, overwhelming despair, paralyzing fear – if that child has only enough strength to whisper, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now,” – well, even if that child would forget to say please or pretty please or by your mane – Aslan would never respond with: “Well, hmmm, okay. But first you must defeat the darkness in yourself.”

Never. Absolutely and unequivocally never.

Instead, after pleading hopeful words in the midst of palpable despair, something would begin to change inside the child, and inside all the other children on whose behalf she also whispered.

First, a tiny speck of light would appear up ahead.

And then a broad beam of light would fall upon the ship, even while it was still surrounded by darkness.

And then along the beam, the children (some young, some grown) would see what looked like a cross, then like an aeroplane, and then like a kite before finally arriving in a whirling rush of wings. It would be an albatross. It would circle around the mast three times before perching for just an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. And then it would spread its wings, rise, and begin to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little starboard, leading the whole shipload of children folk out into the warm and welcoming sunshine.

And the one who’d whispered for help back in the evil dark – rather than being chided for not first defeating her own inner darkness (blather) – would have heard these words from Aslan-as-albatross while still in the darkness:

 Courage, dear heart.

And as she heard the voice, she would also have felt a delicious smell breathe in her face – the breath of love, the breath of joy, the breath of presence, the breath of spirit, the breath of undeserved rescue.

And when finally out of the darkness, without knowing exactly when or how it happened, everyone would realize there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.

That is what Aslan would have done and said – because that is what he did and said in Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So, yes – misquotes matter.

Because though both Aslan and our Lord are in the business of forming humility and love and grace in their children while also helping them die-to-self each and every day, neither Aslan nor our Lord are in the business of self-help nonsense-babble that only leads to disappointment, despair, and emptiness. (And maybe also poisonous self-inflation.)

Words matter. Because behind the words are ideas, meaning, stories, and truth. At least that’s the hope.

[UPDATE: 9 Oct 2018]

Turns out this is not just a misquote: it is a misattribution of a misquote. Aslan-of-the-screen did not say these words. Rather, Coriakin-of-the-screen did, per the Confirming C. S. Lewis Quotes page (CCSLQ) of the meticulously researched Essential C. S. Lewis site. I highly recommend it.

I don’t know if this makes things any better. Or worse. To misattribute a misquote is two too many missteps. To misattribute to a false Aslan something said by a false Coriakin is beyond reckoning. It’s Dufflepud-ish, if you will. It’s as difficult to imagine Coriakin saying these things as it is to imagine Aslan saying them.

Coriakin is, by his own estimation, the least of Aslan’s magicians. He oversees the Duffers, who would drive anyone mad. But he never once lays on them platitudes about overcoming inner darkness, pride, or stupidity. Nor does he presume to deliver supposed Aslan-esque platitudes to them regarding their petty and outlandish stubbornness, not even to the Chief Duffer, who would drive anyone sky-high-batty after just five minutes. Coriakin’s ethos and discourse runs more like this:

Lucy followed the great Lion out into the passage and at once she saw coming towards them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,

“Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”

“Do  you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”

“No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”

“All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.

“Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. (Chapter 11, VDT)

Actual-Lewis’s actual-Coriakin is surely not someone who would blather about defeating inner darkness in order to defeat outer darkness. He knew better. Much better. The Chief Duffer, on the other hand…