Thursday, February 24, 2011

C.S. Lewis Phenomenon: Donegality

Michael Ward, in his book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis invents a a new phrase in order to describe Lewis's way of drawing the reader into something unaware; a phenomenon Ward calls "Donegality." Ward derives the name from Donegal, Ireland, a favorite place of Lewis's to visit as a young boy. The concept means something like getting caught in the trap of an artist. Sometimes a writer will have a secret agenda within his art and the reader will get caught up into it unexpectedly but simultaneously, the reader will delight in that "trap." Lewis's short essay Meditation in a Tool Shed on getting caught in a sunbeam is a fine introduction to what Ward means by Donegality. Lewis was a master at this sort of thing as evidenced here by this quote from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Take notice of how the narrator draws the reader in by asking the question at the end.

Next day they began marching eastward down the side of the great river. And the next day after that, at about teatime, they reached the mouth. The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of blueish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?

And then contrast the above quote with Lewis's words from his autobiography Surprised by Joy on visiting Donegal, as a child. Concerning the waves on the beach he said...

"...the wave, the monstrous, emerald, deafening waves, are always the winner, and it is at once a joke, a terror and a joy to look over your shoulder and see (too late) one breaker of such subline proportions that you would have avoided him had you known he was coming. But they gather themselves up, pre-eminent above their fellows, as suddenly and unpredictably as a revolution."

Of course the whole thought of all these things is being "caught up" in something much bigger than ourselves and relishing in the Enjoyment of it! It's all jolly good, Jovial, even!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sir Gawain & the Green Knight

[Today, guest blogger Lorien Griffith, age 7 is filling in for her dad as he is home sick with a cold. These are her words.]

My Synopsis of the Story
It was Christmas Time at Camelot. King Arthur's duty was the giving of a feast. Before they ate, someone had to tell King Arthur a story. But no one had a story to tell.

Just then a great big, green, knight showed up! He challenged someone to chop off his head but in a year and a day he would get to chop off their head.

Arthur was brave enough to do it but his nephew Gawain did it instead. He chopped off the head of the giant but his body still lived! It went over and picked up it's head and rode off on his green horse and reminded them of the wager. He would be found at a place called The Green Chapel in a year and day.

The seasons came and went and Gawain was not very excited about going to fulfill his promise. And the people did not want him to go.

He started off on his journey and some geese led him. Along the way, he met some people that were mean and he fought a dragon and an ogre but his worst enemy was the freezing cold!

After going through a dangerous swamp, he and his horse Gringolet find a shiny castle. The people there were very nice. He thought the lady was pretty.

Gawain made a deal with the king of the house: If Gawain took care of the King's wife while the king went hunting, the king would bring Gawain something to eat from out in the woods. In exchange Gawain was to give the king whatever came his way at the house.

So the men of the house go out for a hunt and kill many deer.

Meanwhile back at the house, Gawain gets kissed by the lady.

The king returns and gives many deer to the Gawain and all Gawain can give is a kiss!

Late that night they agree to do the same thing the next day.

The next day the king goes on another hunt and kills a giant, old, mean boar.

Once again, the lady and Gawain kiss but Gawain does not think this is a good idea because he loves the king too and does not want to hurt him.

The king brings back the dead boar and they have a big party and this time Gawain gives the king two kisses!

Gawain now wants to go because he does not want to get in trouble with the lady.

The king says it would be best to stay and play the game, just one more time.

The next day the king goes fox hunting and again Gawain is tempted by the lady. This time she gives him a supposedly magic green belt which will keep him safe. She wants Gawain to keep it a secret from the king.

The king bring Gawain a fox and Gawain gives him three kisses this time but does not tell him about the belt.

The house has a feast in honor of Gawain's going away but he is troubled by a mysterious old woman who watches him.

The next day Gawain rides out with his horse Gringolet and a guide.

The guide leads them to a green hill and warns him of danger.

The Green Knight shows up and Gawain offers him his neck as promised a year and a day ago.

The Green Knight teases him by acting like he is going to chop off his head two times. On the third time he nicks him but spares his life.

The Green Knight at this time reveals that he and the king are actually the same man! He had been testing Gawain's loyalty back at the castle and Gawain passed the test because Gawain had kept the belt only so he could continue to live.

Gawain and Gringolet begin their journey home.

When they return to Camelot, Gawain is welcomed as a hero.

What I Thought of the Book
I thought it was good story and I would recommend it. Some of the pictures in the book were revolting because they showed tons of blood. My favorite part was at the end when I found out the Green Knight and the King were the same man!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age

In A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age, Alan Jacobs tackles themes big and diminutive in this somewhat wildly eclectic collection. Jacobs is an English professor at Wheaton College and his love of the language and it's impact upon our culture shines.

Although, only a tiny bit disjointed (it is an eclectic collection after all!), each essay flows with charity and humility from one subject to the next. Jacobs finds a lot to talk about in such a short book! From the possibility of--along with the pros and cons of ebooks (this book was written in 2001 prior to the creation of the Amazon Kindle) to the virtues of Harry Potter and the proper use of, I mean technology, Professor Jacobs uses his keen eye of the world and quick wit to engage creatively with moral questions and offers a cultural critique of the 21st Century from a Christian perspective. I especially appreciated his discussion of Bob Dylan and his classic record Blood on the Tracks.

Jacobs is obviously a fan of C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden as those two writers are prominently quoted and referred to in almost every chapter.

Apparently, Jacobs has put together several collections of essays. He's obviously a gifted man when it comes to observation. In an attempt at a bit of self-deprecating humor in the essay on the "Lives of Essayists," Jacobs suggests that "if an essay is anything, it is the discourse of an inexpert." However, I would suggest Alan Jacobs is one of those sorts of writers who could write about virtually anything and transform it into something appealing by virtue of his insight and articulation! In my opinion Jacobs is one of the finest American writers out there and I'm looking forward to reading more books by him soon....stay tuned!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Book of Lost Things-Book Review

The Book of Lost Things--a coming of age tale by John Connolly, begins in war torn England during the 1940's. 12-year old David's mother has succumbed to death at the end of a long term illness. Young David grieves her passing with an overwhelming sadness.

Before too long his father has remarried and and a new step-baby brother has arrived. As conflict arises within the family, David begins to see and experience strange things at their new country home--old books whisper to one another and a crooked man slips past David's bedroom window at night.

An event happens in the backyard which transports David into another realm where he engages in several perilous adventures on his way to see a king who supposedly has the means to help him get back home. Some on David's path help him toward the goal of regaining what was lost and assist him in understanding that which he has not lost but was there all along. Others are bent upon destroying David. The crooked man also shows up in the other world and attempts to make David an "offer he cannot refuse."

Readers experience the vantage point from a touchingly candid 12-year old's perspective. Although some parts are dark and even terrifying the story is told with tenderness and honesty. As with all really good fairy tales, The Book of Lost Things deals with death, abuse and redemption. There are a few brutal scenes and although not graphic--I would not recommend this for a young child to read. But for many of us who have have "lost things" in our youth--even things which may have been taken or ripped from us by cruel hands and caused great pain--this is a story of bravery, moral courage, redemption and is ultimately about hope for tomorrow and that is something we all need!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Christ's Kingdom is Spreading

In Romans 4:13 the Apostle Paul interprets a key event which happened in the book of Genesis when he says "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." [emphasis mine] Therefore God's covenant promises to Abraham were not limited to one single spot of land over in the Middle East but the entire world! I would go so far as to say the entire universe or the created realm was promised to Abraham and his Offspring.

And who is Abraham's Offspring anyway? It is none other than Christ himself. Paul explains this clearly in Galatians 3:16 "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ." So Jesus is not only the Offspring of Abraham, which would make Him the True Israel but He is also the New Adam, the New Moses and the New Temple. In other words, there has been a whole New Creation afoot and it has been spreading sense the time of Jesus! The coming of the Son of God into the world as the long promised Messiah and the ascension of the Son of Man to be seated at the right hand of the Father not only fulfilled the promises made to Abraham but also inaugurated the Kingdom of God and the eternal covenant.

Christ's Kingdom is ruled and reigned by Him from His glorious throne in heaven. It is the impetus for His kingdom on earth. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. Jesus taught us to pray like this: "your Kingdom come...your will be done..., where? "on earth as it is in heaven!" The driving force or the stimulus of the transformation of this lowly place or earthly kingdom is the heavenly kingdom in other words the New Jerusalem or Zion. In principle, the Kingdom is already here and has been here for 2000 years but the application of redemption is not just for individuals but has implications for the entire world; Christ came to be the Savior of the world! His Kingdom is spreading and cannot be stopped. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review of the Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath

Atheism is a bankrupt and intellectually dishonest worldview. So explains Christian apologist/theologian, British intellectual, former chemist and all around critical thinker Alister MacGrath. Actually, according to McGrath, 21st century Atheism, espoused by such proponents as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris is nothing more than a vain attempt to move intelligent thought back into a very narrow and truncated version of the 19th century age of the Enlightenment.

McGrath's book, subtitled The Christian Faith and Discipleship of the Mind, calls for Christians to be passionately engaged with the world God created, intellectually as well as imaginatively.

I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book which dealt with the Christian imagination. McGrath does a wonderful job of showing how George Herbert interacted with Christian doctrine through poetry and encourages Christians to find similar ways to engage the culture through creativity.

In the second half of the book McGrath interacts with Charles Darwin and his famous book Origins, exploring some of the faulty conclusions of evolutionary theory. McGrath also engages with some leading atheists of our day and their erroneous "god of the gaps" theories. He also talks about his own journey of faith which began as an atheist at Oxford University in Great Britain as he kept running into road blocks trying to understand the world through "naturalistic" eyes.

My favorite quote of the book came from Voltaire of all people: "Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy; the mad daughter of a wise mother."

McGrath's book is a very accessible introduction to Christian apologetics and theology for thoughtful people who want to be honest about their presuppositions. It is also a passionate call for Christians to use the brains, gifts and talents God has given them, not just to process things rationally but to be engage with God and Christian doctrine through the imagination as well. McGrath joins a long list of authors and Christian thinkers who are encouraging Christians to have a fully-integrated biblical worldview which would include the arts, science, government and philosophy, etc. In other words a fully-orbed Christian/biblical worldview. I highly recommend this book as a welcome addition to that conversation.