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narniamapHere are some thoughts about Narnia that my daughter, Laura, wrote while she was in Oxford, England studying C.S. Lewis and other fantasy writers. 

Reflections on My Childhood Love of Narnia

I have realized that the love-even devotion-that I had for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a child has not gone away, even though I now read them as a skeptical adult, and I feel the need to defend them fiercely when people disparage them. The books are part of me.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was especially instrumental in shaping my imagination. Many of my childhood games involved Narnia in one way or another. I had (and still have) a stuffed lion named Aslan. I sent my animals off on the voyage of the Dawn Treader in individual boats crafted from the lids of toy boxes.

I remember vivid dreams of Narnia. The most memorable dream is one that I had around the age of ten or so. I dreamt that I was Lucy, and I was too old to go back to Narnia, but I was still allowed into a corridor that stood between our world and Narnia. In my dream, I could sit in that corridor, a sort of limbo, for hours, and have tea with Aslan. Aslan was the most important part of Narnia. He was strong and wise but soft and gentle, a better cuddler than all my stuffed animals combined. I was not afraid of him at all, but being near him filled me with joy. Underlying that joy, however, was the uneasy feeling that one day, I would be too old even to enter the corridor between the worlds, and I would not be able to see Aslan directly any more.

For me, Aslan was always Christ. I intuitively understood the allegory of the crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps that was partly because I had a morbid fascination with the passion of the Christ when I was little, but that’s another story. Jadis, the White Witch, was sin or Satan. Aslan chose to die because he cared more about the life of one small, imperfect human than about reigning forever; indeed, when the Pevensie children were crowned, he diminished, allowing them to rule. His self-sacrifice, the defeat of death “by death” (thank you, Rachmaninoff) was and remains one of the most touching displays of love I have seen. Aslan’s death was not about saving Edmund from Aslan’s own wrath, or that of the Emperor-beyond-the-sea, but from the all-consuming power of greed. And what better way to defeat greed than by the sacrifice of the greatest thing that he had to offer? I have always been moved by the rightness of it. That does not mean that my beliefs have not evolved since early childhood. I do not have the simple, unquestioning “child faith” that I used to have, and, in some ways, I am glad. In other ways, I still mourn its loss.

Sometimes, I feel like I am still searching for the corridor that disappeared while I was not looking. But there is one thing for certain: even though I do not see Aslan directly anymore, I know that the spirit of Narnia still lives in me somewhere, like a flame just under the surface of the skin. In my dreams, and sometimes, when I see what I know to be suffering or injustice, I know that I am hearing Aslan’s roar.   Amen.

 

Here is a link to a post I wrote about Narnia:

Lucy’s Healing Cordial

OUR Children

HPIM0165In his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000, Robert Putnam described the fraying community and social ties in American society, citing declining church attendance; declining voter turnout; and declining participation in labor unions, in civic clubs, in scouting, and in all sorts of community organizations like bowling leagues.  He warned that declining engagement with one another jeopardizes the social connections and social resources that we must have in order to solve community problems.

In a new book entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam describes the growing divide between children born into families who are able to give them enriching experiences such as reading to them beginning in babyhood and taking them to music, sports, scouts and other opportunities, and children whose families are struggling simply to survive economically  He stresses that it’s not just material resources that these children lack.  They are missing out on mentoring and the benefits that come from knowing a network of caring adults, and from enriching activities.  Along with a good education and good health care, these blessings help children grow up into strong adults.  Putnam reminds us that all of these children are OUR children, and we are collectively responsible for them.  Faith communities can certainly help address the situation, Putnam notes, especially when it comes to mentoring children. I resonate with Putnam’s call for adults to step forward and be mentors.  There is no substitute for having adults show interest in you and want to spend time with you.

You can read a Washington Post article about this book here, and a review from the New York Times here.

I look forward to reading the whole book.  Growing up I received so many blessings and was loved and mentored by so many caring adults in my family and church.  My husband was similarly blessed.  Thanks to our families and our church, my husband and I were able to pass these blessings on to our daughter.  God has brought to our church’s attention a whole flock of children that we can share these blessings with, and we are seeking ways to do that.  See my recent post on sharing music with little children.

God has also brought to our attention some statistics that cause great concern.  We have learned, for example, that within a seven mile radius of our church’s building 37% of households with children are headed by single mothers, and 8% are headed by single fathers, and that adds up to 45%.  Moreover, 18% of all households within this radius are subsisting on $15,000 a year or less.  It is a varied and challenging community in which to seek God’s call.  However we answer the call, it is going to require an investment of our hearts, making friends and building relationships.

 

 

little-friends-logo

Art by Laura Todd

When my daughter was a toddler, we enjoyed Kindermusik classes together.  We still remember some of the songs we learned then.

I always thought it would be wonderful to have a program of music and movement for young children and their adult caregivers that was faith-based, included songs of faith, and corresponded with the seasons of the church year.

With that dream in mind, we are experimenting with a music program at Morton that we call Music for Little Friends.  Besides helping children from infancy to age five to sense how deeply they are loved, we are helping them to develop an ear for music and a feel for rhythm.  This begins a lifetime of appreciation for music and lays a foundation for more musical learning later.  Moreover, music is great for their cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development, and it’s fun!

The CDs and songbooks that we use were developed by Kate Daneluk, a Catholic music educator, and her husband, John, who is also an accomplished musician.  They wanted a music program for their own children that integrated prayer and songs of faith with some of the methods used by secular programs like Kindermusik or Music Together.  You can learn more about their work and hear samples of the music at makingmusicprayingtwice.comMaking Music, Praying Twice has resources for parishes that want to do a large, full-scale program licensed to use the name Making Music, Praying Twice (MMP2), for families, and for small groups like ours at Morton.  I took the three-day training class that MMP2 offers for prospective teachers.

Our music comes from many sources: songs of faith, well-known children’s songs, music from other cultures, classical themes, and some new songs by the creators of MMP2.  We enjoy a wide variety of tunes and tonalities, meters and rhythms.  As you can see from the illustration above, we sing, dance, and enjoy playing musical instruments. Each class session lasts about forty-five minutes. One of the things I enjoy most is encouraging children and families to make up new words to some of the songs.  The next thing you know, they are making up their own songs!

Our next series of classes will probably run from Easter to Pentecost, and our prayer song will be “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

Contact me if you’d like to know more!

Music12-05-13-3

Jamie Irene, 2-22-15--editedThis past Sunday our youngest disciple, age three, was able to stay with us in the sanctuary all the way to the last hymn before needing a break.  During that time, she colored the picture you see here.  We talked about Noah and the rainbow, and she put the rainbow all over the ark, all over everything.  Surely God’s rainbow promise is all over everyone, and all over everything.  Deep insights come out of the mouths of babes, but also out of their artwork.

In this blogpost,  pastoral musician Jonathan Aigner makes the case that traditional worship in which all generations worship together is a blessing to children, and truly good for their faith formation.  He thinks that we sell young people short when we believe that “modern entertainment is the only way to engage the fleeting attention span of our youngest worshipers.”  Aigner has some things to think about here, and some thoughtful comments follow his post.

Love Comes First

Be brave, little one from Flickr via Wylio

© 2009 Lisa, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When some of the religious leaders questioned Jesus, it was anything but a friendly debate.  It was religious combat.  In Matthew 22 “Which commandment is the greatest?” is a trick question designed to discredit Jesus.  This kind of religious combat is so common these days, and that disheartens me.  Here is a sermon I recently preached when that passage came up in the lectionary.

Love Comes First
A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1 and Matthew 22:34-40

The Bible that Jesus knew was what we call the Old Testament. It had three parts: the law also called Torah—what we know as the first five books of the Bible—the prophets, such as Isaiah, and the writings, such as the Psalms. When they spoke of the Bible, they often called it the law and the prophets. Nobody knew the Bible better than the scribes and Pharisees. They liked nothing better than a vigorous discussion of the scriptures and especially of the sacred law. They loved to pose questions and debate interpretations.

But when some of the Pharisees questioned Jesus, it was anything but a friendly debate. It was not a search for greater light. It was religious combat. They were convinced that Jesus was wrong, and they were out to prove it. Jesus was leading people astray, and he needed to be stopped. They tried to discredit him in the eyes of the people. And soon they would use a cross to stop him.

These Bible experts watched Jesus carefully, trying to catch him making a mistake. They set traps for him, like the one in our gospel lesson today. One with special expertise in the law asked Jesus a question to test him. Note that the Greek word there for test is the same word used when the devil tested Jesus in the wilderness. No, this wasn’t a friendly inquiry.

“Teacher,” the expert asked, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” It was a trick question. Whatever Jesus answered, the legal expert could pounce. There were 613 commandments in the Torah, and whichever one Jesus cited this man could shoot back, “But what about this other commandment? Or, aren’t you forgetting something? Or, how can you call yourself a man of God if you don’t take this commandment seriously?”

Jesus gave one answer in two parts. “’You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” This came from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, something every Jewish person recited every day. “This is the greatest and first commandment,” Jesus continued. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” This came from the book of Leviticus, chapter 19. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Incidentally, in Luke’s telling of this story, this is where the questioner tries to limit who is included in that love by asking, “And just who is my neighbor?” which launches Jesus into the story of the Good Samaritan who rescues a wounded man on the road.

But here in Matthew, the two greatest commandments simply hang in the air. They ring like a bell. Love is the point of all the law and all the prophets. Love God, and love neighbor. These two are inseparable. They are a single idea in two directions. We can’t love God without also loving our neighbors. This is the heart of Christian faith. Love. This is the heart of religion. Love. This is the point. Love.

Being right is not the point. Being beyond criticism and perfectly pure is not the point. Having our heads on straight and believing the correct beliefs is not the point. Love is the point. Love comes first.

But for many of these biblical legalists, love did not come first. Continue Reading »

Weed-whacker from Flickr via Wylio

© 2006 dvs, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Here is a sermon about the wisdom of Rabbi Gamaliel, who was one of Paul’s teachers.  His counsel of restraint is just as wise today as it was in the days of the Book of Acts.

The Wisdom of Gamaliel

A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Acts 5:27-42; 22 (sel. vss.)

Paul did not listen to the wisdom of his teacher, Rabbi Gamaliel, and he later came to regret it.

Paul was among those who were enraged by the witness and teachings of the apostles of Jesus. He thought Jesus’ followers were just plain wrong. They were dangerous. They were preaching lies. They were misinterpreting the scriptures, and they were dishonoring God.

Paul, then called by his Hebrew name Saul, threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of eliminating and erasing the church. It was he who stood by holding the coats while his colleagues pelted deacon Stephen to death. It was he who breathed threats and murder against the people of Jesus, dragging off to prison any he could lay his hands on. It was he who ravaged the church. Paul was enemy number one.

Or to use the imagery of today’s parable, Paul believed that the followers of Jesus were weeds in the field of true faith, and Paul himself was a self-appointed, industrial strength weedeater.

As we think about this, it’s important to remember that at that time, Christianity was still a movement within Judaism. The church was born inside the Jewish faith. This was a family conflict.

It’s also important to note that the religious authorities and council members came from different groups within Judaism. Pharisees and Sadducees held differing viewpoints on some matters of faith, and sometimes there was friction between them. They tended to disagree vigorously.

It’s also important to remember that some among them were sympathetic to the church, and some, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who were both Pharisees, even became followers of Jesus.

We don’t know whether Gamaliel, also a Pharisee, ever became a follower of Jesus or not. There’s not enough in the story to be able to tell, but the possibility is there. Some traditions say that he did. But there are a few things we can say with certainty about Gamaliel. He was well-respected then, and also down through the ages by both Jews and Christians.

Gamaliel did not think violence was the way. He didn’t think killing the apostles was the answer to the conflict. When he saw the rage in his fellow council members’ faces and heard them calling for the death penalty, he took the floor of the council meeting and called for an executive session. The apostles were taken out.

Then Gamaliel said, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men. Remember what happened with those other men, Theudas and Judas the Galilean who had followings for a while. They both got killed and their movements fizzled out, and their followers scattered to the four winds.

“I’m telling you,” Gamaliel continued, “keep your hands off these men! Let them alone! If this program or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, you won’t be able to stop it whatever you do. You might even find yourselves fighting against God himself!”

To put Gamaliel’s point succinctly: Be careful! You might be wrong!

Which is also one of the main points of Jesus’ parable about not trying to pull the weeds out of the wheat: You might be wrong!

Continue Reading »

Living is Christ

Art by Pamela Etling

Art by Pamela Etling

Here is the sermon I preached for our congregation’s recent Homecoming Sunday.  As we gave thanks for the past, and looked ahead to the future, it seemed appropriate to lift up Christ once again as the heart of the church and the very life of the church.

Living Is Christ

A Sermon on Philippians 1

 

Given everything that Paul had gone through, it’s understandable that he recognized that death would bring welcome relief. No, he wasn’t suicidal. But life was often a struggle, and ministry was often an uphill battle. Paul had been through so much: hunger, cold, illness, opposition, sometimes violent opposition, imprisonment. Something he called a thorn in the flesh caused him pain that was never completely relieved. And here Paul was in prison again, dependent on the goodwill of others even to have something to eat. This might be his last imprisonment. Execution was a very real possibility.

 

Friends in the church at Philippi had sent Paul support and encouragement, and now he was writing to return the same to them. They weren’t having an easy time of it, either. They were bearing up under opposition from somewhere, perhaps outright persecution like what the church in Iraq is experiencing now. But even the mildest forms of opposition are no fun, as when the community looks down its nose at you, or maybe even worse, just doesn’t care, has no regard for you at all. The church at Philippi was experiencing pain from without, and there was internal stress as well. Later in the letter Paul alludes to the stress that occurs when church members don’t see eye to eye on something.

 

Paul and his Philippian friends had a history of bearing one another’s burdens. He shares some of his own distress in his letter, but he mostly wants to help them in their distress.

 

After reassuring his friends of his ongoing love and prayers for them, Paul shares the vision that is keeping him going, hoping it will help them keep going, too. He sums it up succinctly like this: to me, living is Christ, and dying is gain. Continue Reading »

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