Thursday, December 30, 2010

How will it be different? A thought for the New Year

One of the great disappointments in the recent cinematic retelling of Voyage of the Dawn Treader is how the producers, writers and directors managed to miss the whole point of Eustace's person-to-dragon-to-person transformation. In Lewis' story it is one of the great images of personal and spiritual transformation. Eustace turns into a dragon because as a boy he is pretty much of a dragon. No one wants to be with him. He breaths fire. But it is through his encounter with Aslan that he is given the chance to become truly human. To do so, however, he must be willing to be stripped. He must shed his dragon skin layer by layer. He tries it himself but he can only do it so far. Aslan must take it from there. The great lion digs his claws into him and strips him to as "smooth and soft as a peeled switch". The stripping is unbearably painful. And then Aslan throws him into the water and the immersion really smarts. But soon the pain starts to go away and he realizes that he has become a boy. He is a new creation.
We get none of this in the movie. In the movie the dragon Eustace on his own becomes a hero. He puts himself to good use and helps to save the imperiled ship and crew. It's only after becoming mortally wounded that Aslan rewards him by roaring him back to himself. No stripping. No clawing. No waters of baptism. Just a quick roar and he's done.
I wonder if our passing into the New Year comes with the hope that things will change for us like they do in Hollywood. A quick roar, a little special effects and presto ... it's all different. The New Testament doesn't suggest it works that way. Aslan wants to change us layer by layer until he gets to the bottom of our "dragonness". And then only through the waters of baptism can we claim our true identity -- child of God. New Year's Day can be the beginning of all that. A time to reclaim our baptism and to put ourselves into the hands of the One who wishes to change us, layer by layer. Will it hurt? Of course. But if losing our dragonness is the result, it might be worth it. A good resolution to make and to keep.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Always winter, never Christmas

Such was the news about Narnia when the Pevensie children entered through the wardrobe: Always winter, never Christmas. Narnia was in the grip of the White Witch who had no hope to offer. Never will the trees bloom. Never will the snow go away. Christmas though presents us with that stab of joy to remind us that reality is not as it appears to be. Our longings for a different story find their echo in the angels song, "... and on earth, peace among those whom he favors." The truth is not in the wars and the hurts and the hungers, the truth is in the one who promises more and seeks to lead us to it. It may still feel like winter, but with Christmas we know there is more to the story. And a little child shall take us there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Maybe the best few pages one could read on the incarnation are found in the chapter The Grand Miracle in Lewis' book, Miracles. Lewis concludes his discussion with this:

The doctrine of the Incarnation work into our minds quite differently. It digs beneath the surface, works through the rest of our knowledge by unexpected channels, harmonises best with our deepest apprehensions and our 'second thoughts', and in union with these undermines our superficial opinions. It has little to say to the man who is still certain that everything is going to the dogs, or that everything is getting better and better, or that everything is God, or that everything is electricity ... (the Incarnation) illuminates and orders all other phenomena, explains both our laughter and our logic, our fear of the dead and our knowledge that it is somehow good to die, and which at one stoke covers what multitudes of separate theories will hardly cover for us if this is rejected.

There is no real explanation that can be given to why we are so drawn to these nativity stories. Matthew and Luke tell such different tales, yet they become for us facets of a diamond that illumines a deeper truth that we'll never get our hands completely around. If we could, it wouldn't be so deep and it wouldn't be so true. We can only tell the story and let it do to us what God wishes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas

It's only been about eleven months since I've posted here. Somehow the world kept turning. In Matthew's account of the story of Jesus' birth did you ever notice that none of the earthly characters speak? They just do. Joseph gets news and resolves without a word to dismiss her quietly. He dreams of an angel telling him to take Mary as his wife and he resolves without a word to do so. Maybe Joseph could hear the angel because he wasn't talking (or blogging, for that matter). Whether Christmas is "merry" for folks will likely depend less on us saying the word than in performing the deed, whatever that may be. The world will keep turning the same way without our words, but maybe it might turn differently with our actions. Peace.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Earthquake response

The seismic waves that emanate from the capitol city of Haiti are unrelenting. The headlines will not leave the front page. The aftershocks appear not only under the ground but in our dreams and nightmares. It’s overwhelming – and we’re not even on the island! What do you do in the face of such monstrous need?
It takes me back to the story of Jesus and the disciples facing the hunger of the 5000. Scripture says that that number was just the men. So count three or four times and that was the human need that surrounded Jesus and the twelve. In the face of this earthquake of hunger the disciples cried to Jesus, “Send them away! The crowd is too big!” But Jesus’ response is, “You give them something to eat.” So they scrounged up what they and others had: five loaves and two fish. They gave it to Jesus and scripture says that Jesus blessed it and handed it out. Somehow everybody got fed.
What’s the takeaway? In light of what we see on the news – what’s the teaching for us?
The earthquake in Haiti awakens us to the needs of the whole world and the needs of the whole world are enormous. But for Jesus the issue is never “How big is the need?” The issue is, “What are you willing to give?” In other words, don’t let the enormity of the issue paralyze you. Just give what time you have, what talent you have and what treasure you have to Jesus and let him bless it. He’ll take care of the rest.
Need surrounds us in Sarasota too. Everyday people are hit with the earthquakes of unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, loneliness, sickness … you name it. We might be tempted to just “send them away”. But our Lord seeks to equip us by saying – “You give them something.” Our surrender to Jesus’ hands of whatever we’ve got – though as little as some loaves and fish – is all it might take the feed the world.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A friend of mine asked me the other day what goals I have for the New Year. I rattled off a few -- most of them having to do with leading the church. I went as far down the list with my friend as what seemed sufficient to justify myself. The more goals I had the more reason I had to exist.
It's a bad way to live. In fact, it's impossible. The last I checked justification is in God's hands and it's already been taken care of. That happened on the cross. The real issue is becoming now more like Christ. I'm justified, now what remains is to be sanctified.
Jesus said, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." That's enough to keep me busy for a whole lot of New Years.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The scandal of particularity

One of the things that contributes to us quickly wandering off the path of Christian spiritual growth is the concreteness of the one we are called to follow. It's Jesus who is leading us down the path and it is Jesus' path that we are called to traverse. Sometimes we find other paths more interesting, less treacherous. Some trails appear to have more convenient places to rest and better views. Some guides seem more relevant. So off we go.
But it's Jesus we've agreed who knows the territory -- the whole territory. Others have momentary glimpses, but Jesus knows the entire terrain.
In this post-modern age some call it the scandal of particularity -- that we would claim that God reveals himself fully in one person and no other. But we post-moderns don't like our choices limited. We want to follow many gods. And before we know it we're lost in the journey because many paths lead nowhere in particular.
To follow Jesus is to go somewhere and that somewhere is what we call communion. "Further up and further in," is what Aslan says in The Last Battle. This is our goal.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

The newspaper this morning identified ten people to "watch for". They bring, evidently, expectancy. People are waiting to see what they will do and how successful they'll be. What will we see at the year end when we look back at what they've done?
I'm not sure it's a good or bad thing to be a person who is being "watched". That's a lot of pressure. But the truth is we're all being watched. We each bring to life some expectancy. Someone is watching -- child, parent, coach, teacher, friend, competitor. But what's the criterion? Success? And what does success mean?
How about faithfulness?
The book of Hebrews tells us that we are "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses". Apparently, heaven is watching as well. On a day of resolutions it might be important to ask not what are my resolutions -- but what are heaven's resolutions? Great expectation comes from above!
And I suppose that faithfulness to heaven will mean success for everyone else.
Happy New Year.