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The Forging of Heroes

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The aftermath of “The Great War” would result in a landscape poisoned and sullied physically, but it would also erode much more than that in the countries of the world. One of the shifts would be a rejection of personal moral guilt and the consequence of denying personal responsibility. Immoral or wicked behaviors that were once attributed to moral or religious failure were now explained as medical or scientific issues. The ethic of personal responsibility that was the norm of Judeo-Christianity prior to the war was abandoned.

Consider the significance of those things and others that have not been listed.

We see them as commonly accepted 100 years later, but few of us know that it began as a consequence to the shift around the world after that fateful war. The nuances of what happened then and afterward continue to haunt the world and its people.

And yet the Lord used two men who were called to duty to serve in “The Great War” who rejected these viewpoints. The major literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would introduce us to characters from their rich imagination that would be tested by the choices set before them.

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The struggles they faced centered on moral struggles against forces of evil meant for the destruction of their souls and very lives. From these struggles we find hope for our own battles. Indeed, it is why they resonate with us when we read their works or watch the movies that were made of some of them.

Consider these thoughts of Dr. Joseph Loconte from his book, A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War:

“…their characters retain the power of choice; there is nothing predetermined about the outcome. It is through their own decisions, their yielding to selfish ambitions, that they invite a spiritual crisis into their lives. The result is not the freedom they imagined, but the deepest slavery of heart and mind.

Critics sometimes accuse the authors of creating black-and-white characters to personify their religious beliefs. But the careful reader sees something else entirely: individuals often at war with their own desires. The heroes of these stories are vulnerable to temptation and corruption, while the antagonists are almost never beyond redemption. Here, in fantasy and myth, no one escapes the long and harassing shadow of the biblical fall.

Indeed, a bedrock belief in evil, and in the responsibility to resist it, gives the writings of Tolkien and Lewis their dignity and power. It is the reason their stories, so fantastical in style, seem to speak into our present reality. The war against evil is the moral landscape of our mortal lives: a journey of souls degraded or redeemed, dragged into the Darkness of self or led into the Light of grace.”

From the horrors of the trenches, the sorrow of the broken and wounded, the anguish of the refugees, the cynical times, and the scattered revolutions in various places in the world, two men would emerge to point us to see the courage, sacrifice, and friendships that made it all endurable. Such is the legacy of Tolkien and Lewis.

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The depth of their own friendship would buoy up each of them in their writing and sustain them over four decades. They were devoted to each other’s success built over time and long talks late into the night. Sustained by their common Christian faith following Lewis’s conversion through Tolkien, they were brave enough to return to the older virtues and beliefs in their writing that had been left behind after the war.

They sought to make sense of the war that had been fought to end all wars and marred those left in its wake. From them and their work, we can learn much if we will take the time to hear the message the Lord used them to write.

Tolkien gave us two types of heroes: “the extraordinary man, the hidden king determined to fight for his people and regain his throne; and the ordinary man, the hobbit, who, like many of us, is ‘not made for perilous quests’ and prefers the comforts and safety of home.”  Dr. Joseph Loconte.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have given us a portrait of friendship in their lives and in their characters that call us to a higher level and deeper understanding of what love, loyalty, and sacrifice mean in relationship. But they have also written a story we play a part in as we face our own choices and decisions.

“The most influential Christian authors of the twentieth century believed that every human soul was caught up in a very great story: a fearsome war against a Shadow of Evil that has invaded the world to enslave the sons and daughters of Adam. Yet those who resist the Shadow are assured that they will not be left alone; they will be given the gift of friendship amid their struggle and grief. Even more, they will find the grace and strength to persevere, to play their part in the story, however long it endures and wherever it may lead them.”

Dr. Joseph Loconte

So as the shadows grow longer across the earth, let us learn and take heart from the stories of Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam, Gandalf and Aragorn, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Let us also be thankful to the Lord and how He worked through the lives of Tolkien and Lewis. May we never lose sight of his desire to work through each of us as we look for his return, the true Return of the King.

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A Time to Remember

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is much preparation for the feasting and family this holiday brings to mind and heart. Grocery store lines are long and so are lines in traffic and at airports, bus stations, and train depots. Media is full of new recipes to try and stories about gratitude, but I am reminded that it is good to remember this will not be a joy-filled celebration for many others.

It can be easy when life is going relatively smoothly and we are blessed with close family and friends to share these days, but there will be many others for whom these days will be long and difficult. Yes, there will be some of us who will help serve meals in homeless shelters and other places offering free hot meals for those who have no table or no food, but there is another group that may not come to mind that we should remember as well.

This celebration (along with others) will be difficult for those who are alone or are experiencing this Thanksgiving without a person who has been dear to them at the table. Who are they?

There is the widow or widower who cannot imagine this day without their companion at their side. They feel unsure of how to handle the day or what they want to do. Often they just want it to be over and to slide through December and into January with more ordinary days to deal with their loss and grief. Some may have children who share their sorrow and will likely also be sorting out how to handle the day, but others may not have children or children who are absent from their lives so the day will feel especially heavy.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

There is the single whose parents are no longer living and who feels like ‘odd man out’ with a celebration involving family. There is also the man or woman who once had a family whose lives have been broken by divorce. Family memories can be especially painful if the sense of what was once tradition and family time is no longer possible. It makes Thanksgiving a very hard day despite their best efforts to be grateful for the Lord’s blessings.

There are the children of all ages who are facing their first Thanksgiving without a parent. For their entire lives that parent has been there and their memories are full of those family times that are now changed. An ache that does not go away even in the company of other family or friends can be hard to navigate.

Anyone who is in the midst of grief and loss is trying to determine how to walk through these days.

If we are not, the question is whether or not we will remember them, be sensitive to their hurting hearts, and what may be helpful for them.

It is key to remember none of us can know their loss even if we have had a similar one. We cannot know what the relationship they have lost was like for them. It may have been a hurtful one that left open wounds unhealed before death or it may have been a rich one leaving a space that seems as vast as the ocean now.

Because of all that we also cannot know what might be helpful. For some an invitation to join our own family table may be a great blessing, but for others it will only remind them of their family loss. Be sensitive and gracious if you offer an invitation whether it is accepted or not.

In the profoundly moving movie, Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy, speaks very powerful words to him as they speak about the reality of facing her death from cancer:

“We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.”

Photo by Pam Ecrement

And later she adds:

“The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”

The pain of loss we experience is an echo from the Garden of Eden when death entered the world. God knows and understands it well. Isaiah 53 speaks of the Lord being a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.

As believers, we often wrestle with our response to loss depending on our theology and view of the Lord. I think that makes the pithy words of the grief and loss C.S. Lewis expresses in A Grief Observed, about the death of his beloved wife, Joy, precious indeed.

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

C.S. Lewis

Let each of us remember those among us who are in a season of loss and grief as they face an empty chair at their table this Thanksgiving. Let us give them the gift of respect, the gift of a discerning heart and ear, the gift of either words or silence depending on their choice, but let us seek to let them know we are present and that we know this day will not be the same for them. 

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Evening sunset by Pam Ecrement

Grandmas!

Great New Book!

Grandmothers! They come in all shapes and sizes and are called by many different names. If we are blessed to have one or to have known one, more than a few images come to mind when you hear the name you once called her. I did not get that opportunity since one grandmother died when I was 3 months old and another when I was 8 years old. But I learned much about being a grandmother by watching others and especially the way my own mother was totally dedicated to being the best grandmother around to our two children. As a result, they each have more than a few special memories of time with her.

One such memory was one our son wrote about for an English assignment, and I tucked it away, so I still treasure it as he describes my mother (his grandmother’s) kitchen:

“Upon entering my grandmother’s kitchen, one can get a firsthand impression of the image of my grandmother. The layout of the kitchen is practical and well thought out, just as my grandmother’s use of her time is. The kitchen is nearly always in use. It seems at times that there is almost a cloud of commotion about it. However, at times the kitchen, surprisingly enough, has an inviting spirit about it. It yearns to be the answer to a person’s cry for company or companionship. It opens its doors even to be of use to complete strangers who are in need.

…The kitchen is a place known for emitting pleasant aromas. Likewise, my grandmother always smells sweet, whether of perfume or molasses.”

David Ecrement

Thankfully, she was blessed to enjoy reading the entire essay before she died and smiled with a bit of shyness at the accolades her grandson chose to describe her.

Lisa Carpenter has created a wonderful book that you might want to add to your ideas for gifts this Christmas season. The cover above tells the story: A Love Journal100 Things I ♥️ about Grandma. Tucked inside are one hundred pages for any grandchild to get prompts to answer questions about their grandmother that would bless her to read and enjoy for years to come.

Lisa’s book will be released December 7 (just in time for gift giving) and one place you can find it will be on Amazon where it can be pre-ordered now.

Here are a few of the prompts that Lisa has for a grandchild to answer before the gift is wrapped and given to a favorite grandmother:

“When we spend time together, I really enjoy that we _________________________________”

“If you were an animal, you would be __________________________________”

“You can tell we are family because ______________________________________”

“The top three things that make you different from other grandmothers are _____________________________.”

“Thanks to you, ________________________ and ____________________ are special books to me.”

These examples and so many others show Lisa’s keen insight into being a grandmother and what would bless the heart of any grandmother to read or hear. And guess what? It’s one of those things we need to do while she is still able to hug you afterward. There are no hugs quite like hers.

What is the last prompt Lisa gives?

“The top three things the world should know about you are… 1._______________ 2. _____________ 3.____________”

This little book is also a reminder to consider how we want to be remembered as a grandmother now or when we become one in the future. As I was reading it, it was a reminder to me as I consider our own six grandchildren moving into adulthood.

Stowe, VT Photo by Pam Ecrement

Into the Wardrobe

How often have you walked out of a movie theater, left a great musical performance, read an amazing book, or been moved by a piece of art and wondered, how did they do that? Where did those ideas come from? For however it happens, the arts move us in ways we cannot quite describe and add meaning to the fabric of our experiences.

If you have ever wanted to peek behind the scenes and discover what influenced the writer, composer, or artist, you will want to add Into the Wardrobe by Dr. David C. Downing to your booklist as he opens the window into C.S. Lewis and his epic Chronicles of Narnia series. Dr. Downing is one of the leading experts on C.S. Lewis, an award-winning author, a former professor of English at Elizabethtown College (Lancaster County, PA) and current co-director of the Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College.

This book, published in 2005, doesn’t cause the reader to lose any of the magic of the Narnia series, but rather adds appreciation for C.S. Lewis as he explores the series “offering a detailed look at the enchanting stories themselves and also focusing on the extraordinary intellect and imagination of the man behind the wardrobe.”

Downing begins by looking at the life of C.S. Lewis and how that life influenced Lewis and his “love of wonder and story, his affection for animals and homespun things, his shrewd observations and human nature, along with his vast reading, robust humor, theological speculations, medieval scholarship, and arcane linguistic jokes.” He includes a timeline of Lewis’s life that may help you see the path God took throughout his life to shape this man and his writing.

Dr. Downing then moves deeper into the behind-the-scenes information with chapters on “The Genesis of Narnia,” “The Spiritual Vision of the Narnia Chronicles,” “Moral Psychology,” “Classical and Medieval Elements,” “What’s in a Narnian Name?” and “Lewis’s Literary Artistry.” He ends the book with an appendix that includes notes, a bibliography as well as definitions, allusions, and textural notes.

Here’s a glimpse in the chapter on “Moral Psychology” as the author discusses the subheading, “Edmund’s Moral Descent”:

“Lewis’s concept of the central self affected one way or the other by every moral choice, implies a kind of moral momentum. Every good choice strengthens one’s inner resolve to make another good choice next time, while every bad choice leaves one inclined to further bad choices down the road.”

Dr. David Downing

Just a bit further as Downing looks at the subject of honesty as a part of the chapter on moral psychology, he writes:

“In Narnia, honesty is not only the best policy; it is also the best therapy. Genuine moral and mental health consists not only in telling the truth to others but also in telling the truth to oneself about one’s true interests and motives. As Edmund treads through the snow to the White Witch’s house, he hears more than one voice inside. One is telling him that he is making a great mistake, that he needs to turn back, to repent. But it is drowned out by the other voices crying ‘I want’ and ‘I deserve’ and ‘I’ll show them.'”

Dr. David Downing

Have you wondered where Lewis got the names he chose for the many varied characters in the Narnia series? Lewis grew up having a fascination with names and nicknames, deciding to choose to be called “Jack” rather than his given name of Clive. Additionally, his vast reading and love of language helped him create names that sometimes came from centuries before in the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Old English, Norse, and Celtic literature. Sometimes names were not chosen for their meanings.

“Like the faun’s names, Lewis seemed to choose Calormene names based on their sound rather than their meaning.”

Dr. David Downing

What guided Lewis’s clear literary artistry? Perhaps Downing’s words about an essay distinguishing two sides of the writer (the author and the person) can illuminate our understanding:

“The author writes simply to release a creative impulse, an idea or a compelling image “longing for a form,” for some coherent expression. Soon, however, the person enters into the writing process with his or her own values and purposes, a desire to shape the writing toward some significant end. The author may write only to please – oneself or one’s readers- but the person wishes to both please and instruct, to communicate some of one’s own views of the world.”

Dr. David Downing

Dr. Downing closes the book with this picture of what he understood about C.S. Lewis, the man and author of The Narnia Chronicles:

“For Lewis, too many things about our contemporary world have become dreary and unenchanted. By inviting readers to a place called Narnia, he wants to re-enchant us, to revive our sense of wonder, to regale our inner vision with adventures of great peril and greater promise. He seeks as well to renew our hope, to suggest a bright benevolence at the heart of things-not only in imagined worlds but also in our own.”

Dr. David Downing.

The Antidote at the Back of the Shelf

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One of the habits I have not developed well enough is that of going through my cabinets and cupboards to not only organize, but also get rid of those out-of-date items that somehow got shoved to the back of the shelf. How could I possibly forget that nothing I purchase and bring home is without an expiration date?

A few weeks ago, I dug into our medicine cabinet to check on expiration dates, but I really didn’t expect to find anything that was a problem because there was not as much there as when our children were young and living at home. I was more than a little shocked to discover a bottle of extra-strength acetaminophen that was several years expired. The bottle had gotten shifted to the back of the shelf and well…you know the rest.

There are other things beyond products we buy that can get shifted to the back of the shelf as well. Some of them are antidotes to things we are struggling with. In the flurry of daily activities, we can forget what was already provided for us.

Fear is one of the most prevalent viruses spreading throughout the world today and it gets plenty of reinforcement from daily news no matter what its source. Monster storms, earthquakes, uncontained wildfires, unspeakable atrocities, violence, spreading civil disorder, disabling diagnoses, and even threats from space of asteroids coming close to earth. We are bombarded on every side.

We need more than optimism. Too often optimism is based on fairytales that do not stand up to real life challenges. Optimism many times comes with a heavy dose of denial. I recently read a quote by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks from Celebrating Life:

“It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.”

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

We so easily allow hope to be eroded and Proverbs 13:12a makes clear what that will create:

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”

God repeatedly points to three key antidotes to the challenges of daily life: faith, love, and hope. I don’t think He intends they simply be words we toss about without meaning or understanding. Three of His reminders that are favorites of mine in my arsenal against the daily onslaught include:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV)

Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV)

Have we paused long enough to get the powerful truth the writer of Hebrews is telling us about? Hope is an anchor of the soul!!

Photo by Wallace Chuck from Pexels

I love what John Eldredge says in his book, All Things New, as he describes the difference between faith, hope, and love:

“A life without faith has no meaning; a life without love isn’t worth living; a life without hope is a dark cavern from which you cannot escape.”

John’s words describe so well what can too often be our experience:

“When we lose hope we wander too close to the shadowlands of hell…Hope is the sunlight of the soul; without it, our inner world walks about in shadows. But like a sunrise in the heart, hope sheds light over our view of everything else, casting all things in a new light…

Faith is something that looks backward—we remember the ways God has come through for his people, and for us, and our belief is strengthened that he will come through again. Love is exercised in the present moment; we love in the “now”. Hope is unique; hope looks forward, anticipating the good that is coming. Hope reaches into the future to take hold of something we do not yet have, may not yet even see. Strong hope seizes the future that is not yet; it is the confident expectation of goodness coming to us.”

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

It can be easy during crisis and chaos to think or say, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t see it!”

Perhaps that’s the point. Where are we looking?

If we are looking at the world for human options, it can look shaky and bleak at best. We long for someone to stop the madness and rescue us as we slip down a descending slippery slope. There is only One who can, and He has promised to be there in the midst of all this (whatever it is) with us and to come for us who put faith in Him.

It is in His Word we find the source of truth, the source of faith, the source of love, and the source of hope. And hope is the antidote for what is often ailing us. It is the anchor we need.

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