Monday, December 10, 2007

The Extraordinary Ordinary

How many of you remember your parents’ responses when, as a child, you announced, “I’m bored!”??? You were probably met with at least one of the following: “Boring people are bored,” “I can find work for you,” and, my personal favorite, posted by a teacher, “Looking for fun, run away and join the circus!" I couldn’t help but grin at that one, but as I was wondering lately how my Heavenly Father felt about my failure to see His grace in mundanity, He has caused the seed of Zechariah 4:10 (“For who has despised the day of small things…?”) to begin blossoming in my heart.
For those of us who are fans of speculative fiction, one of the reasons that we read it is because of our attraction to the heroic, even as we live in a world that increasingly has no heroes. But, I’ve been thinking, recently, that perhaps we need to redefine “heroic” in our minds to include the “mundane.”
I realize that this is a blog about speculative fiction & how it relates to our own “story” as Christians, but bear with me for a moment as I dig outside the realm of spec fic a bit to mine a few gems from an underrated classic.
In her little-known book Rose in Bloom, Little Women author Louisa May Alcott deftly tackles our need to redefine “greatness.” In the following passage, the heroine, Rose Campbell, is receiving some sage advice from her uncle Alec in response to her lament that her life, compared to her “accomplished” cousin & friend, is insignificant:

“I know I ought to be contented, but I’m not. My life is very comfortable but so quiet and uneventful I get tired of it, and want to launch out as others have, and do something, or at least try. I’m glad you think it isn’t bad of me, and I’d like to know what my gift is,” said Rose, looking less despondent already.

“The art of living for others so patiently and sweetly that we enjoy it as we do the sunshine, and are not half grateful enough for the great blessing.”

“It is very kind of you to say so, but I think I’d like a little fun and fame, nevertheless,” and Rose did not look as thankful as she ought.

“Very natural, dear; but the fun and the fame do not last; while the memory of a real helper is kept green long after poetry is forgotten and music silent. Can’t you believe that, and be happy?”

And after some consideration and help from Uncle Alec, who remarks on the many unnoticed things Rose does in every-day life, Rose responds joyfully,

“I’ve learned to do without gratitude: now I’ll learn not to care for praise, but to be contented to do my best, and have only God know.”

“He knows, and He rewards in His own good time. I think a quiet life like this often makes itself felt in better ways than one that the world sees and applauds; and some of the noblest are never known till they end, leaving a void in many hearts. Yours may be one of these if you choose to make it so…”

As New York preacher, David Wilkerson put it in a recent message on 1st Samuel 30:21 (where David salutes and honors those who stayed on the home-front as supporters equally with the heroic warriors who went to the front-lines), “…God forbid that you should be agitated in spirit because you don’t believe you’re doing anything important to God’s work. Your prayers, your support…your charitable spirit – all are honoring to God.”

Perhaps one of the most profound echoes of this continuing admonishment not to “despise the day of small things” was something I discovered in the current-release movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (and my readers thought I was never going to get to a speculative fiction analogy in this piece!).
This gem of a film opens with a tale, not so much about Mr. Magorium himself, but about one of his beloved protégés, Molly Mahoney, a young woman who has worked at the Emporium since girlhood.
Mahoney was playing Rachmaninoff at the tender age of eight and thus expected by everyone (including herself) to become a piano virtuoso, eventually writing her own concerto. The problem is that Mahoney could never “seem to find the right notes,” and thus continues at Mr. Magorium’s, working on her frustrated concerto in the evenings after work.
As she tries, in vain, to give the wise Mr. Magorium her two weeks notice, she tells him, “I’m stuck,” to which the child-like Magorium assumes her feet are stuck to his floor. “No,” Mahoney responds, “not to the floor…as a person.”
Later, filled with self-doubts about her ability to continue the beloved Magorium’s tender legacy, and still convinced that “greatness” for her would mean writing that expected concerto and becoming a piano virtuoso, a confused Mahoney asks poignantly, “Do you see a sparkle in me…something reflective of Something bigger trying to get out…?”
And I think that’s a question that so many of us are asking deep down inside and desperately wanting – no – needing to know the answer to.
In “reality,” I’m no swashbuckling “hero,” I have no outstanding talents lending to fame and fortune and at the end of my “ordinary” day I need to know that I really matter.
Well, the Bible says that we do. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that we are “…God’s workmanship, created for good works in Christ…” The Greek word here for “workmanship” is poema…we are God’s poem, His masterpiece, His concerto. Not that we may necessarily ever write an epic poem or paint a masterpiece or compose a concerto…we are these things!
So many of us are missing the beauty of the every day miracles all around us – in, and yes, even because of the mundanity – because we are waiting for life to finally “start” and our definition of “start” is when we finally do and are recognized for some “great” thing.
And all the while, the One whose first advent on a cold starry night in an animal feeding trough in Bethlehem was the epitome of a “small thing” and “mundane,” wants us to realize that we ARE that great thing!
At the end of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Mahoney, in a visually stunning scene, finally realizes what Magorium saw in her all along…she was never meant to write that elusive concerto, but to blossom right where she was, as the manager of the Emporium, and as Mahoney sees this, we hear the music notes of her coming from her and touching everything in the store, bringing it to life. She was the concerto, all along!
In The Message translation, Romans 12:1 says, “Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.”
As we celebrate this season of Immanuel, God-with-us, let’s be careful not to “despise the day of small things,” but to see His wonder in the extraordinary ordinary all around us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A "Cuppa" with Lady Bronwyn

Recently I was at a local bookstore/coffee shop with my friend Wendy, enjoying a “cuppa” of my favorite beverage and as I savored my tea, the spicy/sweet aroma of Wendy’s Earl Grey White wafting across the small table to mingle with my subtler Lemongrass Green, the inevitable happened – great tea and great company led to a great conversation!
Wendy (aka “Bronwyn”) is active with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an historical reenactment group which recreates pre-17th century Western European history and culture, and she and I began to discuss the term chivalry.
I was musing as to why our society (particularly Christians) no longer seems to place any value on Story or having noble dreams, dismissing these things as “childish” and “impractical,” when Wendy shared that some members of the SCA even see it as a sort of calling to visit local schools and social groups in costume and talk about some of the more positive aspects of a knight’s code, such as chivalry, integrity and honor. As we pondered why these traits are so sadly lacking today, even within the church, our conversation drifted to one of our favorite “fantasy” books for some answers.
This book has everything a fan of the speculative fiction genre (and all of its sub-genres, such as fantasy, science fiction, adventure, etc.) could ever ask for – and more! There are dragons, sword fights and political intrigue. You want a good love story with a beautiful princess in need of a rescue, a glorious prince, who often disguises himself as a “commoner,” to walk freely among his subjects? It’s in here! Betrayal, good vs. evil, redemption and victory are all key elements to this masterpiece – it contains every element of our favorite stories, the types of stories that stir our hearts to noble dreams and heroic deeds – only there is one difference in this story…it is the One True Story.
With a book like this as our unshakeable core, why are most of us so weary on this journey through life, living colorlessly surrounded by the ashes of forgotten childhood dreams and touched by a vague sense that we should be “witnessing,” when, if we are honest, sharing our faith feels too much like trying to sell to others a vacation package to a destination we’ve never even been to?
In his marvelous book, The Divine Drama, Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre director, Kurt Bruner, shares a few thoughts from his own “walk through the fog”:

Like many who profess Christianity, I had done so without understanding exactly how my own life fit within the glorious story of God. I had learned to read the Bible as a collection of lessons and truths rather than the script of an epic drama that has been unfolding since before the dawn of time. I had failed to see history as more than a series of disconnected, random events or my life as part of anything bigger than my own routine.

Could it be that we lack enthusiasm in our faith and color in our lives because we’ve lost the child-like purity of the ability to dream big dreams? Dismissing those things as “childish” and telling ourselves that it’s “time to grow up now,” we settle for the lie that “it’s too late for that to happen,” stuffing our broken dreams into a “junk” drawer somewhere – never quite able to throw them out, but making certain that they are forgotten and hidden away. Would dusting those God-given desires off and holding them up to the Light really be “living in a fantasy world?” Or might it just lead to a re-exploration of what chivalry would look like in our own lives? Renowned fantasy author, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”
Kurt Bruner once again expounds brilliantly on that thought and I want to leave us with this question lingering in our hearts and hopefully, echoing in our souls:

What if, rather than trying to escape reality, our spirits are trying to connect with it? What if good stories are good not because they distract our troubled hearts but because they affirm our deepest aspirations? What if the dramatic themes we love are actually reflections of a true, yet transcendent, story being told on the stage of life? What if there really is a brave hero fighting the forces of evil in order to save the world from destruction? What if there really is a handsome prince in pursuit of his princess, trying to free her from the evil clutches of a seductive villain? What if, just when all seems lost, the hero actually will break free and save the day? What if “Once upon a time” is truly progressing toward an eventual “happily ever after”? How would your own story change if you knew the plot of the larger Story within which it is being told?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Opening Thoughts from a Burgeoning Insomniac & Beginning Blogger

It's 11:30 pm and after a steady diet of prodding (ranging from subtle encouragement to downright weekly nagging, "why aren't you writing?") from loving friends & family members, I decided to digest all the advice, take a mental Pepcid and plunge right into the whole blogging thingy!

The title of my blog comes from a beautiful portion of The Horse and His Boy, one of the classics in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. After a series of dramatic (& often, traumatic) events, Shasta (the "boy" from the aforementioned title) is on a regular, non-Narnian horse, attempting to navigate a physical mist while also invited by an unseen traveling companion to explore the fog that has surrounded the events of his life, thus far:

...The mist was turning from black to gray and from gray to white...Now the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he could hear birds singing. He knew the night was over at last....a golden light fell...from the left. He thought it was the sun.
He turned and saw, pacing beside him...a Lion...It was from the Lion that the light came.
...Shasta...knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion's face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn't say anything but then he didn't want to say anything, and he knew he needn't say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped toward him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all round him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with the horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.

So much of life on this Christian journey is like that, isn't it? We are walking through the mist and the darkness, alone (or so we think), and gradually we become aware of the soft, nearly-silent footfalls of the Son of God trodding the path beside us. He needn't explain Himself and the mist doesn't always lift immediately to reveal the blue sky and the songbirds, but it is enough that He is present.

What I'd like to do in this blog, more than anything, is share my love of speculative fiction, especially as it relates to the oft-mysterious paths our Christian journeys can take us through, to tell stories that echo deeply the One True Story.