Magic in Children’s Literature

Phenomenal quote from N.D. Wilson about the role of magic children’s literature. For some background, Phillip Pullman is the chap who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy (the first of which was made into a movie–The Golden Compass). Pullman calls his fantasy series the anti-Narnia. And N.D. Wilson recently released the third installment (The Chestnut King) of his 100 Cupboards trilogy. Dandelion Fire is the middle book.

Here’s the quote, in an interview from two years ago:

I consider the appropriate role of magic in kid lit to be the same as the appropriate role of magic in reality—though it will look different. This is, after all, an extraordinarily magical place. Sunlight makes trees out of thin air (literally), tadpoles turn into frogs, human love turns into children, and you can trick the air into lifting an enormous steel bus full of people up to thirty thousand feet if you know how to curve a wing and harness explosions. And it’s not all cheerful, happy, kittens-in-baskets magic either.

What happens if one of our wizards splits an atom? I think magic in children’s books is at its best when it wakes kids up to the mind-blowing magic all around us—when it overcomes the numbness of modernity and makes them watch an ant war on the sidewalk with all the wonder it deserves. Ironically, Christians, who profess outright to believe in magic (what else is water into wine, resurrection from the dead, calming storms, etc?) are the most upset when you put it into a book, while authors like Pullman (a materialistic atheist who believes reality to be all mechanism as far as I can tell) works with it comfortably and well. It really should be the other way around.

Hat tip to Justin Taylor for that.

While we’re on the subject of children’s lit, here’s a passage I read recently from Gene Edward Veith’s Reading Between the Lines about children’s response to reading “Hansel and Gretel”:

Here is a tale of abandonement, cannibalism, and burning people. Is such horrifying material, worthy of an R-rating on the screen, appropriate for children? Bettleheim [a child psycologist] and the experience of generations of parents and children say yes. Somehow, the fantasy framework and the charmed atmosphere of fiary tales prevent most children from actually being afraid. Experience shows that the “scary” elements are part of what children love most in these tales, which they enjoy far more than the socially correct, innocuous realism of much modern children’s literature…What could be more terrifying to children than the thought that their parents on whom they are totally dependent can no longer provide for them? And yet, Bettelheim points out, these children do worry about such things. In fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” their most secret fears are acknowledged,  respected, and resolved into a happy ending.

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In Remembrance

Exactly one year ago, I was in Israel starting my stretching, trying, informing, edifying and ultimately life-changing semester. I choose the word “life-changing” carefully. I was skeptical of the term then, but the working of the Holy Spirit in my heart over the last year is a testimony to the power of the land–or better put, a testimony to the Lord the land proclaims. I’m pulling a post off my old Israel blog (which has long been abandoned, but if you would like to read it, click here) and posting it on this one. I wrote this piece just a couple days before I came home. It was three in the morning and I was nostalgic (in a good way, though). But some thoughts are profound, especially reading them almost a year later. Reading through it, I was tempted to change things, but I decided that would be unwise. Don’t mess with the work of a young, less-experienced writer after the fact, especially if that writer is yourself. The post, titled Old Experiences In Light of New Ones, is below.

Plus, picture! “Solomon’s Pillars” in the Negev, even though they have nothing to do with Solomon. They just name things after David and Solomon just to make them sound legit (see: “Solomon’s Stables,” “David’s Tower,” Solomon’s Pizza,” etc.)

Well everyone, there isn’t much to say other than the semester is almost over and I’m still trying to keep myself from forgetting everything I’ve learned. Such a thing can only end in failure, especially for me. I guess it’s not completely over yet, but as I take my last final tomorrow and allow God to put the finishing touches on this semester, I can’t help but think about how fast everything went. I can’t help but remember how much I’ve learned about Jesus and how much Jesus has shown me about what he demands from the world, and from me.

I realize that some things can’t be described in a short piece of writing, and even fewer things can be described in a blog post written at three in the morning. Still, I think it’s important for me to meditate a little bit on the end. Not necessarily just the ending to this semester, but endings in general, any ending in the history of endings. Most people’s opinions about the end change dramatically the closer they get to it. Usually, when one experiences something stretching and often uncomfortable (like, say, studying in Israel for four months with fourty people they have never met before when they’re a homebody from the American Midwest and have never been to another country other than Canada and have this peculiar problem making friends in a short period of time), they generally look forward to the end as some kind of pressure relief, a chance to snuggle back into what feels good. They see proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, and though it may be far off, it’s there, and they can see it, wish for it, hope for it, dream about it. They can imagine what it’s like to leave the dark, damp shaft and walk back into the comfortable and face-warming sunshine.

Please excuse my platutudes in this post; I know I’m rehashing (ha! another cliche) material that has been used ad nauseum (cliche) by other writers (passive voice) for years (cliche). But after studying a lot of random information about Jewish religion/culture/literature and battles and kings and dynasties of the history of Ancient Israel, and then written papers and essays about said topics, my creative well has not received rain in a couple weeks. My writing suffers after such a period. I wouldn’t be surprised if I totally lost my sense of humor soon (assuming I even had one to begin with). Nevertheless, the point remains. People outside the society that they have grown accustomed to long for when they can return to that society. If they realize they can’t return (or worse, don’t want to), they generally go insane and personify exactly what it means to be depraved (Lord of the Flies, if you missed the allusion). But, that is not the case with me. I knew I would eventually return to America, and I have looked forward to that event for a while.

But a strange thing happens next. Just as this person gets close to the light, they realize that it’s different than they remember. No that’s not it, they think. It’s the same light. The same people, the same places, the same home, the same everything. But something is still different. That’s when they realize that they are the thing that is different. Walking through the tunnel did something to them, changed them in some way. Whether it’s for the better or not is irrelevant, and it can’t be determined then anyway. But they are different. And they’ve found that this tunnel has become a new kind of comfort zone, they’ve gotten used to the damp darkness. They’ve become comfortable in the uncomfortable. And this happens to the point when going back to what is comfortable is a different, new, even uncomfortable experience. The tunnel ain’t so bad after all, or maybe that light outside isn’t quite as warm and welcoming as it seemed in my head. That’s when a two-fold problem arises.

At various times in my brief and wondrous life, I’ve thought about writing a story about a high school kid who is mature enough to get what he wants but naive enough to not know exactly what that is. I always imagined him dating a girl for a while. She’s a nice girl, not alarmingly gorgeous or anything, but simple and classy and smart. She’s too good for him, to be honest, but like every generally thoughtless person who has something good, he takes her for granted. I always thought he eventually got bored with her and moved on to the enchanting, smoking hot, even a little promiscuous cheerleader girl (no offense to cheerleaders, this is just what was in my head). Now I know that he moved on to the second, prettier girl because he wanted to try something new, to go for something quite different. But after awhile, he realizes that she isn’t really any better than what he had before. In fact, she is a little worse. But he doesn’t want to go back to the first girl, but he doesn’t really know why. It could be that he doesn’t want to embarrass himself, but it could also be that he doesn’t want to embarrass her. Furthermore, his tastes in girls has changed significantly. But, at the least, he knows that he’s had enough of the edgy girl. So now he’s stuck with no girl, and he can’t figure out whether that’s because he likes both girls or because he doesn’t like either.

You can now see why I’ve never written such a story. But, like Chesterton’s English yactsman, I guess I can use it for the sake of illustration. Our friend in the high school dilemma is in the same position as the man at the end of the tunnel. They are both at the end of something different, and they want/don’t want to enter the thing that is old. They are both afraid that something will be lost from either, maybe something good from the first experience, maybe a lesson from the second. Either way, there is great ambivalence in both. They don’t know what to do.

One lesson I’ve learned in Israel is that things are never as good as they seem nor are they as bad as they seem. Being in Israel seemed like it would be the experience of a lifetime (which it was, but in a different way), and that I would squeeze every moment out of my time here and be perefectly content in the end. Of course that was fantasy. When I was here for a month, all I wanted was to be home with my family, where everything is comfortable and things are predictable and expected. I don’t have to be flexible, I don’t have to adjust. Everything is as I like, or want to like. But of course, I was missing out on what truly was a great experience here. By the grace of God, this attitude didn’t last long, and officially died in my Apathy post about a month ago (though it was in its final stages well before that). But nothing has been quite at the extreme I expected. The only thing that truly exceeded all extremes I could think of was my brief time with my parents, which is honestly already one of the most treasured experiences of my life. That was the one thing that actually was as good as it seemed. But the rest of the time is marked by a longing for the future and a dissatisfaction with the present. I actually realized this while watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda is rebuking Luke, and telling him how he has no patience. “Never his mind on where he was,” Yoda says to Obi-Wan’s spirit, “what he was doing. Hmpf.” This really convicted me, actually. We should definitely show Star Wars clips on a regular basis. There is inspiration in these words.

The two-fold problem I mentioned earlier is this wood between the worlds, where one doesn’t feel comfortble where he is because he wants to go home, but doesn’t feel completely comfortable at home because of how he has changed where he is. It’s the pimply-faced kid without a girlfriend. How does he go back to the society he is comfortable in when he no longer feels comfortable in the comfortable? Or, God forbid, that he goes back to his old, comfortable ways, before he moved into the tunnel. It’s a Catch-22 of the highest degree.

If you haven’t realized it by now, I am the man. Here I am, at the end of the tunnel. What do I do? How do I return home? Should I be myself? What does that mean? How have I changed? For the better? What if I’ve changed for the worse? Then what? Then what, smarty-pants?

Well. It’s now four in the morning. I’m writing this in an e-mail room and I’m getting angsty because I’m already getting worried about the “real world”, things like dorm situations next fall and things like that. This whole essay is like an Ernest Hemingway short story. The point is there is no point. Sorry to ruin it for those of you who read it all. There are no answers, at least none that we can see. This is like the greatest parables of Jesus, the ones that have no endings like the Prodigal Son. The ending is not told, but lived out instead. Real life is the ending. The same is for this post. When I return home, how I act is how this essay is answered. Perhaps I haven’t changed at all (that’s always hard for the person who think’s they’ve changed to gauge). Maybe I’m the same old Andrew Smith who will talk about sports and be sarcastic and make stupid puns and talk about reading and like to annoy people just to see their responses. Maybe none of that will change. It probably won’t. But hopefully something changed. Hopefully, I don’t come back the same Christian that I was when I left. Hopefully, I have a greater impact on those around me for Christ. Hopefully, I am more than a friend, but a brother. I know this is cliche. Ending posts with Christianese is not only safe, it’s almost required. That’s why I don’t like doing it. But my admission will hopefully underscore its necessity all the more. Some things are more important than good endings in essays or literary allusions. This is one of them. The primacy of the gospel and the kingdom of God. This is what is really important. Hopefully, that’s what’s changed the most: that I actually live that and don’t just write it. Then it won’t really matter whether I always feel comfortable (BTW, of course I’ll feel comfortable when I’m home), or whether I’ve really changed. It just won’t matter.

Why So Many Abortion Workers Are Turning Pro-Life

Moving, powerful, graphic article from David Daleiden and Jon Shields of the Weekly Standard. The piece describes in some uncomfortable yet necessary detail why many abortion workers are changing sides. Here’s an excerpt:

In general, abortion providers have censored their own emotional trauma out of concern to protect abortion rights. In 2008, however, abortionist Lisa Harris endeavored to begin “breaking the silence” in the pages of the journal Reproductive Health Matters. When she herself was 18 weeks pregnant, Dr. Harris performed a D&E [edit: as in “Dilation and Evacuation”; read about it here] abortion on an 18-week-old fetus. Harris felt her own child kick precisely at the moment that she ripped a fetal leg off with her forceps:

“Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes—without me—meaning my conscious brain—even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling—a brutally visceral response—heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.”

Harris concluded her piece by lamenting that the pro-choice movement has left providers to suffer in silence because it has “not owned up to the reality of the fetus, or the reality of fetal parts.” Indeed, it often insists that images used by the pro-life movement are faked.

Incredibly, Dr. Harris is still pro-choice.

Again, read the article here. It’s worth a careful read.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Morning Press Is Watching the Olympics

Winter Games. If you’re like me, you are pretty jazzed about the Winter Olympics in a couple weeks. Not totally sure why they’re so interesting to me. It probably has a great deal to do with the family I grew up in (the Olympics are always on, even curling…perhaps especially curling, actually). NBC is going to lose money on the Games, probably because they willspare no expense to present them to Americans. With the addition of NBC Universal, the network will have aired 835 hours of action, which is of course the most ever for a Winter Olympiad. According to a news story from Mediaweek, these Olympics will feature more programming than the 2002 Salt Lake and 2006 Torino Games combined. So you will now have every opportunity to watch the Austrailia/Mexico Curling match.

True Myth and Doctrine. Perhaps you are familiar with the idea of “true myth.” If you aren’t, it was a method J.R.R Tolkien used to convince his good friend C.S. Lewis–a literary critic– of the essential truth of the Christian gospel. Lewis said doctrines we get out of the true myth are less true than the story itself. Is this legitimate? John Piper provides some goodthoughts, drawing a distinction between what the Bible teaches and what it includes. God’s people are people of the Word, and the proclamation of the events of the “true myth” is as important as the events themselves. Read it here.

Driscoll in Haiti. If you don’t know me, I come from a Reformed evangelical conviction about salvation (read: Calvinism), so I’m all over evangelical pastors who are likewise Calvinistic in their soteriology (theology of salvation). Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church is one of those guys. He has an effective, biblical ministry in Seattle, and he’s a powerful (and often controversial), in-your-face preaching style. After the tragedy in Haiti, he came together with James McDonald of Harvest Bible Church in Chicago and flew into Haiti a few days ago to work with an evangelical church in the middle of the Port-au-Prince mess.

If you haven’t seen his tweets from during the trip, you need to check them out. Some examples:

Landed in hell but doing well. The soldiers first words off the plane were u will now see a crisis of biblical proportions.8:34 AM Jan 18th from HootSuite

Just saw ruins of largest evangelical church in PaP. Pastor is in his 60s many of his people are dead & his radio station no longer exists.1:50 PM Jan 18th from HootSuite

Just prayed for a 24 yr old xn man digging the body of his 26 yr old brothers body from a rubble heap – he was the worship leader.2:25 PM Jan 18th from HootSuite

Haitians are literally walking around stunned, not crying and just shell shocked.4:05 AM Jan 19th from HootSuite

Pray for this pastor. He just got back from his wifes funeral. He was teaching bible college when the earthquake… http://bit.ly/8nvi4g6:23 AM Jan 19th from Facebook

And a particularly haunting status from Facebook:

Mark Driscoll If u want a phone, cigarettes or a teenage girl you can get them here in Port au Prince. Like the American who said he’s on a relief mission and bought a hungry girl despite our confrontation. Tue at 1:29pm

The suffering is unreal. Here’s an article from USA Today about the Driscoll trip and sex trafficking.

Dug Down Deep. Pretty excited about this book. Josh Harris (of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame) is now the lead pastor of C.J. Maheney’s Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.Dug Down Deep is a book about sound doctrine, and how every Christian can benefit from deep-rooted theology.

Praise for the book is kind of a list of the who’s who of American evangelicalism. Here’s a part:

“More than forty years of quadriplegia has underscored to me the matchless value of knowing—really knowing—the doctrines of the Christian faith. Dug Down Deep reveals how biblical doctrine provides a pathway to understanding the heart and mind of God. If you’re looking for ‘that one book’ that will push you farther down the road to faith than you’ve ever journeyed before, Dug Down Deep is it. I highly recommend it!”
—Joni Eareckson Tada, author; founder and CEO, International Disability Center, Agoura Hills, CA

“In Dug Down Deep my longtime friend Joshua Harris explains the basics of Christian theology in a way all of us can understand. He is a humble man and teaches humbly. If you are tired of hyped promises and want essential truth, this book is for you. As religious fads come and go, the truths in this book will last.”
—Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz

“When the apostle Peter says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…casting all your anxiety on Him,” he implies that humble people are fearless. They have the courage to stand up for truth humbly. I love the term “humble orthodoxy.” And I love Josh Harris. When they come together (Josh and humble orthodoxy), as they do in this book, you get a humble, helpful, courageous testimony to biblical truth. Thank you, Josh, for following through so well on the conversation in Al Mohler’s study.”
—John Piper, author of Desiring God; Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis

“Via vivid autobiography, Pastor Harris takes readers on a personal journey into the biblical theology that, belatedly, he found he could not manage without. A humbling, compelling, invigorating read.”
—J. I. Packer, author of Knowing God

Other reviews are written by Mark Dever, Lecrae, his brothers Alex and Brett Harris, and others. Tim Challies has a review up already over on his blog.

Piper. Loved the typography in the last post. Here’s another, with political implications, too.

Morning Press Prays For Haiti

NOTE: For starters, this probably isn’t going to be a daily thing. That would be awesome, but we’ll have to see how it goes. This is called “Morning Press” for three reasons: one, I’m condensing (read: pressing) some notable things I’ve read on the blogosphere in the past 24 hours into one blog post; two, I’m writing on my word WordPress account (obvs.); three, I’m drinking coffee from my morning French Press.

Haiti. I’m sure you’ve heard about the suffering in Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake left the poverty-stricken country pleading for international help. The global response has been quick and encouraging, as countries from the United Kingdom to Taiwan have sent emergency teams to the Carribean country.

If you’re looking for ministries to give to, below are some options:

  1. Compassion International
  2. Feed My Starving Children
  3. Food for the Hungry
  4. World Vision
  5. World Relief
  6. Samaritan’s Purse
  7. Love a Child
  8. Northwest Haiti Christian Mission
  9. Compassion Weavers
  10. Mennonite Central Committee
  11. Water Missions International

John Piper composed a poem about Jesus in Haiti. Though obviously a strong expository preacher, Piper majored in literature at Wheaton College and is also a talented poet. Read the whole piece here. A brief, powerful excerpt, written as if spoken by Christ:

O, I am struck! And crushed. Buried, I wince,
And dying, pray,
A sympathetic Priest in Port-au-Prince,
Even today.

Implications of Grace. Tim Challies is currently working through John Murray’s classic Redemption Accomplished and Applied over at his blog. Challies points out that, yes, we have received a measure of grace for forgiveness and redemption from sin, but we sometimes forget about the implications of that grace.

Have you ever stopped to consider what a gift this is? Do you understand that you are now able to defeat sin? The same power that saved you is now available for you to put sin to death, not just suppressing it or hiding it or masking it, but rooting it out, destroying it, killing it. What an amazing thing God has done. I am no longer a slave to sin but am now a slave to Christ.

Read the whole post here.

Through his propitiatory sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus Christ defeated the power of Satan at its very source. Satan’s only foothold is sin, and that’s precisely what Jesus destroyed. Consider Colossians 2:15.  How does God disarm the rulers and authorities? By triumphing over them in Christ–or in particular, the cross.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie Avatar, but it’s as if God the Father attacked Satan and his demons at their home tree. He hit ’em where it hurts the most, so to speak. Satan no longer has the power he once did, because Christ has disarmed him of his best weapon: sin. We can have victory, because Jesus had victory.

Social Justice. Finally, some great thoughts from Kevin DeYoung about being careful how we use the term “social justice.” It reminds me that we often use euphemistic words (like “pro-choice” or even “collateral damage”) that imply only the good of a particular view. It’s almost like these words try to guilt us into agreeing with the people who employ them. Read the post.

The New Evangelical Scandal

I’m currently reading Mark Noll’s phenomenal book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His thesis is his first line: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Though this is true, Carl Trueman (professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary) suggests that in Christian scholarship, the problem is not with the use of the mind. Instead, he says, too many evangelical scholars focus on being “scholars” rather than “evangelical.”

A quote:

…there would seem to be a pervasive evangelical inferiority complex. This means that, while we do not wish to exclude anybody, we dread being excluded ourselves. Indeed, for the evangelical academic, in a world so ill-defined, it is always tempting to cut just a few more corners, or keep shtum on just a couple of rather embarrassing doctrinal commitments, in order to have just that little bit more influence, that slightly bigger platform, in the outside world. This is particularly the temptation of evangelical biblical scholars and systematicians whose wider guilds are so utterly unsympathetic to the kind of supernaturalism and old-fashioned truth claims upon which their church constituencies are largely built. In so doing, we kid ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work, that, somehow, because we have articles published in this journal or by that press, we are really making real headway into the unbelieving culture of the theological academy. Not that these things are not good and worthy—I do such things myself—but we must be careful that we do not confuse professional academic achievement with building up the saints or scoring a point for the kingdom.

And a note on true Christian ambition:

Finally, too few evangelical academics seem to have much ambition. Perhaps this sounds strange: the desire to hold a tenured university position, to publish with certain presses, to speak at certain scholarly conferences, to be in conversation with the movers and shakers of the guild—these seem like ambitions that are all too common. Yet true ambition, trueChristian ambition, is surely based in and directed towards the upbuilding of the church, towards serving the people of God, and this is where evangelical academics often fail so signally. The impact evangelical scholars have had on the academy is, by and large, paltry, and often (as noted) confined to those areas where their contributions have been negligibly evangelical. Had the same time and energy been devoted to the building up of the saints, imagine how the church might have been transformed.

Again, read the post here. I’m not sure Mark Noll is necessarily wrong in his challenge to the evangelical mind. But there are two different kinds of evangelicals. I think Noll refers mainly to the non-scholars of evangelicalism (and specifically, fundamentalism), who value “just loving Jesus” (as valuable as that is) more than knowing him deeply and precisely. Trueman, however, ably illustrates the danger of being scholarly rather than being Christ-like.