Bree and Hwin: It’s Not About you!

As we remember C.S. Lewis fifty years after his death, I post a mild rewrite of the third in my 2006 Lent series on characters from the Narnia stories, and what they can teach us about following Jesus. Again, I thank John Bowen of Wycliffe College, whose book ‘The Spirituality of Narnia‘ I was privileged to read in draft form when I was preparing these sermons.

Today I want to tell you a story about two horses.

Over the past few days we’ve been taking as our spiritual guide C.S. Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ stories for children – and for childlike adults as well. Although these stories were not written as textbooks about following Jesus, I believe that they are full of insight into what it means to be Christian disciples. Each week we’re taking one or more characters from the Narnia books and asking ‘What do these characters have to teach us about following Jesus?’ We began with Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure from Narnia; we learned that he is not a tame lion and he’s definitely not safe, but he’s good. Aslan shows us what Jesus is like and teaches us to approach him with absolute confidence in his love for us, but also in absolute obedience to his authority. Then we moved on to think about Eustace Scrubb, a boy who became a dragon because of his selfishness and greed, and could only be changed back into a boy by the power of Aslan. Eustace taught us that only the power of Christ can transform us into the people God wants us to be.

Today our characters are two talking horses from the book The Horse and His Boy. Their 017996-FC222names are ‘Bree’ and ‘Hwin’. Hwin is a gentle mare, and Bree is a proud and fierce war horse; his full name is actually ‘Breehy-Hinny-Hooey-Hah’ but we won’t mention that again! The title of the book, The Horse and His Boy, comes from something Bree says in the story; he points out that in Narnia talking horses are free and are not slaves of humans, so he’s not Shasta’s horse; you might just as well say that Shasta is ‘his’ boy.

The Horse and His Boy opens in Calormen, a huge land south of Narnia; there we meet Shasta, the adopted son of a poor fisherman. One night a great Tarkaan, or noble lord, demands to spend the night at their house, and later in the evening Shasta overhears him talking with the fisherman about how much he will pay to buy the boy as a slave.

That same night Shasta discovers by accident that the Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, is a talking horse – something completely unknown in Calormen, although of course it is common up north in Narnia. The two of them decide to escape together to Narnia and freedom. When they have been on their way for a few days, they are pursued by hunting lions and are forced into the company of another talking horse the mare Hwin, and her rider, a young and proud daughter of a Lord, the Tarkheena Aravis. The book then goes on to tell of the adventures that the two horses and the two children have together on their way to Narnia.

Bree explains that he was stolen from the land of Narnia while he was a foal, and has lived in Calormen for years, as he says, ‘hiding my true nature and pretending to be dumb and witless like their horses’. Along the way he has become very proud of himself. He is often concerned about how he appears to others, and even though he wants to get back to Narnia, he has worries about it, too; he worries that, having been away for so long, he might not know the proper protocol. For instance, one of the things Bree really loves in getting down on his back and having a good roll. The boy Shasta sees him doing it one day and bursts out laughing. Immediately Bree gets worried:

“You don’t think, do you,” said Bree, “that it might be a thing talking horses never do—a silly, clownish trick I’ve learned from the dumb ones? It would be dreadful to find, when I get back to Narnia, that I’ve picked up a lot of low, bad habits.”

A little later on the journey the horses and their humans have to go through the huge city of Tashbaan. They are worried that it will be obvious to everyone who looks at them that the horses have come from rich houses, and everyone will see Shasta and Aravis as horse thieves. So they decide that the horses will have to be made muddy and bedraggled, and their tails will have to be cut short and ragged. When he hears about this plan, Bree objects strenuously:

“My dear madam,” said Bree. “Have you pictured to yourself how very disagreeable it would be to arrive in Narnia in that condition?”

“Well,” said Hwin humbly (she was a very sensible mare), “the main thing is to get there.”

For Bree, arriving in Narnia in a bedraggled condition would be ‘disagreeable’ – it would give a bad first impression, and he wants to be seen by everyone as the fine stallion he believes he is. Hwin, in contrast, speaks humbly: to be humble, for C.S. Lewis, is to be sensible and to have a realistic view of yourself.

Now, when I read these stories about Bree, they show me some very unwelcome truths about myself. I realize that in many ways I’m like him. I wish I wasn’t, but in fact I am. I’d like to be able to say, “I don’t really care what other people think of me”, but in fact I notice that I care a great deal. I notice that there are many times – more times than I care to remember – when I do things or say things or wear things or join things, not because I like them or because I think they are what God wants for me, but because I think they’ll make a good impression on other people. People will be impressed, I hope, and if they give me the right amount of respect and attention, I’ll be able to feel that I’m somebody after all. Perhaps I’m the only one who does this, but I suspect not. I suspect we’ve all done it from time to time.

In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul says: ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’. Bree’s pride takes the form of ‘conceit’, but there’s another proud character in The Horse and His Boy – the Tarkheena Aravis, the young noblewoman who is escaping to Narnia with the horse Hwin in order to get away from a forced marriage. Aravis’ pride takes the form of looking to her own interests and forgetting the interests of others – especially those who are of a lower social class than her. For instance, she tells of how, when she was escaping from her home, she drugged her stepmother’s maidservant so that she would not prevent her escape. Shasta asks what happened to the maidservant.

“Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late,” said Aravis coolly. “But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother’s. I am very glad they should beat her.”

Aravis sees her maidservant as inferior and doesn’t care about her suffering; she’s just a tool. But to Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure in the Narnia stories, this incident is very important. Later in the story he pursues Aravis and strikes her across the back with his claws. When he explains to her why this happened, this is what he says:

‘The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like’.

Bree needs to learn not to think of himself as better than others; Aravis needs to learn to think of others and not just herself. We’ve seen how Aravis learns her lesson; Bree’s lesson is interesting, too. He likes to come across as a big brave stallion, but there’s one chink in his armour; he’s terrified of lions. We first see this the night he and Shasta meet Hwin and Aravis. They hear the roar of a lion, and Bree runs in terror. Later on he says to Shasta:

“Shasta, I’m ashamed of myself. I’m just as frightened as a common, dumb Calormene horse… I don’t feel like a talking horse at all. I don’t mind swords and lances and arrows but I can’t bear – those creatures”.

But Bree isn’t really brought face to face with the truth about himself until we get toward the end of the story. The children and the horses are approaching the land of Narnia, just ahead of Prince Rabadash who is bringing an invading army. A lion pursues them – it later turns out to be Aslan, who wants to give them the extra speed of fear so that they can warn people in time about the invaders. The lion leaps at Aravis; Bree runs away in terror, and it is little Shasta who jumps off and runs back to help Aravis. The lion runs away, and the four of them all reach safety in the home of a Hermit, but the experience has been a revelation for them all. Bree finally sees the truth about himself, and later he says to the Hermit:

“I who called myself a war-horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!”

Proud Bree finds this truth devastating; he feels he has lost everything, and he talks of going back to Calormen. But the Hermit of the Southern March is a wise man, and he sees the reality of the situation. He says to Bree:

“My good horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. . . . If you are really as humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses”.

Bree’s problem has been that he thinks he’s more than he really is; he believed a lie about himself, and now he’s been forced to accept the truth. The truth isn’t that he’s a bad horse; it’s just that he’s not quite the star of the show he had believed he was. Humility means accepting the truth about ourselves: that, like every other person in this fallen world, we are a combination of strengths and weaknesses, no more or less important than anyone else.

A moment ago I referred to two verses from Philippians chapter two. In many ways, the story of The Horse and His Boy could be a commentary on this chapter. Let me refer you to the first five verses:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)

Bree, as we’ve seen, needs to learn the truth of verse 3: he acts out of conceit and sees himself as better than others. And yet, we also get the sense that there’s a basic insecurity in him too; he’s always wondering what others think of him and is terrified that they might not think well of him. It’s my observation that many people who come across as proud and arrogant actually have a deep insecurity inside; they want others to look up to them because they have an inner need for attention and strokes.

Aravis, on the other hand, needs to learn the truth of verse 4: she grew up thinking only of her own interests and not the interests of others – especially those of a lower social class than her. She doesn’t worry about her maid’s sufferings; all she cares about is getting away. She’s not being intentionally malicious; this is the way she’s learned to think, and she needs to be trained to see others as equally important and significant as her.

The solution to both these forms of pride is in the rest of the passage:

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who had the highest claim on a position of respect and importance. And yet he humbled himself, became one of us human beings, and went so far as to die on the Cross for us. Can you ever imagine Jesus asking the question, “Is anyone noticing me?” Jesus didn’t need to ask that question. At his baptism he had heard the voice of his Father in heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Once he knew that truth about himself, it didn’t matter whether people noticed him or not.

This is the secret of true humility: coming to believe the truth about yourself as God sees you. The truth is that all of us are children in the Father’s family, and each of us is no more important, and no less important, than any of God’s other children. The important thing is not that the other children admire you; the important thing, rather, is that the Father loves you. And once you believe that, you can put your mental mirrors away, and stop worrying about how you look and what sort of impression you’re making on others. Instead of looking to others to bolster our low self-esteem, we can concentrate on loving them, because God loves them, and we are the children of God, and it’s in the nature of the children of God to imitate what their Father is doing.

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Eustace Clarence Scrubb: Changed by the Power of Aslan

As we remember C.S. Lewis fifty years after his death – and today, which would have 001862ba95bf951f_largebeen his 115th birthday – I post the second in my 2006 Lent series on characters from the Narnia stories and what they can teach us about following Jesus.

Please note that this sermon is based on the book, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, not the movie!

C.S. Lewis begins his Narnia story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with these words: ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb – and he almost deserved it’. What follows is a wonderful story that works on at least two levels. On the surface, we have a classic tale about a sea voyage and the adventures the sailors go through along the way. On a deeper level, though, we have a story about the transformation of Eustace Clarence Scrubb from a thoroughly self-centred and unpleasant character into a person who is learning to think of others and to have a more realistic view of himself. And this transformation is accomplished through the power of Aslan the Lion.

This is a very important theme for us as we continue our journey through Lent.  We’ve been taking as our guide C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories for children and childlike adults. Last week we thought about the character of Aslan the Lion. We discovered that he’s definitely not a tame lion, and neither is he safe: “Course he isn’t safe!” Mr. Beaver exclaimed, “But he’s good!” Aslan helps us to understand our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loves us with a love that is absolute and uncompromising, a love that isn’t just about being nice to us but about telling us the truth about ourselves and helping us to be more than we are, even when growth is hard and unpleasant. We approach this Jesus, we said, with absolute confidence in his love for us, but also in absolute obedience to his authority.

But this week we’re going to have to grapple with the subject of change, and how change takes place. We’re going to have to look at the reality of sin, and how sin has a literally monstrous effect on us. We’re going to have to look at how hard it is for us to change: in the end, unless we have the help of Christ, change isn’t going to happen. And we’re going to look at some of the effects of that change when it finally comes about.

UnknownSo – back to Eustace. Eustace is the cousin of the four Pevensie children we met last week, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is chronologically the fifth of the seven Narnia stories, and Edmund and Lucy by this time have a lot of experience with Narnia. Now, however, they are back in our world, and they find that they have to spend their summer with their cousin Eustace. Lewis loses no time in telling us what sort of person Eustace is:

Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. . . . [D]eep down inside him he liked bossing and bullying . . . [H]e knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators.

Eustace is a selfish person, intensely practical, with absolutely no imagination – which, for C.S. Lewis, was one of the worst things you could say about someone. He has also turned the infliction of misery on other people into an art form.

The three children are magically taken to the land of Narnia, where they find themselves on the Dawn Treader, a Narnian ship on which King Caspian is on a voyage into unknown seas to find seven lost lords. The Dawn Treader is a sailing ship, and Eustace loses no time in starting to criticize it. He ‘kept on boasting about liners and motor boats and aeroplanes and submarines’. Boasting, of course, is all about trying to seem better and more important than other people.

We get more opportunities to find out what a self-centred character Eustace is as the story continues. One of the finest characters in the entire Narnian series is Reepicheep, the valiant and chivalrous talking mouse who comes across as a sort of ‘D’Artagnan’ figure from The Three Musketeers. One day Eustace finds Reepicheep perched on the figurehead of the ship:

As soon as (Eustace) saw the long tail hanging down… he thought it would be delightful to catch hold of it, swing Reepicheep round by it once or twice upside down, then run away and laugh.

Unfortunately things don’t quite work out the way Eustace thinks they will, as Reepicheep is just as good with his sword upside down as he is right way up! On another occasion, when the ship is becalmed and the water is running low, Eustace makes excuses to try to get more than his fair share of the water supply. In these and many other ways Eustace makes a thorough nuisance of himself through his selfishness and self-centredness.

Eventually, after a severe storm, the Dawn Treader arrives at an island where they can get fresh water and repair the ship. Eustace slips off into the hills by himself, and comes by chance to the cave of a dragon. He finds the cave filled with treasure – as you all know, being very imaginative people, that’s what you expect to find in a dragon’s cave! His mind immediately begins to play on what the treasure could do for him, and he eventually goes to sleep on the pile of treasure, his mind full of greedy and selfish thoughts. But when he wakes up, he discovers to his horror that in his sleep he has been transformed into a dragon himself. ‘Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard, with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself’.

This is what sin does to us, you see; it reduces our humanity. Romans 3:23 says ‘All have eustacesinned and fall short of the glory of God’, and the Living Bible paraphrase of that verse says, ‘All have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious ideal’. As John Bowen says ‘Sin may tempt us to try to become more than we were made to be, but its effect is ultimately to make us less than we were made to be’.

So Eustace has chosen to be a selfish and self-centred person, and the dragon he has now become is just an outward expression of the inner state of his heart. This forces him to begin to face the truth about himself. He realizes that he doesn’t like the person he has become. Lewis tells us,

[h]e wanted to be among friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things. He realized he was a monster cut off from the whole human race. An appalling loneliness came over him. He began to see that the others had not really been fiends. He began to wonder if he himself had been such a nice person as he had always supposed. He longed for their voices.

So he goes back to join the others, and succeeds in letting them know that even though he is a dragon outwardly, inwardly he is Eustace. They want to receive him back but can’t decide how they can possibly take him along on the ship in his dragon form. For Eustace, this is a symbol of the misfit he’s chosen to be all along.

Poor Eustace realized more and more that since the first day he came on board he had been an unmitigated nuisance and that he was now a greater nuisance still.

Things seem hopeless for Eustace; there’s nothing he can do to change himself back into human form. But then one night he meets Aslan the Lion, who leads him to a garden on top of a mountain. There he finds a well of water, which sounds a lot more like a walk-in Jacuzzi to me! Eustace wants to bathe, but Aslan tells him he must undress first. Eustace remembers that dragons can shed their skin, so he scratches and scratches and eventually the dragon skin comes off. Underneath, however, he finds another dragon skin, and then another and another. He eventually despairs, and then Aslan says to him, “You will have to let me undress you”. Aslan uses his lion claws, tearing the dragon skin away completely, tearing so deeply that Eustace feels as if it has gone straight through his heart. It hurts him worse than anything he has ever felt, but the next thing he knows Aslan is throwing him into the water, and then he finds to his excitement that he has turned into a boy again.

Eustace then goes back to join the others. He knows that Aslan’s power has changed him, but he also knows he’s got some things to put right with the others. He meets his cousin Edmund, and he says, “By the way, I’d like to apologize. I’ve been pretty beastly”. He’s now on the way to becoming a much less selfish and unpleasant human being. Not that the process is an instant process. Lewis is far too honest about our Christian experience to pretend that this can happen. He says, ‘It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that, “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of these I shall not notice. The cure had begun’.

This story of Eustace has a lot to teach us about transformation. And transformation is what the Christian message is all about. The Greek word is ‘metanoia’, which means change – deep, lasting change. It’s sometimes translated as ‘conversion’; in one place Jesus uses the image of a new birth, which is about as powerful a change as you can imagine – to be born all over again. But transformation isn’t a one time only event for us Christians – it’s a process that continues throughout our Christian life.

The story of Eustace tells us what sin is all about. We make a big mistake if we think the essence of sin is specific sinful acts like lying or stealing or lust. Sin in the Bible is essentially selfishness or self-centredness; it is rejecting the rule of the one true God and claiming the right to be God for ourselves. I’ve often said that it’s a happy coincidence in the English language that the word ‘sin’ has an ‘I’ in the centre of it – and when I put myself at the centre of my life, and see everyone else as just there for my convenience – even God – then I’m in a state of sin. That’s what Eustace does. He lives a totally self-centred life.

The story of Eustace shows us what sin does to us. As we said earlier on, the reason sin is so terrible is because it makes us less than truly human. I said at the beginning that sin has a literally monstrous effect on us. Sin transformed Eustace into a monster – but the monstrous form was simply a reflection of his monstrous heart. Sin makes us something hideous, something far less than the fully human persons God wants us to be. And sin spoils our relationships, too, isolating us from others. Even Lucy, the youngest Pevensie, who has probably the kindest heart of anyone in the Narnia series, finds it hard to put up with Eustace, and Edmund, who usually calls a spade a spade, simply calls him a ‘record stinker’!

The story of Eustace shows us that transformation starts by facing the truth about ourselves. The Letter of James, in the New Testament, tells us that God’s law is like a mirror that shows us what we are really like. Some people, though, don’t want to face that truth: ‘They look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they are like’ (James 1:24). But Eustace can’t do that; he realizes that he has been a thoroughly unpleasant person; he accepts that truth, and longs more than anything else to change.

But the story of Eustace shows us that we can’t change ourselves. Eustace gets to the point where he longs to change. He hates what he has become, and he wants more than anything else to be just a boy again. That’s a moment we all have to come to. We choose to change direction, to repent of our sins, to learn a new way of life. We read the story of Jesus, we’re inspired by his teaching, and we think, “This is what I want!” So we make some resolutions, plan to make some changes, and off we go.

Crash! It might take twelve hours or twelve days, but sooner or later we come face to face with our human weakness. Sinfulness goes far deeper in us than we thought it went. Christianity, as I’ve said here before, isn’t difficult: it’s impossible! All Eustace can do is make himself into a slightly less wrinkly dragon; he can’t make himself into a boy again.

The story of Eustace shows us that we can only be changed by the power of Christ. Aslan is the only one who can rip the dragon skin off Eustace, and the first tear pierces Eustace all the way to the heart. His problem started with his self-centred heart, you see. Superficial solutions can’t accomplish anything.

Over and over again, Christian people have discovered that only the power of Jesus can help them become different. We come to the point where we cry out desperately: “I’ve tried, I really have, but I just can’t change myself”. So we call out for his help. Often that help is painful to receive; Eustace said it hurt more than anything he’d ever felt in his life. Things happen to us, or we find ourselves asked to do things, that we shrink from because they seem too painful. But, as the Twelve Steps of A.A. say, ‘Half measures availed us nothing’. If we’re going to be changed, it will have to be with the help of Christ.

Finally, the story of Eustace shows us that transformation is gradual. The mountaintop experience with Aslan leads down to the daily decision to follow him. And this daily decision, too, is made with the help of Christ. Often it feels like two steps forward and one step back – on some days, one step forward and two steps back! But the Christian disciple is wiser now; she realizes that self-confidence is a dead end, so each day she looks to Jesus for guidance and strength to take the next step. By the power of Aslan, Eustace is learning a new way of living. By the power of Jesus, I can learn that new way too.

Many thanks to John Bowen, who let me read his fine book ‘The Spirituality of Narnia‘ in draft form before it was published. John gave me many excellent insights into Lewis’ characters and how they could help us follow Jesus.

Aslan: ‘Not a Tame Lion’

A few years ago I did a Lent series on characters from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories and 20070313-cs_lewis_strong_1what they can teach us about following Jesus. At this time when we’re especially remembering Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his death, I thought I might post some of them here. Here’s the first one:

Aslan: ‘Not a Tame Lion’
In the late 1940s, C.S. Lewis was a teacher of English Literature at Oxford University. He had moved gradually from atheism to Christian faith in his early thirties; he had written a number of scholarly books about English literature, as well as some books defending the Christian Faith, including a very popular one called The Screwtape Letters – imaginary letters from a senior devil to a junior devil on the art of temptation. He had also written three science fiction novels.

In the mid 1940s Lewis began getting some pictures in his head. He began to see a faun – a character from Greek mythology with the body of a man and the legs and feet of a goat. The faun was walking in a snowy wood, under a lamp post, with some parcels under its arm. Lewis wondered what the faun was doing there, and so he began to write a children’s story to find out. He wrote about sixty pages or so, and then suddenly a new character came bounding into the story – a great Lion, Aslan. Lewis said later that ‘when Aslan came into the story, he pulled the other six stories in after him’. The seven children’s stories about Aslan and the land of Narnia have become C.S. Lewis’ best-loved and most popular books.

The books are not allegories. Rather, Lewis explained, they are ‘supposals’. ‘Suppose there was another universe, and God and Christ appeared there and did things, but in a different form than in our universe. What might they be like?’

The Narnia stories present Christian truth to us in an imaginative way. For the next six weeks, as we go through Lent, we’re going to look at characters from the stories, to see what they can teach us about Christian discipleship. My outline for the series will tell you which of the books each week’s sermon is based on; I strongly recommend that you read them ahead of time. They are short books and very easy to read – each of them is about a two hour read, I think.

6a014e5fb9e8aa970c0191034eea2f970c-800wiToday we’re going to start with the central figure of the whole series, Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure. In one of the books, it’s said of Aslan that he’s ‘not a tame lion… Of course he isn’t safe! But he’s good!’ Let’s see what Aslan has to teach us about Jesus.

When I was a little boy I used to sing a bedtime hymn that went like this: ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child’. This went along with the popular view of the blond haired Jesus with little lambs in his arms.

The truth is that the character of Jesus as we find him in the New Testament is just too vast for us to get him all in – it’s like trying to take a photograph of the Pallisades with a tiny camera! Because of this, we all tend to ‘leave bits out’ when we think about Jesus. In medieval times it was his majesty and authority that was emphasized, and people were afraid to even approach him. I suspect that was why the Virgin Mary was emphasized so much in those days; it was as if people were saying to her, “You talk to him for us, please!” Our age, on the other hand, has gone to the opposite extreme with Jesus. We’re a therapeutic age, and so we like the gentle, non-judgemental Jesus who specializes in warm fuzzies and active listening.

It was a feature of C.S. Lewis’ faith that very early on he was determined not to ‘leave bits out’ of his picture of Jesus. His oldest friend Arthur Greaves had been a Christian long before him, but after his conversion Lewis soon came to suspect that his friend wasn’t really taking the gospels seriously. In a letter to him he said, ‘I’m beginning to think that you can only get what you call “Jesus” out of the Gospels by leaving a lot out’. Some years later Lewis was writing a letter to a woman who was thinking about becoming a Christian. He says something like this to her: ‘Everyone told me that if I read the gospels I’d find Jesus irresistible. Well, I didn’t find that at all! What I did find was that most of the time we aren’t even invited to give an opinion about him – he’s the one who will give his opinion about us!’ So it’s not surprising that when Lewis came to give us his picture of Jesus in the character of Aslan the Lion, he tried to portray this combination of kindness and severity – of total authority and absolute love.

In the first of the Narnia stories to be written, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we meet the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They have been evacuated from London during the Blitz and are staying in the countryside at the stately home of an old professor. Little Lucy is the first one to discover the magic wardrobe which, sometimes, acts as a doorway into a completely different universe. She goes through it, meets the faun Mr. Tumnus, and finds out the tragedy of life in Narnia: it’s a country ruled by the evil White Witch who has made it ‘always winter, but never Christmas’.

Edmund is the next one to get into Narnia; he meets the White Witch there and is foolish enough to become one of her supporters. Eventually all four of the children get in at one time. Lucy takes them to meet Mr. Tumnus, but they discover that his cave has been destroyed and he has been arrested for helping humans. As they are wondering what to do, the children are guided to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver – I should tell you that Narnia is peopled by these talking animals. There the beavers tell them that Aslan, the true ruler of Narnia, has returned and plans to set Narnia free from the rule of the White Witch. But he needs the help of the four children to do it, because there’s an old prophecy of two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sitting on the four thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel.

Mr. Beaver is the first one to describe Aslan to the children. Susan asks who Aslan is, and Mr. Beaver says:

“He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time”.

Lucy asks, “Is he a man?”

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not! I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion”.

A moment later Lucy asks if this great Lion is ‘safe’.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good”.

And over and over again, throughout the Narnia stories, people are reminded that Aslan is ‘not a tame lion’.

Peter, the oldest of the four, says, “I’m longing to meet him, even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point”. And this is exactly what happens. Later in the story, when the children first meet Aslan, this is how he is described for us:

People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.

Good and terrible – gentle and severe – loving and commanding – this is Aslan. In other places in the books this combination of characteristics is underlined for us. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Aslan ends up giving his own life in the place of Edmund the traitor, just as Jesus gave his life for us. Aslan is portrayed as being very close to the two girls, Susan and Lucy, especially to Lucy who he often calls ‘dear heart’ or ‘dear one’. But he never shrinks from confronting his dear Lucy with her shortcomings. In Prince Caspian he has been trying to get the children to follow him, but only Lucy could see him, and the others had not believed her. When Lucy finally gets to talk to Aslan about it, here’s what happens:

‘Yes, wasn’t it a shame?’ said Lucy. ‘I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so – ‘

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

‘I’m sorry’, said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. ‘I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?’

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

‘Oh, Aslan’, said Lucy. ‘You don’t mean it was? How could I – I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you…’

There isn’t time for me to recount this incredible conversation, but you get the sense of how Aslan doesn’t shrink from helping Lucy to see the truth about herself.

Let me give one more example. In the book The Horse and His Boy, Aravis is the young 4l1sdaughter of a great Lord, who runs away to escape a forced marriage. She drugs her slave girl, so that she will go to sleep and won’t be able to stop Aravis’ escape. Later we learn that the slave girl is whipped for letting this happen. Toward the end of the story Aravis meets Aslan in a terrifying fashion; she is riding her horse, Hwin, and they are chased by a Lion. The Lion catches them, and strikes Aravis across the back with his claws, wounding her with great stripes. Later on, explaining this to Aravis, Aslan says,

‘The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like’.

Aslan loves people with a deep and tender love, but it is also a tough love, a love that never shrinks from telling them the truth, and sometimes even subjecting them to painful discipline, in order that they may grow and become the people they were meant to be.

We see the same thing in the Gospels with our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes we see his tenderness: he takes off his outer robe and washes the feet of his disciples, the job the slave was meant to do. He’s patient with them, forgiving them and restoring them when they fail. When Peter denies him three times he doesn’t reject him, but gives him an opportunity later on to reaffirm three times that he loves his Lord after all.

Yet the sense of authority is also very clear here. We sometimes read in the Gospels that his disciples were afraid to ask him things. We don’t get the sense that a fireside chat with Jesus would automatically be a cosy thing. Jesus tells his disciples the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it. At the last supper, when Jesus warns his disciples that they are all going to desert him, Peter says, ‘ “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you”. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times”’ (Matthew 26:33-34). When a rich young man asks him what he must do to enter the Kingdom, Jesus tells him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him. The man turns away, refusing to pay the price, and Jesus doesn’t negotiate with him; he doesn’t say, “Wait – come back – perhaps we can come to an agreement – a tenth would be enough!” Jesus is the King; he gets to dictate the terms. He drives out the money changers from the temple with a whip, and he tells the Pharisees that they remind him of whitewashed graves – nice on the outside, but full of bones and corruption inside.

How are we to approach this Jesus? First we approach him in absolute confidence in his love for us. Aslan gave his life on the stone table so that Edmund the traitor could go free. In the same way, the Bible tells us that the Son of God loved us and gave himself for us on the Cross. He held nothing back. So we can be absolutely confident in his love for us.

But his love for us is not always the same as ‘being nice to us’. It’s a tough love that will never ‘let us off the hook’; if he knows that something is good for us, he will be relentless in pointing us toward it, even if it is hard and painful. He will always tell us the truth about ourselves, in the hope that we will accept it and move forward in our relationship with God.

And so we also approach him in absolute obedience to his authority. ‘He’s the King’, says Mr. Beaver. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy; the Son of God is our Lord, and we are summoned to follow him.

I find that the picture of Aslan in the Narnia stories helps me to understand and follow Jesus better. Toward the end of one of the books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that they will not be coming back to Narnia again. Lucy is heartbroken at the thought of never meeting Aslan again. But Aslan reassures her, “But you shall meet me, dear one”:

“Are—are you there too, sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. That was the very reason you were brought into Narnia, that by knowing me for a little, you may know me better there.”

And that is also my hope for you all as we go through this Lent sermon series.

Christmas in Narnia

I wonder how many of you have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or seen the movie? I’ve loved this story since I first read it as a child, and like many people I’ve gone on to read all seven of the ‘Narnia’ stories by C.S. Lewis; they are children’s books, but they are definitely among my favourites.

Now, you might ask, what do the Narnia stories have to do with Christmas?

C.S. Lewis didn’t start off writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a Christian allegory, even though he himself was a Christian. He started out writing a children’s story, and he found that the specifically Christian element crept in gradually as the series developed. But there’s no denying that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as we have it, is full of Christian teaching, much of it with things to say about Christmas. Let me point out a few of those things to you.

For those of you who don’t know the story, it’s centred around four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are evacuated from London during World War Two, and they find themselves living in a huge country house owned by an elderly professor. One day not long after their arrival they’re playing a game of hide and seek and Lucy, the youngest, finds the perfect hiding place – an old wardrobe in a spare room. She climbs into the wardrobe and moves toward the back; she moves further and further in, and suddenly discovers herself in the middle of a wood in the middle of winter.

Lucy walks around a bit and comes to a clearing with a lamp post in the middle of it. As she stands there, she sees someone approaching, a very strange someone, with horns on his head and feet like a goat. He is in fact a faun, right out of Greek mythology, and he introduces himself to her as Tumnus. They go to his house where he offers her tea and tells her about the country she has stumbled into, the world of ‘Narnia’. He explains to her that in Narnia it is ‘always winter, but never Christmas’. When she asks why, he goes on to explain that Narnia is ruled by the White Witch, a usurping queen, who has made the Narnians her slaves and has covered the land with winter for a hundred years.

This, you see, is how C.S. Lewis saw the world we live in. It’s a good world, created by a good and loving God, but it has now become ‘enemy occupied territory’ and is under the thumb of an evil power who has made people his slaves. As a result of this, evil and sin have spread throughout God’s good creation and everything is infected by them. This doesn’t mean there are no signs of joy, of course! There are family gatherings, there are wonderful examples of love and self-giving, there’s art and beauty everywhere. But at the same time, everything is flawed and shot through with suffering. A child dies of starvation somewhere in the world once every three seconds, and every day in the news we hear of wars and injustice and oppression and violence. ‘It’s always winter, but never Christmas’.

Narnia needed to be set free. Our world too needs to be set free. It needs a ‘saviour’ – someone who will deliver us from the power of the usurping ruler. Is there in fact such a saviour? This question leads us to the true meaning of Christmas.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, eventually all four children find their way into Narnia through the wardrobe. Through a series of events they find themselves at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver – I should explain that Narnia is full of these talking animals. The beavers explain to the children again about the White Witch and the long winter she has caused, but then comes a word of hope; Mr. Beaver says, “Aslan is on the move”. “Who is Aslan?” they want to know. Mr. Beaver replies that Aslan is the son of the great Emperor-over-Sea; he’s the true King of Narnia, and he’s coming back to set his people free from the rule of the White Witch. The children are curious about Aslan, and Lucy asks “Is he a man?” “Certainly not!” Mr. Beaver replies; “Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion”.

I mentioned that there are seven Narnia stories. In another one of them, a book called The Horse and His Boy, one of the main characters is a horse called ‘Bree’. Bree has believed in Aslan all his life but has never met him. Toward the end of the story Bree is explaining to some friends from outside Narnia why Narnians speak about Aslan as a lion. “Well”, he says, “we mean he’s as strong as a lion, or as brave as a lion, or as fierce as a lion – to our enemies, that is! But of course, we don’t literally mean he’s a lion! That would be absurd! If he was a lion, he’d have four paws, and a tail, and whiskers!” But unfortunately for Bree, as he is explaining this to his friends Aslan is approaching him quietly from behind, and as he says the word ‘whiskers’, Aslan’s whiskers tickle his ear! He runs way in fright, but when he gets up the courage to come back, Aslan says to him, “Now Bree, you poor, proud, frightened horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast”.

Just as Bree has trouble believing that Aslan could actually be a true Beast, so many people have trouble believing in a God who could become a true human being in Jesus. “Why”, they say, “when we say he became one of us, we mean he understands us, or is very close to us. But we don’t literally mean he became a human being! After all, if he really became human, he’d have to be a helpless baby, in need of feeding and changing and burping and all that! He’d have to grow up and learn things and get tired and feel pain like we do! How ridiculous!”

But Christians believe this is exactly what the Christmas story is all about. It’s not just a romantic tale about a baby born in a cowshed. The true miracle is who the baby in the cowshed really was. In the Gospel of John it’s explained like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).

Aslan said, “I am a true Beast”, and in Jesus Christ, God could say, “I am a true human being”. As a true human being, Jesus shows us what God is like, and he teaches us the truth about the way God wants us to live.

What an amazing miracle it was that happened in Bethlehem! In the last ‘Narnia’ story, The Last Battle, we see the end of the world of Narnia. At one point in the story the children find themselves in a stable. Seen from the outside it looked small and dingy, but when they go through the door they find themselves in a beautiful country that seems to stretch on forever. Someone comments that the stable is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Lucy replies, “In our world, too, a Stable once held something inside it that was far bigger than our whole world”.

So Christmas teaches us this enormous miracle, that God became a real human being so that we humans might share the life of God. But there’s one other part of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that we need to think about. One of our less well-known Christmas carols has this line in it:

Trace we the babe, who hath retrieved our loss,
From the poor manger to the bitter cross.

The story of the birth of the baby in Bethlehem leads inexorably to the story of the Cross. And in Narnia, too, the time comes when Aslan makes the ultimate sacrifice for his people – and for one of them in particular.

You see, through a series of events Edmund, one of the four children, gets fooled by the White Witch and goes over to her side. He tries to lure his three siblings to her castle, but he is unable to do that. Eventually he discovers his mistake; the Witch isn’t a kind and caring person at all. She’s cruel and evil; she makes him her prisoner, and is on the brink of killing him when he is rescued by members of Aslan’s army. But the White Witch hasn’t given up yet. She demands a meeting with Aslan, and reminds him of the Deep Magic on which Narnia was founded; all traitors, she says, belong to her, and for every act of treachery she has a right to a kill.

But in the end Aslan voluntarily takes Edmund’s place. In the middle of the night he slips out of the camp and goes to meet his death. Susan and Lucy follow him; they see the Witch’s supporters tie him up, shave off his mane, and place him on the Stone Table. All the time the girls keep expecting Aslan to fight his enemies off, but he does not do so. Eventually they see the White Witch take her knife and kill the Great Lion. And then the Witch and her army leave, and the girls are left with Aslan’s body.

But all is not as it seems. As the first light of dawn appears, the stone table cracks, and just like the women in the Easter story, Susan and Lucy become the first astonished witnesses of Aslan’s resurrection. They have a joyful reunion, and Aslan explains to them that the Witch did not know about the Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time. He explains that according to this Deeper Magic, when a willing victim who had committed no treachery offered himself in a traitor’s stead, the table would crack and death itself would begin to work backwards.

Down through the centuries, all sorts of learned theologians have tried to explain the mystery of Jesus’ death on the Cross for us and how it saves us. The reality, of course, is far beyond our understanding. But C.S. Lewis’ simple story comes very close to helping us see the truth. A small boy chooses the wrong path and ends up enslaved and doomed to die for his mistake – just as we human beings choose to sin and discover, as the Bible says, that ‘the wages of sin is death’. And yet, astounding though it may seem, the Great Lion, the Son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, offers himself as a willing victim in Edmund’s place. And that’s what the baby in the manger did for you and me, too – he died for you, for me, for everyone, to deliver us from evil and give us a fresh start with God. And just like Aslan, death was not the end for Jesus; he rose victorious over evil and lives forever as the Lord of all.

The Narnia stories tell us of Aslan, the Son of the great Emperor-over-Sea, who was not content to stay ‘over sea’, but who came as a true Beast, lived among his people, and died as one of them. Christmas tells us that this is God’s story too. God loves us far more than we can ever ask or imagine. Out of his great compassion for us, he became a true human being, and lived and died and rose again for us. Now Jesus invites us all to become his followers, to choose him as our true King and to live by the values of his Kingdom, until the whole world is transformed by his light. Magic? Yes indeed – deeper magic, from before the dawn of time, but come to us, in time and space, in Jesus. Believe it – taste it – see it – live by it. Christmas has come; the world’s long winter will come to an end, because, as Bruce Cockburn says in one of his songs, ‘Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe’.

Lent 2011 – a retrospective

This year I did something I haven’t tried before – I gave up both Facebook and blogging for Lent, and most of my blog reading too – kept only Reed Fleming‘s and Philip Yancey‘s blogs. This was far and away the most beneficial Lent discipline I have ever tried. It’s hard to adequately describe the sense of quiet and of focus that I experienced through Lent this year. I realised that Facebook has become the constant background chatter to my life, and I realised afresh just how addicted to it I am. I also realised how much of an exercise of egotism blogging is for me – how often I check back to see what the statistics are, for instance, or to see if anyone has left me comments (even though I know with my head that WordPress would have sent me an email if they had!). So it was a relief to lay all that aside and just enter into the quiet of Lent.

One benefit of all this was the amount of reading I was able to do. My ‘Books read’ sidebar tells the tale. Our church Lent book study was on John Bowen’s ‘The Spirituality of Narnia‘, and Marci and I have been enjoying reading the Narnia stories together – we read five of them during Lent. I read and enjoyed Eugene Peterson’s memoir, ‘The Pastor‘, and especially enjoyed John Stott’s little book ‘The Radical Disciple‘, along with the recent biography of John by Roger Steer, ‘Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott‘. As I mentioned earlier in the year, I’ve decided to read through the entire King James Bible this year in honour of the 400th anniversary of this classic translation; I’m now in Nehemiah (as well as being almost through the psalms) and am still thoroughly enjoying it.

Speaking of reading, I bought myself a Kindle a few weeks ago. One of the attractions of doing so was the availability of so many public domain classics as free downloads (the Amazon store alone has over 5,000 of them, and many more are available from other sources). I’ve read two George MacDonald novels, ‘Thomas Wingfold, Curate‘ and ‘Paul Faber, Surgeon‘ since I got the Kindle, and am now reading a biography of Fletcher of Madeley before moving on to an Elizabeth Gaskell novel.

Another purchase during Lent was the new update of the NIV Bible (popularly but unofficially known as the ‘NIV 2011‘). I quite liked the TNIV and was sad to see that Zondervan and Biblica were pulling the plug on it, but so far I’ve been mostly quite impressed with the NIV 2011 which I’ve been using for my morning devotional readings.

Oh yes, something else I gave up for Lent was the Daily Office. It was getting very dry and stale for me, so I decided to go back to the simple old ‘quiet time‘ of my early days as a Christian. I use the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘New Daylight‘ Bible reading notes, so I read the chapter that the daily passage is taken from in my NIV 2011, think about it and write down some thoughts and meditations, read the New Daylight comment, and then respond in prayer in the old ‘ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)’ pattern. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this; in fact, it’s been a breath of fresh air for my prayer life, giving me a new sense of immediacy in my daily time with God.

The weather in Edmonton has truly been atrocious, with constant snowfall all through Lent and even up to the week of Palm Sunday. This has really cut down on opportunities for outdoor exercise, and I’ve felt the lack of this, but am now enjoying getting out and walking again. I haven’t done any bird watching for a long time, but hope to get back to it as spring progresses.

I’ve continued to work slowly on the recording process for my new CD. I’m using a friend’s home recording studio, and my good friend Alex Boudreau is doing the actual engineering for me. So far we have recorded fourteen guitar and voice tracks, and we plan to do three or four more. We will then listen to what we’ve got and make some decisions about adding other instruments, although I want to keep to a fairly stripped-down sound as I like the simplicity of it. Tracks we’ve recorded so far include some traditional tunes like ‘Johnny Cope’, ‘Pretty Saro’, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, and ‘Lord Franklin’, along with some of my own, including ‘The Ballad of Jake and Rachel’, ‘Watching this Town Growing Old’, and ‘I Know You Will Be There’. I’m very happy with the recordings we’ve made so far. I do plan to send this recording away to be professionally manufactured, unlike my previous efforts which were all home-burned.

There’s much else that could be said – how many different ways are there to say that I love being a grandpa? – but I think I’ll stop here, and end by saying that my experience of freedom and peace during Lent has me thinking very seriously about the role that the blogosphere and Facebook play in my life. I do not seem to be able to ‘do’ them moderately as some people can. Giving the whole thing up for six weeks was tremendously enjoyable, and I’m really questioning whether or not it’s something I should do permanently. I know I’ve tried before, and failed, but I may well give it another try, ‘The Lord being my helper’.

On the eve of a very special day for me.

This is another one of those ‘catch up’ posts.

I love winter, but even I’m getting tired of this Edmonton winter. It feels as if we’ve had snow and cold for months on end with very little relief (although, to be fair, we did have a warm spell a few weeks ago). The parking around our neighbourhood has become very congested because we live near one of the new LRT (Light Rail Transit) stations and there is not adequate parking on site, hence commuters use the residential streets around as a free parking lot. That causes congestion at the best of times, but when snow ploughs have left huge wind rows and thereby narrowed the streets considerably it’s even worse. Pox on the whole business! I love winter, but even I am looking forward to spring, snow melting, sunshine, days at the beach, a week camping and hiking in the mountains, sitting on the hill at Gallagher Park for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival…

On Monday night my friend Alex Boudreau and I played a last-minute gig at the Second Cup coffee shop on Gateway Boulevard and 34th Avenue. I say ‘last minute’, because Alex had been booked to play the regular Monday night gig there and he invited me to join him at the last minute. Alex and I used to play music together a lot, but we’ve been doing so less frequently recently. He has been getting more into bluegrass music, and I’ve learned a lot more traditional folk songs since the last time we played together. When we share a gig we do some songs by ourselves and some together, and we joke that ‘we practice live!’ Anyway, we had a really good time and agreed that we should do it again before too long.

Last night a small group of us started a Lent book study at St. Margaret’s; the book we’re using is John Bowen’s The Spirituality of Narnia: the Deeper Magic of C.S. Lewis. In this book John examines the Christian roots of the Narnia series and what it can teach us about spirituality and walking the Jesus Way. There are eight of us involved in the study – six made it out to the first one – and we had a very fine conversation. I’m especially looking forward to the last week of the study when John is going to have a Skype conversation with us about the book.

I’ve conceived a new traditional folk music project, which I call ‘A Folk Song an Hour’ (a play on Jon Boden’s very fine ‘A Folk Song a Day‘ project). The idea is that I will gather a group of people together for four hours on a Saturday afternoon and guarantee to teach them to sing (and play on guitar, if they play) at least four traditional folk songs. The emphasis will be on the words and the tune rather than on guitar artistry, as is only proper with traditional songs. I asked for ten people and twelve have signed up for it; we will be doing it on Saturday May 7th from 1-5 p.m., venue to be announced. There’s room for a couple more, but a maximum of fifteen, so if you’re in the Edmonton area and you’re interested, call me as soon as possible.

Tomorrow at St. Margaret’s we are holding a ‘conversation’ on the difficult subject of war and peace; we’re calling it ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian To Do?’ We will be examining the different ways of interpreting the biblical material (just war, pacifism etc.) and then sharing our own views and listening to one another. Ten of us will be participating in this conversation from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a very timely and important subject and I’m looking forward to it.

Then on Sunday after church we’re having a ‘Giant Omnibus Pancake Event’. This is really a combination of four things: (1) our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, but on the Sunday before instead, (2) an appreciation event for our former administrative assistant who moved on to other things a few months ago, (3) an appreciation event for our many volunteers, and (4) a recruiting event for new volunteers. We expect that a good time will be had by all (and many pancakes consumed!).

Finally, tomorrow (March 5th) is a very special day for me. I was baptized as a baby on December 29th 1958, but on March 5th 1972, with my Dad’s help, I prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus and asking him to live in me. My experience is that praying that prayer (or, rather, God’s answer to that prayer when I prayed it) set the course for the rest of my life in ways I never imagined at the time. My Dad is nearly eighty now, and I will be talking to him some time tomorrow to remind him of that special day. I will always be grateful for his challenge and his encouragement as I began my intentional Christian journey.

The Silver Chair

Before Narnia movies went all CGI/action, they had funny ‘humans-in-animal-suits’ characters, but they paid a lot more attention to C.S. Lewis’original story lines.

Here’s the first part of the 1990 BBC production of ‘The Silver Chair’. I think it’s the best Narnia story the BBC ever did, and a bit later on in the story it brings together two of my favourites: C.S. Lewis’ character of Puddleglum the marsh wiggle (who I think is the best character in the whole Narnia series) is played by one of the best Doctor Who actors, Tom Baker.


After you watch this one, you can google the rest or look them up on YouTube. They’re great!