Flights of fancy


I am in the middle of writing a paper on Christianity’s relationship with and proximity to fantasy narratives, particularly myth, fairy tales and sci-fi. Invariably, this means a long soak in all things Inkling.

Here are a few drops.

From Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Stories”:

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the ‘turn’ comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears…

The Christian joy, the Gloria…is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

From Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticized elfland, but elfland that criticized the earth.

Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening ‘Do it again’ to the moon. […] It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

…and his Everlasting Man:

In a word, mythology is a search; it is something that combines a recurrent desire with a recurrent doubt, missing a most hungry sincerity in the idea of seeking for a place with a most dark and deep and mysterious levity about all the places found.

And, of course, a word from Lewis taken from one of his letters to Tolkien:

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened

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“We’re the people.”

Grapes of Wrath

I just got back from a Sunday evening service which centered around several individuals and their life stories. Mennonites might not get all fancy about literary narratives, but we do love a good life story. Especially if it involves deep sorrow and ultimate triumph over adversity.

Several takeaways from tonight:

1) Most people cry while telling their story.

2) We are insignificant and epic at the same time.

3) You probably don’t know the person sitting next to you in church.

4) Stories are everywhere, tucked away in the unlikeliest of places.

5) The common person’s story needs to be told. The janitor, the cafeteria cook, bus driver, the landscaper, and farmer.

(Photo and quote from Grapes of Wrath movie.)

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Beautiful, impoverished city


I’ll be the first to admit my love for Northern Virginia, especially after spending most of my life in backwater Crawford County. Intoxicating is driving past the White House on your way to a Sunday evening BBQ with friends.

But sometimes I tire of all the posturing that comes with an affluent and power-hungry culture. The posturing is usually subtle and sensed only in a certain vibe, gait, or look.

Sometimes it’s more obvious. Like a convertible BMW with ACHEEVR as the license plate code.

As I puttered along in my wife’s ’98, non-air-conditioned, oil-guzzling VW Beetle, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or vomit.

(I am aware of envy expressing itself in contempt or pity. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the case.)

(If you see something else in ACHEEVR, please let me know. I want to believe something better about the man.)

(Photo credit: Not me)

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Paul Mclean and existentialism

river runs through it

“At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.”


For one of my classes I was asked to evaluate the ideology in book or film and post my evaluation on the class discussion board. Literary criticism always leaves me feeling a bit like a scientist dissecting butterflies, so take it for what it’s worth. I do give a short plot synopsis, so if you want to experience the story for yourself, quit reading now and come back later. Either way, the film is worth your time. I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say that it’s one of the most literarily rich movies I have seen. Maybe because the story is semi-autobiographical?

If you enjoy my take on it, the original print version is on my Amazon wish list.

Here is my take:

Robert Redford’s film, A River Runs through It, tells the story of two boys alternately reacting to and coming to terms with their geographical, familial, and religious identity. Raised in the wilds of Montana, under the stern direction of their Presbyterian minster father, the boys, Norman and Paul, take divergent paths in life. Whereas Norman cultivates a life of reflection and writing, his younger brother Paul lives a reckless and exuberant life on the edge—an attitude which would eventually kill him. Despite their differences the boys and their father are united by a passion for fly-fishing. Throughout the film, fly-fishing serves as a metaphor for their individual approaches to life. The story is full of metaphysical reflections, commentary on nature, and literary allusions. However, for the sake of brevity I want to focus on the character of Paul.

Paul is an existentialist in the truest sense of the label. He rarely reflects on his actions. He just does, and in the doing he finds great delight, especially if it involves death-defying stunts like rowing a boat over a waterfall. Like an existentialist, Paul rebels against the authority of his father, both in morals and fishing style. Instead of following the careful, rhythmic fishing patterns taught by his father, Paul develops his own flamboyant method, plunging into deep water and casting in wild patterns. Norman, the narrator, highlights this individualism when he states, “Paul broke free, into a rhythm all his own.”

In Norman’s evaluation Paul’s style was not just original but artistic. After watching Paul nearly drown rather than give up on a particularly big trout, Norman declares, “At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.”

This quote foreshadows the dark side of Paul’s approach to life. Throughout the film, Paul drinks heavily and accrues large amounts of debt at the local gambling dens. He takes offense quickly and fights a lot. Eventually he is killed in one of these fights.

Paul embodies the paradoxical goodness and the tragedy of existentialist living. When surrounded by water and pristine wilderness, he enters into life with an innocence reminiscent of Adam and Eve in the perfection of Eden. The human spirit, however, is not free and innocent. We are all bent toward evil; therefore, the soul released to its own passions will ultimately bind and destroy. St. Paul indicates that we naturally follow “the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” and that we are “by nature children of wrath” (ESV, Eph. 2.3). While existentialism gives us true glimpses of authentic human life, it cannot curb the destructive power of sin inherent in the human soul.

Existentialism calls us to authenticity. In it we remember the faint but familiar sights, sounds, and tastes of Eden. The ability to live in the direct light of goodness without the shadow of the knowledge of evil. And in our angst and despair we sense the longing to return.

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The blog is almost dead

In jerks and fits, I am trying to breathe new life into this blog. Long, in-depth posts are out of the question, but I am hoping to comment on the sundry issues that I’m ingesting and digesting these days. Anything from Christian existentialism to American exceptionalism.

My commitment is once a week, probably Saturday.

Please, little blog, don’t die now.

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Class of 2013

After 17 years of formation, the cicadas have crawled from the earth and discarded their nymph-hood. Everything about this bug is creepy. It’s like a cicada Woodstock around here, complete with red eyes, loud racket, and free love.

Read more about it here:

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Read before you shop

I realize Black Friday has come and gone, but if you want to know where not to shop this year, check out this article from the Washington Post.

The gods of greed and consumerism don’t play fair.

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