Sunday, January 29, 2012

Control Freak

Therefore do not worry, saying "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear?" For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:31-34)

C.S. Lewis is well-known for the Narnia series and for his writings on Christianity, but he's not always remembered for his foray into science fiction in the form of the so-called "Space Trilogy" (Although I use the term "science fiction" loosely – the books do describe a series of journeys to other planets and meetings with alien races, but there is far more fiction than science. In fact, like the Narnia books, they are a thinly-disguised set of treatises on Christian themes). 

When I read Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, it was the second book that made the biggest impression on me. In it, the protagonist travels to Venus, which is known as Perelandra to its inhabitants. There he finds an oceanic world of floating islands and one green-skinned female humanoid creature, a type of Eve who has been separated from, and spends most of her time searching for, her Adam. 

In the midst of the floating islands is one piece of land that always stays put. The Venusians are allowed to visit it, but they must never spend the night on it – most of their time is to be spent on the floating islands, at the mercy of the wind and waves. At first, the woman tells the Earthman, she thought that the prohibition from dwelling on the fixed island was ridiculous, but eventually she has come to understand it: being on the fixed land made her life less uncertain and caused her to rely less on the protection of Maleldil (her name for God).

"It was to reject the wave – to draw my hands out of Maleldil's, to say to Him, 'Not thus, but thus' – to put in our power what times should roll towards us…as if you gathered fruits together today for tomorrow's eating instead of taking what came. That would have been cold love and feeble trust. And out of it how could we ever have climbed back into love and trust again?"

It's not that I don't trust God, but it's so hard sometimes to relinquish control of my life (or the illusion of control, anyway). I'm not a control freak most of the time, but I do like to be independent and to take care of myself. I wonder if this need I feel for self-reliance is the reason I find myself in my current circumstances – unemployed and dependent on my family for support. I resolve, now and in the future when I'm back on my feet, to accept God's provision and take what comes, secure in the knowledge that I will get what I need.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do What You Can

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

It has been a long journey. The Fellowship that started out with nine members has lost one, then four more, and after several reunions and splits and more reunions, it is back up to six. Battles have been fought at Helm's Deep and the Pelennor Fields in front of the walled city of Gondor, and after the latest battle there is finally a moment of respite, a chance for Aragorn to gather his captains and advisors and plan their next move.

Gandalf is the main speaker at this meeting. He tells those assembled that their ultimate fate depends on what happens to the Ring: if Sauron gets it, there will be nothing anyone can do to stop him, but if it is destroyed, there is nothing Sauron can do to prevent his inevitable destruction. The ring is out of their hands, he tells them, but fortunately Sauron does not know that for certain, and the best thing they can do is to keep him occupied fighting several strong leaders, any one of whom might have the ring, so that Frodo has a better chance of sneaking into Mordor unnoticed. He says:

"Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."

They can't ultimately control the fate of the ring, Gandalf tells them, but they can do everything in their power to give Frodo the best chance to destroy it and leave the world a better place for future generations.

We can't control the future, either, but we can do our best each day to make good choices that will advance the forces of good and drive back the forces of evil. Micah had the right idea several thousand years ago: acting justly, being kind, and walking humbly with God each day is a good start towards changing the world. I resolve to try my best each day to act in accordance with these three simple guidelines. If we all would do that, we would be well on the way to making the world a better place now, and leaving it better for those who come after us.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Now is the Time

If you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

Esther has a lot in common with Frodo Baggins, if you think about it. Esther was a Jew married to the king of Persia, and she risked her life when she went, uninvited, before the king to seek protection for the Jews from the king's advisor Haman. Frodo was a Hobbit living in the Shire whose uncle gave him a magic ring, and he risked his life when he went to the heart of Sauron's land to destroy the ring and save all the people of Middle Earth from destruction.

A bit of a stretch? Maybe, but consider this as well: neither one asked to do the life-threatening task, but both accepted the challenge and both, with the help of other people (including higher powers), managed successful outcomes. 

Esther's uncle, Mordecai, asked her to use her position of influence to get the king to help the Jews. She asked him gather the Jewish community and join her and her maids in fasting and praying for three days. She then went to talk to the king, even though she could be put to death for approaching him without being summoned. In the end, the king welcomed her and did as she asked, and the Jews were saved. 

Frodo was given the ring as a gift. Though he would gladly give it to Gandalf or Aragorn, he agrees to bear the burden all the way to Mordor and finally destroys it in the fires of Mount Doom, allowing the forces of Sauron to be defeated. Very close to the beginning of the tale, Gandalf visits Frodo to share with him what information he has found out about the ring, and none of it is good. Frodo says of the dismal news, "I wish it need not have happened in my time."

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This year, I resolve to make the most of the time I am given and the situation in which I find myself. I may wish that things had turned out differently, but I resolve to keep my eyes open for ways I can make a difference. Perhaps God has put me in these circumstances "for such a time as this."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Low Flying

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

In The Magician's Nephew, a prequel to the other books in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, Aslan sends Digory on a mission that will help save the newly created land of Narnia. He gives him a winged horse and these instructions:

"Do not fly too high….Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through."

Too many times I see obstacles as things to be overcome, surmounted, climbed or jumped over. Aslan's advice seems contrary to my first instinct, but on second thought, it makes so much sense. There are many dangers to being at high, cold altitudes, while the valleys are much warmer, with access to food, water, and shelter if needed. It is much safer to fly between the mountains than over them, but so often I get fixated on a goal and one way to get there and I forget to look for other, better ways to achieve the same ends.

This New Year, I resolve to keep an open mind and look for alternative paths, especially since the paths I have been following haven't yet gotten me where I want to be. I resolve also to trust Aslan's word that "there will always be a way through," and to have faith that it will lead to the place that I need to be, even if that place is not the same as the place I want to be.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

It's New Year's Day, a time for geek thoughts to turn to, what else, but the Doctor. More specifically, I'm thinking of that alien ability that has allowed him to save the earth for nearly fifty years despite otherwise fatal events: regeneration. Every so often our intrepid hero gives his life in the interest of saving the human race, but when the old body dies, it is replaced by a new one. The new Doctor retains all of his old memories, along with his strange fondness for humans, but he has a new face, new hair, a new voice, and new tastes, both in clothing (tweed jacket and red bowtie, really?) and in food (fish fingers and custard, anyone?). 

In many ways, the Doctor's regeneration reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 6 about becoming a Christian. When we commit our lives to following Jesus, our old self dies in that we change our attitudes and actions to reflect our births as new beings, focused on making choices that bring us into fellowship with God.

My wish for the new year is for regeneration – new and renewed commitments to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, and appreciation of being able to "walk in newness of life" every day we so choose.