Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Book Discussion (and a Sermon Quote): The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith

“The Green Ember burns; the seed of the New World smolders. Healing is on the horizon, but a fire comes first. Bear the flame.”

-S.D. Smith in The Green Ember, p. 364

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We could easily become discouraged. The world has become obsessed with hatred and bigotry and violence. Our public voice of dissonance has no hint of forbearance. Children’s problems are growing weightier, darker, and their literature is reflecting that in the name of “reality,” “daily life” and “awareness.” It is not any worse than previous generations have experienced, but it is certainly a marked characteristic of our current culture. For this very reason I am pleased my family and I have found S.D. Smith. Somehow, through a share on Facebook, or maybe a pop up on my newsfeed, we discovered The Green Ember series.

Building on the Christian fantasy genre, Smith has created an inspiring world of anthropomorphized animals who are attempting to battle the evil in their own world as it spreads throughout the Great Wood, and beyond, into all Natalia.

Rabbits with swords.

After wolves attack their village, set fire to their home, and take off with their parents and baby brother, Heather and Picket begin a journey. It is a coming of age story in which Smith seemingly draws on his love for C.S. Lewis. Not only are they seeking their family, but are likewise in search of a more peaceful world. After a previously unknown Uncle Wilfred and his adopted son Smalls rescue them from the wolves of Redeye Garlackson, they are sequestered in Cloud Mountain, a hidden community determined to preserve the old peace and order of the Great Wood. The rabbits live in true community as they prepare for eventual battle, and continue developing beautiful skills of creativity, artisanship and industry.

“Everywhere they looked, energetic work was underway.” p. 200

Smith utilizes a great deal of Christian imagery throughout the book.

“Of course!” Emma said. “Now, they do other work like everyone else: gardening, cleaning, teaching – whatever’s needed. But all the crafts are honored here. We’re heralds of the Mended Wood.”

The Green Ember, p. 155

We see similar ideas within the early Church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…”

Acts 2:44-46

Endearing characters are introduced, such as the slightly bumbling, clay-flinging Eefaw Potter, or the sweet, grandmotherly sage, Old Mrs. Weaver. They slowly begin to help heal and strengthen  the aching hearts of Heather and Picket as they grow into the vision of Cloud Mountain. I won’t reveal what events transpire, but they are distressing to the rabbit siblings, and demonstrate how betrayal and true evil exist even in their fantasy world.

My boys and I completed the first in the series, and are midway through the newly published sequel Ember Falls. I love that even though there are many battle scenes and deaths, this is not too scary a read aloud for my six year old, and yet it has maintained the interest of my twelve year old. I love that family members within the book unabashedly profess their love and affection for one another, that there is not bullying among the allies, but a focused purpose in defeating the evil. To borrow an expression from Andrew Pudewa from the Institute of Excellence in Writing, this is not so much a “twisted” or “broken” story, but a “healing” story. It is a glorious tale of fighting evil in unison. Heather and Picket are fully aware they are still in the middle of their story. They are painfully unaware how it will all end, but the unity of Cloud Mountain has taught them of a greater hope. The Great Wood may have been razed by the destructive fire, but as they repeat triumphantly,

“It shall not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Yes, Old Testament concepts of the remnant  (Jeremiah 42:2, Ezra 9:8) resonate here as the rabbits huddle in their warrens awaiting eagerly for the heir of King Jupiter to appear. We can see the imagery of a broken or a cursed world becoming new and healed and mended.

He glanced at Smalls, then said in a strong , defiant voice, “It will not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Then the group, all but Picket and Heather, each struck the air with a fist and called out in an echoing reply, “The Mended Wood!”

p. 132

“Cursed is the ground because of you…”

Genesis 3:17

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Romans 8:21

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

This past Sunday our minister chose the oddest text, three brief seemingly insignificant verses at the close of the epistle to the Philippians. You can listen to the sermon here if you like. He discussed several observations based on the fact that there were Christians in Caesar’s household. At this particular time, this would have meant the infamous Nero. Among the fact that these people had witnessed blatant evil, but saw themselves ultimately, defiantly as citizens in the kingdom of heaven, they all understood they were a proleptic community.

Proleptic. Living into our future reality as if we are already there. It is living in anticipation of the future promised or hoped for.

“Here we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed. Those painters are seeing what is not yet but we hope will be. They are really seeing, but it’s a different kind of sight. They anticipate the Mended Wood. So do all in this community, in our various ways….This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.”

p. 220

This is the inspiring image The Green Ember series provides us. Through Heather and Picket, Mrs. Weaver, Emma, the gentle doctor-in-training, Uncle Wilfred, Smalls and others, we see a group of rabbits wholly living out the vision of the Mended Wood, even in desperate times. S.D. Smith draws on the beauty of Christ’s church, working together, as if they have already fully entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Bear the flame.”

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The Theology of Pooh

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In 1982 Benjamin Hoff published The Tao of Pooh, followed a decade later by The Te of Piglet. Both books were intended to familiarize Westerners with the Eastern philosophy of Taoism using the lovable “Bear of Very little Brain.” My intentions are nearly the inverse. That is, I hope to explain my delight at reading aloud through The House at Pooh Corner with my six-year-old G, and being charmed by the following passage.

The passage takes place on the heels of  a friendly game of Poohsticks at the bridge, the game in which the players drop  their sticks and race to the other side of the bridge to see whose stick is swept to the other side first. Eeyore, who wins more times than the others, claims you must throw it in a “twitchy sort of way.”The game is surprisingly interrupted by Eeyore floating down the stream on his back, feet all protruding up in the air. Eeyore insists he was bounced into the stream. The others very quickly begin to blame Tigger and attribute the most unflattering motives to him.

“Hush!” said Rabbit, holding up  his paw. “What does Christopher Robin think about it all? That’s the point.”

I think we all ought to play Poosticks.”

So they did. And Eeyore, who had never played it before, won more times that anybody else; and Roo fell in twice, the first time by accident and the second time on purpose, because he suddenly saw Kanga coming from the Forest, and he knew he’d have to go to bed anyhow. So then Rabbit said he’d go with them; and Tigger and Eeyore went off together… Christopher Robin and Pooh and Piglet were left on the bridge by themselves.

For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.

“Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think, said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

 

And there was no more discussion or disagreement about whether or not Tigger had, in fact, bounced Eeyore into the stream. They had forgotten their arguments and differences.

I have titled this post “The Theology of Pooh,” but really that is a misnomer, for this really has much more to do with our good friend and spiritual leader, Christopher Robin. It was C.R. who so cleverly and surreptitiously diverted the animals’ attentions away from their disagreements and differences, and instead, encouraged them to play together. In the cheerful prospect of a game of Poohsticks, Rabbit and Eeyore laid down their need to ascertain Tigger’s motives, and simply joined in the fun. Couldn’t we learn from this? Would it be possible, as Christians, not to be troubled any longer by petty actions or motives or differences in others if we played together more often? Served others together? What if we gulped like Piglet might, held Pooh’s someone’s hand, and did something differently? This post should really celebrate the wisdom of C.R. in this instance. “The Theology of Christopher Robin” might be better. Wouldn’t our unity be stronger, our testimony more powerful as a flexible, focused, playful,serving Church? So, really this post should instead be titled “The Ecclesiology of Christopher Robin.”

Is there anyway for us to see that it doesn’t always matter if Eeyore was bounced into the stream intentionally or not, if we help him out of it in the end?

And as Christopher Robin himself would say, “Silly old Bear.”

“…this feeling in being in one’s own place”

Willa Cather’s 1931 novel on Quebec and the last days of Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1697-1698) is not one of my my favorites, but there is this passage that pulls  at me.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb.  A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbour’s houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this?  For this rock and winter, this feeling of being in ones’ own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 2, VII by Willa Cather

Day after day Cecile had walked about those streets trying to capture that lost content and take it home again. She felt almost as if she no longer had a home; often wished she could follow the squirrels into their holes and hide away with them for the winter.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 5, IV by Willa Cather

It is not only Cather at her most eloquent and poignant, but it also bruises my soul with its beauty and love for a home never fully realized. Just as Cather endured homesickness for Virginia as a child when she was uprooted to the vast plains of Nebraska at age nine, so often did her characters feel the tug of nostalgia and the yearning for ties to land. In fact, land and location were primary characters in many of her novels. It did more than provide back drops to stories, but rather shaped the characters, sometimes even overshadowing them.  Antonia Shimerda from My Antonia, though born in Bohemia, was inextricably tied to Nebraska’s wheat and wind. Here, in the above excerpt, little Cecile born in faraway France, pulls the tiny, illegitimate Jacques through the snow on her sled, and knows she belongs to this “rock.” Quebec has claimed her.

There is a longing we all have to belong that will never be fully satisfied. We may feel awkward and foreign no matter where we go. Whether we fear leaving our hometown or whether we have an insatiable wanderlust, it all comes from the same place – a deep yearning for what is truly home. Last year I wrote about this here more at length using other favorite examples from literature.

Cather may not have recognized this as a spiritual quest, but we see her characters’ repeated struggles with belonging and place. One day, we will be there, never more looking around us, never more torn between belonging and being the “other,” never straddling coming and going. We will simply be in our own place. That place which has long been prepared for us. To which our hearts long. Home.

It was promised

“I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”

John 14:2b-4