Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Theology, Great Fantasy Literature, and Kittens in Boxes

I have a social media crush. I like his every photo and coo and swoon and post comments about how cute he is. He is fuzzy, playful, grey and named Gandalf, how could I not like him?

Just look at his cute little face! I can barely take it. 

Gandalf was recently added to the household of my friend Christen and he is just the best. Now, imagine with me for a moment that you like kittens. No, I don't care that you don't normally like cats, just humor me and pretend. Are you pretending? Good. 

Now, imagine that Gandalf arrived as a gift to you. You adore him and he is so stinking cute and loveable that you spend all your time focusing on the box in which he arrived. You keep the box and study it, you know it's dimensions and the exact name of the color of the cardboard because that is the box that Gandalf came in and you just can't get enough of this cute little creature. So you talk about the box and think about the box and focus on the box that Gandalf arrived in. That, of course, is foolishness. It's ridiculous to focus on the box and miss the adorable, mischievous moments involved in being around a legendary wizard kitten. Yet we do this with Christianity. 

If only Gandalf were always so peaceful. 

We focus on it's parameters. Too often we focus on the things about Christianity that delineate one thing from another. We focus on making sure we are in line with it, and we ask who is in and who is out. We ask what is good and right.  We ask where the line is or just how close we can get to the line without stepping over. I think we have lost something when we begin by thinking about it as a set of ideas and beliefs. We need to move towards treating it as a country we are participating in, carrying with us, and trying to live out.  I am not saying that theological discussions aren't important- they are. I am not saying that guarding the boundaries of our doctrine is not important- it is. But not first- not before or at the expense of encountering Christ Himself. It is the difference between Eustace seeing the picture on the wall and being pulled onto the Dawn Treader. It is the difference between being a Facebook friend and actually sitting down and sharing a coffee with someone. It is the difference between focusing on the box and focusing on the kitten. 

We need to get to a place that I think Lewis and Chesterton understood- they spoke of Christianity in positive terms. Lewis was surprised by joy and Chesterton talked about being drawn to the Christian faith because he was drawn to the magic in the world. 
The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. 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 criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth. I knew the magic beanstalk before I had tasted beans; I was sure of the Man in the Moon before I was certain of the moon.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

 Chesterton was drawn to fairy tales because he needed for things about them to be true. We all get that. You can see it in the popularity of Harry Potter and LOTR, and Divergent. They present a world- something that is or could be.  They do not explain it's boundaries or it's cogs and wheels; instead they draw us into the peace of the shire, and the drama of Hogwarts. They do not put out a primer about how to understand these worlds, they simply invite us in. They present these places as real. Jesus also spoke like this: "The kingdom is a mustard seed. The kingdom is a farmer who planted in a field.  The Kingdom is a fig tree." These are all positive images. They are pictures of things that are.

Christianity is something. It is what is, and what is becoming, and what will be. As opposed to trying to use it as a plumb line, try to encounter it as a living thing. It is not a set of dimensions and flaps and paper shreds bound together to form a container. It is something alive, growing, changing, bringing life to dead things, and restoration to mankind. It is a lion, a baby, a burning bush. It is 13 men on a hillside trying to feed several thousand people. It is a kingdom. Christianity IS something, and I need to think about it more that way. So do you. 

Forget the box. Spend time with Gandalf. 
You can follow Gandalf and Christen on Instagram at trubrarian or

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ridiculous top 10 list

My friend, Annie recently posted her Top 10 list. Top 10 fictional characters that she would like to meet for coffee or a pint. After drafting a post 3 times on her Facebook wall, I realized that I simply have too much to say. Thus, the birth of my own post. #bandwagon #sheaskedforit #aaronmahlhastags

And, in all of my thinking about characters, I kept feeling myself pulled towards all the thought and care behind the characters. I kept having to remind myself not to pick authors. But listen, it is my blog and if I want to have coffee or a pint with an author, a creator, or a producer, then, dammit, I will. So, here we go, a spin on the top 10. 

Okay. Here goes. In order, of course. 

10. Captain Picard. Yes, I will admit it. On the internet. In public. This. Would. Be. Awesome.  
9. Seth Cohen. Or maybe Also Sandy and Kiersten, and Ryan. Okay, all the Cohens. Although this would have to be bagels and shmear.

On Christmakkah.  
8. J.R.R. Tolkien. We all knew it was coming. #hobbitlife
7. Glen A. Larson. The creator and producer of Battlestar Gallatica. So many unanswered questions!
6. The entire cast of Frasier, in character of course. Too much. Too much on me. 

5. J.K. Rowling.
4. Martin Luther King Jr. I still have not finished Strength to Love because I am wrecked by it. And that is lovely and profound. What an honor it would be. I guess I will have to wait until the new heaven and new earth. You can bet that is on the list. 
3. Dan Rydell. Okay, I have an actual crush on Dan Rydell. If you have not watched Sports Night, then you are missing out. Dan is the best! Him and his New York Renaissance. Which is, by the way, one of my favorite playlists, which I am listening to right this minute. #anniehadthisonetoo #bandwagon #butigethimalltomyself #noreally
2. Gandalf. I can't imagine anything other than a riveting conversation wherein I walk away not having learned at all what I thought I would, but something far more complex and needed. I would probably be set on some sort of mission as well. lovely. 
1. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle. I totally have an author crush on him. Who doesn't want to dig into the mind of someone who created Sherlock Holmes? So, so interesting!

Well, there you have it, folks. I want to hear yours. Really, really, I do. Please share. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mable: My Grandma Beyer as I Remember Her

 My high school English teacher, Mrs Hilger once told me that I was a spitfire, in fact, that every red head she had ever known was a spit-fire. Takes one to know one, Mrs. Hilger, takes one to know one. Mable Beyer was Irish. She fought hard and worked hard and loved hard and played hard. She swore and told you what was on her mind and she had nine kids, countless spitfire grandchildren, and one love of her life. 

When I was 15, I was sitting in her den on Christmas Day watching the weather channel, which was always on at grandma's house, and generally trying to pretend I wasn't mortified to be there. Ugh. How could it be that this is where I was on Christmas Day?- this is just great. Mable looked at me over her reading glases on a string. "Sarah, how old are you?" "15," I answered, "Grandma, I am 15." "When I was your age" Oh, lordy, here it comes. "I had a best friend, and Carol did not like my best friend, and she made her life miserable. Carol, well, one day, she crossed the line and called my best friend a bitch. That was just not okay. I thought to myself that something had to be done, so I cornered Carol in sewing class and punched her. That should teach her." 

What is our heritage, Grandma? "Well, between me and your Grandfather, we have about 100% Irish and 100% percent German. I am more Irish than German, and your Grandfather is more German than Irish." With a maiden name like Mable McLanahan, you best be mostly Irish, and there was little room for doubt. 

We were wandering the streets of Cincinnati, looking at a model train display and probably just having come from Skyline Chili, when the New Year's song came on. And Mable, she just started singing along. Truthfully, I didn't know that song had words, and yet, here was Mable, singing words, clear as day and in perfect time. "What, Sarah? I have been to a party or two in my day, I know all the words, just you watch." 

After college, we wrote good, old-fashioned letters. I asked all about what it was like to raise nine kids, and how she met Grandpa. "I saw him in the dance hall, I just knew that he would be mine, so I made my way over there and made sure that is what happened." I asked about Grandpa changing his last name and about what it was like to be alive during the space race and the Cold War. I heard all about those things and about what it was that was ailling her, who she saw that week, how her bowling league was going, and even what she ate. I heard much more than I asked, and that was Mable. 

Last year when year Grandma turned ninety, we called her on Christmas Day. "You're 90, how do you feel, Grandma?"  "I'm still alive and kicking." In return, I teased, "I would expect no less." "Sarah, my plan is to die at 100, shot over jealousy about another woman's man." 

I have the quick wit and the Irish temper. I am more likely to threaten violence than to back down. I have no hestiations about giving you the truth straight, no chaser, and I am awfully fond of whiskey. But it is more than that. I am Mable's granddaughter and I had best live my life the best way I know how and with as much heart as possible. I had best open my heart and love those around me, I should find hobbies and lean into them, I should cross dance floors and flirt with  attractive men.

I have her bad knees thanks, Grandma, and her red hair thanks, Grandma, and her spitfire thanks, Grandma. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

That's the thing about Marla

There are so many things in my daily life that are touched by Marla. She was the first to make me listen to Brian Regan, she and I shared a love of muppets, and a love of decorating, and a love of applying movie quotes to daily life. She insisted that I try mint caramel dove chocolate, and we both love candy corn and tim tams. Even as I look around my office I see a stuffed kitty-kat that Marla gave to me one winter when I was battling a particularly nasty cold, a mug in the shape of a caldron that was filled with fall themed candy, a book that I loaned her years ago and just never took home, and a picture of us at NACCAP in front of a very amusing 4-story tall mural of Jesus. All of these things are shot through with joy, sass, and tenderness. I have so many memories of Marla saying something completely unexpected at just the right time, and it was hilarious. And even as I try to remember all the places in my life that are touched by Marla, it only hints at what it is that she meant to me and the impact she had.

That's the thing about Marla- her greatest impact is shown in the lives of people around her. Sometimes it feels like everyone says that, but it was true in such a special way with Marla. She listened without judgment, she was great at keeping confidences, and she invested deeply in the lives of those around her because she had a gift of seeing beauty and good in others. She was great at remembering and caring about things that were going on your life, following up on those things, and asking you what you needed in order to grow and move forward in your life. It is a rare gift indeed to actively invest in the growth of others as it interacts with daily reality. 

I think this last thing was rooted so deeply in Marla that it was hard to see. It can be hard to see that someone cares about your personal growth and your relationship with God. It can be harder to see when someone is invested deeply and advocating for you; and it can be even harder yet to see when that gift is in someone who is unassuming. I have seen it today in the outpouring surrounding Marla’s death. So many people have shared kind words and stories about Marla and they all contain some reflection of this particular strength. “She always wished she had more time to spend with each one of them.” “I am privileged to have known her.” “She truly fought hard to live well.” “Your love for the Lord was evident and you will be missed.” “Boss and dear friend.” “Co-worker, friend, confidant.”

One thing people remark on is Marla’s faith and her attitude in the midst of several battles with cancer. She would be the first to tell you that it was the Spirit in her. I know that she treasured the chances she got to point to the Lord and that she carried a burden for others to know the love of Christ. That has also been very clearly reflected in people's remembrances of Marla from sharing verses to talking about her example, encouragement, and joy that she is in heaven.

A few years ago, right after Marla was diagnosed with stage four cancer, her church started a series on heaven. It was a delight to be friends with Marla as she learned more about heaven and leaned into that reality in a deeper way. She had the unique position of being able to learn knowing that it would be true not just “one day” but one day soon. One of my favorite memories was when she learned that we will work in heaven- that we will have labor that is free from the fall and full of reward and fruit. Marla loved work, she loved TIU, and she loved the people she worked with. So the thought of having a role, a way to contribute that is not fallen and tainted with the struggle of sin- that was a glorious thought! I cannot wait to get to heaven and see what it is that Marla is up to and how much work she already has done, and to hear about it, and see the things she has built. As I sat there listening to her, we were both getting excited about this upcoming reality, and it hit me- she got to go first. I told her as much and she replied “You are darn right I do, I have cancer, and something good has to come out of this.” And it has, friend. I submit that many, many good things have come out of your cancer, and I am so deeply sorry that you had to walk through this and I can only wish that you never had to.