(*UPDATE* I just discovered that my friend Maximos Greeson also recommended the lectures here.)
St. George Orthodox Cathedral has a long list of wonderful sermons and lectures. My favorite so far is a two-part lecture on prayer delivered by Bishop Kallistos Ware. You can download the Windows Media Player file of Session I here. and Session II here.
This semester I’m taking a 400 level C.S. Lewis course for which we are expected to read one of Lewis’ books a week. This past Monday our class discussed The Chronicles of Narnia. Doodling in my notes, I came across a visual reason that the lion Aslan might be such a potent Christ-figure.
According to Lewis, most of his stories began with powerful images, and it was the image of the lion Aslan that inspired The Chronicles of Narnia:
One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. The Chronicles of Narnia all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.”
At first I had very little idea about how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.
One reason that the image of a lion captured Lewis’ attention might be that the lion’s mane is a built-in halo (as seen in iconography of Jesus). During the execution of Aslan, we see that, like the halo, the mane is a symbol of Aslan’s power (and divinity, really)—and so the White Witch Jadis is eager to see that it is shaved.
“Stop!” said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved”
Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan’s head. Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground. Then the ogre stood back and the children, watching from their hiding-place, could see the face of Aslan looking all small and different without its mane. The enemies also saw the difference.
“Why he’s only a great cat after all!”
Christ’s enemies, watching Him die, also jeered, “Why he’s only a man after all!” The great irony is that Christ’s relinquishment of the privileges of divinity is ultimately Satan’s undoing. Satan attempts to snuff out Christ’s divinity—represented by his halo—by destroying Christ’s physical body. Yet because of Christ’s victory over death, and resurrection, Satan only magnifies Christ’s divinity all the more.
There shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
I recently skimmed an article which maintains that certain art forms are soul-damaging and fallen. I agree that art which portrays only the discordant and ugly is dangerous.
However portrayals of ugliness may have their place. Scenes of the crucifixion contrast the sickening horror of all the world’s evil with the majestic selfless love of the suffering bridegroom. Movies such as Lord of the Rings portray Mordor and ugly orcs, pitting them against beautiful and noble creatures. These kinds of expressions allow us to deal with and acknowledge the evil inside our own hearts.
It seems significant that an artist who understood beauty as well as Da Vinci, practiced drawing grotesques in his spare time. Perhaps this was a secret infatuation with profanity. Or perhaps, just as repentance precedes redemption, a creature’s understanding of its own fallenness is one of its keys to understanding divine beauty.
So what of my crazy cartoons? I’ve been drawing bizarre wacky characters on every scrap piece of paper I could get my hands on since the second grade. Do they subvert beauty? Well, not so fast. Nature has its clowns and I believe that even the strangest creatures are beautiful. CS Lewis writes in his book Miracles that nature has a personality of its own with more than one trait. Very true. She is at once both exacting & mathematical and spontaneous & surprising. A tree’s branches follow a pattern, but twist and turn expressively. Every tree is unique just as no two snowflakes are identical. Animals sometimes have surprising traits we can’t account for.
Even nature’s ugliest creatures can seem beautiful at times. Yesterday I watched a wasp catch the light of the sun and I saw his shimmering armor like I’d never seen it before. Even the wasp’s dangling legs had their grotesque appearance removed. In Perelandra, CS Lewis’ character Ransom has a similar experience with a giant centipede-creature:
Ransom…turned to face the other horror [the insect-like creature]. But where had the horror gone? The creature was there, a curiously shaped creature no doubt, but all loathing had vanished clean out of his mind, so that neither then nor at any other time could he remember it, no ever understand again why one should quarrel with an animal for having more legs or eyes than oneself. All that he had felt from childhood about insects and reptiles died that moment; died utterly, as hideous music does when you switch off the wireless. Apparently it had all, even from the beginning, been a dark enchantment of the enemy’s.
Once, as he had sat writing near an open window in Cambridge, he had looked up and shuddered to see, as he supposed, a many coloured beetle of unusually hideous shape crawling across his paper. A second glance showed him that it was a dead leaf, moved by the breeze; and instantly the very curves and re-entrants which had made its ugliness turned into its beauties. At this moment he had almost the same sensation. He saw at once that the creature intended him no harm – had indeed no intentions at all. It had been drawn thither by the Un-man, and now stood still, tentatively moving its antennae.
Then again, there might be a level on which I need to refine my sensibilities. Virgil chides Dante for having a taste for vulgar things. Perhaps I too have a taste for things that need to be redeemed.
Another thing to note (and something Lewis points out) is that though nature is beautiful and awe-inspiring, she is also somewhat fallen and corrupted. The fallenness and excellence of nature is irrevocably connected to our relationship with it. We were intended to be its appointed governors, its kings and queens. We are related to it—nature itself is a part of our minds, a part of our artwork. But as go the king and queen, so goes the kingdom. Suppose God became corrupted and became a wicked being (impossible, I know). We who find our existence in him could not help either following in his train and becoming evil ourselves, or worse, ceasing to exist entirely. There is a reason our fairy tales imagine the woods to be full of both fairies & elves and goblins & witches.
One thing I will say is that the best cartoons have an ordering principle. Disney characters’ faces can be extra rubbery—but they only stretch so far. After a certain point we want to see the faces snap back into their original shapes. Good comics bend the rules–they don’t break them altogether. This is done in order to enhance a character’s expressiveness. Comic short-hand (a type of language in and of itself) might spring from a God-given love for human expression/communication.
Can cartoons make us better? Can they bring us closer to God? Can they make us more human? Can cartoons minister to people?
Here are several examples to consider:
Remember that whole controversy about the special on the Discovery Channel revealing the tomb in which Jesus was buried?
It’s definitely worth a listen (and only about ten-minutes long).
Acts 19:18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.
I have never been to a church in which the majority of the members confess their sins to each other. The only person confessing is often the pastor, who admits minor shortcomings as anecdotes in the sermons (such as “once I got mad in traffic”). The rest of us, however, are simply not going to reveal our shortcomings—especially to our Christian brothers and sisters. When we have the opportunity to mention prayer requests we usually pick safe non-incriminating topics such as the health of a family member.
Admittedly, many churches encourage accountability groups or accountability partners. While these are very good, the purpose is often subtly different than that of confession. In accountability groups, we don’t typically confess our sins in order to experience freedom or even absolution. Instead we go so that our fellow Christians will ask tough questions that keep us in check. Accountability is more about prevention. Confession is more about repentance.
But even where accountability groups are encouraged, they are not considered essential. I am willing to bet that in most evangelical congregations most Christians do not talk about their sins to anyone but God. Confession to God is important—but so is confession to His body, the Church.
The first question likely to be asked is whether or not audible, interpersonal confession of sin is biblical. Confession is first recommended in Proverbs:
Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
The writer says not to conceal sin—but we cannot conceal our sins from God. Thus, this passage is directing us to confess our sins before other people. In Old Testament Judaism this public confession is also evident in the sin offering and sacrificial system.
Next, we know that Jesus repeatedly chastised the Pharisees and teachers of the Law for concealing their sinfulness and creating a false illusion of righteousness.
Luke11:39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?
In addition to this, Jesus told the Pharisees that he could not help them, because they would not admit that they too were sick—as were the Romans and the tax collectors and the prostitutes.
1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
Remember, 1 John is written to people who are already Christians, so the writer is not talking about an initial “Good Confession”. By continually concealing our sins, we implicitly claim that we do not sin, making God out to be a liar. In this passage, walking in the light is equated with confessing sin. Walking in the darkness is equated with concealing sin. Walking in the light (confessing sin) allows us to have fellowship with one another and with the blood of Jesus.
James 5:16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
In James, confession of sin to other Christians precedes healing. There are many more examples that make it clear that confession was one of the practices of the early Church.
So, why do we confess our sins to each other? And how does it work? I don’t think I can squeeze all I want to write into one post, so I’ll attempt to work though these questions in part two (and three?).
Every now and then I read Michael Spence’s blog at internetmonk.com. His latest post relates
to my thoughts in Learning about Catholicism. While I compared contemporary Christianity to a buffet from which we are offered many flavors, Spence similarly compared the situation to being in a mall with many stores:
“You see, it’s supposed to work like this: The world of churches is like a big mall, and there are many different kinds of stores. You choose one store- ONE- and you go there for everything you need. You are LOYAL to that store. You BELIEVE in that store and what it’s all about; in the way it does things. You persuade others that your store is the one and only store real shoppers patronize. You buy name brand merchandise at every opportunity. It’s your store. Yes, there is a mall, but you only need one store.”
But Spence concludes that his search for “one store” has been fruitless.
“We’ve been Calvinists and Presbyterian, but we can’t go all the way. We love the Anglican and Episcopal churches, with their wonderful worship and liturgy. We find ourselves in Catholic churches a couple of times a year, and we’re deeply drawn by what we see, hear and experience, but we can’t go all the way and buy into it. Not with any of them.”
There are two possibilities presented here:
1. One of the Christian denominations/traditions is truly pure. Its doctrines and recommendations for conducting worship are superior to all others.
2. There are no denominations or traditions that are entirely pure. Each has its strengths and weaknesses which believers must (with God’s help) discover for themselves.
The first position is a difficult one to take, because every tradition seems to have one doctrine or more that I instinctively and intellectually don’t want to accept (mostly on biblical grounds). The second position is problematic because it nearly leaves me to custom-design my faith—even if I am operating from biblical principles.
Mark Driscoll has a knack for defining the difference between a market-driven church that conforms to culture and a missional church that seeks to change culture by translating timeless truth into language that the people of that culture can understand. (you can watch part two of this interview here )