The Gospel According to Snow White

RevelryA little over a year ago, I wrote a post referencing the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty and how its depiction of dragon-slaying and the victory of goodness over evil is quintessentially biblical, reverberating with the sweet harmonies of Jesus’ grand story. We now must turn to Snow White

I brought home the movie a few weeks ago for my daughters to watch. Toward the end of the film, I was struck by the sheer power and depth of the story in displaying both the dilemma of death and the transcendent beauty of redemption, culminating in the glorious resurrection of all things. Indeed, the Bible teaches that Eden most certainly will be restored, and, to quote T.S. Eliot, “all shall be well, and / All manner of thing shall be well” (The Four Quartets). In his Revelation, John declares with valiant sureness, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Rev. 21:5).

It should be no surprise that the gospel can appear in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of transformative power. After all, all truth is God’s truth. Tolkien showed us this in his epic tale of a halfling saving all of Middle-Earth. Who can forget the disbelief, the skepticism many shared that the responsibility for the One Ring should fall to a lowly hobbit? Or that the salvation of all the Jews could rest in the hands of Esther, one who attained her royal position “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)?

Even more directly, Chesterton writes in his essay “The Ethics of Elfland” of the glorious beauty and wonder that fairy tales hold in presenting the most dynamic truth in truly astonishing ways:

“…We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales because they find them romantic…This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water…We have all forgotten what we really are”

Chesterton is right; fairy tales jolt us awake to the absolute vibrancy and wonder of God’s True Story. Indeed, these stories we tell are numinous, bathed in sunlight; we merely need eyes to see them. The world and its millions of stories, trickling through every pore of reality, are diaphanous, “charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins). Just as Plato described the awakening of man’s reason to see the light beyond the cave, for these are mere shadows before us, Lewis believed the resurrecting of man’s imagination drew us “further up and further in” toward the dawn of True Reality to see the glory of God’s story in living color. Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “To see the common things of daily life drawn into the bright shadow of the Christ – this is the mark of a well-nourished theological imagination. It is precisely the biblically formed and transformed imagination that helps disciples wake up and stay awake to what is, and will be, in Christ Jesus” (“In Bright Shadow”).

So, we must turn to the truth and beauty of Snow White not to be merely entertained but to equip the eyes of our imagination to see more clearly the truth and beauty of God’s Story.

The Bliss of Eden

DopeyWhen Snow White arrives at the dwarves’ cottage, we see a warm and inviting portrayal of Eden: there are chores and tasks to be done (to the blissful tunes of whistling while you work, of course), there is community and fellowship, and the cottage is alive with song and dance. Merriment abounds. The story presents this way of life as a perfect balance of duty and desire; each person has a role to fill, and he or she fills it gladly. Sneezy is the one who sneezes, Happy is the one who is happy, Grumpy is the one who is grumpy, and so on.

Dwarves

At the center of this pure and enchanting home is the image of Beauty herself, the ideal virtue incarnate in the character of Snow White, the proverbial “fairest of all.” She is undistorted by the seductions of the mirror, and she is elevated to the right position of a bride and mother, for the prince seeks her hand in marriage, and the dwarves seek her loving and affectionate arms in biblical domestic motherhood. She is the mother of all the living, and the eventual bride of the prince. The stage is set for the great Drama.

The Dilemma of Death

AppleEdenic paradise, God’s story tells us, is subject to the rebellion of man. It was only a matter of time before Snow White would face the choice to fall from the warmth and glory of her perfect home. And fall she does as she fills her mouth with the false deliciousness of the Queen’s poisoned apple and succumbs to the deep sleep of death. Yet, this sleeping death is no individual affair; the effects of her sin are not limited to her lifeless body. Indeed, all of nature is bent by her fall, and when the dwarves encase the body of Snow White in the glass coffin, all of creation attends to mourn the death of Beauty. It is a truly eerie scene in the film; Snow White lies beneath the numb sheet of sin and death, quiet and still, as her dwarves weep softly around her and all of the woodland creatures draw near to see and to mourn. In their sorrow, they know that ultimate Beauty has died and their perfect world has been damaged by darkness and evil. All of creation feels the sting.

Funeral

The Kiss of Life

In this bleak moment of despair and sadness, the sleeping bride is powerless to rise from her bed of death. She needs the sweet kiss of a savior, the arrival of her great prince to bring her back to life. She needs resurrection, not only for her but for all the grieving world. Mourning must turn to morning.

And so arrives the great prince, ready to unseal the curse of death with the kiss of life. I challenge anyone to watch this scene and not whisper “amen” at the moment their lips touch, for this is truly our story. This is our greatest need. We are the sleeping Bride of Christ, desperately in need of Christ’s resurrecting power. Hear the old song:

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth,
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

Kiss

Indeed, our Prince has come to kiss us wide awake. Savor the beauty and the power of the Story.

Tolkien writes it this way:

“‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

Amen. May it be. A great Shadow has departed, and everything sad is coming untrue.

All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

We all live happily ever after.

Students

A poem to my students…


I wonder if it’s a sonnet,

The poem of your life,

As I hear your shoes squeak their stanzas across the floor to your desk

And you click your blue mechanical pencil

Twice to take a quiz.

 

For I happened to notice two index cards,

Like a light pink couplet,

Tucked beneath the tidy layers of your notebook

As you closed your eyes, breathed, reassured yourself

Of what you knew and filled your name at the top.

 

Or do you live and breathe in music,

All elbows and gym bags, your fingers

Twitching steadily the edges of your sweatshirt?

Perhaps your life is a lyric, a rhythm

Kept in meter by the beat of basketballs,

Or the wild and fearless drummings of your

Feet along the track?

 

Or you, there in the far row,

Do you see the world in free verse?

Eyes bright from gazing through kaleidoscopes,

Bending the sky around your ballpoint pen?

From here I see your frenzied scribbling in that beat-up journal,

The back of your homework, the length of your arm,

Scrambling to seize your swelling thoughts,

Your echoing afterthoughts,

Your madcap fever of creativity.

 

And I bet hers is a ballad, a song,

Her eyes telling the fear in the horizons,

Dreaming of afternoon, of evening,

Of the time she’ll spend with her father

Before his illness takes a turn.

 

Whatever they are,

These poems in your mouths, your hands, your smiles,

They somehow fit each one of you, like shadows

Filled with beauty and, ironically,

With light.

 

And when I am old,

Beyond the reach of my podium,

My pen, my worn and dog-eared Hamlet,

I will see you all,

Again and again and again,

As young as autumn leaves

Reddening, then leaping

Into the constant winds of change.

Wife

Your fingers felt the hem of your violet dress

When you first looked over at me,

And for a moment I swear the room rippled

Like water kissed by a skipping stone.

 

Then you spoke,

And all the watercolor rain

In every cloud between us

Began to fall,

Rinsing the beautiful stillness,

Bearing your words like notes on sheet music

Across the twirling wind,

The sweetness of roses,

The lovely taste of light.

 

Your smile curled at the corners like hymnals,

Bright with the glory of verse,

The joy of Christ resting on your gentle cheeks

And your eyes deeper than morning.

 

I stood helpless as you swept your hair behind your shoulder,

Arrested by a single sentence,

A hundred hummingbirds whirring in my chest.

For you were no mere person,

No woman on a busy street,

But starlight on the evening sea,

Melody in rosined strings,

Beauty in a violet dress.

 

And still, now,

As I rake the snow with my right hand,

Five fingers along the length of our front yard,

And the cold night laughs a flurry of new blankets,

I see our children dance around the staff that I have drawn,

Stepping out a chorus, leaving notes beneath their shoes,

And I know when I look up,

I’ll see my lovely wife,

And we’ll smile in quiet gladness

For the time that we’ve been given.

To My Mother on Her Birthday

My mother’s birthday is today, and I wanted to honor her and everything she has done for my family and me by writing this poem for her. Happy birthday, Mom.


I saw her breathing deeply

As I stared through strands of tumbling hair,

Like little wispy veils,

Slurring my sleepy vision as I shivered at her bedside.

I was small and scared and four.

 

My mother’s sleep lay on her thick as quilts,

Lulling her tired bones to the rest of sacred dreams,

Filled with the iron ballast of a day of boundless worship:

Her living room worn by the hymns of an aged vacuum,

Choruses offered as sacred vespers,

The clouds of sunset filling her temple,

My mother’s domestic liturgy.

 

I see her hands fold behind her pillow,

Fingers faded by the baptism of dishes,

The scrape of cereal from the bowl and the wisdom of rags

Wiping away the filth of human failures.

 

Her forehead lightens as her mind replays

The wonders of laughter

And the splattering grace of the evening meal,

Smeared cheeks chewing on the Passover,

Remembrances of a body broken

As my mother’s bends beneath the steam of a swollen oven,

Her electric altar of praise.

 

My little voice whispers through missing teeth

That the dragon in my room was snarling again,

Its bared fangs aching for the taste of boy,

And I needed her to rescue my wet sheets.

 

Her eyes half-closed,

Limbs dangling from the strings of endless love,

She stumbles to the linen closet as I anxiously peer through the dark,

Searching for the twin braids of smoke in the shadows of my urine-stained room,

Trusting in the holy strength of my beautiful mother

Whose arms bear the load of a midnight sacrifice

And whose kiss can slay the dragons.

The God of Great Feasting (The Joy of the Lord Is Our Strength)

full_cropped_LOTR---The-Return-of-the-King-471In an age of rampant cynicism, intense narcissism, and deep defiance toward absolutes such as truth, goodness, and beauty, the ache for passionate and rich festivity must burn ever more feverishly in our hearts. This sour world, lost in the mirrors of its vanity and drowning in the white noise of feeds, posts, snaps, and late-night binges, is in dire need of a good feast, what Tolkien saw as an evening by the fire, filled with boisterous laughter and great dancing. Or, as Lewis saw, what greater way to herald the breaking of winter than the carousing of creatures at the coming of spring? The promise of resurrection is a great promise, full and strong, breaking like the tide against this screen-drunk land.

I am fond of saying Christians, by definition, ought to be the most celebratory, revelrous, festive, merry, jubilant, glorious, and passionate beings on Earth, for we are little Christs, microcosms of the cosmos-Creator. We are followers of the Maker of laughter, the Author of baby-babble, the Sculptor of forestry, and the Inventor of the taste of s’mores. We are disciples of the One who ringed Saturn, spoke light, and lulled the raging seas. We serve the God who made music and poetry, and as we behold His glory, we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Cor. 3:18). As we become more and more like our wondrous Creator, the world ought to see us laugh as He laughs, forgive as He forgives, dance and sing and shout. He is the prodigal Father, excessive and exuberant in His splendor. Indeed, as His cup overflowed with His grace, so must our cups overflow with His praise, held high in joyful cheer and strong power.

The psalmist declares, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:7)

—“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

—“Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (Ps. 57:8-9).

In Isaiah, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Is. 55:2)

In Ecclesiastes, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Eccl. 9:7, 9).

In Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

In Thessalonians, “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16).

And from Nehemiah, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Master of My Peace Calls Me His Masterpiece

I’d like to introduce my guest writer for this post. Will Yancey is a former student of mine, and he revisited our school this week with a powerful zeal and passion for Christ quite visible on his face. This contagious energy for the work of the Lord is a great testimony to Will’s growing faith, but an even greater testimony lies in his even writing this post. Will would be the first to admit that he never really liked to write; yet, here we are. May you be encouraged as you read the Spirit-saturated words of this incredible young man.


A_Painter,_oil_on_mahogany_painting_by_Ernest_Meissonier,_1855The day was cold, dark, and rainy, one of those days that all you want to do is snuggle up with the ones whom your heart adores, build a crackling fire, and press your lips to a hot mug with even hotter joe inside. See, it all seems so perfect, so picturesque, a moment with good friends, good family, beautiful places, and the best memories. You see it on social media all the time, and you desire nothing more than to experience the abundance that you see in others’ lives. All of this is perfect, but then you come to see you are alone. You are not sitting in the Colorado Mountains. You are not gathered around a warm, crackling fire. You do not have friends over, and your family seems more disconnected than ever. No, none of these things are happening. You just sit quietly alone, slowly and mindlessly scrolling through your phone, looking at everyone else’s “perfect” little lives. It hurts. You feel as though your life will never measure up to the standard of the latest Instagram celebrity. You will never go on an adventure quite like theirs. You will never be able to do yoga quite like that girl we all seem to know. And you certainly will never be as beautiful or handsome as that girl or boy who just received 100,000 likes on their latest post. What happens next? You look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself a lie. “I will never be any of these things; therefore, I will never be good.”

Heartbreaking.

So, my question is this: When the world presents a grand horizon of possibilities, why do we feel as though we will never reach any of them? Why do we believe the lies whispered to us everyday? I will tell you why. You and I live in a dark, broken world corrupted by sin and darkness. A world where the deceiver will get you to believe everything except the truth you deserve to hear. As apologist and theologian Ravi Zacharias says, “The truth is the most valuable thing in the world, often so valuable it is guarded by a body of lies.” Like I just said, lies are constantly being fed to you, but in the midst of  the lies, our Lord has already laid right before your eyes an everlasting truth that utterly declares how beautiful you have already been made. In Ephesians 2:10 the Lord announces His glory by laying out exactly how He sees you and how he intends you to see yourself. The verse declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus , so we can do good things he planned for us long ago.”

Take a minute.

Breathe.

Rest in that truth and soak it all in.

No matter what you have been told in the past, you are a masterpiece. How relieving is that truth? That we do not have to carry around the burden and the question of “Am I good enough?” We just get to live in the truth that my Father told me: “I’m a masterpiece.” There is no longer a question, but only a truth. So, here is my challenge to you. Live in that freedom every single day for the rest of your life, even if you have to sit and constantly remind yourself of the truth moment after moment after moment after moment. Though the enemy may feed you lies, the best defense against lies is telling them the truth. The truth will set you free. Truth abounds, and it will always be victorious because our Creator is truth.

Just as a boy has to pursue the heart of a damsel who longs to have her heart fought for, so is the way of the Lord in the pursuit of your love towards Him. Unlike the damsel, who shows strength and beauty when she does not quickly give her heart, the Lord desires we give our whole being away for His name sake. What a beautiful picture of love. Our Father will pursue our hearts for all of eternity purely so we can drown ourselves in His fullness. I beg you, live in His freedom today. Do not wait one moment longer to cry out to Him and give yourself away for His name. Oh, and about Instagram, that lie that your life will never add up to those things. Well, you hold the destiny for the quality of life you live in your hands. Go outside. Build a fire. Call everyone you know. Brew some coffee. Tell your family to put their phones away and challenge them to gather together before the Lord. Make memories. Who’s stopping you other than yourself? Adventure awaits you everywhere you go when living life with the Lord. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air and praise the Lord for his goodness, even if you are in the most worthless part of town. You do not have to hike the Appalachian trail with a GoPro to experience adventure. It is in your back yard. It is the closest river or the tree at Grandma’s. Learn yoga and laugh at yourself when you fall over! Who cares if you cannot look like a scorpion. YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING, NOT A SCORPION! Oh, and next time you see that picture of the Instagram celebrity, you look at the picture and you say, “Wow what a beautiful person. God, thank you for making me in Your image just like You did this person.” Then, you go to Him in praise that you are a masterpiece. Never, ever forget the truth. It will change your life.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” -John 8:31-32

Longing for Eden. Living in Babel.

So, here we go.

As Eden.Babel has been revamped and reorganized from its previous blog-manifestation, I’d like the inaugural post to throw back to an article I wrote over a year ago in which I first discuss our cultural and corporate depravity as a new Babel, institutionalized and broadly congratulated by its citizens. For Christians living in this age, however, we must have our eyes fixed on the glimpses and shadows of a new-and-greater Eden, the promised land where the lion will lie with the lamb and the Lord will rule the nations. We must remember that every knee will bow. As Mark Lowry once quipped, “The question is not whether or not you will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but when will you.”

We must engage wholeheartedly with this world; we must read its literature, hear its songs, observe its trends. We must be cultural reformers. We must live in Babel, but long for Eden…


God gave us Eden; we built Babel.

So begins the story of human history. In Genesis 2 and 3 we read of God’s creation of Eden, and our hearts weep for the loss. Though many of us rarely (I would imagine) consciously mourn our lost home, nothing informs our existences more. Our daily struggles, our joys, our griefs, our pains, our pleasures are all viewed through the cracked lenses of our exiled state.

In Genesis 2 God created man, and man needed a place to call home:

“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Notice that God breathed through dust to make man and, upon breath one, went to work to build a home for us. God designed Eden for man. We must not miss the intentionality and the purpose of this grand garden. All good art (and yes, there is “good” art and “bad” art) reveals a deliberateness, an intentionality. God so loved man, on purpose, as to create an ideal, beautiful paradise for him, and therein “to put the man whom he had formed.” No ruse, no gimmick, no tricks. God laid Adam in the center of Eden as if to say, “I love you and want you to have all of this.” Eden was God’s first surprise gift for mankind. God crafted a masterpiece for undeserving, unlearned man seconds after his making and gave it over unreservedly. Our debt of gratitude to a loving God has gone strong ever since.

God lavished Eden upon man:

And out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Eden was a brilliant display, an art form itself, the epicenter of loveliness and virtue. In Eden God surrounded Adam with an abundance of both aesthetic value (“pleasant to the sight”) and practical value (“good for food”). And, if that were not enough, God caused all this value, all this beauty, to spring up from the ground, a geyser of brilliant trees and fruits in a dazzling, miraculous kaleidoscope of creation. Wherever Adam looked, he saw God’s grandeur shooting up from the same dirt which formed his own bones and skin, blood and lungs.

At the heart of this wonder stands God’s first words to Adam:

“You may surely eat […]”

Adam, showered in God’s unbelievable abundance and joining God in unbroken companionship for all eternity, knew the intention of Eden. But God wasn’t through. Atop all of God’s unknowable love in Eden, God fashioned Eve, the “helper suitable for man,” and Adam was finally home. The beauty of Eden’s acreage, the love of a kind woman, all needs afforded, all hungers satisfied, all desires met in full, and all of God all the time. All of life was meant to be all-lived in all of Eden.

But man was a prideful beast, longing for the minds of gods, and he fell. Selling Eden for pretty words from a silver tongue, man traded God’s gift for the stuff of earth. From dust to Eden, Eden back to dust.

Generations pass, and man is steeped in sin. Evil is the order of the day. In Genesis 11 the full gulf between God and man is imaged in the colossus of Babel:

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves […]”
 
Notice the Creation language borrowed from Gen. 1:26 “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” The parallel is distressing; as God’s display of His own image is man, man’s display of his own image is a tower of brick and tar. God builds a tower of dirt and calls it man; man builds a tower of dirt and calls himself god.

Nowhere in Genesis 11 does the Bible mention any attempt of man’s to “reach God” through the building of Babel. They simply built for themselves a great city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” Their intention is unmistakable: “let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us build our own Eden, exchanging the breath of God for the smell of tar, the coolness of the day for the hot clay of a thousand bricks. Let us exist not in humility to God but in the pride of our own hands.

If I could summarize all of human history in one statement, I would say, “God gave us Eden; we built Babel.” God gave us all things richly to enjoy, and we threw (and continue to throw) everything away. With one hand we stack our pile of bricks to the sky, with the other we shake a fist at the sky. We sell God and Eden for the trifles of Earth and are angry at God for the suffering in the world?

Every corner of this world echoes the hallowed ground of Eden. All of this world, whether it knows or not, is a reaching back. All of this world is a longing for homecoming. All of this world, though feeding at the prodigal trough, yearns to come home to Eden and the Father. Any height of pleasure, any happiness, any beauty the world hands us is a warped, corrupted photograph of Eden. The world knows the language of Eden but only the words and no meanings. When Hollywood undresses and beckons us to the bedroom, it speaks the words but with no substance. One may know every word in English, but without meaning, he knows nothing; it is merely gibberish. When we gaze at stars, rock peacefully in oceans, stare into the greatness of Grand Canyons, we hear the language of God, but the meaning is lost. It is no wonder Babel became the confusion of languages; when we exchanged God’s garden for our own towers, we gave back the definitions but kept the words.