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.

Ludwig van Beethoven

It was just him and me that evening

In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,

Like we’d somehow met halfway.

 

Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,

I offered to pay for the drinks

As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries

To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.

 

When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,

Catching the London fog along the length of the still river

As if it had wandered straight from some

Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry

Or a chapter from that Dickens novel

Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.

 

But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands

Like a beggar warding off frostbite

As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid

The stilted air of an interview

Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather

Or something equally grey and dull.

 

Yet, in the silence,

As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,

I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,

And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table

As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs

Splattered like notes along the bottom.

 

They spoke for themselves

The way they’d spoken all those years ago

In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,

The glorious Ode to Joy.

 

And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,

I slowly attach these headphones

And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,

The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.

 

And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,

The first, how beautiful the winter air,

The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know

He’s still got it.

Delineation

I wrote this poem across the length of California,

Scrawling these ink strokes through the vineyards and the shoreline,

Even on the edges of the “H” in Hollywood.

 

I waltzed through the City of Angels

Tuned to an imaginary score,

Pulling up pieces of the highway and blowing them in the air.

Then I hopped on the eastbound train in an old and rusted boxcar,

Writing another line on the face of wooden crates,

Even on the metal sheets stacked against the corner.

 

The next night I high-fived the vampires in Denver

And dashed off another verse on a creaky traffic light

As I swung from its taut cable, my shoelaces

Reaching toward the windows of the passing cabs below.

 

In Dallas they saw me dance on all the tablecloths,

Kicking over glasses, scribbling on the centerpieces.

 

I wandered round in Nashville,

Dizzied by the neon lights,

And etched a lovely metaphor on the back of a guitar,

One where I compared love to a waning moon.

 

Then the wind ran wild beneath my arms in Atlanta,

The universe of skyscrapers, planets of burning light,

Offices and windows humming with breath

And watching close as I straddled the top of a limousine,

Pockets inside out, my words on every exit

Down the infinite interstate.

 

Well, I should tell you,

I wrote this poem all the way to your house

Where I finally lay down in the middle of the road,

Anchored the tip of my pen to your cold street,

And waited for the world to turn,

Drawing a new equator.

 

Two hemispheres,

One for each of us.

Play

We folded our arms around each other

As the pages of our scripts flurried like glitter

To the floor, making eights in the air,

Surrounding our slow dance between the walls of an elevator, descending

From our room to the lobby.

 

We couldn’t care, neither of us,

To catch a line, or even a single cue.

You just watched my eyes as I lit up all the buttons,

Resetting the clock,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

 

Only now the air was softer, small enough

To hear the snare drums in my coat,

The train of bells along my sleeves,

And the electric guitar in every fingertip

As I sent my love to you.

 

For our laughter, yours and mine together,

Carries spectral lines, neon

And warm, as we play in this metal box that

Rises and falls like chests along this building.

Even the fog from our hurried talking

Brushes the inside of the cold window, reminding me

To engrave our initials, if for a moment,

Into the cloud that we created

Before it fades away to time

And frost.

 

I know our evening’s slipping

Farther down the wishing water,

But still we crowd our fingers,

Intertwine them for a moment.

And in that still frame

Before the kites of our words and our laughter have risen,

I send my love to you,

And you, me,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

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.

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.”

Feed the Birds

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a file of old papers and articles from my college years, tucked away in the recesses of my hard drive. As I read through some of my previous writing, I felt the familiar pangs of nostalgia, embarrassment (“Did I really write that?”), and self-awareness. Yet, there is a glory in revisiting the person I once was and seeing what I once saw in a brand new light. Suddenly, those memories are reborn, and those words on the page are given an opportunity to live and speak again. The former “me” is beckoned from the grave of yesteryear and taught to walk again…

So, in the spirit of reminiscence, I’d like to share with you an article I wrote for my college newspaper on February 11, 2009 and, in the words of Emily Dickinson, ask that you “judge tenderly of me.” 🙂 


cnsmovie_marypoppins_13When Walt Disney was approached with the song “Feed the Birds” for his upcoming musical Mary Poppins, his immediate response upon hearing it was, “Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” The song instantly became his favorite, prompting him to repeatedly ask its composers to play it for him every time he saw them. “Feed the Birds” was included in the film, accompanying one of the most touching scenes and introducing the world to lines we will never forget: “Though her words are simple and few, listen, listen, she’s calling to you. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.”

Though I may be biased due to the position this movie holds on my All-Time Favorites list, I believe there is much to learn from this simple scene. As twenty-first century Christians, we have become weighed down and burdened by our self-imposed need for security and accomplishment, constantly bombarding ourselves with the pressure of figuring everything out and understanding where God wants us to be next. We willingly reduce our lives to a giant game of “Where’s God’s Will?” with a red-and-white striped Christ hiding in the corner.

Why do we choose to make following Him so complicated? Is His desire for our lives really to understand every detail of every day, to scribble out all the equations of the next few years in an expensive Moleskin diary? What about his command to cast all our cares upon Him? Now, it is admittedly more convenient to introduce ourselves to the chalkboard and explain to everyone just how the timeline of our lives is supposed to operate. We feel comfortable up there, convincing ourselves and those around us of what tomorrow should look like.

But when life throws us the proverbial curveball, we doubt. We question. We begin to believe we have what it takes to dissect the mysteries of God and find a diagnosis for whatever has slowed us down. Do we truly believe it is up to us to figure out everything Christ has planned for us? If God is, indeed, sovereign, then we should have nothing to fear. We should not have to stress ourselves with the undue responsibility of managing our own lives, making sure that God is on our schedule and within our budget.

Unfortunately, our tendency is to take the gifts we’ve been given, like Michael Banks’ tuppence, and head straight to the bank to sort out our Christian 401(k)s. Of course, it is no sin to plan for the future and be careful with what we have, but it is inside that bank that we tend to complicate everything by trying to figure our lives out. We invest our tuppence into our problems and finding our solutions to them. Instead, we could stop the over-analysis and simply accept the gifts He has given us, running out of our bank and into His cobblestone streets with them. We should learn to spend less time figuring out our lives and more time playing music on the corner, painting masterpieces from chalk, and feeding the birds…one day at a time.

Everyone Moves Away – The Soundtrack of the Soul

10481858_298121743700397_3975414626893827198_nIn a clever turn, the music group Everyone Moves Away printed on their Facebook band page a rather revealing insight into what makes their music speak so beautifully and effortlessly to the humanity in all of us. For the “Location” section on their profile, they simply put: Earth.

This pithy statement speaks to the vast range of human experience and cosmic potential that EMA seeks to capture in the electric, near interstellar depth of their music. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to write a review of their first EP, titled I, in which I said the following:

“Hailing from the Music City itself, Nashville-based Everyone Moves Away is taking quite a unique approach to capturing the powerful and transcendent effect of music on each of us. Founded by music producers and writers of diverse backgrounds and projects, EMA represents the kaleidoscopic effect of varying styles and experiences blending into a unified, storytelling voice. […] The heart of EMA lies in the atmospheric, almost cinematic beauty of their music, a thrilling combination of lucid guitar phrases, sweeping ambient tones, electronica, and anthemic choruses that highlight frontman Chris Small’s soulful, yet melancholy vocals . In their debut EP I, EMA fluidly moves from the hauntingly-lovely dream quality of “East Lights” to the wild blood of the ever-hopeful “We’re Only Getting Closer.” Steeped in the natural harmony between music and memory, Everyone Moves Away explores what is most true and most raw to the depths of human experience.”

Now, I’d like to take the occasion to conduct a brief exploration of their most recent work, aptly titled II. For all the overwhelming intensity and spirit evident in their freshman project, II delivers power and feeling that only furthers the band’s firm command over musical and poetic effort.

  1. “Waiting for Futures” – The EP opens on an almost dizzying array of atmospheric sound, pulsating in and out to introduce the tone of the whole album. In effect, we are invited into a spiritual space, a devoted study of hope and melancholy that escalates dramatically as Chris Small, the frontman, lyrically unravels the beautiful chorus: “All we have is falling / What are you waiting for?” With this incredible opener, EMA shares the emotional richness of wistful yearning and passionate feeling, captured in a brief, yet moving lyric. A personal favorite. 
  2. “Collide” – A more pop, upbeat number, “Collide” takes the heart of the first track and transmutes it to a young, anthemic dance hit. Yet, for the stark contrast, the music doesn’t lose its sense of continuity. The song’s primary focus is on the steady beat as the guitars and Small’s vocals soar over the march, quite an artful choice to combine a pounding rhythm with lofty, elongated lyrical phrases.
  3. “The Pale Star” – The shortest track on the record, this song distills the solemn and pensive moments of EMA’s sound and creates a small but lovely “miniature epic.” To the film reel of II, “The Pale Star” is a simple snapshot, a moment.
  4. “With the Night” – Considering the full force and broad appeal of the song, “With the Night” seems to open with a sort of false start, a promise that the track will deliver a slow and soothing ballad as Small calmly drifts through the verse. Then, all promises break as he calls out to herald the chorus and the drums respond: “So what do we whisper now? / I can tell we’ve lost control / The sun is going down on us / We’ve never found ourselves so sure / Love is lost with the night”. Featuring a spoken-word piece (delivered by Small) during the bridge, “With the Night” is perhaps EMA’s most eclectic and surprising track to date.
  5. “Hollywood” – Seemingly a second-act to “Collide”, “Hollywood” starts right off the bat with vocals, drums, and a modulating bass synth, mingling to create a walking rhythm (get your earbuds and get moving!). The ambience and startling digital effects throughout the track make “Hollywood” an addicting, attractive pop wonder, perhaps underscored by Small’s haunting lyrics: “Everything is fantasy […] Our nights playing on a movie screen […] Will you dance with me one more time? One more time?”
  6. “A Lone Spark” – Another shorter track, “A Lone Spark” combines cloudy and foggy swells with a punctuated single note repeated like a dotted line as Small’s vocals fade in and out of transmission. Darker in tone and somber in effect, “Spark” brings us to the end, reminding us of the pain and loneliness of exile only to prepare us for the glory of home in their best track “Everything”…
  7. “Everything”  – “Everything with my eyes closed / I can see you come alive / And with our eyes closed / I can feel the sun” So concludes the beautiful quest. Small has led us through dream and memory, futures and sparks, and here we experience a wondrous resurrection as we “come alive” through the power and transcendence of music: “When we wake, we aren’t the same / Are we a dream inside the sky? / And everything that we can see is everything close to me”. The final phase of the song, and indeed the endnote of the record, is a glorious bursting forth of voices and instruments, electric and vibrant, loudly pulsing to a close as we are left singing along, with our own eyes closed, fully alive.

Everyone Moves Away’s music can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and on their website.

EMA is comprised of Chris Small (vocals, guitar, keys), Melissa Mattey (keys, vocals), and Tony High (keys, drums, percussion).

2014_06_ema