Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor — A Review by Rev Dr Peter J. Scaer

revdr-peter-scaerThe title is stark, as is the cover. But with this book, Christopher Thoma has done a great service for the church. To be honest, I had it on my shelf for a month, and opened it up because my wife didn’t like the sound of the tv. But after biting on one chip, I finished the bag. The morning after, its images are seared on my brain. The accounts are fiction, the stories are real. They are what every pastor has felt. Now, mind you, this book is not an invitation to a pity party. But, it’s about the human condition, as seen from the pastor’s perch.

For starters, Thoma has a way with words, but more than words. He’s letting you inside the mind and heart of a pastor. What he does in these ten little vignettes is to offer an intimate picture of the pastor’s life, his joys and frustrations. In a sense, the pastor-people relationship is like a marriage. You get what you put into it. Do you want a pastor who is faithful and loving, one who cares for you, and for the things of God? One who cares for your eternal soul? Chances are, you already have one. And, to borrow a line from Stephen Stills, it might be the better course to love the one you’re with.

The stories here are poignant, insightful, full of joy, but also heartache, real heartache. In one, we’re told of a pastor receiving an anonymous letter, that is a love and prayer on the surface, but poison underneath. In another, we feel the pain of a pastor’s wife who feels invisible. We see a congregational member being sucked into a unholy cabal, under the guise of caring. We hear the story of a pastor eating cold spaghetti, bills mounting, wife fretting, while congregational members seem to be living a much easier life. Along those lines, there is the “careless word,” what happens when a snarky member comment on the pastor’s wife’s “new” 55,000 mile used mini-van. We get the pastor’s kid, the good kid, who loves his dad, but is under the prying eye of an unsympathetic member. And, we see a bishop who acts nothing like a bishop. You can also feel the smarm dripping off the page, the unctuous piety, the oily words that undermine so many a young pastor, sympathetic counsel that has no sympathy.

This little tome from Thoma is a must-read for church members, church councils, boards of elders, and, most definitely, every call committee and district president. Our pastors are doing good work, they love their people, but we can do a better, a much better job, of caring for them. And, the least we can do, if we love them, or if not them, the Lord who sent them, is to see the thing from their perspective. I spend my time now as a professor, but the words ring true, and remind me of my own brief time doing that which faithful pastors are called to do for a lifetime. Read this book and you’ll be informed. Changed, even.

[Originally published on Dr Scaer’s Facebook page; re-published with permission.]

The Pool in the Glade

Dearest R,

Springtide

 
I took a respite from the day’s experiences beside a tree, upon the edge of a lush glade. When I had restored my breath, a glint caught my eye. I looked to this direction and perceived a family of birds lifting into the sky, a soft mist falling from their wings. Realising a sudden thirst, I took up my feet and moved to inspect where the birds had come, hoping to find water.
 
There was indeed a large pool, marked by a curious placard fixed to the ground; it read ‘The Waters Perilous’. Whatever the warning, the water was sweet; remarkably I was slaked with the first draught. (I wish had a pouch to fill with this mysterious drink.) I set about to cool my face and clean my eyes  and forehead of the perspiration and grime of the lengthy walking.
 
The Sword in the Pool

The Sword in the Pool

As I wiped my mouth I saw what I had not before: the water lay in a sheer hole, and was clear as crystal, such that I could see the bottom as clearly as seeing the bottom of a drinking glass; and within the water was something metallic and magnificently fashioned. I dove into the pool. Indeed, it was a sword, plunged into a stone — nearby a threshold cut into the side of the earth. I tried my hand at the sword and found that it would glide easily into my possession. But having no sword belt, and no way to know if the weapon was meant for anyone, I left it in its place.

 
Meanwhile, the doorway into the earth sung to me. I returned to the surface to fill my lungs, and then swam to the doorway. It was dark, with no way of telling if my breath could hold to the end. The cavern was foreboding, and my heart quickened as one hearing the trumpet to charge into certain death. I looked to the sword again, noticing now that light exuded from the blade. I returned to the surface for another breath and decided. Submerging again, I took up the sword and found it would at least provide the light I needed to see my way through the underground passage….
 
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Mr. Spock saves the Enterprise in Star Trek III and IV.
Emmet leaps off Octan tower to save Bricksburg in The Lego Movie.
Harry Potter defeats Lord Voldemort on more than one occasion.
Gandalf returns to Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn in Fangorn Forest after battling the Balrog.
Aslan died and rose to save Edmund and all of Narnia from the White Witch’s curse.
Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. Bagheera’s eulogy for Baloo in the Jungle Book.

There’s a common pattern here; the key to the story or scene is a death and resurrection.

And in these death and resurrection stories we see a glimpse of the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus Crucified for you and your salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection is greater because it is both meaningful and true. It is history:  Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and rose again for you. After Paul’ conversion, which is also a death and resurrection story, this was his constant refrain:

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him Crucified.

The Conversion of Paul is also a death and resurrection story. After all, every time the Holy Spirit creates faith there’s a death and resurrection. Your Baptism is a death and resurrection in Jesus, just as Saul’s was. Christ crucified is our constant refrain as well.

Paul’s death and resurrection story began as he was heading down the road to Damascus breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He had a license to persecute. But suddenly a blinding light knocked him off his horse. Heaven flashed before his eyes. Saul fell to the ground as a dead man. And the voice of Jesus rang out in his ears.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Saul probably thought he was going to die. But there’s the irony. Saul was already dead — dead in trespasses and sin as he would later write in Ephesians 2. His mouth was an open grave that spewed forth curses, bitterness, and deceit (Romans 3) against Christ and Christians.

He was blind — spiritually — and for three days physically as well, a real-life object lesson to teach Paul and all of us that faith is a gift, not of works so that no man may boast. On the Damascus road Jesus took all of Saul’s boasting in the Law, confidence in the flesh, and zealotry, and revealed it for the rubbish it truly was.

Saul, who had so violently warred against Jesus and the Way, became utterly and completely dependent, like a newborn infant. Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do, Jesus said. Saul couldn’t even do that on his own. The men traveling with Saul led him, blind and helpless into Jerusalem, to Ananias.

Saul’s conversion is a marvelous picture of how our Lord converts all of us. Like Saul, we were enemies of God. The wages of our sin is death. We breathe threats and murder against our neighbors. No, probably not with physical violence. But Jesus makes it clear that whenever we hate or despise our brother, we have already murdered them in our hearts.

And though probably haven’t participated in any stoning anyone lately, like Saul at the death of Stephen, no doubt, we’ve tossed more than our fair share of rocks in judgment at our family, friends, even our fellow Christian pilgrims. There’s a little Saul in each of us who delights in doing whatever we think is right, and doing it with great zeal.

Yes, we’re right there on the road with Saul. Enemies of God. Blind. Helpless. Utterly dependent. Dead…and in need of resurrection.

And that’s precisely where our story begins.

You were dead in trespasses and sin (notice the past tense) …But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

We were blind, but now through Baptism the scales of doubt and unbelief have fallen from our eyes we see Christ your Savior. We were lost in sin, but found forgiven in Jesus’ cross. We were dead but alive in Christ.

In Saul’s conversion, we see our own. We too are utterly dependent upon God’s mercy. Perhaps we haven’t all had a dramatic experience like Saul, but Christ gives us faith in Him the same way: death and resurrection. As Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “There is drama in the dogma.” And there’s nothing more dramatic than Holy Baptism, where Jesus does for us what He did for Saul. Baptism is your Damascus road. Baptism is your death and resurrection. Heaven opens. The Light of the world dispels our darkness, sin, and death. And Jesus raises us to new life as the scales of unbelief fall from our hearts.

After he was taken to Ananias, Saul was given new birth in baptism, and a new name too: Paul.

Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

What happened on the road to Damascus was nothing short of a miracle. Jesus turned Saul into Paul — an enemy of the Gospel into a bold preacher of the Gospel. Jesus performs the same miracle upon you in Baptism. Our sinful “Saul” self, our Old Adam, as Paul calls him is drowned. And we are raised to new life in Jesus. The font is your Damascus road. You were dead and now you’re resurrected. Like Saul, you receive a new name: Saint. Chosen. Holy. God’s own child.

Rejoice! For the salvation and eternal life won for you by Christ, are delivered to you the same way they were delivered to Paul. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). In Baptism, God saves us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Jesus feeds us His own body and blood. And as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Our death and resurrection, like Paul’s, is founded upon the greatest death and resurrection story of all time: Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. This story is both meaningful and true. It is history. Jesus was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. It is a verifiable, falsifiable, and defensible fact. And yet, Jesus’ death and resurrection do not cease to be a good story, one that possesses beauty, meaning, and true hope.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us:

What became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less…We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic…shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us, no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.  (C.S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact in God in the Dock. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 67.)

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Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview. The book will be exploring how images in story reflect the One True Story of Christ. He also writes posts on the Christian faith and story for the website, 1517: The Legacy Project.

The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.

Sharing Joy and Sorrow: Finding Truth in The Story

If you’re not familiar with Sharing Joy and Sorrow, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.


Sharing Joy and Sorrow is not a story for a time such as ours. We, in our postmodernity, cannot begin to get out of it what it’s original audience would have. How can we? It speaks in terms of certainty. We know no certainty. As readers today take in the story of the quarrelsome tailor and his battered wife, some may experience varying levels of sympathy or empathy toward the woman, or perhaps even the abusive husband, but that’s about it. Some may find amusement in the man’s failed attempt at cleverness, and I suspect those who have knowledge of divorce hearings may even recognize just how prevalent his faulty logic is in our world. Perhaps they would testify that there’s a good chance he wasn’t being clever at all, that he was probably — frustratingly — simpleminded but sincere. If that’s the case, then he might find some supporters who wish to champion his position among the twenty-first century audience. But that’s the end of the story’s value for today’s readers, for the rest of it hangs on words having definitions, on authority, on what “people ought to do,” and on truth that is knowable.

Consider the use of the adjective good. In the real world we no longer know what good means, words and their meanings are relative. No one is to cast judgment on someone else, say a wife, to determine if she is good. In light of the given information, that the tailor’s wife “never could please” her husband, a person might say she, therefore, must not have been very good (depending on how we understand good), and if we cannot determine whether or not she was good, how are we to know anything about her being industrious and pious?

Had we been exposed to this narrative by our grandmother, say, over a cup of coffee, we’d have no problem believing it to be about a real life event, perhaps something she saw on the evening news. There is nothing that prompts us to locate this story in fairyland, that is, except for the acknowledgement of authority and life ordered according to the discernable ought. If such things exist today, it must only be in fairyland. While we do still listen to the authorities, to varying degrees, always with a sense of subjectivity — I won’t murder because the consequence is prison and I’d probably get caught, but I will drive ten miles over the speed limit because I could pay the ticket and the odds of getting pulled over seem low — we as a society would never be so presumptuous as to say there is a way people ought to behave.

We understand that the fairyland authorities are brought in merely because we assume, like in our society, that there are laws against hurting people. We expect the authorities to see to the woman’s safety, but on what grounds? Where does their jurisdiction come from? The recent redefining of marriage by the Supreme Court in America reveals the sad truth that we don’t know the foundation of our laws, of law in general (a problem that’s similar and indeed connected to a failure to recognize that all words extend from the source Word – click here and here for more on that). We’ve forgotten where government gets its authority – God (Romans 13:1). The Brother’s Grimm, however, show us that the fairyland courts are not detached from God’s will. Their words and laws rest on God’s Word. It’s the assumption of how “married people ought to” live that is telling. They are to live in peace and share joy and sorrow (Ephesians 5:22-33). Husband and wife share everything. They are, after all, one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:31). Based on the behavior of the judges in this tale, I imagine the citizens of fairyland find it far easier to live according to Romans 13 than do Christians today who are trying to discern just what Acts 5:29 looks like in our American setting.

Interestingly enough, nowhere in this story do we read that the woman went to the authorities on her own behalf. The first time her husband is brought before the magistrates, we’re told that “the authorities at last heard of” her being beaten. It’s not implied that she went to them and reported her husband. It took awhile for them to hear of what was happening. The second time the magistrates get involved it’s because the abuse went on so long that the neighbors finally came to her assistance. This reflects the reality of the situation. How many wives live with this kind of treatment for years in the hope that their husband will change? You don’t have to be a Christian to want to love your spouse and hope he or she will change. This woman lived as real battered wives do. She also lived as real Christian wives do. This poor woman did everything in her power to endure, not only as a wife, but from what I’ve gathered from my journey through fairyland so far, as a Christian wife. It’s pure speculation to be sure, but if she was a Christian wouldn’t her behavior be in keeping with what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14-16:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband… God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Perhaps her endurance was because of her faith and she hoped to save her husband. Not because he deserved it, but because she loved him, because of self-sacrificing grace, because she was a Christian and wanted to lead him to Christ (see my commentary on The Little Peasant). He didn’t live as a Christian husband, and if not a Christian husband, then not a Christian. Our faith permeates all aspects of our lives. It shapes who we are in all our vocations, our behavior providing evidence that we have faith (James 2:14-17). He certainly didn’t love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), he didn’t love her as his own body (Ephesians 5:28), defying God’s Word that says, “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:28-29) and “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).

The abusive husband tried to hypocritically justify his sinful behavior, expressing to the authorities that he wanted to “bring [his wife] back to her duty,” while he himself demonstrated the rejection of his own. “The judges were not satisfied with his answer, but gave him the reward he deserved.” The authors of the story assume their readers know what the husband deserved. They assume a knowable truth, but how are we to know such a thing in our world of uncertainty? We live in a time where truth is wrongly perceived to be relative.

It seems to me that anyone today who reads this story and concludes that the man deserves punishment for the way he treated his wife must come to terms with how they arrived at such a conclusion. There are two options. A personal judgment based on emotion and what might be considered common sense that inflicting harm on another human being is wrong. To this person I respectively propose that his emotions and common sense operated according to God’s Law as it is written on his heart (Romans 2:14-15). The other option is the general acknowledgment that man’s laws, and what the person who breaks them deserves, is either derived from man and communicated to other men, but then negligence becomes a defense for the guilty as not everyone can be expected to know what the law is unless it was delivered to everyone (like, say, by writing it on everyone’s heart) or from an ultimate authority. To this person I propose that they consider that the ultimate authority is God; man’s laws are based on God’s Law just as man’s words have their origin in God’s Word (John 1:1-3).


Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

Interested a free signed copy of Rev Bramwell’s debut novel, The Gift and the Defender? Just post a picture of your favorite book cover on the Lumen Legends Facebook page and you have a chance; you can submit as many entries as you like. Click here for the official rules. Share with your friends!

The Golden Key: Finding Truth in The Story

If you’re not familiar with The Golden Key, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.


Photo Apr 18, 12 28 09 PMThe story of The Golden Key takes place “in the winter time.” Of course it does. If you think about the seasons in terms of life and death, winter is a time where death seems to make a stand in an effort to reign over us. It’s a bleak season, void of the life that had blossomed in the spring and filled the days of summer. It’s a time where the vibrant colors of the previous seasons, having peaked in the fall, are siphoned from the landscape. The light of day is shorter and the darkness of night lasts longer. Add in a “deep snow [that] lay on the ground” and we have a setting perfect for expressing the gift we’ve been given in Jesus.

Upon this cold, dark, snow-covered backdrop of winter “a poor boy was forced,” by the conditions of the weather and the apparent fact that his supply of wood was depleted “to go out on a sledge to fetch wood.” Perhaps today’s readers, living in homes heated by furnaces controlled by the push of a button (on their phones) or the turn of a knob, miss the gravity of the situation presented in this tale’s first sentence. The ice giant Winter is poised to kill a poor boy who, at this very moment, is without the only thing capable of repelling the giant’s frigid bite, fire. No wood, no fire. No fire and the cold of winter wins the day, which means death for the poor boy. He’s “so frozen with cold” that he can’t even make it back home with the wood before starting a fire. He has to warm himself first. This is a dire situation indeed. Death is at the door. This is a survival story.

In this predicament, while on a journey to search for the necessity of life in the midst of a deathly winter, the poor boy finds “a tiny, gold key.” And if there is a key there must be a lock as well. Naturally.

If when the facts of Jesus’ life are presented to a person and he realizes that this man, who was born in Bethlehem (a birth celebrated in the winter), actually lived and is recognized throughout history as a teacher – a key to unlock truth – then he must come to terms with the reality that what Jesus taught must either be true or false. And then if, upon a closer look the person discovers, well, yes, what He taught is most certainly true, then Jesus is not just a key like other keys, no, He’s the Golden Key and what He unlocks is described in our tale as “an iron chest,” a “little box” wherein “no doubt there are precious things.”

Now let us consider this box for a moment. It has precious things inside and at the end of the story the boy is in the midst of unlocking it, leaving us in anticipation, waiting to “learn what wonderful things were lying in that box.” The box is the will of God for all people and inside it awaits heaven. What’s more, this box full of wonderful things, God’s will, had been out amidst the “deep snow” of death that lay about us the whole time.

How many people don’t even consider the will of God to be a reality? How many people don’t know or don’t care about the precious things of heaven: forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting? It’s not a concern for people, they don’t even know the little box is out there because it’s been hidden by the dark season of sin that we live in. But it’s there. Right under our feet, and it has been the whole time.

When the boy inspected the little box, he didn’t immediately find a keyhole. When we look at the will of our Father in heaven, we don’t immediately see a way to unlock heaven. We see that we can’t live by God’s good and Holy Law. We appear to be locked out, unable to access the “precious things” our Lord wants us to have (Matt. 7:7-11). We live in a world full of keys, teachers (Buddha, Muhammed, Ellen DeGeneres) who claim to have the answer to life, the way to health, wealth, and happiness, the means to achieve immortality and escape pain forever, or perhaps to simply disregard eternity as a concern. There are an abundance of keys for us to choose from, and so as the boy inspects the box we might expect him to find one of two things: either a multitude of keyholes, one for each key, allowing him to simply use the one that best suits his liking or is easily accessible to him at the time; or the box, as is usually the case with chests, will have one keyhole that will only work with one particular key.

“At last he discovered” a keyhole “but so small that is was hardly visible.” But why would the keyhole be small? To emphasize the point being made. There’s only one key that unlocks God’s will, one key that gains for us access to the “precious things” of heaven. And in a world full of keys, it’s a tiny one, far too often overlooked and taken for granted, dismissed and rejected. Of course, the hole would be small, the boy found a tiny key. If he had been so accustom to little keys perhaps he would have detected the hole quicker. When it comes to keys, tiny ones are not the norm. The tiny golden key is Jesus (John 14:6-7). But Jesus is more than just the key. The value of a key is found in the lock that it opens. “Where the key was, the lock must be also.” Jesus is both the tiny key and the small keyhole (John 10:9). This story draws the reader to what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:13-14,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father perfectly; He’s the one precious key that fit the lock of the Law on the chest of God’s will, opening up to us the most holy of holy places, heaven (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-20), and giving us access to His gifts.

With this in mind, the end of the story is a delightful picture of the post-resurrection now, but not yet reality in which the Church resides. Jesus lived His life, “he turned it once round,” (Heb. 9:26-27) giving us the “precious things” of God: forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. We have them now! They’re ours today. “And now we must wait until he has quite unlocked it and opened the lid, and then we shall learn what wonderful things were lying in that box” (Heb. 9:28). Until Christ returns, ours is a life of anticipation. We wait for our Lord to come again so that we will know entirely the wonderful things that are in the box (Rom. 8:18). Or as St. Paul put it, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1 Cor. 13:12).


Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

The Little Peasant: Finding Truth in The Story

If you’re not familiar with The Little Peasant, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.


Photo Apr 09, 9 12 34 AMTwo marvelous truths seep through the pores of this story. First, this tale is a wonderfully creative expression of the Great Reversal, the reality that though we’re guilty of breaking God’s Law we get Christ’s reward and though He’s innocent, having never broken the Law, He suffered the corporal punishment we deserve. The innocent punished, the guilty set free (Is. 53:5).

This theme is woven throughout the story from beginning to end. In the first sentence the contrast between the guilty multitude and the innocent individual is firmly established in terms of rich and poor: “There was a certain village wherein no one lived but really rich peasants, and just one poor one, whom they called the little peasant.” At the conclusion of the story the final sentence, a summary sentence, brings the reader back to the main point, the Great Reversal: “Then the entire village was dead, and the small [poor] peasant, as sole heir, became a rich man.”

The second truth, relating to the first, is that by having faith in Christ we become little Christs – Christians – still sinners, yes, but sainted sinners, those who are both saint and sinner at the same time, simil iustus et peculator. (see Rev. Snyder’s blog post, “Luther, Lewis, and ‘Little Christs'” for more on this.)

Throughout the narrative we gain insight into the behavior of our two main characters, the little peasant and everyone else, which gives depth to the magnitude of the reversal and reveals that the little peasant is a unique Christ figure, a little one who lives in “a certain village wherein no one lived but really rich peasants.” The little peasant is not a representation of Jesus like the Frog is in The Frog-King, but is rather a depiction of a Christian, a little Christ. He is you or me – a sinful being – who is, through the work of Jesus, at the same time innocent, one who is simultaneously in need of Christ’s Great Reversal gift and the enfleshed means by which it’s shared with the other sinners in his life. It’s a great privilege to be a little Christ and being one, as we shall see, has a real impact on the lives of those around us.

At this point the critical reader, especially if he is a Christian with skin in the game, may feel compelled to argue that the actions of the little peasant (e.g. how he deceives the miller with the raven and tricks the shepherd to take his place in the barrel of death) hardly represent Christian behavior. However, this same critical reader, if he is indeed a Christian, may want to pause for a moment and consider just how sinful he truly is, and yet he himself is, despite his sinfulness, a little Christ to those in his life. If this is not enough to allow the little peasant to stand as a picture of the Christian, then perhaps it will help to keep in mind that we’re dealing with a fairy tale wherein certain facts are given by the storytellers.

Our protagonist remains untainted when we fasten our view of his actions to the authors’ declaration that when “the peasants were vexed that the small peasant should have thus overreached them, [they] wanted to take vengeance on him, and accused him of this treachery before the Mayor. The innocent little peasant was unanimously sentenced to death…”

Photo Apr 09, 9 14 49 AMWe may wish to find fault in the little peasant’s behavior, however, according to the Brothers’ Grimm, to do so would be to bear false witness against their poor innocent peasant. We’re to read his actions as being without sin. Like Christ before the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:57-67), he was innocent and yet sentenced to death. Any other view of the little peasant numbers the reader among the rich peasants who would have the small peasant “rolled into the water, in a barrel pierced full of holes.”

Though we may not understand exactly how it can be (just as it can be hard to see how I, a poor miserable sinner, can be a little Christ in real life), by trusting the authority of the authors, we’re free to see the peasant as a picture of what it looks like in fairyland to be a “sheep in the midst of wolves,… wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16), to see how the Great Reversal declares us innocent.

But before the peasant is sentenced to death, the richness of the Great Reversal is further revealed. His gossip, the carpenter, equips him with what he needs to ultimately become a truly rich heir. When I read this I was reminded of something Richard Lischer wrote in his book Open Secrets:

“The word gossip originally implied a spiritual relationship. A gossip was a sponsor at a baptism, one who spoke on behalf of the child and who would provide spiritual guidance to the child as it grew in years. A gossip was your godmother or godfather. Gossiping was speech within the community of the baptized.”

A Christian, the little peasant, is served by Christ through the gossiping carpenter. It is not hard to make the connection between the carpenter and Christ (Mark 6:3), especially one whose business is “speech within the community of the baptized,” that is, the proclamation of the Word! And wouldn’t you know it, the ultimate result of receiving the Carpenter’s work is nothing less than a rich life, not without suffering, but a rich life indeed, one that is set in motion by the work of a gossip (baptismal speech), through the midst of water, and that is strengthened by a feast distributed by the miller, a man who makes flour for bread.

But perhaps you missed the sacramental undertone of the mill scene. After the gossip carpenter blesses him, the little peasant finds himself seeking shelter at a mill. The way the miller’s wife interacts with him and the parson is reminiscent of both the beginning of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-21), and a parable told by Jesus to people like ourselves who have a tendency to treat others with contempt while trusting in our own righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).

In the parable two men, a righteous Pharisee (the parson) and a sinful tax collector (the little peasant) go up to the temple (the mill) to pray (seek shelter from the storm). The Lazarus-like peasant has to lay on straw and eat only a slice of bread with cheese while the parson is received with a feast of “roast meat, salad, cakes and wine.” The story reveals just “who went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14) by the wife’s husband and who, in the words of the miller, is “the Devil.”

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

That the blessed peasant has been justified is recognized by the other peasants who conclude that he “has certainly been to the place where golden snow falls, and people carry the gold home in shovels,” a fairyland description of heaven to be sure.

And indeed he had been! In the sense that he had received a foretaste of heaven. Having entered the mill (where flour for bread is ground) through the wet and windy (Spirit filled?) waters of a storm he found shelter and a feast, which he ate in haste (like the Passover, which Jesus celebrated in the upper room where He instituted the Lord’s Supper: Exodus 12:11, Luke 22:11-13) with the miller Himself after receiving only simple bread from the miller’s wife.

In this scene the little peasant is being served by the miller in a way that again, like the carpenter, calls to mind how Christians are served by Christ. In Communion we receive a simple piece of bread, but what we eat leads to a feast (Rev. 19:9)! The bread – the very body of Christ – is the foretaste of the feast to come for us little Christs. This whole sacramental meal is further highlighted by the words of the miller when the peasant pinches the raven’s head.

The first time, immediately before finding the wine, the miller says, “Bless me!” A simplified version of what Paul wrote about the Eucharistic wine when he penned, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor.10:16)

“Upon my word!” the miller says as the roast meat is revealed. The flesh, if you will, upon which he and the little peasant eventually dine inspires thoughts of the incarnation of Jesus, namely that it’s His very flesh we’re given to eat in the Lord’s Supper.

Sadly, the world doesn’t understand what occurs in the sacramental meal, how it delivers to the Christian his treasure, a truth that the Grimm brothers cleverly convey when the village peasants misunderstand how the little peasant came into “three hundred thalers.” This prompts them to go through the same outward motions he did (killing their cows and going into town to sell the skins), but to no avail. We could say that what was a blessing to the little peasant is a curse to the other peasants. Consequently they are vexed (1 Peter 2:7-8).

After the little peasant is sentenced to die we come across another example of the Christian being served by Christ, lest in the midst of our suffering we forget that our Lord knows our pain firsthand and is with us to the very end (Gal 2:20; Hebrews 3:14; 13:5-6; John 15:18). This time it’s not Jesus as the carpenter or the miller, but rather Jesus as He describes Himself in John 10:11-18, “the [good] shepherd who was willing” to take the little peasant’s place in the barrel. The little Christ is served by Christ through the Great Reversal. Photo Apr 09, 9 13 55 AMThe shepherd takes the place of the little peasant and the little peasant “took the shepherd’s flock for himself, and drove it away.” The Grimm Brothers were even mindful of the fact that the Great Reversal was carried out by the hands of sinners. The Innocent is not only crucified in the place of the guilty, but by the guilty. In other words, “the peasant shut the top [of the barrel] down on [the shepherd].”

I was the one who killed my Lord!

That no one takes Jesus’ life from Him, but that He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:18) comes through in the story “when the barrel began to roll [toward the water and] the shepherd cried, ‘I am quite willing to be Mayor.'” Indeed, Mayor of mayors (Rev. 19:16)!

True to God’s Word (Matt. 27:27-31) the Brothers Grimm tell us that those charged with carrying out the death sentence “believed no otherwise than that it was” the peasant they were killing and they mocked the man on the cross, that is, in the barrel, saying that they intended to make him Mayor – “Hail, King of the Jews!” – “and they rolled him into the water,” or in the words of Matthew 27:31, “and led him away to crucify him.”

God’s Word teaches that, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). This is made perfectly clear in the story’s conclusion. The rich peasants, in their astonishment, ask the little peasant, “from whence comest thou? Hast thou come out of the water?” To which he replies, with a perfect and confident understanding of Baptism, “Yes, truly, I sank deep, deep down, until at last I got to the bottom; I pushed the bottom out of the barrel, and crept out, and there were pretty meadows on which a number of lambs were feeding, and from thence I brought this flock away with me” (Rom. 6:3-11).

The village peasants again want the blessings revealed to them through the life of the little peasant, and they push forward with sinful clumsiness. Interestingly enough, we don’t see their demise – not at all – we see their salvation, their baptism. It can be argued that the ultimate message conveyed in this story is that if you’re not like the little peasant, you’ll die. This is true. Those who are not little Christs will die eternally. But that is not the full measure of the message. The story doesn’t end with the Law, but with the Gospel. The death of the peasants is not as dark as one may think. I understand the end of The Little Peasant to say, be like the little peasant and die. Die to sin, die to self. This is what the village peasants do. They see the life of the little peasant and follow in his footsteps. He leads them to Christ!

Photo Apr 09, 9 13 06 AMThey look down into the (baptismal) waters, and what do they see but the wonders of the heavens above. There is obvious misunderstanding at play on the human level, but that doesn’t nullify the mysterious divine truth that’s evident as well. They drown in pursuit of the heavenly treasures; everything they did was in reaction to seeing what the little peasant had. The life of the Christian is appealing, people want our heavenly treasure – Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Not everyone believes, but those who do, like “the whole crowd [that] plunged in after” the Mayor “as one man,” are baptized and become Christians.

This fairy tale ends, well… happily ever after. Not just for the little peasant, but for everyone in the story, for they were all baptized, everyone died in the waters of Baptism as one man. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” (1 Cor. 12:13) the body of Christ (Rom. 6:4), the shepherd who died willingly to become the Mayor. Yes, the rich lost everything, even their lives while the poor gained it all, but Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17), the peasants. The truth of the matter is, Jesus called the little peasant and He called all the rest. Why, you might ask, then is the little peasant said to be the sole heir? Consider the words of 1 Peter 1:3-4, “[Jesus’] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” The little peasant, as he led the the other peasants to the waters of Christian Baptism, is positioned as inspiration to do the same for anyone who may read his story.


Next week’s Finding Truth in The Story will be on The Golden Key. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.


Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

The Giant and the Tailor: Finding Truth in The Story

If you’re not familiar with The Giant and the Tailor, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.


Photo Mar 29, 10 29 28 AMWhen reading The Giant and the Tailor, I was immediately struck by the words of Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing that no one may boast.” The tailor, “who was great at boasting but ill at doing,” never heard this Gospel truth, yet he illustrates the point brilliantly. He thought he could do for himself, even that which was far beyond his means. He couldn’t even handle doing well the normal tasks of a tailor, yet he bragged to the giant that he could do things that the giant could do. In the end the tailor tries to accomplish something that only the giant could achieve, and it, well, proves to be his undoing.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s consider the characters in the tale. The Brothers Grimm introduce the Christian to his old sinful self and to God, whom he erroneously tried, in his sin, to escape. The tailor is the picture of what it looks like when we attempt to live life on our own terms. He is me when I reject my vocation to serve myself instead of my neighbor, when I exchange what I’ve been given to do for what I want to do. As a boaster who shirked his vocational duties, the tailor was dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Paul tells the Christian that it was in these sins that he “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2) The tailor, living as an unrepentant sinner, is still walking in the course of this world, he got it in his head to “look about the world. As soon as he could manage it, he left his workshop, and wandered on his way, over hill and dale, sometimes hither, sometimes thither, but ever on and on.”

The way in which he wanders is very telling. It shows that he does, indeed, follow the prince of the power of the air, walking in Satan’s footsteps as it were. In the book of Job (1:7) Satan tells God he had been “going to and fro on the earth”… sometimes hither, sometimes thither… “walking up and down on it”… over hill and dale.

A tailor who is “great at boasting but ill at doing” clothes only himself, dresses up his reputation and leaves his neighbor poorly suited to face the world, naked — his sins exposed. In short, he serves himself when he should be serving others. Throughout the entire story we see him doing what he thinks is best for himself. He’s looking after numero uno, and expresses his self-centered desire to the giant when he says, “I want just to look about and see if I can earn a bit of bread for myself, in this forest.” One may think there’s nothing wrong with the tailor wishing to earn bread for himself, after all what’s wrong with wanting something to eat? And he said he’s wants to earn it. What a stand up guy. It’s not like he’s looking for a hand out. The problem reveals itself when we consider who the giant represents.

The giant is described as “all powerful” (Luke 1:37; Job 11:7-11) and speaks “with a voice as if it were thundering on every side” (Exodus 19:19). He says to the tailor, “thou mayst have a place with me” (Deut. 33:27; John 12:26; John 14:3). The giant is God!

Photo Mar 29, 10 35 09 AMSinful man tells God, “I want just to look about and see if I can earn a bit of bread for myself, in the forest.” This statement demonstrates the wretchedness of the tailor. He sees himself as an autonomous being able to provide for himself. We will see by the end of the story that his end is destruction, because his god is his belly (himself), he wants his own glory and that’s his shame, his mind is set on earthly things (Phil. 3:19). He tells the Creator of the world, the one who fed Israel in the wilderness, (read Exodus 19 to see some striking similarities between the tailor and Israel) the one who taught believers to pray “Our Father who art in heaven… give us this day our daily bread,” the one who “supplies seed to the sower and bread for food” (2 Cor. 9:10) the one said “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35) that he wants to earn for himself his own bread.

To which the giant, in his graciousness, responds, “If that is what thou art after thou mayst have a place with me.” That is, God says “If you want bread, I can give you bread.”

But the tailor doesn’t desire to be with the giant, rather it’s something that “must be.” He sees his time with God as playing the hand he was dealt, or as he puts it according to his vocation’s proverbial wisdom, cutting his coat according to his cloth. Either way he is determined to get away from the giant (God) as fast as he can.

His wish to get away ultimately comes true. Being an unbeliever he is cast out, (John 6:36-37) “for such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.” (Rom. 16:18)

We definitely see this run it’s course in the tale. The giant is described as credulous, clownish, and stupid. The tailor is a smooth talker with all his boasting. But the giant isn’t completely fooled –God is never fooled — and discerns that the tailor is a “sorcerer of a servant”, a wizard, wicked within, that he’s no servant for him.

The brilliance of this tale manifests itself in full force at the end. The tailor claims he can do the things that the all powerful giant can do. Like a theologian who demands believers be baptized by nothing less than full immersion, he looks at what the giant deems sufficient and says, “But I can do more!” Why only a jug (a sprinkling of water) when I can bring you the entire well and spring too, or like a critical pew-sitter who looks at the simplicity of the Lord’s Supper — tiny pieces of plain bread and a sip of basic wine (two or three boars) – and says, “does God really feed us with so little? I would make this meal so much more, so much grander!” (a thousand boars) The giant perceives the tailor’s propensity to think he can do what God can do, and so allows the tailor to put his money where his mouth is, to do what man was given to do, but can’t do, what God had to do for us on our behalf (live according to the Law). He asks the tailor to get up on a tree. God says to man, I gave you the way in which to live with me, I made you my servant that you could eat with me and live, but you kept saying you didn’t need my grace, you kept saying you could do what I can do. Well, okay. I lived under the Law perfectly, obedient even unto death. So go on get on the cross.” The giant says, “I long of all things to see if thou art big enough to bend it down.”

And wouldn’t you know it, sinful man has the audacity to actually think he can do it. We begin to believe our own boastful lies, we actually come to believe we’re like God. We believe in ourselves and put our trust in ourselves.

“All at once the tailor was sitting on [the tree], holding his breath, and making himself so heavy that the bough bent down.” We even see some godlike progress in what we do. We can make ourselves pretty heavy with all our boasting, and the things we do even seem to be pretty good. We think we can save ourselves by our works, but when we have to breathe – and there will always come a time when we have to breathe – we realize we’re not as godlike as we thought. We exhale and are flung “so high into the air that [we’re] never seen again,” we’re cast away from the presence of God (Psalm 51:11).

Jesus Christ climbed up on the tree and died for us. He breathed for us, He put his trust not in himself, but in his Father and he breathed out his last breath (Luke 23:46). He didn’t have to hold his breath to be heavy enough to accomplish the task he was given to do on the tree. He was able to do this because “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6-7).

We’re not as big as God. We’re not giants. We’re sinful man, we can’t even breathe on our own or do the tasks of our vocations as well as we ought. When in repentance we recognize this, we see that God knows us and gives us little things to do, things suitable to our vocations, things that serve others as Christ served us. We don’t have to hold down trees — be crucified — “for by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)

If only the tailor would have considered his place in life, perhaps then he would have remembered he is a sinner in need of grace and remembered to “put his goose in his pocket.”

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Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

The Frog-King: Finding Truth in the Story

If you’re not familiar with The Frog-King, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.


If Jesus had been a frog and the Church a beautiful princess who gets to live with a handsome prince despite physically abusing him, wanting nothing to do with him, and lying to him, then The Frog-King is a story of Christ and His bride, the Church.

Photo Mar 21, 3 26 24 PMIn this story we’re introduced to a beautiful princess whose face astonished even the sun when it shone on her, the kind of girl who turns heads when she walks by in the mall, but come to find out, when you actually get to know her, is as hideous as can be. At the end of the story she gets into a carriage with the Frog-King to live with him in his kingdom. Which immediately begs the question, why would he want to be with her after the way she treated him? Because she’s the Church and he’s Christ. If Christ had entered fairyland this is how we might expect the Gospel to read. The Gospel according to Grimm.

Human beauty is said to be found in the embodiment of a person (see Roger Scruton’s, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction for a quick look at the subject). The princess is the embodiment of the Church, the beautiful bride of Christ. God’s holy Church as He has formed her is indeed beautiful, yet in the dark forest of this fallen world, sin veils her beauty and disfigures her from the inside. Like the princess we who were beautifully made in the image of God, the picture of perfection, dropped the ball and have been behaving poorly in sin ever since. We put our interests before the interests of others. We’re fixed on what brings us pleasure. Like the princess we say whatever we have to in order to get what we want. We break promises and flee those in need, leaving them to live in darkness. Like the princess we despise those in our lives who don’t measure up to our criteria and only interact with them begrudgingly.

Having dropped her golden ball, the king’s daughter laments, weeping like a daughter of Israel (2 Sam. 1:24). It’s in the midst of her despair that we’re introduced to the frog. Fitting. It’s in the midst of our despair that we meet Jesus in his humility, the Word made flesh who came to rescue us from what ails us–sin. In the same way the frog emerges from the waters of the fountain in the forest in order to come to the princess’s rescue, his word preceding the revelation of his physical presence. Photo Mar 21, 2 57 44 PMHe comes with his thick, ugly head, disgusting in the eyes of the princess, having “no form or majesty that [she] should look at him, and no beauty that [she] should desire him.” (Is. 53:2) He seeks her love and friendly companionship, he insists on it even, wanting to “sit by thee at thy little table, and eat off thy little golden plate, and drink out of thy little cup, and sleep in thy little bed.” She offers to give him whatever he wants, her clothes, pearls and jewels, even her golden crown, but he’s not interested in anything less than her love, just like Jesus, who said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). The frog isn’t interested in provisions nor crowns, resisting, as it were, satanic temptations (Matthew 4:1-11).

But why does he refer to the princess’ things as little? To a frog they would be huge! Right? Ah, but to God, the infinite, who wants to step into the finite, who wants to live a human life eating, drinking, and sleeping such furnishings would be little. Christ lived a little, or rather, a humble life. The frog wants a life with the princess, a life that will benefit her as we see at the end of the story, and he’s willing to put in the work to get it, from retrieving her ball in the dark depths of the well to physical abuse when the terribly angry princess throws him against a wall with all her might to silence him. The life of Jesus in fairyland. God wanted to live with His people in order to help us, to save us, to bring us to live with Him. And He was willing to put in the work to redeem us. Willing to retrieve our sins in the depths of the waters of baptism–to take them all on himself, to sink into the darkness of death, to bring up that which had fallen, to suffer physical abuse and death when we threw him against the cross with murderous anger in our hearts, using all our might to crucify him in order to silence the Word of God, in order to say with the princess, “Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog.”

If when we read this fairy tale we fail to see the Christian truth of Baptism in all the fountain and water language, in the “old water-splasher” who swam up like Jesus who came up out of the waters of the Jordan river (Mark 1:10) to restore us to the life we lived before our carelessness under the trees in Eden, if we fail to see the truth of Communion in the frog’s desire to be more than just on a chair at the table, but who actually “wanted to be on the table” to “eat together” with his bride to be, like Christ who is the very meal served to us when we kneel at the Lord’s Table in the Eucharist, if we don’t see these truths in the words of this tale, then we’ll certainly fail to see the intentionality and willingness of Christ to suffer the cross for our sake in the frog who by “her father’s will” became the princess’s “dear companion and husband.”

Photo Mar 21, 3 10 53 PMHow, after everything the princess did to the poor frog, could he say that “no one could have delivered him from the well but herself”? How is it that she treats him with such disdain yet he says she “delivered him from the well”?

Because she did. It’s not that she saved him, as we’re quick to think. No. She delivered him. She delivered him from the waters of the well to the painful surface of the wall. The Church, in all of our sin, delivered Jesus from the waters of Baptism to the wood of the cross. It was his mission all along to suffer the agony we inflicted upon Him. Jesus knew it. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). He knew it was necessary that He had to suffer the cross in order to undo evil. The frog says the same thing when he croaks the very words that prompted the princess to unleash her wickedness upon him, “lift me up or I will tell thy father.” It had to be so.

It’s the lifting up that kills Christ and delivers the fruit of the cross into our mouths in the distribution of Communion. It’s the lifting up of the frog that flings him against the wall and it’s the lifting up of the frog that puts him on the table. It’s the lifting up of the frog (the humiliation of Jesus) that reveals the glory of the father, for “when he fell down he was no frog but a Kings’ son with beautiful kind eyes.” It’s the lifting up of the frog, of Christ, that enables the princess, the Church, to be brought into His kingdom when He comes for her.

And as everything is set to end happily ever after the Christian reader’s mind — my mind anyway — begins to see an eschatological depiction of Christ’s return, an end “full of joy because of this deliverance.” No more pain and suffering, only the springing of bands from the hearts of the faithful. The “grief and sadness” of the cross of Christ when our Lord was, in the words of the Brothers Grimm, “a frog and imprisoned in the well” is replaced with the freedom and happiness of our Prince as He takes us to live with Him in His Kingdom forever.

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Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

Finding Truth in The Story

In the preface to Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton states that the purpose of the book was

“to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it. It deals first with all the writer’s own solitary and sincere speculations… The writer regards it as amounting to a convincing creed. But if it is not that it is at least a repeated and surprising coincidence.”

In a similar fashion I’m going to attempt an explanation of how I personally ingest the stories of man. This project will express my solitary and sincere speculations on the Christian themes found in various narratives. In this way it will be a purely subjective effort. I suspect that it will amount to a convincing creed but if it doesn’t, it’ll at least reveal a repeated and surprising coincidence.

The Christian faith shapes how I see the world, which includes humanity’s creative efforts. In the words of C.S. Lewis,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

As a result, I read the words of men with Christological eyes. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading Luther or L’Amour. What Scripture has taught me norms what I read, that is, it sets the standard and defines the boundaries of truth to which everything else must conform. Some writers weave their words better than others. Some express the Christian truth better than others. And they do this with various levels of intentionality and obedience to or rebellion against the truth. Eugene Peterson says it like this,

“Words are the means by which the gospel is proclaimed and the stories told. But not all words tell stories or proclaim gospel. All our words have their origin in the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word that had made all things (John 1:1-3), but not all words maintain that connection, not all words honor that origin and nurture their relationship with the Source Word, the Creator Word.”

The Word he’s referring to is the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. With that said this project will be an effort to purposefully look for words (stories) that maintain a connection with the Source Word (Jesus) that Christianity has confessed throughout history. To quote the second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr,

“Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians… For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them.”

I mean to find some of the things that have been rightly said among men and do what I can in the form of commentary to return the property to its rightful owner.

I’ll be looking for the Christian truth in the stories of mankind, in works of fiction (myths, legends, folklore, fairy tales, novels, etc.). I’ll be searching for glimpses of truth that point to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, or at the very least call to mind — my mind — a portion of the revealed wisdom of God. Some will certainly disagree with what I post. There will certainly be room for readers to quibble over my analysis. I’m not ever going to presume to know the mind of the human author. It’s irrelevant. My goal is to better see the connectivity between the words of man and the Word of God. It’s personal. After all, to quote Lewis again,

“Myth is… like manna; it is to each man a different dish and to each the dish he needs.”

I already have a habit of doing this (see my first post for example). It’s how I think. This project is merely a purposeful effort with the particular aim of honing this skill. As a pastor and as a writer, I want to expand my understanding of how to best keep my words connected to God’s Word so I can create a responsible subjective apologetic for the faith. It’s a personal exercise with consequences that I hope to use as I communicate with others in my various vocations, indeed to serve others in seeing the truth of God’s Word.

“As a dream while asleep can touch the depths of our being, could not the literature of wakefulness shower with light and supreme power the landscape of religious concern, and provide the Subjective attestation of Christian truth for which men long?”

513je5NguoL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_John Warwick Montgomery asked that in Myth, Allegory and Gospel. He also asked,

“If the Faith can be found mirrored in the great literary productions of the time, would this not lead the secular reader to a new appreciation of that ‘Faith once delivered to the saints’?”

Great questions, both of them. And I believe the answer is yes. If the Source Word, the Incarnate Word — Jesus Christ — can be seen in the words of man, whether the human author intended the connection or not, nothing less than a thought provoking coincidence will be presented, if not more, that which amounts to a convincing creed.

Joseph Campbell did similar work, however, with the opposite aim. He wrote in the preface to the 1949 edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces,

“It is the purpose of the present book to uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples [myths and folktales] and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself.”

He goes on to say he wishes to let these examples speak for themselves. In other words his goal was to detach man’s words from God’s Word. Campbell hoped that comparing the stories of man would unite the people of the world, but as he says,

“not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding.”

His work, comparing the similarities of man’s stories, has been used to guide the world, if by no other way than its influence on creative minds, to see the Word Incarnate as just another one of humanity’s words, rather than as the what Peterson calls the Source Word. Campbell liked the saying found in the Vedas,

“Truth is one, the sages call it by many names.”

He used it to say,

“Therefore, it is necessary for men to understand, and be able to see, that through various symbols the same redemption is revealed.”

I beg to differ. There is one truth. That much is true. Therefore it’s necessary for the salvation of men that we understand, and be able to see, that all stories (myths, symbols, legends, fairy tales, novels, etc.) allude to, point to, and stem from the reality that redemption comes from knowing the one truth, namely, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

Campbell searched mankind’s stories in an effort to see all words as equal, appearing “out of the activities of the human body and mind.” He saw them as “spontaneous productions of the psyche.” Christ became just another one of humanity’s myths. My goal is contrary to this, to search mankind’s stories in an effort to see all words as extending from the one true Word. I believe that the narratives the world produces are veiled reflections of the true Christian narrative and often times unwittingly so. Lewis’ words packed my bags for this journey,

“God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than a Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘Pagan Christs’: they ought to be there–it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome.”

There is one truth and all people are searching for it. It has been revealed to us in Scripture, which is all about the Word made flesh in the man, Jesus Christ.

“As myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens–at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.” — C.S. Lewis

So, where to start? Where else, but the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm?

Why?

516hqsO7Z5L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Three reasons. First, because my daughter just finished reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (published by Fall River) and it’ll be fun to share in these stories with her. I’ve never actually read them before and that seems to me to be a great travesty. Secondly, these stories are classics that have influenced and informed other creative works in my culture. And third, a collection of stories like Grimm’s fairy tales will work well, practically speaking, with a series of blog posts. One story per post.

There you have it. It’s time to bust open the book and get started. On to the The Frog-King.

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Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.

Entrances and Exits

Engaging stories — especially those of fantasy and fairy tale — often reminds us of the One True, Great Story. Whenever we read them, the real and the imaginative merge for a time. We bring in our experiences, and receive new ones through the characters. We are changed, transformed even.
Happening upon a journal with enigmatic, entries written by an anonymous traveler, to a loved one, is not so uncommon; it perhaps is an attic, a basement, a used bookshop, an archive away for any of us. The following series by Rev. Sam Schuldheisz is intended to straddle the real and the imaginative. Its models are John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters in this regard. The italicized text is from a found journal; the regular text contain thoughts fitting to the entry by Rev Schuldheisz.
To explain further is to chance breaking the enchantment, as J.R.R. Tolkien might say; beware the watchful dragons, Lewis would warn. What is far more intriguing is what the traveler describes as he experiences through his quest, and how they might be interpreted to us through Christian eyes…

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Dear R,

Springtide Dawn

I have fallen into something like a Dream, yet it is more; all my senses are awake and receptive. I found myself curled up beside a large marble stairway. Before continuing inside, I took in the world that lay around me. The realmscape is vivid. At first I thought I may have finally discovered the great Insula Avallonis. This may yet bear out; the place I find myself is wondrous — an atmosphere more supernal than I was prepared concerning the mythical Insula I have been seeking.

The structure contains one vast spherical chamber. The floor slopes up gently. Vine-like designs accent the edges. A narrow, scarlet strip of fine carpet, hemmed in silver and gold, leads straight on (but I dare not step upon such a royal presentation).

Beams of daylight penetrate through four painted windows, converging upon one remarkable sight: a tree that rises nearly to the apex of the concave ceiling.

The Cloven Tree

The Cloven Tree

The side of the tree that faces me is decrepit, dying. As I walk around, the other side of the tree is full of life, its branches twisting to bathe its leaves in the glittering light beams. The tree exudes a magnificent fragrance comprised of autumn spice and spring flowers and summer fruit, of such a kind that it cuts me to the heart I cannot bottle it for you.

The trunk of the tree is cloven clean through, from its base to about five feet above my head. Flowing upon the ground, “through” the base of the trunk and about the roots, is a stream of clear water with no apparent source; as if the tree were producing the element from within, or perhaps there is an underground spring (yet I can imagine how these might be accomplished so that the tree remains a tree). The water is channeled by way of a groove cut into the floor, about a foot wide, and is directed to the edge of the chamber. It disappears into an opening beneath a slightly raised portion of the floor, to an end I cannot discern.

As I gaze through the gaping hole in the trunk, I perceive what I believe to be a lush countryside; there is a meadow dappled with wild-flowers, bordered by a wood. Further details are obscured, as if I was peering through many veils. I am enchanted. I am compelled to go through…

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Think about how many times we enter and exit places in any given day. Entrances and exits surround our weekly routines: grocery store, school, work, and home. Entrances and exits are also a part of our physical life: by birth we enter; by death we exit. But that is not the final entrance.

For there is also an exit from sin and death in Holy Baptism. Our old sinful nature is drowned and buried and a new nature in Christ arises. That makes Baptism an entrance as well. The font becomes the doorway into the kingdom of God, a new birth by water and the Spirit. In Baptism we exit death and enter into Christ’s death and life for us.

Our Christian life is also full of entrances and exits. Family and friends die and enter eternal rest awaiting the grand entrance of the Resurrection. Baptism gathers God’s children into the ark of the Church and into the arms of Jesus and they’re blessed. We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise as we kneel in the Holy Place and receive Christ’s body and blood. Heaven enters earth. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross enters our mouth.

Palm Sunday is a day of entrances and exits, for you and for Jesus.

Today Jesus enters the holy city riding atop a prophesied donkey. The crowds wave palm branches and shout the words of Psalm 118:

Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Today we join the crowds in this sacred song. Hosanna! Lord, save us.

Jesus entered Jerusalem for you. Jesus is your Hosanna. Jesus comes in the Name of the Lord for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem to save you. It is just as the prophet Zechariah foretold:

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

Jesus’ life is also one of entrances and exits. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem he entered the home of Mary and Martha. And upon his Word, Lazarus exited the grave.

Before that Jesus entered into a village and healed a blind man so that he could exit the darkness and enter Christ’s life-giving light.

Jesus entered the homes of the sick and the sinners. Jesus entered the synagogues proclaiming that he was the promised Messiah who would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, raise the dead, and free us from bondage to sin and death – a grand exit.

Jesus entered the towns of Samaria in order to rescue the outcast and outsider.

Jesus entered the wilderness in order to endure temptation for you and rebuke Satan for you, and to tell him to exit his presence at once.

Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan in order to enter into your death as your substitute.

Jesus entered the temple as a 12 year old boy with the Word of God upon his lips.

Jesus entered the temple at eight days old in order to fulfill the entire Law by receiving circumcision and his name, Jesus, for he shall save you from your sins.

Jesus exited the womb of Mary; he entered this world with our human flesh all so that he could make these entrances for you. This is the hour for which he came. Palm Sunday gives way to Good Friday. Palms give way to passion. Triumph gives way to crucifixion.

Entrances and Exits.

Jesus exits Jerusalem and enters the judgment and punishment of our sin. He goes to the cross, to his death, for all the times we’ve entered into sin. There’s no deadly sin we haven’t stuck our noses in. And for all that – the sinner we are and the sin we do – we deserve to be ones entering our graves. But we’re not. Jesus takes your place. Jesus enters Jerusalem and exits it again for you. Jesus enters the cross for you. Jesus exits his last breath for you. Jesus enters the tomb for you. All so that Jesus’ mercy never exits from us, no matter how often we’ve entered into sin.

But Jesus did not stay in the tomb. Jesus exited. He rose. He lives. He enters death and comes out again, taking you and a fallen world with him. And just like Ruth we confess: Where you go, I will go.

Jesus leaves the grave behind. Jesus ascends. Jesus enters the eternal reign of heaven. But Jesus does not leave you alone.

Jesus fills His church, this place, in this – and every place where his word, water, body and blood are given – with all of his life-restoring, sin-forgiving, heaven-opening entrances and exits. The cross of Christ is the key and the door to paradise.

Through all of Jesus’ entrances and exits you are saved and given the guarantee of an exit from death and an entrance into life in Christ.

Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Join the crowds and sing Hosannas as we enter the Holy Place and Jesus draws us to himself again. He gathers us around His table, His body, and His blood. His forgiveness of sins and eternal life enter the doorway of our lips. Hosanna! Blessed are you who come in the Name of the Lord!

Indeed, what a joyous reminder that in all the entrances and exits of life, Christ goes ahead of you, Christ goes with you, and Christ goes for you.

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Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz is pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach CA. Grail Quest Books will be publishing his book, Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner, later this year, of which the above is a preview.

The illustrations are by Kasandra Radke, and are also previews of the black & white illustrations that will be included in the book.

Dickens: Great Expectations

Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Victorian coming-of-age
Published: 1 December 1860 – 3 August 1861, All the Year Round (weekly) & Harper’s Weekly (monthly)
Pages (Chapman & Hall Edition, 1862): 554
Other Works: A Christmas Carol, Nicholas NicklebyDavid Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist

Picked by Joshua Rothe (Stitched Crosses series; Shadow of the Stars series)

new-2Great Expectations might be one of the greatest stories either never read (because it was imposed during high school literature) or greatly misunderstood/misinterpreted (based on the inadequacies of visual adaptations).

It is not a ‘rags-to-riches’ story. Nor is it in any way a vehicle of criticism primarily against the upper class, or a stick stirring the pot of class warfare; Dickens is careful to place heroes and villains in all stations presented, because his is other purposes.

Great Expectations is about original sin, which works through covetousness and ambition to corrupt temporal wealth and success — be it by hard labour or inherited. The poisonous fruit usually produced is vengeance, thanklessness, contempt, a scything tongue. Dickens is clear: we are slaves to sin, it is part of our very nature from birth. The story shows this truth as iniquity bears itself out in every choice the characters make — even when they think they are making a choice for good.

It is also about crippling guilt under the law, natural and created. The story illustrates profoundly and often what St. Paul writes about in Romans 3:9-20 — “None is righteous, no, not one… through the law comes knowledge of sin.” But it is also about repentance and the forgiveness of sins: repentance and forgiveness saturates this story, and also the good fruit it bears. Where there is no recognition of sin, no contrition that one is a sinner and has sinned against those one loves, no forgiveness or the humility to seek it, destruction follows.

The story also illustrates vividly true love — not just the romantic kind between man and woman, but the deep love and loyalty between friends, the formidable bond of love between members of family. Where this love does not exist or is rejected, death and hate and cruelty is shown rushing to fill the void.

Also not to be lost in everything is the importance of vocation. Pip desires from the very first pages to be a blacksmith, like his dear brother-in-law and teacher, Joe. It is only when Pip is infatuated with a forbidden fruit (Estella), and given wealth, that he engages in reckless abandon to achieve what the world defines as ‘great expectations’. It is when Pip replaces truth for falsehood, to be someone he is not and part of a world that was never meant to be his calling, that he becomes blind to the reality that he is (with others) but a pawn in someone else’s wicked schemes.

All-in-all, Great Expectations is a superb presentation of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son; it is a sobering cautionary tale; it is a tale with a solemn victory — not of the kind that comes with fanfares and parades, but of the soul and heart.

Great Expectations is a story worth every minute you are willing to give it, even if it takes weeks and months to get through its chapters.