Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Fairy-Stories": Tolkien, Lewis, and God

I (Aaron) have been reading Collin Durietz's recent biography of J. R. R. Tolkien in my (scant) free time lately.

I find Tolkien fascinating for all kinds of reasons: he's one of my all-time favourite fiction authors, but he was also a WWI veteran (it changed his writing forever), brilliant scholar (he studied and taught at Oxford), and strong moral influence on C. S. Lewis (one of my all-time favourite fiction AND non-fiction writers)!

I loved the biographer's description of Tolkien's reasons for writing "fairy stories" and the ways he hoped they would shape his readers:

In addition to offering a Secondary World, with an "inner consistency of reality," a good fair tale in Tolkien's view has three other key features. 

First, it helps to bring about in the reader what he calls recovery - that is, the restoration of a true view of the meaning of ordinary and humble things that make up human life and reality: things like love, thought, trees, hills, and food. 

This is so beautiful, and so true. Who hasn't felt a longing for the pastoral, rustic simplicity of the Shire? Or longed to spend a rainy afternoon in The Prancing Pony? Or thrilled at the sight of the Misty Mountains? I could go on and on...

Composer Howard Shore's ability to capture and articulate these longings, by the way, are the chief reason that the Lord of the Rings soundtracks rank among the best cinematic scores of all time.

Secondly, the good fairy story offers escape from one's narrow and distorted view of reality and meaning. 

I think this is true as well, although perhaps even more so in Lewis' writing than Tolkien's. Maybe there is something to allegory after all, loathe though Tolkien would have been to admit it! See: the hopeful Universalism of Aslan's conversation with the Calormene soldier toward the end of The Last Battle.

Thirdly, the good fairy story offers consolation, leading to joy.

This is perfect, and brilliant, and true. Tolkien knew it. His fondness for sudden, positive, seemingly impossible developments -what he referred to as eucatastrophe, or "hope unlooked-for"- is what makes the books (and the films).

It's Gandalf turning up at Helm's Deep at dawn; it's Rohan's arrival on the field of Battle outside Minas Tirith; it's the consummation of Arwen and Aragorn's seemingly impossible romance; and it's the success of Sam & Frodo's tortuous, unlikely journey.

In many ways, these three things -recovery, escape, and consolation- are why we keep reading, hoping, and believing. It's true of all good writing: sacred or secular, fiction or non-fiction.

I think it's also true of the story of God's sweeping, inclusive, prodigal love for us.

"And that," as Tolkien might say, "may be an encouraging thought." :) Amen! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Person who Prays.

True prayer begins with God who moves our spirit as the Gospel song tells us, to seek [God] seeking us...

Through our prayers [God] reveals that [God's] will is wholly Love, and that our response to that will must be love as well. Even our love for God draws its energy from the source of Love itself, which is God...

The person who continually prays finds his or her life transformed from one of "knowing" to one of believing, and from one ruled by the many selves to one lived according to God's will, which is Love...

The person who prays discovers that the deepest self is clay which must be shaped, molded, and fired by Love. This God-created entity is what Christian tradition calls the soul.

The starting point for prayer is to place the self in the hands of God...This is the clay's surrender to the potter, the surrender of the vanquished to the conqueror as yet unseen, and the lover's surrender to the beloved hidden behind the veil.

Russell M. Hart, Crossing the Border


The church and the world need saints. 

They need saints more than they need canny politicians, more brilliant scientists, more grossly overpaid executives and entrepreneurs, more clever entertainers and talk-show hosts...

Those whose lives have been irradiated by God's grace, who seek not to be safe but to be faithful, who have learned how to get along in adversity, who are joyful, who are dream filled, and above all, who are prayerful. 

That is what the church and the world need most. 

It begins with you. 

E. Glenn Hinson
Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Use Well the Days...

Greetings from mostly-kinda-sunny Manchester!

This is a bittersweet update to write; for those of you who don't know, this will be our last ministry newsletter from the mission field. We'll send one final recap when we return to the United States in August, but first we owe a massive THANK YOU to everyone who's loved, prayed for, and financially supported us during the last 4+ years of volunteer ministry. We love you so much, and we couldn't have done it without you!

In late May we returned to our ministry assignment at Ashton-Under-Lyne Church of the Nazarene, where we're active as youth group leaders and in coffeehouse ministry.

In many ways, we've enjoyed picking up right where we left off: working in Coffee Lounge and The Melting Munch, as well as helping to lead Youth Bible Study and YP hangout sessions on Friday nights. We even squeezed in a birthday party for one of our favourite people! :)  

It's also been a huge privilege to participate in two special services that were intentionally postponed until our return. First Brittany preached the homily at our friends David and Leanne's wedding. She was also asked to pray at the baptism service for Morgan and Leila, two teenagers who became Christians during our time in Ashton last year. :) Such wonderful, affirming times in the life of the church!

For the last several years, part of our ministry assignment has been consulting and advising on other coffeehouse ministry projects. The past few months have been no different, and we recently spent an afternoon advising some friends of ours about an upcoming Anglican coffeehouse project in south Manchester. We also spent several days last month consulting on two different Nazarene ministry locations in Carlisle, England. We even found time to take a short day trip to York for our 6th anniversary! :)

1. Please pray for us as we spend our last few weeks of ministry here in Ashton. Pray that we would invest our remaining time, energy, and resources in the right places. And as visit the Sweet Surrender coffeehouse ministries in Poland for the last time, we pray that God would continue to bless the seeds of relational evangelism that we've sown over these past 4 years. We are excited to see how God is still at work in Poland! :)

2. We'll be forever blessed by these past few years of international ministry, travel, and relationship-building. Please pray for us as we prepare to make the BIG vocational, ministerial, and cultural transition back to full-time life in the United States! Pray especially that we would be gracious, flexible, and wise as we re-enter life in our native culture.

3. Praise God that we both have jobs lined up when we return to the States! :) Aaron will be teaching part-time at SNU, and we're VERY excited about being co-pastors to college students and young adults at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene. :) Hooray!

4. Please help us pray for God's provision of housing and transportation when we return! We're not sure where we'll be living (or what we'll be driving) when we return to OKC, but we continue to trust God to provide. During 4+ years of volunteer ministry, God has never failed us yet! God is faithful, and God can be trusted!

Thank you. All of you.

You have fed, clothed, transported, and housed us during fundraising trips. You have loved us, prayed for us, sent us care packages, remembered our birthdays, and Skyped us at odd hours. Because of you (ALL of you!) we have been fully funded, well-loved, and looked-after as long-term volunteer missionaries. We could never, EVER have done it without you, and we appreciate you more than we could ever say. :) We love you so much, and we can't wait to SEE you all again soon!

Aaron & Brittany Bolerjack
Nazarene Mission Corps: UK