Reflections on our home learning journey week 43/2

It has been a week when the heat has sapped us of energy, of ability to pay attention or to think before we act. It has been a week when we have done lessons here and there as and when with lots of breaks in between. It has been a week when we have not ventured far in a desire to conserve energy. It has been a week when I have had reflections and wonderings go round and round as I have watched Bob, Zog and Kanga interact with each other, with me, with the heat and the impact that has had on all of us.

As an introvert I am thankful not to have had the fulness of last week of term that my school parenting friends have had. While some thrive on it and love it I and my children are not those people, I get tired simply reading their Facebook updates.

There has been much to celebrate this week when I consider how far we have come in a year. The last two weeks will give me plenty of time to consider the steps taken, but we are drawing to a close with each of them having made massive headway in their learning.

Bob is reading novels. He has been reading the Chronicles of Narnia, going on ahead under the duvet after Daddy has finished bedtime readings. This week I caught him reading on in Coot Club, our lunch time read. We knew he was reading non fiction but full length stories is a new venture and to be able to hold the whole story in his head and talk about it and often play games around the characters with his other Home Ed friends. The Life of Fred books have given him an end of year boost in confidence for maths and he is loving those and is reading way on with those too. I suspect if I let him he would have the entire elementary series read and completed in a week. They are being strictly rationed. While I enjoyed maths myself it never occurred to me that I would end up having to ration maths books when I became a parent. Though thinking back I do remember my parents reminding me when completing my Leaving Cert ( Irish A Level equivalent) that I had other subjects aside from maths to revise for. He also wrote a book ‘ Bob’s little hand book of animals’. 4 chapters long, each chapter covering one animal with one fact and a picture. To many it may not seem much, but this is massive. He choose to do this in his own time, made the booklet, found out the facts and wrote them down. Aside from writing to the police over a year ago he has never volunteered to write anything before now that was actual words. This was something to celebrate.

Zog has become a vibrant confident speaker, especially when it comes to animals and buffalos in particular. His speech sounds are clear and he is more willing to speak out now that he is confident others will understand him. He continues to love colour and bring colour into all aspects of life. He has also in the last few weeks decided that it is high time he caught up with Bob’s writing, spelling and reading and so has taught himself the alphabet and to write and we are now learning to read. His grasp of letter sounds outstrips both Bob and mine and so is racing ahead with spelling those very useful words, the names of African animals. He loves making the flags of the world from wooden shaped pieces we have and seeing the colours and patterns they make, to go along with his lego maps of continents.

Kanga is sitting beside me with all the early reader books picking out all the pictures of dogs as she has developed a love for dogs. She loves to join in with Zog learning to read and making all the sounds of the letters, though according to her they are all in the word dog; as in d is for /d/ in dog, so is f is for /f/ in dog and b is for /b/ in dog. We have some way to go there but there is plenty of time for that. As with her brothers she is in no rush to use actual words for the most part but is clearly understanding everything and is well capable of making her wishes understood. We suspect she is too busy understanding and making sense of the world around her which can be a very strange one with he two brothers in full flow to bother using a word here or there. Once she gets talking there will be no stopping her though. Her common sense and awareness is in a league of its on in comparison to her brothers and when anything is lost or needs to be got we all turn to her to find the item.

All 3 have done well. There is still lots of learning and growing to do across the board in skills, character and knowledge but we are journeying in the right direction I believe. Opportunities to reflect like this each week encourage me to keep going, where to tweet learning patterns, character traits that need attention which enable us to keep going.








Reflections on our home learning journey weeks 41 & 42/2

I cannot believe another two weeks have gone by. My original plan would have had us having a week off this past week but with the way things have worked this summer and the timing of when we could go away not happening now till August we have pushed on through. There was a reason why we only work 4 or 5 weeks on then a week off normally and I was reminded of that this week come Thursday. We had been doing well and then Bob hit a wall with maths on Thursday and with life in general. His brain was on overdrive and he simply could not sit and take another thing in. So he took himself off to bed with a  book and with our new fractions board and kept a low profile for the day. On Friday he bounced with that on edge bounce he does when his brain is in over drive, whirring and processing. He simply cannot keep going with new learning or staying still. He needs that time to let things percolate and to sift ideas through in his brain and allow it to settle before we move on. He is still whirring away, sifting through all he has being learning.

Over all though we have had a good pattern going with lessons in the morning. A big plus to our days has been the evening and morning routine charts I made for the boys of activities that have to be done around the house within a certain time frame. It is teaching them time management, reducing my asking twice for things to be done, they are getting better at drying dishes and we are reclaiming our evenings. It also means that we are all ready at 9am to start lessons and generally there has been a good attitude toward lessons with both Bob becoming more confident in working independently on set tasks and Zog who is working on basic numeracy and is joining in with spelling. He has also wanted to start to learn to read so we are working on basic letter sound familiarity with him at the moment and as he has been around Bob doing it all he is picking it up very quickly. I realised this morning how far he had come with his reading as he was my companion for the weekly shop today and he was in charge of ticking items off the list.

For various reasons we have missed out on getting to Pitville the last two weeks for Nature Wonderings but a week ago we redeemed the afternoon and took our picnic to the local nature reserve by our house. We had great fun exploring the reserve which has sprung into life in all its richness and fullness of natural wonder.

Bob would still rather not have to write with pen and paper and so for spelling we have come up with salt writing and chalk on the patio as well as the tiles from the All About Spelling material that we use. We have also introduced the Life of Fred into our maths times which we are loving and it is a treat to hear laughter through maths lessons. I had been hesitant to get the Life of Fred despite the number of people recommending it but it is so far proving to be worth the investment.

Between Life of Fred and reading Coot Club while listening to classical music we have had some wonderful relaxed afternoons that have been finished off with everyone colouring in a nature picture similar to the secret garden style pictures and in that mix some great conversations have flowed.

Last weekend the boys took part in a music concert in Gloucester with their choir, singing two songs which they loved doing and continue to sing and act out at home with Kanga following along action perfect. This Saturday the boys and I went along to an event at the Cheltenham Music Festival where they were caught up with some amazing music and paintings of Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As Zog begins to seek more structured lessons it has been a good to see how the coming year will look when both boys are doing formal learning times and how we include more family focused learning around art and music. With Zog’s love of writing and ability to hear sounds and so spell I actually think project work of certain subjects will work well as he will not be needing everything done for him.

Bob’s highlight of the last two weeks is without a doubt getting his first lessons in using a proper saw with Grandad as Grandad and he built a Bee B&B that he wanted to build having watched Springwatch and following on from on of our Nature Wondering sessions on bees.

Another project very much inspired by our creative Zog is to build out of lego maps of the world which they all love to be a part of.


Most material for the year ahead has arrived and I am now wondering when the time will be carved out so that I can get ahead and prepped to keep all of them busy and to keep us on track in the year ahead.

I know that throughout the past two weeks there have been moments when I have stopped and wanted to jot something down to reflect on but because of the way the past two weeks have been that has not happened and I can now only recall in general rather than the specifics. I think we are all ready for a break but there are another 3 weeks to go before holiday time.





Further up and Further in!

Having finished the Last Battle, I needed to finish the series.  I read the final three chapters in one sitting because it is just a bit difficult to stop any sooner.  One just needs to read on to get further in and further up.  The chapters describe the ascent of those characters who love Aslan from the stable door to the heart of Aslan’s country, and there is so much in here to love, and so much to learn from.

I was struck firstly by how Lewis portrays the scene of final judgement:

The creatures came rushing on, their eyes brighter and brighter as they drew nearer and nearer to the standing Stars. But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face; I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Beasts, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognised one of those very Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) for a great joy put everything else out of his head. Among the happy creatures who now came crowding round Tirian and his friends were all those whom they had thought dead. There was Roonwit the Centaur and Jewel the Unicorn, and the good Boar and the good Bear and Farsight the Eagle, and the dear Dogs and the Horses, and Poggin the Dwarf.

It reminds us that there is a day to come when God will judge this world – and that the judge is Jesus and that the judgement is to do with our relationship to Jesus.  I love the reassurance implicit here in the idea that some looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, even though they were very frightened.  I think that is how the last judgement feels to me when I stop to think about it.  As a Christian I know Jesus died in my place, and that my sin has been paid for – but I know too that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin.

I love too the surprises here.  There are some of the dwarfs who helped shoot the horses.  We don’t know what is going on in people’s hearts. We can be sure about those we love.  We know their hearts to a degree, we know their desires and their loves.  But with those we don’t really know we cannot judge.  We do not know where they start from, we do not know their secrets for good or ill, and so the final judgement will be a day of surprises.  Lewis explores this in more detail in the Great Divorce – which I thoroughly recommend to anyone wanting to think about how God’s final judgement works and can be fair – you don’t have to agree with everything Lewis says to benefit massively from reading and thinking through what he says.

The biggest surprise in the Last Battle comes in the next chapter, with the Calormen warrior, Emeth (truth/faithfulness in Hebrew interestingly) who has worshipped the Calormen god Tash earnestly all his life, practicing good  and seeking good as he understands it.  Aslan accepts and welcomes this service as done to him, because since Tash is actually an evil god, the good Emeth has done is for Aslan.  I don’t know for sure if or how this is reflected in reality.  Is this how God treats those who have heard of Jesus?

Romans 2:12-16 may be a hint of something like this. I think the evidence in the Bible is that this is possible, but we are not told how likely it is or how often it happens.  We are not called to speculate – rather we are called to respond to what we know and share the good news of Jesus and all he has done, and to leave judgement to God in the sure knowledge that the God of all the earth will do what is right and just.  That is both encouraging and deeply sobering.

Then we move on in the story to the joy the children and the others feel as they see that the real Narnia lives on:

“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” …

It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia, as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. … The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed and then cried:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

I love this idea, and I think it is biblical, I think it is rooted in the idea of a new heavens and a new earth, of a restored cosmos, of a world that is in seed form now, but one day will be transformed.  I think it is rooted in the idea that one day creation will be liberated from its groaning.  I think now of the feeling that enters my heart as the car turns off the M6, and goes in to the Lake District here in England.  Of the perfection of the lush green valleys, and of the rocky crags, of the blue skies and the clear views.  I think of the Cornish coast path, and the same combination of blues and greens and browns and grey.  One day all that will be part of God’s new creation.  One day the best of our cities and the finest of our arts and music will combine to be part of the world in which no good thing is ever destroyed.

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.

Or as the climax of the Last Battle has it:

The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-coloured cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.

… Then Aslan turned to them and said:

“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Or – as a poem I love by John Piper puts it (you can read the whole thing in his book Future Grace, or on the Desiring God website – he writes poems every advent for his church, so put the names of friends in place of the ones here…):

And then the Lord
Wiped every tear away and turned
To see his bride. Her heart had yearned
Four thousand years for this: His face
Shone like the sun, and every trace
Of wrath was gone. And in her bliss
She heard the Master say, “Watch this:
Come forth all goodness from the ground,
Come forth and let the earth redound
With joy.” And as he spoke, the throne
Of God came down to earth and shone
Like golden crystal full of light,
And banished once for all the night.
And from the throne a stream began
To flow and laugh, and as it ran,
It made a river and a lake,
And everywhere it flowed a wake
Of grass broke on the banks and spread
Like resurrection from the dead.

And in the twinkling of an eye
The saints descended from the sky.

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream-
Almost-and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye.
I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
And there’s old Beryl, and Arnold too,
Still holding hands beneath the blue
And crystal sky: No stoop, they stand
Erect. No tremor in their hand.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift his voice and sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart to understand
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

O God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days. And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.
And may your future make us free,
And guard us by the hope that we,
Your glory will forever see.

Let that awaken hunger and longing.  The day when the cancer ridden bone will be clear.  The day when freedom comes.  The day when there is no more terror.  No more sorrow.  No more sin.  That day will come.  Right now it can sometimes be agony – and we do not see why, and we do not know why – but let us bring those aching hearts to the one who stores our tears in his bottle and will one day wipe every tear away.

Let us long for that day when the shroud of death is removed and we will see his face, and we will know him as we are known.  Today we stand and we live in that light. Let us live for that day, and let the hunger for that day transform our perspective now, so that we long to make this world as fitting a preparation for that day as we can.

Remember this – and these final words from Isaiah 25:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death for ever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

In the Stable with the Dwarfs…

And now to the dwarfs.  In the Last Battle Tirian liberates a group of them from two Calormen soldiers and meets with a rather dusty response

“Well struck, Eustace!” cried Tirian, clapping him on the back. “Now, Dwarfs, you are free. Tomorrow I will lead you to free all Narnia. Three cheers for Aslan!”

But the result which followed was simply wretched. There was a feeble attempt from a few Dwarfs (about five) which died away all at once: from several others there were sulky growls. Many said nothing at all.

“Don’t they understand?” said Jill impatiently.

“What’s wrong with all you Dwarfs? Don’t you hear what the King says? It’s all over. The Ape isn’t going to rule Narnia any longer. Everyone can go back to ordinary life. You can have fun again. Aren’t you glad?”

After a pause of nearly a minute a not-very-nice looking Dwarf with hair and beard as black as soot said:

“And who might you be, Missie?”

“I’m Jill,” she said. “The same Jill who rescued King Rilian from the enchantment—and this is Eustace who did it too—and we’ve come back from another world after hundreds of years. Aslan sent us.”

The Dwarfs all looked at one another with grins; sneering grins, not merry ones.

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick.”

“What do you mean?” said Tirian. He had not been pale when he was fighting but he was pale now. He had thought this was going to be a beautiful moment, but it was turning out more like a bad dream.

“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!”

“By heaven, you make me mad,” said Tirian. “Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?”

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in a jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

Here the tragedy mirrors the real life tragedy that exposure to false teachings and false promises can so easily lead to disillusionment with the truth.  The dwarfs have been deceived once and are determined not to be deceived again.  How often do people feel let down by God because promises have been made in God’s name that he never said?

Promises that they would be healed, promises that they would be changed in some way, promises that they would have their financial worries solved.  The reaction of the dwarfs is a warning that we shouldn’t make such promises, but instead should stick to the reality of the God who is sometimes uncomfortable, and who doesn’t always make life work in a nice neat and tidy way.

The dwarfs reappear later in the story, seeking to establish themselves against both Tirian and the invaders, until the inevitable moment when they get thrown through the stable door.  Reading to the boys tonight I was struck by the differences in the experience of going through the stable door from person to person.  For all (but one) of the Calormens and those who have sided with them the stable door brings them face to face with the demon god Tash, and they are devoured by him.  For the Narnians it is the doorway, as Jewell rightly surmises, to Aslan’s country.

For the dwarfs it is the doorway to the start of Aslan’s country, but they still think they are in a stable.  They are not devoured by Tash.  They are free to experience the delights of Aslan’s land.  But this is their reaction:

Lucy led the way and soon they could all see the Dwarfs. They had a very odd look. They weren’t strolling about or enjoying themselves (although the cords with which they had been tied seemed to have vanished) nor were they lying down and having a rest. They were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another. They never looked round or took any notice of the humans till Lucy and Tirian were almost near enough to touch them. Then the Dwarfs all cocked their heads as if they couldn’t see any one but were listening hard and trying to guess by the sound what was happening.

“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”

“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”

“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.

“In where?” asked Edmund.

“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

“Are you blind?” said Tirian.

“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.

“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”

“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?”

“But I can see you,” said Lucy. “I’ll prove I can see you. You’ve got a pipe in your mouth.”

“Anyone that knows the smell of baccy could tell that,” said Diggle.

The dwarfs are convinced they are still in the stable.  All attempts by Tirian and Lucy prove fruitless.  Then Aslan appears, and Lucy appeals to him. He sets a feast for them, they set about eating, but convinced it is simply stable food fight one another for what each thinks are the least worst bits:

But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:

“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”

The words of Aslan are tragic – yet how tragic when they describe the reality we get ourselves into.  How often we get ourselves into a similar sort of state, blind to what God is actually up to because we know better.  The title of this blog post matches the title of an article by a professor of mine at Regent. He chose the title because it seemed to fit a certain type of biblical critic, whose denials of any real history in the biblical text become a self perpetuating system, out of which they cannot be argued.

Having heard at least of those he castigates in the article talking at a conference, and having read many similar articles I see his point.  The tragedy is, in this case, and so many others, that often these biblical critics come from backgrounds where too much is claimed for the biblical text, and in an over-reaction end up denying the whole thing.

But it isn’t just biblical critics who need to pay heed to the warning of the dwarfs – all of us do, at any point where we know what God wants, but we choose the opposite – whether through wilfulness, or through fear.  We all need to be aware of the danger that we will make ourselves blind to what God is up to.  And yet there is always hope. After the first episode above in the Last Battle one of the dwarfs breaks ranks and turns to Tirian, and we read in the next chapter of how some of these dwarfs finally recognise Aslan and love him.

The remedy is always to turn back to God – to stop thinking that our cunning is best, and to turn to him and trust that he knows what he is doing, even when we cannot see it.  I could name at least four different situations applying to people we know and love right now where I do not have a clue what God is exactly up to right now.   Yet in each situation his call is to trust, and not to lean on our own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5-6 seems like a good place to finish:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding – in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.

Keeping on keeping on…

As we read on in the Last Battle we get to an altogether darker state of affairs.  Narnia has fallen, and those with the true king are few and far between.  Tirian has wanted to send the children home, but they refuse, and there is no way to send them on:

When Tirian realised that the two strangers could not get home (unless Aslan suddenly whisked them away) he next wanted them to go across the southern mountains into Archenland where they might possibly be safe. But they didn’t know their way and there was no one to send with them. Also, as Poggin said, once the Calormenes had Narnia they would certainly take Archenland in the next week or so: the Tisroc had always wanted to have these Northern countries for his own. In the end Eustace and Jill begged so hard that Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance—or, as he much more sensibly called it “the adventure that Aslan would send them.”

The story moves on to the final confrontation between Tirian and the Calormen invaders.  There is no real hope in the battle and as it moves towards the inevitable defeat we read these words:

Rishda Tarkaan was still talking to his men, doubtless making arrangements for the next attack and probably wishing he had sent his whole force into the first. The drum boomed on. Then, to their horror, Tirian and his friends heard, far fainter as if from a long way off, an answering drum. Another body of Calormenes had heard Rishda’s signal and were coming to support him. You would not have known from Tirian’s face that he had now given up all hope.

It doesn’t sound like cheerful material for a blog post, or to have much cheerful application to life with God.

However, I think the attitude of Tirian and his friends is an important one to learn from.  They are marching to battle knowing that there is little or no hope, and yet knowing that loyalty to Narnia and to Aslan demands that action.  This is an attitude that we need also.  Sometimes the right thing to do is also one that will not bring immediate success.

We live in an age where we do not like to hear that.  We’d often rather hear about “Your best life now” – but it strikes me that the authentic Christian attitude is one that is willing to stick at a decision, or course of action, or belief, if that is the one that Christ would have us do.

That could apply to a church, seeking to follow Christ in a particular area, sticking to a particular belief or practice because they are seeking to remain true to what Jesus wants, even if it will cost them members or money.  It can apply to you or me, when we see that following Jesus is going to cost something right now.  There is no guarantee with Jesus that following him will work out right now.  Sometimes we, like Tirian and friends will find ourselves in what seems to be an utterly hopeless situation.

In the midst of that we need to not lose sight of two things.  One is the fact that in the midst of all the mess God is working out his purposes.  In Narnia they say “the adventure that Aslan sends” as the way of affirming that God is at work.  In the midst of all that is going on, we need to remember that God is with us.  Adrian Plass (in Safe, Tender, Extreme) quotes Oswald Chambers:

We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself.
What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea”
with no shore,
no success,
nor goal in sight,
but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea”

The second focus we have to remember is that one day it will be all right.  One day the storms and turmoil will cease.  If I blog any more on the Last Battle we will reach that day soon.  But just this morning I reached the end of 1 Corinthians 15.  It is a truly glorious chapter that builds to a wonderful crescendo of praise to God.

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But strikingly Paul does not finish there.  The final verse brings us back down to the present:

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

In other words keep on keeping on.  Keep on following Jesus.  Don’t give up, because nothing we do out of obedience to Jesus is wasted. Ever.  We may not see why.  We may never, this side of eternity, understand the reason, but keep on.  Jesus is with you now, and one day you will see the full picture.

Not a Tame Lion: Living with the God who is totally faithful but free in how he shows that faithfulness

A bit of a mouthful in the title.  But it comes from the next instalment of the Last Battle.  The result of the conversation that I wrote about in the previous blog post is that Shift, the Ape has a Donkey in a stable dressed as a Lion.  He parades the Donkey each evening, and acts as its mouthpiece. He invites in Narnia’s ancient enemy, the Calormens, and sells the talking animals of Narnia into slavery, all in the name of Aslan.

This results in the last King of Narnia Tirian, and his faithful friend Jewell having this conversation:

“Taking logs down to sell to the Calormenes, Sire,” said the Rat, touching his ear as he might have touched his cap if he had had one.

“Calormenes!” thundered Tirian. “What do you mean? Who gave order for these trees to be felled?”

The River flows so swiftly at that time of the year that the raft had already glided past the King and Jewel. But the Water Rat looked back over its shoulders and shouted:

“The Lion’s orders, Sire. Aslan himself.” He added something more but they couldn’t hear it.

The King and the Unicorn stared at one another and both looked more frightened than they had ever been in any battle.

“Aslan,” said the King at last, in a very low voice. “Aslan. Could it be true? Could he be felling the holy trees and murdering the Dryads?”

“Unless the Dryads have all done something dreadfully wrong——” murmured Jewel.

“But selling them to Calormenes!” said the King. “Is it possible?”

“I don’t know,” said Jewel miserably. “He’s not a tame Lion.”

“Not a tame lion”. The reader of the story knows these are the words with which the Beaver explains to the 4 children Aslan’s unpredictable comings and goings in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  In that context they explain that Aslan cannot be tied down, or held to a timetable.  He comes and goes as he chooses, for his reasons, and at his time.

But in the Last Battle they are used by all the bewildered animals to explain why things are so different this time.  Here, even the King is in doubt.  There are two things that should change his mind.  The first happens almost as soon as he hears the first report that Aslan has returned.

Here he receives a warning from one of the wisest of his subjects:

“Now, Roonwit,” said the King. “Do you bring us more news of Aslan?”

Roonwit looked very grave, frowning a little.

“Sire,” he said. “You know how long I have lived and studied the stars; for we Centaurs live longer than you Men, and even longer than your kind, Unicorn. Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began. The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for five hundred years. It was already in my mind to come and warn your Majesty that some great evil hangs over Narnia. But last night the rumour reached me that Aslan is abroad in Narnia. Sire, do not believe this tale. It cannot be. The stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do. If Aslan were really coming to Narnia, the sky would have foretold it. If he were really come, all the most gracious stars would be assembled in his honour. It is all a lie.”

“A lie!” said the King fiercely. “What creature in Narnia or all the world would dare to lie on such a matter?” And, without knowing it, he laid his hand on his sword hilt.

“That I know not, Lord King,” said the Centaur. “But I know there are liars on earth; there are none among the stars.”

“I wonder,” said Jewel, “whether Aslan might not come though all the stars foretold otherwise. He is not the slave of the stars but their Maker. Is it not said in all the old stories that He is not a Tame Lion?”

“Well said, well said, Jewel,” cried the King. “Those are the very words: not a tame lion. It comes in many tales.”

Roonwit had just raised his hand and was leaning forward to say something very earnestly to the King when all three of them turned their heads to listen to a wailing sound that was quickly drawing nearer.

The Centaur here knows that the reports must be wrong because he has seen what the stars have to say.  Jewel’s reply re-asserts the idea of the “Tame Lion”, and we never hear Roonwit’s response.  But I think the response would say something about faithfulness, and about truth.  It could be pointed out that while Aslan is free to come and go in the way in which he chooses, he is also utterly faithfully good.  As the Beaver said in the earlier book: “Course he isn’t safe – but he’s good”.

So much of the Christian life is about living with the tension of a God who is good and faithful, and yet is also the creator God beyond our understanding, and so free to choose to show that goodness and faithfulness in ways we do not fathom, and may never fathom this side of eternity.

Right at the start of Israel’s story a shepherd stood at a burning bush and on asking who he should tell God’s people had spoken to him heard the mysterious reply: “eheyeh asher eheyeh” – “I will be who I will be”.  In the full context of the passage this seems to be both an assurance that God will be with Moses, but also a warning that this divine presence will always be manifest as God chooses, in the way God chooses.  Moses, for example, won’t get the sign that God has sent him until he has brought the people out of Egypt to Sinai.

On the mountain, in the wake of the people’s worst failure, seeking to know God’s full glory Moses hears these words “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, I will show compassion on whom I show I compassion” – affirming that God is the God who shows mercy, but also that his mercy and compassion are at his disposal – not ours.  The tension in the narrative of Exodus at this point is vivid – God is faithful, God forgives, God is compassionate and gracious – and yet God will still punish sin.

It takes another hill, this time with three wooden crosses, to see the fullest display of God’s glory, and the ultimate display of this tension – God himself steps into human history and bears the punishment of a rebellious world.  God shows himself faithful and just to forgive our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness – because he himself bore our sins.

We know this because we live with a book – the Bible – that, like Roonwit’s stars, gives us a sure and certain guide to God’s character.  While his ways are hidden from us, his character is fixed, and his desires for us remain constant.  He desires from us that we pursue justice and righteousness, and live lives of godliness and purity.  That doesn’t change.

So listen carefully when voices speak in Jesus’ name.  Remember that Jesus warned of those who would deceive, even performing signs and wonders.  Hold fast to the truth, and to living the truth.

In the Last Battle Tirian and Jewell make a costly mistake before clarity comes to them.  The moment of clarity comes when the Ape is questioned:

“Please, please,” said the high voice of a woolly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.

“What is it now?” said the Ape. “Be quick.”

“Please,” said the Lamb, “I can’t understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don’t believe there’s any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?”

All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed towards the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.

“Baby!” he hissed. “Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But you others, listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”

Up till now the King and Jewel had said nothing: they were waiting until the Ape should bid them speak, for they thought it was no use interrupting. But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and saw how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.

“Ape,” he cried with a great voice, “you lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape.”

He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

At this point the King recognises the lie for what it is.

He can tell the lie by the contradiction that emerges.  He know Aslan cannot be behind such a falsehood.

When we see a crowd going one way, perhaps claiming Jesus’ name for what they are doing we need to stop.

We need to ask the questions:

How does this fit with what the Bible tells us of God?

How does this fit with God’s desires for justice, righteousness, holiness and purity?

The Bible doesn’t give us a timetable of the end, but it does give us the pattern of how life will run in the time from now until Jesus’ return.

So we know from the Bible that false Christ’s will appear throughout church history.

We know that there will often be those who seek to link allegiance to Christ to a powerful state.

We know that there will be those who will seek within the church to overturn truth, and replace it with a lie.

We know that there will be those who seek to replace freedom in Christ with a license to sin – and those who seek to replace freedom in Christ with human rules and regulations.

Be suspicious of such claims.  Remember that while God is free to work in his ways and at his time, he is faithful to his promises and character.  Remember that he does not cause evil in this world – though he does not remove all evil in one go – wheat and weeds remain until the end.  We don’t understand all he does.  But we can trust because he gives us reasons to go on trusting.

Hold fast to what we know – and especially to the God who reveals his glory on a cross.  To the God who knows our pain and our suffering. To the God who defeated death once and for all and the God who will make all things new.



The Most Dangerous Invitation

At bedtime I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia to the boys.  I love these books and I love that they love them too.  We’ve reached the Last Battle chapter 1, and I was struck by this exchange:

“All the same, Shift,” said Puzzle, “even if the skin only belonged to a dumb, wild lion, oughtn’t we to give it a decent burial? I mean, aren’t all lions rather—well, rather solemn. Because of you know Who. Don’t you see?”

“Don’t you start getting ideas into your head, Puzzle,” said Shift. “Because, you know, thinking isn’t your strong point. We’ll make this skin into a fine warm winter coat for you.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’d like that,” said the Donkey. “It would look—I mean, the other Beasts might think—that is to say, I shouldn’t feel——”

“What are you talking about?” said Shift, scratching himself the wrong way up as Apes do.

“I don’t think it would be respectful to the Great Lion, to Aslan himself, if an ass like me went about dressed up in a lionskin,” said Puzzle.

“Now don’t stand arguing, please,” said Shift. “What does an ass like you know about things of that sort? You know you’re no good at thinking, Puzzle, so why don’t you let me do your thinking for you?

It contains perhaps the most dangerous invitation imaginable:

“Why don’t you let me do your thinking for you?”

It is an appealing invitation in a time of uncertainty and chaos politically.  Why not turn our country over to a strong leader who can answer our questions simply?  So said Europe in the 1930s – and the danger in times of turmoil is that we will do so again.

It is an appealing invitation in a church where pressure from society grows ever stronger.  Why not just let the world do our thinking for us and tell us what right and wrong are?  Why not just let scholars and important leaders decide what should happen?

It is appealing when we don’t know what we should do next.  Why not just let someone else do our thinking for us and fit in with the expected?

“Why don’t you let me do your thinking for you?”

It is a dangerous invitation because it conceals a half truth – of course we need each other. Of course we can’t do our thinking alone.  But we can never leave our thinking completely to others.  We need to use our brains.

This is a fundamental part of my faith – and I don’t say that just because I have spent 3 years working on a PhD. No, it is fundamental for every Christian. We cannot let our thinking be done for us.

Put at its simplest I believe God has spoken.

We have his words in the Bible.  Words of life.  Words that are, at times hard.  Words that are, at times difficult.  But words that do give life.  Words that bring us to Jesus. Words that show us how and why to live the life he wants.

We get the benefit of life with God when we read those words.  When we let them seep into our skin and bones.  When we let them enter our hearts and penetrate deep within.  When we sit and wrestle with a passage that we find hard.  When we don’t give up on our quest to understand.  When we think.  When we love God with our minds and don’t give up.

If we shortcut the process by skipping on reading God’s Word and engaging with it for ourselves then we make ourselves vulnerable to false teachers and prophets inside the church, and to beastly political leaders outside the church who promise us various versions of heaven now.

Reading God’s Word and wrestling with it for ourselves means we  will be ready for a world now where pain and heartache are real.  We will be ready for a world where some things just don’t make sense at all.

We will know that in the midst of the pain and the heartache, of the confusion and the tears that there is a God of faithful love who holds us and is remaking us, and this broken world, into something as unimaginably glorious to us right now as a 400 year old oak tree is to an acorn.

I’m going to finish this blog post with possibly the most important sentence Rob Bell has ever written.  It was on the back cover of the copy of Velvet Elvis I had at some point.  It makes the point very well.

We have to test everything.I thank God for anybody anywhere who is pointing people to the mysteries of God. But those people would all tell you to think long and hard about what they are saying and doing and creating.Test it. Probe it.Do that to this book.Don’t swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it.Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion. God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right?