Saturday, February 26, 2011

Susan's Fate

*WARNING: If you have not read The Chronicles of Narnia, do not read on. SPOILER!*

Authors have a big task when constructing a novel or series of novels, and many show their brilliance in what they write and how they explain. In my opinion, one mark of a truly great author is what he leaves open to the imagination of the reader, rather than explaining.

Such is the fate of Susan Pevensie, one of the important characters of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Very few characters actually survive the series. We witness the deaths of the White Witch, Miraz, Caspian, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, even Aslan. We see Reepicheep go up the wave in his coracle to Aslan's Country. We hear about the death of Caspian's beloved Queen in a flashback. We see Prince Rabadash of Calormen transformed into a donkey, and he has to be transported to Tashbaan where he is transformed back into a man in the temple of his god Tash. He reforms and leads a peaceful reign, but we read that he eventually dies, and his people proceed to call him Rabadash the Ridiculous. Some characters die during the time between books. We don't know how, but for example, thousands of years have passed in Narnia between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. By virtue of the passage of time, we know that the Beavers, Tumnus and all the others have long since died by the time Prince Caspian starts. In The Last Battle, we see Ginger the Cat get overconfident, take one look at Tash, and shoot out of the stable like a bullet, unable to speak. Tash grabs Rishda Tarkaan and Shift and takes them away.

However, perhaps the most heartbreaking fate is that of Susan...and she is one of the few characters that actually survives.

After King Tirian pulls Rishda Tarkaan through the stable door in The Last Battle, Tirian finds himself in a beautiful paradise, and Rishda finds himself face-to-face with the reality that the evil god he has not believed but has pretended to worship all his life is very real and is not happy. Tirian turns to find before him nearly all of the Friends of Narnia that we have met throughout the series. Jill and Eustace, with whom he just fought the Last Battle, are there, along with Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly and Digory. Tirian is amazed to be before so many heroes from throughout Narnia's history, and he is mystified when he realizes that Queen Susan is not there. When he asks where she is, Peter explains that she is no longer a friend of Narnia. It turns out that she has decided that Narnia was child's play, and she doesn't understand how her siblings can still think it's real. In other words, she has contracted a serious case of adultitis. She is more concerned with the superficial trappings of being a woman and going to parties than she is with spending quality time with her loved ones and remembering the lessons she learned not so long ago.

As we read on, we find out that the Friends of Narnia have been trying to return. Peter and Edmund went to retrieve the rings that transported Polly and Digory to Narnia, and they were waiting at the train station for the others to arrive. The train rounded the bend too fast, crashing into the station and probably derailing, killing those on board and in the station. Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly and Digory suddenly found themselves in the New Narnia, and Eustace and Jill found themselves in the Old Narnia with a task to help King Tirian to defend their nation to the end. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the Pevensies' parents are also on board the ill-fated train. They suddenly find themselves in a New London.

Beyond what is told above, we don't know what happened to Susan. When a child asked Lewis about it, he had this to say:
Dear Martin,

The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way. I think that whatever she had seen in Narnia she could (if she was the sort that wanted to) persuade herself, as she grew up, that it was "all nonsense".

Congratulations on your good marks. I wish I was good at Maths! Love to all,
C.S. Lewis

Letters to Children, Letter of 22 January 1957
Think about it: Susan has just lost her ENTIRE family. Her nearest living relatives that we know of are her Aunt Alberta and Uncle Harold, who have also lost a son. All three of her siblings, her parents, her cousin, even the respected Professor who took her in during the war, have all died in one train crash. If that isn't enough to shake a person to their senses, I don't know what is. I've lost family members, but only one at a time--and none as close as a sibling or parent. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose so much at once. Not to mention that she's only 21 at this point. She has her whole life ahead of her, and she has to live it without the ones who have been closest to her growing up.

Susan's fate is both heartbreaking and hopeful. As Lewis pointed out to young Martin, Susan has a chance to remember the lessons she learned from Aslan and let go of her selfish pride and adultitis. As Aslan pointed out in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he has another name in this world. On January 22, 1952, Lewis explained in a letter to a child named Carrol that the word Aslan "is Turkish for lion ... And of course I meant the Lion of Judah." He likely expected Carrol to understand that the Lion of Judah is a name for Jesus in the Bible. Thus, Susan has a choice. She can continue to reject the hope that has been given to her in the form of Christ appearing to her in the form of a lion, or she can put her trust in Christ, who died to save her from her sin. (She saw this reenacted only a few years earlier as Aslan gave his life on the Stone Table to save Edmund from death, and then the Stone Table cracked and Aslan rose from the dead and defeated the White Witch).

Susan has a choice. Which did she choose? We'll never know, because she's a fictional character...but each of us has the same choice. We can choose to follow Christ and one day find ourselves in His presence, or we can reject Him and find ourselves in the presence of someone worse than Tash.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rob Phillips

This has been a difficult week, as I lost a dear friend and brother in Christ early Tuesday morning (February 15, 2011). A heart attack hit, and suddenly he was gone, despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses.

It all started when I joined Christian comedian Bob Smiley's online message board in approximately 2000. That was where I met Jerri Phillips, a wonderful Texan woman of God who I have grown to admire more and more over the years. She had a husband and two children that I heard about often.

Fast-forward to 2007. My friend Brian Green was getting married in Texas, and I was honored to be requested to come and be a groomsman. I decided to make a vacation of it and visited friends in Louisiana and Texas, as well as surprising Christian singer Clay Crosse by attending a concert in Baton Rouge (we've become good friends). After spending a few days in Louisiana with friends, I took the train to Dallas, where I was greeted by a very excited Jerri and her two children. Her husband Rob was at work, but I got to meet him when he got home that evening. Over the next few days, I got to know their family, and I gained even more of a respect and love for each of them. They took me around, and we generally had a great time. The kids especially are very artistic, and I also enjoyed my time doing artwork with them at their home. At one point, they took me to a restaurant they loved (I forget the name), and Rob introduced me to their cheese fries. Probably terribly fattening, but they were oh so good!

One thing that particularly impressed me about Rob was his thoughtfulness. About a month before Jerri's birthday one year, he sent out an e-mail to all of their friends and asked us to send birthday cards, as a special surprise for Jerri. He worked it out for us to send them to their neighbor so Jerri would not catch wind of the plan. Then on her birthday, she was flooded with cards from all over the country.

Tuesday morning of this week, I was on the bus, almost to work, and I checked my e-mail on my phone. I saw a message from Jerri explaining that Rob had had a massive heart attack shortly after midnight. I was immediately very concerned, and then a little confused when I saw in the next paragraph that there would be a celebration service. Then I reread the first paragraph and realized that it said "fatal massive heart attack." Then the bus arrived at work. Early in the day, I sent an e-mail to my manager explaining that I had lost a dear friend and may be a bit slower than normal doing my work, due to the shock. At lunch I called my friend Carmel, also a good friend of Rob and Jerri, to make sure she knew (I didn't feel I had the right to tell her what happened, as it needed to come from Jerri, but I recommended that she check her messages). Most of this week I have had to hold in the grief, or I would not get any work done. But this weekend I have had some time to process it. I don't, and probably never will, understand how or why God would choose to take a healthy 42-year-old man who had a family who needed him, and I can't fathom how it must feel for the family left behind. I know that I've shed lots of tears this week.

When looking through my pictures of my trip to Texas, I was disappointed not to find any of Rob, but I found a few of the rest of the family. (One of my favorites is at the top of this post.) Please keep Jerri, Anna and Robert in your prayers. I can't even begin to imagine their pain, but if it's been this tough for me, it's got to be much harder for them. I know that God will work even this out for good, but sometimes it's so hard to see the beauty to come through the difficult and strangling ugliness right now.

Update: Jerri reminded me that the restaurant with the cheese fries is called Snuffer's. If you're ever in the Fort Worth area, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Harriet Tubman

As February is Black History Month, I thought I'd feature some of the black heroes who have made our country what it is today. As I already did a post on Martin Luther King, Jr., I won't be doing another...but there are so many more amazing people that need to be remembered. I can guarantee I won't get to all of them this month, but I'll see how many we can do. (I also expect I'll be doing posts on Lincoln and Washington this month in honor of their birthdays.)

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross (Minty for short) in March of 1822. During her childhood, she was hired out to several masters who beat and abused her. At one point, she was sent to a local dry-goods store to get some supplies. There, she met a slave who had left his master without permission. The other slave's master asked young Minty to help him restrain the slave, and when she refused, the angry slaveowner threw a 2-pound weight at the fleeing slave. It missed the target and instead hit Minty in the head, breaking her skull. She was returned to her master, who let her rest without medical care for two days and then sent her back out into the fields to work, still bleeding. Her injury would haunt her for the rest of her life. She suffered from headaches and seizures as a result. She also had many visions and dreams that she believed were revelations from God (and I don't doubt it), and may also have been related to her injury.

As a slave, she held onto her faith in God and to biblical promises of freedom. In 1840, her father was freed, and when she consulted a white lawyer, it was discovered that her mother should also have been freed...but her family's masters had ignored that bit in a former master's will, and Minty couldn't afford to challenge it in court.

In about 1844, Araminta Ross married a free black man named John Tubman, and soon after their marriage, she changed her first name to Harriet. This complicated matters as a free man married a slave. The couple began praying for Harriet's master, first that God would change his heart and free her, and when that didn't seem to be happening, that God would take her master out. A week later, her master died, and she regretted her prayer. Her master's widow started work on selling off the slaves, and Harriet decided that "there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other." On September 17, 1849, she escaped with her brothers Harry and Ben, but her brothers began to have second thoughts about escape, and they returned, bringing her along.

She later escaped by herself, using the Underground Railroad. She traveled by night, using the North Star as her guide, and stayed with friendly people, many of them Quakers, who secretly helped many slaves to escape. She would later describe her arrival in Pennsylvania thus: "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."

Harriet spent the next while helping to free members of her family, going back and forth between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Her efforts earned her the nickname Moses by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. As the North became more and more dangerous to escaped slaves due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, she began helping fleeing slaves to go further north to Canada. She especially worked on this during the winter months, when the nights were longer.

She had an intense faith that God would protect her, and she had several close calls when passing former masters...but she was a quick thinker and managed to hide in plain sight (at one point pretending to read a newspaper - since she was known to be illiterate, her former master didn't figure that was her). She would often use spirituals as coded messages.

She later worked with abolitionist John Brown, who called her General Tubman. Brown believed in a more violent method of freeing slaves, but they both had similar goals, and both looked to God for protection. Brown would later be caught and hanged for treason.

During the Civil War, Tubman urged President Lincoln to free the slaves in the South. Partway through the war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which Tubman saw that as a step in the right direction. She even had a strategic part in guiding a troop of Yankee soldiers in an assault on Southern plantations. During the war, her aid to the Northern army helped to free hundreds of slaves - and many of the freed men joined the Union Army.

After the war, she married a Civil War veteran named Nelson Davis in 1869 (her first husband had been killed several years earlier), and they adopted a girl named Gertie.

Later in life, Tubman worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and others in the fight for women's suffrage.

Around the turn of the century, she joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and in 1903 she donated a parcel of land to the church to found a home for elderly folks. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened on June 23, 1908. Due to her childhood injury, she had to undergo brain surgery in the 1890s, and she became a patient in her own Home for the Aged in 1911. On March 10, 1913, she died of pneumonia, quoting her Savior Jesus to the people in the room: "I go to prepare a place for you." She was buried with full military honors.


Some quotes from Harriet Tubman:

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves."

"I grew up like a neglected weed - ignorant of liberty, having no experience in it."

"I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger."

"I would fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me."

"Lord, I'm going to hold steady onto You and You've got to see me through."