Pied Piper, enchantment and Christianity
by Carole McDonnell
Television specials and movie trailers are celebrating the
upcoming 20th anniversary of ET: The Extraterrestrial. I view
them with the same kind of wary fascination with which I watch
anniversary specials of John Lennon and the Beatles: I like it
but am determined not to be carried away by its enthralling joys.
It's not as if I dislike John Lennon, The Beatles or ET: The
Extraterrestrial. My teenage crush on John Lennon was so intense
I dated several guys who could pass as his doubles. And I love
fantasy and science fiction. New Edens, lost worlds, strange
civilizations fascinate me. But even in those Beatle days, my
Beatlemania was restrained. And ET's sweet childlikeness (and
that halo of light that always surrounded him) always seemed
flimsy and sentimental to me. Granted, they were both called
"Christ-figures," (emblems who showed the world something of
Christ) but they inspired me with rational and noncommital awe.
I was never swept away.
I want to give you examples of modern day enchantment,
emphasizing that seduction is so powerfully misleading that it
even causes good believing Christians to be tempted. But there is
a reality-driven substantial enchantment that
There is Christianity and fictional hero worship which mocks
Christianity. The media to a large extent is leading a procession
that draws undsicerning people into a false seduction with no
true spiritual merit
People tend to want to understand and control God to meet their
own needs, which is one of the things the media teaches us to do.
They've lost sight of the fact that God's mind is infinite, and
we can never fully comprehend Him. That's where faith and
discernment --received from God's spirit enlightening us through
His Word-- comes in. The Bible tells us "Your ways are not my
ways, and your thoughts are not my thoughts."
In that powerful children's story about the dangers of
enchantment, the Pied Piper, we read that a Pied Piper came into
Hamelin and, with enchanting music, led the children away in a
grand procession, taking them away forever behind a great wall.
Historians say the story is rooted in the Crusades when
richly-dressed Kings (or other governmental agency) wooed young
men away to the Holy Land with stories of war, mystery and
splendor. Stories of outrage and indignation against the Arabs who were in the Holy Land. Whatever the genesis of the story, the moral still remains: beware of enchantment, group processions and the power of good PR on undiscerning people without purpose. There is also another story: the one about the naked emperor, the lie of the many, and the honest voice of a small child: The Emperor's New Clothes.
The glorious words of a good copywriter tout the joys to be
found in new luxurious Corinthian leather. The poetic
voice-overs and sweetly lyrical background music in a commercial
equates marital love with diamonds. The crowded night-vigils
outside the apartment of a slain actor call us to ideas and
people greater than ourselves. These things enthrall with their
emotional intensity, their promises of new things under the sun,
their intimation of mystery, joy, wonder, their call to some kind of purpose and that certain missing glorious meaningful "something." The persuasive works of the copywriter, the coming attractions of the latest scifi flick, the joys of story telling and the promise of science all speak to our ability to be enchanted by something greater than what we now see, handle or possess.
What Mom or Dad hasn't tried to dissuade a child from
spending money on the latest video-game or the latest horror
flick? ("Son, didn't you say the last time-- that the coming
attractions were more fun that the actual movie? I thought Tomb
Raider didn't live up to your expectations and now you want to
see Resident Evil?")
I am enthralled by St George and the dragon and Gawain and
the Green Knight. I wouldn't mind a diamond on my 20th, 25th,
30th anniversary. And my kids are enthralled to trailers and
advertisements. What we have in common is that we are enchanted
by emotion, awe, beauty and mystery. Life seems normal, mundane
and boring. And we want something new under the sun.
We might think the media is the cause of all this. But St
Paul and the gospel writers showed us that enchantment is a part
of human nature. St Paul wrote insightfully that, "Adultery is
Idolatry." He meant that we commit adultery and fall in love
with other people because we forget that everyone is human and
then we become enthralled to the supposed perfection of the new
object of our desire. And so, I often have to remind myself that
enchantment is wonderful but it is also not something we can not
entirely trust. Treasures are everywhere, but I must remember to
focus on spiritual treasures such as love, faith, heaven and
things of good report. In short, if I am to be enchanted, I
should have discernment. Especially if the discernment verges on
the worshipful or spiritual.
Nowadays, there is much media preoccupation with spiritual
enchantment, specifically with Light-Bringers. ET, John Lennon
and celebrities fall into the category of Light Bringers who are
glorified. As a TV-watcher, a fan of sci-fi, and a child of the
seventies, I should fall in line and follow the glory. But more
and more I find myself resisting the beautiful light they are so
often surrounded by. The sweetness and intelligence of
celebrities and space aliens-- often equated with Darwinian
enlightenment-- beckons the viewer to gawk, perhaps even worship.
They are made to seem intellectually and emotionally
irresistible. But that irresistible quality makes me resist. I
refuse to be lulled by the Pied Piper's music and disappear
behind his wall forever.
Christianity makes its adherents cynical. Christians of all
denominations all know that politics, public opinion and religion
crucified their Lord If we can't trust politics and religion to
handle truth -and Jesus is Truth-- , how can we trust art, music,
or popular media with it? Raised by a minister grand-father and
a grand-aunt who was a former nun, perhaps I was so ingrained
with Christian cynicism that I was never idealistic enough to be
enchanted. I never wonder, for instance, why people become
suicide bombers or KKK members or Black Panthers or even why they
go on to Jerry Springer. People are enchanted with different
kinds of glory. It is human nature to be enchanted. Period.
Real enthrallment to a passionate and enchanting vision has the
life-changing effect of making people want to bring about the
vision they are enchanted with. And, while I am not surprised by
people being enchanted by racial or religious glory, I am always
surprised at how I so often become enamored of people with
English accents. Or how often the haunting videos of starving
children inspire me to write a check. So I can become enchanted
and enthralled too.
But I want to draw the line at generalized media-infused
enchantment, with the glories of light-bringing aliens, the
Beatles and Corinthian leather. (Perhaps I am too enchanted with
the first three commandments and am wary of even the whiff of
glory.) I am tired of copywrited luminescence and glory.
Sweetly sentimental music floats from the theater's Dolby system
in almost every other film. In fact, we swim in a kind of
enchanting awe that verges always on the worshipful.
Why? Why is this generation bent on glorifying everyone,
especially if that human being was famous and died? Why have we
become a generation of Hamelin children? Is it the after-effect
of the sixties, with everyone believing she/he is responsible for
bringing about the age of Aquarius? Is it the media's
fascination with celebrity and notoriety? The world is suffused
with a gooeyness that makes me continually roll my eyes.
At churches everywhere, songs of glorious triumph are sung
to Jesus. But, speaking for myself, I rarely feel awe and
worshipful towards God. Oh sure, an hymn might help our hearts
heavenward. But how long does it last? And is that awe true
godly enchantment? Am I under God's Spell? Or am I just liking a
sentimental song, and the beauty of the liturgy? But when I see
the vast alien and fairy societies in many films, the pageantry
and beauty of these foreign lands lifts me up to a loftiness I
rarely feel in churches. When I see the lifestyles of the rich
and famous, I become envious. Worse, I want to "hang out" with
them. Suddenly, I imagine what heaven might look like. Being
with these celebrities. And my spirit soars into imaginative
realms. My mind is opened to the possibilities of beings unlike
myself. Didn't Jesus tell us to guard our hearts and to be
careful how we hear?
But why is this beauty and enchantment missing in modern
Christianity? I had a friend who said she did not like
Christianity because it was boring, dull, depressing. A fan of
the Lord of the Rings trilogy, she had named her tabby, Gandalf.
She said Christianity had no great quests, no awe-inspiring
mythic figures to engage her need for romance. No Gilgamesh or
Krishna or fiery fields floated through its pages. I said,
rather weakly, that the quests in Christianity were larger than
life because they were life itself. For instance, the
Christian's fight against despair, wonderfully depicted in
Pilgrim's Progress as The Slough of Despond was as noble and as
powerful as any temptation to be found in the Arthurian Cycle.
She didn't buy it. Nor did she buy my suggestion that the
Liturgical churches have a romanticism that comes with ritual,
procession, and words phrased in poetic old-fashioned language.
Instead she aimed for a spirituality in which she could have
lucid dreams and remember her romantic past lives.
But certainly Christianity has enchantment! Evil powers,
royalty, A struggle between good and evil, a noble prince falsely
condemned as a common criminal.
Okay, Royalty is no great shakes for some folks. Some folks
might find the entire idea of royalty offensive. After all, when
we speak of royalty, we usually mean the British Monarchy. And
regal though they can be at times, they don't exactly enthrall.
I want their wealth and exclusivity for instance. But I don't
want to live a sacrificial life serving them. In the same way,
statues and mosaics of Christus Rex (Christ the King) and The
Judgment Seat of Christ are sweet and interesting. But they
don't touch me as deeply as they would if there were fairytale
The romance of Power is a subtle one. We understand the
boss has power. We often want power. And some women are drawn to
relationships with powerful people. Christians may admit they
want to have spiritual power: power over their sins, and over the
works of the evil one, to free the bound, heal the sick, etc. But
few people would actually admit that they want the trappings of
Unlike the enchantments of Hindusim and Stoicism which state
the unimportance of human life, Christianity shows us a Person
whose Life was supremely important. The central symbol of
Christianity is an executed condemned criminal. But
paradoxically, he is an executed criminal with many glorious
titles. He is the desire of the nations and he fights against
the Prince of the Power of the Air. He is The Lord, Creator,
Redeemer and master. And he fights against the Evil Lord of the
Flies. He does not escape like ET. As the once and future King,
his kingdom is here but not here, now and not now. He is the
Lord of Light and the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. This
hero enthralls us because he struggled, conquered and was
seemingly conquered. Christ Crucified and Christ Triumphant
enthralls and pulls us heavenward.
Jesus describes the Devil as the Father or Lies, a thief and
a murderer who comes to steal, kill, and to destroy faith and
humanity. Quite often, the Tempter tempts humanity through human
wisdom and human ideals. Worship, idealism and enchantment are
all similar. But they are not the same. As stated in Proverbs,
27:7, "The full soul loathes a honeycomb. But to the hungry
soul, everything is sweet." Counterfeit joys also enchant and
enthrall us. And sometimes, we are satisfied with the flimsy and
the sweet. Especially when it comes to spiritual matters.
Christianity is a sacramental religion. It takes human Life
and compares it to God's life. It turns average people
especially the grief-stricken-- into God's blessed children. It
takes grief and failure and Post Traumatic-Stress and raises it
to religious heights by affirming the Saturday between Good
Friday and Easter Sunday as Holy Saturday. It equates the
marriage of two humans with the marriage of God and the Church.
And yet the world is not enthralled.
But the enchantments of Christianity are usually felt in the
spirit. And often not always, but often-- only great suffering
can awaken someone's spirit to the enthralling call of the Holy
Spirit. The romance of the great suffering mother, the
enthrallment to the Virgin Mary, is greatly experienced by those
who are acquainted with grief, suffering, death, and endurance.
Picture it: the corpse of Jesus is laid across his mother's
lap. The Virgin's head is bowed with grief and yet at the same
time, there is an acceptance of suffering. The noble
un-recognized Prince is dead. The Person upon whom all
spiritual, psychological, national, ethnic, and maternal hopes
have been placed. The Virgin's heart has endured many arrows
because of her Son: exile, flight, alienation, poverty,
humiliation. Christians have immortalized the enchantments of our
faith in this image. The world sees a loser in the battle
against evil. But we Christians know better. It is our glorious
secret. The Crucifixion has succeeded. Jesus has saved the
world. The secret Prince has conquered Death, changing it and
life-- forever. But how can the heart of a typical average
American accept this?
Many years ago, the Hindu culture invented the game of
Snakes & Ladder to teach the spiritual truth of the Karmic wheel.
One virtue (a ladder) can move one up along the wheel of Karma
but at the same time, another snake-like vice is pulling one
down. But this is all intellectual. When Christian missionaries
landed in India, they found new adherents to the enchanting
gospel of Jesus Christ among the untouchables and the outcasts.
In Christianity we have a suffering Prince, a once and future
King for whose return we wait. And yet who is paradoxically with
us always. The great Prince walks with us daily and helps us
venture with discernment into worlds we don't know and who is
finer mirror of our broken selves does not enthrall many people.
So, how do we rename and re-vamp this sacramental religion
of ours for a new generation... a generation that looks ahead to
aliens and raises and arch weary eyebrow at the mention of a
crucified criminal who walked 2000 years ago on a riverside in
the Middle East? Only by bringing them to the truth and the
reality of Jesus can we show this generation that the emperor
indeed has clothes and Jesus can truly lead us to worlds we do
What drew the followers of Jesus to Him? How did He convince
them? For the people, He spoke as one with authority --like a
true king-- and not like the scribes and religious leaders. That
drew them. His gentleness and love enthralled them. He was
moved with compassion for them and they felt it. His holiness
drew them. His miracles drew them. His relationship with the
Father drew Him. Those who understood that He was the Messiah
saw His light and His good works and praised His father. Would
that Christ's light would shine in us also that we may also draw
people to a wondrous awe-inspiring God. One who is powerful
indeed, love indeed, food and drink indeed!
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