Saturday, November 26, 2005

Anna's Popes

My children both attend a Catholic school, although I'm not Catholic. (Their father, who is an atheist, was raised Catholic, but more of that later.)

Last year, when Anna was an impressionable five years old, the beloved Pope John Paul II died. There were pictures adorning the walls of her school and many prayers said. To me, this was all good.

But it also happened that her dad and I were heading to Rome two days after the pope's funeral, and would be there during the election for a new pope. This was completely unplanned.

When I asked the children what they'd like us to bring back for them from Rome, Anna immediately said a picture of the pope. And just in case there was any mistake, she clarified: The dead one.

We brought back the picture and she delighted in putting it up over her bed. She even took to kissing it on occasion.

One time, I invoked the poor deceased pope's name when she was naughty. I said what would the pope say if he saw you do that? She said: Nothing. He loves children.

Soon, the Globe and Mail was advertising a new book about the new pope, Benedict XVI. His picture was on the front cover of the book section. Anna made me cut it out so she could tape that to her wall as well. Her dad was a little distressed, said he thought something was seriously wrong -- most parents complain of their daughters plastering the walls with rock star's pictures, whereas his daughter was in love with popes.

When we were in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian museum of air and space, and walking along the second floor. Anna looked over the half wall to the first floor. Spying an orthodox Jewish man with yarmulke walking below her, she yelled out: Look, there's a pope. Then she saw his son walking beside him, also with a yarmulke. She said: Oh, and a little pope.

Narnia's media whirlwind

When my 12-year-old son showed me his latest National Geographic Kids magazine, he pointed out the two-page spread on Narnia -- the hair styling, the fake flakes, the “huggable” lion Aslan.

AND the Mythology, which described the fauns, minotaurs, centaurs, goblins, giants as components of Greek and Roman mythology, with nary a mention about the C-word – that is, Christian. The magazine states: "Many creatures in Narnia first appeared in legends long ago." Just in case anyone might get the wrong impression and think they were Christian.

I had half a mind to write the magazine and cancel the subscription, with the explanation that their fair reporting (overlooking the other “mythology” at work here) is not to my liking. But then I checked with a few friends who thought that might be a bit precipitous, and possibly even calamitous. After all, if I went off half-cocked, and cancelled it in a fit of pique they’d think I was just another irate, right-wing, fundamentalist Christian. Which I’m not. At least I don’t think I am. Maybe I am, though.

My letter might go something like this:
Dear Editor,
You may not be aware of this, but there have been many newspaper articles written about the upcoming Narnia movie and almost all of them have talked a whole lot about the Christian content of the movie. Some are very worried in fact that the audience will not notice the Christian parts, and the journalists have taken great pains to caution them about those bits. With the suggestion that some of them might like to cover their children’s ears or eyes for the terrible bits.

No, that sounded too condescending, as if they don’t read other magazines and newspapers. So I tried this:

Dear Editor, I noticed you didn’t mention the Christian roots of the Narnia series, movie and books, and was wondering perhaps if you were worried about appearing pro-Christian. Although the creatures in Narnia certainly do hail from the pages of Roman and Greek mythology, there is a far stronger mythology at work here.

That wouldn’t do, either, since they’d think I was suggesting Christianity was mythology, which it isn’t, although the mysterious bits sometimes read like it.

How about the direct approach – Dear Editor, Here’s a hint: the lion, Aslan, is the perfect symbol of the innocent one who lays down his life for his friends. What would Jesus do? Well, he did just as Aslan did.

Someone pointed out that since dogs act like dogs, cats like cats, I couldn’t expect non-Christians to act, think, or see like Christians. Well, that’s not exactly right, either, since Nicodemus the rabbi didn’t have a clue what Jesus was talking about and the tenth leper did.

Another person pointed out that they prefered having the real meanings as a secret, so as not to scare off potential readers of the books, and so that they might stumble on the real nature of the books on their own. Hmmm, I thought, that sounds an awful lot like one friend of mine who said she wouldn't take her children to church because it was better that they decide on their own whether to follow the faith once they were grown.

At any rate, I decided that before writing a letter to the editor, I should sit my son down and go through it with him. You see these animals here, Aidan? The faun, centaur, goblins and so on? They’re not Christian. To which he'd say, yes, Mom I know they’re not.

Well, Aidan, I’m not happy about this. Not one bit happy about them explaining the Roman and Greek mythology of the creatures, and not explaining that they’re part of a created order. You know, the one that God created.

To which he'd say, but Mom you know fauns aren’t real and they are mythological creatures. I realize that, I would counter, but Aslan is real, and they have said nothing about the mythology he’s rooted in and then explain about the sins and lies of omission, as opposed to commission. And how all creatures are part of the created order and that in the books and the movie, that Aslan, is king over all the created order, and how when the white witch makes him give up his life for Edward that it’s really a perfect re-enactment of the Atonement of Jesus.

As I rehearsed all that over in my mind, I could see it was not going where I wanted it to. Since the movie isn’t even out yet, I have decided to wait for this discussion until I can take him to see it, then we will sit in a cafĂ© over some hot chocolate and wonder about the true nature of secret cupboards and frigid cold worlds where the sun doesn't shine and white witches prevail and only by the grace of an innocent, courageous and merciful lion will we ever see light and warmth again.