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Luther Statue

11 February 2006
  Wise Words

Lutherans often shy away from morality stories, dripping as they are with the prodding of the Law even as it is too frequently disguised as the Gospel. However, Canon Press publishes a book of eighteen stories by Peter Leithart that might change a few minds in that regard, Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life.

Each of Leithart’s stories is written after the fashion of a fairy tale in the tradition of the Grimm Brother’s. Each ends with a moral as an Aesop's Fable might. However, Leithart's morals are taken from the book of Proverbs. Now, that alone might be enough to send shivers down most rightly-dividing-Law-and-Gospel Lutherans' backs, and nix the decision for this book. However, the stories are well-written with rich details. For the careful catechist in the home or school, each story can be placed in Christ so that the Greater Reality is revealed. Consider "Ivy and the Prince," which was read to a group of First, Third and Fourth graders.
Ivy is a young girl who lives near a forest, in the midst of which is a thicket. Her father has told her never to cross through the briar thicket and go to the other side. Only danger awaits there. She will die. One day a rabbit convinces Ivy she can go around the thicket without actually disobeying her father. She does, and the rabbit becomes a dragon. As soon as he sets to devour her, a handsome Prince from a castle in the air rescues Ivy. He places a golden chain in her hair. Ivy is to use the chain to call for him at anytime. Ivy faints as the Prince gives the instructions, so the chain sits in her hair unnoticed. Ivy goes back to her father, and repents of her sin. Her father forgives her. Ivy, however, wastes away desiring to have the Prince return, but not knowing how to have him do so. Just as she is about to die, her father finds the chain in her hair. In an instant the Prince in there and the story ends as all good fairy tales do, happily ever after.
Leithart chose Prov. 13:12 as the moral: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life. This falls flat as a moral applied to a simple fairy tale, but Leithart does not intend it to be so. He writes, "[T]he First Last Adams are always lurking just beneath the surface." Therefore, regard how the students applied elements of the tale to the Catechism.

"Where did Ivy go wrong?"
"She disobeyed her father."
"That’s the Fourth Commandment."
"What did her father do when she confessed her sin?"
"He forgave her."
"Who do you think the rabbit represents?"
'That's easy! He's Satan!"
"Yeah — and the Prince is Jesus."
"And the castle is heaven."
"OK, Smarties, what is the golden chain all about?" Now they had to think. "What does Jesus give us to hold onto so we know He is with us always?"
"Oh! I get it, Baptism!"
"And His Word, His Absolution."
"And His Body and Blood."
Leithart is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. What a blessedly iconic sacramental tale from a Presbyterian author — whether he intended it to be so or not. This is when Leithart's book shines. Each of his stories can be run through Christ. This is the value of such reading done by parents and teachers with children. Analogies fail at some point, and "Ivy and the Prince" is no exception. It is not the call of the church that causes Christ to come down; rather, Christ comes to His church according to His appointed Means of Grace. Therefore, a caution: read it to your children and discuss it with them. This book will provide many meaningful discussions.

Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life
Peter J. Leithart
ISBN: 1591280141

Also reviewed and further comments made at Quicunque vult…
Yet another good alum from Hillsdale College.

Tim the Shakespeare Freak would also highly recommend his wonderful Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide To Six Shakespeare Plays. I use it in my own preparations for teaching public school kids, but if I taught at a Christian high school, I would use as a text for a Shakespeare class.

BTW: I am still in deep lurk. Too many pots on the stove. I'm trying to possibly arrange a HT retreat for the fall, I'm group leader for our HT trip to C. Springs, teaching, dad, mom with dementia, etc. Vocations galore. I am writing, perhaps too much, and I'm still alive over at Beggars.

I've also got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Gilder to frame for it. I'm swamped.

Not surprised by Peter Leithart's sacramental thinking. The "Reformed Church" is made of two types: those who are Lutheran without knowing it, but have some obscure reason for not acknowledging the fact, and those who are Baptist without knowing it, who likewise have some block about admitting the fact. The latter unfortunately outnumber the former, but Peter Leithart is obviously of the first sort.
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