Friday, June 12, 2009

The Squire and the Scroll

The Squire and the Scroll is quite the popular bedtime story in our house these days. Caleb (age 3) is always looking for a story about dragons, and Ian (age 5) is really interested in longer books with more depth to the story. And both boys identify this book as one that's just for boys, and like to exercise their male identity through daddy reading it to them.

The book is set in medieval times with knights and dragons and quests and evil and temptation. Its goal is not just to entertain, but to also teach a lesson about the value of purity and choosing right paths versus easy or tempting paths. It's based explicitly on Psalm 119:9, which says, How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.

The 'Word' in the story is represented by a scroll, which says:
  1. Listen only to words that are pure
  2. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you
  3. Keep the unclean from your lips to guard the wellspring of your life
  4. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm
  5. Breathe only that which is pure
The quest is for the Lantern of Purest Light, which has been taken by a dragon; an "enemy of truth and beauty".

The boys listen intently to every word, and I wonder to what depth they internalize the message. I, on the other hand, am hit in the gut every time I read it. Do I guard what goes in (#1, #2, #5)? Do I guard what comes out (#3)? Do I look to where I'm headed (#2, #4)? Do I value purity, or self?

The book is careful to dispel the temptation to believe that "ways that are firm" refers to the path that looks easiest, but instead is the one of firm conviction. It is also careful to distinguish fear from wise-wariness.

It has got quite the message, and one that I believe society may pay lip service to at best, and actively rails against at worst. The cult of self says that the right path is what feels good, or acquiesces to our own desires, or advances our own position. You've heard these all before: "Anything goes." "Have it your way." "If it feels good, do it." "It's not hurting anyone else."

I've been reading Raising a Modern-Day Knight. In it, Robert Lewis presents an accurate but cutting image of modern day manhood. Absent, addicted, abusive, distracted, detached, overworked, over-sexualized, uninvolved, floundering... Self-serving and neutered. This sort of man is a product of many factors, but each and every one has the same lasting effects on his household, his community, and his progeny.

And then Lewis presents the alternative, which is, and has always been, God's intent for men. He describes the alternative as a REAL man. A real man:
  • R - Rejects passivity
  • E - Expects the greater reward
  • A - Accepts responsibility
  • L - Leads courageously
I could write all night about these principles, but the point of this post is simpler than all that. If I want my boys to know what it means to be a man I need to be active in modeling it for them. I need to accept responsibility for my family and my own mistakes. I need to help them set a vision for themselves, and gently lead them on paths that are firm while it is still my job to do that. I need to speak truth to them. Not the world's truth, but God's. And then, as knights off to a worthy battle, I wait with great expectation for the day when I commission them to their own travels, lives, wives, work, and world.

There's a page in The Squire and the Scroll that elicits awe from both children. When our protagonist reaches his destination, the dragon sneaks up on him and hisses, "There is a price for the Lantern". When the page is turned, there are no words... our hero stands in the midst of the mighty dragon... a fully consuming panorama of billowing smoke and green scales... snaking tail and bared teeth... menacing and dangerous.

Though small in comparison, our hero stands brave with the scroll at his side - seemingly outmatched, no visible armor, but armed nonetheless with everything he needs for the battle. Caleb whispers, "it's the dragon". But I can see nothing but the young man, fully equipped for the trials ahead.

Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."