Dwarves in the Stable: The Prison of Closed-Heartedness


Been really struggling lately with some friends who are trying to save me.

This year for me has been all about coming into my identity. As a writer, as a thinker, as a sacramental Christian. But I’ve found there are some people I can’t be me around because they don’t approve of those things.

These friends (yes, there’s more than one) have decided that the best way to reach me is to comment on my Facebook posts. They want me to know they’re worried about me. They think I’m enjoying the pleasures of the world too much. I’m reading a lot of writers like Tolkien and Chesterton who “don’t have a biblical worldview.”

And I’ve tried to engage them in conversation. But it didn’t help.

They’re not interested in discussion. Whatever I have to say would be human wisdom, after all.

I can’t appeal to the authority of the great writers and thinkers of the Christian tradition.

The only thing I can really do is quote the Bible. Yet they find ways to dismiss even that.

*           *           *

Growing up I thought all moms were like my mom. I thought the world ended for them when they graduated from high school.

I didn’t think moms were interested in new music. Part of being an adult meant only listening to songs you liked when you were young. Watching the same old films on VHS. Getting up and walking out when your son tried to show you something new, something different.

As I got older, my friends started pointing out how weird this was. My mom seemed stuck in the past. She was trapped in a world where it was always 1984. Somehow she even looked the same.

They began calling her “Miss Havisham.”

But it wasn’t really the past she was trapped in. It was herself. You could have shown her a movie from twenty years ago, and if she hadn’t already seen it, she had no interest in seeing it. She lived in a bubble of complete incuriosity.

*           *           *

As I grew up and left home, I found I was drawn to people who were like my mom: narrow, controlling, and closed-hearted. Partly because I thought I could find safety there. But also, I suspect, because I secretly wanted to help them.

Yes, there were times when I was proud, intolerant, hateful. But some part of me always remained open. Poor and shabby as it was, I loved my life. I loved reading. I was mesmerized by the multiform splendor on display in the world all around me: how prolific our Creator is; how diverse His creation.

And whenever I met someone who couldn’t see beauty, who wasn’t interested in art or books or philosophy or poetry or music or animals… or anything, really, it tormented me.

Because… how can you not care about things? About people?

How can you be a Christian and yet hate what is beautiful? How can you build up walls to keep out any truth that might hurt your own pride?

How can you claim to worship a God who creates, and yet actively despise His creation and salivate over its destruction?

*           *           *

Lately I’ve been going to a new church. Some of my friends go, and they were really excited about it.

Curious to know what all the fuss was about, I tagged along one Sunday. It’s a small church. I talked to *Pastor Mike and got to know him a bit. Met some of the other members. Sat through a few sermons.

And when I started really listening to what he was saying, it was kind of disturbing.

“Some people are too focused on loving others.”

“If we’re walking as Jesus walked, we will live as He lived. Jesus never hung out with the wrong people.”

“People will tell you to use your imagination. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says the imagination is nothing but evil continually.”

“Jesus did not become a part of creation. He became a man who lived in the world but He is not part of the world.”

And week after week we hear about how gays / Catholics / Baptists / psychologists / humanists / other preachers are bad, bad, BAD.

It’s a whole theology of closed-heartedness.

But what it is at its core, I think, is pride. This idea that our group is right about everything and the rest of the world is deceived—what Thomas Merton called “the devil’s theology.”

*           *           *

Friends keep asking me, “That sounds like an extremely dangerous environment. Why do you go back?”

To be honest, it’s because I sincerely thought I could help them.

Because I wanted to bring them the Gospel. Because I know that Christianity is a religion of art and scholarship and mysticism and mystery and poetry and imagination, a religion that encourages us to look beyond ourselves and create and explore and think and question and LOOK with all our eyes and all our hearts. A religion that has built civilization through its sense of wonder.

The core of the prophetic message, and the core of Jesus’s teaching, was this openness. “Love your enemies.” “Treat all people as your neighbors.” “Don’t assume you have a special claim on God.”

The prophets reserved their sharpest denunciations for those who numbered themselves among God’s chosen people. When you go back and read the Old Testament you can hear the absolute heartbreak of God at the people whose eyes are closed, whose hearts are hard, whose ears are too dull to see.

Religion can do that to you. That’s one of the core themes of the Bible.

Because when resentment and bitterness lure us to accept these wrong ideas about God, faith gets twisted into its opposite.

We feel justified in our insularity. In our bubbles. In our separation from all that is beautiful and holy.

We become like Melkor in the Silmarillion, who because of his arrogance fell from splendor “to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless.”

*           *           *

Near the end of C. S. Lewis’s novel The Last Battle, as the noble Lion Aslan reclaims Narnia from an imposter, he and Lucy and Prince Tirian venture upon a field where a strange sight awaits them.

Throughout this story the dwarves have been mistrustful of everyone and everything. Now they stand huddled in a field, muttering angrily at one another.

As the children get nearer, they realize that the dwarves can’t see them. When asked where they are, one of the dwarves says, “We’re in here, you bonehead: in this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

Horrified, Lucy says, “But it isn’t dark. Look up, look around, can’t you see the sky and flowers? Can’t you see me?”

Then, bending down and scooping up some violets, she says, “Perhaps you can smell these.”

But the dwarf flings the flowers back in her face. “How dare you!” he cries, for he smells only stable litter.

Through her tears Lucy asks, “Aslan, can’t you do anything for these poor dwarves?”

In answer, Aslan shakes his mane and a magnificent banquet is laid out before them.

But the dwarves don’t even see it.

“You see,” says the Lion, “they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

I’m realizing that I can’t save everyone. And maybe that’s okay.

Because maybe they have to want to be saved first.

It’s not an issue of persuasion. But repentance.

That was how I finally escaped from the prison of religion. I saw my own pride and poverty and I repented.

But in my experience this only comes through humiliation and suffering.

And I can’t give them that. Only God can give them that. And even He can’t make them love Him.


4 thoughts on “Dwarves in the Stable: The Prison of Closed-Heartedness

  1. Pingback: My 51 Favorite Books (1995 – 2013) | thetalkingllama

  2. Pingback: Five Warning Signs of Dangerous Religion | thetalkingllama

  3. Pingback: How Reading C. S. Lewis Changed My Mind About Hell | thetalkingllama

  4. I’ve been looking for a concise summary of the dwarf scene in the Last Battle for some thoughts of my own. I’d like to steal it if you don’t mind…?

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