Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

Bored or Scared? The Call to Adventure

19 Mar

Years ago, Brad Widstrom of Denver Seminary was volunteering alongside us in a youth ministry while we were in the process of becoming certified to adopt. He shared the story of someone who left a secure and well paying job for a life in full-time ministry. When asked why, he said something along the lines of:

It came down to the choice: would we rather be bored or scared?

Doing the right thing is often scary, uncomfortable, and risky. The choice is the Call to Adventure, which Joseph Campbell pointed out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is the first real step of the hero’s journey.

The Call to Adventure, which happens at about the 10 percent point in movies and anywhere from the 10 to 25 percent point in novels, which can be more loosely structured than movies, is what jars the Hero out of his everyday world and ultimately gets him to cross the Threshold into the Mythological Woods and Initiation and onto the Journey proper.

It’s the red pill or the blue pill in the Matrix, the storm of letters for Harry Potter (and there’s a call to adventure in the other 6 books as well), the electronic help message in The Incredibles, and the death of Peter Parker’s uncle. It’s the conductor calling in the Polar Express, and the open Wardrobe to Narnia.

The Call to Adventure is there every time you read the Bible. You’ll be surprised if you’re open to seeing it, it’s everywhere. Try reading the Sermon on the Mount and looking for the Call to Adventure. It’s full of invitations to reconsider what you believe and how you live – invitations to change everything, and embark on the adventure.

People tend to ignore the Call to Adventure because the prospect of everything changing is uncomfortable, which is why the hero is rare – not everyone accepts the call. Yet we’ve found that the choice of doing the right thing is often a Call to Adventure, a choice with the potential to change the course of our lives and how we live in the world. God is constantly offering us the choice to join into an adventure, large or small.

Today, look for the call to adventure. Look for the choice to do something different, to change your actions and change everything. Even if it’s scary. Doing the right thing often is.


The Hero and the God (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Monomyth Chapter 3)

01 Aug

Book cover of The Hero with a Thousand Faces

…the adventure of the hero normally follows the pattern of the nuclear unit above described; a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return. – p 35

This is the most basic outline of the rather circular hero story. Unlike the outline of any old story, the conflict, the uncomfortable realm, is supernatural in some way in the hero story.

Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens in the interval of the hero’s nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power, mankind is also unanimous in declaring. We shall have only to follow, therefore, a multitude of heroic figures through the classic stages of the universal adventure in order to see again what has always been revealed. This will help us to understand not only the meaning o those images for contemporary life, but also the singleness of the human spirit in its aspirations, powers, vicissitudes, and wisdom. – p 35-36 (emphasis added)

Campbell lists the steps of the universal hero story, which are also the chapters in his Part I (We’re still in the prologue for this and another chapter):

1 Departure

1.1 The Call to Adventure
1.2 Refusal of the Call
1.3 Supernatural Aid
1.4 The Crossing of the First Threshold
1.5 Belly of The Whale

2 Initiation

2.1 The Road of Trials
2.2 The Meeting With the Goddess
2.3 Woman as Temptress
2.4 Atonement with the Father
2.5 Apotheosis
2.6 The Ultimate Boon

3 Return

3.1 Refusal of the Return
3.2 The Magic Flight
3.3 Rescue from Without
3.4 The Crossing of the Return Threshold
3.5 Master of Two Worlds
3.6 Freedom to Live

– p 36-37

He draws a distinction between a “hero of the fairy tale” and a “hero of myth” : “Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical macrocosmic triumph.” – p 37-38

He writes:

The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time. He is “the king’s son” who has come to know who he is an therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power-“God’s son,” who has learned to know how much that title means… the two-the hero and this ultimate god, the seeker and the found-are thus understood as the outside and inside of a single,self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known.

My thoughts & questions

  1. The story of the hero demands the supernatural. Campbell as an atheist doesn’t believe in the supernatural, yet he believes we must live out the subconscious hero story for our own well-being. His conclusion is thus that we just need to go through the motions.
  2. What if, instead, the repetition of this same hero story in every human heart and in every culture is a story written by an author, directing us to the life we’re supposed to be living and/or to the real ultimate hero of all reality? I don’t think the data drives the conclusion, but the worldview of the author.
  3. Campbell’s desire to go through the motions includes stepping through a stage of rebirth. Isn’t being born something that someone else does to a person? How does one walk through a passive step in denial of the one who births? Or is this just a weakness of language?
  4. One of my ongoing questions is whether the biblical call to discipleship is a call to all to engage in the hero story themselves. The quote above lends itself well, as he is using biblical language of dying the world and being reborn. Biblical Christianity speaks of this being a spiritual reality as well as the symbolism of baptism. In this case, it seems that delaying baptism is putting the breaks on the story, not really engaging with it; being stuck in what Campbell calls The Refusal of the Call.
  5. How does this compare with the list compiled by Lord Raglan I posted yesterday?

Mythic Heroes

31 Jul

Anonymous super hero pose

What follows is a copy of one of my first exposures to the idea of the universal hero story a few years ago. The web page is now offline, but I found a copy through the Wayback machine. Here’s the unedited text of the page. The content is not my own, but is content that I find interesting.

Mythic Heroes

It has been known for over a century that many biographies of legendary heroes have remarkably similar overall plot lines. One of the scholars who has discussed this in detail is a certain Lord Raglan, who wrote a book, The Hero, back in 1936. The more important parts of this book are reprinted in Robert Segal’s collection, In Quest of the Hero, which includes Otto Rank’s discussion of the birth stories of numerous heroes and Alan Dundes’s discussion of Jesus Christ as a mythic hero. Lord Raglan had prepared a composite hero biography; I will check on how well other heroes fit, after making certain clarifications and changes.

Here is Lord Raglan’s original list:

  1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin, while
  2. his father is a king, and
  3. the father is related to the mother.
  4. The hero’s conception is unusual or miraculous; hence
  5. he is reputed to be a son of a god.
  6. Evil forces attempt to kill the infant or boy hero, but
  7. he is spirited away to safety and
  8. reared by foster parents in a foreign land. Besides this,
  9. we learn no details of his childhood until
  10. he journeys to his future kingdom, where
  11. he triumphs over the reigning king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast, and
  12. marries a princess, often his predecessor’s daughter, and
  13. becomes king himself.
  14. For a while he reigns uneventfully,
  15. promulgating laws. But
  16. he later loses favor with his subjects or with the gods and
  17. is driven from the throne and the city and
  18. meets with a mysterious death,
  19. often atop a hill.
  20. If he has children, they do not succeed him.
  21. His body is not buried, yet
  22. he has one or more holy sepulchers.

Several problems are apparent immediately, especially when one considers Lord Raglan’s examples:

  • Oedipus
  • Theseus
  • Romulus
  • Hercules (Heracles)
  • Perseus
  • Jason
  • Bellerophon
  • Pelops
  • Asklepios (Asclepius, Aesculapius)
  • Dionysus
  • Apollo
  • Zeus
  • Joseph (from the Book of Genesis)
  • Moses
  • Elijah
  • Watu Gunung (from Java)
  • Nyikang (from the Shiluk of the upper Nile)
  • Sigurd (Siegfried)
  • Llew Llaw Gyffes (Llew Llawgyffes)
  • King Arthur
  • Robin Hood

In several of these examples, the hero’s mother was not quite virginal when she had the hero, though many of these heroes are first or only children. This suggests splitting the first criterion into two: The hero’s mother is a queen who has had no previous children. Likewise, “royalty” ought to be interpreted somewhat broadly as “having a high status”, which includes anything from rich people to deities. And in some cases, a human father or seeming human father is hard to identify, so I will list that as optional. Lack of mention of details of a hero’s childhood (9) may seem to be a very normal thing, but it is signficant when the hero’s infancy is described in detail, as is the case in many hero stories. Furthermore, some hero stories feature stories of unusual precocity; I believe that that ought to be added to Lord Raglan’s criteria. Likewise, having an uneventful reign (14) may be only relative. Criterion (11) may be interpreted generally as triumph over some great enemy, and criterion (18) may be interpreted as an unusual or unexpected death. One problem I have with some of Lord Raglan’s examples is that he includes temples in (22), even if they are generalized temples rather than tombs. Also, Lord Raglan often uses the most “mythical” variant to construct a score, which may make his scores upper limits.

So here’s my modified list:

  1. The hero’s mother is a queen,
  2. who has had no previous children, while
  3. his father, if human, is a king, and
  4. he is related to the hero’s mother.
  5. The hero’s conception is unusual or miraculous; hence
  6. he is reputed to be a son of a god.
  7. Evil forces attempt to kill the infant or boy hero, but
  8. he is spirited away to safety and
  9. reared by foster parents in a foreign land. Relative to this,
  10. we learn no details of his childhood, aside from unusual precocity, until
  11. he journeys to his future kingdom, where
  12. he triumphs over some great enemy — the reigning king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast — and
  13. marries a princess, often his predecessor’s daughter, and
  14. becomes king himself.
  15. For a while he reigns relatively uneventfully,
  16. promulgating laws. But
  17. he later loses favor with his subjects or with the gods and
  18. is driven from the throne and the city and
  19. meets with a mysterious, unusual, or unexpected death,
  20. often atop a hill.
  21. If he has children, they do not succeed him.
  22. His body is not buried, yet
  23. he has one or more holy sepulchers.

I’ve used the male pronoun here, because most of the examples I know of are male; it would be interesting to see some female examples.

Here is some of my scoring. I will use some of the better-known examples, both from Lord Raglan and from elsewhere; I will also include some real people who have experienced some mythification.

Jesus Christ

  1. Mary is a commoner, but according to some apologists, the Luke genealogy applies to her instead of to Joseph. (0 – 0.5)
  2. She’s not called the Virgin Mary for nothing. (1)
  3. Joseph, though a commoner, is descended from King David (Matthew and Luke). (0.5)
  4. Only very distantly. (0)
  5. A conception which resulted in the Virgin Birth. (1)
  6. Yes, he’s the Son of God, God, and 1/3 of God, depending on which interpretation one prefers. (1)
  7. King Herod orders a massacre of all the baby boys of Bethlehem (Matthew). (1)
  8. His parents flee with him (1)
  9. to Egypt, where he spends his early childhood. (0.5)
  10. We only hear stories of unusual precocity (learning at the Temple, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Arabic Infancy Gospel). (1)
  11. He goes into the wilderness and then to Galilee (synoptics) or to Jerusalem (John). (1)
  12. He successfully resists the Devil’s temptations, which include rule of “all the kingdoms of the world”. (0.5)
  13. He is described as single, but the Gospel of Philip describes him as kissing Mary Magdalene on the mouth, and there has been abundant speculation about a JC-MM relationship, but she had been a commoner without any special ancestry. (0)
  14. He becomes a famous religious prophet. (1)
  15. Although he worked many miracles, these were relatively small-scale. (1)
  16. His teachings are often considered laws. (1)
  17. After his famous Temple temper tantrum, he is arrested and his followers desert him (mainly Matthew). (1)
  18. He is put on trial by the Jewish and Roman authorities, and a lynch mob wants him dead. (1)
  19. He “dies” on that cross, despite his ability to jump off of it. (1)
  20. Yes. (1)
  21. He is childless; if (say) Mary Magdalene had had his children, we do not learn of them. (1)
  22. His body was only temporarily buried; he woke up three days later, appeared to his followers, and then rose up into Heaven. (1)
  23. Yes. (1)

Score: 18.5 – 19

Assessing Jesus Christ as a myth is bound to be controversial; Lord Raglan had avoided doing so for that reason. However, the difficulty of distinguishing the historical Jesus, if any, from the abundance of mythology about him has caused some to conclude that he had been a myth, notably Richard Price and Earl Doherty.

The Virgin Birth, for example, is rather obviously mythological, with numerous legendary pagan heroes having gods as their biological fathers. This includes some historical people supposedly having such fathers, such as Pythagoras (Apollo), Plato (also Apollo), and Alexander the Great (Zeus). Which implies that their human “fathers”, like Joseph, had been cuckolded by gods!

One counterargument may be phrased as follows:

The Christian God did not have sexual relations with that woman, Mary!

This phrasing is in analogy with former President Clinton’s evasive and hairsplitting defenses of his sexual conduct. I believe that “defense” to be equally evasive and hairsplitting, because the divine impregnation is the important thing about such a story. Interestingly, Mormonism teaches that God had indeed had sex with Mary to produce JC.

The reference to Jesus Christ being the Son of God, God, and 1/3 of God is an attempt to be uncommittal about the Trinity, which in my opinion is a hopelessly tangled theological knot.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Arabic Infancy Gospel are noncanonical Gospels that describes Jesus Christ as having performed several miracles during his childhood. Thomas includes miracles like bring to life statues of small birds that he had made, raising some dead people, and zapping a boy who bumped into his shoulder.

And the comment about jumping off of the Cross was imspired by the miracles that Jesus Christ had allegedly worked: walking on water, conjuring up bread and fish, turning water into wine, healing sick people, driving out demons, raising the dead, and zapping a certain fig tree. Yet he was either unable or unwilling to jump off that cross.

Back to the list of scores.


  1. His mother is from the priestly tribe of Levi. (0.5)
  2. The text suggests that Moses is her first child, (1)
  3. His father is also a Levite. (0.5)
  4. Only very distantly. (0)
  5. No sign of this. (0)
  6. No hint of this. (0)
  7. The Pharaoh tried to kill all the baby boys — which included him. (1)
  8. He is put in a basket which floats down the Nile, (1)
  9. and raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter in the Egyptian royal court. (1)
  10. Correct. (1)
  11. He returns to his fellow Israelites — twice. (1)
  12. He kills an Egyptian who had been tormenting his fellow Israelites, and he later liberates his people from the Pharaoh. (1)
  13. He marries a daughter of a priest of Midian, (1)
  14. and eventually becomes the Israelites’ leader. (1)
  15. After liberation, the Israelites wander around in the Sinai. (1)
  16. and Moses issues lots and lots of laws. (1)
  17. God tells him that he will not be allowed in the Promised Land, (1)
  18. and he is stuck in the land of Moab. (1)
  19. He was in good health up until he died (1)
  20. on top of Mt. Pisgah. (1)
  21. He is succeeded by Joshua son of Nun — and not by any of his children. (1)
  22. His body was buried, (0)
  23. but nobody knows where. (0)

Score: 16

My score is lower than Lord Raglan’s, because I am using only the Biblical account of him, and not later Jewish legend, which may have additional details (can anyone fill me in on this?). Also, I’ve counted being raised in the Egyptian royal court as being raised in another country, becuase that was a place very different from where his parents had lived.

Back to the list of scores.


  1. Rhea Silvia, daughter of King Numitor.(1)
  2. Romulus and Remus were her only children. (1)
  3. In some versions, King Amulius, wearing his armor, had raped Rhea Silvia. (1)
  4. King Amulius was Rhea Silvia’s uncle. (1)
  5. Though the wicked King Amulius made Rhea Silvia a Vestal Virgin, sort of like a nun, to keep her from having children, (1)
  6. the god Mars made her pregnant with R and R. (1)
  7. King Amulius, upon discovering RS’s children, puts them in a wooden tub, which he puts in the Tiber, (1)
  8. but it floats down the river, (1)
  9. and R and R are reared first by a wolf, then by a (human) peasant family. (1)
  10. Correct. (1)
  11. Correct. (1)
  12. He helps Numitor defeat Amulius. (1)
  13. Nothing special about his wife Hersilia. (0)
  14. He founds Rome and becomes its first ruler, killing his twin brother along the way. (1)
  15. The kidnapping of the Sabine women, and the other wars he led, count against this. (0)
  16. He set up Rome’s laws and institutions, like the Senate. (1)
  17. According to some versions, Romulus turned into a tyrant. (1)
  18. In those versions, the Senate condemned him. (1)
  19. Romulus disappeared into a storm, with Mars taking him into heaven in a fiery chariot, with those alternate versions featuring the Senators executing and dismembering him. (1)
  20. His trip to heaven was from Capra Palus (Goat’s Marsh), which was likely very flat. (0)
  21. Correct. (0)
  22. He became worshipped as the god Quirinus. (1)
  23. Lapis Niger (Black Rock) in Rome’s Forum had supposedly marked his grave. (1)

Score: 19

The accounts of him are rather contradictory; I’ve followed Lord Raglan’s procedure, despite it producing some score inflation. But using only one of the variants, such as him being taken to heaven vs. him being executed by the Senate, would not lower his score very much.

Back to the list of scores.

Hercules (Heracles)

  1. Alcmene was daughter of King Electryon of Tiyrns. (1)
  2. Correct. (1)
  3. Her husband was King Amphitryon, (1)
  4. who was a first cousin. (1)
  5. Hard to tell. (1)
  6. Zeus was his real father, appearing to Alcmene in the form of Amphitryon and making her pregnant. (1)
  7. Hera tries to spite her husband Zeus by first trying to intefere with Hercules’s birth, and then by trying to kill the baby Hercules with some snakes. Which he strangles. (1)
  8. No. (0)
  9. No. (0)
  10. Yes. (1)
  11. Not sure. (0)
  12. He kills a lion, among other feats (1)
  13. He marries King Creon’s daughter Megara (1)
  14. Not sure. (0)
  15. Not sure. (0)
  16. Not sure. (0)
  17. King Eurystheus becomes displeased with him on account of some murders he had committed (1)
  18. and sentences him to performing his famous Twelve Labors. (1)
  19. He disappears from his funeral pyre (1)
  20. on top of Mt. Oeta. (1)
  21. His sons do not succeeded him. (1)
  22. His body is not found, (1)
  23. but he is worshipped in temples. (1)

Score: 16

Lord Raglan claims that he had become king of Calydon for a while, complete with uneventful rule; I was unable to find that in my sources.

Back to the list of scores.


  1. His mother Devaki is a sister of the wicked King Kamsa; her father Devaka was rich enough to afford a dowry of 400 elephants fully decorated with golden garlands, 15,000 decorated horses, 1800 chariots, and the hiring of 200 pretty young ladies to follow her. (1)
  2. She had seven sons before having Krishna. (0)
  3. His father Vasudeva was the son of sort-of-king Surasena. (1)
  4. No hint of that. (0)
  5. Devaki learned that she was pregnant with someone special when she became pregnant with Krishna. (1)
  6. Krishna is considered an avatar of the great Hindu god Vishnu. (1)
  7. King Kamsa had imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki, and had killed their previous offspring. (1)
  8. When he was born, he was switched with Yogamaya, daughter of Yasoda and Nanda (mother and father), thus frustrating Kamsa. (1)
  9. Yasoda and Nanda return to their home and raise Krishna there. (1)
  10. There are some childhood details, such as his learning to dance, his destroying some wicked demons, and his cavortings with some gopis. (0)
  11. King Kamsa invites Krishna and a friend to a wrestling match, hoping that Krishna will be defeated. (1)
  12. But Krishna wins, prompting Kamsa to order Krishna’s foster father and several others murdered. Whereupon Krishna kills Kamsa. (1)
  13. Krishna marries some beautiful princesses. (1)
  14. He becomes a king. (1)
  15. The Kurukshetra War counts against this; Krishna also fights more demons and plays his flute, Krishna’s fun loving is a rarity among religious prophets; only Jesus Christ comes anywhere close with his turning of water into wine for a wedding party. (0)
  16. Krishna delivers the Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna at the beginning of that war. (1)
  17. His family misbehaves, leading to their destruction. (1)
  18. With his family destroyed and his kingdom torn apart by civil war, Krishna leaves the place to wander about by himself. He saw the destruction of his clan and kingdom. (1)
  19. He was shot in the foot by an archer named “Jara” (“Old Age”). (0.5)
  20. In a forest by the seashore. (0)
  21. He has no successors. (1)
  22. He rose up into heaven. (1)
  23. Several places are supposedly his last resting place. (1)

Score: 17.5

Other Hindu religious figures are known to have Mythic-Hero-like biographies.

Back to the list of scores.

Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)

  1. Not sure about the royal origins or the virginity of his mother Maya (0.5),
  2. Yes. (1)
  3. His father Suddhodhana was a king, or at least a noble. (1)
  4. No hint of this. (0)
  5. He was conceived when Maya dreamed that a white elephant had entered her body through her side. (1)
  6. He was an enlightened being on his last reincarnation before achieving Nirvana. (1)
  7. King Suddhodhana tries to keep him from his future career by pampering him, keeping him from an awareness of suffering and death, instead of by trying to kill him. (0.5)
  8. A pampering which continues through his childhood. (0)
  9. Maya dies and he is raised by her sister Mahaprajaprati. (0)
  10. Apparently so. (1)
  11. He sees an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and an ascetic, and he deserts his wife and son in search of enlightenment as to what he saw. (1)
  12. He goes on a long quest, mortifying the flesh, and experiencing Mara the Tempter trying to lead him astray, until he achieves enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. (1)
  13. He effectively stays single the rest of his life. (0)
  14. He becomes the leader of his new religious movement. (1)
  15. He decides to spread the word about what he has learned. (1)
  16. Correct. (1)
  17. He issues his teachings, which contain laws of a sort. (1)
  18. Does not seem to happen. (0)
  19. Does not seem to happen. (0)
  20. He dies from eating a meal of tainted pork, an oddity because Buddhism has the ideal of vegetarianism. (1)
  21. Nothing special about where he died. (0)
  22. His son does not succeed him. (1)
  23. He is cremated. (1)
  24. He has no tomb, but there are temples containing his relics, like the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. (1)

Score: 15

Though at first sight, being pampered is very different from someone trying to kill him, that pampering had the same intended effect: keeping Siddhartha Gautama from becoming a religious prophet. So that is why I include it in the “evil forces try to kill him” criterion.

Back to the list of scores.

Mohammed, Founder of Islam

  1. Nothing special. (0)
  2. Not sure. (0)
  3. Nothing special. (0)
  4. Nothing beyond their both being Quraysh. (0)
  5. No sign of that. (0)
  6. No sign of that. (0)
  7. Does not happen. (0)
  8. Does not happen. (0)
  9. Does not happen. (0)
  10. No infancy details makes this irrelevant. (0)
  11. He goes to a cave in the mountains, where he starts receiving revelations. (0.5)
  12. He brings his new religion back to Mecca, defeating pagans. (1)
  13. He marries Khadija, a rich businesswoman. (0.5)
  14. He becomes a leader as well as a founder. (1)
  15. He has to flee to Medina, and later triumphantly reconquers Mecca. (0)
  16. He keeps on receiving revelations. (1)
  17. Never happens. (0)
  18. Does not really happen, unless one counts having to flee to Medina. (0)
  19. He gets sick and dies in a normal sort of fashion. (0)
  20. He dies in Medina. (0)
  21. Correct, though Shiites believe that the descendants of Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, are Islam’s legitimate leaders. (1)
  22. He was buried in Medina. (0)
  23. Only relevant if his body had mysteriously disappeared. (0)

Score: 5

I have omitted the part about him riding a flying horse to heaven, because I am not sure how that fits in with the rest of his biography. If he did not really die, but instead rode such a horse to heaven, then that raises his score by 2.

Back to the list of scores.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

  1. His mother Rose Fitzgerald was the daughter of a notable Boston politician, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. (0.5)
  2. She had Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. before having JFK, though he died in WWII. (0.5)
  3. his father Joseph P. Kennedy was a successful businessman who was involved in politics. (0.5)
  4. No evidence of this. (0).
  5. No evidence of this. (0).
  6. Even the biggest JFK groupies don’t claim this. (0).
  7. Does not happen. (0)
  8. No need to. (0)
  9. He was raised by his biological parents. (0)
  10. No infancy details makes this irrelevant. (0)
  11. He enters politics in his home state, Massachusetts. (0)
  12. Defeating Richard Nixon in 1960 is hardly a very great triumph. (0)
  13. He married Jacqueline Bouvier, who had come from a rich family. (0.5)
  14. He became President. (1)
  15. His Presidency was rather tempestuous, with the Bay of Pigs would-be invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. (0)
  16. His record was rather mixed; he was slow to support civil rights, and he proposed landing on the Moon only late in his Presidency. (0.5)
  17. Does not happen. (0)
  18. Does not happen. (0)
  19. He was assassinated by a lone lunatic who got a good shot at him. (0)
  20. He is killed in his parade car. (0)
  21. His son JFK Jr. was a lawyer, journalist, publisher, and sex symbol; his daughter Caroline has not been as notable. (1)
  22. His body resides in Arlington National Cemetery. (0)
  23. Not sure what would qualify as one. (0)

Score: 4.5

The death of JFK has been the subject of much speculation and conspiracy theorizing, but calling it a mystery would raise his score only by 1.

Back to the list of scores.

Charles Darwin

  1. His mother, Susannah Wedgwood, came from an aristocratic family. (0.5)
  2. She had four previous ones before having him. (0)
  3. his father, Robert Darwin, came from an aristocratic family; his father was the noted biologist Erasmus Darwin. (0.5)
  4. No evidence of this. (0).
  5. No evidence of this. (0).
  6. Even his most fervent admirers consider him 100% human. (0)
  7. Does not happen. (0)
  8. No need to. (0)
  9. He was raised by his biological parents. (0)
  10. No infancy details makes this irrelevant. (0)
  11. His voyage aboard the Beagle might possibly be interpreted as that, but he becomes convinced of evolution only well after that voyage. (0)
  12. He publishes the Origin of Speciesand other important writings. (0.5)
  13. He marries Emma Wedgwood, from his mother’s family. (0.5)
  14. He gets hailed as a great scientist. (1)
  15. He continues to be productive, though it is hard for him to compete with his magnum opus. (0)
  16. His discoveries may or may not qualify as “laws”; they are descriptions, not decrees. (0.5)
  17. Does not happen. (0)
  18. Does not happen. (0)
  19. He dies a normal sort of death. (0)
  20. in his house. (0)
  21. Some of his children become notable scientists, though in different fields. (0.5)
  22. His body is buried in Westminster Abbey. (0)
  23. Not sure what would qualify as one. (0)

Score: 4

If Charles Darwin had lost favor with his scientist colleagues, they would have dismissed him as a crackpot. But they did the exact opposite, and he got buried in the most honorable place in Britain.

Back to the list of scores.

Source: Originally found at


Monomyth in NBC’s Community

27 Jul

The universal story, the monomyth, that exists in every human psyche, is Dan Harmon’s tool for mapping out nearly every aspect of the NBC TV show Community. Harmon has distilled the monomyth into a handy guide for tv writers.

I wonder – is it because of our cultural lack of mythology and/or because of our secularism (a denial of every claim of a real myth), that we have to deconstruct and bullet-point what a story is?

Here’s an excerpt of a very interesting article about Harmon, creator of Community, with multiple charts displaying the Monomyth in various levels of detail.

The circles are everywhere, if you know to look for them. They’re on the whiteboards around Dan Harmon’s office, on sheets tacked to his walls, on a notepad on the floor of his car. Each one is hand-drawn and divided into quadrants with scribbled notes and numbers sprouting along the edges. They look like little targets.

Harmon, 38, is the creator of Community, a sitcom about a group of community-college study buddies and the most giddily experimental show on network TV. He began doodling the circles in the late ’90s, while stuck on a screenplay. He wanted to codify the storytelling process—to find the hidden structure powering the movies and TV shows, even songs, he’d been absorbing since he was a kid. “I was thinking, there must be some symmetry to this,” he says of how stories are told. “Some simplicity.” So he watched a lot of Die Hard, boiled down a lot of Joseph Campbell, and came up with the circle, an algorithm that distills a narrative into eight steps:

1. A character is in a zone of comfort

2. But they want something
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
4. Adapt to it

5. Get what they wanted
6. Pay a heavy price for it
7. Then return to their familiar situation
8. Having changed

Harmon calls his circles embryos—they contain all the elements needed for a satisfying story—and he uses them to map out nearly every turn on Community, from throwaway gags to entire seasons. If a plot doesn’t follow these steps, the embryo is invalid, and he starts over. To this day, Harmon still studies each film and TV show he watches, searching for his algorithm underneath, checking to see if the theory is airtight. “I can’t not see that circle,” he says. “It’s tattooed on my brain.”


The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Chapter 1

10 Jul

This is the first in a series of notes about research into The Hero Story. I’m taking these notes as I seek to explore connections between Joseph Campbell, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Jesus and Batman.


Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told.

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth. – page 3

So begins Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell ( 1904-1987 ) believed in the Monomyth as part of what he saw as  “the unity of human consciousness and its poetic expression through mythology.”

Campbell begins his work by delving into the human psyche.

For the symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source.

What is the secret of the timeless vision? Fro what profundity of the mind does it derive? Why is mythology everywhere the same, beneath is varieties of costume? And what does it teach?

Most remarkable of all, however, are the revelations that have emerged from the mental clinic… In the absence of an effective general mythology, each of us has his private, unrecognized rudimentary, yet secretly potent pantheon of dream. – page 4

He speaks much of Freud, Jung and their followers who record dreams. Many of these dreams are remarkably accurate depictions of mythologies of other cultures to which the dreamer has never been exposed. He gives many examples of such dreams and the parallel mythological stories.

He also writes something that connects with what I thought was a completely unrelated topic: the apparent inability for most young men in America to grow up:

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows from the decline among us of such effectual spiritual aid. We remain fixated to the unexorcised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood. In the United States there is even a pathos of inverted emphasis: the goal is not to grow old, but to remain young; not to mature away from Mother, but to cleave to her. And so, while husbands are worshiping at their boyhood shrines, being the lawyers, merchants, or masterminds their parents wanted them to be, their wives, even after fourteen years of marriage and two fine children produced and raised, are still on the search for love–which can come to them only from the centaurs, sileni, satyrs, and other concupiscent incubi of the rout of Pan, either as in the second of the above recited dreams, or as in our popular, vanilla-frosted temples of the venereal goddess, under the make-up of the latest heroes of the screen. – pages 11-12

He writes about the universal villain:

Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then–more miserably–within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero… The hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what?

Only birth can conquer death–the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. – page 16

He writes about the power of the reality within our subconscious with this story within us:

If only a portion of that lost totality could be dredged up into the light of day, we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life. We should tower in stature. Moreover, if we could dredge up something forgotten not only by ourselves but by our whole generation or our entire civilization, we should become indeed the boon-bringer, the culture hero of the day–a personage of not only local but world historical moment. In a word: the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what C.G. Jung has called “the archetypal images” – page 17-18

He quotes

  • Jung’s Psychology and Religion from Collected Works, Vol 11
  • Ethnische Elementargedankenin der Lehre vom Menchen, Berlin 1895
  • Sir James G Frazer’s The Golden Bough :

We need not, with some enquirers in ancient and modern times, suppose that the Western peoples borrowed from the older civilization of the Orient the conception of the Dying and Reviving God, together with the solemn ritual, in which the conception was dramatically set forth before the eyes of the worshippers. More probably the resemblance which may be traced in this respect between the religions of the East and West is no more than what we commonly, though incorrectly, call a fortuitous coincidence, the effect of similar causes acting alike on the similar constitution of the human mind in different countries and under different skies

He writes:

Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream.

The archetype idea is associated with the Stoic concept of the Logoi spermatikoi. (John 1?)

He says he disagrees with a Professor Toynbee, as Toynbee draws the myth back to the Catholic church. No doubt, as Campbell is an atheist. And yet largely because of the atheism of himself and others, he writes that his plight is truly desperate:

It is only those who know neither an inner cal nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and with-in the heart. – page 23

But there’s a solution! Campbell is here to deliver to the secularist a solution to this truly desperate plight:

… we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

My Response

This book (in this chapter and others) makes a well documented case for the theory that The Hero Story is embedded within the soul of humans near and far, modern and ancient. Campbell says that the universal story is just the outplaying an epic story embedded in the  psyche of every human. Now that we have Freud and Jung, we know that’s all it is.

That’s all it is?!

How can one be satisfied with that? It’s a huge answer begging even larger questions. Where did it come from? How did a full and complete hero story get into every human psyche? Who put it there? Does he believe the process of matter and energy through the predestined laws of cause-and-effect put together the human psyche in random order and suddenly the full and complete hero story jumped out?

Campbell’s atheism may have limited his freedom to pursue this, as the presence of a story begs the question of an author.Perhaps Campbell deals with this later or in other writings.

There is one story within every human.

  • Does this correspond with Ecclesiastes 3:11 which includes “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
    • In a parallel to Campbell’s point about the psyche-engrained myth helping us through stages of life, this line in Ecclesiastes follows the lines that inspired the Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn” about there being a season for everything.
    • Clarke’s commentary says the best translation would read: “Also that eternity hath he placed in their heart, without which man could not find out the work which God hath made from the commencement to the end.” God has deeply rooted the idea of eternity in every human heart; and every considerate man sees, that all the operations of God refer to that endless duration. (my thought: what if he not only placed the idea of eternity in our hearts, but the entire story of eternity?)
  • How does this compare with what is proposed by Don Richardson in Eternity in Their Hearts?
  • Is the church doing a disservice by not focusing on story, putting Christians in the same truly desperate plight he speaks of for secularists?
  • Given that the understanding and living out of the story is, per Campbell, essential to healthy life transitions, what should I do differently for myself, my children, and others I lead?
  • Tolkien’s point about Jesus’ story being the best myth – is that true according to the monomyth taught by Campbell?
Comments Off on The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Chapter 1

Posted in Books, Culture, Spirituality, Story, The Hero Story, The Hero with a Thousand Faces


The story you could be watching is better than the one you’re in.

10 Jun

HBO: The story you could be watching is better than the one you're in.

HBO: The story you could be watching is better than the one you're in.

I just saw one of these HBO ads interrupting an old Doctor Who episode I was watching online. Here’s one of the videos:

YouTube Preview Image

We are told that we need to be the captain of our own ships, the writers of our own stories. Yet as we live life, seeking to star in our own stories, this ad resonates with a lot of people. Our stories are dull, boring, small, and irritating. As long as people choose to make and star in their own story rather than living as a player in a story bigger than themselves, this ad likely rings true: They might was well tune out their own story and just watch stories written to entertain them.

What story are you in?

(Quick edit: Here’s a blog post I found interesting on the subject.)


Love Wins – Preface: Us Vs. Them

26 Mar

I received my copy of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell today. Right now the kids are napping so I had to take a break from the home projects I was working on to give them some peace and quiet. Here’s my reaction to the preface:

My reaction so far is not positive.


Bell explains why he wrote the book – for those who don’t approve of the gospel being taught in the evangelical church[1].  Is it a problem with the message that people see it as foolishness? The Bible says that’s going to be people’s reaction to it[2], and Paul lived this out, being repeatedly beaten, threatened, and jailed by unbelievers in various cities where he shared the gospel – clearly if it was worth beating up the messenger, the people didn’t consider it “good” news[3]. Should Paul have changed the message to make the good news seem “good” in their eyes?

Bell explains that he those on his side (those who disapprove of the gospel taught by the church) have become aware of the truth that Jesus’ story has been hijacked. If you teach what Bell disagrees with, you’re a spiritual terrorist, hijacking the gospel. Here on the first page of text Bell sets the tone to be clearly Us – the enlightened disapprovers of the church vs. Them – the hijackers.


Bell talks about scripture in three different terms: “sacred text,” “stories” and “ongoing discussion.” Neither of these terms are exclusively applied to the Christian cannon of scripture, however. Anyone can tell stories, anyone can discuss things. There’s no indication that scripture is any different from anyone telling a story or having a discussion today.

Sacred Text:

Rob specifically addresses “the sacred text” once in the intro:

The ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page – there’s all that white space, waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights.

I can’t figure out who ever said this. Clearly by calling these people “sages,” Bell thinks they carry authority in the discussion. But who are they? It was at this point that I realized there’s no footnotes. No endnotes. Bell doesn’t cite a single source. Who said this? What makes them a sage? Why are they worth listening to? Google was no help. The closest I got was a quote by the anti-religious Proust who wasn’t writing about sacred text.

What Bell is promoting is the idea of eisigesis – pushing our own ideas and opinions into a text, and considering that to be what the text really means. This is the opposite of exegesis, a process in which we seek to discover what the text means in itself, and try to hold back our own opinions and pre-conceived theology. I value exegesis, and believe that my ideas should change in response to the text, rather than changing what the text means by filling in the white space and amending scripture to mean whatever I want it to.

I’m troubled by this perspective from a pastor who in the intro to his book strips scripture of it’s authority, placing the authority instead in his own opinions that he is free to force onto texts – and commanded to by anonymous sages that somehow escaped being filed by Google.


Bell says Jesus isn’t interested in telling the stories that he disapproves of, and they have “nothing to do with what he came to do.” Clearly, Jesus must have never told those stories. Right? On page 1, I don’t know what stories he’s referring to, but it’s clear that Jesus is not interested in the stuff being said by the hijackers. I’m troubled by the emphasis on story – stories are told as a way to communicate truth. Truth is best communicated by the story. But the emphasis is not on the story itself, but on the truth it communicates. If something is just a story, then we should not expect any truth behind it. That idea strips the authority of the truth that good stories communicate.

Bell says it’s time to reclaim the lost plot about what Jesus came to do. If the plot was lost and must be reclaimed, I’m relying on Bell to show how Jesus, the disciples, and the early church showed the true plot, and that all of these groups never told the stories that he disapproves of in the church today. I’m curious to see where he believes the gospel of the church today came from.

Ongoing Discussion:

Is scripture divine? Well, kind of. Discussing important stuff is divine.

What qualifies as “important”? Who decides? Is all discussion equally divine? Are all words of everyone divine?

This all brings up another question: If all of the discussion is divine, is every participant equally authoritative?

No. Not all voices are equal.

So far, this is the one question Bell answers. Not everyone is on equal footing in the discussion, and you may not be welcome here.

Bell takes a very strong stand on who can and who cannot participate in worthwhile discussion. He expands the Us vs. Them attitude from page 1, that the spiritual terrorist hijackers are misguided, toxic, and subversive to Jesus’ message. Bell, on the other hand has the truth of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy.

Not a charged atmosphere at all – as we enter this book, if you agree with Bell you’re in favor of love, peace, forgiveness and joy. If you disagree, you’re a misguided toxic terrorist hijacker subverting Jesus.

Which side do you choose?

A few differences between Bell’s book (so far) and my reaction:

  1. When I ask questions, they’re real questions. I’d love to know the answers. I’m just just being cool and questioning things.
  2. Given how much I wrote about the preface, my reaction may be longer than his book. But hey, the discussion is divine! (Well.. unless I disagree with him, in which case I’m a toxic spiritual terrorist hijacker –  in other words, you are not to listen to anyone else that disagrees with Rob. They’re toxic, and Jesus isn’t interested in what they have to say!)
  3. Look! I’ve cited my sources with footnotes!


[1] – I’ve written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to church, and their heart to utter those resolute words, “I would never be a part of that.” viii

[2] “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18. This passage is also very clear that there is a difference between those who are perishing (which seems to mean in the state of perishing but the perishing is ongoing and not yet in it’s fullness) contrasted with those who are being saved (in the state of being saved, but the saving is ongoing and not yet in it’s fullness)

[3] 1 Corinthians 11:25 “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.”


The Power of Story

14 Jan

photo of a book

Stories are powerful as conveyors of truth and value. You can tell me a fact, but the truth may be better communicated by a story. I ran across this example in Genesis today.

Genesis 37 through 50 we read the story of Joseph. We’re early in the biblical narrative at this point, and not a lot has been revealed about God’s character, but a lot hasn’t been revealed yet. We enter the story in the middle east where Abraham’s son’s Isaac’s grandkids (the sons of Jacob aka “Israel”) are still claiming Abraham’s God as their God.

Joseph’s brothers were going to kill him for being an annoying and boastful little brother, but they change their minds and sell him as a slave to Ishmaelites (grand-kids of Abraham’s other son Ishmael, Isaac’s brother). They take Joseph and sell him to a powerful government official (the captain of his guard) in Egypt named Potiphar. In Genesis 39, Potiphar lifts Joseph to be his employee in charge of everything he has. The bible tells us why. Genesis 39:2-3 says “The LORD was with Joseph, so that he prospered…. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him successin everything e did… Potiphar put him in charge of his household.”

Potiphar’s wife had the hots of Joseph and kept trying to entice him to sleep with her. He refused every day, until one day she tried to pull him to bed by his coat. He fled, but she had him thrown in jail. Back down to the bottom again. But, Genesis 39:20-23 says “The LORD was with him… So the warden put Joseph ni charge of all those held in the prison… because the LORD was with Joseph… ”

The story goes on and Joseph is put in charge of all of Egypt to save the people from death-by-famine until Joseph’s brothers come to buy food from Egypt, and after a long time of not revealing who he is, Joseph finally reveals himself and has Pharoah’s blessing to have his father and his whole family move to Egypt. As Jacob prepares to leave Israel, God speaks to him.

Jacob is about to leave the land to which God sent Abraham. This is the physical property God promised to his descendants and he’s about to leave. At the time, God was still known as the God of Abraham.  Jacob’s father-in-law had his own household gods where he lived. In Egypt there were other gods. God confirms he’s more than just a territorial spirit by telling Jacob “I will go down to Egypt with you…”

But we don’t need to be told this. We already know because we’ve seen God be with Joseph in Egypt. More than the mere fact that he’s present, we’ve watched the story unfold of what it really means for God to be with someone.

Telling the story, in fact, was a better way of communicating the truth of God being with someone rather than just stating the fact.

It seems that this should influence how I teach my kids and how I teach in ministry.

Your thoughts?


Posted in Story