About turning away from fables- and what Neuschwanstein Castle can teach us.
Updated: Aug 4
"1 I testify urgently before God and Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and at his appearing and his kingdom: 2 Preach the word, stand ready in season and out of season; convict, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will heap up teachers for themselves according to their own lusts, because it tickles their ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But be sober in all things, endure affliction, do the work of an evangelist, perform your ministry. ( 2 Timothy 4:4)
"For you were formerly darkness; but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light; 9 the fruit of light is pure goodness and righteousness and truth. 10 Examine what is pleasing to the Lord, 11 and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; rather, expose them. 12 For what is done by them in secret, even to speak of it, is shameful. 13 But all these things will be revealed when they are uncovered by the light; 14 for all that is revealed is light. Therefore it is said: Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall enlighten thee." ( Ephesians 5:8-14)
My dear friends, dear followers,
We are all more driven to them than we consciously realize.
But what are "old wives' fables" anyway?
The Greek word used for "fable" in the original text is ῦθος (Ancient Greek) Part of speech: noun, (masculine) Meaning/definition, and means 1) word, speech 2) public speech 3) usually plural: conversation, amusement 4) utterance, instruction, command, order, and... advice.
So it's about basic beliefs, passed down from generation to generation, as sage advice or what we would commonly call today everyday- or kitchen table psychology- proverbs, beliefs, opinions that are often cemented deep within us. Further, it is about public statements, trends, prevailing opinions- that which was preached in public places in the days of the early church- but was not really true. It is about philosophical concepts, other statements of faith, often fantastic, springing from the world of imagination, and not standing up to closer scrutiny. They are myths that have woven themselves into our respective cultural contexts unnoticed and often celebrated. They are fairy tales with an often supposed moral, born of longings and admiration, and the most basic motif is probably the recurring one of the misunderstood genius, the oppressed and disenfranchised servant girl who is ultimately the real queen after all-or that of the swineherd who is in reality a king.
"From dishwasher to millionaire" embodies like nothing else the dream of the land of "unlimited possibilities"- the USA. "You can be anything-and the goal is influence, wealth, prosperity."
It is a myth that shapes an entire country, nurtures beliefs- and hides much that led the early settlers to that prosperity- genocide, slave trade and slavery. Colonization.
Yet this idea shapes an entire nation, as does the idea of being a specially chosen nation- a God-given, chosen authority over the other nations.
I believe that these legends and myths shape us, to an extent that we are neither aware of nor can really avoid.
I have been wrestling with God a lot lately about this question - the question of our worldly identity, beliefs, environment, and that socio-political imprint we experience.
Is it even possible to do in them what the Bible calls "overcoming"?
Is it at all possible to break out of what we have imbibed with our mother's milk, what somehow constitutes us, quasi defines us?
Doesn't this lead to boundless insecurity, to a dissolution of the personality that we now are?
Many of these convictions, socially, politically, culturally and certainly also religiously rooted, are cherished. They position us, and our Christianity is colored by them. This phenomenon is called syncretism: the secular identity merges with our faith.
This is certainly most evident in state religions, where the concept of nation is mixed with Christianity. And the outgrowths are often strikingly contrary to the Bible. Slavery was justified with the Bible as well as the persecution of the Jews. Crusades and excessive violence were justified with the Bible and integrated into the secular identity.
Good- did not come out of it, and if it did, it was only because God is the master when it comes to turning ashes into beauty- over time and with a precision that can ultimately refine what did not come from Him into something that is again in line with His plans.
I am....german, American, alternative, conservative.
I am...politically right, left, moderate.
I am...pacifist, philsosophist, artist, vegetarian, musician, leader, author, doctor, lawyer.
I am....fourth generation Pentecostal, leader, Baptist, charismatic, Brethren, Protestant, Catholic.
I am...poor, rich, social, ...you get the idea.
I am...it's the identity question that comes to the table here, it's a self-knowledge and equally -definition, and it serves as a guide for others in a secular society.
But let us return briefly to the fables and myths that shape us:
Germany-if we disregard National Socialism for a moment-is considered the land of poets and thinkers, of myths and saga kings, of Parzifal and Faust, of the Reformation and the great noble houses. In Germany was born Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel- as instructive old wives' tales told around campfires and in handicraft circles and finally collected by the Grimm brothers. To this day, we have an almost unnoticed claim to be the "true thinkers"-and it shapes us, colors our experience-and leads to an overemphasized intellectual society that has a hard time with emotionality and cordiality.
Europe is also the continent of great royal houses, of minne, of the pomp of nobility and the definition of what it means to be a king. A crown prince. A princess. Our whole Western sense of Christ's kingship is shaped by this image, but is that really what it will be like?
The following example will illustrate how much we are influenced by our European and often idealized heritage in our interpretation and association:
When we think of a king, we automatically think of the Sun King Louis XIV. of France, of Franz Josef I., of Sissi (Elizabeth), personified by Romy Schneider, of ostentatious balls and magnificent buildings, fountains and giggling ladies-in-waiting in expensive gowns, their laughter echoing silvery through the impenetrable labyrinths.
"I am a king's daughter!" "The king's daughter!" "I am called to rule!" "I am the heir of Christ!" ...and before our eyes arise the very splendorous buildings which to this day bear witness to the splendor of former eras.
Secretly, that is exactly what we wish for. Full banquets, glittering ball gowns, authority and the benevolent ruling over subjects - and all that...is a fable that has not the least to do with the reality of these epochs.
When, shortly after Ludwig II's death, his former subjects were taken on a tour of what is now Neuschwanstein Castle, it was an act of enlightenment, an intention to put Ludwig II's extravagance and unworldliness on public display.
Exactly the opposite happened: the subjects were so fascinated by the pomp and wealth that Neuschwanstein symbolized that they celebrated it- and to this day it is probably the most famous castle in Germany.
Ludwig II was a tragic king in more ways than one - overburdened with government business, rejected by his father, fleeing again into the world of Germanic myths and legends, and feeling cheated of true kingship by his cabinet's right of co-determination. He was obsessed with architecture, and the workers and architects who built Neuschwanstein, the "fairy-tale castle," had no rest, were harassed. National debt and repeated borrowings financed these buildings on the backs of the little people, those who were harnessed for this vision, requested by a secular king-and exploited.
He thought it was his right to do so with them.
Ludwig II never really lived in this multi-million dollar building. He died, probably of suicide, before Neuschwanstein was completed. Disenfranchised, declared insane, he lost not only his life but also his reputation for a long time. He wanted to aim high - and his fall was deep.
And yet: the dream remains, the pomp remains, and the longing for this appearance drives countless tourists to this day to this castle, which is not epochal, not really old, not really inhabited, and certainly not a real expression of royal life, but the world escape of a lonely man.
Fables and myths- they have an unspeakable power over us.
Peter says in 1 Peter 1:16:
"For we did not follow elaborate fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we saw his glory with our own eyes. 17 For he received glory and honor from God the Father by a voice that came to him from the great glory, saying, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.' 18 And this voice we heard coming from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mountain. 19 We have the prophetic word all the more firmly, and you do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (author's emphasis)
It's real, Peter says, not a glossed-over story. Jesus is real, you know.
And so we too are called to be real. And to accept what he tells us about dominion instead of following fables.
For gladly overread and yet it is written:
"After this the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall abolish all rule and authority and power." (1 Corinthians 15:24, author's emphasis)
In the end, there will be no more rule by individuals. There will be no dominion except of God alone.
And Jesus said:
"But Jesus called them to him and said: You know that rulers hold down their nations, and the mighty do violence to them. 26 Let it not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant; 27 and whosoever will be first among you, let him be your servant; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25 ff).
Yes, dominion and influence and wealth and pomp and palaces and mansions glitter to this day. Even in the Christian realm. And just as the subjects refused to recognize the extravagance when they entered Neuschwanstein, we too refuse to debunk myths and let our favorite fantasies be convicted by Jesus' radical reversal of all principles.
Is it possible? To overcome?
Yes, I believe it is.
It is the Holy Spirit who constantly admonishes us not to seek our salvation in false sources. He does not leave us alone.
And yet- it is tempting- and often power simply works more convincingly than service.
Think of Neuschwanstein. It is beautiful, a masterpiece of architecture- and yet only a reconstructed- illusion. You may be intoxicated by beauty, you may dream, and you may be fascinated by beauty. You can immerse yourself in stories, myths and legends. But please, don't be blinded by them.
Sibylle/Daughter of Zion.
Bible. Luther 2017, cited here from: https://www.bibleserver.com
Michael J. Gorman (ed.:) Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (English Edition), Kindle Version, pages 51-63.
Ludwig II of Bavaria: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_II._(Bavaria).
Photo Neuschwanstein: Pixabay, thx to "derwiki".
London Session Orchestra: Pachelbel, Canon in D major.