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 Lutheran’s back, 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. He father has told her never to cross through the 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. She 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, 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
Ivy lies dying because she did not hear her Prince’s instructions about the chain. So she is starving. How ironic that a modern tale written by a PCA minister highlights what Wilhelm Löhe wrote a century ago: the Means of Grace is where it’s at not only for Lutherans, but by their absence, also for non-Lutherans. Löhe wrote:
If the Lutheran Church has the pure Word and sacrament in a pure confession, it obviously has the highest treasures of the church unperverted. It thus has Gods fullness and the living source from which all deficiencies may be supplied, and it can claim for itself all the advantages of which other denominations justly boast.What is the reason for so many attacks on this church when men must admit that it has the greatest treasures and marks of the church? Why is it that other denominations boast about so many real or imaginary advantages when they lack the greatest treasures and when it cannot be denied that the Lutheran Church, if it is only conscious of itself, can supply all deficiencies from its abundance and can excel the other churches in every virtue? He who can honor Word and sacrament properly will not be blinded by any ray of light which falls on other churches, for that ray comes only from the source of our perfect truth. Much less will he be blinded by the mere glow of human works and thoughts. When a man possesses the higher things, he can easily do without the lesser things until he can obtain them without danger.Because it has Word and sacrament in a pure confession, the Lutheran Church is the fountain of truth, and from its waters all thirsty souls in other churches have their thirst quenched. With cheerful faces and sharp swords the members of this church stand in serene peace around the fountain which saves all those who are saved. Wilhelm Löhe, Three Books About the Church, p. 113, 115.
A plethora of thoughts arise in conjunction with the LCMS and her long-term dalliance with evangelical style. She is distinctly different than Ivy in this: Ivy wasted away in her grief for her Prince, while the LCMS is spending hers partying to the slappy-sappy-clappy tunes of the feather-swallowers, hoping to grow fat and go down in a blaze of glory. They are alike because they both need to be returned to the Rock from whence they were hewn (Is 51:1)- that is, the very word from which their hope was given.
Ivy had her Parousia. Perhaps that is all that will rescue the LCMS.