March 18, 2020
Well-loved broadcasters David & Karen Mains launch their 29th podcast discussing this: Through imaginative literature (as well as through Christ’s parables), children of all ages can understand the theology of the Kingdom of God.
David: Talk to me Karen about books written for “children of all ages.” What would be some classic examples?
Karen: Well just off the top of my head, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis is probably a classic example of books that are written for children of all ages. The theory behind that is that the storyline is so impelling that smaller children can get the story, the arc, what’s called the narrative arc, and they understand that.
Karen: I’m wondering if you, yes you are listener, have read any good children’s books lately?
David: Well, I’ll answer it because I don’t know how to let the other people answer. Our nine grandchildren include a 12-year-old, a nine-year-old, and a six-year-old, and they come by the house a couple of times a week after school. So, the answer in my case, Karen, is yes. The other six of our grandchildren are all young adults, college and newly married, but yeah, we read children’s books.
Karen: I think everyone is aware that there are also books that have been written for children of all ages that have been wildly popular through the years. In this podcast we’ll share some examples.
Intro: Welcome to the Before We Go Podcast featuring Dr. David Mains and his wife, noted author, Karen Mains. Here’s David and Karen Mains.
David: Talk to me Karen about books written for “children of all ages.” What would be some classic examples?
Karen: Well just off the top of my head, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis is probably a classic example of books that are written for children of all ages. The theory behind that is that the storyline is so impelling that smaller children can get the story, the arc, what’s called the narrative arc, and they understand that. And they’ll stay with it and then as people get older, as kids get older, they begin to realize oh there’s a little bit more here. This has something to say to me as far as how I’m living our lives. And the adult is sometimes more captured by some children’s literature than even the children are because they get the depth of meaning. They get the message that’s hidden within the story. So, Narnia Tales by C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a major intellect. He was a world-class theologian and for him to sit down and write children’s books, I think it took a leap for him to get back into it. Because you have to go back and experience your own child’s self in order to write for children. So that would be one.
David: But his children’s books may be what he’s remembered for more than anything else.
Karen: I think it will be and because of the readership of it.
David: I’m not talking little children, but you’d have to say that Tolkien who was one of his Lewis’s friends, his Tales, not Tales, Lord of the Rings series, those would be classic children’s books.
Karen: Well, you have grandson who’s reading them right now. So, it depends on the reading ability of the child, and you know their attention span. But they’re very, you know, those are moving and terrifying and it evokes all of the emotions. And in the beginning of the Lord of the Rings is a little ponderous. So, for him to stick with it, I’m really proud of him for doing that. But that’s also because the writing is so good. Some other classics, children’s books that have lasted through.
David: You had a friendship with Madeleine L’Engel before she died.
Karen: We were in a writer’s group together, Madeleine L’Engel, right, in just a truly original personality. But her book that I think will last is called The Wrinkle in Time.
David: It was made into a film.
Karen: It was made into a film. What Madeleine did with that is she captured the early popular conversation. Things that the average person could understand. They came right out of physics theory. Not the numbers so much as the idea about physics. So, she put it into a book. It’s pretty extraordinary.
David: John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, would you call that?
Karen: I just looked at Bunyan’s work. It would be fun to read those to the kids and see how they, our little grandkids, and see how they attend. Now that’s a classic, just a classic or allegory of the spiritual journey. Yeah, I think there’s some children who would glom onto it. I think it’s considered to be a children’s book.
David: Well, they did a children’s film, at a major studio that we saw just recently, and they presented it as a children’s story.
Karen: Now one of the series that you and I love is called Frog and Toad. Frog and Toad together.
David: I love it, yeah.
Karen: They’re wonderful little stories, just wonderful little stories.
David: You can get the classic, past your illustration books and it doesn’t grab people. They say, “I read a great book the other days called Frog and Toad” and everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Karen: Just great stuff. So anyway, what we’re saying is that classic children’s literature is written for children of all ages. And a lot of times that’s the child who’s still living in those of us who are, you know, in our 70s and 80s.
David: That’s kind of a strange question, but do you think some of the parables Jesus told were attractive to children?
Karen: Oh, what an interesting thought.
David: I’m thinking about, he talks about the house built on the sand and the house built on the rock and kids today still singing, you know, why is man built his house upon the rock?
Karen: Right, right. Bible story, those little stories, those nugget stories that come right out of the Bible.
David: Yeah, a parable of the lost sheep. That’s a neat children’s story. The story of the good Samaritan. Those are in children’s books that people buy. The prodigal son. You know, sometimes people say I read the tales and I find myself crying. I actually believe there were people who listened to Jesus tell the story of the prodigal son. Young adults, even teenagers and younger who cried because that story touched them deeply.
Karen: You know, I’ve never thought about this before in relationship to the parable. Also, new thought coming out here. What we’re taught to do as writers is to lean back into the archetypes. And an archetype is a situation or an event or an idea that is common to almost every human person. So, Jesus has, it just as you mentioned it, I looked at it through that lens in the archetype of planting seed in the ground. The archetype of losing something and hunting for it. I mean, that’s what he’s done actually, is he’s chosen those things that are common to every person, every human’s experience. And in the parables, he’s presented the dilemma. And then you kind of have to, many of them have to figure out how you’re going to end it yourself. So very intriguing format for telling spiritual truths.
David: Karen, we’re in a series of podcasts about our Lord’s primary message regarding the Kingdom of God. In this visit, I’m reading another story from our popular series of books called The Kingdom Tales. Last visit, I read story one from book one. Right now, I would like to read story two called The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. And then we’ll talk about it when the story is finished. Okay?
Once upon a time, the Enchanter decreed that all who had disease or defects that could not be cured would be cast outside the city and left to die. All the unwanted and all the odd, were cast out and all those who belong to no one except orphans. Orphans were kept because they were useful to the Enchanter.
In the blazing sun, a young woman picked her way across the garbage dump outside the Enchanted City. She wore sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat to protect her pallid skin, and a large round button that read, We Love Children, Orphan Keeper’s Association. She kept slipping on the mounds of garbage. Even behind sunglasses, her eyes were bothered by light. “Oops, down again. Watch out, lights white.” She mumbled to herself. “Smuts. Huffy puffy. Garden dumps are stuffy.” Stained and filthy from her falls, she approached Stonegate entrance to Great Park. She thought she would rather do anything than go on this wild orphan chase.
Missed a day’s sleep, smudges. How was she supposed to get these gates open? She’d never been in this dreadful park before, but this was where the burners said the orphans had gone. She rattled the iron gate. Noticed a curled potato skin caught on her sleeve and swept it away. She rattled again. Nothing budged. She tried to crawl over the gate, but her legs kept slipping and her button caught between the thin rails. She finally stood back and hollered. “Does anyone hear me”? Her hat bob back and forth. She shifted her bulging basket of a purse and shouted again. “Does anybody hear me”? No answer.
She tried another idea. “I am the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. In the name of the Orphan Keeper open, I am hunting for orphans.” The gates creaked open. She was impressed by the power of the name she had shouted, never suspecting for a moment that the gates always open for hunters.
Once inside she followed a path huffing and puffing all the way. “What a jungle! All those trees! Better they were chopped down for fuel! What’s all that noise”? In the distance she noticed a crowd of people in a large field. Some seemed to be dancing. A young man juggled several balls in the air. Then he dropped one. An older man was walking on a tight rope. All were working hard, but they were laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves. “What a strange place”! Orphan Keeper’s Assistant hurried on ignoring bright colored flowers waving on long green stems and majestic four-legged creatures their ears poised to catch any sound. Thankfully, her eyes were shaded by sunglasses. She squinted behind them to keep out the bright light in this dreadful profusion of shape and color. Orphans were on her mind. “Oh, father! Orphans an outcast! No sane person cared for either.” She knew that better than others. Hadn’t she been the daughter of an outcast before earning a useful place in the Enchanter’s service? “No, no, no”! The children of Enchanted City had all teased when she was a little girl. “Your mother’s an outcast! An outcast! An outcast”! Her mother had come down with an incurable disease, a malady called heart sickness and been cast out. Then when her father died, she had become an orphan. The double chin of the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant folded into her neck and her shoulders shuttered at the memory. She hated outcast. Nobody wanted an outcast.
The path she followed led to Caretaker’s Cottage, all gingerbread trim and fieldstone. A young man tall and handsome stepped out of the door just as she arrived. He was wearing a long navy cloak with a silver clasp on the shoulder. She knew from her training that it was the uniform of a ranger, one of the many what-keepers for the man who called himself the king.
“Can I help you”? The young man asked, his eyes twinkled with light. The way his lips were unsmiling. “You certainly can, you nice thing, you”, giggle the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant inwardly.” But she said, “Smartens smudges, get me out of this light, I’m a perfect puddle in the heat. Is Caretaker home? And what’s a mercy? See mercy, the orphan-keeper said to me, Get orphans from Mercy.” The ranger took her boldly in purse, held open the door and explained, “Mercy is caretaker’s wife. Caretaker is not here today. Step inside. Mercy, someone from the orphan association?” The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant took off her sunglasses. She saw an old woman standing in front of the fire, older than anyone she had ever known. The elderly lady was stirring the contents of a pot over the fire in the hearth. She wore a long blue cotton dress covered by an apron pinafore. Tendrils of white hair curled and fell from beneath a snood. She turned and smiled at the visitor, and all the wrinkles on her face creased upward. “Welcome, hunter”, she said. “I am Mercy, caretaker’s wife. We are servants of the king.”
Her back was straight, and the hand she extended and welcomed to her visitor was as smooth and unlined as a girl’s. “Odd”, the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant thought. “Mercy seemed both very young and very old.” The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant felt nervous and confused. “Keep your eye on the odd ones. Be official”, she chided herself. She heard the Orphan-Keeper’s warning. “Bring them back alive. If you fail, you’ll have a burner on your tail.” “I am the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant”, she announced loudly, hoping everyone in the room would be impressed. She hooked a thumb under her official button and pushed it out from her blouse. Opening her basket, she produced a signed document. “I have a warrant for errands here, signed by Orphan-Keeper herself. Two runaways last seen at Stonegate Entrance, one called Scarboy.”
Her eyes were beginning to adjust to the dim light inside the cottage, and what she saw astounded her. Two girls cleared dishes from the extended table, feeling the surface with their hands, counting with their fingers. They were blind. Skinny sticks of children ran in and out. “Who would want such skeletons”, Orphan Keeper’s Assistant thought? Three children were playing a game on the floor, one with crutches, one not moving. “What kind of hole is this? Who wants orphans”? Then she spotted two boys who stood in a corner. They moved away from her gaze. The older one hid his cheek behind his hand and held the young one tightly by his other hand.
“There they are.” The young ranger made a motion. “Excuse me, Mercy, but I must keep watch. Will you need anything”? He asked, glancing at the woman. But Caretaker’s wife shook her head. With a sweep of his cloak, he was out and gone. “Fool”, thought the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. “Do you think this old bitty is a match for me?” She was sorry to see him go. She needed a little romance in her life. An assistant got sick and tired of orphan-rule calls, orphan headcounts, orphan work shifts, orphan manuals. “Who needed another orphan hunt”? The Enchanter’s the guru is hardly the place for such a sentimental creature as she.
She often dreamed of a nice young man saying, “Orphan Keeper’s Assistant, you are my heart’s desire.” The older boy in the corner glared at her. She glared back, then said, “Oh, it’s hot, hot, I’ll say.” She took off her sweater, plopped in a chair, and rolled down her heavy stockings. She wiped her face with a large bandana she had taken from her basket. She lifted her hat. Her rotten tomato fell to the floor, and someone giggled. “You’ll get yours; you’ll get yours”, thought Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. But out loud she said, “Whose children are these? They can’t all belong to you.”
Mercy smiled again. The wrinkles creasing upward. “They are mine”, she said, looking at the young woman straight in the eye. “They’re all mine. We have no orphans in Great Park. Everyone here belongs to someone else.” “Everyone here belongs to someone else”? The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant had never heard such a silly claim. If she could not prove the two children were orphans, she would have to snatch the runaways and escape quickly.
When Mercy seated herself at one end of the long table in the room, the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant made her move. She ran to the boys, cringing in the corner. She scooped a Little Child under one arm and grabbed Scarboy’s hand with the other and dashed for the door. But try as she might, Orphan Keeper’s Assistant could not drag Scarboy out the door of Caretaker’s Cottage. She tugged and pooled. She huffed and puffed, smacked, and smudged. Finally, she gave up and looked quizzically at Mercy. “We have no orphans in Great Park”, Mercy repeated. “These children belong here. You cannot take them unless they leave willingly.” “Willingly”, a gleam appeared in the eyes of Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. “You’re old, old”, she said to Mercy. “You’re too old to stop me.”
It was a challenge. The two boys moved quickly back into the far corner. Orphan Keeper’s Assistant settled herself at the opposite end of the table from Mercy. She placed her elbows on the tabletop with her chin in her hands. Mercy took the same pose. The two women’s eyes locked. Everyone in the cottage became still. What was happening? Who would win? Why, oh, why had the strong ranger gone away?
In the corner, Scarboy and Little Child held each other tightly. The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant spoke first. “By the Orphan Keeper, by Scars and Mars, by pain and sadness, ills and madness, by Orphan Keeper, Orphan Keeper, you do not belong to Mercy or anyone else.”
Now, pains long forgotten by the children in the room were remembered. The boy in the wheelchair hunched and whimpered. The blind sisters bumped into each other. One dropped a dish. One snarled. Another child scratched. The lame child turned his back on his partners.
Mercy looked the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant straight in the eye. She answered her spell. “Caretaker, Caretaker, Caretaker’s wife, who’s are these? They are mine. They are mine. Caretaker, Caretaker, Caretaker’s wife.” Mercy lifted her face from her hands, never taking her eyes from the opponent’s face. She threw her arms wide as though she would encircle the whole room. “Things are not what they seem”, she cried. “Things are not what they seem in Great Park. We know this to be true.”
The boy in the wheelchair straightened his back. The pain was gone once more. He held his head high. The blind girls helped each other sweep up the broken dish. One whistled a little song. The child with crutches scooted over to his friend. Someone laughed. Two of the skinny children ran out to play. Orphan Keeper’s Assistant was sweating profusely now. Droplets of water ran down her face. “Blats, smats!” She’d be fired for sure. Burned by burners. Where did Mercy’s strength come from?
The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant made fists of her hands and jammed them down hard on the tabletop. “Ordinary Orphan hunt. This is not ordinary at all. Lousy Orphan Keeper should’ve come herself.” She pinned her mind to the boy standing in the corner. “Scarboy, Scarboy, come, come”! She thought, “by the death-drums, the fire-priest, by the fire-robe, I’ll make you come willingly.” Over and over, she concentrated on Scarboy’s name. But the work was hard. Then she noticed the boy take a step out of the corner. She saw him let go of his brother. “Scarboy, Scarboy, come, come”! It would only be minutes before the boy was at her side.
Suddenly the Orphan stiffened. “My name is Hero”, he asserted. “Hero? Hero who”?, Orphan Keeper’s Assistant responded to the boy’s defiance. “That’s not your name. Never, whoever heard of an Orphan named Hero.” Quickly the young woman increased her concentration. She felt the room tilt toward the door. She called in her mind, “Scarboy, come, come”!
Slowly the boy took another step. “Now, now was the time. Call out the names.” The woman rose to her feet, still gripping the edge of the table, her back bent, her eyes pinned to Mercy’s. Her voice was shrill. “I am the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant in the name of the Orphan Keeper, in the name of fire priests and burners and breakers and naysayers, in the name of the Enchanter. I command all who belong to that burning one to come to me.”
The children whimpered. Scarboy began to walk toward the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. His eyes dazed. His steps wouldn’t. He dropped his hand. The raw and ugly scar showed on his face. Beads of sweat stood out on Mercy’s wrinkled forehead. The white hair beneath her snout was damp, but she smiled. She gripped her end of the table. She kept her eyes locked with those of the young woman. She rose from her seat. She commanded, “I am Mercy, wife to Caretaker of Great Park, in the name of ranger commander. Protector and keeper the watch, in the power of the sacred flames, by the name of the king. Son of the emperor of all who bring the kingdom, I forbid, I adjure, I prevent.”
The house tilted back again. The boy stepped back toward the corner. Mercy lifted her hands above her head. She clasped them together. “To the king”!, she shouted. “To the kingdom, to the restoration.”
The Orphan Keeper’s spell was broken. The children sighed. Mercy slumped. Protection closed over them again. The Assistant dropped her eyes. A small wail came from her mouth. “Oh, me, oh, my, find Mercy”, said the Orphan Keeper. “I found Mercy. But Mercy hasn’t done me. I’ll get fired. I’ll get fired.” The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant put her face in her hands and wept. She wailed, something pitiful. She blubbered and hollered. She pulled a handkerchief from her basket to wipe her face. Gently. A tiny hand patted her arm. Touched her shoulder. Wiped tears away from her cheeks, then her eyes. It was one of the blind girls. The child, smelling of lavender and soap, pressed her cheek against the cheek of the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant.
Opening her eyes, the young woman discovered that she was surrounded by the children. The boy in the wheelchair offered a cool cloth, damp and fragrant, to press against her hot forehead. The child on crutches had poured a drink and held it out to her. One of them said, “Don’t cry, Orphan Keeper’s Assistant, don’t cry.” But she cried all the more. Who had ever spoken kindly to her? Her father had died in the bellows works beneath the city and her mother had been an outcast. Then the two boys standing near the corner came forward. The older spoke to Mercy. “I will go back with her. Little Child can stay with you. Firing is terrible. No one should be fired because of me.”
Orphan Keeper’s Assistant wailed. She remembered branding her hand felt sore at the memory. She was Orphan Keeper’s Assistant only because she served Orphan Keeper in the Enchanter without question. Not because they cared for her. She had no friends. But Mercy had said everyone here belongs to someone else. The children patted her hand. Mercy cleared her throat. “I think I have a happy ending. Why doesn’t the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant stay? That way, Hero won’t have to go back, and she won’t have to be fired.”
The children danced and jumped. “Yes, stay, stay Orphan Keeper’s Assistant. Stay with us. Please, please, we want you to stay.” The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant blew her nose. She sniffled and snuffled. She looked at Mercy. The young woman’s eyes were full of wonder. “You want me”? She asked amazed. “I have a confession to make”, said Mercy. “It was I who called you from the orphan keeper. I willed you across the garbage dump to Stonegate entrance. I wanted you here. I think you’ll be very good with the children.” “Stay”, said the blind girl, pleading. “We don’t want you to be fired. Live with us. You’ll love the king. You can live with us.” “Hurrah”! cried the lame child. He waved his crutch in the air, tottering off balance, and almost fell. But the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant reached out and caught him. “But why”? stammered the young woman. “Why”?
Mercy picked up the spoon to stir the pot on the fire. “One more person to love, I guess. Just one more person to love.” Orphan Keeper’s Assistant blew her nose. She wiped her face with a damp cloth. “Old woman”, she said. “You’re no old woman, and that’s the truth.” Mercy laughed. She walked over to the chair where the young woman sat. She put her arms around her and said, “I told you that things are not what they seem.” And so, the hunter stayed. Because she found the orphan, she had been seeking, herself. She discovered that the kingdom was for outcasts, and one must become an outcast in order to follow the king.
Here we start Book One of this three-part series of books with the truth that we were trying to get across in Story One that two radically different kingdoms are in constant conflict buying for people’s attention.
Karen: Their lives.
David: Yeah. This story about the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant, in my mind, we’re trying to say it’s good when people are given the choice of which kingdom they prefer. And I think that comes out pretty well. And we’re glad that the Orphan Keeper’s Assistant is able to say, “I’d like to choose the new kingdom compared to the old kingdom that I’ve known.”
Karen: Well, perhaps we should say that the orphan keeper is the Enchanter. And he says that all orphans belong to him. So, his Assistant, the Orphan Keeper, that’s how that works out, has gone to collect two orphans who have escaped from Enchanted City from the home, the cottage of Mercy, who is a holy figure.
David: The Orphan Keeper’s Assistant had a secure position in the Enchanter’s world. Why do you think she made the choice of leaving that role and becoming a subject of the true king?
Karen: Well because she was taken with love. Captured by love. Saw it in Mercy’s Cottage. All these little children who had been abandoned or lost their parents who all had a home, and all had a family. We’re all hungry for that. And she certainly was.
David: Yeah, she was. She comes up later in the stories.
David: I will leave her alone for a while. And those who read the book wonder what happened to her. Well, she comes back in later. How do people get these books?
Karen: Well, they can go to KingdomTales.com and they can order the books right there.
David: A lot of times people, adults, usually are the ones they tell us as they were reading these stories. They cry. What do you think that is?
Karen: Oh, I think that people always weep when they see an example of what their hearts really long for. And Christ was a dividing figure, no doubt. But those who were seeking for love and perfection and for someone who cared about them, someone who was interested in them, someone who was tender and not negative but positive. I mean, the story that we have, he defends so many people who were outcasts in their culture and the history of that time. So, I think that this is a deep human longing in all of our hearts that we often respond to in certain ways, sometimes nonvalid ways. We follow the wrong people because we’re longing for some perfection or beauty. And I think that in the books we portray, the King, who is a Christ figure in the book, is the most beautiful man who’s ever lived. And the beauty came because of who he was, not just physical beauty, but the beauty of who he was. And that’s revealed in the gospels. Just I often read the gospels and think, how could anyone refuse Jesus Christ?
So that’s what we’re working with. That’s the reality that we’re working with and we’re attempting to put into imaginative literature. So, the reader also has that feeling. And then when you hit this king’s love, even on the page, you begin to feel emotionally moved. And, you know, that’s when you start crying.
David: Well said. Good place to end.
Outgo: You’ve been listening to the Before We Go Podcast. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast please remember to rate, review, and share on whatever platform you listen. This podcast is copyright 2020 by Mainstay Ministries, Post Office Box 30, Wheaton, Illinois 60189.
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