Author Archives: tclaytor

About tclaytor

Tatyana Claytor is primarily a lover of story and truth. As an English teacher, she is surrounded by the stories of the ages, but as a lover of God, she is enveloped in the Story beyond all ages. Her desire is to know the Author of this story as clearly as possible that she might help others see God’s truth in their lives and His plan in their stories. She currently lives in Cocoa, Florida with her three story-loving children and her husband, a minister of Youth and Missions. She has a Master’s degree in Education from Nova Southeastern University and a Master’s degree in Professional Writing from Liberty University. She is also the editor for Growthtrac Ministries, a website dedicated to helping marriages.

Cheating Audiences with Fake Sacrifices

jake-hills-194864-unsplash

In Stephen King’s novel Misery, Paul Sheldon, a famous author, is held hostage by his number one fan after a horrible accident. She demands that he write her favorite character back to life. His first attempt brings the main character back but without a plausible story. Annie, his captor, launches into a tirade about watching movies as a kid:

Anyway, my favourite was Rocketman, and once it was a no breaks chapter. The bad guy stuck him in a car on a mountain road and knocked him out and welded the door shut and tore out the brakes and started him to his death, and he woke up and tried to steer and tried to get out but the car went off a cliff before he could escape! And it crashed and burned and I was so upset and excited, and the next week, you better believe I was first in line. And they always start with the end of the last week. And there was Rocketman, trying to get out, and here comes the cliff, and just before the car went off the cliff, he jumped free! And all the kids cheered! But I didn’t cheer. I stood right up and started shouting. This isn’t what happened last week! Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn’t fair! HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCK – A – DOODIE CAR!

She then makes him rewrite it without cheating his audience. He is able to do this and realizes as he is writing that this is the best writing he has ever done. Just like Annie, moviegoers, particularly those of the sci-fi genre, also do not want to be cheated by pretend sacrifices.

We’ve Been Cheated Before

In 2014, the X-Men franchise released X-Men: Days of Future Past which made the preceding X-Men movies pointless with its time-traveling antics. Deaths, catastrophic events, and important plot developments were reversed. This left the viewer with a vague sense that they had wasted money on movies that no longer “happened” and emotions on events and characters that no longer existed in the way they previously understood them. Even more frustrating was the unexplained resurrection of Xavier, leaving the viewers to speculate online how he miraculously shows up without a single reference.

Even in the very popular Black Panther, we see this reversal of fates. When T’Challa fights Killmonger and loses, he is thrown off the waterfall to certain death. The audience is left to believe he is dead, while Killmonger asserts his kingship with calculated and horrific steps. However, the audience cannot really believe he is dead. They just wait to see how it will be undone. In the case of this movie, unlike X-Men, there is a sense of cost. He is not immediately restored, and they must depend on the generosity of a rival tribe. Though it is expected, his resurrection is at least not easy.

Will It Be Believable?

This precedent or resurrections, however, makes Marvel Universe fans wary of the next plot development in the Avengers series. Since the Infinity War ends with the death of a large number of iconic superheroes (many with upcoming movies to be released), the viewer is once again wondering what kind of trick the Marvel Universe franchise has up their sleeves that will bring their heroes back but with little cost.

There are many speculations about how these events may be undone. These fan theories touch on revelations from the comic books series, as well as hints in the films. Some believe that Dr. Strange’s vision of the one possible scenario in which they win is still in effect. Others argue that the soul stone may exact a different price from Thanos from what he expected. While a dramatic ending like the one in Infinity War sparks much online discussion, it does challenge the viewers’ needed suspension of disbelief. If the characters cannot truly suffer harm, can we really care about them? Don’t most of the conversations just focus on the various possible plot twists and less on what this means to each character?

Read the rest here.

What Kind of Rescue Is This?

The first Star Wars movie came out the year I was born. Though I never saw these movies in their original releases in the movie theaters, these movies helped define my childhood. I owned the action figures and played with them constantly. When I ventured away to more traditional toys, Star Wars came with me—my Barbie was named Leia and Ken was named Luke. There are too many iconic moments in these films to count, but I always remember Princess Leia’s rescue scene with mirth.

When I imagined a princess, I was not expecting the feisty, gun-toting, smart-mouthed warrior who resists torture to protect her people. She doesn’t hesitate to criticize her would-be rescuers either. When Luke and Hans Solo appear to have no real plan for escape, she mutters, “This is some rescue!” and continues to berate them for their lack of foresight.  Despite her misgivings, they are able to get away though it is a difficult process.

An Unusual Plan

Her words remind me of another rescue plan that seemed absurd.  In this scene, we go back in time to an ancient culture and a people also enslaved by a ruthless master. In our story, however, there is no resistance movement apart from one complicated man with a vision from God. Moses isn’t feisty and armed with wit and weapons like Princess Leia–instead, he is a man who states his own inability to even speak. Nevertheless, he is chosen for the mission of a lifetime–God is rescuing His people,

When Moses comes back to Egypt, he had been gone forty years and the Israelite people had been in bondage over 400 years. Moses had two difficult audiences to win over–a prideful Pharaoh and a beleaguered people with no hope. Initially, with the help of his brother Aaron and God’s miraculous works, the people believed “that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31 ESV). But when Moses and Aaron finally approach Pharoah and make their demands (this time only for three days of worship), Pharoah is angry. He increases the burden of their work by making them gather their own straw while still maintaining the same quota of bricks.

A Costly Plan

When the people of Israel realize this, they are angry at Moses. They say, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21 ESV).  Though they had been initially confident in the rescue, they now saw a death sentence. They probably wondered what kind of rescue resulted in greater hardship. God wasn’t done yet though.

We know from Scripture that it takes ten destructive plagues culminating in the death of the firstborns before Pharaoh is willing to let them go. Within these texts are the ominous lines that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, making the increasingly intense plagues necessary. It is only when Pharaoh himself experiences the decree that was enforced upon the Israelites (the death of their male child) that he is broken enough.

Finally, the Israelites get to experience a moment of triumph–they march out of their prison, taking with them the spoils of the Egyptians who freely offer them. However, this triumph is short-lived as the Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues them. Once again, the Israelites find their rescue plan taking a turn they did not anticipate. Once again, they turn to Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’?” (Exodus 14: 11-12 ESV). Though God miraculously intervenes and they are free to move towards the Promised Land, this will not be the last time they question Moses.

Their rescue did not go the way they wanted.

A Continuing Plan

We can relate, can’t we? It’s easy this side of history to judge the Israelites and to think they were ungrateful, but, in living my own rescue story, I find myself relating to their angry and fearful sides. We want rescues to be dramatic, but we want them to be smooth and pain-free with as little participation in the hard work as possible.

We know from history that rescues are actually horrifically difficult and ugly.  When Allied forces liberated countries under the Nazi regime, the battles were bloody and costly. Even after the war was done, the rebuilding of an entire continent was overwhelming. No, the Israelites story is not unique in its difficulty, but it is unique in the direct supervision of God.

For those of us in the midst of our own incarceration–whether that is addiction, difficult relationships, depression or something else–we might be tempted to ask God what kind of rescue is this.  We know of the work done on the Cross–the war has been won! Yet why is the process of being made whole so difficult? Or why doesn’t God resolve our problems in a different way, one that hurts less? We, like the Israelites, might want to run back to the place of our slavery just to stop the pain.

The Israelites initial imaginations of freedom most likely included a ceasing from the back-breaking labor they were forced to do every day. They probably had no vision for a land all of their own. They couldn’t have foreseen the glory of David and Solomon’s reigns. They had no clue at all about the larger redemptive purpose God had of the seed of the Messiah being birthed from their people. God’s plan was too big for them to comprehend, too beautiful to imagine.

It is the same today. Wherever you are and whatever battle you face, it is a part of a great rescue plan that is still being enacted for the glory of God. It will be hard and confusing and chaotic, but the end result, which we cannot see in full, will be worth much more than our present sufferings could ever equal.  In the meantime, we do not pretend like it doesn’t hurt, but we learn to live within the pain and choose to trust the plan.

C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain notes “when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”  I pray we have all three!

Are You Missing Community?

I lived in China as a TEFOL instructor at a Chinese boarding school for a year when I was still in college. Among all the cultural differences I observed, I couldn’t help but notice how different the Chinese students who lived on the campus related to each other compared to American students I had observed before.

In the class, no one was ever left out of activities. Even if it was obvious certain students didn’t get along, it was never an option to not include everyone in activities. Being part of the group was a given for them.

In our Western culture, this is not so.

Everyone has to earn their place in the group, which can be exhausting. There is always the chance that you will mess up badly enough that you will be kicked out and rejected. This undercurrent of fear keeps people from being completely authentic with each other also.

Part of this is due to our modern society with its continuous motion. In the past, most people lived their entire lives in the same community. They often had to rely upon one another just to survive. This forced people to learn to get along with each other, even those they really didn’t like. Everyone knew the group was too important to sacrifice to petty differences. They truly saw that they needed each other.

Read the rest here.

Unwilling Adventurer

bilbo-baggins

Fear drove me to God. It wasn’t fear of Hell or death since they didn’t seem real to me. I was afraid of life. Success scared me because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, and failure scared me as the true revelation of my lack of abilities. Though I was only 16 years old, fear completely crippled me.

You wouldn’t guess it from looking at me at that time. I was a straight-A student, clean cut and not making too many horrible decisions. Nevertheless, underneath the surface, I lived in agony of messing up.

I see this same fear in this generation.  As a high school English teacher, I have seen a shift in students who can’t wait to get out on their own to students who are scared to take steps of maturity. A large part of this has to do with our online world where everyone sees our mistakes. The solution to this though is to revive the love of adventure.

Bilbo’s Wretched Adventure

There is no better place to begin than with the quintessential tale of an unwilling adventurer —Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo is quite content in his happy little hobbit hole. He has his food and his routine. Then Gandalf, who sees something in Bilbo that Bilbo would never have imagined, chooses Bilbo for an adventure.  This comes in the way of a motley group of dwarves intent on rescuing their treasure from a dragon. To accomplish this, they need a thief. Bilbo is both mesmerized by their tale and appalled. It isn’t until he overhears them speaking disparagingly about him that his pride is offended.  He tries to prove he would actually be a good burglar when Gandalf steps in saying:

“Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.”

The next day, when Bilbo Baggins sets out on his own “wretched adventure”, he is initially immobilized by his lack of creature comforts.


“I’m awfully sorry, “said Bilbo, “but I have come without my hat, and I have left my pocket-handkerchief behind, and I haven’t got any money. I didn’t get your note until after 10:45 to be precise.”

“Don’t be precise,” said Dwalin, “and don’t worry! You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end…”

The Journey that Transforms

The first few days are quite miserable for Bilbo, but it isn’t long into the journey that Bilbo has an opportunity to prove himself. This is just the beginning though.  Bilbo follows what Joseph Campbell has titled the hero’s journey. This archetype is repeated throughout all the best heroic journeys like Star Wars and Harry Potter. It starts with a call into a new world or journey. As the hero progresses, they find a mentor to help guide them and they face challenges that increase in intensity until they face the greatest challenge of all. A unique part of this journey is the stage titled the abyss. Here the hero must face his or her greatest fear. It represents a testing unto death. It is here though that the true work of transformation occurs resulting in a rebirth. The final stage is the return home transformed.

pasted image 0

Bilbo’s greatest challenge (abyss) is surprisingly a moral battle instead of a physical battle–he has to choose what is right even though he knows he will be misunderstood. He goes home a changed hobbit–one no longer afraid of adventures and one more confident in himself.

The Believer’s Journey

We undergo a similar journey as believers. When we choose to follow God, we make a choice to leave our ordinary lives behind. We might, like Bilbo, be unwilling adventurers, afraid of giving up our creature comforts for the rigors of the road, but we too have been marked by one who knows us better than we know ourselves. We can trust that his choices are correct. We will struggle, but we shouldn’t be afraid. Joseph Campbell notes  “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Our points of greatest challenge are the places of greatest change and growth.

Our journey’s purpose isn’t to rescue a literal treasure from a dragon, but we metaphorically rescue the truth of who we are from the guardianship of the original serpent. Like Bilbo, we must find ourselves in the testing. Bilbo could not have been transformed unless he stepped up to each challenge. We too are invited to a similar battle though ours look quite different. We won’t fight giant arachnids, outwit elves and dragons, or rescue our friends from doom. Instead, we confront our own challenges, handpicked to slough off the extraneous and reveal the treasure within.

Choosing to Journey

If Bilbo had refused to go on the journey, the story would have been completely different. He himself would have remained unchanged, but the lives of those whom he saved would have suffered as a result of his absence. He had a part to play that no one else could play and one that ultimately led to the downfall of Sauron himself. All this depended on his being willing.

Those of us willing to let the journey do its work will have the adventure we were destined for. We must ignore the fear and choose to trust God who has planned it all.  If we do, we also will arrive in our true home, transformed and ready for eternity.

A Physical Redemption

hugues-de-buyer-mimeure-321544-unsplash

When I became a Christian, I wanted to make a clean break from the life I had lived before. Faith was a new thing for me, and it seemed that it should be radically different.  My idea was that a spiritual life should be, well, more spiritual–focused on things the eye couldn’t see.

However, no matter how much I wanted to stay focused on these spiritual things, I found it impossible to maintain a constant spiritual mindset. It was much easier to be influenced by the things I could touch, see, hear, and taste.

This push and pull of physical vs transcendent was exhausting. I was angry about my constant failure. This led me to dislike my very physical existence, seeing it as the cross I must bear.

Without realizing it, I had embodied the Platonic theory that physical was unimportant and spiritual was the true reality. I think it is precisely because of this philosophy that the church has struggled so very much with sin.

Sin is most often a physical act (we generally do not condemn people for thoughts though we recognize them as the source). It is when thought is given action that it gives birth to sin (James 1:15). There is a physicality to this–we steal, we lie, we cheat, we yell, we overeat, etc.

Perhaps there is a physicality to redemption also. We are physical beings, designed this way by God. Is it absurd to think that we can appropriate God’s grace and transforming work through physical acts?  

When Israel entered the promised land, they came to a land that still needed to be conquered. There was work for them to do.  No one would argue that God actually needed Israel’s help in this—Egypt proved that once and for all. For some reason though, Israel needed to participate in a physical way. Their actions infused with God’s power made a way that was only possible with Him coming alongside them. It wasn’t a matter of them being strong or cunning enough.  It was simply a matter of partnering with God and the work He was calling them to do. But they had to do it.

Perhaps in our own battle against sin, we can take hope in the physical acts of redemption. I don’t necessarily think this side of the cross that warfare is our mindset. He has already beaten the enemy that threatens us daily. Instead, we look to a new partnership of uncovering the redemptive work He’s already accomplished.

It makes me consider the sacraments in a new light—the taking of communion, the corporate prayers, the songs of praise, the reading of the Word. Not that salvation is accomplished through these tasks (the church has long settled these issues) but that there is still something beautiful and necessary occurring when we practice our faith together as believers. These physical acts help our bodies and spirit come into sync.

It’s not just corporate acts that have power to transform. The daily tasks of living that take up so much of our lives are no accident. It is His plan. These acts slow us down, give us time to think.

One of the characteristics of physical activity is that it is impossible to rush, at least not without consequences. Anyone who has ever made a pie or worked on a car can attest to this. The physical way is the long slow way of careful movement. It’s also the way of the incarnation.

Jesus didn’t show up a fully grown man. He earned his humanity one day, one breath, one action at a time. He disdained no part of the process.  We have no record of Jesus saying with frustration, “Can I get to the real reason I’m here already?” In contrast, we see Jesus patiently waiting for God’s timing, even rebuking His mother when she asks Him to act prematurely (John 2:4).

I find it mind-boggling to consider that the creator of the universe participated in the daily routines of life—eating, cleaning, sleeping, working. He took no shortcuts, had no exemption from the processes of a physical life.  And, most telling, his sacrifice was intensely corporeal. He was not a figurative offering but laid his very lifeblood on the altar.

For us, who are no better than our master, we must be patient with the work he is doing in our lives in the way he chooses. This act of living our physical lives is part of the process needed to transform us. There is no speedy or easy way to get to the end.

Solomon confronts the pointlessness of life in Ecclesiastes. Though he cannot find meaning in the activities of life themselves, connected with God and His purpose, he found hope. Hannah Anderson explains in All That’s Good that

What Solomon realizes is that our life on earth, all the things we experience, all the work we do, all the good things we enjoy, aren’t simply hurdles to the next life. They are designed by God to lead us to the next life. They are designed to lead us to Him. Like the grooves on a record, God’s good gifts are designed to draw us closer and closer to the center, to draw us closer and closer to eternity and to Him.

The purpose of our redemption is to bring us near to Him. Our lives, as they are now, are the means by which we cast off the old man and put on the new man, making us into a new creation able to enjoy the presence of God.

So, today, be mindful of the physical act of living. Don’t be so quick to rush to virtual worlds to escape. Instead, as you participate in life through spiritual disciplines or daily tasks, consider the work God is doing within you, transforming you from glory to glory.