Inklings of Truth


Great Expectations: 

Lessons from Loxley

By Audrey Stallsmith

We recently watched the latest version of Robin Hood--the one starring Russell Crowe.  Very violent, of course, but I imagine that violence reflects the 13th century time period quite well.  And the makers have obviously gone out of their way to try to make this film as authentic as possible.

I'm impressed that Crowe's Marian is actually close to his own age rather than being the usual young thing.  In this version, Robin is a common soldier and the son of a stone mason, rather than Robert of Loxley--who has been killed in an ambush on his way back from the Crusades. 

But, at the request of Loxley's blind father, Robin  assumes the dead man's identity for a while to help defend the widowed Marian.  This being a time period when a woman would have found it almost impossible to hang on to her property without male protection.

We Christians are also required to fill a Son's place while He is gone from the world.  C. S. Lewis calls this "dressing up as Christ.  If you like, you are pretending.  Because. . .you are not a being like the son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father:  you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death.  So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek.  But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it."  

I imagine the movie, which occurs shortly before the signing of the  Magna Carta, is meant to be all about the rights of the common man.  But, soon after the donning of Loxley's chain mail, the common Robin actually begins to act like a lord.  By wresting  seed grain away from the church, he assumes responsibility for feeding the people on Marian's estate.  And he also comes, somewhat belatedly, to their rescue later when his "father-in-law" is killed.  In fact, Robin is soon addressing councils and leading battles as if he'd been born to it!   

But, like the best leaders, he assumes responsibility without abusing his power.  He actually helps sow that grain.  And, while his friends are wenching in the village, he sleeps on Marian's hearth with the dogs rather than forcing her into a physical relationship with him.  In other words, though--as Marian points out--he looks like a yeoman (farmer), he behaves more chivalrously than most of the real knights do. 

As Lewis points out, "there are two kinds of pretending.  There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing. . .But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. . .Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already."  In other words, the more we force ourselves to act in a Christ-like manner, the more like Christ we will really become. 

We do have one advantage that Robin doesn't.  He has only a brief encounter with the dying Loxley on which to pattern himself.  We actually have the Son's spirit within us.  You can say that we Christians too were raised "above our place" when we became sons and daughters of God after Christ's death.  We can either assume that responsibility rightly--as Robin did-- by becoming servants to our fellow men, or wrongly by trying to wield power over them.

Of course, this metaphor breaks down before the fact that we were never commoners, but always children of God--just estranged children.  And it took the death of the only faithful Son to bring us back to our mutual Father.    

Fortunately, we humans do often seem to be able to "rise" to meet expectations.  Or, vice versa, we tend to plummet when little is required of us.  I suspect this is one of the reasons children born into poor circumstances often do go to the bad--because nobody is anticipating anything better from them.  In fact, people often make dire predictions about where those kids are going to end up instead.  And the kids feel that they have no choice except to fulfill those predictions.

But the child who has at least one parent, teacher, or other mentor who believes in him/her often succeeds in confounding expectations.  So, to those of you who don't have that advantage--or think you don't--I can only say that God Himself expects great things from you. He counts on us to take the place of Christ, in representing our Father to the world.

Since God knows even better than we what common, weak, and sinful creatures we are, we frequently find it hard to believe that he would entrust so much to us.  In fact, we sometimes think that he must trust us a little too much!

But, then, good parents do that.  Child-care expert John Rosemond believes that modern parents too frequently cater to their children, never forcing those children to take any responsibility for themselves.  Thus turning those children into weak, whiny creatures who never really grow up.

God doesn't do that.  Having given us His Spirit, he expects us to be able to handle some pretty daunting tasks--with little in the way of actual instructions.  After all, we have Christ's example as our guide.  And, fallen though we may now be, we were originally made in God's image.  So there is royalty in us somewhere.

It may have been risky for the senior Loxley to ask Robin to take the place of his son.  Especially so, since the old man was blind, and couldn't even see the man to whom he was entrusting such responsibility.  But he had known Robin's real father, and assumed there was more to Robin than met the eye.

People who know we claim God for our Father have a right to expect big things from us too.   Robin doesn't appear to be a rousing success in this movie, because he is branded an outlaw after he fails to coerce the king into signing a charter.  But I'm sure any knight would consider himself a success when he wins his lady's hand. And, hey, the Magna Carta did get signed eventually! 

Granted, Robin's accomplishments or lack thereof are strictly fictional.  But, in real life, what we see as failure and what God sees as failure are two vastly different things.

I recently read an on-line account of a Swedish missionary called Svea Flood, who gave up a singing career to become a missionary, and died in the Belgian Congo at age 27 after  converting only one boy.  Her husband was so embittered that he abandoned the mission field altogether.  But that one child to whom Svea entrusted her message eventually succeeded in converting the rest of his village of at least six hundred people.  Although I couldn't find his name mentioned anywhere on-line, that child obviously proved more capable of rising to expectations than Svea's husband did.

Most of us have learned that it is safer to lower our expectations, both of ourselves and of others.
If Robin had stayed in his "proper place," instead of starting his own "crusade" to change the world, there would have been considerably less danger for him.  Probably considerably less disillusionment also.  But considerably less love and living too.