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That Grendel is a border-stalker is fascinating and so worth pursuing, as you've done here. It got me thinking about Paul's words, "genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Cor 6:8-10) - they definitely have that liminal ring to them. Maybe there's a sense in which all genuinely Christian living in this world is to be found there often, too? But, yes, it is a dangerous place, given how susceptible to bitterness and "nursing a hard grievance" we are. When we're pushed to the margins we're at that same point on the border of another kingdom, one whose wisdom does not come down from heaven and is most definitely not peaceable (Jas. 3:13-18). But we can pray for one another, knowing that God gives grace to the humble.

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Wowowow! I LOVE that connection to Paul’s words. This is exactly right. We ought to expect to be border-stalkers, yet instead we expect White House appointments and celebrity. What a check this is. I highly commend Fujimura’s Culture Care to you. There are a few pages he spends talking about border-stalkers and I have starred, underlined, and marked nearly every line. At one point he even says they are “notorious.” My jaw dropped when I first read that since that nickname was given to me years ago as a result of being a border-walker.

These words from 2 Cor. are comforting me today. Thank you, Richard.

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I'll look out Fujimura's book - I started listening to the audio version of it on Scribd a few months back but never got too far, I think it's definitely one for reading. So glad 2 Cor was helpful.

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This section is about 1/2 or 2/3 of the way through the book. Just a few pages.

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So I got hold of Fujimura's book and finished reading it this morning - it's a breath of fresh air in so many ways and, for a pastor, a great sideways read (I'm still mulling over his words on the sheepfold and the location of the green pastures in John 10). Thank you so much for the recommendation! Btw, whenever I read the word 'notorious' I immediately have Duran Duran playing in my head...

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I am so thankful for this writing and for these comments! So timely. I’ve never heard the “boarder-stalker” wording and I feel so seen! I’m reading your new book alongside Guite’s “Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God,” and I will add Fujimura’s as well!

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Richard, I was just at a women's Bible study on the book of Romans, and I had some of the same thoughts about Paul keeping that tension between two worlds, but in this case it was from Romans 9 as he spoke of his longing that the Jews would embrace the gospel, but also rebuking them for not seeing God's plan all along that the Gentiles would be part of God's kingdom, too. The tension between the pagan world and the Christian world in Beowulf, and the resentment of Grendel as he listens to the partygoers in the hall, seems to mirror that difficulty the Jews had accepting the "younger brother" being welcomed and celebrated by the Father.

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Sep 13, 2023·edited Sep 13, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

It's fascinating, isn't it, just how frequently that kind of dynamic arises in scripture (which probably means we ought to expect it in our lives, too) and often with those we least expect portrayed in godly tones. One of the most surprising, at least to my eyes, is Luke quietly positioning Esau as a counterpoint to the Pharisees in the Parable of the Two Sons (if you're interested I wrote a short Substack piece about that somewhere... here, in fact https://thewaitingcountry.substack.com/p/written-off ).

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Thank you so much for sharing that! You even footnoted Romans 9 which quotes Malachi's juxtaposition of Jacob and Esau. In his commentary on Romans, Michael Bird makes the same point about how this isn't referring to individual election but about Israel and the Gentiles.

It's funny how we want to identify with the one who is given the blessing (or the hero!), but we can often act like the resentful one who is gnashing his/her teeth in the shadows. Henri Nouwen's book on the prodigal son explores Rembrandt's painting, showing how we might identify with different players in the parable. I wonder if we might identify with Grendel, too, and even have a bit of compassion for him? You bring up something like that in the post you shared...we can "write off" ourselves as well as others if we don't understand God's grace.

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Thanks for that, Carmon - I think I need to get hold of Nouwen's book, so many people reference it; sounds like a great way to go deeper into that parable. From memory, Mark McMinn also uses Rembrandt's painting at the start of his book Why Sin Matters (also a great read). Identifying with those wrapped in sin and feeling compassion isn't easy but I think you're so right that it's a posture and a response to cultivate, as those who owe everything to the Saviour who has so freely welcomed returning ones such as we.

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Thank you so much for doing these lessons on Beowulf, Karen. I'm reading Heaney's translation and Tolkien's essay along with your insights. Tolkien brings up the discussion about whether Grendel is a "devilish ogre" or a "devil revealing himself in ogre-form," settling on the former, saying that he can only bring about temporal but not eternal death. This contrasts with the dragon who eventually caused Beowulf's demise, the dragon/serpent representing something much more insidious in literature than mere monsters. I was inspired to write haikus because of pondering these ideas :).

Grendel, a monster,

Of this world was begotten.

He had a mother.

Dragons lie on hoards

Of treasure guarded–they lie.

Like father, like son.

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Oh, I love these haikus! They are perfection!

And I do love what Tolkien distinguishes here. Very helpful. I think I’m going to wrap up next week (we’ll see) and this helps nicely with the thoughts I have already.

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Sep 16, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

Love these haikus!

I’m immediately reminded of Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I know dragon imagery abounds, but that haiku is packed with meaning! Thanks for sharing!

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Great connection to Lewis!

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Sep 12, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

“But few understand, let alone love, the border-walkers.” So, so true. Attempts at engagement and reconciliation are often perceived as treachery by others. Yet, there is such a richness in inhabiting multiple worlds. It allows one to draw connections that are not possible in a single cloister.

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Exactly. And what do we have to be afraid of if we are seeking truth above all?

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Well, the truth isn’t always nice. 😬

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Sep 12, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

Thank you.

I feel like I should have learned about That pope and his plan and how that affects why the holidays are like they are.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of some people who i follow their work because they are border-stalkers. I want to be challenged. It helps keep my path flexible, my heart open, and my mind sharp. Even when I disagree, or maybe especially when I do, it is so beneficial for a full life. Otherwise, I end up in rut. And the deeper one allows a rut, the harder it will be to change course.

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We can learn so much even in disagreement.

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Sep 16, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

Really enjoyed reading your post Karen. While doing so I couldn’t help but think, “Hmmmm… Beowulf… The Wild Man… Border-Walker… Ohhhhh Jesus… in you and me… and they and them… Amen!

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Amen, indeed! It’s all there. So rich and complex—just like real life.

Thank you for reading and for joining us here, Danny.

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Sep 12, 2023Liked by Karen Swallow Prior

Loved the insights here, but I’ll have to go back and re-read, because I was so struck by the idea of Beowulf being a Christian text. I’ve just started teaching King Lear to my A Level class - their first time encountering the play, at least my tenth time teaching it. In introducing my students to its context I quoted a previous exam question describing it as a Christian play set in a pagan world. This is the first time I’ve introduced the play in this way and it’s been so helpful.

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I love that! I do think context in general--of whatever kind--can make literature come alive.

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Can someone tell me if the link to my podcasts and interviews works (in the first paragraph)? It’s a Google doc and I am not good with those. Thanks!

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Yep, it does for me - I heard the one with Russell Moore and found it really helpful (I think I'd finished the book by then and had also read Russell's) as well as the Holy Post one, again really good.

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