Tyrion's Church Part 1: Source Material

May 28th, 2013

The sword and sorcery series by George R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire is a force in the literary market. The (so far) five novels in the series have sold in excess of 22 million copies, been translated into close to two score languages and dramatized in the HBO series titled “Game of Thrones.” They’ve also spawned several games and graphic novels, as well as securing a spot in TV’s nerd-chic sit-com, The Big Bang Theory. This is a successful set of stories.

Success in stories many comes from many sources. Success may lay in recognizable situations dealt with honestly, excellent use of language, and, in the case of this series in particular, honest characters and character development. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is populated with believable characters. The actors are complex, sometimes self-contradictory, sometimes self-delusional, violent, and morally ambiguous if not morally broken. These are characters well aware that we all make an almost infinite number of compromises as we make our way through life’s journey.

For a historical reference in our reality, one may think of the struggles between the English Houses of Lancaster and York back when the crown could be won on the battle field. In both our reality and the novels’ reality, large families vie for ultimate power. These families or “Houses” use skullduggery and slander, assassination and open war with massed armies. Magic is present but does not dominate.

Of all the characters in Martin’s fantasy world, Tyrion Lannister stands out as the favorite for many readers. Tyrion is the brilliant, angry, overlooked son of another major player in the political maneuverings, intrigues and wars in that fantasy realm. Tyrion is overlooked because he is a “little person,” a dwarf, and, as Tyrion claims, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eye.” Tyrion’s family has its dysfunctions. Tyrion Lannister’s father seeks imperial control through use of the tremendous wealth, military muscle, and wit at his disposal. His treatment of his dwarf son leads Tyrion to find his own way in the world while, simultaneously, becoming the most perfect representative of House Lannister. Tyrion develops an amazing set of survival skills in a world where life is often less than cheap.

Tyrion’s insights and survival skills may be a source of contemporary cultural insight for traditional churches. Life for traditional organized denominations and even several non-denominational Christian traditions has come unstuck since their previously esteemed positions in society of the early to mid-post World War II years. Traditional faith expressions are losing members and social importance at an accelerated rate. Adherents to those faiths are less supportive of their institutional frameworks than possibly ever before. Further, as Solomon well knew, wisdom is found in unusual places. So, looking to insights from a fictional character in a novel that has captured the imagination and interest of a large segment of the population may not be the worst thing we do in this time of vast and sweeping changes in the religious landscape of the United States.

The following guides (explored in this and two forthcoming articles) are all taken from various manifestations of George Martin’s character, Tyrion Lannister in the series A Song of Ice and Fire.

1. “Lannisters always pay their debts.”

This phrase is neither original to nor exclusive to Tyrion. Every member of the Lannister family knows in his or her bones that the family always pays what it owes. Coin, gold, wealth in whatever form available, is only the tip of the iceberg of what a Lannister pays. Loyalty is rewarded with gratitude, challenge met with defiance, and attacks invite death as the only payback. This phrase is the Lannister family Credo. True, the official motto of the family is “Hear me roar,” but what they believe, what gives them a point of view and motivation is the matter of debt, what they owe as a House or individuals and what they are owed as a House or individuals. When a Lannister makes a promise, then he or she will move heaven and earth to pay that promise.

Their actions certainly indicate that Lannisters often find the shortest route to paying off the debt they owe is between the fourth and fifth rib, straight into the heart. Still, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” At one point, when Tyrion finds himself on an auction block in a slave market (don’t ask, too long to get into at this point), he offers all the gold of the ancestral family home to the person who would buy his freedom. Readers have no doubt that Tyrion will honor such a debt. Of course, being a sly, cunning person with incredibly well developed self-preservation instincts, one may assume that Tyrion would still come out the better. Maybe he would have the gold transferred elsewhere. Or there is always the fourth and fifth rib approach to removing an inconvenience. But, the willingness to pay is there. The family creed is strong. One may imagine failure to pay a debt causing a psychotic break for a Lannister.

What is the central organizing principle for the church? What words are so much a part of our spiritual DNA that we cannot deny them and be Christian in any meaningful sense of the word? What is really our creed in its shortest, most concise form?

Isn’t “Jesus is Lord” the church’s equivalent to the Lannister’s belief? Yes, we speak of our “Baptismal Creed” and the “Apostles’ Creed” and several modern or ecumenical creeds. Those wonderful almost lyrical at times, phrase, though, expound on the basic, “Jesus is Lord.” If “Jesus is Lord” and we believe that absolutely, without question or reservation of any kind, then we can engage in honest discussions about the phrases found elsewhere. Until we believe that “Jesus is Lord,” all the way, in that part of a person that is virtual reflex, then all the other phrases can be and have been food for intellectual fodder. “Jesus is Lord” also has the benefit of brevity.

For much of the world outside church, all Christians seem to believe pretty much the same thing. Well, we do. We have a point of view through which and only because of which, the world makes sense. We have that central organizing principle that we neither created nor claim exclusively. “Jesus is Lord” directs how we use our time, our money, our brains, and our bodies. Once we live in the truth, the reality, the meaning giving vitality that “Jesus is Lord” offers, then we will move heaven and earth to live from that focal point. “Jesus is Lord” will allow Bible study to shape our living not just be memorization of long disappeared tribes. “Jesus is Lord” will direct of worship and our service, our formation programs and education efforts.


Next: Tyrion’s Church Part 2: Word and Sacrament

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