Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lions and Direwolves

There's a very popular book out.  It has incest, a lot of war, sodomy, adultery, and family is a big theme in it.  It's called the Old Testament.  Wait.  Did you think I was referring to another book?  Oh yes, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin has all of that too.  With family being so central to our religion, our scriptures, and our lives, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about family and what I see our western culture believes about the family.  In some ways, I can actually see this reflected in the fictional land of Westeros where Game of Thrones exists.

In Game of Thrones, there are a number of different noble families competing for the iron throne to rule the seven kingdoms.  Each family has their own unique set of flaws and characteristics that set them apart from the others.  In some ways, their flaws break their family apart.  In some of their characteristics, they bring strength to their family.  Of all the families, this is best seen in duality of the Lannisters and the Starks.

House Lannister

"A Lannister always pays his debts."
The Lannisters are pretty much the Malfoys of Westeros.  They are cunning, wealthy, proud, and pretty mean.  Jamie and his twin sister, the queen Cersei, have three children out of a secret incestuous love affair.  The Lannisters are power hungry and have a terribly complicated love/hate relationship that makes other sibling rivalries look like bromance.  Tyrion the dwarf, is the youngest of the Lannisters and is more tolerated by his siblings and father than anything else.

Like most of the characters in Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are more flawed human beings than outright evil.  When Jamie is humbled by having his sword hand cut off, he comes to show he actually cares for other people beyond his sister and children.  Cersei does awful things to anyone outside of her family but genuinely loves her children and her brother.  When her son, Jofferey, becomes a tyrant king she laments to Tyrion that the Gods have punished her incest by giving her Jofferey.  I would argue that the biggest flaw with the Lannisters is their xenophobia.  They see themselves as superior and trust no one outside of their family ties. (And often don't even trust one another.)  More on that in a bit...

House Stark

"Winter is coming."
Contrast to the Lannisters is the Stark family.  Honor is a central principle to them.  They are an up front lot and back stabbing ways does not come naturally to them.  Despite being from the cold north, the Starks are compassionate and warm.  Like the Lannisters, family is clearly important to them.  Unlike the Lannisters, the Starks are far more accepting and trusting of others outside of their family unit.  Ned Stark, brings home a bastard son from one of his military conquests and treats him as if he were of legitimate birth.  He also takes on a boy from a dispute with the Greyjoy family and raises him like his own.

Bran befriends a wildling woman, Osha, who tried to rob him at knife point but then becomes a trusted and even loving ally.  Interestingly enough, Osha is wary of a mystic boy and his sister who befriend Bran even though Bran shows trust in both of them.  At the end of the third season, Osha parts ways with Bran and to take the youngest Stark, Rickon to a group loyal to the Starks.  Bran ventures beyond the wall to unknown dangers.  Osha tells the mystic boy and his sister, "Take care of him.  He means the world to me."

In the events of the series, the Stark children become separated.  The war for them is about bringing their family back together again.  The Starks are sometimes betrayed by allies despite their admirable acceptance of others.  Though they are physically apart from one another, the Starks are the most unified family in the series.  Their dedication to ideas greater than themselves is what keeps them together in spirit and purpose even when it drives them apart physically.

For example, the mother Catelyn, insists on staying by Bran's bedside when he is in a coma from a fall.  It isn't until an assassination attempt on Bran is made that Catelyn realizes that something darker and more dangerous is at work.  She realizes that staying by Bran neglects Rickon and she does nothing for Bran by staying by his bedside.  Perhaps she feels guilt of being a "bad mother" like she could have prevented the fall somehow.  Instead of continuing to be at Bran's side, she instead dedicates herself to bringing justice to Bran's assassination attempt and to uncover the plot threatening the realm.  Though it requires her to leave her son she does more for Bran committing herself to her values and principles.
A hilarious "Disney" version of Bran and Hodor.  I thought it was appropriate for this blog post.  Ha ha.

A Lesson from the Lion and the Direwolf

The Lannisters are a foil to the Starks.  In some ways, they can be foils for each other.  The Lannisters exemplify unhealthy relationships in the family whereas the Starks exemplify healthy interdependence.  On one hand, you have a group of cunning people that have risen to power and on the other hand you have a group of honorable people that has been betrayed repeatedly.  We actually can see lions (Lannisters) and direwolves (Starks) in our western culture in and outside of the church.

The big lesson to learn from the Lannisters is the destructive nature of codependency in the family.  Having been part of different support groups, I've found that codependency is quick to be pointed out in non familial relationships but often completely ignored in family relationships.  The unfortunate reality is that unhealthy emotional attachments in the family is the norm.  It's a toxic epidemic in our society and we even see it in the church.

So how do we know a relationship in our family has become unhealthy?  Let's see if the lions of Westeros can give us an example.

Cersei Lannister is the power hungry queen of Westeros.  When her son, Joffery, becomes the King she realizes that she can't control him.  Joffery betrothes Lady Marjorie Tyrell who proves to control him far more than Cersei.  Cersei becomes jealous and starts to hate Marjorie despite bringing happiness to her son and the good of the realm.  Jealousy is a big indicator of an unhealthy component in a relationship.  Is it natural?  Sure.  Things get unhealthy when the jealousy fuels manipulative and shaming actions.

How does a direwolf deal with jealousy?  Let's have a look at Catelyn Stark.

In the first year of their marriage, Ned Stark returns home from war with a bastard son in his arms.  Though Catelyn and Ned barely know one another (arranged marriage) Catelyn comes to hate the boy.  She treats him differently from her other children whereas Ned treats him like a legitimate child.  Catelyn later says this to her daughter-in-law of the bastard, Jon Snow,
"When my husband brought that baby home from the war, I couldn't bear to look at him, didn't want to see those brown stranger's eyes staring at me. So I prayed to the gods 'Take him away, make him die'. He got the pox and I knew I was the worst woman who ever lived. A murderer. I'd condemned this poor, innocent child to a horrible death all because I was jealous of his mother, a woman he didn't even know! So I prayed to all Seven Gods 'Let the boy live. Let him live and I'll love him. I'll be a mother to him. I'll beg my husband to give him a true name, to call him Stark and be done with it, to make him one of us'...And he lived. And I couldn't keep my promise. And everything that's happened since then, all this horror that's come to my family... it's all because I couldn't love a motherless child."
Jon is raised as a high born.  The Starks love him except for Catelyn.  Ideally, Catelyn would have loved Jon despite her jealousy but doesn't.  What sets Catelyn apart from Cersei is her ownership of what she feels.  Catelyn actually recognizes another human being outside of her family, albeit a little too late.  Also, despite her jealousy, Jon still lived a good childhood.

There's more to read in the story of these two families and the dynamics of their relationships.  The big takeaway is to be more like an honorable direwolf than a cowardly lion.  Our dedication to our beliefs does more for our family than any amount of time we can spend with them.  We can teach our children to be courageous and to set boundaries and be examples for what we believe. We don't have to be afraid of the world outside of the walls of our home.  Betrayal and hurt are legitimate risks and they are worth it if it means a better Kingdom of God.


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