Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Concerning Hobbits, Pt. 2

See Anke's work here:'re not quite finished with The Hobbit, and my landlady's child-like request to have it read to her just before bed-time is an ongoing source of affectionate bemusement to me.

Tolkien excels in describing the material world, the environment of forests and trees, lights and darks. He paints his hobbits as true Epicureans, shameless in describing how much the hobbits (and the elves or the dwarves) enjoy their drink - mead, ale, elvish wine, beer, etc. - along with their magical hosts - typically genteel vegetarians who put out cheeses and breads and honey and butter and fruits to feast upon.

I certainly don't suspect Tolkien of being a pre-PC vegetarian; in the stories of King Arthur and Medieval romances, meat being served (while traveling) was a rarity. The other items kept longer and, of course, in the case of cheese and wine merely grew better with age. But I find his Eden-like descriptions innocent in their lack of meat in the mouths of immortals.

He also has, between Beorn [in The Hobbit] and Tom Bombadil [in Lord of the Rings], very mysterious and powerful protectors of the woodlands and animals; they are ancient beyond time and not quite 'civilized' themselves. Little explanation is given, but I suspect Tolkien's great distaste of modernization and mechanization - coupling it with men's greed and expansive ruthlessness - is found in his giving prominence to these two guardian immortals of Middle-Earth. They care for the child-like hobbits and keep them safe, but warn them to 'stay inside' their residences each night and not to worry nor venture out from under their roof of protection.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and from that tradition, he was bound to pull from his heart and mind some Biblical allegories. I find similar things said of Yahweh in the Old Testament. I find His great promises of protection and guidance if the children of Israel will simply obey Him and trust Him. He is a fierce warrior Who feeds them and will fight for them.

But they must listen and heed His voice. Especially when it is dark outside.

Its funny, because one of the missed pleasures of many professing Christians is obedience. If we obey, we shall see what is good - though there may be trials, perhaps many trials - we will be taken to places of peace and joy.

So as I read The Hobbit to my landlady on an October night, with winds blowing outside, and the echo of autumn thunder in the background, I find myself content. I need no more than this, for this season. She has seen many battles in her home; now it is a place of peace. No longer do drugs and cursing and unhappiness taint its rooms, but rather God's Word lives here and is spoken day after day, week after week, year after year.

Compounding and amplifying this joy is the fact we are studying Ephesians, where Paul, a devout Jew, trained under Gamaliel, is affirming the non-Jews that God has also chosen them to be part of His people, His covenants, His promises, all because of Jesus Christ - and that is where the blood enters in.

It is not animal sacrifices that reconcile us to God. It is a Man's.

This is what protects us from the wrath of God. Like Beserker Beorn and Master of Woods Tom Bombadil, this fierce God of the Jews who would strike dead any who touched His ark of the covenant is now offering safety and peace to those who confess His Son's blood as the only true payment for sins. The only sure covering in a world of hatred and evil.

We in Christ may rest secure. A Lion protects us, for a Lamb has died for us.

Let the winds howl as they may. Let what strange dreams may come.

The hobbits are secure in the House of His Love, under His protection.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Concerning Hobbits, Pt. 1

I've been reading The Hobbit to my landlady these past two weeks and it has been entertaining, to say the least. I get to do all the voices - I use John Huston's voice for Gandalf - and try to keep the tone and flow of how Tolkien wrote (you know, those little asides where the storyteller explains how calling anyone, even a giant spider a 'Tomnoddy' is 'not very nice at all!'

Two things have struck me though. One, the plot structure is nearly the same as The Lord of the Rings. Visit hobbit who is quite content at home thank-you-very-much and move him out, put hobbit together with crew, get attacked on the way to Rivendell, fight monster after monster and have a big whopping army battle at the end before resolving and going back home only to find a mess to clean up.

I don't mind - my stuff is a bit formulaic too. But The Hobbit is more charming and less sophisticated, you really feel for poor Bilbo being dragged around and having to rescue everyone else only to get complaints from the 'rescued.' But what struck me as strange was just how dark and dangerous The Hobbit is - how MANY battles there are with LOTS of bloodshed.

This 'charming tale' wouldn't get past the first editor of children's books in a Christian bookstore if it had not already existed. It's PG to PG-13 for sure.

What I do like about it is that it is utterly clear that Bilbo wants NOTHING to do with adventures, prefers his quiet hobbit-hole at Bag's End and nearly faints at the mention of death or extreme danger.

By the time the book is over, you see this little suburban over-eater has gotten some wisdom and warfare under his belt. He's NOT noble - he's terribly practical but that is the saving grace when faced with the stubbornness of misplaced pride he finds in the treasure-seeking dwarves.

Oswald Chambers said something once about the Christian worker's sense of the heroic:

Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him.

Peter said - "I will lay down my life for Thy sake" and he meant it; his sense of the heroic was magnificent. It would be a bad thing to be incapable of making such a declaration as Peter made; the sense of our duty is only realized by our sense of the heroic. Has the Lord ever asked you - "Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?"

It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways.

We all want to do something big for God. Some of us have, in fact.

But it is obedience that matters, a surrender of our DAILY lives that have the most impact. Christian men who raise their children to respect and love their Lord; mothers who have learned not to be always fearful but ask the Lord Jesus for their "daily bread" - these hold the fort against all the exciting and alluring acts of disobedience and self-gratification that the world tosses at or into our culture today.

As the weather cools and we see the leaves fall, let us keep warm hearth fires burning - in gratitude to the Man from Galilee who gave us His life so we could be secure. Let us appreciate with grateful hearts what priceless pleasures are doled out in a hot cup of tea or freshly ground coffee served by hands that love us.

If we do this, we will be ready when He knocks on our door to go on an adventure with Him. We will know His kindness and grace first - and what He has first given to us in His abiding love- and with that knowledge we will go forth into such adventures as have never been seen or heard of by mortal men.

So - don't hurry past this season. Wait. Fill up with all the kind things God sends you. Thank Him and appreciate His gifts you never earned. Let Him love on you. If you do that, you will be filled to overflowing (cf. Psalm 23).

You will overflow with His love and grace and power and from THAT abundance you, little hobbit, can truly change the world.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 3

Leonard Nimoy struggled with recognition when he first began playing the now-famous Mr. Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The network was so concerned about Spock's 'Satanic' appearance that his eyebrows and pointed ears were airbrushed out. At one parade, he and William Shatner were sitting in a float, promoting this new show on TV called Star Trek, when the announcer proudly introduced Shatner and him as "Mr. William Shatner and Mr. Leonard NIMSY!!"

So Nimoy, already feeling the weirdness and humiliation (even from some of the stage hands) of wearing the ears, which meant he had to show up for makeup an hour before everyone else, went to Gene Roddenberry with his concerns. Roddenberry, struggling with everything else, finally told Nimoy - "Look - if the ear thing doesn't work, I swear Leonard, we'll write in a episode were Spock gets an ear job and then you can just look as normal as anyone else on the crew!"

Nimoy, assured by Gene's promise, immediately saw how ridiculous it was. He was the alien - he was HIRED to be the alien. He laughed, went back to work and began working on making Spock the character we know and love. A logical man but with deep feeling, trapped and honored at the same time by his culture. In the "Naked Time" Nimoy fought for a whole new scene where Spock would be isolated in the conference room and finally pour out his emotions. It was an insane time-crunch gamble - they had one take to get it right, due to union regulations, and that was it.

Nimoy & crew did it flawlessly -and the fan mail began pouring in.

Artistically, Nimoy fought to make an alien come alive - by showing his humanity, his flaws, his losses, his weaknesses. Knowing this, we loved the super-strong, super-smart Vulcan even more, not less.

I could talk about how we ought to be so vulnerable, but the fact is, in a fallen world, you get ridiculed and humiliated if you do - at least at the wrong time, in front of the wrong people.

But I think what Nimoy/Spock taught is that being alienated is not always a bad thing.

It may drive you to excellence. It may in fact be the reason you are where you are.

Jesus said something about not being like everyone else. He said we are to be the "salt" and "light" of the world.

Salt is a preservative and it adds flavor, life to old foods.

Light illuminates, casts out darkness, brings clarity and allows us to see where we are going.

But 'tasteless salt' and 'hidden lights' are no good whatsoever. And too many Believers - self included - think we are alienating others, when in fact, we are doing our job.

We are supposed to be aliens. We are supposed to stand out.

We are supposed to change the environments we are in.

If you are doing that, even in a slight way for God, congratulations.

If you are not, please be reminded - you are not here for any other purpose. Sure, we can airbrush you out to look normal, but you're not - and you are never going to be.

Jesus chose you to be His alien.

Be just that.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Star Trek Memories: Learning from Kirk & Co., Pt. 2

The beautiful Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols got real tired of getting less and less to say each week in the early days of Star Trek. She had gotten hired, but it began to get tedious for a wonderful actress to say again and again "Hailing frequencies open, Captain." So she went in and told Gene Roddenberry on a Friday afternoon that she quit.

"You CAN'T quit!"

"Gene, I just did!"

Then God intervened. Yeah, I think so. THAT Saturday, she had to go to a fund-raiser,a banquet of some sort. She was having a good enough time when some men came over and said a very, very big fan wanted to meet her. Nichelle, in real life, is a bit of "bad mama" - she doesn't know these "cats" but O.K. whatever. [Remember, this is the 1960s.]

Trekkers know who she met: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was mesmerized and praised her that she was on the show. Nichelle told him she'd just quit because of her lack of opportunity to say anything meaningful as a character. "Don't quit, Nichelle! Every time they see you, they see a black woman being treated as an equal, an officer - working in space!"

You know, we really do take that for granted now, but in 1966, that was an amazing view.

Nichelle saw King was right. It wasn't about her, but what she represented to so many. She went back to work Monday. Roddenberry gave Uhura more opportunities and if you notice, she is the only one constantly seen over Kirk's shoulder. In other words, every command chair shot that ain't an extreme close-up features Nichelle too. You couldn't escape her presence, which is exactly what America needed then.

Sometimes folks, you are not useful because of your work, but because of your presence.

This past week, I had someone leave my Bible study in a huff because we dared teach God elects people from before birth to know Him. This is straight from Ephesians, chapter one. Simply put, this person has spent too many years trying to be a Good Christian without realizing that God choose her, opened her eyes and placed her in a position to change the world. She's a great evangelist, but like so many go-getters, she doesn't realize that all she has done has been only because God called her FIRST.

A few days later, I get an e-mail that said she won't be coming back - citing her busy, busy schedule. I got to say that hurt. And so, like all mortals, I got angry as I thought about how patient we've been when she points out EVERY time she's there that the 'New Living Translation' is the one we should use. I do not kid. In 40 attendances/year, it has been mentioned each time. *sigh*

I've listened to her correct everyone in our group while holding some very conservative ideas that are not necessarily Christian. It was just a matter of time before God swatted her with His Authority to do as He wishes.

So I've been thinking about taking a break. Maybe I am trying too hard. If CHRISTIANS don't want to hear what God says, why bother? When so-called 'mission-minded' Believers get angry at the Bible's teachings or derail it with their fallen reasoning, why try to teach them at all?

Then God intervened as I was lapping up some self-pity.

This past week, not one, but TWO completely unrelated instances came up where I ran into formerly incarcerated men who told me how MUCH my teaching meant to them. One said "I'm going to church now because of you!" - another "I'm out, going to school and working part-time. I was in a bad place, nearly suicidal, and you helped me through it."

You need to know I never meet with my men after they are out. I tell them to find a good church and go, learning all they can about Jesus. So this double-whammy - one one day, and one the next, taught me a lot.

You cannot see all the impact of your life: it's too big - and really, that's God's job, He Who Created You.

But you can stay the course, accept He's using you to give hope and strength to those who need it most and will listen to His Voice.