Tag Archives: Tolkien

Apocalypse, World View and Work

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:44-45 (NIV)

Whether we know it or not, each one of us approach life with a certain ingrained perspective. It’s called a world view and we each have one. Our world view determines how we perceive and react to events and circumstances around us. If something happens that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view, it can be rather disconcerting.

I thought a lot about world view this past November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Presidency. It was an event that most of us never could have imagined happening. We know that anyone can run for President, but we’ve come to expect from history that the winner is always going to be a member of the political establishment.

The election results definitely shook things up, and with it came all sorts of apocalyptic thinking. I still feel it simmering beneath the surface of news articles, posts, and current events. Along my life journey I’ve noticed this pattern in human behavior. If we’re rattled hard enough we go into doomsday mode.

As I sat in my hotel room on election night at 1:00 a.m. swapping text messages with Wendy and Taylor I got to thinking about world views. Among followers of Jesus the prevailing world view has been a predominantly medieval one in which things are going to get worse and worse and worse and worse until the very end when Jesus returns in a eucatastrophic moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a teacher of medieval literature and his epics reflect this world view. Saruman is a great example of how Tolkien viewed modern man felling the innocence of the trees to fuel his machines of war. (Interesting to think how serving in WWI and living through WWII may have affected his world view. ) Darkness grows and spreads until the forces of good stand on the field of battle outnumbered and hopeless. Then at the darkest moment something happens to miraculously bring about unexpected victory. That’s what he called eucatastrophe.

There is another world view among followers of Jesus, however, that holds that things are actually getting better [cue: The Beatles’ It’s Getting Better All the Time]. It’s the “glass is actually half-full” world view. This world view holds that despite the headlines and 24 hour news channels skewing our perspective by bombarding us with the latest tragedies from around the globe, the situation world-wide is actually better today than at any point in human history. There’s less disease, life spans are the longest they’ve ever been, things are safer than they’ve ever been globally, and food production is the highest it’s ever been around the globe. Poverty world-wide is lower than its ever been in history and what we would call “poor” in today’s world is far different (and better) than our definition just a generation or two ago.

In today’s chapter Jesus gives his followers some generalities about what’s to come in the future. It reads like the medieval world view with wars, famines, false messiahs, and Jesus returning when no one is expecting it. Even in the description Jesus admits that He does not know the exact timing of events.

These things are fascinating to think about, and many people dedicate much of their lives to studying eschatology and all the various theories of the end times. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of charts, graphs, opinions, and theories about what’s to come.

I found it interesting that Jesus concludes His apocalyptic overview with a parable of a servant in charge of feeding his master’s servants while the master is away. When the master returns the only question was whether or not the servant was found doing what he was supposed to do. Jesus’ message is clear: Don’t worry about these ordained events that I cannot control. Worry about being faithful to do each day those things I am called to do. Actively love God. Actively love others. The rest will take care of itself.

On election night our daughter asked me to text her something wise. I don’t know how wise my message was, but I gave her my perspective at that moment. Donald Trump may be President, but the next morning I was going to get up, go to work, and do the things I do everyday. Just like I did when Obama was President, and Bush 43, and Clinton, and Bush 41. Life goes on. My job is to focus my time and attention on my spheres of influence and doing the things I’m called to do to the best of my ability.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do 😉

Faith, Faery, and The Artist’s Way

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Matthew 11:25 (NIV)

Many years ago I picked up a book called The Artist’s Way and embarked on its path. The Artist’s Way is a course designed to help anyone tap into spiritual, creative flow. It was a life-changing journey for me, and God is still leading me back to its principles over and over again.

There are two foundational activities required of pilgrims on The Artist’s Way. The first is called morning pages, and it’s the simple act of waking each morning, immediately sitting down and writing three pages, long hand, stream-of-consciousness. Morning pages help empty the mind and spirit of all the crud that we didn’t even realize were gumming up the works. The second required activity is called the artist’s date. It is quite simply letting your adult self recapture the act of playing; Giving yourself permission to indulge, explore, imagine, touch, smell, taste, and see whatever it is your spirit finds fascinating. As the morning pages make way for fresh flow, the artist’s date begins to “fill the well.” It is a simple two-step process. And, it works.

This morning I was reminded of The Artist’s Way as I read the chapter. Jesus reminded His listeners that the things of God are hidden from the “wise and learned,” their minds gummed up with important things; Their spirits shriveled and sucked dry by the urgent cares and anxieties of the world. The things of God are revealed to children and to the child-like spirits whose minds are open and tapped into God’s flow, their willing hearts open to the wonders of faith.

I’m also reminded that the learned and wise C.S. Lewis first experienced what Jesus was talking about one day after a walk and conversation with his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. What was the subject of the conversation that led to Lewis’ conversion to Christianity? Tolkien’s belief that Faery stories are “real.”

Eucatastrophe and Resurrection in a Thin Place

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:54

I am a geek at heart. Exhibit A is my life-long love for the works of Tolkien. I recently finished listening to the entire audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings and am now reading The Silmarillion again. They call me back again and again, an my appreciation only deepens each time I pick up the adventures.

Tolkien himself coined the phrase eucatastrophe to describe the moment when the tide turns and victory is gained amidst in the moment when defeat seems a sure thing. Eucatastrophe would be a theme that he used again and again:

  • Most famously, the arrival of the eagles both at the Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit, and at the Battle of the Black Gate in The Return of the King.
  • Gollum’s final treachery that is the salvation of Frodo
  • When Gandalf arrives with Erkenbrand at the battle of Helm’s Deep
  • When the Ents and Huorns rise up unexpectedly against Isengard
  • The arrival of Aragorn upon the Corsairs of Umbar

Tolkien loved the dramatic moment when the light of hope springs unexpectedly in the deepest darkness. In his personal letters (which I have also read; behold Exhibit B of my geekiness), Tolkien explains that the model of eucatastrophe, and its greatest example, is the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.

In today’s chapter, Paul argues for the resurrection of the dead against those in the city of Corinth who were teaching that there is no life after death. Paul, who had a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Jesus (read Acts 9), now explains that if there is no life after death then the whole of Christian belief is null and void. If there is no life after death, then his life-changing encounter was nothing more than a hallucination; His work to share the message of Jesus to the world a huge waste of time and energy.

It is Paul’s description of resurrection in today’s chapter that brings Tolkien’s eucatastrophe to mind:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

This morning I sit with my cup of coffee at the lake and watch the warm sun coming up over the back of the cove, where bald eagles often roost. Staring back at the treeline I, from time-to-time, get to shout “The eagles are coming!” This is, for me, a thin place; An earthly location where the impermeable veil between the mortal and immortal becomes sheer. Eucatastrophes of various shapes and sizes are experienced here. In this place my faith in resurrection takes shape and mass. 

Fill in the Blank

Source: Doug Floyd
Source: Doug Floyd

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
     my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

    my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
    from violent people you save me.
2 Samuel 22:2b-3 (NIV)

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I’m a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. If you pick up a copy of the final book of his Lord of the Rings trilogy and quickly page through it, you’ll find something rather interesting. There are hundreds of pages of supporting documentation and appendices at the end. These aren’t necessary to the main storyline, but provide those who want to explore the world of Middle Earth with a ton of extra information. For example, in the Lord of the Rings films there is a romantic storyline between Aragorn and Arwen that is only hinted at in Tolkien’s narrative. The story of Aragorn and Arwen is actually found tucked into the appendices at the end.

The final few chapters of 2 Samuel are similar in nature to the appendices at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy. David’s storyline starts in 1 Samuel, continues in 2 Samuel and basically ends with the restoration of the kingdom after Absalom’s rebellion. For the next few chapters we are given some supporting documentation including, in today’s chapter, a copy of the lyrics to one of David’s many songs.

As I read David’s song lyrics I wondered why this one was chosen for the appendix to David’s story. I asked myself in what ways this song is a good summation of David’s life and experience. One of the things I noticed about it was the way David bookended the song with the metaphor of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge. So much of David’s life journey hinges on those many years living in the caves in the wilderness of southern Israel and, in particular, in the cavernous fortress known as the Cave of Adullam. For David, the word picture of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge is very personal to his own journey and experience.

But what about me? I appreciate David’s word picture, but rocks, caves, fortresses and strongholds have not been party of my personal journey living in Iowa. If I were writing a song and wanted to paint a word picture of God that is personal to my own journey how would I fill in the blank at the end of the lyric “God is my __________” ?

That’s what I’m pondering today. Check back with me in a day or two and I’ll tell you what I came up with. (Feel free to think of your own and share it with me, btw)

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