Wednesday, June 30, 2004


The Gospel According to Tolkien

There's little doubt that Tolkien’s purpose was determinedly Christian. But Tolkien did not intend a Christian allegory. He strenuously resisted being read as some kind of theological encoder; as he wrote in a letter, “I don’t feel under any obligation to make my story fit with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian thought and belief.”

Along with his good friend C. S. Lewis, Tolkien likely believed that thoughtful reasoning is inseparable from myth as a medium of truth. In 1931, Tolkien, writer of an epic myth, explained that "the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way."

We can look at Tolkien's epic myth to trace the way it is "consonant with Christian thought and belief.”

Tolkien sees the universe both as intrinsically hierarchical and intrinsically good. Some created beings are nobler than others, but all are good: wizards, high-elves, dwarves, hobbits. A hobbit is not a failed or faulty creation because he is not an elf or a man.

For Tolkien, as for St. Augustine, evil is not a positive reality, but a falling-away from the reality the creator planned for the creature. He speaks of evil as a marring of what was made, and as a shadow. All beings have been created good, even Sauron and his orcs. They fall away from their intended goodness by rejecting what their maker intended for them.

Rejecting one’s own created nature is the original sin.

Part of why the Ring tempts mortals so strongly is its promise to let them escape the physical mortality God has intended for them, which we'll get back to later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Tolkien and Christianity: A Meditation on The Lord of the Rings

What Was Tolkien Up To?

The movie installments of The Lord of the Rings should generate interest in the question of what J. R. R. Tolkien thought he was up to with that remarkable tale.

Tolkien was very much a Christian and very much a Catholic, and what he was up to was the reenchantment of the world. One of the chief virtues of fantasy is its power to make us see the ordinary things of the world, and the world itself, as new, strange, and wonderful.

Asked the really big question, What is the meaning of life?, Tolkien wrote this: “The chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis. . . . We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor. And in moments of exaltation we may call on all created things to join in our chorus, speaking on their behalf . . . all mountains and hills, all orchards and forests, all things that creep and birds on the wing.”

Tolkien as subcreator fulfilled his purpose as best he could. His vocation was to redeem the time through a Christ–inspired and God–centered mythology, to counter the dryness and devastation of the modern world with enchantment, to provide a glimpse of the True Joy, and to speak for all things: Valar, Maiar, incarnate angels, Elves, Dwarves, ents, hobbits . . . even modern men and women. His achievement helps one believe, indeed, that there is always hope.

Friday, June 25, 2004


Like a Ghost, Yet Not

There are, I allow, certain respects in which the risen Christ resembles the 'ghost' of popular tradition. Like a ghost He 'appears' and 'disappears': locked doors are no obstacle for Him. On the other hand He Himself vigorously asserts that He is corporeal (Luke 24:39-40) and eats broiled fish. It is at this point that the modern reader becomes uncomfortable. He becomes more uncomfortable still at the word, 'Don't touch me; I have not yet gone up to the Father' (John 20:17). For voices and apparitions we are, in some measure, prepared. But what is this that must not be touched? What is all this about going 'up' to the Father? Is He not already 'with the Father' in the only sense that matters? What can 'going up' be except a metaphor for that? And if so, why has He 'not yet' gone? These discomforts arise because the story the 'apostles' actually had to tell begins at this point to conflict with the story we expect and are determined beforehand to read into their narrative.

We expect them to tell of a risen life which is purely 'spiritual' in the negative sense of that word: that is, we use the word 'spiritual' to mean not what it is but what it is not. We mean a life without space, without history, without environment, with no sensuous elements in it. We also, in out heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen manhood of Jesus, to conceive Him, after death, simply returning into Deity, so that the Resurrection would be no more than the reversal or undoing of the Incarnation. That being so, all references to the risen body make us uneasy: they raise awkward questions.

-- C. S. Lewis from his book Miracles

Thursday, June 24, 2004


where is jesus?

Jesus, returned to the Father, had sent the Spirit. Was Jesus, therefore, finished with them? Did his ascent into the innaccessible heavens and the sending of the Spirit as his "replacement" mean that their contact with him was forever a thing of the past? Was he to be only a ghostly model to conjure in the mind but never to hold again in human arms? No; and this is not simply because Paul had taught them that Jesus was Lord of the Cosmos and they were his mystical Body. Such constructs are, in the last analysis, too cerebral to make a lasting difference in the ordinary lives of ordinary people like Prisca and Aquila.

The appearances that followed on the discovery of the empty tomb had given them a taste of Jesus risen and exalted. The disciples had, in effect, just caught him midway through his ascension from the realms of the dead--on his way to the Father's right hand. From time to time, long after Jesus's ascension, unusual individuals, like Paul on the road to Damascus, would be privileged recipients of such "out of time" appearances, as they may be even to our day.

But what of you and me, the less-than-privileged? What of folks like Prisca and Aquila, or tunic-making Dorcas and sleepy Eutychus, whom nobody would mistake for visionaries? Are we to be left only with faith?

-- Thomas Cahill

Wednesday, June 23, 2004



Don't I have a right to do what I want with my own body?

As long as my actions do not harm anyone else, I am free to do as I please with my own body.

That's the mantra of the new spirit of radical autonomy. Autonomy which includes independence from other human beings and even independence from God.

Is it true?

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Graduation and Engagement Party

Thank you everybody who came to celebrate the PhD with me on Friday and the engagement with Jessica and I on Saturday! It was a lot of fun and all of you who came made it especially memorable. I especially thank Jessica for Friday's gathering and Rene & Joann for letting us use their house on Saturday.

It's not often you get to be surrounded by friends and family and beat the snot out of a Care Bear.

Hopefully there will be other gatherings in the near future. John, Jenny, and Stephen are all leaving this summer to head out for higher education on the other side of the country and proper send offs are surely in order.

In other news, I had a good time with my mom and sister and her fiance Chris visiting. They went back today. My dad is still in town until Father's day. I think he's visiting my uncle Zip in Yucca Valley as we speak.

Sunday, June 06, 2004



loss and freedom

it is still and quiet now, unlike d-day

a day of many losses so long ago

a week of many losses too near to bear

a woman lost a cousin

a son lost his mother

a nation lost a leader

and june 6 many years ago,

many were lost in the fight for freedom

for their freedom and the freedom of others

all have passed from this world

to the land beyond

will we all meet again?

where the spirit of the Lord is

there is liberty

there is freedom and not bondage

who will free me from this body of death?

who will release me from this slavery?

will the author of freedom please stand up?

will he please write me in to the roll?

how will I respond to the freedom?

and what will I do with that freedom?

make choices

and live

and love