Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 3)

In this episode, we’re going to talk about some of the “meta-themes” in the Great Story and, since all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, we’ll look at some examples of the meta-themes we find in our favorite movies and epic stories.

Wayfarer Podcast Episode 10: A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 3)

You can subscribe to the Wayfarer podcast through Apple iTunes and Google Play.

Driving the Action

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
Matthew 17:9, 22-23 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting a message and the text was the raising of Lazarus in John 11. As we unpacked the story together, I made the point that Jesus was not a victim of the events around Him, rather Jesus was driving the action of the scene.

Whenever a writer crafts a story, play, or screenplay, he or she must be mindful of how to drive the action of the story and propel events forward. Sometimes action can be circumstantially driven when an event takes place which unleashes a subsequent series of events. In The Godfather, there is an unexpected attempt on Vito’s life and an attack on the Corleone family. [spoiler alert!] As a result of these events Vito’s son, Michael, who wanted nothing to do with his father’s illegal business will become just like his father.

Other times action is driven by a character in the story whose words and actions propel the story forward. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf makes a prophetic observation that even Gollum has some part to play in the events leading to the ending of the One Ring. Time and again Gollum’s mischief and machinations drive the action, even to the climactic moment of the epic.

One of the things that becomes very clear as we read the story of Jesus is that Jesus is driving the action. He is not a passive victim of others. He is not the victim of unexpected events that lead to execution. At every turn Jesus is driving the action which will lead to His arrest and even foreshadowing the events to come. In today’s chapter, Jesus twice refers to his death and resurrection. He knows what is coming because it was part of a larger narrative that He had storyboarded in the beginning, and had been prophetically envisioned for centuries (see Psalm 22 [c. 1000 B.C.] and Isaiah 53 [c. 700 B.C.]).

This morning I’m thinking that Jesus came with purpose. He was on a mission and He drove the action. What about me? What’s my mission? Do I act, think, speak with purpose, or am I passively awaiting for circumstances to drive the narrative of my life?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that Jesus told us to ask, to seek, and to knock. Those are not commands to be passive, but to participate with God in driving the action of our stories.

Featured image courtesy of bnorthern via Flickr

Pondering the Prophetic

Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
    the pride and glory of the Babylonians,
will be overthrown by God
    like Sodom and Gomorrah.
She will never be inhabited
    or lived in through all generations;
there no nomads will pitch their tents,
    there no shepherds will rest their flocks.
Isaiah 13:19-20 (NIV)

Prophecy is a part of the human experience. It is a mysterious thing, yet even our great stories are filled with it:

  • The weird sisters prophesy that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.
  • The otherwise prophetically inept Professor Trelawney utters the  prophetic words that speak of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort’s  connected fate.
  • Aragorn cites the words of Malbeth the Seer in making his fateful decision to traverse the Paths of the Dead.

I find it fascinating that our greatest stories quite regularly contain an element of the prophetic. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. The prophetic is a mysterious part of our human experience.

Reading and interpreting the prophetic writings of the ancient Hebrews requires knowledge, context, and discernment. The writing of the ancient prophets like Isaiah point to things that were, things that are, and things that yet will be. They are often woven together in a stream of poetic imagery that can be, and often is, misunderstood as we try to separate the strands.

As I attempt to understand the weave of prophetic strands in today’s chapter, there are two themes on which I find myself meditating this morning.

First, God was not opposed to utilizing kingdoms like Babylon and Assyria, to accomplish His purposes. This is not an isolated to occurrence. In fact, it is a recurring theme in the Great Story. From Balaam’s donkey, to the mysterious Melchizedek, to Rahab the prostitute, to the evil King Herod whose tax-raising census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, God uses a diverse and motley cast of characters and nations to drive the story line of history. This raises a number of fascinating questions. This morning, however, I find myself reminded not to try to put God in a box that He has not defined.

Second, I’m thinking about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, which are very visible today. While God used the Babylonian kingdom (despite their wickedness) and wove them into narrative in interesting ways, Isaiah’s prophecy is quite clear about the ultimate end (see the verses above). The ancient city of Babylon was, by all accounts, an amazing city. During two periods of history it was the largest city in the world. The hanging gardens there were among the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” But, within a few hundred years of Isaiah’s writing, the words of his prophecy would be fulfilled.

The ruins of Babylon are located just outside of Baghdad in Iraq, and can still be seen today. Despite Saddam Hussein’s failed attempt to resurrect the glory old city, Babylon remains “a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.” (Wikipedia)

In a time of political upheaval and present uncertainty, I find myself this morning taking quiet solace in the larger narrative of the Great Story, in the realization that God weaves many diverse Peoples and political regimes into that narrative, in the mystery of the prophetic, and in the present evidence of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words.

 

The Power of the One Ring (Not THAT One)

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’
Joshua 4:20-23 (NRSV)

I have a ring that is worn on a chain around my neck. Those who know my life-long love of Tolkien are likely to think it some homage to the ring of power in Lord of the Rings. The ring around my neck may be a ring of power, but its power is not in magic, elves, wizards, or the stuff of imaginative fantasy. The ring around my neck was a gift to me from Wendy. She gave it to me before we were married, and its power is in the meaning it holds for her, and for me.

The ring was and is, for Wendy, a special reminder of a waypoint in her own spiritual journey, and the things God had done in her heart and life. These things are a part of her story, thus they are hers to tell and I will leave it at that. When she knew that I was to be her husband and that God was bringing me into her story, the ring became a gift to me. It always hangs around my neck. It is a ring of power, even if its power is limited in significance to Wendy, me and God.

Memorial [muh-mawr-ee-uh l] noun. Something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, thing, etc.

In today’s chapter, the people of Israel were called to create a memorial. Twelve stones, one stone for each tribe, were piled as a reminder of what God had done in drying up the River Jordan so that they could cross. They would preserve the memory of that event. When future generations asked about the pile of stones, they could learn the story.

We generally think of memorials as a reminder of people after they die, but memorials can be a powerful tool in other ways. When God does something special or remarkable in the life of a person, a couple, or a family, it is an opportunity to create a tangible memorial of His faithfulness, provision, deliverance, miracle, answered prayer, or etc. The memorial can be a powerful reminder, even if its power or significance is limited to the person, couple, or family involved.

Today, I’m thinking about the ring that has hung around my neck for nearly 11 years, and the fact that 99.9 percent of the time I forget that it’s even there. But, I catch sight of it in the mirror as I shave, or I feel it pop out of my t-shirt when I bend over, and it reminds me of Wendy, her journey, and her gift. It reminds me in the moment of what God has done in her story, in my story, in our story. I am reminded once again of grace, provision, and redemption.

Therein lies the power of the ring.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Green God

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siegeworks against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20 (NRSV)

One of the things that I have quietly gained as a life long fan and student of J.R.R. Tolkien is an appreciation for trees. Tolkien loved trees and his expression of love is woven throughout his works. In his creation story, there are two trees, gold and silver, which produced light. When evil destroys the trees their fruit become the sun and moon.

Throughout the Lord of the Rings you find Tolkien’s love of trees expressed through Old Man Willow, the ents, and through the elves who dwell in the forests and carry the blessings of all things that grow. Those who are evil, like the wizard Saruman and his minions, fell the trees and destroy the forests to fuel their war machine and generally tear down that which is good. As a result, it is the trees embodied by the Ents and the mysterious forest of Huorns who rise up against evil and help usher in an unexpected victory in The Two Towers.

So it is that I read with keen interest God’s command to the ancient Hebrew in today’s chapter. The army was not to fell any tree that was living and bearing fruit. When laying siege to an enemy city, they could eat the fruit of the surrounding trees but were forbidden from cutting them down to use in building siege engines and utensils of war. Only trees which were already dead could be used for such purposes.

I am reminded this morning that our Creator and artist God began His work on earth with a garden, and at the center of the garden He placed a very special tree. The vision of the end given to us in John’s revelation likewise makes special mention of a tree:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:1-2

I am not much of a gardener and I often joke of having a “brown thumb.” Yet, along life’s journey I have grown to appreciate that God, like Tolkien, is a gardner and a lover of trees. If I am to be like Him, then I must grow to love, appreciate, and protect gardens and trees and the living things that grow in His creation.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: The Tree of Life , Gustav Klimt

The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

Prophecy in Story and Life

room of prophecy

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. Ezekiel 34:23 (NIV)

In recent weeks my heart and mind have been mulling over this idea of good stories being reflections of the Great Story that God is telling from Genesis to Revelation. And so, perhaps it’s no surprise that this morning I was thinking about all of the stories that contain the theme of prophecies:

In the Lord of the Rings:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

In the Chronicles of Narnia:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

In Harry Potter:

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies […] 

In The Matrix, The Prophecy was a prediction made by the Oracle and, as told to Neo by Morpheus, states the coming of The One and that it will herald the destruction of the Matrix and the freedom of humanity from their oppression by the Machines. Once The One enters the Source, he will have the power to destroy the Matrix.

These are just a few top of mind examples, but if you think about it for a few minutes you begin to realize that the theme of prophecy and oracles is found in stories from Disney fairy tales to Shakespeare.

One of the important things about reading the books of the Old Testament is to gain an appreciation for how the person, life and work of Jesus prophetically fits into the context of the whole story that God is telling. Ezekiel’s messages were written over 500 years before the events of Jesus’ earthly life, and yet they are an important prophetic link.

As Ezekiel writes his prophetic word picture of God’s flock in today’s chapter “the sheep” have already begun to be scattered. Assyria had assailed the northern tribes and taken them into exile in Persia. Babylon had already laid siege to the southern tribes and many, like Ezekiel himself, had been scattered to Babylon and surrounding areas. Ezekiel’s metaphor of a scattered flock would have deeply resonated with his compatriots.

Into this word picture comes a prophetic word through Ezekiel of one shepherd from David’s line who will be raised up to gather the flock. Then you fast forward 500 years to Jesus who was born a descendant of David (remember the Christmas story when they return to “the City of David” for Caesar’s census?). As Jesus is at the height of His teaching, the question everyone was asking him was: Who are you?

To those who knew Ezekiel’s prophetic oracle, Jesus speaks clearly:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Today, I am thankful for good stories. I’m thankful for prophecy both in stories and in life. I’m thankful for the Great Story that is being told and lived. I’m thankful for my place in it.

My Summer Reading List

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible reader. I envy those who can consume mass quantities of books, and I get jealous of people who write columns about the boat load of books they read over the summer months. Don’t get me wrong. I love books, but I read relatively slowly and books tend to stimulate my brain in such a way that I can barely get through a page before I’m thinking about how what I’ve just read relates to other things and I start pondering all sorts of connections and ideas. Pretty soon I’m staring off into space as my brain whirrs and minutes go by before I realize I better get back to the book. C’est la vie.

I made it a point this summer to actually get through a book or two, and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. So I’m giving myself a guilty pleasure of writing a post about my summer reading list.

Moneyball ImageMoneyball by Michael Lewis. I loved the movie and had been told by two people I respect (one who’s not a baseball fan) that the book was a must read. They were right. While the movie did a masterful job of telling the true and enthralling story, there was no way to relate on screen just how much Billy Beane and his stat geeks changed the game of baseball and why. I loved this book and it prompted a lot of late night baseball conversations. The book made me love the movie even more.

Holy Shit ImageHoly Sh*t (A Brief History of Swearing) by Melissa Mohr. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about Melissa Mohr’s book about how swearing has developed in the English language from ancient Rome to modern times. Swearing has always involved the profaning of the sacred (the holy) or exclaiming what is scatological (the shit). The real story is in how the pendulum has swung between the two in history. It’s a fascinating book and Mohr does a nice job of taking what is really an academic work and layering it with her own sarcastic wit. It’s a helluva good read.

Whos on Worst ImageWho’s on Worst by Filip Bondy. If you read this blog with any regularity you know that Wendy and I are baseball fans. This quick, trivial read is a fun look at the worst of the worst in baseball history. I was pleasantly surprised at how few Cubs actually made the list (you knew there had to be a few). Perhaps my favorite chapter listed the worst deals the New York Yankees ever made, paying players millions of dollars for a few hapless innings of work. Amazing. It’s an easy, enjoyable read for baseball fans. And, it may help win me a few game of Lunchtime Trivia at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Tolkien Letters ImageThe Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien. For a life long lover of Middle Earth, I can’t believe what a treasure trove Tolkien’s letters actually are. Sometimes personal letters are rather uninteresting, but Tolkien writes long letters to fans explaining things that have long eluded me about the mythology he created. I was amazed to discover in his letters just how central his personal faith (he was Roman Catholic) was to everything he did and wrote (he called Lord of the Rings essentially a religious and Catholic story). I was also fascinated to find out how often he references C.S. Lewis (it’s actually a lot) and what good friends and colleagues they were.

Saints and Sinners imageSaints and Sinners (A History of the Popes) by Eamon Duffy. I am not Roman Catholic (I have some irreconcilable differences on non-essential doctrinal issues with my Catholic brothers), but I have been fascinated by the long and complex history of the Popes who have shaped the history of the world. I found myself intrigued by the conclave that elected Pope Francis this past summer and have been impressed with the man himself. He’s a leader I could and would follow. So, on the recommendation of the Wall Street Journal I ordered Duffy’s survey of the popes. I’m just getting into it as I write this, but am finding his objectivity and honesty refreshing. It’s already stimulating and challenging my thoughts about the Great Story and the part the church of Rome has played in it.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 7

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobb...
Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[The wicked] dig a deep pit to trap others,    
     then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
     The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
Psalm 7:15-16 (NLT)

I just finished the unabridged audio version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings…again. Listening to the epic tale is sort of an annual pilgrimage I make while I spend time on the road. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the many themes Tolkien developed within this “leaf” he claims to have pulled  “from the tree of tales.”

I was struck once more by the very theme David brings out in the lyrics of today’s Psalm. Evil digs its’ own grave. The trap that the wicked lay for others springs back on themselves. The orcs at Cirith Ungol kill one another, allowing Sam to find and rescue Frodo. Saruman’s indescriminate attitude towards nature brings the unexpected wrath of the Ents which, in turn, brings ruin down on the kingdom he’d created for himself. Even Gollum, driven by his self-seeking addiction to the ring, ends up bringing an end to himself and it.

To that end, Tolkien weaves an interesting change in Frodo towards the end of the story. When the hobbits return back to their beloved homeland, they find it overrun with evil men and ruffians under the influence of the broken wizard, Saruman. While Pippin and Merry raise the Shire, realizing that the ruffians will only be driven out by armed force, Frodo becomes a voice for tolerance in the conflict. He refuses to take up arms. He stops fellow hobbits from indescriminate killing. He refuses to allow Saruman to be killed by a hobbit, choosing to let Saruman go to find his own evil ends (which he quickly does when his own wicked protege slays him).

Over time, Tolkein’s story, along with passages of God’s Message like today’s chapter, have influenced how I view and perceive others in whom I perceive wickedness of thought and action. I still have more questions than answers. Nevertheless, the older I get the more my scales of thought tip towards obedience to Jesus’ command not to judge others “for even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Five Movies I Can Watch Over and Over and Over and…

"Here's looking at you" again and again and again again

Five Things Friday presents a beautiful friendship of the cinematic variety. Here’s looking at the top five movies I can watch endlessly without every getting tired of them:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Henry V
  3. Last of the Mohicans
  4. Lord of the Rings
  5. The Hunt for Red October
Also ran….