Sunday, August 19, 2012

Catastrophic Events

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

In his essay called "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien coined a new word to describe an event at the end of a story that suddenly brings about a good resolution when all hope seems to be lost: eucatastrophe, which literally means "good catastrophe." A eucatastrophe is not the same as deus ex machina – it is an event that, while sometimes implausible or just in the nick of time, nevertheless has been set up earlier in the story and does make sense to the narrative, rather than being something completely new that suddenly appears out of the blue right when help is needed.

Eucatastrophes don't have to be positive events themselves. In fact, by definition it is still a catastrophe, no matter what good comes of it in the end. When we last saw Bilbo, he, Gandalf, Bard and the men of Lake-town, and the Wood-elves were trying to negotiate with Thorin and the dwarves for the portion of the treasure stolen from the men's ancestors. Thorin finally agreed to trade Bilbo's share of the treasure for the Arkenstone, but all sides knew that he had no intention of actually following through on his plan.

Now, the men and elves are besieging the Lonely Mountain fortress and Thorin's cousin Dain has just arrived with reinforcements for the dwarves. Battle between the two sides is now imminent and unavoidable. Into the midst of this tense situation, however, comes word of a more serious threat: Goblins from the Misty Mountains are on their way to avenge the death of the Great Goblin and many others of their compatriots at the hands of Gandalf, Thorin, and company towards the beginning of their journey. Tolkien tells us that "the Goblins were the foes of all, and at their coming all other quarrels were forgotten." Dwarves, men, and elves now band together to face the new threat and vanquish the evil that threatens them all, in the process forgetting what now seem to be petty squabbles.

The coming of the Goblin army is definitely a catastrophe – in the ensuing Battle of Five Armies, many allies' lives are lost (including Thorin's) and the Goblins almost win the day. The end result, however, is that the allies remain friends, compromises are reached, fences are mended, and alliances are strengthened. It is not merely a catastrophe, it is a eucatastrophe because many good things do come out of it.

Everyone experiences catastrophic events in their lives. The key lesson is to remember that God turns catastrophes into eucatastrophes. We may not recognize this until we look back after the fact, but even in the midst of negative circumstances we can still trust God to walk with us and we can have faith that better days are ahead.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gold Fever

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

The dwarves have found their treasure and dragon guarding it has been vanquished. While the men of Lake-town are busy dealing with Smaug and his aftermath, the dwarves are already counting and dividing and dreaming about what they will do with their shares of the gold and jewels. Even little Bilbo is not immune from the sickness – when he happens upon the Arkenstone, a magnificent jewel that belonged to dwarf leader Thorin’s ancestors, he takes it and hides it away, never telling anyone he has it even as he watches Thorin search for it day after day. 

Bilbo is not totally beyond help, though, something which is made apparent even as the dwarves prove right what Paul said about the love of money and the roots of evil. A large company of men come from Lake-town to talk with the dwarves and to reclaim the portion of the dragon hoard that had been stolen from their ancestors who used to live near the Lonely Mountain. They feel that it is only right for the dwarves to grant them this, especially considering the fact that Lake-town was destroyed because they helped the dwarves on their quest and that one of their number was responsible for Smaug’s death. The dwarves, unwilling to concede, barricade themselves inside the mountain and refuse to talk with the men or come to any kind of compromise. Seeing that the dwarves are hell-bent on bringing about their own destruction, whether through battle or being besieged, the little hobbit takes his burgled treasure and slips unseen to the camp of the men. He presents the Arkenstone to them as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with stubborn Thorin.

Thorin is incensed at the idea of trading the men’s treasure for the jewel, however – why should he have to pay for what is rightly his? He is even angrier when he discovers that it is the betrayal of Bilbo that has put the stone in the men’s hands. At this point, knowing that he was wrong to take the Arkenstone to begin with, Bilbo takes the high road in the situation and attempts to make amends – he asks that the jewel be considered his 1/14 share of the treasure, which he will then trade for a share of the gold and other treasures. Then, he will give his share to the men, keeping nothing for himself, because as much as he covets the Arkenstone, he values more his own wellbeing and peaceful relations between all parties involved.

Like Bilbo, we don’t always do what is right, and we become overly possessive of things instead of keeping our eyes on God. At some point, however, we can make the choice to continue to be like Bilbo and find ways to compromise and to make peace with others, turning our eyes back to friendship and harmony – the kinds of treasures that won’t rust and can’t be taken from us by thieves, dragons, or dwarves.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Count Your Blessings

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 107:1)

While the dwarves explore the vacant (for now) lair of Smaug the dragon and begin to inventory the treasure therein, the people of Lake-town are having a different experience altogether, bearing the brunt of the dragon's anger towards the invaders of the Lonely Mountain. Smaug is killed, but not without great cost to the townsfolk. Tolkien describes the aftermath thus:

The waxing moon rose higher and higher and the wind grew loud and cold. It twisted the white fog into bending pillars and hurrying clouds and drove it off to the West to scatter in tattered shreds over the marshes before Mirkwood. Then the many boats could be seen dotted dark on the surface of the lake, and down the wind came the voices of the people of Esgaroth lamenting their lost town and goods and ruined houses. But they had really much to be thankful for, had they thought of it, though it could hardly be expected that they should just then: three quarters of the people of the town had at least escaped alive; their woods and fields and pastures and cattle and most of their boats remained undamaged; and the dragon was dead. What that meant they had not yet realized. (Chapter 14)

This passage reminds me of a recent Sunday School lesson on the Israelites, who often seemed less than grateful for their new-found freedom from slavery as they wandered in the desert. Many times they questioned Moses's leadership and complained that he had brought them out of Egypt just to die in the wilderness – it was better when they were slaves because at least then they had plenty of food to eat and water to drink. It didn't seem to matter that God had helped them escape from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, and given them manna and quail to eat, and water from rocks, providing for them every time they needed something.

We're not much different sometimes. Overwhelmingly negative circumstances can distract us from acknowledging the ways that God continues to take care of us and provide the things we need most. May we be ever mindful of God's providence, both when times are good and when times are bad, so that no matter what happens we can recognize and be thankful for what we have.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Still, Small Voices

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:11-13)

While the dwarves have been exploring Smaug's treasure hoard, things have been much different and much worse for the people of Lake-town. Not able to catch the dwarves hiding in the tunnel, the dragon turns his wrath on the men living on the lake because he knows they had to have a part in helping the invaders of his lair. The buildings are on fire and people are running for their lives, frantic to escape the fiery beast that is bringing terror and destruction upon them. In the midst of the chaos, one man continues to shoot arrows at Smaug, seemingly in vain, even after all the other defenders have given up and fled for their lives. His name is Bard, and just before he lets loose his last arrow, a small bird lands on his shoulder and tells him everything that he has overheard the dwarves and Bilbo discussing, including where to find the one tiny place on Smaug's chest where he is missing a scale. On the dragon's next pass over the town, Bard waits, spots the vulnerable place, aims carefully, and shoots, successfully vanquishing the dragon once and for all.

Bard didn't learn of Smaug's weak spot from a scholarly book on the subject of dragon-killing, and there was no military commander barking out the order to shoot his arrows. Help came from the wise words of an unlikely messenger – a little bird perched on his shoulder. Furthermore, he didn't shoo away the creature or dismiss its words because of its seeming insignificance but took its words to heart and was successful as a result. May we, too, remember to listen for the still, small voice, and pay attention to the unlikely messengers that God sends our way to help us defeat our monsters or just find our way along the journey.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Darkness and Light

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Thanks to several carefully-placed blows of Smaug's tail, the dwarves can no longer use the secret door to exit the Lonely Mountain. To pass the time, they decide to accompany Bilbo on his next trip down the tunnel to the dragon's lair. Smaug is still not at home, so they decide to explore a bit, but not without sending the burglar out first, of course. Bilbo takes a torch with him, and the dwarves watch as the light becomes smaller and smaller, marking the hobbit's progress farther and farther into the vast hall. 

Suddenly a bat flies close to Bilbo's head, causing him to drop the torch. Alone in the darkness, Bilbo calls for help:

"'Thorin! Balin! Oin! Gloin! Fili! Kili!' he cried as loud as he could – it seemed a thin little noise in the wide blackness. 'The light's gone out! Someone come and find me and help me!' For the moment his courage had failed altogether."

Help arrives fairly quickly, of course. Once he sees the light of the dwarves' torches across the room, Bilbo's courage returns and he starts towards them, meeting them before they have come very far along the wall.

There are many situations that can cause us to feel that we are all alone, just a tiny speck in the vast darkness. Thank goodness for the light that takes away our fears and comforts us in the blackest of situations, and thank goodness for the friends who sometimes serve as the bringers of that light, reminding us that we are not alone after all.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pay Attention to the Map

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We arrive at last at the goal, the imposing and threatening Lonely Mountain. It stands alone above a desolate landscape, where no one dares live, not even most animals. Where the grand front gates of the dwarven halls once stood, threatening smoke now escapes along with foul-looking water. The dwarves' party now begins to search the side of the mountain for the secret door indicated on the map. Having found it, however, they are so eager to get it open that they promptly forget everything else:

"In the meanwhile some of them explored the ledge beyond the opening and found a path that led higher and higher on to the mountain; but they did not dare to venture very far that way, nor was there much use in it….The others who were busy with the secret of the door had no more success. They were too eager to trouble about the runes or the moon-letters, but tried without resting to discover where exactly in the smooth face of the rock the door was hidden. They had brought picks and tools of many sorts from Lake-town, and at first they tried to use these. But when they struck the stone the handles splintered and jarred their arms cruelly, and the steel heads broke or bent like lead. Mining work, they saw clearly, was no good against the magic that had shut this door."

Earlier in the same chapter, we learned that upon getting closer to their goal the dwarves began to lose most of the enthusiasm for the quest that they had displayed in Lake-town. "Now strange to say Mr. Baggins had more than the others. He would often borrow Thorin's map and gaze at it, pondering over the runes and the message of the moon-letters Elrond had read. It was he that made the dwarves begin the dangerous search on the western slopes for the secret door." In the midst of the many unsuccessful attempts to open the door, it is Bilbo again who sees the thrush knocking snails against the rocks to crack their shells and makes the connection with the map's clues.

We all become over-eager in the pursuit of our goals sometimes, and we stop paying attention to things we have learned in the past, things that just might make the task easier if we'd only listen. Like Bilbo's study of the map, however, taking the time to pray, reflect, and study the Bible means that we will be more likely to recognize the cues and remember what we have been taught in time for that information to be useful on the journey.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pleasant Legends

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:43-44)

Lake Town is a thriving, bustling marketplace. It is the successor to an earlier town built on the shores of the Long Lake but destroyed years ago, when Smaug came and took over the Lonely Mountain, driving the dwarves away (those who survived, that is). Although the dragon occasionally ventures out to wreak havoc among the men on the lake shore, most of the time they give little thought to history and its implications. Tolkien describes the scene thus:

"But men remembered little of all that, though some still sang old songs of the dwarf-kings of the Mountain, Thror and Thrain of the race of Durin, and of the coming of the Dragon, and the fall of the lords of Dale. Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business."

Little do they know that Thorin, son of Thrain and grandson of Thror, is about to enter their town and declare his intentions to reclaim the dwarves' treasure, and that their pleasant legends are about to become very real.

How many of us generally regard some of the more difficult teachings of the Bible, such as Jesus's second coming, as "pleasant legends," things that seem even more remote now, two millennia on? I suspect that most people would be as surprised as the citizens of Lake Town if Jesus were to walk into our churches today. I suspect also that most people would react as the lake men did, as well, thinking the visitor to be a fraud or impostor. How would we determine if he's who he says he is? How would we prepare ourselves for something that he has already told us would be unexpected?

On the other hand, he also told us that "the kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:21) and "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). Maybe instead of worrying about when he may come back, we act like he is already here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pruning and Growth

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

At the beginning of the dwarves' incarceration at the hands of the Wood-elves, Bilbo is unsure of his ability to rescue them and longs for the help, or at least the advice, of the wizard Gandalf. However, "he soon realized that if anything was to be done, it would have to be done by Mr. Baggins, alone and unaided." And indeed, the hobbit is eventually able to put together a successful plan to rescue his companions.

Wearing his ring to stay invisible, Bilbo watches and waits and explores until he finally sees a possible solution to their plight. He then he creeps from cell to cell in the elves' dungeon, spreading the word to his incarcerated companions. Tolkien tells us that "the other dwarves quite agreed when they got the message….they all trusted Bilbo. Just what Gandalf had said would happen, you see. Perhaps that was part of his reason for going off and leaving them."

Just like many plants bear more fruit when they are pruned, people often grow more in hard times and through difficult situations. Gandalf knew that Bilbo would never step up and reach his full potential as a burglar and trusted traveling companion if he was always there to rescue them and get them out of sticky situations, and I believe God is the same. I think that sometimes we need to look for his answers through the gifts, spiritual and otherwise, that he has already given us, instead of waiting for things to magically change without any effort on our part. If sometimes God feels absent, maybe he has just stepped back in order to teach us faith and trust – perhaps sometimes that's his way of pruning away the old fears and insecurities that keep us from reaching our full potential. It's not pleasant, but it's the only way that we'll grow.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who, Me?

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

When we last saw Bilbo and the dwarves, they were in trouble because they followed their own desires and left the one path through Mirkwood that would get them to the other side. The end result of all the escapades with disappearing elf feasts and hungry spiders is that all of the dwarves are captured by the elves and imprisoned in the dungeon of the Wood-elves' king. Thanks to his magic ring, Bilbo is able to creep about the king's stronghold somewhat freely, but that has its limits as well. In moments of particular desperation, he longs for help from Gandalf, although he knows that it is not possible to get a message to him about their plight. Even if he could send the wizard a message, Bilbo knows, there is no guarantee that Gandalf would be able to come to their aid, busy as he is with a dangerous mission of his own. Thirteen dwarves are depending on him for rescue, but even though "he sat and thought and thought, until his head nearly burst…no bright idea would come."

After days on end of wandering invisibly through elven halls and observing their habits, routines, and conversations, the burglar finally figures out a way to break out of the place, and with a little luck, the plan actually works! Bilbo discovers that sometimes when you pray for something – someone to help get you out of a tough situation, for example – you have to be prepared to find out that you are the answer to that prayer.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

No Water, No Food After Midnight, and STAY ON THE PATH

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When I started blogging my way through The Hobbit a few months ago, I had no idea that I would be referencing it in the same post with the movie Gremlins. It turns out, however, that the two stories have something in common, in that major events are instigated when characters fail to follow instructions. 

As any child of the 80's can tell you, the three rules of owning a Mogwai are to keep it out of the light, never get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. By a series of unfortunate accidents, two of the rules are broken and one cute little furry critter becomes a pack of evil, destructive monsters that ruin Christmas for the town of Kingston Falls. 

As for The Hobbit, many days and a series of unfortunate events have befallen Bilbo and the dwarves since they left the refuge of Beorn's house, and when their food and water supplies run out, so does their memory of the shape-shifter's most important piece of advice: Stay On The Path. It is so important that Gandalf reminds them of it several more times before he leaves them to take care of other business – in fact, "DON'T LEAVE THE PATH" is the last thing they hear him say as he gallops away. 

They have little trouble following directions at first, but after days and days of walking down the oppressively dark and gloomy path, their food and patience run out. It is no wonder, therefore, that they are sorely tempted when the lights and sounds of elven feasting appear in the trees just off of the trail. Although they have been warned that to leave the road may result in being lost forever in the forest, their focus on their empty stomachs leads to an inability to resist the temptation of food so close by. 

Of course, when they try to crash the elves' party, the lights go out and some of them even fall into an enchanted sleep. When the lights appear two more times later in the night, they try again with similar results, but their desire for food has completely overcome common sense at this point and they take no notice of cause and effect. In the end, they not only fail to get dinner, but they find themselves hanging from the trees wrapped in spider silk, about to become dinner. 

Often, the instructions we are given are just as simple and straightforward: Have no other gods before me; Honor your father and mother; Do not murder; Do not covet your neighbor's possessions; Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why, then, is it so hard to follow them sometimes? I think that ultimately, much depends on how focused we are on our goals – the better the focus, the less likely we are to let temptations and other distractions lead us off the path. And how to do we improve our focus and learn to resist temptations? By doing just what pastors and Sunday School teachers have been telling us for years: spend time in prayer, Bible study, and worship, getting to know the One who helps us and sustains us through all the places our paths go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentation 3:19-23)

Bilbo and his companions have been traveling on the dark path through Mirkwood Forest for days on end and their supplies of food and water are starting to run low. When Bilbo climbs a tree to try to see above the forest, all he sees are the tops of trees stretching endlessly in all directions. The dwarves hear the sounds of a hunting party in the woods nearby and several white deer run across their path, but they waste their last arrows in an unsuccessful attempt to bring them down. To make matters worse, when the first deer jumps over the black stream, it causes Bombur to fall in, after which the dwarves must carry his sleeping form until the enchantment wears off.

Tolkien describes their mood thus: "They were a gloomy party that night, and the gloom gathered still deeper on them in the following days. They had crossed the enchanted stream; but beyond it the path seemed to straggle on just as before, and in the forest they could see no change." Things are not as bad as they seem, however. Bilbo didn't know that when he climbed the tree, they were in a low spot, and if he had climbed a different tree closer to the top of the bowl, he could have seen that they were nearing the edge of the forest. The dwarves don't think very hard about their run-in with the white deer, either, but we find out that "if they had known more about it and considered the meaning of the hunt and the white deer that had appeared upon their path, they would have known that they were at last drawing towards the eastern edge, and would soon have come, if they could have kept up their courage and their hope, to thinner trees and places where the sunlight came again."

The problem, as Tolkien so aptly shows us, is that we don't always know important information when we are in the midst of a difficult situation. Lacking that information, we don't pay attention to the signs we do get that things are about to improve, or else we can't fully interpret those signs as harbingers of better things to come. It's no wonder that we, like the dwarves in Mirkwood, become gloomy and discouraged and hopeless when the way becomes dark and seemingly endless. We must remember that we don't have all the information right now, and that things may not be as hopeless as they seem. We must pay attention to the little things that can give us clues to better times ahead. Above all, we must trust God and remain hopeful as we remember the above words of Jeremiah that continue to remain true to this day.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord….It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
(Exodus 31:15, 17)

Early on in The Hobbit, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves spend some time at Rivendell, the "Last Homely House" on the edge of the wilderness. They stay there for a number of days, during which time they regain their strength and receive from Elrond help in interpreting Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain and advice on the best route through the Misty Mountains. When they leave, they are rested and re-supplied, ready for the next portion of their journey. 

After Rivendell, the travelers face their toughest challenges thus far, involving goblins, wargs, and several very narrow escapes. They are rescued from certain death by the eagles, who then provide them with transportation a little bit farther down their path. They have lost their supplies, however, and are hungry and discouraged when Gandalf leads them to the home of Beorn, the fearsome shape-shifter who is sometimes a man and sometimes a bear. As in Rivendell, they are welcomed, fed, given soft beds to sleep in, and allowed to stay a few days to rest. Before they leave, they are given food, water skins, bows and arrows for hunting, and ponies to carry them and their supplies, at least a little ways. Like Elrond, Beorn gives them wise counsel about the best way to get through the forest of Mirkwood and warnings about the dangers they may encounter within. 

Without these two important rest stops along the way, the dwarves would never have made it all the way to the Lonely Mountain to finish their quest. There are similar waypoints along the Christian journey, known as Sundays. When we gather as the Church for worship, study, and fellowship, we experience rest from the everyday grind and renewal of the spirit, and if we pay attention, we might also hear God's advice for living. It is possible, I suppose, to go through life alone, relying only on God, but it is much more fulfilling and enjoyable when we take advantage of His rest stops.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13)

Bilbo and the dwarves have just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire – they escaped the goblins and their tunnels under the mountains only to find themselves in the very clearing in the woods used as a meeting spot by the evil wolves known as Wargs. The dwarves and Gandalf manage to scramble up into the trees, but even the lowest branches are too high for poor Bilbo to reach. Things are looking grim for the little burglar, who is running around the clearing in a panic as the Wargs' howls come nearer and nearer.

Finally, Thorin orders Dori to help Bilbo, since he is sitting in the tree with the lowest branches. When Bilbo still can't reach Dori's outstretched arm, though, the dwarf climbs down from the tree to help him:

"Just at that moment the wolves trotted howling into the clearing. All of a sudden there were hundreds of eyes looking at them. Still Dori did not let Bilbo down. He waited till he had clambered off his shoulders into the branches, and then he jumped for the branches himself. Only just in time! A wolf snapped at his cloak as he swung up, and nearly got him. In a minute there was a whole pack of them yelping all round the tree and leaping up at the trunk, with eyes blazing and tongues hanging out."

Of course, in the verse quoted above, Jesus was referring to himself and the sacrifice he would soon be making on the cross for his friends there with him and those to follow. Still, it applies to dwarves and hobbits and the rest of us, too. Do I have a friend I love so much that I'd die for him or her? I'm not sure. I guess no one really knows until he or she is in a life-threatening situation. I do know that I have a Friend who gave everything for me, and it is an overwhelming thing to contemplate.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Joy

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

I recently re-read C.S. Lewis's masterpiece of children's literature, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I read it as a child – it still is my favorite of the Narnia series – but back then it was just a fun adventure story in which all of the allegory and Christian allusions were completely lost on me. It has taken returning to it as an adult to fully appreciate what Lewis was trying to say, and to see particular passages in a completely new light. Today's article is about one such passage which I thought was especially appropriate for the day, so we are taking a brief break from our journey to the Lonely Mountain with Bilbo.

In Lewis's land of Narnia, the lion Aslan quite clearly represents Christ. At the climax of the book, he gives himself to the White Witch to be killed in the place of Edmund, who failed to bring his siblings to her as she asked. Later, Lucy and Susan sneak away from the camp and return to the Stone Table where the terrible deed took place. There, they are surprised to find Aslan as he was when they first met him, very much alive and returned to his former leonine glory. Like the women who discover the empty tomb, the girls are in awe and probably a bit afraid, but both they and Aslan are overcome with great happiness, as demonstrated by what happens next:

"He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn't know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty."

I love Aslan's display of such unbridled joy at his resurrection – it is certainly much different from the picture painted by the gospel writers of Jesus's first tentative encounters with Mary Magdalene and other disciples and followers that Sunday morning. After reading Lewis's description, I can just imagine Jesus, a huge smile on his face, arms spread wide, running to meet his friends, but that's not the picture we get in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe people hiding in fear and unaware at first that they are talking to the risen Savior, and sometimes even after they recognize Jesus they are still fearful and in awe. If children had been first to meet him after he left the tomb, I bet the scenario would have been much different, and maybe that's the key for all of us. After all, how many times did Jesus tell his disciples that they must be more like children?

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Let us not be restrained, but instead let us run to him, grab his hands, and pull him into our joyful celebrations!

Sunday, April 1, 2012


But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

Bilbo has just finished his encounter with Gollum, the strange creature that lives in the middle of the lake under the mountain. They fought each other, in the form of a battle of wits: the famous Riddle Game, which Bilbo wins by a fluke – how could Gollum know the contents of Bilbo's pockets, anyway? Fair or not, Gollum has promised to show Bilbo the way out of the Goblin tunnels, but before he does that, he returns to his island nest to get something. When his "precious" is not there, he begins to suspect that he does indeed know what's in Bilbo's pocketses, and he becomes angry and starts raving about what he will do to Bilbo when he catches him. Thinking that Bilbo already knew the way out and was tricking him all along, Gollum proceeds to unknowingly lead Bilbo to the back door and camps out at the tunnel entrance in hopes of catching the hobbit. Bilbo, wearing the magic ring and therefore invisible even to Gollum's excellent night vision, is confronted with a choice:

"Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff himself. He was desperate. He must get away, out of this horrible darkness, while he had any strength left. He must fight. He must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. It meant to kill him. No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried to yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped."

Bilbo could have put an end to a threat then and there, but such violence was not in the gentle hobbit's nature. Instead, he puts himself in Gollum's shoes and imagines how horrible it must be to live the way that Gollum does. He has mercy on the poor, wretched creature and jumps over him instead of killing him.

Do we do the same with the poor, wretched people we come across? Do we try to imagine what their lives are like and show them mercy, or do we judge them according to what we see on the outside? We should remember how we are shown mercy by God in our times of wretchedness. We should then resolve, like Bilbo, to take a leap of mercy; indeed, we should go even farther and instead of merely not hurting, we should do what we can to help.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just Keep Swimming…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The dwarves managed to escape from their goblin captors, but their freedom turns out to be short-lived. Bilbo is getting a piggy-back ride from one of the dwarves so that his short legs don't slow them down, and when the goblins catch up with them again and his ride is captured, he falls off and rolls to the side of the passageway, unnoticed. When he awakes, he finds himself in pitch-darkness and unsure of the way he should go. After some moments of panic, he manages to take stock of his situation and finds, to his comfort, that he is still intact and that he still has his sword that glows when goblins are near. This calms him and allows him to better assess his situation:

"'Go back?' he thought. 'No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!' So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter."

Sometimes, it's hard to see where we are going. It feels like we're lost in the dark and may never reach our destination. The only thing to do in this situation is to persevere, to keep going forward, knowing that we are not alone and that sitting still is the quickest way not to get anywhere at all. We must pick ourselves up, reach for the One that will guide us, and head out. If we have a magic sword to lead with, or even a silly little ditty from a Disney cartoon to cheer us, so much the better!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

A storm is raging in the mountains and the Dwarves' party is caught out in it, their mere overhang providing little shelter from the rock-shattering thunder. Thorin sends Fili and Kili, the youngest dwarves (and therefore the ones with the sharpest eyesight) to find better shelter for the group of travelers. The two scouts return, far sooner than expected, having found a cave nearby that would serve their purposes quite nicely. When questioned about how well they examined the cave to make sure it did not hold any nasty surprises, they assure everyone that they looked carefully and it looked quite protected and safe.

However, Thorin's response is, "There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something….You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after." 

That is certainly true. In this case, Fili and Kili are looking for a dry, sheltered place to spend the night, and when they come upon the cave, the dryness and shelter are all they see. They do not take the time to examine it closely – if they had, they might have found the ominous crack in the back that would prove to be a problem for everyone. Similarly, there are many people that go looking in the Bible for the verse that will support their opinion on a certain issue, and quite often they find what they think are just the right words. Just as often, they do not take the time to examine the context to find out what the verse really means, which usually is something completely different than the seeker thinks.

On the other hand, sometimes when we look, we find not quite what we were after, but that different something proves to be far better than what we thought we wanted. God promises that when we seek, we will find. Let us trust him and be open-minded enough to recognize that we have found something, even if it wasn't what we were looking for.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Plan B

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

The first major stop in the Dwarves' journey is at Rivendell, the "Last Homely House" before entering the wilderness. Elrond the Half-Elven is master of the house, and he proves instrumental in helping the Dwarves, both in pointing out crucial information on their map and in planning the best route to the Lonely Mountain. However, as Tolkien notes,

"Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the Edge of the Wild; and Gandalf was a wise enough wizard to know it.
"He knew that something unexpected might happen, and he hardly dared to hope that they would pass without fearful adventure over those great tall mountains with lonely peaks and valleys where no king ruled. They did not. All was well, until one day they met a thunderstorm – more than a thunderstorm, a thunder-battle."

This enormous thunderstorm caused them to seek shelter in a mountain cave, which, as it turns out, had not been as thoroughly checked out as the dwarves who found it had claimed. While they are sleeping, a crack opens up in the back wall and a band of goblins kidnaps them and takes them into their tunnels far below the mountains. Everything turns out alright in the end, though not before some harrowing escapes from the Goblins' clutches. The dwarves come out of the goblin caves on the other side of the mountains, and it is while lost in the caves that Bilbo finds the magic ring that is vital to his later success as a burglar.

It is not unusual for things not to go according to plan, as we all know. In life it helps sometimes to have a plan B to fall back on and to be flexible in case we have to do something else. It is comforting to realize, however, that whatever happens, God will use those circumstances to bring about a greater good than we are able to imagine at the time as things fall apart around our ears. We may not be able to see that far ahead, but we can have faith that eventually that light really will be the end of the tunnel and not an oncoming train!


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hats and Handkerchiefs

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

After spending an entire evening playing host to a troupe of dwarves who seem to think he is a burglar that is going to help them reclaim their treasure, Bilbo awakes late in the morning, hoping to find that it had all been a bad dream. When Gandalf finds him, he is finally sitting down to second breakfast after having washed up the breakfast dishes left by his guests in their haste to depart (proof that it hadn't been a dream, after all) and setting his hobbit hole back to rights. The wizard has come to see what is keeping Bilbo, because the dwarves are expecting him to meet them very soon – in fifteen minutes, actually. Bilbo rushes out the door to get to the inn in time, and once he arrives and meets up with the dwarves, he realizes that he is completely unprepared for the journey – he has no walking stick, no money, no hat, not even a pocket-handkerchief. "You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey's end," Dwalin tells him. 

Dwalin also helps him out, though – he loans Bilbo his spare cloak and hood so that he has something to cover his head. Later, Gandalf joins them, bringing Bilbo not only a supply of handkerchiefs but also his pipe and tobacco, a creature comfort that Bilbo hadn't yet realized was lacking.

This is a relatively minor episode in the book, but it demonstrates a truth I have seen in many different situations: God provides. When something is needed, someone shows up with it. If someone doesn't show up with what is needed, they show up with something else that ends up filling the bill even better than the originally-hoped-for item. Sometimes, people even show up to help with something just before the need makes itself known. It is something that I have seen happen over and over again, and I pray that I will remember this when I start to doubt that God will help me through the difficult situations in my own life.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Parallel Journeys

When I began re-reading The Hobbit for the purpose of blogging as I go, I had not noticed how appropriate that would be for this time of year. It is yet another lucky coincidence, like those that happen to Bilbo throughout the novel, that for the next six weeks or so my posts about Bilbo's journey to the Lonely Mountain and back again will correspond to the Christian journey known as Lent.

Lent is a time to reflect on the life of Jesus and on his ultimate sacrifice for the good of all people. During these forty days, many people make personal sacrifices and  go on a spiritual journey of penitence, reflection, and reconciliation whose end is the joyous celebration of Easter, when Christ conquered death and made eternal life possible for all.

Bilbo and the dwarves experience many instances of hardship, peril, and sacrifice on their way to their destination, and some even lose their lives. In the end, however, the quest is successful and Bilbo journey ends with his return to the Shire with a load of treasure and a life forever changed by his adventure.

May it be the same for all of us who undertake the Lenten Journey, that we will emerge on Easter Sunday reborn and enriched with new spiritual insights!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Right Man for the Job

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

In the first chapter of The Hobbit, while taking advantage of Bilbo Baggins' hospitality, the dwarves begin to discuss their strategy for reaching the Lonely Mountain and vanquishing the dragon. Thorin describes a possible route that will take them up to the front gates of the dwarves' former stronghold, but Gandalf quickly nixes that idea:

"That would be no good," said the wizard, "not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one, but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary – especially when I remembered the existence of a side-door. And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar."

The dwarves have a job that needs doing, and they trust Gandalf to find the right man for that job. When he can't find the warrior or hero to lead them to Smaug's front door, he finds an even better solution: a burglar to help them get in the side door that he has just found out about.

God has given everyone gifts that allow them to do a certain job. When the task at hand requires someone to bring compassion and care to people in need, he calls the healer. When someone is needed to teach others about his love, he calls the teacher. When he knows that there are many who need to hear his word, he calls the preacher. Whatever the task, someone has been given the ability to take care of it – even when the person best-suited is not the one we had in mind to begin with. Fortunately, though, when someone with vision and foresight and the ability to think creatively is needed to recognize this, God calls that person, too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The title of the first chapter of The Hobbit is "An Unexpected Party" and the subtitle of the first installment of Peter Jackson's upcoming two-movie adaptation of the book is "An Unexpected Journey." With these titles, Tolkien and Jackson both are emphasizing that what happens to Bilbo Baggins is a drastic change from his normal Hobbit state of utter predictability. Tolkien tells us right off the bat that the thing that made the Bagginses respectable in the eyes of their neighbors, even more so than their wealth, was that "they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him."

That all changes, however, when thirteen dwarves and a wizard show up, unannounced, on his doorstep one day at tea time. Bilbo fulfills his duty as host, but the whole time he is flustered and upset with the intrusion into his quiet routine. To make matters worse, they are all calling him a burglar and expecting him to join them on a difficult journey to the Lonely Mountain, where he is to help them vanquish a dragon and reclaim their treasure. He keeps protesting that he is not a burglar, and he is certainly not eager to leave the comforts of his hobbit hole to travel who knows where into danger. He is acting much more fearful than a burglar probably should, too, and this causes the dwarves to begin to doubt Gandalf's choice of Bilbo as the one who can help them.

Gandalf's response is quick and authoritative: "I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself."

There are two things in that statement that leap out at me. First, the qualifier that Gandalf adds on to his assertion about Bilbo's abilities: he may not be something now, but he will be when the time comes. Second, Gandalf sees beyond the conventional, predictable Hobbit exterior and recognizes abilities and potential in Bilbo that not even Bilbo himself realizes he possesses. 

I imagine God to be somewhat like Gandalf in this instance. He presents us with challenging tasks or allows us to be in challenging circumstances because he knows exactly what we are capable of, even when we aren't so confident in our own abilities, and he prepares us in all sorts of ways to have the experiences and abilities to do what he needs us to do, maybe not right now, but when the time comes. It's both comforting and scary, all at the same time – and it's so exhilarating to come to the end of a situation you didn't think you could handle, having passed the test with at least flying colors, if not wagon-loads of treasure liberated from the dragon's hoard.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Very Good Place to Start

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3)

"Once upon a time…"

"Long ago in a galaxy far, far away…"

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…"

What is it about the opening words of a good story? You read them and instantly you are pulled into another world, eager for the tale to unfold before your eyes. They cause a sense of excitement for the adventure to come, whether it is a brand new paperback or an old volume worn out with many past readings. 

The opening of a story raises many questions: What is a Hobbit? Why does he live in a hole? Is something going to happen to this Hobbit or to his hole? Even though I know the answers to all of those questions, I still love to read that first line. I can't wait to find out what the story is going to tell me this time around, the details I'll discover that I've never noticed before or the little things that I had forgotten about since the last time I read it.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…"

"In the year King Uzziah died…"

"And it came to pass in those days…"

The Bible contains its share of great story openers, too, and just as with The Hobbit, I can always discover something new or rediscover something forgotten every time I go back to its familiar tales. I confess, however,  that I don't do this nearly as often as I should. I pray that I may never forget to approach the Bible as a favorite story, ready to be comforted by its familiar words and challenged by its truths. I pray that I will become engrossed in the wonderful adventure of God's love and read it over and over again, until it becomes as worn and tattered as a beloved novel.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Control Freak

Therefore do not worry, saying "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear?" For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:31-34)

C.S. Lewis is well-known for the Narnia series and for his writings on Christianity, but he's not always remembered for his foray into science fiction in the form of the so-called "Space Trilogy" (Although I use the term "science fiction" loosely – the books do describe a series of journeys to other planets and meetings with alien races, but there is far more fiction than science. In fact, like the Narnia books, they are a thinly-disguised set of treatises on Christian themes). 

When I read Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, it was the second book that made the biggest impression on me. In it, the protagonist travels to Venus, which is known as Perelandra to its inhabitants. There he finds an oceanic world of floating islands and one green-skinned female humanoid creature, a type of Eve who has been separated from, and spends most of her time searching for, her Adam. 

In the midst of the floating islands is one piece of land that always stays put. The Venusians are allowed to visit it, but they must never spend the night on it – most of their time is to be spent on the floating islands, at the mercy of the wind and waves. At first, the woman tells the Earthman, she thought that the prohibition from dwelling on the fixed island was ridiculous, but eventually she has come to understand it: being on the fixed land made her life less uncertain and caused her to rely less on the protection of Maleldil (her name for God).

"It was to reject the wave – to draw my hands out of Maleldil's, to say to Him, 'Not thus, but thus' – to put in our power what times should roll towards us…as if you gathered fruits together today for tomorrow's eating instead of taking what came. That would have been cold love and feeble trust. And out of it how could we ever have climbed back into love and trust again?"

It's not that I don't trust God, but it's so hard sometimes to relinquish control of my life (or the illusion of control, anyway). I'm not a control freak most of the time, but I do like to be independent and to take care of myself. I wonder if this need I feel for self-reliance is the reason I find myself in my current circumstances – unemployed and dependent on my family for support. I resolve, now and in the future when I'm back on my feet, to accept God's provision and take what comes, secure in the knowledge that I will get what I need.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do What You Can

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

It has been a long journey. The Fellowship that started out with nine members has lost one, then four more, and after several reunions and splits and more reunions, it is back up to six. Battles have been fought at Helm's Deep and the Pelennor Fields in front of the walled city of Gondor, and after the latest battle there is finally a moment of respite, a chance for Aragorn to gather his captains and advisors and plan their next move.

Gandalf is the main speaker at this meeting. He tells those assembled that their ultimate fate depends on what happens to the Ring: if Sauron gets it, there will be nothing anyone can do to stop him, but if it is destroyed, there is nothing Sauron can do to prevent his inevitable destruction. The ring is out of their hands, he tells them, but fortunately Sauron does not know that for certain, and the best thing they can do is to keep him occupied fighting several strong leaders, any one of whom might have the ring, so that Frodo has a better chance of sneaking into Mordor unnoticed. He says:

"Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."

They can't ultimately control the fate of the ring, Gandalf tells them, but they can do everything in their power to give Frodo the best chance to destroy it and leave the world a better place for future generations.

We can't control the future, either, but we can do our best each day to make good choices that will advance the forces of good and drive back the forces of evil. Micah had the right idea several thousand years ago: acting justly, being kind, and walking humbly with God each day is a good start towards changing the world. I resolve to try my best each day to act in accordance with these three simple guidelines. If we all would do that, we would be well on the way to making the world a better place now, and leaving it better for those who come after us.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Now is the Time

If you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

Esther has a lot in common with Frodo Baggins, if you think about it. Esther was a Jew married to the king of Persia, and she risked her life when she went, uninvited, before the king to seek protection for the Jews from the king's advisor Haman. Frodo was a Hobbit living in the Shire whose uncle gave him a magic ring, and he risked his life when he went to the heart of Sauron's land to destroy the ring and save all the people of Middle Earth from destruction.

A bit of a stretch? Maybe, but consider this as well: neither one asked to do the life-threatening task, but both accepted the challenge and both, with the help of other people (including higher powers), managed successful outcomes. 

Esther's uncle, Mordecai, asked her to use her position of influence to get the king to help the Jews. She asked him gather the Jewish community and join her and her maids in fasting and praying for three days. She then went to talk to the king, even though she could be put to death for approaching him without being summoned. In the end, the king welcomed her and did as she asked, and the Jews were saved. 

Frodo was given the ring as a gift. Though he would gladly give it to Gandalf or Aragorn, he agrees to bear the burden all the way to Mordor and finally destroys it in the fires of Mount Doom, allowing the forces of Sauron to be defeated. Very close to the beginning of the tale, Gandalf visits Frodo to share with him what information he has found out about the ring, and none of it is good. Frodo says of the dismal news, "I wish it need not have happened in my time."

"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

This year, I resolve to make the most of the time I am given and the situation in which I find myself. I may wish that things had turned out differently, but I resolve to keep my eyes open for ways I can make a difference. Perhaps God has put me in these circumstances "for such a time as this."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Low Flying

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

In The Magician's Nephew, a prequel to the other books in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, Aslan sends Digory on a mission that will help save the newly created land of Narnia. He gives him a winged horse and these instructions:

"Do not fly too high….Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through."

Too many times I see obstacles as things to be overcome, surmounted, climbed or jumped over. Aslan's advice seems contrary to my first instinct, but on second thought, it makes so much sense. There are many dangers to being at high, cold altitudes, while the valleys are much warmer, with access to food, water, and shelter if needed. It is much safer to fly between the mountains than over them, but so often I get fixated on a goal and one way to get there and I forget to look for other, better ways to achieve the same ends.

This New Year, I resolve to keep an open mind and look for alternative paths, especially since the paths I have been following haven't yet gotten me where I want to be. I resolve also to trust Aslan's word that "there will always be a way through," and to have faith that it will lead to the place that I need to be, even if that place is not the same as the place I want to be.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

It's New Year's Day, a time for geek thoughts to turn to, what else, but the Doctor. More specifically, I'm thinking of that alien ability that has allowed him to save the earth for nearly fifty years despite otherwise fatal events: regeneration. Every so often our intrepid hero gives his life in the interest of saving the human race, but when the old body dies, it is replaced by a new one. The new Doctor retains all of his old memories, along with his strange fondness for humans, but he has a new face, new hair, a new voice, and new tastes, both in clothing (tweed jacket and red bowtie, really?) and in food (fish fingers and custard, anyone?). 

In many ways, the Doctor's regeneration reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 6 about becoming a Christian. When we commit our lives to following Jesus, our old self dies in that we change our attitudes and actions to reflect our births as new beings, focused on making choices that bring us into fellowship with God.

My wish for the new year is for regeneration – new and renewed commitments to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, and appreciation of being able to "walk in newness of life" every day we so choose.