Sunday, December 21, 2014

Light in the Darkness

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5, NIV)

As the eight travelers prepare to leave the elven forest of Lothl√≥rien towards the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel bestows special gifts upon each member of the company. To Frodo she gives something particularly useful: “‘In this phial,’ she said, ‘is caught the light of E√§rendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.’”

Much later in the journey, as Frodo nears his destination in Mordor, he and Sam find themselves in the darkest place they have ever encountered as they follow Gollum through a tunnel that he tells them is a shortcut to their destination. They are about to despair of ever escaping the vile blackness when suddenly Sam is reminded of what Frodo carries and urges his master to bring it out. As Frodo holds the Star-Glass aloft, “the darkness receded from it, until it seemed to shine in the centre of a globe of airy crystal, and the hand that held it sparkled with white fire. Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency.” The power of this little bit of Elven light in the blackness of Shelob’s lair drives the great spider away from them and allows them to find the path through to the other side of the tunnel.

Even the tiniest of lights is powerful in a dark place. Whenever we walk in darkness, may we never forget the power of the Light of the World to show us the way safely to the other side, even when we feel like the Light is distant and small. And if we have forgotten the Light, may we always have with us a friend to help us remember.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Question Authority?

The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)

It’s a hazard of leadership - no matter what you do, someone is going to be unhappy. And quite often, one very vocal somebody can turn an entire crowd against a leader who often has just been doing his or her best in a tough situation. Case in point: Tom Mason, the main character on the sci fi TV series Falling Skies. Before the alien attack he was a college history professor. In the aftermath, he finds himself in a leadership role, even being elected President of a remnant of the United States at one point. He works very hard to make decisions for the good of the entire group, but just as often as people look to him to get them through the continuing alien nightmare there are those who are constantly stirring up negative sentiment against him.

I don’t completely blame the alien attack survivors for not always trusting Mason’s leadership, nor do I completely blame the Israelites for lashing out against Moses. Both scenarios are extremely stressful, and stressful situations are not always known for bringing out the best in people, especially the longer the hardship goes on. When all hope seems to be gone and our faith and trust starts to wane because no good results seem to be forthcoming, we begin to take out our frustrations on the closest thing, whether that happens to be a former professor, a fellow Hebrew and former prince of Egypt, or even God himself.

So what do we do? How do we keep from becoming the grumblers and complainers and whiners? Maybe these stories remind us that instead of continuing to look through dirty, smudged glasses, we need to put on fresh “perspectacles” (my new favorite word, thanks to Glennon Melton) and look for all the good that has happened despite the stresses and hardships. How much sooner might the Israelites have reached the promised land if they had been grateful for the manna, for the quail, for the release from slavery, instead of constantly whinging about what they perceived to be lacking?

To be sure, it is easier said than done. But isn't it a goal worth striving towards?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Red Five Standing By

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15)

My new favorite podcast is the Star Wars Minute, a show where the two hosts and a guest spend 15-20 minutes or so discussing one minute of the movie Star Wars. During one of the episodes for the section of the film where the rebels attack the Death Star, they brought up something that, as many times as I have seen the movie, has never before crossed my mind: what do the other X-wing pilots of Red Squadron think of Luke? After all, he just arrived with Princess Leia, having known little about the Rebellion until very, very recently. And what qualifies him to fly a space fighter in this crucial Death Star run, besides his ability to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home? Did he ace the X-wing simulator test or something?

More importantly, what do the other members of Red Squadron think of this hick kid from some backwater planet who just fell off the turnip truck and ended up in the fifth X-wing? Was he replacing someone who was killed, or did they pull the former Red Five and give his fighter to Luke? Is Jek Porkins jealous because the squadron positions are based on skill rankings and this new recruit has just bumped him down a spot in the listings?

They’re legitimate questions. It’s human nature to say, “But that’s not fair!” A newcomer makes the crucial shot and gets a medal, while the original rebels must stand at attention and watch and pretend to congratulate him.

Or maybe they don't. Maybe they are grateful that this kid showed up and was able to contribute, able to fill in a spot where they sorely needed someone, able to inject new blood and new enthusiasm into an organization in danger of becoming jaded and ineffectual. I’d like to think that I fall into this camp, knowing that the reward is not mine to bestow, grateful to get what I have earned and grateful for the help in accomplishing the mission, no matter how late in the day it comes, but I’m only human. God forgive me when I forget that we’re all in this Christian walk together, and give me the grace to change my attitude and be grateful no matter how late in the day others show up to join the work crew.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Dalek is Hard to Find

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)

I am stepping away from the lectionary this week because none of the passages are speaking to me nearly as much as something from a recent new episode of Doctor Who has been. In "Into the Dalek," The Doctor and Clara end up on a spaceship surrounded by a whole Dalek fleet where they discover an unusual prisoner of war: a “good” Dalek. Instead of running around yelling “EX-TER-MIN-ATE” and zapping everything in sight, this one wants to help them defeat the rest of his kind.

A “good” Dalek is too good to be true, of course - it turns out that it has been damaged, and as soon as the Doctor repairs this damage, it reverts back to its normal, angry pepperpot self. The next time the idea of a “good” Dalek comes up, the adjective has a much different connotation. “I am not a good Dalek,” the creature in question tells the Doctor, “You are a good Dalek.” It forgot its hatred for a while, it was able to appreciate beauty and looked down on the rest of the Daleks for wanting to destroy everything - it did not live up to the Dalek ideal. The Doctor, on the other hand, is full of hatred towards the Dalek race and has, in fact, destroyed untold numbers of them over the fifty years of the show, acting towards them in the same manner as they act towards the rest of the universe.

What is a “Good” Christian? Is it someone who follows the letter of God’s law, warning others of the consequences of their sins at all costs and with no regard for their feelings? Is is the person who is in church every time the doors are open, wins the “Perfect Attendance” badge in Sunday School, and sings in the choir, but gives little thought to God the rest of the week? Is it the person who cares for others regardless of background or situation, loving them the way Christ loved, warts and all? I think there are many non-Christians in the world whom an outsider looking in might say are better Christians than many of us who claim the title.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Remember, Remember!

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)

From the beginning of human history, celebrations have served at least two important purposes. Some mark the passage of time - from harvest, through the darkest, shortest nights of winter, and back to rebirth and growing - while others help us remember: people, battles, accomplishments, and important events like the time God sent the angel to kill the firstborn of all of Egypt, but spared the Hebrews and allowed their escape.

Verse goes hand in hand with celebrations:

Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The Gunpowder Treason and Plot...

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King…

But what happens when the verses lose their meaning? What happens when the events we celebrate happened so far in the past that we’re enjoying the party but we’re not exactly sure anymore why we’re having it in the first place?

What happens when the songs are a warning and a call to vigilance instead of celebration? What happens when the warnings fall on deaf ears because the events they warn of happened so far back in the collective memory that no one thinks the danger is actually real? At the beginning of Anne McCaffrey’s book Dragonflight, generations have gone by on Pern since the last Threadfall, the holds have forgotten to follow the ancient laws meant to mitigate the effects of this deadly menace from the sky, and the dragon weyrs that defend the planet are dwindling and unsupported. Even the Harper, the one entrusted with the verses of memory, must dig deep into the archives to find more than just the few snatches that anyone remembers. When another Threadfall is imminent, vague memories are all that stand between those who wish to keep Pern safe and the masses who don’t believe the old tales were ever true in the first place, much less likely to happen again.

Celebrate, but think about what you are celebrating. Sing, but look for the deep truths in the verses. Most importantly, remember, like the Jews still do, even after thousands of years. When we ignore the ancient verses as just a bunch of old words, we do so at our own peril.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Oldest Question

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

It has been referred to in recent episodes as the oldest question in the universe, the question that has been a running gag throughout the fifty year history of the show: Doctor who? It is implied that he has a name, but for whatever reason he won’t tell anyone what it is. He’s just the Doctor to everyone he meets. The implications of what it means to be the Doctor are so tied to his identity that he even had one incarnation that refused the title because he couldn’t stand to have it associated with the one who ended both the Time War and the whole Time Lord race. In “The Day of the Doctor,” the name is described as a promise: “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” It lets humans know that help has arrived and it strikes fear into the hearts of Daleks, Cybermen, and a myriad of other monsters and bad guys.

There is perhaps an older question in the universe, the one that Moses asked: God who? In the ancient world so full of gods, who are you that people should listen to the message I bring from you? It’s funny how Moses receives the same kind of answer as so many companions over the years. Just as the Doctor is simply that, God just IS. It’s a name that holds a promise: eternal, ever-present, and all-powerful. I AM - that’s all the answer you’re going to get, but it’s all the answer you need.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Your Superpower?

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

Buffy and her so-called “Scooby Gang.” The X-Men. The Fantastic Four. The Justice League. Even the Thundercats (HO!). Having a team of superheroes to share the work of conquering evil is certainly a popular trope in the world of movies, television, and comics, and for good reason. It is much easier to vanquish the villain when the work can be split between a group and each member of the group can use his, her, or its particular power, mutation, or ability to do things that the other members of the group can’t.

Contributing to the common goal by using one’s unique talents is not a new idea - Paul wrote about it long before Stan Lee or Joss Wheedon made use of it. The church is a group made up of a varied collection of people with a wide variety of God-given talents, and God expects everyone to use those talents to further his Kingdom. It’s not the extent of the talent or gift that’s important, it’s that it is being used to the fullest extent available, however small or large.

So, what’s your superpower? And more importantly, what are you going to do with it?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cheeky Women

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:25-28)

Princess Leia from Star Wars. Laura Hobson from Inspector Morse and Lewis. Donna Noble from Doctor Who. Three of my favorite female characters in film and television, and they all have something in common - these are three cheeky women. Strong women, yes, but more than that, they are quick-witted and ready with the snarky comeback in any situation - something I aspire to every time I think of the perfect retort hours after the conversation.

They can also be disinclined to take “no” for an answer. In “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Doctor insists that they must follow the old “You can’t rewrite history, not one line!” mantra. The volcano monster must be vanquished, even at the expense of the lives of the people of Pompeii, because history says that the town was destroyed in 79 AD and there’s nothing he can do to save them. Donna, on the other hand, sees this for the BS that it is - what’s the point of having a time machine if you can’t help people with it? For every argument that he has, she argues back, and they finally reach a compromise: they can’t save everyone, but they can at least save Caecilius and his family.

The gospel passage in the lectionary this week is an odd one. It’s hard to imagine Jesus turning away anyone who needed his help, regardless of where she’s from. Then again, if Jesus didn’t want to help non-Jews, he wouldn’t have been in the region of Tyre and Sidon to begin with, and he would have let his disciples turn the woman away like they wanted to do. Instead, he makes a comment that leaves the door wide open for this cheeky Canaanite to toss back a cheeky reply as she refuses to accept his first answer. Evidently that is enough to prove herself, for the end result is that she gets what she came for. Jesus said it was because of her faith, but I think I know better. And I think cheekiness is something I will aspire to in my spiritual life as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:9-13)

The Daleks and the Cybermen are the Doctor’s two most famous enemies, and both turn up in the season finale of the second series of New Who, a two-part story consisting of episodes “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday.” The Cybermen are the main villains in the story, suddenly appearing all over London, and indeed, all over the planet, in an attempt to take over the world.

The primary characteristics of Cybermen are their uniformity and their lack of emotion. Their mission is always to add to their own numbers by “upgrading” humans by turning them into what are basically organic robots, which to the Cybermen is a vast improvement over chaotic lives driven by an ever-changing array of feelings. In “Doomsday,” once the Cybermen are in place and starting to capture humans, the Cyberleader sends out a message to the world: 

“This broadcast is for humankind. Cybermen now occupy every landmass on this planet; but you need not fear. Cybermen will remove fear. Cybermen will remove sex, and class, and colour, and creed. You will become identical. You will become like us.”

It may seem strange to equate God with killer robots from a television show, but once you notice the similarities it’s really not a very difficult leap. God’s love is the great equalizer. Salvation is offered to everyone and everyone is capable of obtaining it -- all you have to do is believe. You don’t have to come from a certain place, you don’t have to be a certain ethnicity or gender or social class. And best of all, you don't have to give up any of your wonderfully messy human emotions.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Go Away and Deal With It

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns….When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:13, 15-16)

Last week’s episode of Falling Skies, titled “Door Number Three,” begins with the reunification of Tom Mason’s family. For the first time since the beginning of the season, when yet another alien attack scattered them in many different directions, he is finally in the same place as all four of his children and the woman he loves. All is not well, however. It is stressful enough for Tom to deal with the fact that the young woman before him is his less-than-two-year-old little girl, thanks to her weird human/alien hybrid DNA. Now, Lexi is in a cocoon, and only time will tell whether she remains mostly human or emerges more like the enemy Espheni.

Family issues or not, Tom is a leader and many people now look up to him for guidance and direction in the fight to survive. His oldest son, Hal, comes to him to ask what the next move is, what he should tell the people who are clamoring for answers, listing all the possibilities while Tom mostly tunes him out.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Tom replies. “Yeah, we’ll do that, we’ll do all that. Stop them from making more human skitters, liberate ghettos, rescue the kids from Matt’s camp. But not today. I just got my family back in one place, in one piece. I’m not going anywhere.”

Hal is not satisfied with this answer: “What should I tell the people? Take a breather? Pretend like we’re not facing the extinction of humankind?”

“You can tell them whatever you want. I’ve given everything to these people. And to this fight. Today I’m going to be here for my daughter.”

Even Jesus needed time away from the people he gave his all to. Matthew places the feeding of the five thousand directly after an account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. The “this” that Jesus heard and that caused him to seek quiet and solitude was the news of his cousin’s execution. Time and space to grieve was not to be had, however, as hordes of people took off on foot and met him on the other side of the lake, clamoring for attention, healing, teaching. As usual, Jesus put aside his personal needs at that point and showed his love for them, but he seems to have run out of patience by the time his disciples get to him. They lack authority or initiative to carry out the plan they have devised, so they bring it to the Teacher. “The people are hungry, send them away so they can find something to eat.”

“You feed them. You are fully capable, adult men. Use your God-given brains and figure this one out. Go away and leave me in peace for a few minutes and don’t come back until you have a solution.”

Amazingly enough, that’s just what the disciples did. It wasn’t much of a solution, granted, and they seem to see it as proof only of the lack of another viable alternative to the plan they presented initially, but Jesus blessed their efforts by blessing the food, and all of the people ate supper that night.

So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Turning Away

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

The third series of the Doctor Who spinoff show Torchwood was a big departure from the edgy-yet-campy, monster-of-the-week format of the previous two series. “Children Of Earth” was a five-episode miniseries, and its tone was as different as its format. The Torchwood team, now down to just Captain Jack, Gwen, and Ianto, must find a way to save the world’s children from being taken by a sinister alien race.

Although it is set in the Doctor Who universe and is based around a crossover character, the Doctor’s former companion, Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood has virtually nothing to do with its parent show outside of just a few references. It is about a small team of people, armed with advanced (and often alien) technology who work together without outside help (especially from a certain Time Lord) to protect the earth from extra-terrestrial menaces. If you don’t know that it’s a Who spinoff, you might not even make the connection between the two shows - I certainly didn’t until I was well into the second series. Therefore, Gwen’s recorded message to whomever might discover her video, should the world come to an end as they fear it might, makes perfect sense.

"There's one thing I always meant to ask Jack, back in the old days,” she tells the camera. “I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world, except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history when there was no sign of him. Why not? But I don't need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame."

I have heard variations on this statement espoused by those who do not believe, or struggle to believe, in God - usually it goes something along the lines of, “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world? Where was he when (insert current tragic event) was going on?”

It’s a valid question, and a difficult one to answer at the best of times. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, but what about when your vision is clouded in the moment and you’re not sure you’ll ever make it far enough to be able to look back? I am thankful that neither life nor death, nor rulers, nor future events, nor present troubles, nor distance (physical or otherwise), nor fears and doubts, not even the shameful things we do, individually and collectively, can separate us from the One who loves us and takes care of us whether we are aware of him or not.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

An Experiment

I have an Evernote notebook of ideas for the blog, but deciding what to write about is still often a challenge, especially now that I have finished blogging through The Hobbit. Going by the book gave me a nice structure to follow and left me with at least one thing I didn't have to worry about - the "now what?" question that follows each blog post. To give myself some structure and remove at least one stressor (for me) of blog writing, I have decided to try an experiment. I am going to attempt to let the scripture passages of the Lectionary each week guide my choice of topic, either by drawing me to something I have already made note of, or by leading me to think of appropriate SF examples that fit one of the scripture references. I figure with four choices each week I ought to be able to figure something out!

If it works, great! If not, I'll figure something else out. It very well may be that some weeks the given passages don't give me anything to write about, and that's ok, too - inspiration comes from many places after all. I hope you'll continue to join me on the journey, whichever direction the path may take!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stuck In Traffic

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

The Doctor’s identity as the “Last of the Time Lords” is emphasized throughout the first few series of New Who, the idea that he is the last of his kind, the only one of his race left in existence. He is, he believes, alone in the universe.

This theme is explored on a larger scale in the 3rd series episode, “Gridlock.” The Doctor and Martha Jones find themselves in a very different 15-times-new New York than the bright, white city he had previously visited with Rose Tyler, misadventures with cat nuns notwithstanding. They find dark alleys full of drug sellers and an exhaust-choked motorway full of cars going nowhere, vehicles that, quite literally, have been stuck in traffic for years.

Throughout the episode, the Doctor and Martha meet a variety of denizens of the motorway as they make their way back to each other after Martha is kidnapped. Each small group has made a home in the midst of its isolation, waiting, creeping forward inches at a time, looking forward to the day when they might finally reach an exit and escape the madness. Rarely do they see others. Their radio calls to the police never get a response. They are fending for themselves.

What if they have been abandoned to the motorway, what if there are no exits to greener pastures after all? “We’re not abandoned,” Brannigan tells the Doctor, “not while we have each other.” Brannigan is referring to his wife and their kittens, but the daily radio broadcast reminds each car load that there are many others listening in many other cars at the same time. It never really provides new information, but it always ends with an ancient song so well-known to everyone that they all stop to sing along, something that has become somewhat of an anthem for all of them. It is neither a great work of classical music nor an iconic pop song that has survived the millions of years and millions of light years. It is a far more interesting choice - the old familiar hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”

I wonder what the people of New...New York make of the words, or if they even look beyond the comforting familiarity to examine them. Regardless of Russell T. Davies’ intentions, though, the hymn is a potent reminder to Christians that we are never alone. Even when we are stuck in the rat race of life, unable to exit the endless traffic jam and choking, poisonous air, and all of our cries for help seem to go unanswered, we “cherish the Old Rugged Cross” because of the one who died there and rose again, the one who goes with us every step of the way and reminds us that we are never abandoned.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Never Alone

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)

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

This is not the type of speculative fiction story that I usually base these blog entries around. This is the true story of NASA astronaut Michael Massimino and what happened one day in 2009 when he went on a spacewalk to repair a part of the Hubble Space Telescope.

I would encourage you to go read his entire account here, but this is the gist of what happened: Massimino was tasked with removing 117 screws on an access panel so that a bad power supply unit could be replaced. He and his team trained for years to learn the task, learn the tools, and know their roles in the spacewalk cold, so that they could do the job quickly, safely, efficiently. When they finally got to Hubble and began the job, they were stopped by one screw that just wouldn't let go, in a handrail that blocked the access panel. It was the start of what seemed like a looming disaster to Mass. He couldn’t do his job, and it made him feel discouraged and alone. His spacewalk partner had his own tasks to do. No one on the shuttle had a spacesuit on, so they couldn’t come running out to give assistance. In Massimino's own words:

They couldn’t come out here and help me. And then I actually looked at the Earth; I looked at our planet, and I thought, There are billions of people down there, but there’s no way I’m gonna get a house call on this one. No one can help me.

I felt this deep loneliness. And it wasn’t just a Saturday-afternoon-with-a-book alone. I felt detached from the Earth. I felt that I was by myself, and everything that I knew and loved and that made me feel comfortable was far away. And then it started getting dark and cold.

What he didn’t realize until later, after the job was done (with a great deal of help from his team both in space and in mission control), was that he was never alone. In addition to his teammate inside the shuttle and the NASA folks on the ground, he learned later that his wife and so many other friends and family members were thinking about him at that moment. He may have been on his own, in a self-contained suit, floating in space with only a thin tether connecting him to anything else, but he was never alone.

In the article, Massimino never mentions what kind of faith he might or might not have. He did have family and friends and coworkers helping him and thinking of him and supporting him every step of the way, whether he realized it at the time or not.

I don’t always recognize the presence of God when I’m feeling abandoned in the middle of a difficult situation, either, but I am grateful for friends and family who point the way to Him and remind me that I will never be alone, no matter what.

“A View of the Earth. From the Hubble Space Telescope. Which I Nearly Broke.” by Michael Massimino, August 31, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2014.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Rarely do people return from long journeys to find they are completely the same as when they left. On his journey There and Back Again, Bilbo Baggins discovers courage, faith, resourcefulness, and friendship. He brings back to Hobbiton a great deal of treasure as well. But after the dust settles and most Hobbits are satisfied that he is not, in fact, dead, and after the auctioned-off furniture is repurchased and his sword is hung over the mantle, there is something else different about him:

Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons - he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighborhood to be 'queer' - except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders.

Some people set great store by reputation, both their own and others’. But really, isn’t reputation, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? Tolkien tells us that in general, Hobbits set great store by being stodgy homebodies, predictable in every way, so by those standards Bilbo has lost his reputation. Yet one Hobbit’s dodgy reputation as one who goes on adventures with dwarves (oh, the horror!) is another person’s set of admirable personality traits, to be admired and emulated.

Paul recognized this as well, and said as much to the Philippians. The things the world values are trash in the eyes of Christ, but if his reputation because of his faith is trashy in the eyes of the world, well, so be it, because the world’s opinion is not the one that really counts. Besides, I rather like the sound of “queer old elf-friend,” don’t you?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Blessed Are The Hobbits

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:5-9)
Poor little Bilbo Baggins. He’s a meek little Hobbit with a slightly wild streak that occasionally gets him in trouble, like that time almost a year ago when it caused him to go running after a party of dwarves - without even a pocket handkerchief, mind you - in order to be their burglar. And what was he thinking when he picked up the Arkenstone but kept it to himself and even lied about it, when all along he knew that it was the one thing Thorin was seeking above all else?
In the end, though, we see that he is and always has been a kindly, humble little soul, the peacemaker who tries his best to help end the siege of the Lonely Mountain by offering the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip, even though that makes it worse in the end. And when it ends in battle and death anyway, he is sorry to have been a part of it. “You are a fool, Bilbo Baggins,” he tells himself, “and you made a great mess of that business with the stone; and there was a battle, in spite of all your efforts to buy peace and quiet.”

Despite his own feelings about recent events, Bilbo is lauded as a hero by others, and Bard wants to reward him appropriately with treasure. He is exceedingly relieved, however, that it will not be the one-fourteenth share originally promised him by Thorin. “How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home,” he says, when the battle is over and the division of spoils finally takes place.

Blessed are the characters like Bilbo Baggins, for they show us what the Beatitudes look like in person. And blessed are we when we recognize these characters and let them be an example to us in how to act and interact with others as we go through the world.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Geeky Squirrel Reboot

Ok, so I know I said The Geeky Squirrel was returning a year ago, but I really mean it this time. This summer, writing is on my daily to do list and I'm making a special effort to spend time on it. So what's coming?

First of all, the end of the Hobbit series (for now). Three posts left, with the first dropping this Sunday, June 29 to restart the weekly posting schedule. There's probably tons more I could say about this book, but any other ideas I might have had I will save for my next read-through. I also have Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen on my "to read" list and I'm sure his commentary will reveal new topics/insights as well. And then there are these movies by some guy named Peter Jackson - you may have heard something about them - and thinking about the differences between them and the book takes me down all sorts of paths, too. But like I said, The Hobbit is getting a rest for now, as I tackle some of the other topics in my idea file.

As I scroll down the list of ideas in said file, here's what I see:

  • Doctor Who. Lots and lots of Doctor Who. With the recent 50th anniversary of the show, I've watched a good bit of it lately, so that is primarily what my idea list consists of. I'll try not to bombard you with everything at once, though, I promise!
  • Other SF television shows - Falling Skies, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Torchwood, and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (what a selection!).
  • A real-life space story that really touched me when I read it - in fact, it will probably be the next thing I write about after I finish with Bilbo and Company. 
  • Non-Hobbit Tolkien: a few themes from The Lord of the Rings, and I may also tackle a bit of The Silmarillion and other writings.
If you are new to The Geeky Squirrel, I would encourage you to check out the pages listed in the "Geeky Squirrel's Guide for Newbies" sidebar blurb over on the left. If you want to read the Hobbit series in preparation for the wrap-up posts, it starts with, funnily enough, "A Very Good Place to Start." You can also see a list of all the posts in the series on the Hobbit Series page. If you want to read posts based on a specific SF franchise or a specific theme or topic, check out the Tag Cloud on the right. 

If you like what you read, please follow my blog! Scroll down to the bottom of any post - if you do the RSS thing, subscription links are there, as well as a place to enter your email address so you can get The Geeky Squirrel emailed to you every time I post a new article. Also comment on posts if you have something to add to the discussion - everyone loves feedback!

Thanks again for your patience - the return is for real this time.
~Ann, AKA The Geeky Squirrel