There and Back Again

As Bilbo was preparing to secretly leave the Shire forever, a hobbit asked him, “Mr. Bilbo, where are you off to?”  Bilbo answered, “I’m already late.”  “Late for what?” replied the inquirer. “I’m going on an adventure.”  These were the last words spoken to his admiring townsfolk.

“There and Back Again” was the original title of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”  It was the title of the book Bilbo would compose about his first adventure.  Well, like Bilbo, I have to bid you a farewell, for I must go on an adventure of my own.  As was Bilbo, I am late.  For years I have been perplexed with a nagging desire to search the depths of Covenant Theology.  For me there is a treasure of truth hidden in the riches of God’s promises annexed to his Covenant of Grace.  I am confident that the downgrading or downright denial of Covenant Theology by the visible Church, has hindered the spiritual growth of many believers. From the Protestant Reformation until the mid 19th Century, the majority of those saints who struggled before us, mostly in much more difficult situations than we have, relied on the God’s faithfulness in his promise keeping.  As my intent has been to encourage my fellow travelers on the journey through this foreign land, Middle Earth, if you will, and who seek to follow Christ into Glory, I have touched on my strong position concerning this doctrine, in order to show you from where I look for strength.

Being categorized as middle-aged, I feel more like Bilbo on his “eleventy” first birthday when he left on the final adventure.  There is no time to waste.  I must leave my blog for now and focus on this quest.  However I will be back again full of the tales of my adventure.  God willing, I may be able to share with you what I have found.

Farewell for now,

The Reformed Agonist

Soli Deo Gloria

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Supernatural Blindness

My upbringing was, at least from my perspective at the time, fairly normal.  My siblings were much older than I, so from my formative years on, I was the only child in the household.  We had the basic TV channels, radio, and the monthly periodicals.  However, there was little time for those things because I was busy playing.  That’s right, using my imagination to make up for the lack of all the stimuli children have today.  When I think back, I remember vividly the world I created for myself.  Adventures pretending with the aid of toy guns, action figures, and usually whatever involved getting dirty.  What I don’t recall is much imagining anything supernatural.  I suppose the fantastical was just that, fantasy.  We were taught not to believe in magic, otherworldly creatures or powers.  I’m not sure where Santa and the Easter bunny fit in, but certainly goblins, ghosts, and dead people coming to life at Halloween were taboo.  We could do the Halloween stuff of course but it was just for fun, not real.

I guess we have just become such an enlightened society that the supernatural or metaphysical is just a distraction best left to the fringe groups like “Wiccans” or Native Americans.  Just for kicks, have you ever considered that those who dabble in the otherworldly may have an advantage over most “rational” human beings in legitimizing the truths of scripture? In fact it was not that long ago that the belief in the supernatural was the norm. To believe in the literal creation accounts all the way to the destruction of the earth as we know it, not by man made climate change but by God’s own version of global warming, would have been the norm just a few generations ago.  In a previous post, entitled State of Grace: Part 1,  I discussed this same topic as it relates to regeneration or being born again.  I won’t repeat myself but I recommend you go back and read that post after this one.

I realize there can be a fine line when we enter the world of supernatural phenomena.  There are always dangers, especially for children, when exposed to the horror and destruction that is often associated with these topics.  For instance, as a teenager I saw the movie “Amityville Horror.”  Let me tell you, that was my first and last horror flick.  On the peer level it was cool to go to these movies and be frightened.  Though some of my macho guy friends claimed not to be, but their dates were, and that was good for them.  I however was shaken by the evil spiritual power, death and destruction.  There was an innate sense of the possibility of the reality of it all, and I wanted no part of it.  I am not promoting horror movies, Steven King novels, nor the “Long Island Medium” series, but rather just permitting yourself to open the door just a crack to see what your level of belief is.

We will never know for sure what Tolkien really believed about what he wrote.  What he did believe in strongly was that the tales told for thousands of years before the Christianization of Europe were not just the result of ignorant people making up fantasy.  There was an element of truth in those Viking legends, those Druid rites, and  the Elvish tongue.  Good verses evil, redemption, reprobation, powers of darkness and light, and promised messiahs were all story lines of peoples long ago who had never seen a bible.  Tolkien was well aware of the story of the Tower of Babel and the subsequent confusing of languages and the dispersal of the people of earth, or Middle Earth, as he penned his words.  The elements of truth contained in this ancient lore was passed on from generation to generation from the foundation of the world. In fact, if you believe the bible, these stories were told by the descendants of Japheth, Noah’s son. Oh by the way, if you are of European descent, these were your grandparents.  The tribe of Japheth migrated from Asia to be the first Europeans.  These are your family’s tales.  Tolkien wanted it to live on, not as fact, but not as fiction either. He devoted his life to it.  During a time when it was believed that the Renaissance was the beginning of quality literature in Briton and that Shakespeare was the bomb, Tolkien fought for the tale tellers who went before them.

What I am proposing here is not only enjoying a good story, but also examining what you believe concerning the mysteries of God.  Don’t be led down the path of the higher critics of the bible, which leads to tearing out the supernatural aspects as if they are merely the remains of ignorance from another age.  The fantastical tales of a primitive and scientifically bereft people, may actually be more advanced and accurate than what we believe to be truth today.

 

 

 

Faith to See Beyond the Shire

I introduced to you the inspiration for this and the next few posts, JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series, in my last post.  You might say that I am a big fan of Tolkien due to the fact that one of my cats and one of my dogs are named Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee.  Although I encourage you to read Tolkien the movies are wonderful too.

If you are familiar with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis you know that they have been somewhat controversial in Christian circles.  Lewis, most famous for “Chronicles of Narnia,” has been credited for the allegorical nature of these works.  Tolkien and Lewis were friends, members of an elite literary society known as “The Inklings,” and colleagues at Oxford University, but due to their religious and sometimes heated philosophical differences and personal struggles, a rift between them brought years of coldness and prevented collaboration, which could have been the recipe for a literary machine.

Let me be clear, my use of Tolkien’s stories is not intended to imply that his work is Christian allegory.  Tolkien himself stated in a forward for the American printing by Ballentine Books, “As for the inner meaning or message, it has none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.” Rather my intention is to use something that I enjoy, and is innate in mankind, that is, story telling, to inspire thought about the truths of our Christian faith.  I am not alone in this quest as many have gone before me.  I eagerly await the release of “The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth,” by Phillip Ryken, president of Wheaton College and former Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.  Ryken describes the story as containing “Christian symbolism and meaning.”

As followers of Christ, being created in his image, and being remade more and more like him, each of us can be read like a book.  Our behavior and conversation should overflow with Christion symbolism and meaning.  Although Tolkien describes his work as “the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of the readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them,” he leaves out what maybe the most eternally important benefit of his efforts.  This story makes you think about the real story,  your own journey within and beyond the Shire.

The Shire was basically the region and home of Bilbo and Frodo.  The village of Hobbiton, in the heart of the Shire, is the setting for the opening of the books.   The book vividly describes the fantastical scene of how the Hobbits live.  Even more so, the cinematography of the film, set in New Zealand, is amazing.  Agrarian, natural, and  peaceful tranquility is the feeling you get from what you see with your eye.  I would probably want to live in a hobbit hole, eat six meals a day, tend my garden and sing songs of peace and harmony all day long.  Wait, I think I am a hobbit!  But the reality is not always what you see. You have heard the expression “in your minds eye.”  This saying was coined long before science determined that about seventy percent of the cognitive workings of the brain are associated with sight.  In some ways sight is a handicap. People blind from birth are a testament to the untapped sources of the brain.  Their storage and recall ability is far better that those with sight. The fact that what we see is constantly bombarding our minds, we do not have the mental capacity to process and rectify all of the information we are receiving. As I have mentioned before,  being raised in the era when ADD wasn’t cool, I was not diagnosed or should I say labeled.  How ever I am easily distracted.  I’m kind of like the Pink Floyd “Comfortably Numb” line that goes, “You are only coming through in waves.  Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  I have a new practice when I am listening to someone speak.   For instance when the preacher is speaking or reading scripture, I close my eyes to avoid the distraction of his visible appearance, mannerisms, or facial linguistics, smile, frown, etc., and the possible distraction of other visual stimuli such as words on a page or things around me.  This works for me, though most think I’m sleeping.

The Shire was Bilbo’s and Frodo’s safe place.  To see the image portrayed in the story, whether described in words or picture, it is easy to see why.  However this place, home to the Hobbit, or the comfort of our safe place, wherever that may be, is not home to the Christian.  Bilbo would eventually come to this conclusion.  We must as well.

2 Corinthians 5:7 is one of those often misused passages of scripture.  “We live by faith not by sight.”  Although there is truth in the abuse, for instance, when we apply this verse to the making of basic decisions every day.  If you apply it to general obedience to God’s word such as making a decision to obey God even though we do not see the wisdom in it, you are not wrong to do so.  However the true context of the verse is about eternity, heaven.  In the first five verses of this chapter Paul had been describing the fallen condition of man dwelling in the world and how heaven will be the correction to this broken inglorious situation.  In verse seven he advises the Corinthians not to base their lives on their earthly condition, what they can see, but rather to live with the knowledge of his promise, what they cannot see.  In fact he tells them that their faith is the giving of the Holy Spirit, their guarantee.

We often like, like the Hobbits, want to cling to and give great value to this world and the things in it.  I do it every time my mind drifts to what it sees.  It is the things that are invisible, the promises of God, the deposit of the Holy Spirit, that escapes my reality.  As followers of Christ we will travel through dark and dangerous adventures outside of our Shire.  When we become homesick, and truly that is what we are, we must not visualize the conceptual picture of earthly tranquility but rather trust that what we cannot visualize is our true home.

 

Return to Ink Well or There and Back Again

As a teenager my friend David nicknamed me Bilbo Baggins.  Unfortunately David was more well read than I, because I thought the name was merely his distortion of my name, Billy.  It was some time before he revealed to me that Bilbo was the famed character in “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.”  Regardless, I liked this nom de guerre primarily because it was something special that a good friend had taken the time and thought to associate with me.  No one but David ever called me this.  In those days while David and I listened to the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” he could relate to the Robert Plant line, “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the Evil One crept up and slipped away with her.” I’m sure I butchered that line as well as most that blared from my 1974 Monte Carlo 8 track stereo. Some thirty-five years later I reflect on the adventure, symbolized to me by Tolkien’s work, the adventures of my youth, and the adventure that is the Christian life.

At this point you may be wondering where in the world is he going with this.  Has he been on a trip, or has he been tripping, or has he tripped out?  Well, it has been just over a year since I inked a single word.  There is no dramatic reason for this other than that is just what the sovereign Lord foreordained for me to do.  Yes, I have been listening to some Zeppelin, but without psychedelic assistance.  More importantly I have been reading.  Church history, military history, social history, systematic theology, doctrinal positions and biographical works of my favorite Churchmen, and, yes, Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton.  I hope that this sabbatical will make my blog writing a little more fresh and helpful.

If you read me before, you know that this blog is a fellow believer’s attempt to add a little information and encouragement to your journey through this barren land.  If you watch some of the “Christian” movies, listen to CC music, or you have fallen prey to some of the “prosperity gospel” hacks,  you may have been given the notion that being a believer means this constant steady march up the mountain of sanctification.  If you stop ascending and fall into the pit then you are doing something wrong or are not trying hard enough.  Well, if you were followers of one of the thousands of other religions out there, then that assessment might be correct. In fact those religions are designed to fail. Primarily, because they are false, there is no actual success,  but also because they depend on YOU!   It is true that if you are not using the means that God has provided to assist you in this journey, his word, prayer, sacraments, Church fellowship, etc., then certainly and logically, you place yourself behind the eight ball, so to speak.  However, the journey itself is totally dependent on God’s will, his sovereign, perfect, mysterious will.  He has you exactly where he wants you, or he would not be God.

In the next few posts I will use the similarities of Tolkien’s Bilbo and Frodo adventure and our Christian journey to edify us all. Remember this is partly my own thinking through writing.   No novel ideas here but rather a bit of using what I have on my mind, only the basics, and generating something to chew on.  No great epiphanies here.  Just stuff my reading and my perspective generate.  Hope it helps.