The Hobbit or Not?

9781450288101_COVER.inddMy husband was a big Tolkien fan and it was really he who insisted that I should write a book connecting the Christian aspects of The Lord of the Rings to people’s every day lives. I’m glad I followed my husband’s advice at the time he gave it, because he is no longer here it offer it. Though The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through the Lord of the Rings will never reach the heights of say, Joseph Pearce’s  books on the same themes, they do aspire to reach readers who want to look deeper and connect the here and now with the yearnings that touches The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit readers.

Initially I did not want to see The Lord of the Rings movies because I was afraid that they would spoil the book.  I was wrong.  They enhanced the story for me.  I was just as inspired by the movies as I was by the books.  But when it came to The Hobbit I was keenly disappointed.  It seemed that everything which could be changed was.  At the time the first Hobbit movie came out, John was losing his eyesight, so it was difficult for him to really see and enjoy the movie.  Still, he wanted to and he really tried.  By the time the second movie came along, he was suffering a great deal but the inspiration of the stories meant a lot to him, and he insisted on taking us all out to see the second Hobbit movie even though it had snowed and he was in a lot of pain.  Such is the force of a good story. Sadly, it was the last conscious thing John ever did.  He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

As my kids and I consider whether to see this third Hobbit movie, they decided they’d like to see the extended version of the second. It had been rather hard to really see it last time. So we watched it and when my daughter asked what I thought, I had to admit that Peter Jackson knows how to produce an action-packed movie – but it was Tolkien who knew how to tell an inspiring story.  The less of Tolkien in the movie, the less inspiring it becomes for me. Sadly, the whole last hour felt more like a Peter Jackson nightmare rather than a “glimpse of the eternal truth that is with God…” (Tolkien)

In reality, it was the connection that John felt with Tolkien and the world of Middle-earth which moved him to do the nearly impossible – take his suffering body and his family to get, he hoped, one last glimpse of a story he loved.  As I ponder the whole movie scene, I have to wonder what we allow ourselves to be inspired by.  The book and the movie are meant to portray something larger than a single human experience – they draw us into the universal human event.  But really, what inspires me now, is not so much a movie or a book – but those who dare to see with eyes of love.

What Makes Heroes So Heroic?

1) In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, readers encounter characters that remind us of the best in ourselves.  Yet none of the characters are without flaws.  They all struggle, but it is in their very struggle to overcome their weaker selves that true heroism is born. Think about Aragorn, Frodo, Bilbo, Sam, Gandalf, Legolas, Faramir, Eowyn, or any of the other heroic characters in The Lord of the Rings as you read and see if you can’t identify with them in some measure.

homeschool 42) Heroes believe in something beyond themselves and their belief leads to conviction and conviction draws them into action. For me personally, it was my belief that my children were pure gifts from God that led me to consider their welfare over my convenience and decide to home school.  For over twelve years that faith has led my family down a winding path of exploration and learning which I would not change for all the gold in a dragon’s lair.

country road after storm3) Heroes hope – a lot!  Home schooling, like mothering, is a multifaceted experience.  Some days things go well and some days I want to pack it all in and start over.  But even on the worst days, I find myself clinging to the conviction that I had the right idea and that suffering does not necessarily mean I am on the wrong track but rather that bends and twists in the journey merely force me to rely on God’s wisdom more than my own. Hope is really trusting in God through the good times as well as the bad.

wedding ring4) Heroes are capable of deep, enduring love.  Love in our society has a tenancy to be equated with passion but passion, rightly lived, is merely the expression of love. Love itself is the commitment to do the best you can for another person, no matter the surrounding conditions or even the worthiness of the object of your love.  There have been times when I have had to deal with the worst side of those I loved, yet in those excruciatingly painful moments, I knew that God still loved this person, even when I thought they no longer deserved my love. It was in those moments that I had to call upon the heroic nature of God and the supernatural spirit of love to wish the best for the other person – no matter whether they could understand or even receive it.

garden 2015 May5) Heroes get gifts – like wisdom, understanding, and fortitude… Acting like a real hero means committing to a high level of faith, hope, and love. It is in living that way that one actually becomes a better person.  Simply choosing to want to be a hero – makes you more fit to actually become one.

6) Heroes pay a price for their choices – just like everyone else. Heroes can’t just ride off on a white horse and slay the nearest dragon.  The difference between a real hero and someone just trying on the suit is pride.  Real heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes. Heroes usually have other heroes they look to for strength and guidance.  Kind of wonderful to realize that the best of us, draws out the best in others.

7) Tolkien was a man who loved heroes.  And in the process – he became one.

For more food for thought about Tolkien’s work: The Road Goes Ever On – A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings9781450288101_COVER.indd

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Spoiled Society

empty podsIn the Old Testament there is a very chilling scene where God calls to the child Samuel and tells him that he will act against the household of Heli the priest because Heli did not control his sons who were acting wicked in the eyes of God.  Of course, one can only surmise that Heli’s wicked sons didn’t see this coming.  And so in time God’s judgment came to pass.  I don’t know the details, but I take it that the son’s of Heli met an unfortunate end.  So often we are warned by God that reality has consequences.  You jump from too high a distance, you break a bone.  You eat lousy food, you get sick.  You make friends with the devil…he turns on you.  Yet reality doesn’t seem to be in vogue now a days.

I have noticed that more and more people are rearing their children with a complete disconnect to reality.  They honestly think that by giving their kids everything they want, keeping them from nagging and whining, that they are doing them some service.  But when kids get the idea that the world and all its pleasures are owed to them they have a way of spoiling everything because they appreciate nothing.

I have heard repeated cases of kids who attack and verbally abuse their teachers or other kids in school.  Yet we can’t really punish them. We can’t deny them anything.  We can’t deny them their “right” to an education they don’t even want, an education they will consistently try to destroy.  I have worked in both public and private school and I have witnessed this scenario myself.  There are some wonderful teachers out there attempting to do the impossible.  Why?  Not because educating kids is so hard but because too many parents aren’t preparing their kids for any meaningful life experience that has some bearing on reality.

In my humble little home-school my kids thrive in their educational environment, and it isn’t because we have the newest and greatest materials and technology.  What makes them motivated learners is that they have been shown in a myriad of ways that this is their life.  Their future is for them to forge.  Their success is for them to win.  Their profit is for them to reap…if they have the skills, know-how, and desire to do what it takes to become successful and useful in this world.  I haven’t given my sixteen year old a car.  I haven’t promised anyone a college education.  I am not going to sign for any student loans.  They have to work while they live at home.  Kids thrive on being needed.  They love to know that they have a future to work for.  Their minds like to absorb new information and to work hard…if they haven’t been spoiled by the lazy virus which attacks too many youth these days.

The lazy virus is the attitude that they don’t really need to lift a finger to get what they need and want.  They will be fed, clothed, sheltered, and cared for without doing any work.  Grown-ups will beg to be allowed to secure their future for them, entertain them, give them what they want to make them “happy”.  Everyone feels terribly guilty and uncomfortable if kids complain.  And they are good at complaining.  I have heard some doozies.  Young people see life through an intense filter and they seem to think that the world revolves around them. But they need to widen their vision – for their own sake.  They need to see the needs of others..including other kids who really are without very basic necessities like food, clean water and shelter.  They need to see that they have a part to play in making the world a better place.  They need to realize that like Heli – wickedness doesn’t pay – reality has a way of catching up with a person eventually.

We are living in a society that is so completely detached from reality – we don’t even feel the need to pay our bills any more…as a nation or as a world.  Instead the president calls for universal preschool!  Oh, good, lets take our children out of our homes at an even younger age and make the state and federal government responsible for teaching them responsibility and reality. How are the majority of federally funded (underfunded) offices doing? Consider the last 30 years -Sesame Street, kindergartens, preschools abound like never before and yet our educational system is failing in the fundamentals. Our kids know more about homosexuality than about our presidents, Constitution, or monetary systems. Does anyone actually research the men or women they vote for? Why is this?  Because we are out of touch with reality.  Everyone wants to pass their responsibilities onto someone else.  No one wants to say no.  Are we cowards? Like Priest Heli was a coward.  There is no better person to teach a child reality and responsibility than his or her parents – unless they have forfeit that right by being irresponsible themselves.

So where do we go from here?  Psychologists would make us feel better about the suffering we have endured at our own hands, but I can’t feel sorry for a spoiled society which has brought catastrophe on itself.  I want to like Priest Heli but, in the end, I know he was a cruel man.  He never challenged his sons, he never made them look at reality but instead he allowed his children to suffer the ultimate fate of wickedness: sterility and death.  Let us not repeat the mistake.

J. R. R. Tolkien

country road after stormJ. R. R. Tolkien is a heroic figure; he understood that the greatness of humanity lies within each of us through our faithfulness to our daily mission. He was a Catholic, the son of a Catholic convert and an ardent believer in God. It was under his influence that C.S. Lewis embraced the reality of Christianity.  While a young man, he formed a little club with some close friends, and despite the small size of the group, they had some very big aspirations.  They believed that they had a mission to change the world, to make it a better place.  As for many people during World War I, this vision was severely put to test when several of Tolkien’s friends died; they were not able to live out their noble aspirations. But in a letter Tolkien was reminded of their ardent dreams, and he was encouraged to go forward – to fulfill what potential that he had.  And he did.  He was an ordinary man in so many ways, yet his faithfulness to his family, to his wife and son, his students, his friends, and his stories reach the soul.

After I had read most of his major works and become astonished at his incredible insight and clarity, I decided to read more about him so I could better understand his background and his mindset.  In one book (J.R.R. Tolkien:A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter), I read about one of his typical days where his bicycle breaks down and he is late for dinner while a stack of papers waits at home to be corrected. I was nearly pulling my hair out thinking about the fact that he could have been home writing great literature.  But then, after I became more reasonable, I realized it was because he knew how to fix a bicycle, cared about being home for dinner, made it to meetings, and corrected innumerable papers that he was the kind of man who could write so faithfully about the human heart and the reality of suffering as well as the idiosyncratic silliness of common human interactions.

Tolkien, like so many of his characters, could not predict the future, but he was engaged in humanity’s struggle to overcome evil, nevertheless.  May we aspire to the same noble faithfulness of a simple Hobbit and an honest writer.

On Guard

IMG_0196 (2)Blagobear rereading his favorite storyIt does not take a great deal of penetrating insight to see that our society loves good stories.  Why is that?  I think in large part it is because the imagination can go to such wondrous places – far away and long ago – and as Tolkien once said so very well “…the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.” (J.R.R. Tolkien:A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter)

Unfortunately not all fiction takes our children to God.  Some very palpably draw our children from Him. Our schools have an obligation to introduce our children to the highest quality literature but under the guise of “realism” some very dark and hideous material is presented to them.

I had a rather dramatic episode clearly demonstrate this reality to me a few years ago.  My son was enrolled in an on-line creative writing class and after a few weeks, he came to me with a disturbing reading selection.  It involved a scene with an adult woman in bed with a 16 year old boy, her emotional manipulation of the boy to kill her husband, and a vivid description of the murderous deed.  When  I protested to the teacher about this selection, she said it was a mistake and she purged it from the system.  Three weeks later another selection appeared worse than the first in which a young girl was being sexually molested by boys, her repeated rape by her father and then her eventual, vividly described suicide.  I again protested, this time taking my son out of the class. I was assured that it was another mistake.  The school has sincerely apologized and took steps to assure me that these kinds of selections wouldn’t slip in again though the teacher didn’t say anything other than “I respect your choice.”  My concern here is two fold.  One, this class had been going on for some time and the assigned readings had been given, and undoubtedly read, by many students before my son brought it to my attention.  Why didn’t any other student protest?  And if they did, why didn’t any other parent take the simple steps of having this material purged?  My second concern is that these selections were taken from a school text book.  What in the world are our texts books putting out?

I had another mother come to me recently and tell me she had to pull her daughter out of her freshman literature class because two of the books were clearly inappropriate, one being unashamedly pornographic.  She had me look at the book and after perusing it for only a few moments, I came upon a scene in which a man was taking a woman’s under clothes off her body…graphic language included.  Is this what we are paying for?  Is this what we entrust our children to?

I have been a teacher for a lot of years; I have worked in both public and private schools, and I have known heroic teachers who work very hard to ensure that our children receive the best of educations, but I have seen examples of the opposite too.  There is something wrong when students are given such horrendous material and only a very few voices are raised in  protest.

Are we too busy to see what is being given to our children or are we perhaps fed the lie that “Well, this is the real world and we best let our children know the truth.”  I had to ponder this possibility, and I came to the simple conclusion that yes – pornography, rape, seduction, and corruption of all kinds, is the real world – in hell.  But that is not where I plan on sending my kids.  That is not what I want them educated in –  Elementary Evil 101.

We are a busy people, parents especially so, but we have a higher calling than even our earthly supervisors can supersede and that is to be the authorities and mentors of our children.  We must know what they are reading and being exposed to; we bear the responsibility when their souls are turned from God because we did little protect their purity and guide their values. Schools can be wonderful places for education in so many ways, but parents are the primary educators of their children and as such we must be on guard.