Christianity and Middle-Earth

Monday, December 06, 2004

Turning the Heart of the Children

The responsibility to preach the Gospel is, of course, the prime responsibility of the Christian community. A narrow focus on “winning souls” can become self-defeating, however: there are many people, especially the young, who simply will not respond to a “come to Jesus” approach and are little impressed with threats of hell-fire and brimstone. (The saccharin excesses and self-indulgence of the pray-and-pay preachers have not improved matters.)

I ran up against just such an inflexible perspective on a Christian messageboard some time ago, in the usual debate about the Christian credentials or lack thereof concerning The Lord of the Rings. To one poster, the talk of preaching Christ by preaching Frodo, so to speak, was blasphemy: we shouldn’t use worldly things to preach Christ – we should save our money and buy Bibles to give out instead.

He was no doubt well-meaning, but limited in his vantage point on Christ’s sovereign territory: a vast and comprehensive terrain to be sure, but one in which he focused on only the starker elements in the landscape, brooking no spending on ornamentals.

The answer to the difficulty of attracting our bouncy young heathens to Christianity, to getting them to take a curious first look at Truth and at the idea that there is something Beyond the Mall, may well lie in enticement.

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, certainly not Holy Scripture. But if viewed and read from the perspective of Christianity, which is as it was written, it is a powerful means of teaching our children about good and about evil. A teenager who "hero-worships" Frodo or Aragorn is a teenager whose heart is being prepared for the true Captain of his soul.

A voice come out of ancient days, brought out of vanished Time,
Grave footsteps heard on olden ways recalled in tale and rhyme
Now echoing upon my ear, but quickening and strong,
Rekindling my hope and fear to bright, uncertain song.

This weary age the empty chair, the high seat of the king,
Has brooded silent, cold and bare, that our remembering
Should faithful keep our deepest heart in thrall to him–to-be,
That we might know to play our part, to live in constancy.

Cloth-of-gold soft gleaming spreads across the many years,
And woven in the dreaming are the shadows and the tears,
The finding and the losing, the end and life anew,
The sifting and the choosing, the steadfast and the true.

Soon now the firm and gentle tread will pause beside my door,
And here I sleep twixt hope and dread, unsettled and unsure.
Does Time bring forth the living flesh from kings of crumbled stone?
The noble blood of old refresh, restore an ancient throne?

The hammer-blow of fate is told upon the new-forged blade;
The watching and the wait from old are not to be betrayed.
The steady steps are coming near, my heart leaps up to sing,
And speaks to me with portent clear of the coming of the king.

If by means of rearing our children on such as The Lord of the Rings we lure them to the high beauties and the questing ideals of chivalry, to the heroes and heroines of legend and history and to the romance of ancient things, some may well in due season find their way from those tributary paths onto the Road behind the truly once and future King.


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