Christianity and Middle-Earth

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Braveheart Iraqis

I wonder how many Americans would go to the polls here if there was as great a likelihood of getting blasted to bits by terrorists?

And I offer this tribute to the American men and women (and Aussies and Brits and anybody else) who made this day possible for millions and millions of Iraqis, especially those who have given their lives in the service of their country:

Alexander's Heroes

 

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Fish Benedict

A Political Farce in One Act

Scene: Pine-paneled kitchen in 1960s brick-ranch shoebox.

Cast: Seven felines. One human.

Occasion: Feeding time.

Human draws deep breath, steels herself and opens cat-food cupboard. Cat-herd immediately materializes smack in the middle of the kitchen floor and starts complaining.

Arry (I’ll bet you didn’t know that the bottomless pit was obese, long-haired, and orange and white): Supper, supper, supper! We want supper, lady – where is it? Food, food, food!

Ing (ferret-faced grey and white varmint who sprayed Narsil last night - yes, I said Narsil): Food! Hurry up! Or else.

Psmith (misnamed orange, stub-tailed Calvinist): Are we fasting today or just practicing patience?

Baggins (black scrap in a perpetual state of panic): Any crumbs left? Have the cat-skinners come? Has she stopped feeding us?

Go-Go Boots (small jet-setting calico Manx from Oregon): I’m afraid I’ll have to insist on my own dish. Nothing personal, of course.

Boggle (mildew-colored Art Deco spook that goes bump in the night): I’d sooner have my supper under the bed, but if that silly fashion-bunny gets her own dish, so do I.

Neanderbunny (orange fuzzy nitwit): Canned. Do I really want to bother?

Arry commences maneuvers by running in front of human’s legs. A lesser cat would have been kicked galley-west due to the involved physics, but Arry is not a lesser cat so human crashes into oven door instead.

Baggins bolts for cover: Aiyeeeee! Fear, fire, foes, Balrogs, cat-skinners! Aiyeeeeee!

Ing: Shut up and get back in here. You want supper, don’t you? We hang together - or I’ll have to piddle on something.

Psmith, grumbling: Of course we want supper. Not that we’re likely to get any, from the look of things. Jumps on counter and starts trying to open dish cupboard. Human leaps to secure cat-proof safety lock that has replaced the egg-turner that used to be shoved through the handles.

Arry takes another massive lunge athwart unwary human’s bow, sending her crashing once more: Supper, supper, supper! Hurry!

Human yells irritably.

Neanderbunny forgets why he’s there ( Are we having a caucus race? ) Jumps onto the sink and attempts to lick faucet. Human yells again. Neanderbunny retreats, hurt and bewildered: What’d I do? I thought we all got prizes.

Boggle takes up a cautious position in the hallway, peering through the door to make sure she’s getting her own dish: What IS the hold-up? And I only want jelly – no lumps!

Go-Go Boots, daintily wrinkling a lip: That's aspic, barncat.

Human pushes Psmith off counter and tries to get dishes out of cat-proofed cupboard. Arry bites her ankle and she yells again.

Psmith jumps back onto counter to arrange his butt-end against the dish-drainer: ARE you going to feed us or not?

Arry, like an aging Baby Boomer stuck on The Who: FEED ME, FE-ee-EED me, FEED ME, feed meee!

Baggins slinks round the edge of the floor, peeping pitifully of starvation and cruel indifference. She lied, precious. We must staaaaaaarve.

Human pushes Psmith off the counter again and opens cupboard where Sheba and treats are kept. Go-Go Boots tries to climb in from stovetop: Mousie, mousie! Fuzzy fur mousie!

Human shoos Go-Go Boots away. Opens a pop-top Fancy Feast and turns to fetch a fork. Trips over Arry again. “Confound it, CAT!”

Baggins, heartrendingly: Lies, precious! Poor, poor us!

Ing leaps onto counter and sticks nose in can: MINE!

Psmith glooms from the floor: I knew she wouldn’t feed us. Promises, promises.

Human screeches as Arry bites her shin again. “Arry, don’t DO that!”

Arry: Why won’t you FEED me? Feed me NOW!

Ing (pretends to spray tea-kettle): She’ll feed ME or else.

“ING, don’t you DARE!”

Human lets Ing have can and bends over to get another one. Ing looks smug. I told you she’d feed ME.

Go-Go Boots lands in the middle of human’s back: Mousie? Mousie?

Arry bites human’s ankle again. I want my supper NOW, lady! Why won’t you give me my supper?

Human drops dish full of cat food, permanently compromising its structural integrity. Go-Go Boots slides down her suddenly perpendicular back. “AHHHHHHH!”

The cats still on the floor scatter in panic. Disengage, disengage! Abort mission!

Temporarily, of course. Before human can react, cats return to attack fish-flavored shrapnel with gusto. (Except Baggins, who is now utterly traumatized by human’s brutal behavior and will remain under a bed til at least 3:00 a.m.)

Human screeches: “No, no! Don’t EAT THAT!”

Psmith beats a gloomy retreat and takes up an Eeyore-like pose just out of reach: I knew she wouldn’t feed us. Why doesn’t she admit it?

Ing snarffles can of fish off counter and makes a rapid descent to get his share of shrapnel.

Arry abandons glass-shards to inspect upended Fancy Feast. Tries to scrape floor over it in disgust. What kind of slop is this? Where’s the Sheba, lady? Why can’t you do anything right?

Human starts wiping up the cat-induced quagmire of fish and glass.

Go-Go Boots sniffs: Why can’t we have meals on time? It’s so hard to get good servants these days. And is this organic?

Lies! comes a faint peep from the bedroom.

Failure! grumbles Psmith dismally. What a miserable failure! I can see I’m going to have to call in the international SPCA if we ever want another meal in THIS place. What an idiot!

Human just keeps on cleaning up the mess.

 

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He Spoke...

...and I obeyed. Well, some of it, anyway. :)

However, I have been told to point out that it was my Sainted Daughter who actually dealt with the technicalities of trackbacking. By said Sainted Daughter, I mean.

Now if I can just figure out how to use it without crashing the entire Internet...

 

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Faithless Lover

I don’t like to deal in threats of fire and brimstone, a la Jerry Falwell and the Twin Towers, preferring to take my view of bad things happening to others or myself from what Jesus Christ actually said:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

And Jesus answering said unto them, ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

‘Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’

Time and chance happen to all men. Tsunamis come, and earthquakes and hurricanes and terrorism and epidemics and wars, all ills rooted in indifferent natural forces or the practical consequence of human folly. These sorrows are the ever-enduring lot of Man and as such stand apart from visitations of divine wrath. In other words, there’s opportunity for suffering aplenty on this earth and no need for God to throw lightning bolts about even if that were his modus operandi for the Christian era. If he took that approach, how many of us would be left standing?

Our relationship with our Captain cannot be footed in gain, whether prosperity or safety or any other earthly desire; if it is, we are little more than trained animals, eager to please in order to avoid the whip or to be fed a treat. While a yearning for temporal security in body or mind may be what turns us to seek Christ in our beginning, to come into mature communion with him requires that we in due season leave the Shire-nursery of our spiritual childhood, forsaking the security of regular-meals-and-often, so to speak, daring to follow him onto the perilous Road of his Fellowship wherever it may lead, be it to Rivendell’s comforts or the long dark of Moria. What begins as an I-worship-You-You-bless-me Pavlovian bargain must become a true bonding of heart and soul and mind, a fealty and love that can be no longer crippled by the caltrops of mortal pleasures or griefs.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in a nutshell: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

And C.S. Lewis expressed it thusly:

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”

~~~

Having said all that, I will seemingly contradict myself with a couple of Christ’s other warnings, here:
Then said he unto the disciples, ‘It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.’
And here:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was ahungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee ahungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was ahungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’

Then shall they also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee ahungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’

Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.’
~~~

Life isn’t as short as it used to be, Michael Schiavo, but it’s still brief. There will be no comfort for you or your Becky Sharp of an accessory to the murder of your helpless wife.

Not in the darkness that is coming.

 

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Friday, January 21, 2005

A Second Darkness

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

It was a rough go for the Christian church in the first centuries after Christ, but eventually things swung round in their favor, most notably with the conversion of Constantine, and eventually Christianity in one form or the other became the framework round which the West was built.

For all the time of Men, the radiance of holy Light had lain secret beyond the deep shade cast by the tree of knowledge (a primeval gloom breached only by scattered splinters of mercy and truth and a single clear shaft that shone primarily upon the Hebrew people). With the sudden blaze of a single star over Bethlehem, Night found itself retreating before the dawning of Christianity, and mostly, despite sudden sorties and skirmishes in this direction or that, retreating to lick its wounds in confusion. God was in communion with Man.

Slowly, implacably, in the wake of the usual military conquests (whether ethically justifiable or no) of one tribe or nation over another, the knowledge of the Cross spread and flourished: it was the time of Christendom, of the ubiquity of priests and prelates and pilgrims. This earthly dominion knew many flaws, to be sure; Christendom per se is not the same thing as the kingdom of God (as yet that heavenly authority has sent only foreign office personnel) and sin has a long reach, but temporal power was wedded to the church and so Western history rode upon the mules of bishops as much as on the horses of kings.

With Martin Luther and Henry VIII and all that, the new reaches of empire took on a Protestant tone. Jamestown colonists and Pilgrims survived their journeys across the Atlantic in cockleshells, and the Declaration of Independence borrowed its legitimacy from Rights endowed by a Creator. A newborn people stood apart from the rule of popes and archbishops, and yet bowed their heads before that Creator in humility; in all their comings and goings aware of the bounds of a Judeo-Christian morality.

But the Shadow is not so easily discouraged: if frontal assault is thwarted, infiltrate from within. Better yet, try both strategies. Keep coming back, blow after blow after blow, in patient assault until at last Men fail and the blood of Númenor is spent and Valinor is a fool’s tale, smoke and mirrors signifying nothing.

The two hundred and twenty-nine years since have seen those bounds breached time and time again in an ever-increasing onslaught of secularism (of which the French Revolution is a charming example) until now, in our brave new 21st century world, they have nearly passed out of public knowledge. The walls are tumbled, the stones cracked with frost, the hand-cleared fields overgrown until the long labors of our ancestors are vanished, abandoned curiosities to be stumbled upon in the wild wood of moral relativism.

~~~

Now for the nitty-gritty:

Group charged with hate crimes in Philadelphia. Don’t neglect to watch the video of the evil Christians causing a riot. Great is Diana of the Ephesians!

The Australian Inquistion is begun, here and here.

If the prophets and apostles had offended people the way this guy did, they’d have died martyrs. Oh, wait

The British Inquisition: so when does writing about “cruel Haradrim” become a hate crime?

Even convicts aren’t safe from the revisionist-history/anti-free-speech busybodies.

~~~

In Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, we follow Gandalf and Pippin as they ascend the spiraling streets of Minas Tirith, the White City, to come out at the top onto a sprawling courtyard fronting the Hall of Kings. A tree is there, august, ancient, gnarled with age and the winds that must be frequent in so lofty a situation; the White Tree of Gondor, an artifact of fabled kings and former glories, now leafless, broken and long dead, bereft of even the hope of quickening.

“Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.”


That was the salvage of Númenor, the land of gift that lay now drowned forever beneath the Sea. Only the Faithful – those who had spurned Sauron’s lies, aghast that their kin should in envy and vainglory dare send a fleet to demand immortality of the Valar, immortality in this life such as the Elves possessed – only these of the Men of Númenor came living out of the breaking of the world to be cast up at last upon the shores of Middle-Earth.

This was only one sin of many, however, the final folly of a people who had turned in prideful insolence against their Creator and his ministering servants.

I’ll end with a telling snippet from The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s gathered lifework that provides this back-story to The Lord of the Rings:

In those days the Shadow grew deeper upon Númenor; and the lives of the Kings of the House of Elros waned because of their rebellion, but they hardened their hearts the more against the Valar. And the nineteenth king took the sceptre of his fathers, and he ascended the throne in the name of Adúnakhor, Lord of the West, forsaking the Elven-tongues and forbidding their use in his hearing. Yet in the scroll of Kings, the name Herunúmen was inscribed in the High-elven speech, because of ancient custom, which the kings feared to break utterly, lest evil befall. Now this title seemed to the Faithful over-proud, being the title of the Valar; and their hearts were sorely tried between their loyalty to the House of Elros and their reverence of the appointed Powers. But worse was yet to come. For Ar-Gimilzor the twenty-second king was the greatest enemy of the Faithful. In his day the White Tree was untended and began to decline; and he forbade utterly the use of the Elven-tongues…

 

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Monday, January 17, 2005

The Romance of the Road

For those eager to encourage a Christian ‘life of the mind’ amongst the humbler reaches of American evangelicals, a subscription to Touchstone magazine is an enjoyable way to go about it, for yourself or someone else - or even better, for yourself and someone else. I find it a pleasure just to see it come in the mail and I gloat over each copy.
Touchstone is a Christian journal, conservative in doctrine and eclectic in content, with editors and readers from each of the three great divisions of Christendom - Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. The mission of the journal and its publisher, the Fellowship of St. James, is to provide a place where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church.

There’s lots available on the website, too, even without a subscription: articles from back issues, Daily Reflections, and - one of my favorites - Mere Comments. I’m always pleased to find Tolkien mentioned therein, so this January 14 post was quick to catch my eye:

Observing Tolkien’s Birthday: Letters from Joel Tom Tate & Thomas Howard
Yesterday [January 4] was the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien and so, when I got home from work, I used a recipe I’d found on the Internet for lembas and my daughters and I made a batch. As we baked I explained to them as carefully as I could who Tolkien was and what a hobbit is. They are six, four and just turned two, so none of them have seen the Lord of the Rings movies yet, of course.

After dinner we assembled upstairs in one of the bedrooms and made a journey through a house lit only by a Christmas tree and a few lamps. My two oldest girls carried the flashlights, and I carried the lembas and a container of honey. One bedroom was Mirkwood, the living room was the plains of Rohan and so on. We ended up setting up camp in the den downstairs where, by the light of our electric torches, we ate our lembas and I read Tolkien’s wonderful poem about the road that starts at our door. We talked about adventures and their eyes were wide with wonder…

…But I worry a little bit about events like this which are faintly liturgical without being explicitly Christian. Should I worry? And how old should a child be before she’s ready for The Hobbit?

The response is a wise and sensible one aimed at allaying the letter writer’s worries, but it all reminded me that the question touches on a concern shared by other Christians (usually of the more Calvinistic strains, who are by nature highly suspicious of the imagination) and exemplified by the splash page for Christianity and Middle-Earth, which reads thus:

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was J.R.R. Tolkien. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.”

The astute reader will recognize the scripture, which in its original state refers to John the Baptist. I could have left the quotation from the Gospel of John as originally written, and it would have been just as applicable, due to the fact that Tolkien’s first name was John; however, this is a Tolkien-flavored-Christianity website and requires its own ‘statement of purpose,’ which is precisely what is expressed in that paraphrase. I rely on the intelligence and lateral thinking abilities of my readers to enable them to see my intent and not suspect me of trying to start a new religion.

~~~

Part of the same response includes this anecdote:

[A] woman wrote to Lewis once, worrying that her child loved Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis reassured her that, having loved Aslan, the child would, when she encountered Jesus, recognize the very virtues and glories that had attracted her to Aslan.

We live in what is perilously close to a post-Christian society. As a whole, our children no longer learn the backstories of Western culture. Ideas and concepts that we older Americans take for granted are more and more a mystery to the young. They have little literary connection to the distant past (or to even their grandparents’ for that matter); the traditions and stories have been taken from them as effectively as if Norsemen had swooped in and burnt our schools and libraries, lock, stock and manuscript.

In my more naive days on the internet, when I viewed messageboards with a less jaundiced eye, the “Is The Lord of the Rings Christian?” issue would come up occasionally in discussions, usually to be energetically denied by this bouncy young heathen or that one, all indignant that his favorite movie be slandered. I found this bewildering at first – wasn’t the metaphor clear as a bell? – but eventually I began to comprehend the problem. Say ‘Christian’ to your average junior high students and they immediately have nightmares of syrupy music and pay-and-pray-preachers and handing out tracts on the street corner. (Unless of course, they recall more vividly that overwrought nitwit in Alabama who was all over the news shows screaming “Take your hands off our God!” or whatever it was. I must admit to hoping he was a Berkeley plant.)

The high romance of Christianity - the tales of kingless thrones and kings to come, of warriors and captains, of seers and wanderers and prophets and archangels so nicely nutshelled by Paul in Hebrews 11 and echoed in Arthurian legend - is not what was uppermost in their minds. They’re probably not even aware that such an idea as romantic theology exists, that to step out onto the Road behind Jesus Christ is to possess a place in the grandest and most authentic Fellowship of all.

~~~

Everybody doesn’t have to see Christ in The Lord of the Rings. Some Christians will see the metaphor clearly and be renewed and reinvigorated in their faith in Jesus Christ; others will watch it once or read it once and then forget about the whole thing.

But there are also many people to whom the basic themes of Christianity are an utter mystery – and here I have special hope for our children - who will have their hearts fresh-furrowed to receive the seed-concept of a both a sacrifice and a returning king.

Frodo is the shadow; Christ is the reality.

Aragorn is the shadow: Christ is the reality.

They will watch or read in fascination an epic battle between Good and Evil, a modern version of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and perhaps for the first time ever be deeply moved by the power of storytelling in a way that has been denied them in their own lives by their own culture.

Thus someday, when the time is right, perhaps they will answer the call of Heaven and turn to the true Captain of their souls - because just possibly God in his mysterious wisdom chose to work through an English storyteller and a New Zealand filmmaker to show them a small hobbit named Frodo, innocent, gentle and portrayed with a angelic beauty that wouldn’t be out of place on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, taking up his cross and setting his face to Mordor and Mount Doom.

And it is that willingness to give up his own life to save Middle-Earth from burning in the fires of Sauron’s hell, the willingness of Christ Jesus to give up his own life to save mankind from the hell-fires of judgment and oblivion, that makes possible the other major storyline, both of Tolkien’s imagined tale and our own very real one:

The Return of the King.

 

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sticker Shock

Another fine article by David Bass is up at World Net Daily - Separation of Sticker and State – close upon the heels of his apt and well-reasoned comments about the Terri Schiavo situation.

The Schiavo article pleased me especially because I have a considerable amount of emotional energy invested in Terri’s situation, due to my own experiences with the wonderful world of Efficiency-mongering.

David’s parents are old friends going back a quarter-century, but they had moved away from North Carolina before the boys were born, so I didn’t have an opportunity to meet him or his brother Matt (TolkienMovies.com) until recent years. They are an entertaining pair and good company, and are also a splendid advertisement for the virtues of home-schooling.

So I take a maternal interest in their accomplishments; thus the article mention. (By way of full disclosure - not that this is of national concern, but I may as well start as I mean to go on – Matt has diverted some of the advertising revenue from TolkienMovies into the Entropy House costume fund. But I inflicted horrible knitted pot-holders of my making upon him by way of retribution, so we’re even.)

 

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Friday, January 14, 2005

A Grand Adventure

Being in possession of several physical disabilities that frequently render life a bit on the miserable side, I have good weeks and bad. This past week has been one of the latter sort, which is why I’ve been so long in posting again; but I finally managed today to drag myself around some of my normal reads, Christian-blogwise, and found myself suddenly cheered by the irrepressible Steve Bragg of DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS, in a post fitting in nicely with the one I’d spent yesterday trying to write and not getting very far:

Public School Recommends 'Boob Jobs', But Not God!

The convergence with my post was homeschooling, not chest measurements, actually, but this amuses me because I have for years assured my more modestly-endowed offspring that the American fixation with dueling nose-cones is nitwitted in the extreme. Whatever the perceived charms of generous endowment in youth, by middle-age it becomes more of a burden than anything, partly due to an equation involving gravity, speed and inertia. (If you don’t believe me, try strapping two grapefruits to your chest and wearing them all day.)

The decision to pull our older daughter out of public school and teach her at home wasn’t due to any professional lack on the part of her teachers; rather it was precipitated by my maternal concern at sending her off to endure the fever-swamps of American teen-think at a tender age. From the relative (and I stress relative) pastoral innocence of a primary-grades environment, she was about to be herded into the middle-school feed-lots of Beverly Hills 90210 to be fattened up for - culturally speaking - ritual slaughter.

This was not a prospect I found pleasing. Girls are very silly if left to their own devices in the teen years, and I well remembered my own silliness at that age. As an adult, I had my own ideas about what my daughters should learn, and it didn’t include having them pressured to squander their emotional energy on bubble-brained panics about clothes and make-up and boys and all the other issues of national importance that our society seems to think are an appropriate state of mind for even pre-adolescence.

So, starting with the one daughter, we set out upon our Adventure, one which I highly recommend to American parents.

I don’t think she’ll ever forget that beginning: Altogether, that September in Eastern North Carolina was a marvelous year. Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain in due times and perfect measure, there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth of an amazingly wide variety of toadstools, at least one of which stank oddly of plastic and fish, and the poor child had to identify all of them.

Two autumns later, her sister joined the experiment and we went merrily upon our way, defying custom and culture and Respectability and having a jolly good time of it into the bargain. They finished high school at home, and were welcomed into a small local private college and graduated with their heads on straight and with high honors.

If modest bosoms.

 

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Rustle of Morgul-rags

The Dutch should know better. The Dutch do know better.

Via Ecumenical Insanity comes another nasty waft of Night and Abyss as the Witch-king of Angmar gets ready to ride again.

“Doctors can help patients who ask for help to die even though they may not be ill but "suffering through living," concludes a three year inquiry commissioned by the Royal Dutch Medical Association. The report argues that no reason can be given to exclude situations of such suffering from a doctor’s area of competence.

The conclusion has reopened a fierce debate over what constitutes grounds for requesting euthanasia, as it contradicts a landmark Supreme Court decision that a patient must have a "classifiable physical or mental condition." The 2002 ruling upheld a guilty verdict on a GP for helping his 86 year old patient die, even though he was not technically ill but obsessed with his physical decline and hopeless existence (BMJ 2003;326:71).

The Dutch euthanasia law does not specifically state that a patient must have a physical or mental condition, only that a patient must be "suffering hopelessly and unbearably."


Emphasis mine.

~~~

[Y]et another weapon, swifter than hunger, the Lord of the Dark Tower had: dread and despair. The Nazgul came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror. Ever they circled above the city, like vultures that expect their fill of doomed men’s flesh. Out of sight and shot they flew, and yet were ever present, and their deadly voices rent the air. More unbearable they became, not less, with each new cry. At length, even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands, while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and crawling, and of death.
~~~

In the Brave New World of the Royal Dutch Utilitarian Society, social engineering is to be admired over charity, convenience over courage, and expediency over unfailing love. To concede transcendence of the vainglorious dictates of the Efficiency-mongers would be to admit to the existence of a Mind and Power beyond the understanding of men who are their own I Am. It would be to admit that we are not meant to be a hive, a precision clockwork ever clicking out the perfect seconds of a tidy machine-world; that even what may appear as needless suffering has an office of unfathomable value in the shaping a human soul.

~~~

‘Why? Why do the fools fly?’ said Denethor. ‘Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire. And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep in death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed thither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!’


…Denethor started as one waking from a trance, and the flame died in his eyes, and he wept; and he said, ‘Do not take my son from me! He calls for me.’

‘He calls,’ said Gandalf, ‘but you cannot come to him yet. For he must seek healing on the threshold of death, and maybe find it not. Whereas your part is to go out to the battle of your City, where maybe death awaits you. This you know in your heart.’

‘He will not wake again,’ said Denethor. ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?’

‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,’ answered Gandalf. ‘And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair….’


…Then suddenly Denethor laughed. He stood up tall and proud again…His eyes glittered. ‘Pride and despair!’ he cried. ‘Didst thou think that the eyes of the White Tower were blind? Nay, I have seen more than thou knowest, Grey Fool. For thy hope is but ignorance. Go then and labour in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up the Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed.’
~~~

Thy hope is but ignorance. Better to die at our own hands than endure one more hour and then one more hour after that and another after that, because, you see, hope is taken from us, ravished, robbed and left cold as the dead under endless night.

This is the natural state of the chronically, severely depressed; they can see only the uttermost sprawl of the Void. What they cannot see is that for all the vastness of its width and length and height and depth, even the dominion of nothing, of hopelessness and unbearableness, must know its bounds.

I can say this with considerable authority because, you see, I dwelt long in that Void myself; and here on the other side, I know now that there is an end to its reach.

Circumscribing that chill, grey dying-place of despair; beyond the formless labyrinth where there is ‘no taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower’; beyond the legions that besiege the City, beyond the martial rain of horror and fire and delight in death, beyond the Orc-trenches filled with the corpses of the dispensable, beyond the dread sorties of the Winged Nazgul – in short, beyond the reach of every weapon that the Enemy can wield, there are other creatures and other places and other purposes.

~~~

Now at last [Frodo and Sam] turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on…But as the day wore on and all too soon the dim light began to fail, Frodo stooped again, and began to stagger…At their last halt he sank down and said: ‘I’m thirsty, Sam,’ and did not speak again. Sam gave him a mouthful of water; only one more mouthful remained...


[Sam] could not sleep and he held a debate with himself. ‘Well, come now, we’ve done better than you hoped,’ he said sturdily. ‘Began well, anyway. I reckon we crossed half the distance before we stopped. One more day will do it.’ And then he paused.

‘Don’t be a fool, Sam Gamgee,’ came an answer in his own voice. ‘He won’t go another day like that, if he moves at all. And you can’t go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food.’

‘I can go on a good way though, and I will.’

‘Where to?’

‘To the Mountain, of course.’

‘But what then, Sam Gamgee, what then? When you get there, what are you going to do? He won’t be able to do anything for himself.’

To his dismay, Sam realized that he had not got an answer to this. He had no clear idea at all. Frodo had not spoken to him much of his errand, and Sam only knew vaguely that the Ring had somehow to be put in the fire. ‘The Cracks of Doom,’ he muttered, the old name rising to his mind. “Well, if Master knows how to find them, I don’t.’

‘There you are!’ came the answer. ‘It’s all quite useless. He said so himself. You are the fool, going on hoping and toiling. You could have lain down and gone to sleep together days ago, if you hadn’t been so dogged. But you’ll die just the same, or worse. You might just as well lie down and give it up. You’ll never get to the top anyway.’
~~~

Even as the Steward of Gondor is rejecting death with honor, preferring instead his own will and his own sight and his own knowing of good and of evil, from the Golden Hall the two-who-are-not-men come in concealment astride their shared steed. On the Anduin, hidden as yet behind the ominous black sails swelling northward to the City, a great furled standard approaches, bannered destiny writ with the White Tree and the Seven Stars and the high crown of kings, and borne by the one to whom alone sovereignty belongs: he who was named Elessar. And - not least, not least, not least at all - sick with suffering, the halfling great-hearts who Denethor would scorn as the witless fools of a witless Fool creep faithful unto death to drink of the poisoned Mordor-cup that is their lot.

~~~

Frodo groaned but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell on his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.

Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’

‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you…’
~~~

Encouraging or facilitating the death of someone who above all things needs to be carried into light and warmth and reassurance is a despicably callous act. To call it mercy is to deal in arrogance and the utter mockery of grace, the spurning of individual worth and redemption.

It is also an impertinent attempt to deafen people to the Word-who-was-made-flesh, the Man of Sorrows who would sing the patient sufferings of ephemerals into the Eternal music, thus binding forever, in the mending of the world, the lays of mortal men to the imperishable evensong of Love.


New Update: The Court-Ordered Death of Terri Schiavo

And please read my brother's story here. He is alive today because of Terry Schiavo.

Update: More from Christianity Today.

 

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Silver-clear Like Elven Bells

Having grown up in a rather Cromwellian church (as Athanasius at Ecumencial Insanity put it), I have been late in life coming to some of the aesthetic delights of Greater Christendom

There is a great deal of good in the humbler groups of “low church” Americans (and I count myself as one of them even yet and will fiercely defend them, tooth and claw, despite any theological disagreements) but as an individual I long felt the aesthetic lack in a distressingly flat, grey sort of way, but simply didn’t know what to do about it. Religious music was earnest choirs croaking out four-part disharmony or the Mormon Tabernacle rendition of The Messiah; even the exquisite beauties of traditional Christmas carols were denied me. (I did mention Cromwell, didn’t I?)

For those unfamiliar with them, I can from personal experience state that American religious bodies of this sort are highly suspicious of the other end of the theological spectrum in any case; if it’s Catholic, you’d best run screaming lest your soul be suddenly imperiled by Plan 666 From Outer Space.

Thusly, I remained largely ignorant of the astonishing singing capabilities of pre-adolescent boys (believe me, children’s choirs aren’t the same thing at all) and the nearly unbearably beautiful Catholic-tinted starlight that runs throughout Tolkien’s work until Peter Jackson introduced me to it all (for which blessings be upon his head forever).

The Sistine Chapel loveliness, purity and innocence of Elijah Wood’s Frodo and the equal loveliness, purity and innocence of young male voices raised in praise as under cathedral rafters are irredeemably mingled in my soul now; Edward Ross and In Dreams have meshed the two beyond parting.

This scrap of sorrowful enchantment was (for some unfathomable reason) banished almost as an afterthought to the uttermost end of The Fellowship of the Ring, so if you’re in the habit of turning off the video player as soon as the credits roll, you’ve been missing a very evocative window onto the soul of a small and fragile Christ-figure facing his Gethsemane.

Anyhow, what this all brings me to – for any of you as ignorant as was I - is Libera. Go here, click on the picture, then on “Music” on the panel on the left and then click onward, with Frodo enduring Mordor upon your inward eye, to listen.

Then buy.

 

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Lure of Pottage

You're The Pits
With your massive armies
You're The Pits
And you cause tsunamis.”


I just love Mark Steyn.

~~~~

After all the accusations bunged at the Pentagon and the White House from the sinister side of the global family escutcheon over the last couple of years, the UN now has its own Abu Ghraib to go with the Oil-for-Bribery unpleasantness (a scandal that has gotten little media attention compared to the unending curses heaped onto the head of George Bush over the appalling, but not-of-his-making behavior of certain American soldiers).

The men and women of the UN’s Brave New World hierarchy are no more inherently evil than the rest of us; there but for time, chance, and the grace of God go I pretty well sums it up. But as is our human wont, they have forgotten - if they ever understood - the relentlessness of the peril that stalks those in possession of great power. How it could possibly seduce them? Are not their intentions noble, liberal, virtuous, with the perfection of mankind as the goal?

And so the Ring – even elegant, moneyed, and oh, so cosmopolitan – would make corpses of us all.

~~~~

The desire to do good that animates mankind’s best deeds is always and ever in danger of fossilizing under the pressure of compromise and influence and accommodation. In the end, the shape and structure of the original intent may still be there; but as with an unearthed scrap of Upper Paleolithic jawbone, we find that after long years the original fabric has disappeared, atom by atom, to be replaced by unchangeable stone.

This is not a fate about which we who would follow Christ should be careless.

Frodo is as Christian a character as one in a pre-Biblical setting can be, and yet, despite his honorable purpose and innocence of heart, his every step across the ashes of Sauron’s paradise was another footfall toward his own Night. Slowly, inexorably, his capacity for delight in the sweet domesticity of his native land was displaced from his soul until, in the end, the Ring became a sort of blasphemous I Am, like crack to a dying addict. The deep contentment that hobbits find in sun-warmed earth, rich harvest, and the bright meadows of the kindly Shire had been scoured from him as with lye soap; not even the destruction of the Ring could repair that ill:


The Shire-light is gone and I am blind
To any Road that Middle-Earth can mend;
The bridge to home was shivered in the End,
                              Like Khazad-dûm.

In like manner we Christians, however well-meaning, are susceptible to the allurements of the Enemy, vulnerable to being swallowed alive via the gullet of our mortal aspirations, unwittingly (to torture my cross-eyed metaphor into a corkscrew) poisoning ourselves blind with the enticing liqueur of political influence.

And, yet, in what may seem a contradiction, The Lord of the Rings is also about power gained honestly and used justly.

~~~~

We Christians have civil rights. Use them as did Paul his as a Roman citizen. Vote, lobby, write, speak boldly against evil. Guard your children, homeschool them, rear them to exert the peer pressure of virtue against the greater culture. But know that we can in this life neither restore the throne to Gondor nor create the New Jerusalem. There are some things that only the returning king can do.

We must remember what we are above all things to be:

“[A] chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people… strangers and pilgrims, abstain[ing] from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having [our] conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against [us] as evildoers, they may by [our] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Lest we too be bereft:

Thus gone from me was that which was most fair,
That, step by step, unknowing, I had sold;
And, breath by labored breath, I, unaware,
Had spent my shining coin for darker gold…

 

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Saturday, January 01, 2005

"The night the seas rushed in"

An apposite update to my two previous posts comes from the incomparable Wretchard at Belmont Club. (All unbeknownst to him, of course; this modest blog doesn't move in such circles.)

"By far the greatest conceit of the late 20th century was that the postmodern world would never again suffer the lash of planetary cataclysms; that we were past any tests nature might administer; exempt from the consequences of stupidity. Only an international political class secure in its own invincibility could have thrown such scraps as the UN provides to the people of the Third World and demanded such peremptory obedience of the US, as if it were exempt from the laws of physics; men too precious to perish by fire or water."

Update No. 2: From them what as knows.

 

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