Christianity and Middle-Earth

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Summons


In the fire-shadowed room he spoke of Night,
A Night with bricked-up windows, iron door
That, barred, remained shut fast against all light.
I listened, cheer-replete and laughter-sore
And fresh from happy song.

The doom came crashing hard against my dreams,
Dead-star-like on my peace and on my heart;
Dim jealous coal from far infernal seams
Flung from the Void to snuff a moment’s spark.
Like breath my youth was gone.

Around us lay the meads and winding ways,
And snug the little kitchen-room we shared,
Sweet-scented with the ghosts of other days;
But forfeit now with peril new declared.
Thus was I home-bereft.

The merry glimmer of my little fire,
Bright-mirrored in the many-lettered gold,
Was twisted sudden to the Night’s desire;
And with the slant, unhidden tale it told,
Ere I could know to cry to Darkness, “Hold!”
It burned tomorrow into bitter cold,
And naught to me was left.

 

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Deeping Coombe

The Lord of the Rings owes much of its distinct flavor to Tolkien’s love of Old English culture and language. Now he was a professional, a philologist and a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, so he knew what he was doing and we Middle-Earth lovers are the richer for it; I, on the other hand, am an amateur, thus of the fragment below I make no claims as to its perfect adherence to the real thing, but it is my attempt to imitate such and mostly just by ear.

I labor under a wearying load of poor health, so I have to take things as they come. That means I hope to pick up where I left off and, perhaps, even finish this someday.

Helm's Deep

Shadow on horse-lands, smoke-kindled.
Withered the wood-smith’s walls to embers,
Red was roof-fall, rafters crumbled,
Bright-blazed homestead, hearth forsaken:
Long-years labor lying in ashes.
Hewn the fruit-bough, fair tree ax-dead,
Cattle-herds slain, corn-houses broken.
Star-mirror poisoned, sickened with death-taint.
Loud rose the grief-cry, life-hope waning,
As Rohan fled from farm to Deeping.
Dread was the duskfall: doom fed it,
The sword-bands ravened, ruin-greedy.
Fell was their war-chant, fearsome shield-song,
Loud with blade-beat, battle-gladness.
Mordor saw them, men and Uruk,
As strength he bided in shield-hall mighty.
Cunning had tempted, trapped a stone-seer,
Wound him in web-weaves, will-enshackled,
Orthanc enslaved to Orodruin.
The servant of Sauron slew men for him.
Night came swift as Northmen trembled.

Then out of dream-grave, deep, long-buried,
Theoden wakened and walked out of shadow.
Sister-son he summoned to serve him.
Came Eomer gladly, offered his sword,
Kneeling in honor, in homage to Theoden.
Rode they from Edoras, rain-shield golden,
Young lord eager, his elder age-wearied,
Scorning king-comfort, stern, bold-hearted,
Son of the Mark-lords, Snowmane’s master.
Left behind him Eomer’s womb-kin,
Sister-daughter, Dunharrow’s captain.
With him war-men, wielding sword-might,
And new-beard younglings: need called them.
Fealty they kept and faithful heart-oath,
Spear-thronged, they guarded, gathered with him;
Shining in armor and steadfast in king-love.
Warnings sped them; the white-clad wanderer,
Mearas steed-friend, spoke truth to Theoden.
Warriors he left him, wing-footed hunters,
Elf and Dwarf and Heir of Sea-kings,
Lordly victors, valiant in battle.

To Hornburg they came, Hammerhand’s fortress
Great were foe-wards guarding Deeping,
The vale behind and hidden hollows,
Winter-cold caverns cloven in splendor
By Time under mountain, many rooms making.
There the folk-clans, fear-mustered, waited,
While Rohan’s soldiers readied without,
Girt on sword-belt and sharpened war-blade,
Arrows told, to each archer counted,
Then bending the war-bow like baleful sky-ship
Curled to spin a star-shaft deadly
From highest heaven to the heart of the void-dweller.
Purposed they stood upon the stone-heights,
Fear honed to strong-heart, defying the shadows,
As under deep roof-veil the enemy gathered.
Bright was the fire that fled through storm-dark:
War-drum beating, on the blackness it crashed.
Fierce were the war-bands; from the wall men saw
As from the world’s edge white flew sky-glare,
A man’s-breath of daylight. Many there were
Thronged in the valley, throat-loud, clamoring...

 

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Ing and I

When you have inflicted seven cats upon yourself (actually I only inflicted six; my husband’s responsible for the seventh one; he would insist on removing a wee starved scrap from the inner workings of a stranger’s car), life can take on a surreal aspect at times, like a Van Gogh painting on uppers. Many people think one cat is pretty much like another, at best a low-maintenance pet for the children and at worst a creature who leaves footprints on newly washed cars, smelly surprises in the flower-beds and bits of songbird all over.

But here at Entropy House and in other secret cat-worshipping enclaves all over the country, we know better. (This is possibly because we also know that we’re outnumbered.)

Which brings us to Ing.

Ing, as I have mentioned before, is a grey-and-white varmint. Natural selection through generations of barn cats has provided him with a long pointy nose ideally suited for scavenging supper from discarded food-cans in back alleys; the same process gives him an extremely elastic conscience to go with the snout: I Take What I Want and I Want What is Yours.

He is Fierce and Dangerous and a Force To Be Reckoned With (when not collapsed in an infantile mush trying frantically to nurse on his beloved Arry like a starving kitten—until Arry gets tired of kneading claws and soggy fur and swats him one). We suspect the veterinarian of having missed something whilst neutering.

Ing’s predecessor in my affections was an orange and white Manx with a poofy two-inch wiggy-wag of an excuse for a tail. He was four years old when a sudden heart problem involving a large clot necessitated him being put to sleep in my arms, despite all that the veterinary school in Raleigh and free rein with a credit card could do for him. So when Ing was discovered to have a bit of a heart murmur, we rushed him to Raleigh, too (at least this time it wasn’t after hours and in a panic) and, sure enough, his echocardiogram revealed a cardiomyopathy that will eventually prove fatal, too. But in his case, since we know about it ahead of time, we can put off the dreadful day with daily medication to strengthen his heart and thin his blood.

At the time, the vet said 3-5 years with meds and luck and that he would start showing symptoms in about six months. Ing being Ing, that was about a year and a half ago and he’s still being as Horrible as ever. Even more Horrible than ever, actually, because the hobby he took up to relieve any slight sensation of illness and invalid fussiness was the same coping mechanism that cats have used to ease stress for millennia: Mark Your Territory.

Only intermittently, you understand. And mostly window blinds (by way of putting in its place a neighborhood feline thug who comes and leers through the window) and the couch or the loveseat (layers of washable cotton spreads are the solution there). Still, eau de Ing is not our favorite fragrance and we go through a lot of pet-odor remover, Windex, laundry detergent and Claire Burke room spray. The house is extremely clean in spots.

We make every effort to cater to Ing’s least desire in the interests of reducing his stress levels—laps, tidbits, playtime, blankies, whatever he wants—just please don’t go piddle on the furniture.

(You’re nuts, lady. –ed)

Can’t really argue with that. But the moral of this story is this: Now that I’ve been diagnosed with my very own cardiomyopathy and will now get my very own heart pills, I feel that I can confidently rely on having my every wish and whim indulged also, just as Ing does. After all, my dear ones wouldn’t want me to feel neglected and stressed, now would they?

Not if they want a dry place to sit.

 

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Mommy, There's a Christian Under My Bed!

As I have mentioned before, I grew up in a church that took, in many regards, a Cromwellian approach to Christianity. While amusements such as theater, dancing and alcohol use were not on the roster of no-nos, Christmas and Easter certainly were, as were birthday celebrations and pretty much anything smelling of Catholicism.

Rome nurtured the Anti-Christ in her Babylonian bosom, you see. Sooner or later, a Pope would conquer the world and true Christians would be persecuted and even slaughtered as the great Fallen Woman waved her bottle of Cracklin’ Rosy Saints’ Blood in gleeful, drunken triumph over all.

Unfortunately for the Lord Protector, however, he would not have been of that prime and special vintage. You see, he went to church on Sunday. And that was—ominous drumroll here—The Mark of the Beast.

We had lots of other loonybiscuit doctrines, all much strengthened by the conviction of being right in God’s eyes, but the larger theological heresies I grew up with aren’t really the point of this post. Belief or disbelief in the Doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t have much direct bearing on how an individual operates in day-to-day life: what does is what I will call, for lack of a better term, Old Testament Christianity.

My definition of Old Testament Christianity is a religion that teaches that not only do Christians have to live by the New Testament, but they are required to live by the former as much as is possible without actually nullifying the latter. Thus we did not make literal animal sacrifices, because that had been done away with by Jesus Christ, but the commands to observe the Mosaic holy days were still in effect. Instead of sunrise services and Christmas trees, we got Levitical dietary restrictions, fasting onYom Kippur and ‘land Sabbaths.’ I probably know as much about unleavened bread and Sukkot as most practicing Jews.

Now it’s one thing to try to live a traditionally Christian life and another to try to live a traditionally Jewish life, but having to attempt a selective combination of the two is quite a challenge. Existence becomes an endless sequence of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s and you're definitely the neighborhood weirdo. If you are of an idealistic, earnest nature, desirous of pleasing God and man, it can become an obsessive-compulsive purgatory.

But that was all long ago and far away and the reason for my bringing it up now is not to provide a personal tell-all for the benefit of the curious, but to illustrate that when I say that I understand what it is like to live under the soft totalitarianism of erroneous versions of Christianity, I know whereof I speak.

~~~

Let us go now to the Shadowy Right-wing Christian Fundamentalist Plot to Control America. (via Hugh Hewitt):
"This may be the darkest time in our history," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the left-leaning National Council of Churches and former six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. "The religious right have been systematically working at this for 40 years. The question is, where is the religious left?"

Speakers outlined such concepts -- others would say conspiracy theories -- as Christian reconstructionism and dominionism to a crowd that Mr. White said does "not understand the further reaches of religion."

Dominionism is the theory that the account in Genesis in which God gave man dominion over the earth has become a political teaching advocating that Christians gain and hold power. Christian reconstructionism is the theory that Christian conservatives intend to impose Old Testament law in America.
Stanley Kurtz at NRO amplifies these concerns for us:
What is the real agenda of the religious far Right? I’ll tell you what it is. These nuts want to take over the federal government and suppress other religions through genocide and mass murder, rather than through proselytizing. They want to reestablish slavery. They want to reduce women to near-slavery by making them property, first of their fathers, and then of their husbands. They want to execute anyone found guilty of pre-martial, extramaritial, or homosexual sex. They want to bring back the death penalty for witchcraft.
Or so the Loonybiscuit Left would have us believe, as Mr. Kurtz goes on to explain, shaking his head in disbelief the whole time.

Captain Ed is equally bemused:
They have created a modern-day voodoo called Dominionism and smeared all church-going people as covert members of its conspiracy. Supposedly, all Christians have worked for centuries to transform America into an Old Testmant-based theocracy with high priests instead of elected officials -- somehow forgetting that for Christians, the New Testament takes precedence over the Old. Otherwise, we'd live under the same precepts as Orthodox Jews, holding Saturday as the Sabbath, eschewing pork, and avoiding cheeseburgers.
~~~

My church wasn’t so restrictive as Orthodox Judaism, of course; we were Christians after all, and Christ had set us free—to eat cheeseburgers anyway. Occasionally.

Our version of Christianity being as physically oriented as spiritual, it was impressed upon us that our bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit (the non-Trinity version) and therefore to be spared the ravages of not only ‘unclean meats,’ but refined foods (except for occasional treats—we weren’t Puritans). Honey was good, sugar was bad; whole wheat was good, bleached flour bad. Having your baby at home got you extra Brownie points, getting your child immunized showed a lack of faith. (I fell short on both counts.) ‘Natural’ was the mantra and the Millennium was going to be one big organically-grown paradise.

So when we achieved ultimate power in our conspiracy to take over the world in this age, the rest of America was going to have to toe the same legalistic line. I mean, if it was what Jesus Christ ordered, what was good for one was good for all. Our guys get into office, take over the judiciary, infiltrate Congress, slither into the White House, and bob’s your uncle: the OT Christian Taliban is in charge and they’re even scarier than Southern Baptists. Dominionists ‘R’ Us. Right?

There’s just one fly in that ointment, a small, but pivotal fly inherent to our doctrinal persuasions of the time.

We didn’t vote.
~~~

The Mind and Power that inhabits Eternity, who is Mercy and Love and knows the hearts of men, looked on my church and saw the suffering that many of us endured. He saw our earnest desire to follow his Son and to truly find him; and he spoke from Heaven and the manacles fell from our souls.

”Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

The slog through Mordor was over. Traditional Christianity, thy name was liberty!

But we were too late. We got to there just in time to find out that In the Eyes of Those Who Matter, it was now traditional Christianity that was the nut-nut fringe.

~~~

If you want to be any good at birdwatching, you have to learn the shape, flight patterns and behavior of the different species well enough that even if you glimpse a bird only from the corner of your eye, you can quickly spot it as, say, a thrush of some sort or a finch or woodpecker. This narrows down the pages you have to leaf through to find that specific bird and identify it precisely. This is similar to how birds or small animals spot predators: they instinctively recognize movement and shape as dangerous or non-dangerous. A cat’s slinking or a hawk’s swoop speaks immediate volumes.

In like manner, those of us who have lived under religious totalitarianism—however idealistic in intent—can spot it a mile off: we know well the warning signs of authoritarianism, whether from the right or the left. Every church has its graces, and perhaps ours is distinguishing freedom from slavery and being determined to never be in chains again.

I know very personally what chains can do to body and soul. I know a Sharkey when I see one, be he ever so well-intentioned. Yes, I realize that the Dominionists would be happy to put America in their version of heavenly manacles; but Dominionists are few and far between. I don’t think I’ve ever met one.

I’ve lived in Jesusland for forty years and I can assure you that the chances of them gaining control over the so-called Religious Right are precisely nil. We don’t execute gays or adulterers, we don’t run lynch mobs on Saturday night for amusement (or any other reason), we don’t burn crosses on our neighbors’ lawns—and it is certainly not we who are limiting the political power of African-Americans by providing for two out of five black babies to be aborted.

A far greater danger to our republic are those who would deny traditional Christians our say in the political process, who would drive us from public view lest we taint their version of the American paradise with so much as our shadows; we, like the Jews so many times throughout history and like Israel now, have no right to defend ourselves, to fight for our way of life or our beliefs.

 

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