Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Was Frodo a Calvinist?

Have I admitted recently that I am a Tolkien nerd? If not, I humbly admit it now. {{grin}}

I recently re-watched The Lord of the Rings (LotR), and was having a conversation with someone that made me stop and think. First of all, I don't despise the movies as some die-hard fans do. I think Peter Jackson did all right most of the time. The Faramir thing, tho, and the Sam/Gollum/Frodo thing on the stairs in Mordor, are almost unforgivable. I do confess to fast forwarding through the latter during my last viewing. (And I probably will again, next time I watch!)

But here's my biggest beef, I think. I'm just not crazy about the way Elijah Wood plays Frodo. Or at the very least, how he was directed to play Frodo (not sure if that was an actor or a director failing). In the books you get the sense that, yes, Frodo was "pulled" into this adventure through no design of his own. But once he gets on the Road, he is determined to see it through to whatever bitter end may come. You read about his fighting against the power of the ring, resisting it at every moment. For me, that internal struggle is very important. He knows what he has to do. He's fighting every step to do it, despite incredible pressure to surrender the ring to Sauron.

In the movies, Frodo seems much weaker. Sam saves him from surrendering the ring to the Nazgul in Osgiliath. Aragorn saves him on Weathertop. The few times you see him "fight" with the ring's power, he simply looks like he's about to barf (You know that look on his face - it's more reminiscent of indigestion than determination!). You just don't get that same sense of deep and abiding struggle that you read page after page in the books. Now, I do know that there are some scenes where you do see him fight... at least twice (off the top of my head) I can thing of Frodo and Gollum locked in battle. But in these cases, Frodo isn't fighting against the ring, Frodo is fighting to KEEP the ring. But I'm digressing....

Anyway, as we were talking about this after the movie ended, my conversation buddie said... "In the movies, Frodo is a Calvinist. In the books, he's a Thomist." First I must say that I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher, so what follows here can probably be picked apart by just about anyone. But I thought I'd throw it out for further consideration anyway! Why is he a Calvinist in the movie? Because everything that happens is external to him. Sam saves him from the Nazgul. He's mainly just going with the flow - you don't see him initiating or changing events, but reacting. Yes, I do know he's changing events by destroying the ring in the end, and changing events by saying he'll take the ring in the first place!) But on the whole, you don't see any internal motivation. In the books, he has an inner grace (I'm thinking here of the Anglican phrase: "The sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace") that gives him strength and courage to keep up the struggle. That's more of a Thomistic (or Augustinian) attribute. You are given grace to draw upon in daily (or dire) struggles. The grace comes from God, but it is held within yourself. Calvinism would have that grace being from "without."

Tolkien even speaks of it outright in many cases. After Boromir tries to take the ring and Frodo has put it on to escape, he is seen/felt by the Eye on Amon Hen, which calls him to Sauron. We find later that Gandalf fights on his behalf, and the ensuing (internal) battle reads like this:

He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the ring!

The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again. Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose... (Fellowship, p. 404)

This deep internal struggle doesn't come across very well on screen. The force of will (the grace) he summons to defy Sauron is seen in the movies as events imposed upon him as opposed to through him. At the most, when we see Frodo make decisions, we get no sense of struggle when the decision is made.

So there's my foray into theology for the night. A pitiful attempt, I am sure, but that's all you get from a Zana of very little brain! 8-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Day in the Life

Indeed, it is always an interesting adventure working the evening shift at an academic library. Today our campus-wide internet went down... on the first day of finals.... with a huge number of on-line classes giving exams... requiring proctors... and could be online ONLY on a campus-LAN-connected computer. You get the idea. What was the cause, you might wonder? Oh, someone cut one of the fiber-optic lines running to our servers. And then our online catalog went out too, but of course who needs to look up books this time of year??? So what happened? A student came in just after all the day staff left, looking for (you guessed it!) a book. He had the call number written down. In Dewey (that's right - we use the Library of Congress system here!!). So there was no way to A) see if we actually owned the title (though he was CONVINCED we did, and was ASSURING me he had just returned it last week) or B) check to see if the public library owned the title. There we go, off looking in the stacks. I knew roughly that it would be in the low Es (being about American history) but that's as far as I could figure. So we looked. And we looked. And we looked some more. And the guy just would not take "we don't have it" for an answer! Finally I left him looking and made my way back to the front desk. By that time the internet was back up (though not our catalog) I had the brilliant idea to go on the Library of Congress website and see if I could find it there, and of course, BINGO. I had a probable call number, which I triumphantly took to the student. He had wandered off into the Bs (though I didn't think he'd find what he was looking for in the comparative religion section) so we headed back to the Es and I showed him where it would be if we had it. Then we went on the public library site, and -- you guessed it again! -- there it appeared. So off he wandered, and I had to have a cup of hot chocolate just to recover from the event!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Diocese of San Joaquin Votes to Disassociate with The Episcopal Church

Diocese of San Joaquin Votes to Disassociate with The Episcopal Church

All I can say about this is "wow." My prayers are with Bishop Schofield and the members of the new Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. I've been part of a parish that eventually chose to leave, and I've seen how painful that was for those that left and those that stayed. I spent five years in northern Virginia where, even now, lawsuits have been filed against orthodox churches that no longer wish to be part of the Episcopal Church (TEC). During that time my husband and I left the church for another denomination because after much prayer and discernment we decided we no longer wished to tithe to a heretical institution. I also know people who remain in TEC because its "what they've always done" or "because my grandpap helped build this church," but are also shocked and saddened at the national church's apparent slide towards apostacy. So across the board: sadness, pain, regret... but also a bit of somber joy from those who are fighting the good fight. They are joyful because they are following Christ, yet somber because of the terrible reasons for their departure.

I have nothing new or interesting to add to the volumnious commentary (as seen on sites like Stand Firm and T1:9) but I can add my prayers for those who are treading new and uncharted paths trying to follow Christ as best they can. And I can add my prayers for those who may have lost their way - or don't know which way to turn - that God's "still, quiet voice" will speak truth to them and be a beacon for them to follow home.

Monday, December 3, 2007

idols of the heart

My pastor made a passing reference to John Calvin yesterday, and I've been thinking about what he said. His comment was something like "The human heart is a factory of idols," we were designed to worship, only our hearts tend to set whatever is in front of us up as an idol to worship, like money or a new car or a Harvard education, rather than what we should worship - God. Of course, being the librarian that I am, I went searching for the actual quote. I ended up on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library site, and found Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. The nearest thing I could find was the following:

Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views. (Book 1, Chapter 5, Section 12)

I never did find the actual quote "factory of idols" (I found it referenced quite a bit on other searches, but no one attributed it to a specific bit of Calvin's writings) so if there is a better citation, please let me know!

Anyway, that concept really struck me. And then I say to myself, "I don't idolize my new job", or "I don't idolize my renovated house," no, I say, "I am just proud to have these accomplishments." But does that sense of pride - if taken too far - become an idol in and of itself?

And then there's the other big "set" of idols - those things we so desperately desire. A new car, a bigger house, a spouse, a dog, a trip to Africa. Just FYI: I'm generalizing here - I am blessed every day by my most wonderful husband, and I don't like dogs and definitely don't need a new car! {{grin}} But here's my question. When do these things become idols? Is it wrong for a single person to say wistfully "someday I'll be married" or to save your pennies and dimes for that dream trip across the world? Or do our hopes and dreams become idols only when we give them power over our lives? And if that's the case, how do we know when that moment arrives? And can you use that same rationale for accomplishments - can you be proud of something you did without that something overtaking God's rightful place in your heart?

So it's become a new challenge to keep a better idea in the forefront of my mind, whenever I'm proud or desirous of something, to thank God for giving me the skills and talents and abilities to make these things possible. I don't know if this is really a "solution" to what Calvin calls "crowds of gods issuing from the human mind," and it's probably too deep for this "bear of very little brain" to tackle anyway. But anyway, I'd be interested to hear what you think. 8-)