Learn from hobbits
Ed Tomlinson turns to Tolkein for an accurate depiction of the nature of Christian life and the importance of working for the common good
There can be no denying the Church owes a debt of gratitude to Nicky Gumbel, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton, who launched the Alpha campaign, proving that evangelism can work in the spiritual wilderness of twenty-“rst-century Britain. Yet, whilst truly rejoicing in the unparalleled success of Alpha, I do have one major gripe!
I am seriously concerned that Alpha gives a false impression of Christian life. View the accompanying videos, mainly depicting middle-class ‘hotties’ experiencing ecstasy in the name of Jesus, and you easily assume that conversion leads to everlasting hapiness, as if meeting Jesus helps you walk into a never-ending set of The Sound of Music.
The hardest task
Now there is a joy in knowing Christ, one which surpasses all this world has to o¶er, but Christian living is far from rosy. Indeed it is the hardest task imaginable, for you must not only ba±le the world and the devil – you must also conquer your ‘self’. Unless the convert considers the cost of following Christ, they will certainly fall at the last hurdle.
In order to exorcize those Sound of Music expectations, which accompany the worst type of Evangelical conversion, we should perhaps offer every Alpha member a copy of a different film, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. For here we unearth a more accurate depiction of Christian living, an allegory that Tolkien admits is present in the text.
In the film (or book, which is better) Frodo, a hobbit, is asked by Gandalf to set out on an incredible journey. This is the moment of conversion, the start of the lifelong pilgrimage, which began for us real believers at baptism. The task will demand all he has to give, but it is nevertheless the only path to salvation. He must abandon his cosy life in the Hollow, step out in faith and confront all that is evil. What lies ahead is a life of struggle for the sake of all that is noble.
And yet Frodo will never be alone. Outnumbered? Yes. Threatened? Undeniably. In danger at all times? You’d better believe it. But never alone. For around Frodo gathers a band of faithful friends, who not only understand his trials but help him overcome them. They are a meagre rabble, but without them Frodo could never succeed.
And so the authentic Christian will also “nd themselves outnumbered, misunderstood, misrepresented, and threatened within the Church and without. In order to survive the pilgrimage of faith, they will need true and loyal friends who share their faith. This point was aptly made by Digby Anderson in last month’s ND in his call to ‘recover the ideal of Christian friendship’.
Now let me make this month’s link with the worldwide web, tipping my biretta to Fr Hunwicke. For he too picks up this theme in a recent blog entry:
Could it be that at long last we Anglican Catholics have a friend? The old Bavarian gentleman? Let’s try to treat him well. We are so unused to having friends that there is the risk of our being somewhat unpraised in our handling of them.
‘The old Bavarian gentleman’ – I love it, as I love Pope Benedict! For he is surely the most inspiring of friends, the Gandalf of our day! One who speaks clearly of Christ, offering faith, hope and love. Who else champions orthodoxy as he does and confronts the evils of our day? And so, returning to The Lord of the Rings, let us consider a final lesson from the Go«el according to Tolkien!
Faith under threat
Sauron was a terrifying and hideous foe, Saruman a dread enemy. The darkness descending on Middle Earth was every bit as dangerous as the forces of secularism, atheism and false ideologies that descend on us today. To defy the evil threat in Middle Earth, reconciliation and unity were key to Frodo’s survival. However impressive Gandalf might be, he could only overcome the darkness if the elves, men, dwarves and trees forgot past grievances, forgave ancient sins and worked together for the common good.
If rumours from the Vatican are true, this is what Pope Benedict is doing – with the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic Anglican and all who stand for the faith of the ages. The Ordinariate is no attempt to ‘poach clergy’, as some ridiculously claim! The Holy Father is drawing all true Christians together under the banner of Christ. Oh that he could have included all Anglicans in this number! But alas, the desertion of Christ by many has rendered this impossible.
This call for unity comes because the faith is under threat in our day. The battle with darkness is upon us! So with whom shall we stand? With the ‘old man of Bavaria’, who proclaims the Gospel of Christ so boldly? Or with the bushy academic, whose church now crumbles at his feet? Who is he but the glassy-eyed Theodin, held under a spell by nefarious beings who whi«er poison in his ear whilst bringing down his house from within? ND