Decide What To Do With The Time

This famous quote from Tolkien has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of a week. It squeezed out of my mouth in Sunday’s sermon, perhaps the last sermon for a while as we all hunker down for COVID-19 contingencies. It is one of the better sentiments on crisis one can internalize.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2

First an observation completely applicable to my thoughts. In the novel, this line comes very early as Gandalf is letting Frodo in on the history and darkness of the ring. The line helps set us up as the reader for the peril that is to come, and for Gandalf’s philosophy in how to handle it. By contrast, in the movie version, this conversation is moved deeper into the film, in the Mines of Moria.

I love the movies but one complaint I have is Hobbits should all be fatter

This matters a bit. The movie has these words when the trouble of the times is fully on them, after the Council of Elrond, after Weathertop, and after they are trapped inside the dark mine. We know the story will get darker yet, but from Frodo’s perspective, in the movie, he probably thinks it is already as horrible as it can get. Getting these words in the middle of it is one thing.

But Tolkien wrote them at the beginning. When Frodo is still in The Shire, around his fire, with clean clothes and a full belly. In the novel, Frodo’s words are about trying to avoid difficult times altogether, in which Gandalf basically says, ‘Hard times can’t be avoided’ In the movie, Frodo’s words are about ‘I wish I wasn’t in this horrible time.’ to which Gandalf essentially says, “we all do.”

The highlighted page from my copy of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Why am I thinking so much about this exchange? Because we are in the beginning of some very difficult times. Gandalf is telling us we can’t do a thing about the fact we live in these times, and pining away for the past–even if that past was only two months ago–doesn’t help. We have to choose, decide, how we’re going to react and behave right now. And to answer that, there are three options.

  1. We can live in denial. “There is no threat,” or “It is all hyped up and overreaction,” or perhaps, “I’m young so it will not bother me.”
  2. We can panic and live in fear. These are the emotions which are producing bare grocery store shelves and people talking about the end of the world.
  3. We can choose to be true to our calling in Christ and fulfill the great commandment.

As you might imagine, I encourage you to reject denial, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and all sorts of bad ideas. I also think we need to not feed the panic and fear. So how do we fulfilling our caring in Christ? How do we rise above it and decide the noble, highest use of the time we’ve been given?

It starts with perspective. The Lord put you on the planet to love people, which means to be a helper. You can help the entire world by practicing social distancing, follow the recommendations of health officials, and staying home.

But that is not the only help. I encourage you all to be proactive. Reach out to your neighbors and friends and make certain they are okay. You probably have vulnerable people near you — older people, those with chronic immune illnesses, COPD, and other respiratory issues — and these people shouldn’t be anywhere near a grocery store or in the population right now. So you can help. Make sure they know you’re available to go to the store for them, deliver meds from the pharmacy, or just to call and say hi.

It also helps everyone when you stay calm. Calmness comes from remembering two things. One, this is not the first crisis we’ve had. We are being asked to stay home and watch Netflix, our grandparents were asked to leave home and fight the Nazis. See the difference? The second thing it helps to remember is none of this was a surprise to God. He knew it was coming, and he has prepared you–indeed if I may — he has chosen you for this time. This is your time to shine; so do it. And do it well.

It will also help if you smile. Say encouraging words. Be playful. Give thanks. Worship the Lord. Love.

It is when times are tough that our true character emerges and our actual core values take center stage. I believe we are a noble people, and I believe the Lord is working right now to show us how to live better and behave better by loving each other.

But these aren’t my only thoughts. Time is subject here from Tolkien’s novel. Literally, not figuratively, literally many of us have been given time. Time at home. Make the most of it. Play games with your family. Work on a project you’ve been putting off. Paint the deck. Increase your exercise routine. How about read a book — I happen to know some great books by this Greening guy . . .

Get creative. Paint a picture. Write a poem.

Clean the house. Mop the floors. Call your mom/dad/brother and talk.

Read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament. Study the words of Jesus. Pray more. Pray different.

You and I can’t get out of the time we live in nor can we change it. What we can do, is our time well. This, right now, is the time we’ve been given. What are you going to do with yours?

A BETTER VOTING CHOICE

9c28a3556e27bb30f5ccbbc48223063c1On November 8 most Americans will hold their nose and vote for someone they really don’t like all that much. Many Republicans are experiencing a form of buyers remorse with Mr. Trump and Democrats really felt the Bern over the summer but the deck was stacked against them. So, what to do?

Mrs. Greenbean and I are seriously considering if we should write someone in–if nothing else so we can sleep at night with a clear conscience. For a fleeting moment I thought about writing in Captain Kirk. Kim thought about Dumbledore for President. That got me to thinking. If I were voting, which make believe ticket would I choose? I came up with four for you to choose from, since there are four on the ballot, if we include the Libertarians and Greens.

Dumbledore/Snadesign-692-2013-06-25-06-45-551pe–The problem with these two is citizenship but being wizards and all, they should be able to take care of that with a flick of the wand.  I suspect a Dumbledore/Snape administration would be able to fix the national debt, but it would also introduce unknown variables, like, You Know Who.

Palpatine/Vader–From the Star Wars universe it is tempting to put forth a Skywalker/Solo ticket, but my impression is that the Jedi, for all their heroism, are not all that bright or perceptive. Han Solo would never be able to get away from the corruption of the smugglers. Besides, the Emperor and Darth Vader have a lot of experience at governance. This is your, “Law and Order” ticket.

Picard/Riker–I know, I know, I thought about it long and hard, but Captain Kirk would make a terrible POTUS. Picard is a diplomat. What I would really like is a Picard/Spock ticket. That would truly be The Best Of Both Worlds. A Picard/Riker ticket would create jobs and end corruption. The downside is Riker would blow up the ship.555021_11

Frodo/Sam–There are a lot of options from the LOTR universe, but I don’t think Gandalf is reliable enough to stick around–he up and disappears as he pleases–and Aragorn, though he has a great lineage doesn’t really have what it takes to fix our problems. We can make him Secretary of Defense, perhaps. A Baggins/Gamgee ticket would guarantee that the pubs are always open and that the potatoes are always cooked.untitled

So, who would you vote for? Vote below–and check back often to see who is winning.

THE THREE STORIES

Thursday afternoon I had the great privilege of participating in a writer’s workshop presented by Athanatos Christian Ministries.  The whole endeavor was very encouraging for me and I learned many things.  In the afternoon I made my presentation about the hooks which make the story interesting.  Part of what it addressed was the three basic stories.  One of the participants asked I could make those three available in written form:  so, here it is!

 

Story One:  The Warrior

The warrior story is so common that it needs little explanation.  Indeed, it might be the oldest form as it is exemplified in The Iliad.  In most of western culture the King Arthur story is classic backdrop—knights running off to do battle.  The warrior story has a subset of rescue drama—rescuing the damsel in distress.  In many stories today the rescue story has blended completely into the warrior story as a patriotic tale where the warrior, whether male or female, is fighting to save or protect the nation (female persona).

 

Story Two:  The Sacrifice

The sacrificial story is one which believers in Christ immediately identify with.  It is the story of the person who gives his or her life so that other people might live.  Because of this connection to Christ the sacrifice story often has religious or metaphysical aspects which propel reader interest.  The best example of this is Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  He gives himself up willingly so that others might benefit.  The sacrifice story, though, does not have to involve death explicitly for the sacrifice could be time, relational, or monetary.  Jane Austen books tend to emphasize this concept.

 

Story Three:  The Journey

In American culture this has turned into the “Road Trip” motif, but it is a highly effective story.  The classic example is, to go back to Homer, The Odyssey.  Movement from one place to another always captivates an audience.  There are subsets to the journey story as well.  These include the love story, the coming of age story, and personal growth story.  A good example of this is the Harry Potter character.  The story is a journey, but it is the journey of the boy Harry becoming the man Harry and realizing his destiny.  That is what makes it compelling.  Wizards, witches, good and bad have all been done before, but Rowling hit upon a compelling image of this boys coming of age story mixed up in all of that.

 

The best stories will find a way to maximize all three of these stories by weaving them through the narrative.  Consider Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.   In so many ways Frodo embodies all of these stories within his one character.  He is waging a war although he is not the primary combatant, he is making sacrifice, and the journey motif from one place to another is the basic plotline of the story.  The trick is combing these instinctive and well-known stories into tales with characters and situations that do not seem forced or artificial.