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 Reading Crisis

You can blame my friend John Duncan for this literary existential crisis. Recently he gifted me with a wonderful little book called The Reading Life. It is a compilation of some of C.S. Lewis’ written words about reading. The book is not very long. I started it Friday night and finished it this (Monday) morning all in the midst of a very hectic weekend. I recognized many of the passages from Surprised by Joy or any of the other numerous Lewis works in my library.

But there was a bit I’d never seen before, and it was titled “How To Know If You Are A True Reader”. Lewis lists four qualities of true readers.

  1. Loves to re-read books.
  2. Highly values reading as an activity (rather than as entertainment of last resort).
  3. Lists the reading of particular books as a life-changing experience.
  4. Continuously reflects and recalls what one has read.

I have always, since my earliest memories, loved to read. I love the feel of a book in my hand, the smell of pages — the older and moldier the better, and the discovery with each turn of the page. I would consider myself a true reader.

It breaks my heart into a million pieces that Lewis probably would not. Let me explain by working backward on his list. I recall very much what I have read, whether literature, novels, sci-fi, or dense theology. There are powerful life-changing books in my past, and hopefully in my future. Among these are novels, self-help books, professional development books, and short stories. I love to read and would rather do that than just about anything else.

But I don’t re-read books. Other than the Bible, which I have read continuously since I was seven years old, I have only read one other book more than once and that is Hamlet. I often read Hamlet during the Lenten season in preparation for Easter. But I’ve never re-read book just to re-read it. Mrs. Greenbean does — I believe she has read, for example, the Harry Potter series at least four times. Maybe more.

But not me. My philosophy has always been there are so many books I’ve never read before that I need to just move forward. In contrast, Lewis argues good books, great books, get better with subsequent readings as the mind picks up more. I see his point, because I have certainly re-watched movies and television shows over and over again, each time with fresh enjoyment. I’ve just never thought of books in the same way.

Maybe I need to evaluate this. As I think on it, were I to re-read — where would I start? I made a list of ten, but I cheat a little.

  1. The War of the Worlds — the first novel I ever read. Lewis talks about reading books you read as a child when you are an adult. This would be a great place to start. Speaking of that . . .
  2. Gentle Ben — I loved that book so much. As a boy it sent me into a legitimate frontier motif in my reading tastes.
  3. The Dark Tower series — Probably the best series ever compiled. I remember reading it and discovering how it changed the way I thought and spoke.
  4. The Lord of the Rings — Maybe the best written document in the English language other than the Authorized Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.
  5. Fathers and Sons — An somewhat obscure Russian novel by Ivan Turgenev. I read it in college and I remember it made me weep. I don’t really remember the plot, but I remember it made me weep. Russian literature does that.
  6. Quiet — This is one of my ‘life-changing’ books. I wish I’d read it when I was a kid. Now that I am full enmeshed in pastoral ministry again, maybe I need to revisit the wisdom about being an introvert in an extrovert world.
  7. The Bible Jesus Read — For my money this was the paradigm for writing a reflective book on the Jesus way of living.
  8. Assassination Vacation — I listened to this on audiobook once. I think I’d like to read it in print.
  9. A Canticle for Leibowitz — Texarkana. That is all that needs to be said.
  10. Celebration of Discipline — I remember how much this book altered me. Maybe reading it again would be a double-blessing.

I’m not saying I will re-read these books, but if I decided to engage in the practice, I would start with. these.

Frozen Ferrari Fred Whodunit

Other than the fact “Ferrari Fred” sounds like the name of a character in a bad Stephen King novel, what am I talking about with this crazy blog title? I WENT TO THE MOVIES, that is what I’m talking about.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend we saw the four hot movies out right now, and they were all wonderful in their own way. No, they are not all for everyone, but they are all wonderful. I will take them in the order I saw them.

Ford v Ferrari

Everything about this movie was near perfection. The story was tight, the dialogue was crisp and memorable, the imagery was iconic, and the sound and sights of those beautiful cars was spectacular. Even if you don’t like cars, you’ll like the movie and if you like cars, you’ll love the movie. Christian Bale will get a best actor nomination and the movie will get a best picture nomination. It has some language in it, so you might want to keep the kiddos away, but there is no violence or pornographic material.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Movies usually entertain. Sometimes they inspire. Sometimes they mesmerize. This movie affirms humanity and the possibilities for making the world a better place. Shot in the same style as the old Mr. Rogers Neighborhood television show, it usher you into a different world from the very beginning. Yet this movie is not really about Mr. Rogers as much as it is the journalist covering him, but at the same time it really is. The main character, Lloyd, is changed by Mr. Rogers. Tom Hanks will get a nod for best actor and the movie should be a top contender for best picture.

As an aside, I also recommend you watch the outstanding documentary about Mr. Rogers. Click here to read what I wrote about that.

Frozen II

All four of us enjoyed it and so can your entire family. The music is very good, but the emotions are what steal the show. There is one particular moment when Anna is everyone of us — fighting to keep up hope in a lonely and dark world. I liked this movie more than the first one, probably because of the heavy Tolkien influence on the story. I’m serious. If Olaf is viewed as a happy shiny Gollum, Elsa as Gandalf, Anna as Frodo/Aragorn, Sven and Kristoff become hobbits then the journey parallels nicely.

Aside from this, it is easy to see the motif of the movie — a needed restoration and reconciliation between indigenous peoples and those who exploited and took from them. It’s a good message.

Knives Out

This one surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but man was it fun. Nothing will be nominated from this movie, and there will be no awards for it but it is fun. Here was my take away on this movie: Knives Out is the Thanksgiving movie America needed but didn’t know it needed. Besides, it’s got Captain America, James Bond, half of Miami Vice, and Captain Von Trapp, and Halloween! There is a lot of star power here, but Ana de Armas steals the show as Marta.

There is a lot of language and one particular violent moment, but no nudie bits. Perfect for adults who want to slurp soda and enjoy themselves.

“IF I STAY” (MOVIE) FEATURING THE NASTY BRUISES

What would you name your rock band?  It is something I’ve given a lot of thought to, and it came up again this weekend.

Last week I had the joy of watching yet another teen flick.  Okay, I was taken kicking and screaming, but that is beside the point.  My youngest sprout had read the book If I Stay and wanted to see the movie.  So off we went . . . to the matinee, of course. There is no way I was paying full price for this.

Here is a quick review of the movie–Throw in a dash of Romeo and Juliet, a bit of Titanic, sprinkle some Walk to Remember and now one teaspoon of The Fault In Our Stars and viola–If I Stay is born.

The Sequel Should be Titled 'Portland, My Heart Will Go on'
The Sequel Should be Titled ‘Portland, My Heart Will Go on’

The acting was uneven.  Stacy Keach plays the grandfather, and he is, as always, terrific.  The mom and dad roles are done well, but the two main actors, the girl and the boy, are dreadfully wooden and uninspiring.  That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting much more.  As I said on my Twitter feed that night, the real star of the movie, as far as I’m concerned, is the city of Portland.  The producers did a great job of portraying the delightful oddity of that wonderful city.

There was one cool part in the movie.  The father had been in a band (I presume back in the 90s) that was named Nasty Bruises.

To me, that was the most creative part of the film, the name of his band.  I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, so I will never be in any kind of band.  I was once kicked out of a church choir and the only thing I can play is the iPod.  But if I ever had a band, naming it would be the most enjoyable part.  I’ve been working on a list for a few years.  Here are some of my hypothetical band names, in no particular order.

1.  Crusty Theologians

2.  The Downspouts

3.  Tolkien’s Revenge

4.  Banana Sandwich

5.  Nietzche Was Wrong

6.  Leather Bound Edition (LBE for short)

7.  Assimov

8.  Then There Was Light

9.  Broken Wheelbarrows

10. Gag Reflex

 

Every now and again a new one comes to me.  What would you name your hypothetical rock band?

 

image from imbd.com