Summer blogging break

Summer is here, time to turn off the computer, get outdoors and enjoy God’s creation. Marci and I have plans, some of which of course include mountains, tents, lakes (see above),  walking, and hiking. I might post a few pictures here from time to time, but apart from that, I won’t be back – either to this blog or anyone else’s –  until late August or early September. Have a wonderful and blessed summer, everyone!

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Some of the reasons why people think the Anglican Church is weird…

This photograph is stolen from one of the funniest sites on the Internet, Bad Vestments. The caption is ‘Themes to avoid: exploding altars’!

I grew up in a church where the Elizabethan nightshirt (otherwise known as the surplice) was the usual liturgical garment. Stoles were worn, but the liturgical tradition was really only one step removed from the old ‘black scarf, north end’ evangelicalism. I never saw coloured chasubles until I was in my twenties, and at first I thought they were a sort of liturgical poncho. And don’t get me started on copes and mitres

My own preference is ‘the simpler the better’. I’d prefer it if we did away with clergy robes altogether; Mark 12:38-39 is such an insidious temptation, and anyway, Jesus told us to be holy, not to look weird (“Is that a bishop or a Star Wars character, Mom?’). But if we have to have robes, let’s at least keep them simple and tasteful! And let’s also recognise that there are some people who just can’t wear them without being a permanent distraction, and so, probably, they shouldn’t…

God, Church, and Pain

It is hard to escape the conclusion that God does not do his work in us apart from the experience of suffering and pain….

If this is true, then churches will need to be places where such trials and tribulations can be openly admitted, dealt with and learnt from, rather than avoided and shoved under the carpet. Too often we expect church to be a place of harmony, peace and cooperation, and we are surprised when it is not. We also expect Christian life to be plain sailing and trouble free and think that God has abandoned us or doesn’t like us when we hit sickness, bereavement, failure or disappointment.

A church that is serious about becoming a centre of real spiritual fitness and health will not try to hide difficult experiences. Nor will it depict Christian life as always characterized by triumph and success. That only leads to struggling Christians feeling inadequate and far from the centre of God’s purposes in the world. I remember in my early years as a Christian leader talking to a woman in our church who had struggled with depression. I suggested that coming to church might help. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that — it would be much too difficult,” she said. “When I get over it, then I’ll be able to face church.” I could understand her reluctance to face crowds of people, yet something about that didn’t sound right. Whatever “church” was in her mind, it was not somewhere you could take your difficulties. It was instead a place for people who coped with life.

Church needs to be the opposite: a place for people who cannot cope with life…. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world … Only that fellowship which faces such disillusioment, with its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it … A communiity which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which isists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”

Graham Tomlin, Spiritual Fitness: Christian Character in a Consumer Culture (London / New York: Continuum, 2006), pp. 125-27.

(h/t Connexions)

Superman’s Fallen

This is my good friend Rob Heath singing a song that we wrote together about Christopher Reeve, perhaps best known for playing Superman, but also for his brave response to the riding accident that left him a quadriplegic.

Rob has admired Christopher Reeve for some time, and a few months ago he sent me a lyric he had written in tribute to him, asking me if I could write a ‘Celtic/traditional-style’ tune for it. So the song started out as a combination of Rob’s words and my tune, but over the next few weeks he modified my tune a little, and we worked together to polish the lyrics. It was a very enjoyable process and Rob is a great songwriter to work with.

Hope you enjoy the song!

If you’d like to see more of Rob’s songs, check out his YouTube channel here.

Is this the same ‘Hobbit’ that Tolkien wrote?

From Reuters:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Peter Jackson’s two upcoming movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit have been given official names and release dates.

The first of the two films, which are currently being filmed back-to-back in New Zealand, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, arrives in theaters on Dec. 14, 2012.

The sequel, opening Dec. 13, 2013, will be known as The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Both will be released through Warner Bros.

The two prequels to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy follow the adventures of Bilbo Baggins — to be played by Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his role as the elder Bilbo — in his quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.

The sprawling cast includes a number of other Rings veterans: Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Orlando Bloom as Legolas; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Er – I already have a bad feeling about this.

First, in The Hobbit, Bilbo did not have a personal quest to ‘reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from Smaug’. Rather, his services were engaged as a burglar (the word is used many, many times in Tolkien’s story) to assist the thirteen dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield in stealing their lost dwarf treasure back from Smaug. The motive is entirely and unabashedly materialistic.

But secondly, and even more alarmingly – what’s with this list of characters? Galadriel, Legolas, Saruman and Frodo do not appear in Tolkien’s story in The Hobbit! True, in the retrospective on the ‘Hobbit’ story that we get in places in The Lord of the Rings it turns out that Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel have been involved in a meeting of the White Council to discuss the identity of the Necromancer – but Saruman and Galadriel are not mentioned in the much simpler account we get in The Hobbit – and in the LotR Frodo is far too young to have even been born at the time of the earlier book.

Thirdly, it is somewhat misleading to describe The Hobbit as a ‘prequel to The Lord of the Rings’. This is to interpret it backwards from the perspective of the later and much more complex work. The Hobbit as Tolkien originally wrote it was a simple fairy story for children involving dwarfs and their treasure, a wizard, a dragon, and a rather unadventurous hobbit. When Gollum’s magic ring first makes its appearance in the pages of The Hobbit it is not the ‘one ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them’ that it becomes later in the reinterpretation found in The Lord of the Rings; it is simply a magic ring to make the wearer invisible. Tolkien actually began The Lord of the Rings as a sequel to The Hobbit, not the other way around, and the early chapters of the LotR are decidely Hobbit-like (indeed, in Tolkien’s first drafts of these chapters ‘Strider’ was called ‘Trotter’ and Bilbo’s nephew was not ‘Frodo Baggins’ but ‘Bingo Baggins’).

I am very much afraid that Jackson is going to give us, not The Hobbit on its own terms, but rather The Hobbit as it is re-interpreted in The Lord of the Rings. And since Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is already significantly different from the story Tolkien wrote, we are going to be even further away from the original in this so-called ‘prequel’. In my review of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings I wrote the following:

Tolkien started out to write a children’s book, a sequel to The Hobbit, but his older mythology got pulled into it and he ended up writing an epic saga. Some of the saga remains in Jackson’s movie, but he has seriously perverted it, importing into it elements of both the modern psychological novel and the shoot ‘em and kill ‘em action movie.

I then concluded:

I hope that people who see these movies will go on to read the books. My fear is that Jackson’s story line and characterisations will be established in the minds of most people as definitive; that when they think of Frodo and Elrond and Arwen and Galadriel, it will be Jackson’s characters they will think of, not Tolkien’s. To me, this would be a shame.

I already have similar fears for Jackson’s The Hobbit, and the movies haven’t even been filmed yet.