March 2nd, 2013

bilbo

BMEM fic #1 – That Which They Defend

For the interested, I’ve written a rather substantial Back to Middle-earth fic. According to the Unfinished Tales, Gondorian kings and stewards occasionally visited the hallows holding Elendil’s remains. This story is officially about Faramir’s attempt to honor that old custom. Along the way I tried to flesh out some other aspects of Faramir’s history, especially his relationship with Hurin of the Keys. Also, tell the incident with the wine-casks, which my muse has been yammering about for several years but which never quite seemed to fit anywhere until now. :-)


Enjoy!



That Which They Defend




Húrin bent to examine a good-sized rock wedged between the tree’s roots, hoping against hope that it would point them to the road he and Faramir hoped to uncover. No such luck; if this stone had ever pointed the way to the hallows, time and rain and washed any useful hints away. Pulling himself to his feet, he couldn’t help chuckling at the absurdity of their situation. What would the loremasters make of the Prince of Ithilien and the Key-master of Minas Tirith, stumbling through the woods like schoolboys?


Some ways away, Faramir looked up from the tree trunk he’d been examining. “Uncle?”


“That Mablung always was more trouble than he was worth,” Húrin said. “The fact that he’s been dead twenty years should keep him from laying claim to what hours I have left for myself after Gondor claims her due.”


Faramir laughed at that. “You could blame me as well as him. I was the one who remembered the incident with the beer-casks, and I was the one who told it after the council-meeting yesterday.” Frowning, he added, “I am sorry to involve you in all this.”


Húrin clapped Faramir on the shoulder. “Being reminded, after all these years, of the look on Rochmir’s face was payment enough.” In the days before they both joined the Ithilien Rangers, Faramir and Mablung had been racing across the sparring fields behind the White Towers. Faramir had seen Húrin across the courtyard and pulled up short to wave at him, and Mablung had stepped aside to avoid colliding with him. Unfortunately he’d run right into several wine-casks, knocking the topmost one over the Citadel wall. It had caught on a building spire, drenching one of Denethor’s most persnickety councillors in its deep-red cargo. The boys had spent the next three days mucking out the Sixth Circle stables, but Húrin had it on good authority that Denethor had laughed long and hard over the whole affair.


Faramir smiled widely. “I’d never in my life had to fight so hard to keep from laughing. The look of him, with wine dripping from the hem of that linen tunic he worked so hard to keep perfectly clean – I knew there’d be a price to pay, but I couldn’t quite make myself mind, just then. And I’m glad I told Aragorn the story. I only wish I hadn’t mentioned the wine was being moved into the Citadel store-room for Boromir’s coming of age feast.”


“Aye, there is that,” Húrin agreed. Eldarion, the king’s heir, would come of age this Midsummer, and Aragorn had asked the lord’s council how Gondorians marked that event. That had apparently brought Boromir’s coming of age to mind, and Faramir had told the story of Rochmir and the wine. But then he had mentioned how, the morning after the feast where they drank that wine, Boromir had climbed Mindolluin with Denethor and Imrahil until at last they had stood beside Elendil’s grave. “The king quite liked your idea,” he said at last. “It’s just a pity that the stewards only ever brought their heirs to the hallows once a generation, and that everyone who ever walked that road is now dead. Have you had any luck finding the trail?”


Faramir shook his head. “I’ll write to my cousins in Dol Amroth,” he said, a little doubtfully. “Perhaps uncle told one of them something that might be of help.


“We’ll find the hallows,” Húrin assured him, “even if I must send surveyors to search the slope inch by inch. But Faramir, you know the ancient traditions call for more than just a climb on a summer morning. The king is supposed to tell Eldarion the secrets he think a father should share with his son. And you and Elboron will be there with him. Have you given any thought to what you’ll tell him?”


“Little but,” Faramir answered, “at least since I knew we’d all be walking this road.” Turning so he faced east, Faramir looked out across the Anduin and to Ithilien beyond. “When he and Findhwen were younger, they’d often ask the minstrels for songs about the Siege of Gondor. I told myself it was only natural, since Éowyn and I featured in so many of them. And that children might long for orcs to slay. I never liked it, but I couldn’t really fault them for playing the same games Boromir and I did, as children.”


He sighed to himself and turned to face Húrin. “Findhwen has always been half a shield-maid, but Éowyn has taught her something of herbcraft, and so she’s learned something of just how easily a sword can tear life from limb. That’s tempered her bloodlust a little. Elboron, though – he’s seen actual battle, and he still loves the sword a little too much for my comfort. It was one thing when Mordor brought us low, but these days? I know we still have enemies to fight. I have fought them. But my son’s heart seems too taken with darker days. And I have no wise words to correct his steps.”


Húrin turned the words over in his mind, struck by their irony. Fifty years ago Denethor had faced much the same problem with Boromir. In those days Gondor had needed captains more than aught else, and if ever she had produced a son fitted to that need it was Boromir. The loremasters had often likened the young heir to the old king Eärnur, and though they meant it as a compliment, the comparison did not sit easily with him. Denethor had apparently left his son guideless in more ways than one. He guessed, though, that Faramir didn’t need to be reminded of that betrayal.


Instead, he thought on something Faramir had said, a turn of phrase. Elboron loved the sword too much. That reminded him of something else Faramir had said, at least if the periannath’s book about the war was to be trusted. “You’re wiser than you know, Faramir,” Húrin said. “Do you remember what you told Frodo?” Faramir stared blankly at him for a moment, so Húrin elaborated. At Henneth Annûn, after Samwise let the truth slip about the Ring. Your words there always struck me as rather perceptive – that you didn’t love the sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory, but only those things they defended.”


“Are you suggesting I have him read those words?” Faramir asked. “Elboron would think me a fool.” He paused and then added, more quietly, “His grandfather certainly did.”


“His grandfather was a hard man,” Húrin countered him, “and was hardened further by those dark days. There was more to him than that. And he worried that your brother loved the sword too much, even when Gondor needed men of his sort. But as for Elboron, there’s no need to thresh old history. Just look at our current predicament: the last remnant of an ancient battle lost because a single generation didn’t pass on some piece of lore as well as they should. And Elendil is our greatest king. Warriors’ infamy always seems to fall prey to time. But the things they fought for – Gondor, and the best parts of who we are? Those still survive, even when we are driven to our knees.”


Faramir nodded. “Perhaps. As for all this, it will have to wait – ” Before he could finish that thought, however, the glint of the summer sun on a bit of snow in the nook of a tree-limb caught his eye, and he laughed out loud. “I do believe I’ve found it!”


Húrin blinked, bewildered. “The path?”


“The start of it, in any case. Perhaps.” Wiping the snow off the bark, he tapped the stylized B-H-G carved into the bark just below the limb. “My brother marked enough bedposts with this bit of graffiti as a child. Boromir hîr vuin Gondor.” He inspected several more trees for the mark until he found it carved again at that same height and, further up the mountain, a third mark. “It’s like him, really, to mark the secret paths more out of boredom than anything else. But I’m glad to at least find a starting-point, however we found it.”


Faramir took a red cloth out of the haversack he’d carried, marking the tree, and bounded on up the slope searching for more markings. Húrin would join him in a moment, but just now, he stood rooted in place, running his thumb over Boromir’s mark. Whether he had meant to or not, this sign was a powerful gift to those the War had left behind. In his mind, Húrin had thought of this path as the one walked by Denethor: loving father and wise lord, yes, but prideful and unabsolved in the end. But now he saw Boromir bounding up this path much as Faramir just had: the glorious captain brought low and forgiven, who at last found peace as Anduin carried him safely to the sea.


If a man after Eärnur’s heart might find peace in the Dark Days, perhaps there was hope for Elboron yet. Smiling at that thought, he pushed up the hill after Faramir.




bilbo

thoughts on evangelicalism

Over at her blog, Rachel Held Evans is getting ready for a panel discussion she’s doing on the future of evangelicalism. As part of that, she asked her readers to discuss whether they see themselves as evangelicals and what that word means to them. It’s an interesting question so I thought I’d lay out my own answers. My inner platonist demands I mix up the ordering, since we can’t relate to concepts until we understand them, but I don’t think that’s a huge deal.


If you want to help her out, please do visit the link above. I’m sure she’d love any thoughts you might have. I’d like to know, too, so do feel free to answer them in the comments here (though I’m not going to assume she’ll read this blog!) And of course I’d love your thoughts on my own answers, if you have any.


 


2. How would you define evangelicalism?


That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? ;-)


I think at a broad level it’s defined by a focus on evangelizing, reaching out to people who aren’t yet in the Christian fold, perhaps including people who evangelicals don’t consider “real Christians.” This means they need a boundary between the orthodox and the heterodox, and tend to treat Christian identity as an either/or situation: you meet certain conditions, believe certain things or agree to certain things, and at that point you’re a Christian. Because Christians (rightly!) aren’t happy with the idea that we “earn” our salvation because of the things they do, evangelicals in practice point to certain things you must believe. It’s not that the belief saves us so much as that the belief is proof that we are saved. That means that evangelicalism is usually about getting people to agree to certain beliefs, like the existence of God, the historical truth of the Christmas and Easter stories, the reality of sin and hell, the depravity of humans, and similar things.


As part of that package, evangelicals usually believe, if you don’t agree to the right beliefs, that’s a one-way ticket to eternal torture. Some believe that some people are “called” (the predestination model) whereas others talk about salvation being open to everyone. But in either case, our salvation can’t be the kind of thing that’s contingent on anything we do, including being educated enough to know the finer points of Christian history, theology, and dead languages. Those points that are essential, the things that Christians need to believe, also have to be fairly obvious. This leads evangelicals to focus on the “plain meaning” of Scripture. They also tend to be distrustful of denominations and church hierarchies for a similar reason: if something is truly essential, God should be able to speak to the believer directly.


For me, evangelicalism is more about an approach to religion and life than a certain set of beliefs. Many mainline Protestant Christians would agree with most of those beliefs I listed above, but they believe it with a different focus. First, evangelicalism draws a sharp distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian, whereas MLPs are more comfortable with the idea there’s some fluidity here. The belief in hell and the focus on salvation raises the stakes on believing other things the right way, even things that seem more like “gatekeeper” issues, totems that help establish your evangelical identity like having the right position on homosexuality, abortion, and Israel. In a certain sense, the evangelical position is actually the more consistent way to act if you truly believe what many MLPs claim. I mean, if you truly believed that praying a certain prayer or believing certain things was the only thing standing between your kids, your parents, your best friends and eternal torment, making sure they were on the right side of that issue would probably be the most important thing you could do. It would be loving. But it also would shape the relationship in a very different way (IMO a worse way) than if this wasn’t the focus of your relationships.


This makes it sound like all Christians can be evangelicals. I know that modern evangelicalism comes out of a specific historical context embedded in the Protestant tradition, and that from this angle evangelicals are really Protestants who reject higher criticism. And on some level this is true. You have evangelical Catholics and Mormons and other groups, but mainly that’s because politics has led to people with very different histories becoming strange bedfellows and being “grafted in” to that history. In practical terms, I’m not sure how much all this matters, though. For me, evangelicalism is more about the approach and the way that influences things like our approach to injustice, our relationships, and just being educated about theological claims than it is about history.


 


2. Do you identify yourself as an evangelical? Why or why not? How do you feel about religious labels in general?


I’ve tried to be evenhanded above, but I really don’t care for evangelicalism. This doesn’t mean I’m biased against individual evangelicals. I do think that in the long run other approaches to Christianity are more helpful for developing a better kind of faith, at least for me, but I also know individual evangelicals who I respect quite a bit. But in practice, the evangelicalism I’ve encountered in my life simply isn’t for me, because I’m one of those brainiacs who has a hard time flourishing if she turns her brain off. I have a respect for expertise both when it comes to theology and philosophy as well as empirical areas of life like medicine, psychology, sociology and other areas. In my experience, evangelicalism negates the importance of things like this unless it agrees with what you already believes.


If psychology tells us that homosexual identity isn’t something we can reject if we choose to, any belief system should make sense of that when it talks about sexuality. Christian evangelicals often look no further than the standard interpretation of the Bible (which is not to say it’s the only or even the best one), and if psychology doesn’t support the conclusions they draw from it they’ll use that as a basis for rejecting the psychology. Or, if an economist tells us that modern society requires certain investment in infrastructure and planning at a high level for the economy to flourish but you interpret the Bible as saying each family should see to its own affairs, that economist will most likely be dismissed in favor of what the evangelical believes the Bible says. This methodology has always struck me as backwards and a bit dangerous.


But I’m also a MLP because I like tradition. There’s something about the way I think that does well in what I call a narrative – a sequence of people struggling with the same issues, building on and reacting to what they say. It’s part of what draws me to philosophy. Rather than trying to start from scratch on (for example) what it means to be free, I’ll take Robert Nozick’s account of freedom and look at it seriously, figure out where I agree with it and disagree with it and try to fine-tune it further. And it works that way with religion, too. Instead of reading the Bible on my own, I do better when I look at what Origen said about Biblical questions, or John Calvin, or Augustine, or… you get the idea. That means I actually find religious labels very healthy, when used rightly. And I definitely want to tap into a tradition, a liturgy and a theology that goes beyond what I can think of on my own. So I’m not rejecting evangelicalism because I don’t want to be boxed in. If anything, evangelicalism is just a little too boundariless for me, at least in some way.


Btw, I’m not mentioning the political and equality issues a lot of people associate with evangelicalism. I disagree with them in a big way, but I also don’t think evangelicals have to take positions like this. In fact, the way evangelicals work with Jim Wallis to address poverty, immigration, climate change and even gun violence makes me hopeful. Being evangelical doesn’t have to mean being a member of the Religious Right, so I’m trying not to conflate the two. ;-)


 


3. What are some of your greatest concerns for evangelicalism? And what are some of your biggest hopes?


I think I’ve laid out some of my biggest concerns above. I won’t go through those one more time because it this point it feels like I’m beating up on evangelicalism a little, and I don’t want to do that. It’s definitely not for me and I think the way it’s usually practiced, there’s definitely room for improvement. But I also know lots of evangelicals who seem to really thrive in this approach to Christianity. It’s not like I just want evangelicalism to go away.


So what about my hopes? For one thing, I’m genuinely encouraged to see some evangelicals questioning the ways they’ve been told to read the Bible. Steve Chalke is Exhibit A. An influential UK evangelist (I heard him called England’s answer to Billy Graham more than once), he basically came to the conclusion after reading the Bible that the church should find a way to support monogamous, same-sex couples. It’s not just that he and I agree; it’s that he was able to read the Bible as an evangelical without concluding that the conclusions other evangelicals had reached on this question had to be true. You’re seeming more of this, with figures like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and even Rachel Held Evans herself being in a grey area. Are they evangelical, or aren’t they? Many evangelicals, both the big names and rank-and-file, are recognizing that you can read the Bible faithfully, even in the commonsense way favored by evangelicalism, without necessarily agreeing on every point of interpretation. It’s leading to a more complex and (IMO) accurate way of thinking about Christianity for them.


I also mentioned folks like the Sojourners crowd, where many evangelicals are questioning the “value voters” set of issues and positions. They’re even finding common cause with non-evangelicals and non-Christians on issues that are important to them. This is good, and not just because I like the positions they’re coming around to. It trains people to work with folks who aren’t their ideological clones. And that can only help evangelicalism (and the rest of Christianity) in the long run.


Finally, I hope evangelicals will join up with MLPs more than they have. I don’t mean this has to be the end of evangelical Christianity as such; they could do this by being able to absorb MLPs in dying denominations, or they could join up more with those traditional denominations and think of themselves as evangelical Presbyterians or Methodists much as we have evangelical Catholics today. Evangelical Christianity has a lot to offer in terms of passion and outreach and hospitality, done right. MLP would benefit from an infusion of that spirit, frankly. But I think evangelicals would also benefit from being around people who worship with their head and not just with their heart. We’d also do well to surround ourselves with people who don’t believe exactly the same way we do. There’s a biblical model for this in 1 Cor 12, where Paul tells the church that we are one body made of many roles. I see major potential for a symbiotic relationship between evangelicals and MLPs, though I think it will take a paradigm shift to get there. We need to see someone can be different from us in important ways and still have value, even maybe be able to help me. But then that’s not a bad change to make.


 


4.     Do you know what Roger Olson’s favorite candy is? Because I think I’m going to owe him one for compensating for my lack of expertise on this. :-)


One could do worse…


http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolpinchefsky/2012/11/23/five-chocolate-bars-you-should-be-eating-now/




bilbo

Facebook round-up

The internet has been busy this week! Good haul.



Fannish Bits and Bobs


1. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382359933/



2. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382359787/



3. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382356715/



4. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382356719/



5. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382355022/



6. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382350264/


Hogwarts! In Legos – how cool is this?



7. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382348635/


A young Katniss takes her first trip into the woods with her dad. This is a really well-done movie and a nice gapfiller for Hunger Games filler. I don’t agree with the film’s point that the ictizens lost their liberty because they gave up their guns, and at the end they have links to other movies that kind of ruins the effect. Still, it’s a really good video.


(embedded video at the link)


8. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382348621/



9. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341390/



Other Things to Make You Smile


1. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382366363/


This may only be funny to the FaceBook folks, but it definitely gave me a chuckle!



2. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382366359/



3. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382359783/



4. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382354483/



5. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382350263/



6. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382348643/



7. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382348652/



8. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341303/



9. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341209/



10. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341259/



11. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341207/



12. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341204/



Politics / Seriousness


1. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382359785/



2. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382356717/



3. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/424142/february-25-2013/the-word—silent-but-deadly


A very funny “The Word” feature from Colbert about the way America refuses to research the effects of guns.


(embedded video at the link)


4. http://pinterest.com/pin/297167275382341387/