You know what I loved about The Lord of The Rings? I’m talking about the movies in particular.
It was the first movie in a long while that treated ‘manly’ virtues like honor, courage, duty, and loyalty in a serious manner. There was no shying away from Sam’s rock-solid devotion to Frodo. No blushing at Aragorn’s duty to the world of men and his struggle with the implications of that role. When Gandalf faces off with the Balrog and says “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” (read: Holy Spirit) he’s saying “I am vested with certain authority – not by my own power, but by someone higher than both of us, and I am exercising that authority now.” Evil is real, personified, and non-sexy – the choice for good people of Middle Earth is simple: fight the evil, and fight to win; or submit yourself to slavery, death, or worse. There is no middle ground.
It seems that there has been a generation of movies that treated all such virtues, all such choices as quaint at best, or corrupt at worst – but most often they just treated virtue as silly.
This is so important to what’s happening right now in the church, particularly with men. I had a new experience today – an unknown (random?) person stumbled across this blog and commented on two of the posts. One of the things he said was ‘A relevant Church is a dangerous church....” (Thanks Chris!) If men (and women) come to despise the virtues Christianity cherishes then we wither, and the world will wither with us for lack of our salt.
So much of my awakening in these last years has been about rediscovering a vivid, real root to these things I’ve been raised to mock. But it’s no sleigh ride. Recognizing the Truth of an ideal like steadfastness inevitably leads me to recognize my own fickleness. The warm but uncompromising light of courage casts the shadow of my cowardice. But as painful as this knowledge can be, it reveals itself to be a landscape worth living in, worth wrestling with, one in which I can feel like there is something for me to do – something to fight for! But for so long I’ve found myself in this realm where I have no clear direction on who I should be or what I should strive for. If my (arguably) deepest longing is to be respected, then a culture that makes my impulse toward honor seem corny is deeply disorienting. In a world where the choice is between honor and dishonor, at least a man can make a choice. But one in which my every lurch toward integrity is casually laughed at, dismissed, and scorned – what then?
There’s no question that this group of virtues is an ideal – not the stuff of everyday life and not a simple matter of reading a book or turning off the TV. But that too is so refreshing to me! So invigorating! You mean there is a way of living, a way of worshiping, a way of serving that actually ASKS something of me? Actually challenges me? Sign me up man!
Courage is hard! If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be much point to it and it would be no virtue at all. A man might do a brave thing in a given moment, but to display courage as a character trait is something else entirely – and finally something worth doing – something worth being.
These ideals, these virtues, stand like pillars in the landscape of our lives. They act as landmarks to guide us from season to season. Mocking them, as so much of the last 30-40 years has done, doesn’t move them, it only drops a fog over the field that obscures our vision and cause us to get lost, wandering in circles. In time, we forget even what the pillars looked like, or if perhaps our ancestors just imagined them in their primitive minds. But sooner or later, in all the stumbling, somebody will bump into one of these monuments almost an accident. “What’s this? Hey everybody, come se what I found!” Climbing that pillar starts to get your head above the fog and you discern other pillars...
What’s happening in the church right now, and also in America in general, is that people are finding these virtues and the light they provide. People are climbing up above the haze and that in itself starts to clear the fog. Spending time with the rock-solid reality of Compassion reveals Nice to be nothing but an imitation made of marshmallow. Grace rises up and reveals Tolerance to be chicken wire and paper maché.
OK – I’ve gone all misty now, but my point can be seen in this: Men in particular have been lost for the last many years because the landmarks that are supposed to be the guideposts of our lives have been hidden from us. Our half of the Christian contribution to life has been diluted because we’ve been scattered and wandering. But that’s changing. Like it or not, movies are the cultural literacy of today, and seeing movies like Lord of The Rings take these guideposts not as relics of an outmoded way of thinking, but rather as relevant to today’s challenges is no small matter. Bid a bitter and overdue goodbye to the anti-hero and welcome again the hero. Celebrate most his flaws, because in them lay the seeds of his humanity and often his redemption.