Boromir and Judas Iscariot: A Lord of the Rings Good Friday Blog

Boromir

Easter is one of the two biggest celebrations for the Christian Church, the other being Christmas.  One being the remembrance of the birth of Christ, the other being his death and resurrection.  Both were so important to the early church that it was deemed necessary to set aside a larger period of time to celebrate.  The four weeks leading up to Christmas were dubbed Advent and they were set apart for preparing one’s mind and heart for the birth of Jesus.  Likewise the 40 days leading up to Easter were set apart and dubbed Lent, in order to help Christ’s disciples prepare themselves for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  While Christmas culminates in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, both celebrating the same event – Jesus’ birth, Easter culminates into a weekend celebrating two major events in Jesus’ life, his death and resurrection.  While I understand the significance of celebrating both events (death and resurrection[1]), I have often wondered about the Christian labeling of Good Friday.  What is it about a day, set aside solely for the remembrance of a man’s death that makes it “Good?”

Judas KissLurking in the background of the Good Friday story is the betrayal of one man, Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money bag.  Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed Jesus to the authorities which ultimately resulted in Jesus’ death on that day so long ago that is now commemorated as “Good Friday.”  How, in any world, does the act of betrayal leading to an innocent’s death result in a day that is considered good?  How, in any world?[2]

Well, being the nerd that I am, allow me to explore this question from that perspective, the viewpoint of a different world, the world of Middle-earth. In that world, there is a man who also betrayed his friends, if only for a moment.  Boromir, son of Denethor, is the eldest and heir to the stewardship of Gondor.  He has a younger brother named Faramir, but Boromir is much more his father’s son than Faramir.  Both Boromir and Denethor crave the power of control and neither have any desire to set that power aside, ever.  It is this lust for power that makes Boromir susceptible to the One Ring’s allure in Lord of the Rings.  Boromir is often seen as the weakest link in the Ring’s Fellowship as it was he who gave in and tried to take the Ring by force from Frodo.  Because of this momentary lapse in judgement at Amon Hen, he is sometimes considered a failure, but I wonder, whether Boromir’s involvement in the Fellowship of the Ring was a mistake or an essential act of providence.[3]

There is no doubt that Boromir’s actions were more in line with Sauron’s mind than with Gandalf and his company’s.  There is also no doubt that it was Boromir’s lust for power, or in the very least his enjoyment of it, that brought about his downfall.[4]  However, what if Boromir had not given in to the temptation of the Ring and, like the other respectable members of the company, had remained firmly set against using the ring for his own means?  What if that pivotal moment had not happened at Amon Hen?

Because of Boromir’s act, Frodo and Sam are forced to leave the company, Frodo because he realizes that eventually all the members of the company would give in, and Sam because of his undying loyalty to his master.  If Boromir had not attempted to forcibly wrest the Ring from Frodo, we have no proof that Frodo would have had the courage to set out on his own and enter Mordor stealthily, which was essential for success.  If Aragorn and/or Gandalf had joined Frodo on this quest, Sauron would have detected them instantly and known they were a threat.

But this is not the only effect of Boromir’s betrayal.  With the company divided and searching for Frodo, he was left alone to defend Merry and Pippin, essentially redeeming himself according to Gandalf.

Poor Boromir!  I could not see what happened to him.  It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men.  Galadriel told me that he was in peril.  But he escaped in the end.  I am glad.  It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.[5]

However, this left him outnumbered and Merry and Pippin were captured, only to ironically be safely ferried to Fangorn Forest where, again essential to the Fellowship’s success, they rouse the Ents and cleverly bring their awesome power to bare against Isengard and Helm’s Deep.  Without this providential event, surely the free peoples would have fallen at Helm’s Deep.  “So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvelous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!”[6]

The Ents take down Isengard, which had it not fallen, Aragorn would never have gotten his hands on the palantír which proved an essential tool in fooling Sauron into turning his eyes away from Frodo and Sam, and launching his attack on Minas Tirith before his preparations were complete.

Further, Merry and Pippin’s capture draws Aragorn to pursue them resulting in his “chance” meeting with Éomer and the opportunity to begin the awakening of Rohan.  He also meets Gandalf in his pursuit, who helps free Théoden from Wormtongue’s guile, which in turn wipes out Saruman’s threat to Rohan, enabling the Rohirrim just enough time to send the army that saves Minas Tirith.

If Boromir had not been part of the Fellowship, he would not have been tempted by the ring and given in.  And none of these things could have happened if Boromir had not succumbed, at least for a time, to the temptation of the ring.  This one failure of Boromir was essential to the successful defeat of evil as no other single event in the book was.  Almost like Judas Iscariot’s failure being essential to the defeat of evil in our world.  This one act was pivotal for setting the crucial events, which had to take place, into motion.

So, as scripture says, these things must come to pass, but woe to he who brings them about (Matt. 26:24; Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22).

While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”  (Mar 14:18-21)

In the same way that Boromir was essential to moving the plot forward and pivotal in bringing down the plans of Sauron, so was Judas Iscariot’s actions essential in moving the plot of salvation forward and bringing down the plans of the evil one.  In the same way that the Ring’s evil plan over-reached itself and brought about its own destruction, so the evil one’s plans over-reached himself and ironically brought about his own defeat.  Maybe that’s why they call it “Good Friday.”

[1] The Gospel of Mark, at least, never mentions Christ’s death without immediately drawing attention to his resurrection.

[2] You can read about Judas’ story in Matthew 26:14-47; Mark 14:10-46; Luke 22:3-48; John 18:2-5.

[3] Providence often refers to God’s leading in this world, however it can also at times be God’s taking of an evil act, though not planned by him, and using this act to bring about his will.  It is this theme that Tolkien enjoys playing with in his novel.  We’ll explore this in a larger Middle-earth context in a later blog.

[4] I will discuss this in a future blog.

[5] Gandalf at the borders of Fangorn Forest in Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p. 485.  HarperCollins, 1995 Edition.

[6] Ibid, p. 486.

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Why I choose to Celebrate Halloween.

And  now for something completely different…maybe…

November 1 is one of the oldest holidays, being in existence longer than Christendom. Originally, the first day of November was celebrated by the Celtic people as the first day of the new year. Some suggest that this celebration was held to honor the sun god and included rituals of fortune-telling, the appearance of ghosts, and a number of other supernatural occurrences. The Celtic people believed that when a person passed away, they were born into the Otherworld. On the night before Samhain, the barrier between this world and the other world became very thin, allowing the inhabitants of the Otherworld to enter our own, thus the appearance of ghosts, etc. It is also possible that since the days were getting shorter, people believed that evil was triumphing over the sun god and persecuting humanity. In order to combat this, large bonfires were lit at night. Even the pagan empire of Rome blended local Samhain customs with their own pagan harvest festival honoring Pomona, goddess of the orchard.

Many years later, after Christianity had been accepted as the state religion of Rome, a number of events occurred which offer something to the tale of Halloween.   On May 13, 615 CE Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to all of the saints that had been martyred for their faith. The previously pagan temple became known as the Church of the Blessed Virgin and All Martyrs. By the 7th Century, May 13 became known as “All Saints Day” and soon grew into a large Christian celebration with many people gathering at the Pantheon to celebrate it every year. Unfortunately May 13 was not a good time of the year for providing a large crowd with food and with so many people attending the celebration, there wasn’t enough food for the feast. Therefore, in 844 CE or 835 CE[1] Pope Gregory IV moved the feast to November 1, presumably for two reasons. The first reason was due to the abundant food supply that the fall harvest would offer. The second reason relied upon Church policy. It was the strategy of the church to supplant pagan celebrations with Christian observances. This way, they did not have to take away an already established celebration, remember that during these years, life was difficult and celebrations were one of the few things that the people had to look forward to. This same policy was observed when December 25 was chosen as the celebration of Christ’s birth. By the late middle ages, November 1 was accepted as All Saints Day and since the Celtic People tended to celebrate the evening before a holiday, October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve or as we call it today Halloween.

Unfortunately the celebration of All Hallows Eve had blended together with the celebration of Samhain in such a way as to blend the Christian celebration with pagan ones, another thing that Halloween shares with Christmas.

So what do we do with Halloween? In recent years it has become popular to celebrate harvest parties instead of Halloween, but is this the best option? To celebrate a harvest party instead of a Halloween party suggests that there is something wrong with the name “Halloween”, but we have seen that this name is probably the most Christian aspect of the entire celebration. Furthermore, celebrating the “harvest” is closer to the Roman pagan celebrations than celebrating the Saints. In fact, many scholars suggest that the game of bobbing for apples or biting at apples swinging on a string comes directly from the Roman festival of Pomona. True, it can be said that we are not celebrating the harvest, but rather the God who brings the harvest, but that is also what the ancients claimed. Of course they were celebrating the “gods” who brought the harvest while we are celebrating the “God” who brings the harvest.   Of course there is nothing wrong with this, but do we then have to discard the holiday of Halloween? Or is there a better option?

A second option might be to boycott Halloween, close our eyes to it, pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it will go away if we ignore it. We know that this approach doesn’t work, because Christians have been trying this for a long time and Halloween is still with us. Perhaps there is a third option.

Willems

Dirk Willems rescuing the sheriff who had been pursuing him, resulting in Dirk’s arrest and death. Read more about Dirk Willems at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirk_Willems .

Perhaps it is time for us as Christians to be assertive and reclaim the Christian significance of Halloween. Perhaps it is time that Halloween became a true holiday once again. Christians throughout history have risked their lives to believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Anabaptists we are especially aware of the dangers that were involved in this. We have a “rich” history of saints who have gone on before us and sacrificed their lives because they believed that integrity was essential to our faith. What better time to remember those saints who were martyred for our faith than a holiday that was specifically designed for this reason. As Anabaptists we have much reason to embrace Halloween. It is the time that we can remember our spiritual fathers who died for their faith. The name Dirck Willems jumps immediately to my mind, but the unfortunate fact that no other names come to mind reinforces the importance that Halloween holds today. I am not suggesting that we celebrate Samhain, this is the pagan part of Halloween that no Christian wants to be involved in, but rather truly celebrating Halloween or All Hallows Eve.

As a people of faith, how might we reclaim Halloween?  How might we remember and celebrate Christ during Halloween without discarding the holiday?

For a good resource on celebrating Christ during Halloween or any other holiday, read Martha Zimmerman, Celebrating the Christian Year (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994).

[1] Dates are not always clear when referring to this topic. One source suggests 835 CE while another suggests 844 CE.

Is sorcery science or magic? Yes and yes.

My wife and I watched the Sorcerer’s Apprentice the other night and I was pleased to Sorcerer's Apprenticehear Jay Baruchel’s character, David ask “is Sorcery science or magic?” To which Nicholas Cage’s character, Balthazar Blake, replies, “yes and yes.”

After having David fix her antennae during a stormy night (using science), Teresa Palmer’s character, Becky, states, “It’s a miracle we even got on the air tonight.”

I have long been intrigued with the connection between magic and science. Not only would many of our scientific discoveries seem like magic to ancient civilizations (ex. Matches, flashlights, etc.) but the motivation behind both seems to be similar (or at least can at times be).

For example, magic was prohibited in the Old Testament because it was an attempt by humanity (the natural) to manipulate the gods (supernatural). Say the right words in the right order, with the right emphasis, maybe the right actions, and you could force the supernatural elements, of which the gods were in charge, to do your bidding. Perform the correct action at the right time and the gods (supernatural) will be manipulated into doing your will…maybe (have sex with a temple prostitute and that act of fertility might encourage the god of fertility to bring rain and make the land fertile).

Of course, the God of the Hebrews would not allow this, for he was God, Creator, the only deity and he would not be manipulated. As the sole deity, those gods that humanity were trying to entice, were nothing more than natural elements. No god of thunder, just thunder; no storm god, just storms. And, as the sole deity, Israel’s God was in control of all these and according to Genesis 1, he had put humanity in control of them as well. So any dabbling with magic was (1) a refusal to acknowledge Israel’s God as the sole deity or (2) an attempt to manipulate him.

So, magic was forbidden. The created beings were not at the whims of the supernatural forces/gods. Those elements were at the whim of Israel’s God, he controlled them and would not allow them to be controlled by humanity, nor would he be controlled by humanity.

So enters science. I don’t know much about science, but I like many of the things we have inherited from science. My father was diagnosed with cancer. He died about a year ago, but the advancements that science had made enabled him to live an extra 20 years. Modern medicine has benefited from science. However, when science is used to manipulate nature, one has to wonder how different it truly is than ancient magic. If you mix these right ingredients together or genetically modify this type of food, then you can force nature (supernatural elements) to do your will. Of course now we’re realizing that some of our magical/scientific powers are actually self-defeating; are actually destroying the natural world in which we live.

In the ancient world Israel’s God wanted his people to put his trust in him, not their own magical powers. I wonder if today he would desire the same of his people in regards to their scientific powers.

So, is sorcery science or magic? Yes and yes.

How do I Resist Evil? — Without becoming the very evil I’m resisting? —

September 11, 2015 marked the 14th anniversary of a day in which the world witnessed a terrible act of unmitigated evil. Advocates of terrorist beliefs hijacked four jet airliners and attempted to crash them into American buildings. Three were successful, two crashing into the World Trade Centre and one into the Pentagon, while one crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  2, 997 people lost their lives that day in New York alone, plus over 2, 500 more who have died from contracting cancer due to the toxins that were released into the air that day at ground zero. An immeasurable number of others had their lives forever changed.

Though the act was aimed at the United States of America, the entire world watched in horror and most agree that, regardless of what spurred the event, it was an act of unmitigated and unprecedented evil. This act demanded a swift and immediate response.

But what was that response to be? How could one respond to this type of evil? The United States decided to declare war, War on Terror, and invade Afghanistan. Was this the right response? I’m hardly the one to answer that question, but I will make the point that here we are 14 years later and the war on terror still rages. Terrorism still remains in the world, United States airports have higher and stronger security measures, and U.S. borders are patrolled more stringently; fear reigns more highly in the U.S.A., and worldwide, than before 9-11. Has the War on Terror made the world safer? Has the War on Terror stopped such an event from ever occurring again? Has it changed the mindset of those who originally advocated for acts of terrorism or has it perpetuated it?

On May 2, 2011, almost 10 years after 9-11, the U.S.A. announced that they had found and killed Osama Bin Laden. The world rejoiced, at least most of it. Especially those citizens who had directly dealt with the pain and sorrow of that September 11, 2001 tragedy. Even those who claimed to follow different teachings than the terrorist mindset rejoiced. Many Christians across the country thanked God for, not only the end to one man’s reign of terror, but for his deserved punishment and death — Christians who claimed to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ (to be clear a Christian is NOT a BELIEVER in Jesus, but a FOLLOWER).

The teachings of Jesus include unapologetically to love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45; Mat 26:51-52; Luke 6:27-36; Rom 12:17-21). Yet on May 2, 2011 many, not all, in the Christian community cheered at the murder of their enemy. Even atheists such as Bill Maher could identify the disconnect in mainstream Christianity’s response.

(Caution: video contains course language and may be offensive to some).

Perhaps the biggest and most hidden tragedy is that the War on Terror turned a movement which was originally based on peace and love for both one’s neighbour as well as one’s enemy, into a movement that applauded, if not advocated, terrorist activities. So did the War on Terror change the mindset of those who originally advocated for acts of terrorism or has it perpetuated it? How does one resist evil, without becoming the very evil one is resisting?

Many authors have explored this question from many different angles. Suzanne Collins did it in the Hunger Games, George Lucas did it in Star Wars, and J.R.R. Tolkien did it in The Lord of the Rings.

Suzanne Collins illustrated all too well that even though the 13th Colony was seen as hunger-games-cover-imagePanem’s salvation, once we got to know it, we found the 13th Colony no different than the Capitol. They both used manipulation, they both believed that violently defeating the other was the only way to win, and they both desired to control their inhabitants. Even Katniss’ sappy love triangle is seriously nauseating until one realizes that the love triangle is a microcosm of sorts for the author’s entire series. Katniss must choose between Gale, an allegory for violence and war, and Peeta, an allegory for peace and unselfish service. In the end and in an ironic and tragic twist, the weapons that Gale was developing and his violent scheming reached out and killed Katniss’ sister, the very person and reason that Katniss so unselfishly entered the Games to save. Gale thought he was saving Katniss, her family, and her colony with his actions, but those very actions brought about the destruction of Katniss’ family and Katniss’ unselfish act of salvation. Katniss chose Peeta, the unselfish servant to live the rest of her life with.

In Star Wars, George Lucas reveals his thoughts in the famous scene where Luke Luke's Vision Pt.1Skywalker is being trained by Yoda on Dagobah. At one point, Luke feels something evil. Luke's vision Pt.2 “What’s in there?” he asks Yoda. “Only what you bring with you,” is the reply. Luke proceeds to confront Darth Vader in a somewhat anticlimactic light saber duel. In the end Luke kills the imitation Vader but when his enemy’s hood is removed, it only reveals Luke’s face. The scene can be interpreted in a number of ways, but I believe Lucas is illustrating that if you use the same weapons and actions of evil to overcome that evil, you simply make yourself into that very evil, as Luke became Vader.

So how does one overcome evil without becoming evil? J.R.R. Tolkien illustrates his thoughts Lord of the Rings on this question by using the meekest beings in all of Middle-Earth to overcome the most powerful and most evil. These beings don’t overcome evil with power, in fact it is through their meekness that they are able to resist the enticement of the one Ring as long as they do, and the most servant-hearted of them all, Samwise Gamgee, is the only one in the entire book who is able to hold the Ring and still freely give it up via his own desire (proving that Sam is the true lord of the Ring). In The Lord of the Rings, evil is overcome by meekness, servanthood, love of companion, and courage. Not by picking up a bigger, better ring! For Tolkien this was the only way evil could be overcome. “You cannot fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf’s wisdom seems long ago to have passed with him into the True West…..” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, HarperCollins, 1995, p. 94).

Did the United States’ response to September 11, 2015 solve the problem, or just use the Enemy’s Ring to overcome them and become their own Enemy? I’m not the one to say, but I think it bears some musing on. After all, this approach to dealing with enemies has been around since before Genesis 1 was written and it hasn’t solved the problem. Many think that Tolkien’s approach is foolishness, but what is more foolish, trying something new or doing the same thing over and over even though it’s already proven not to work?