Adventuring with The Hobbit

Dear readers: as you know, my site now focuses on four things: gardening, baking, cooking, and books. Today it’s time to focus on my love of reading.

So many books have famous first lines. There’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Herman Melville started Moby Dick with “Call me Ishmael.” And “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” My favorite is from the book I just finished with my book club: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Of course, that’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

As much as I love the first line, the first paragraph of this adventure is what truly draws me in:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Tolkien’s verse

We gathered Tuesday night for the final session on The Hobbit, and we all were sad to leave it. Everyone was quoting favorite lines from the book to each other, just to hear Tolkien’s lyrical prose. One of my favorite parts of the book, aside from the sheer adventure of it all – the dramatic journey of our little hero, the modest hobbit, fighting with evil spiders and a DRAGON – was some of the poetry Tolkien crafted as the songs sung by the dwarves and the elves. The songs reflected the characters’ nature: light, cheerful verse for the elves, cruel consonant-heavy lines for the goblins. And of course, our hero Bilbo Baggins, invented silly verses on the fly when he distracted the spiders away from his friends.

Old fat spider sitting in a tree!

Old fat spider can’t see me!

Attercop! Attercop!

Won’t you stop

Stop your spinning and look for me!

-The Hobbit, chapter 8

A complete world

Beside the poetry, everyone who has read Tolkien knows about the care he takes with what the sci-fi community calls world building. I’ve always thought of it as scene setting. The maps on the inside covers of the book were created by the author. But you can get it all from the descriptions Tolkien gives of the Shire, of Bilbo’s very nice hobbit hole, of the paths the adventurers take through the deep forest of Mirkwood, the wastes near the Lonely Mountain and finally in the dragon’s cave. Everything is described so beautifully that I can picture every scene of the book. But of the first Hobbit movie – I remember nothing except the first dinner scene. That’s the magic of books – you, as reader, collaborate with the author in creating the story in your mind.

Finding the Lonely Mountain

A brief, final battle

I’m thankful that Tolkien resorted to the “Deus ex Machina” technique of the using the Eagles to shorten the final battle – because it nicely shortened a brutal war scene. I thought that at least 30 minutes of graphic fighting could have been cut from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies – which I DO remember – without sacrificing the story. And it was somehow so hobbit-like for Bilbo to be conked on the head with a rock, causing him to go unconscious and miss the last part of the battle.

A humble hero

Bilbo Baggins is described as a hobbit who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father” and indeed he lived a decorous life until he was 50 years old. But then, with the visit of Gandalf the wizard, the part of him from his mother’s people, the adventurous and less respectable Tooks, came out. The two halves of his personality warred within him starting with the unexpected tea party he hosted for the 14 dwarves. In shock the dwarves were expecting table service (and knew his larders better than he did) he muttered “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!” Then after being thought a grocer instead of fierce, he marched forth to join the fray. On the journey Bilbo went back and forth from bemoaning the lack of a pocket handkerchief to devising ingenious plans to save his friends from danger. That was Bilbo’s charm: he was a hero who didn’t think highly of himself, who forgave those who did him wrong (witness his weeping over Thorin) and who was pleased to be “quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

Notes

I’m sure I don’t have to tell this erudite audience from whence the lines in the first paragraph came, but in case you don’t know:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The cover of the copy I have – the 75th Anniversary edition.

Watching Life Instead of Living It

Now that the COVID-mania of 2020 and 2021 seems to have lifted, I want to live life instead of watching it happen. Doing, instead of being in the audience, is my thing. That’s why I joined the choir in my church – I didn’t want to just watch other people sing; I want to be in on it too! Why be a spectator?

I’ve made strides toward more living, less watching before. When I first moved into my house in December of 2016, I moved my circa-2000 television with me. That thing was an old bulky set – definitely not a flat screen. The remote control stopped working sometime in the late 2010s.

My TV looked a LOT like this one. Heck, it could have been this model.

I worked around it by actually getting up to change the channel, like in the 1970s. I started watching less and less television over the years, and I decided once I moved, I was going to put that old wreck on the curb and run an experiment: how long can I go without a TV in the house?

Continue reading “Watching Life Instead of Living It”

Sunday thoughts

One of my favorite blogs, Maggie’s Farm, publishes the gospel message from the lectionary each Sunday. I’ve always loved that. Maybe I should do that? At the very least, I can send you over to Maggie’s for the gospel lesson today. And stick around and read more from the group; for a bunch of Yankees they aren’t bad:

We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn’t pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does “try my best to be just like I am,” and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.

MaggiesFarm.anotherdotcom.com

Moving toward the Spirit, part 7

Thoughts on growing in faith. Last in the series. To catch up: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6.

My quest to draw closer to Jesus continues, no matter where I go. At times I’m very good about devotions in the morning, praying and reading my Bible; most of the time, I honor daily devotions in the breach by thinking about it for a few minutes. And then feeling guilty. Every time I deviate from my ideal I realize that I’m falling away from relationship with the Lord. He doesn’t move away from me; I’m the one straying. That’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful for the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The structured Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and sometimes Compline have been a super way to keep me praying, reading Scripture, and spending time with God. Not that I do them all the time. Like I said, I’ve been much better at observing them as something I should do.

I decided to get a leather-bound copy of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer. Built to last!

When I discovered podcasts devoted to morning prayer, I was thrilled. Finally – a way to listen to Morning Prayer while walking my dog! (Usually, I’m listening to something that isn’t filling my head with good news.) CotA’s church plant, All Souls, created the wonderful 10-minute podcast Lord, Open My Lips and I use that. Another way I’m focusing on God is to go to the Wednesday morning Eucharist our church offers. I’d been off and on, but on my birthday last October, I decided my goal for the next year was to go each week. I’ve been more often than not and I’m keeping on.

It’s not usual to find an Anglican running around in my part of the South; anybody seeking out liturgy is usually an Episcopalian. Most of my friends today in Columbia are Southern Baptist. That only makes sense, because 1) I spent 20 years in a Southern Baptist church, and 2) the top three religions in South Carolina are Baptist, Methodist, and SEC Football. But over the years my spiritual journey, ever since I was 12, has led me to going to where I truly think the Spirit of Truth is. I felt that in my time with Wesley Monumental, with Lamb’s Chapel, and then RHBC. Right now, that is in the Church of the Apostles, a member of the ACNA. In my Apostles 101 class I loved how our past Dean (that’s a fancy Anglican word for the head priest at the cathedral church of the Diocese) described the church: the place where the Scriptures are rightly taught and the Sacraments observed. At least that’s how I remembered the saying. And everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been looking for a place that carefully paid attention to the Bible and actually believed it.

I think I’ll end my journey written journey here, with part 7. It is, after all, the perfect number.

Moving toward the Spirit, part 6

This is the next-to-last post in this series. If you need to catch up, just look at the previous five weeks of posts!

It started with an Excel spreadsheet. Wait: before the Excel spreadsheet, there was an unfortunate administration change at my old church. RHBC’s beloved senior pastor was retiring after a long career. And the new guy was (is) hard-charging, young, enthusiastic, with clear vision and purpose. Unfortunately, his vision didn’t include the outstanding choir director who had led our choir for the past 10+ years. After he was shown the door, I waited until Christmas, to sing in one last Christmas cantata. (I wouldn’t have done that again to witness the chaos resulting from a choir that wasn’t fully in sync with the director and vice versa – missed cues, botched songs. Ah, schadenfreude!) I waited some more, thinking we’d get a new permanent choir leader and everything would start afresh. When that didn’t happen, and the temporary director became the director, my last day was Easter Sunday 2018.

Here’s where the Excel spreadsheet came in. I put together a list of the requirements I was looking for in a church and decided to start visiting around. Here’s what I put them on a spreadsheet:

Continue reading “Moving toward the Spirit, part 6”

Moving toward the Spirit, part 5

Hopefully I will wrap this multi-part series up soon, but no promises….

That Disciple Bible study was the first time I had done in-depth Bible study. I wouldn’t study the Bible so thoroughly for another two years. I finished the course and put the Good Book back on the shelf to gather dust. In the meantime, I left Savannah, took a job that kept me working afternoons and evenings, and stopped going to church for quite a while.

It wasn’t until I started attending Lamb’s Chapel, a non-denominational church in my next town that I truly started reading the Bible again. I went there because a couple of friends I made in my new town were attending. It was as different from the liturgical United Methodist church as could be … there was no liturgy. Instead, we sang all out for about 30 minutes, followed by a few announcements. Then, the senior pastor would commence to preach, straight from the Bible, for 45 minutes. And what made it fascinating was that I actually liked hearing his sermons. They weren’t the dry sermons I was used to hearing. I actually started taking my new copy of The NIV Study Bible with me to church and making notes in it. I marked up that new Bible completely with notes from those sermons. I stayed at that wonderful, non-denominational, Bible-filled church until I left Florence about 18 months later.

Continue reading “Moving toward the Spirit, part 5”

Moving toward the Spirit, Part 4

This is the fourth in a multi-part series on how I grew in my Christian faith. See part 1, part 2, and part 3 to catch up.

Ah, the recycling. That and the fact I was pulled in so many directions, like most American teens, had a lot to do with my falling away from the faith for quite some time. I may have attended church during the college years, but it was a faith grown “lukewarm.” Yuck.

After graduation I moved to Savannah in early 1990 for my first job. Sad to say, part of my motivation for finding a church was 1) because the president of the place I interviewed at told me about important church was to him and 2) I was looking for one of those beautiful old churches in the historic district. Not too much on the actual faith part – more of a “looking good” type churchgoer. In a happy accident I wandered across one of the most spirit-filled churches of all, which just happened to be historic, beautiful, and blessed with a magnificent 60-rank Noack organ: Wesley Monumental Church. I was determined to go to a church with glorious music just once in my life!

Wesley Monumental at Christmas – I was lucky enough to sing in that choir
Continue reading “Moving toward the Spirit, Part 4”

Moving toward the Spirit, part 3

Third in a multi-part series See part 1 and part 2 to catch up.

Right after the high of the Youthciple experience, I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to “do.” So, I just kept going to church. But certain things didn’t set well with me. First, I didn’t like how so many kids my age just started dropping out. It was hard to keep going to MYF when I knew so few people, and I wasn’t the most outgoing person to boot. They were all from different middle and high schools – I didn’t know them! And I didn’t like how so many things we were taught in Sunday School didn’t seem to play out in daily life.

Continue reading “Moving toward the Spirit, part 3”

Simple pleasures: coffee

This week I’m away at CPAC, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. While I’m waiting to go to breakfast with a few new friends, I couldn’t help but think about this.

Coffee…ah, coffee. In my late teens and very early 20s it seemed that coffee was falling out of favor with my generation (this was the mid-to-late 80s.) After seeing that Juan Valdez and his donkey were just making the kids laugh, coffee marketers came up with a lame slogan for Gen X: the coffee generation. That fell on its face.

And lo, a star arose in the West: a young man named Howard Shultz determined to bring Italian cafe culture to America. Starbucks eliminated the fears that Gen X and all those after them would stop drinking coffee. I can still hear my dad – “$5 for a cup of coffee? I wish I’d come up with that idea.”

Continue reading “Simple pleasures: coffee”

Moving toward the Spirit, part 2

this is the second part of a series. The image above: Noah’s Ark by Edward Hicks

Believing was so simple, so pure when I was a child. God said through the Psalmist he who had clean hands and a pure heart would ascend the hill of the Lord. And I wanted that.

“…Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3

I think the first scattering doubts crept in when I read a child’s version of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It had to be around fifth grade, maybe fourth. This volume was published by Disney! It had to be okay. Disney was practically patriotic in our house. Some of the only television we kids were allowed was Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Walt Disney.

There was a character in the epic named Ut-napishtim. In these stories from Mesopotamian mythology, he survived a great flood by building a ship to transport his family and some animals. Hmm….

Continue reading “Moving toward the Spirit, part 2”