Monday, April 17, 2017

Weeping Among Hobbit Holes

A few years ago, my sister Bethany and I visited New Zealand. We spent several weeks on the North Island: hiking, sightseeing, visiting with friends, drinking coffee, and stuffing ourselves with fresh butter and cheese. It was awesome. (The scenery, the coffee, the butter, the friends, the cheese. All of it.)

During the course of our trip, we also visited Hobbiton.

Nestled in the center of a 1,250-acre sheep farm in the lush hills of Waikato, Hobbiton was built for the filming of The Hobbit movies, and it's The Shire brought to life.

If only the author could have seen this.

Writing didn't come easily to Tolkien. His creative process was a struggle from beginning to end, and although The Hobbit had worked out well enough, he often despaired of finishing the publisher-requested "sequel"--a sprawling saga encompassing both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.

Contacting his publisher mid-project, he said, "My work has escaped from my control, and I have produced a monster: an immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and very terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit for anybody)..."

Standing in the center of Hobbiton, I was struck that while Tolkien didn't exactly create Middle Earth ex nihilo--out of nothing, as God created the universe--he certainly came close. Middle Earth, after all, came complete with its own history, creatures, topography, mythology, and fully-articulated languages.

Tolkien had created Middle Earth. 

He'd created it out of words.

And here it was.

In this way, Tolkien reflects something of what it means to be made in the image of God.

Our God is a Creator, and he's stamped creativity into our DNA; therefore when we create, we reflect him. Of course, we cannot create exactly as he creates; and we are no more the source of creativity than the moon is the source of sunlight. But though moonlight is dim, it's still light.

So we create, reflecting light into darkness.

That's what Tolkien did. 

He poured himself into his work, telling a version of the oldest and most important story: the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

In this way, Tolkien reflects the Imago Dei.

These reflections, on a bright April day in the middle of a sheep farm, left me wanting to weep among the Hobbit holes.

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Zaleski, Philip and Carol Zaleski. 2015. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. New York: Farrarr, Straus and Giroux, 398.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Annual Blog Hiatus: March 13-April 17

For the next few weeks, I'll be resting my little grey cells and gearing up for another year of spirited blogging. In addition, I'll be working on some non-blogging projects and focusing on long-range development.

Which brings us to an announcement.

Within the next few months, I plan to start dropping regular installments in an actual audio series aimed to help listeners become better readers, writers, and ignorance fighters. Monthly episodes will be short, punchy, geared toward analysis and practical application, and studded with classic and contemporary literary examples. If you love truth, value language, and enjoy investigating what turns good writing to great prose, you'll want to tune in. (Also, if these recordings turn out to be anything like my live talks, they'll be riddled with inadvertent spoonerisms. So we have that to look forward to.)

That doesn't mean this blog is going anywhere! While I'm not looking forward to the nuts and bolts of getting my technological act together, I am excited about the possibilities.

I hope you are, too.

Considering how many informational streams we have vying for our attention, I appreciate that you take time every week to engage with these posts. Thank you for not rewarding me with silence but instead offering a flurry of comments on Facebook and Twitter. Your input is valued and appreciated.

If you're lonely over the next few weeks, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this post and check out some of my favorite blogs from the past twelve months.

I wish you a wonderful spring and a blessed celebration of our Savior's resurrection.

See you on April 17!

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Ten Favorite Posts from the Last Twelve Months:

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Give It Silence

I want to be clear. We should not always keep silent.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to bring Scripture to bear on the human experience. The Gospel forever changes the heart, producing a natural resistance to injustice, hatred, crime, lies, deceit, and theological error.

However, in some areas, I suspect that silence is more effective than speech.

An example of this would be public boycotts.

While I don't willingly throw my money at companies and causes I can't in good faith support, I don't jump on public boycotting bandwagons.

Here's why.

There's actually good evidence that loud, social-media-fueled boycotts don't work; in fact, they often prove counterproductive. This is true especially in the entertainment industry. 

As Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, prominent protests merely fuel the box office by increasing visibility for the project. Boycotts generate headlines, drive publicity, and dominate the news cycle of a culture that doesn't care about the Christian critique of its values and merely wants to rub it in our faces when the project inevitably does well without us.

That's why instead of a boycott, I give these projects silence.

Silence is the death knell of creative endeavor. I speak from experience. I'd rather have one of my works met with hearty debate than the awkward chirping of crickets. Silence means it wasn't even important enough for someone to form an opinion one way or the other.


For these reasons, I encourage you to redirect your energy.

Move from boycotting to boosting. 

Shine a light on what matters.

When a truly good film comes out, go see it ("That's your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes," says Barbara Nicolosi, who terms this sort of resistance an othercott). Write online reviews of good books to help boost their visibility. Go to quality live shows when they're in town. Play good music, and play it loudly with the windows down, yodeling along as best you can. Recommend your favorites left and right. 

Celebrate local art, writers, artists, and theatre, lending your support to worthy projects at the grass-roots level. That's the beauty of art and culture: everyone can be involved. We don't have to wait for Hollywood to speak ex cathedra and hand down their finished projects to us, the sorry masses huddling helpless and cultureless at their feet.

Instead, we can build culture together--culture that celebrates life, light, and truth.

Let's shine a light on works that are worth celebrating.

Let's give the rest our silence. 

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Photo Credit:

By LoMit (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Don't Be A Hotler!": Podling 1 Speaks Out

Note: I currently serve as nanny and educational assistant for five energetic podlings, ages six through sixteen. 

Today, Podling 1 speaks out.

Guest Post by Podling 1
Age 16

Most of you know that [Ruth] is quite eccentric. However, you may not realize that her eccentricity leaks into her everyday conversations, usually while she is teaching. Whether she is reprimanding one of us podlings or teaching us about the subjunctive mood, words will randomly burst out of her mouth that will result in peals of laughter and/or strange looks from said podlings.

Two weeks ago, I decided to document some of this randomness for your enjoyment.

These statements sound completely ridiculous out of context; but then again, they didn't make sense with context either!

"Don't you remember what happened to Shakespeare in the bathroom???" 
"One time while I was writing, I absentmindedly ate a whole pack of blueberries, and then the next day I had what I called...The Blueberries."
"NNNYYYUUUUUURRRRR!!!!" (Dying Whale Noise or Wookiee imitation: you decide.)  
"You know who had a nose like a toucan?"  
"Whoooo! These crumbs are JUST PEPPER!!!" 
"Everyone get back to the worky-worky .....whaaaah?" 
"Stop dancing like a sand person and do your work!" 
"But enough about time travel. Let's get back to your lesson." 
"Sugar cane. SUGAR cane. CANE." 
"This looks like a crazy person did it."  
"Are you petting me like a cat?"  
"If you give me a paper cut in my eyeball...." 
"Point your teeth at somebody else!" 
"This is very close to vampirism, this is too much!" 
*finishes deep conversation* "...and I have food on my pants. I did not mean to say that out loud." 
"Those are going to help you with all the moods!"  
"You can't buy a horse at JCPenney!" 
May these past remarks shed a new light on [Ruth's] crazy personality!

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*Note: "Don't be a Hotler" refers to "Adolph Hotler II," a fictional character co-created one day with Podling 2 as we discussed alternate WWII histories. Hotler's worse than Hitler. Probably. So "being a Hotler" is quite an insult. 

While I can't pretend to remember the context for all the above phrases, I am certain that Podling 1's powers of observation will take her far. May she always use them for good, not evil.

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Image Credit:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Failing Your Way to Success

I'm a struggling writer currently failing my way to success.

That doesn't make me special.

On the contrary: apart from a few exceptions, that's how most writers make it. They write and delete and write and delete. Their work is repeatedly rejected, forcing them to hone their craft and develop new skills. This process is good and necessary.

That doesn't mean that it feels good and necessary. For the most part, it just feels like hard work.

But we all go through this process. Even of the greats.

Especially the greats. Ernest Hemingway wrote the end of A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times.
When he was asked by Paris Review interviewer George Plimpton what had been the reason for so many endings, Hemingway replied: “Getting the words right” (The Telegraph).
Hemingway produced a lot of wrong words on his way to finding the right ones. In short, he failed his way to success.

Whatever your endeavor, determine not to let failure claim you. Instead, claim it as your own.

Learn from it, grow through it, get past it.

Fail your way to success.