“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate…It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Why use The Lord of the Rings instead of the Bible as the primary source for my summer men’s group?
Because I believe philosophy matters, not in place of theology but in relationship to it. I think good questions and good thinking should lead to good answers.
What is philosophy? “In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.”(1)
As someone who’s life work revolves around matters like these, I seek to include the exploration of these subjects through various sources of literature, film and art as well as the Bible.
I believe men care about these big issues. Not that every man is necessarily a philosopher or theologian, but most of the men I know are not perpetually shallow streams. There are places in men, if approached from the right angle that reveal deep pools of thought and even emotion. They may not always know how to articulate these spaces within them, but when they hear someone speak of them, they quickly own them. They just needed some help in putting descriptions to the places they have have been.
In the many decades I have been working with men and women, I have heard countless generalities about both. The endless assumptions, conclusions and determinative classifications often end up being exposed as fads, fantasies or falsities. Men and women are created by God and though there are uniquenesses in each gender, they both bear His Image. That image is as creatively diverse as the natural world displays in it’s myriads of beauties and complexities. If I were to ask you to describe for me flowers, or birds, there would be similar attributes, but the kaleidoscope of differences would be insurmountable to name.
Men and women are the similar, there is no one way or one type of ministry to reach and teach them, it takes all kinds of means. My experience in ministry to men has taught me to simply follow the grain of one’s own interest, passions and concerns. There are many ways and means to gather men, find what you care about and you will find there are some other men that care about that too. Many men’s ministries grow stale or fall into ruts because they derive from vision statements, leadership books or church how to manuals instead of the soul of someone who has found a fountain of meaning that they love to drink from and long to share it.
The Apostle Paul described the type of reality, when he wrote to the Christians in Corinth: “You may have ten thousand teachers in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers…”(1 For. 4:15). A teacher and a father are very similar and very different, men need more than teachers, they need Fathers who are compelled by the father heart of God.
Men will be moved by men who have been brought alive by the touch and breath of the Divine. Men who are not just transmitting information but transformational life. Spirit empowered men who can shape other men through the power of words and ways. Men who know that passion begets life not information alone, that one can know how a child is born but also know that it’s quite different to make a baby!
Too much of men’s ministry has lost it’s potency and devolved into a grown up version of youth group. Men get together to play, party and punch shoulders. There is a place for ‘shoulder to shoulder’ ministry, where men do stuff together, but don’t be fooled into thinking that if you just golf together or BBQ Angus or Asparagus, meaningful ministry will take place. We all have the types of friendships that we do stuff together but never come close to the marrow of life. We have a laugh, enjoy ourselves and consider them friends, but it’s even easy to have christian friendships that hardly ever mention Christ.
Bottled water is fine but drinking from a fresh, flowing mountain stream is incomparable. Too much of our relational life within and without the church is way too tepid, packaged, sanitized and safe. Drinking from streams is somewhat dangerous, but the taste is incomparable to tap water. Men are drawn to the wild, that doesn’t mean every guy is a lumberjack or mountain man but it does mean that men long for a faith that was born in the wilds not the synagogue. Our message must be at home in everyday life not just in Sunday school or from a pulpit or pew.
We need our ‘Hallelujahs’ but if you haven’t heard the word ‘fuck’ in your men’s gathering you are probably are not connecting with men outside the church walls. If we want to reach men and not just connect with them, we must become men who are human enough to relate with and divine enough to inspire men to seek the truth and life that is behind and beyond this one we can see.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
“The ‘truth’ in myths and legends bears repeating because it cannot be taken in all at once. There are stories that we have to grow into; stories that deal with the way the world is made, and the way the Self is made. These stories are like dreams, but dreams that can be shared by an entire culture; wholesome dreams that restore a balance to the psyche by turning our energies and our thoughts towards truth; dreams that resemble an oasis in the desert. Reading them can be a bit like praying. “Finally, brethren, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, consider these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
C.S. Lewis in his review of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings wrote:
“[The Fellowship of the Ring] is like lightning from a clear sky…here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart.”
Men need the lightning not just the thunder and the sad reality is, that most of our hearts and gatherings are void of both. Ministry to men cannot just add another cubical to their already hemmed in life. Men long for adventure and they want to be with men who are going somewhere and doing something. Men that are growing, expanding and exploring. They want to find out how to fully embrace the people and life they have committed to love, care and serve. They want to know how to be more fully alive right here and right now. They most likely won’t be able to able to afford or find the time for grand safaris or expeditions to exotic lands. They know that going to Hawaii on vacation is lovely, but a few days back at work and life is still frenetic with it’s hamster-wheel realities.
Men can find meaning in building and fixing stuff but most men won’t go to the mechanic or contractor when life is falling apart. They will need men who know how to care for the soul. Men who can listen as well as talk and when they do say something, it’s meaningful. Crass jokes only go so far in a life that is prone to cracks and crumbling chasms. Men will need other men who have found sources of wisdom as well as great fishing spots. Men who can handle the bible and great literature as well as a rifle, nail gun, spatula or socket wrench.
“We all, like Frodo, carry a Quest, a Task: our daily duties. They come to us, not from us. We are free only to accept or refuse our task- and, implicitly, our Taskmaster. None of us is a free creator or designer of his own life. ‘None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself’ (Rom 14:7). Either God, or fate, or meaningless chance has laid upon each of us a Task, a Quest, which we would not have chosen for ourselves. We are all Hobbits who love our Shire, or security, our creature comforts, whether these are pipeweed, mushrooms, five meals a day, and local gossip, or Starbucks coffees, recreational sex, and politics. But something, some authority not named in The Lord of the Rings (but named in the Silmarillion), has decreed that a Quest should interrupt this delightful Epicurean garden and send us on an odyssey. We are plucked out of our Hobbit holes and plunked down onto a Road.” -Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings
All men are on a ‘Road that goes ever, ever on’ and they need a fellowship,…companions and leaders, who will journey with them. Our fellowships will be full of all kinds of men…brave rangers of the wild-lands, wise old wizards with spells, books and tales, cantankerous and fearless dwarves, fair, intelligent and far seeing elves, noble, battle hardened men of cities and small, insignificant, a bit overweight, flower and farm loving, pipe smoking hobbits.
We will need them all in life and my prayer is that at the end of our days, we will be able to sit down after all our ‘going out’ and be content with the life we have lived, but always have one ear open for “returning feet and voices at the door”
“I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.” (2)
This is the kind of men’s ministry I love being apart of and if you can’t find it…stop looking for it and become it. There are men all around you that need it more than you could ever imagine.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Ring Goes South”