“Have Ye Then No Hope?” (14): Eucatastrophe

This post will conclude the series. I hope you have enjoyed it! Published on the last day of the year, it is an important reminder of the hope that drives our purpose in the new year.


When I think of Tolkien, the first word that comes to my mind is eucatastrophe, a word he coined. Eucatastrophe is his word for those sudden and un-looked-for upheavals of joy that bring tears to our eyes. These moments afford us a rare and unusual grace, for as we experience them we are convinced that evil will not triumph in the end. This is the taste of Joy “beyond the walls of the world” that Tolkien wrote about so memorably in On Fairy Stories. Samwise Gamgee experiences this glimpse of Joy, when in the depths of despair in Mordor, he suddenly sees a white star:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

Eucatastrophe, in literature and in life, is like that star! It fills us with hope because we know that in the face of such beauty, the Shadow is only “a small and passing thing”.  We experience eucatastrophe when Eomer lifts up his sword in despair at the coming of the Corsairs, only to find that the ships bear Aragorn himself: “Thus came Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind of the sea to the kingdom of Gondor….”

We experience it when Samwise Gamgee discovers at the end of Return of the King that Gandalf is alive. The passage is worth quoting at length:

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever knownBut he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

“How do I feel?” he cried. “Well I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”’

Sam’s question, “is everything sad going to come untrue” is at the core of the Christian hope, and Tim Keller writes: “The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.”

Eucatastrophe pulls our hearts towards evangelion, the good news that Jesus is Lord and He is returning to put the world to rights.

The inhabitants of Middle-Earth may have had a hope without guarantees, living with a fundamental uncertainty of what happens in the end. But we living on this side of the Great Eucatastrophe, have much more hope than that! Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to us as a deposit of our future inheritance (Eph 1:18). Peter tells us that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).

We may die, but Aragorn’s words at his own death are instructive: “In sorrow we must go, but not despair. Behold! We are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell!”

Our living hope denies, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, universal final defeat. It does not deny sorrow; it denies despair.

Have ye then no hope?

Take heart. There is hope – more than you could dream.



A Link Between Church and Obesity?

Today I read a really interesting article on CNN entitled, “Frequent Church-Goers Frequently Fatter.” A great headline, by the way.  But the gist of the article is that a study has shown that people who attend church regularly are significantly more likely to have a higher body mass index than those who attend infrequently or not at all.

Researchers had a hard time, however, speculating why religion was associated with overeating:

“Churches pay more attention to obvious vices like smoking or drinking,” said Matthew Feinstein, lead author of the research and fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our best guess about why is that…more frequent participation in church is associated with good works and people may be rewarding themselves with large meals that are more caloric in nature than we would like.”

A Chicago pastor pointed to a “church culture around eating” and the frequency of church potlucks.

There is indeed a church culture around eating.  For people who may not have a lot in common, food is something that people can connect over.  After all, everybody eats.  But it seems to me like a once-a-week potluck isn’t forcing anyone to poke an extra notch in their belt.  It’s the daily choices, the pattern, the lifestyle.

And so I am a bit baffled by the way that the modern church has gone after other vices like smoking, drinking, etc. but has turned a blind eye towards overeating. Many more people die from the diseases of affluence (heart disease, etc.) than from lung and liver cancer.

This is why I think that Christians need to figure out what it means to eat with intentionality.  This is why we need sermons on gluttony.  This is why we need to learn what it really means to feast (if every meal is a feast, there’s a problem) and to fast.  And this is why pastors (like myself) need to do some serious thought about how to address the deeper spiritual issues that lie underneath our gluttony.

Because ultimately being healthy is not about feeling good or looking good, although those are nice side effects.  We pursue physical health because God is honored when we take care of our bodies.

And when we take care of our bodies, we have a greater capacity to serve, more energy to love, more to offer the world.

In the spirit of this post, here’s a great spoken word piece on gluttony by P4CM poet Karness.  Worth your time:

Lent 2011

I have a few other posts in the hopper that I’m working on, but I’ve just felt swamped lately and haven’t been able to make time to crank them out.  So I thought I would write a quick post about how I am attempting to observe the Christian season of Lent.

For those who don’t know, Lent represents the 40 days of preparation for Easter.  Not all Christians observe the season, but for those who do, Lent is supposed to be the time when we review our spiritual lives, think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, reset the compass of discipleship and train our hearts to press on after Christ.

One of the things that I love about Lent is the self-examination and intentionality that the season invites.  I encourage my students to either subtract something from their life or add a practice that will disorient their normal routine and create space for change.

This year I decided that for Lent that I would expand my mind and deepen my heart through reading six books, one for each week of Lent (not necessarily a book a week).  Each one relates to a different sphere of my life.

Spiritual: The King’s Cross by Tim Keller – Keller’s exposition of the life of Jesus via the Gospel of Mark. My aim in reading this book is to spend concentrated time looking at Jesus.

Vocation: Love Wins by Rob Bell – A very controversial book in which a popular mega-church pastor questions the traditional doctrine of hell.  I’d rather read the book itself than the reviews.  My aim in reading this book is to wrestle with the personal and pastoral implications of believing in hell.

Generosity: Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns – This book, by the president of World Vision, the world’s largest relief and development organization, calls Christians to reclaim our essential commitment to pursue justice in the world.  My aim in reading this book is to re-ignite my passion for justice as a central implication of the gospel of Jesus.

Fitness: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – A book about running.  I am toying with the idea of training for a marathon this year, and this book has been highly recommended.  My aim in reading this book is to find inspiration and motivation to become a more serious runner.

Productivity: Getting Things Done by David Allen – It’s a book about personal productivity (no duh).  People swear by it.  I actually read the first half of this book before, but didn’t implement it into my life and promptly forgot most of it.  I consider myself a pretty productive person, but I feel like I am in a season where I am having so many ideas, projects and dreams that I need a better system to keep things from falling through the cracks.

Imagination: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.  This is a re-read for me.  But it’s so good.  And I need something to nourish my imagination.  Plus, my friend James just got me a nice hardback copy.

Following Jesus for me means becoming more intentional in each of these areas.

So that’s my plan.  We’ll see how it goes.

Question: Any Lent commitments to share?  Any thoughts on Lent in general? Anyone read any of the above books?

Church of CrossFit (10): CrossFit and the Cross

In my previous post I wrote that CrossFit is often accused of elitism, and I concluded that it was guilty.  Its mission of “forging elite fitness” has indeed led its adherents to elitism.  In other words, they truly believe that they are training the most well-rounded, fittest human beings on earth.

I argued that elitism is a natural and necessary part of life.  But does elitism have to be synonymous with pride?  I asked, is it possible to embrace something that’s true in a way that doesn’t lead to a superiority complex?  Is it possible to be elitist and yet not look down at the people who don’t see things the way that you do?  That’s what I’d like to explore in this post.

[Fair warning: I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a follower of Jesus, just like not everyone is a CrossFitter.  That’s where I’m coming from, however, and I hope that I at least can help you understand what resources the Christian faith gives for holding “elitist” views with as much humility as possible.]

The funny thing is, the longer I do CrossFit, the more humbled I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I am blown away by the results.  But every workout kicks my butt, leaves me on my back, makes me think about how much farther I have to go.

And I’m thinking that’s the point: to crush my sense of superiority and sufficiency and to train myself to become somebody worth being.  Maybe that’s why I like CrossFit – it somehow humbles me and encourages me at the same time.

But if I’m not careful, something that ought to produce humility actually engenders pride.

Like almost anything else, CrossFit can become a functional Savior – it can become  one more thing to add to our image, one more fix to patch up our insecurity, one more argument to justify ourselves, to tell ourselves that we matter, to define our identities over against the “un-enlightened ones”.

“Thank God I’m  not like those Globo-gym idiots at XSport!”

The problem with most of our functional Saviors is that they engender despair when we fail (“I am worthless”) and arrogant superiority when we succeed (“you are worthless.”)

I think the same thing is true when we replace Jesus with religion.  Something that is supposed to produce humility actually leads us to pride.

“Thank God I’m not like those __________!” (Pagans, Democrats, Republicans, etc. Fill in the blank with your favorite group to feel superior towards.)

What bothers me most about Christianity is not the elitism of our doctrine.  Everyone is elitist at the end of the day.  Everyone’s a fundamentalist, we just have different fundamentals.

What bothers me is the fact that our doctrine has often led us to disdain for those not like us – even while the Scriptures say that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

What bothers me is the attitude of arrogance and superiority that we often wear like a badge, even while the Scriptures say that we are justified not because we are smarter or better than anyone else, but simply because of God’s undeserved kindness.

It’s the sneering rhetoric that we celebrate(!) on talk radio shows while affirming our belief that we are so bad that God had to come himself to bleed for us.

One of the things I love about the writings of Paul in the New Testament is he is always pointing out how Jesus destroys any ground we might have for boasting about how good we are, or for feeling superior to anyone else.

The Cross humbles us – because Jesus had to die for us, that’s how deeply flawed we are –  AND gives us confidence – because Jesus was glad to die for us, that’s how deeply loved we are.

Humility and Confidence.  Openness and Elitism.

CrossFit helps me with this during my workouts.

The Cross does it for my entire life.

Question: Any final thoughts or questions on CrossFit, or what I’ve written during the series?