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Hobbits, Heroes, and Football

Every September brings with it the anticipation of fall colors, new beginnings and, yes, the National Football League. A few years ago, I celebrated the start of the academic year by attending a Seahawks game here in Seattle. The day was gloriously warm and sunny, a prized commodity in the Northwest. It was the opening home game of the season, and there were lots of extra bells and whistles. There were fireworks and a flyover by two F-16s. The Sea Gals (the Seahawks cheer squad) were dancing, the music was blaring, and the crowd was yelling at the top of their lungs.[1] CenturyLink field, the home of the Seahawks, has a reputation as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, so you can only imagine the wash of sound and excitement.

I was not there to watch the game. I am not really a football fan, and I can’t remember the last time I watched an entire football game live or on TV. I was there because my orchestra was playing in the halftime show, so we were there as guests. On that Sunday at the beginning of September, I felt like a stranger in a foreign land observing a strange ritual called “opening day festivities.” It was as if I were experiencing American culture for the first time. What I saw was pure energy and emotion in the midst of competition, power, and sex. This was a raw American ritual. I was overwhelmed and I began to wonder how Christianity can compete with this other Sunday rite. And since that sunny Sunday I have been asking myself an even more important question: what have Christians unwittingly imported into the church in the name of competing with such powerful cultural rituals?

Now, do not get me wrong. I think football is fine in and of itself. In fact, football was an important part of my family’s holiday traditions—I can’t remember a single childhood Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day that didn’t include watching long hours of football. Instead, what I’m working to understand is the ritual that surrounds the sport and how this ritual mirrors the evangelical Christian ritual.

The first similarity between Christian ritual and the ritual of professional football is that participants worship through the giving of some kind of monetary offering, whether it is in the form of buying tickets and team paraphernalia or through the charitable giving of tithes within the church. This type of financial sacrifice is required in order to be a full member and participant within the ritual. Of course, there are always people present that have not given money—such as my orchestra on that opening Sunday, who were guests of the Seahawks—but, in general, the offering of money is a sign of allegiance and loyalty, especially within a consumerist culture.

The second similarity follows from the first: we spend our money so that we can wear the group’s required uniform. Every church has a kind of uniform, whether it is a suit and tie or shorts and Christian T-shirt with flip-flops (the standard wear of the church I grew up in). Similarly, there is a consumerist identity for football fans. At the Seahawks game I attended there were many people wearing jerseys with their favorite player’s name on the back. I, in contrast, wore a red shirt because I wanted to match my sandals. (I’m such a girl.) This would have been just fine if the Seahawks (blue and silver) were not playing the San Francisco 49ers (red and gold). (Gulp!) As I walked around, I was confused by the glares that I received from many people. It wasn’t until later that I realized my taboo; I was showing, through my lack of the ritual costume, that I was an outsider.

Third, ritual requires some voicing of praise. This kind of praise giving (cheering) looks very different in church than it does in a stadium, yet both require some kind of celebration or vocal acknowledgement that the team or God is worthy of our loyalty and sacrifice. Granted, church services are rarely as loud as a cheering crowd at CenturyLink field, but I am merely suggesting similarities, not positing equivalent expressions of praise.

Fourth, both Christianity and professional football have a place for voicing complaint. There may be no official place within the performed ritual for lament and disagreement, but these reactions play vital roles in both football and the church. What would football be without the armchair quarterback’s dissatisfaction with a referee’s call? And what would our relationship with God be like if we could not call out in our distress, “How long, oh God?” The freedom to complain demonstrates a certain amount of ownership or relationship. It signifies that the individual has praised and sacrificed and, as a consequence, expects something in return.

Finally, fans and congregations also identify leaders and heroes through whom they organize or perpetuate the ritual. Such heroes include the star quarterback, the burly linesman, the mascot, the pastor, the worship leader, and the missionary. They are the ones we hold up as our example and our ideal. But if we are not careful, these persons become archetypes rather than people, celebrities rather than humble leaders. These are the people who miraculously live amazing lives or fall long and hard from their pedestals of veneration. And when this happens, they are banished from the ritual in disgrace.

It is this final category that I want to explore in more depth, because our heroes are crucial to how we tell the story of who we are, and I believe that a central aspect of any ritual is its defining narrative, that story of who we are and what we do. One of the fundamental characteristics that draws us to football is its epic story of the team. In many ways, football is the story of the heroes who have gone off to win glory on the field of battle. Commentators talk of players being “in the trenches” and play up the drama of competition as old rivals “go to war.” As the fans watch and cheer, heroic feats are lauded and tragic injuries are mourned. In every game, there is honor to be won and lost. And the heroes sometimes journey far from home only to return as the ultimate victors—Super Bowl Champions! Hence, much of the ritual of football follows this narrative of the heroic team.

Likewise, in the evangelical tradition, the stories we tell tend to focus on a victorious Jesus who has conquered evil and forgiven our sins. In my childhood church, we often sang hymns such as “Victory in Jesus” or “I’m in the Lord’s Army.”[2] In youth group, we sang Keith Green’s “Jesus Commands Us to Go” and Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The subtext was that we needed to be on the right side and be prepared to go and fight the good fight. In line with this, the heroes of the faith that were raised up by the leaders of my church were the missionaries who had traveled the farthest and into the most remote areas of the world in order to spread the gospel.[3] Following this example, the students who were thought to be the most mature in our youth group were the ones who sacrificed their summers to go on mission trips to Africa or Papua New Guinea. Christian vocation was about spreading the good news; all other callings were secondary and secular.

It seemed in my youth that all teaching and discipleship was for the sake of sending out missionaries and telling the story to those who didn’t know. I have heard a number of different pastors and youth leaders talk about life as a football game and church as the half-time break where we are rejuvenated and inspired to get back to the real action. What is strange is how this narrative diminishes the role and value of worship and the slow work of discipleship in the Christian life. Ecclesial life is thus reduced to a mere warm-up to the main events of evangelism and mission.

As we can see, how we tell the central story of the ritual influences how we live and what we value. Literary critic Northrop Frye argues that humanity tells two primary kinds of stories: (1) the story of the “warrior-hero” and (2) the story of the “homemaker,” or what I call the “healer-hero.”[4] The central narrative of the warrior-hero is that of exile—a time of earning glory away from home. There are noble journeys to embark upon and evil foes to vanquish. These tales elucidate the cunning and the skill of the warrior, the moments of glory and victory. Sometimes these are stories of ultimate sacrifice, where the hero dies but the battle is won. Other times, the warrior-hero wins the war and then weds the most beautiful woman as his reward. Thus, triumph ends in home and fertility, until the next adventure takes him away—action never takes place at home. However, it is the healer-hero who maintains the ordinary time of home life. These are the stories about where we live day to day. They focus on the slow growth of flowers, vegetables, and children. Time is slow and there is not a lot of action. All you have to do is think about your favorite chick flick to understand what I mean.

This dichotomy of the warrior-hero and the healer-hero is helpful for examining how we tell stories or act out such stories in our rituals. I contend that in our own stories, especially in the Christian story, the ideal is to find some kind of a middle way between these two kinds of heroes. Yet within evangelicalism, I see that an overemphasis on the victorious aspect of Jesus has led us to seek certain kinds of heroes over others. An exaggerated focus on Jesus as warrior, to the detriment of Jesus’s other critical role of healer, has led us to raise up Christian heroes that, sadly, look far more like our sports heroes than the true hero of our faith. Another way of saying this is that we value the adventurous sacrifice of the extreme missionary over the little old lady who has faithfully served in the nursery for fifty years (or even the hardworking yet invisible organist).[5] Both examples are equally valuable, but not equally glamorous, and we would much rather be glamorous than faithful in a slow and steady manner. Only by holding together in tension the roles of warrior and healer can we discover the qualities that we should look for in our own heroes. Thus, I argue for a more humble sort of hero-archetype: the gardener-hero.

The Stories We Tell and How We Perceive the Hero

In self-consciously examining the way the Christian story is told, the goal should be to elucidate a fuller picture of Jesus, the central hero of the Christian story. Different traditions of the church have emphasized Jesus as either the warrior (e.g., as the victorious conqueror over Satan, sin, and death) or the healer (e.g., what some critics have called the feminization of the church). But Jesus is both the warrior and the healer, and these two characteristics of the hero must be held in dialectical tension in order to understand who Jesus is as our hero. To that end, I propose the concept of the gardener as a means of exploring the paradox of the warrior/healer, and to aide my exploration I enlist the help of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a heroic tale highly influenced by Tolkien’s own understanding of the Christian story.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the great epic tales of twentieth-century English literature and since the movies came out a few years ago, it has found an important place within the popular imagination. It has everything one could want: complex characters, the struggle between good and evil, intrigue, mystery, danger, unexplored lands, romance, history, poetry, mythical swords, epic battles, magic rings, and lest we forget, giant eagles (who always seem to save the day). Given this diversity of scope, it is no surprise that the idea of heroism is extremely complex within Tolkien’s prose. In fact, the most obvious heroes, that is the ones who acquire the greatest quantity of brave deeds and fame, are not ultimately the central heroes of the trilogy. As professor Loren Wilkinson argues,

The real hero of the Tolkien story, as many have pointed out, is not Aragorn the king, or Gandalf the wizard, or any of the sword-bearing warriors. It is not even Frodo the Ring-bearer; it is rather Sam the gardener.[6]

Wilkinson points out that one of the vital characteristics of the Lord of the Rings is how it balances (or subverts) the story of the warrior with that of the gardener. Throughout the story, Sam the gardener maintains faith, hope, love, and courage because he remains true to the belief that he and Frodo will return home to the Shire; he realizes there is little glory in the heroic journey if there is no garden to return to and tend. One example of this is found in the movies where, in the midst of Frodo and Sam’s journey into the dark and barren lands of Mordor, Sam admits that his rationing of the elven way-bread is meant to sustain their journey to Mount Doom and then back home again.[7] Throughout the story, when Frodo has lost hope, Sam remains steadfast, even to the point of becoming a warrior in the necessary moments: Samwise Gamgee, slayer of the great Shelob and bearer of the light of Galadriel. Yet Sam’s way is never guided by the narrative of one who seeks to find glory in battle. Instead his defining narrative is that of the gardener who tends to daily needs of bread, water, and hope. And it is characteristic of Tolkien’s overall vision of true heroism that the final words of the novel come when Sam says, “I’m back.”

Consider Galadriel’s gifts to the members of the fellowship of the ring. The majority of the gifts given by Galadriel, the elf queen of the forest of Lothlórien, were focused on surviving the journey that awaited the fellowship. However, Sam’s gift is an exception. It is not for the journey but, instead, for the end—or we could say the beginning—of his story. She gifts Sam a small box containing the seed of a Mallorn tree and soil from the forest of Lothlórien.[8] Galadriel’s gift enables Sam to heal the Shire after the ravages of war. Moreover, its purpose could only be revealed at his homecoming.

Sam is the true hero, even if he is not the most celebrated of the characters. He is the one who allows his love of Frodo and the Shire to guide him to the very end.[9] If we think back to Frye’s categories of the warrior-hero and the healer-hero, then we can recognize that Tolkien’s ultimate hero is both the reluctant warrior in exile and the healer who loves home—the one that can heal the wounds of war. Sam’s story fits the typical warrior archetype in that he was triumphant away from home and then returns to marry his sweetheart, Rosie Cotton. But he also fulfills the healer archetype when he turns his heart and his action toward the slow growth of flowers, trees, and children. He is thus the gardener-hero because his story ends in domesticity and fertility, to the benefit of the entire Shire.

At the end of his exploration of Tolkien’s gardener-hero, Wilkinson notes the similarities between Tolkien’s story and the Christian story. He concludes that the balance between warrior and gardener within the Christian tradition is problematic and has often been misconstrued: we have overemphasized the warrior and forgotten the gardener in the story of salvation. In the process, we have overlooked the way that Jesus surrenders power in order to win the battle on the cross:

For the Christian story too is about the centrality of surrendering power—indeed, about gardening. Not only does the story begin in a garden but at its climax, the hero returning from his underground journey is rightly mistaken [. . .] as a gardener. The unheroic gardener is the hero of Tolkien’s story—and of the even greater Christian story that informs it.[10]

Hence, in the Christian story of salvation, Jesus’s life also subverts the two dominant hero archetypes because he, like Sam, is both the warrior and the healer. However, he is able to be this kind of hero for us only through the surrendering of power. With this in mind, I will now turn to Jesus as our model of the gardener-hero.

What Kind of Hero Is Jesus?

The Christian story begins and ends in garden imagery. In the first garden story, we observe the origins of all of life as well as the sorrow of alienation from the Creator God. Thus, the first story tells of the fullness and potential of all life while at the same time explaining our poverty and need for redemption. The Christian story ends in a garden as well, or perhaps we should really say a garden-city. Revelation 22 tells us of the healing power of the tree of life, and this is the consummation of God’s redeeming work for all of creation.

Of course, in between these two garden accounts is the story of the incarnate Jesus, and it is in the person of Jesus that the final garden of healing is made possible. It is in his embodiment as both the warrior and the healer that he is able to bring about the redemption of all things. Thus, it is in understanding Jesus as gardener that we can begin to truly know what kind of hero Jesus is for us.

The resurrection story in the Gospel of John recounts how the resurrected Jesus is mistaken as a gardener. When I think of John’s version of the story, Rembrandt’s rendition of the resurrection immediately comes to mind.[11] I love this painting. It captures something of the sorrow mingled with joy and surprise found in the resurrection story. No one really expected Jesus to come back to life, so how could they be prepared for such a wonderful shock?

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb only to find it empty. Upset and confused at her discovery, she then goes to tell the disciples what she has seen and they all run back to the tomb. Then the disciples go home, but Mary stays for she is bewildered and overcome with sorrow. No one seems to know what is going on. She remains weeping at the entrance to the tomb when two angels ask her why she is crying: “‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him’” (John 20:1–18).[12] It is at this point that a man approaches Mary, a man she believes is the gardener. This is the moment that Rembrandt captures in his painting. Jesus approaches her, with a broad hat and a gardening trowel in his hand. It seems that Rembrandt’s Jesus is a bit playful as he acts the part of the gardener for Mary’s sake. Jesus then reveals his true identity to Mary as she cries, “Rabboni.”

I believe that a significant characteristic of Jesus’s personhood is revealed in this moment. Perhaps it is this idea that Rembrandt is playing with in this painting: that Jesus, the teacher, is also the gardener. However, he does not tend just a small plot of land but all of creation.

The vocation of gardening is multifaceted. Good gardeners know their plants and the soil of their garden. This intimacy allows them to tend and nourish the soil because plants cannot flourish in depleted ground. Part of this tending is discernment between what to plant and what to dig up. Every plant also grows in its own season, taking from the soil and giving back in its time. Good gardeners know the difference between what is thriving and dying or what is a weed and what is a plant in its proper place. This kind of tending requires a daily diligence as well as a willingness to get one’s hands in the dirt. To show Jesus with a gardener’s hat with trowel in hand is a hopeful image for me. It shows that at the resurrection the work of redemption is near. A well-tended garden provides plenty of space for flowers, plants, and fruit to grow to fullness and maturity. And in this image, I see that redemption can take root and thrive.

The Son of Man is an intriguing biblical example of Jesus as the gardener of all creation. The primary task of the Son of Man is to discern (or judge), to uproot, and to set things in order, much like a gardener must know his garden well enough so that he can discern the weeds from the other plants. One can argue that weeds are simply plants that are out of place, but in his parables, Jesus taught about the more detrimental characteristics of weeds. In his parable of the Sower, he warns that weeds will choke out the healthy plants, not allowing the soil to produce a good crop. Similarly, in the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the weeds grow up among the healthy wheat (Matt. 13:24–30). In this parable, the owner of the land is tempted to pull up the weeds immediately, but he fears the loss of his crop because the roots of the wheat and the weeds are intertwined. Thus, he waits until the time is ripe so that the wheat and the weeds can be separated properly without the destruction of the good crop. And in Matthew 15, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for nullifying the word of God by preferring their traditions and laws over the commands of God. He warns them, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots” (Matt. 15:13).

It is clear from these passages that Jesus the gardener is given the task of separating the healthy plants from the detrimental influence of the weeds. Jesus is here alluding to his role as the Son of Man, the one who will judge the whole created order on the day of judgment. It is often assumed that judgment is concerned primarily with condemnation but many biblical accounts of judgment refer to it as discernment between the righteous and the unrighteous—such as the wheat and the chaff or the sheep and the goats. One will be preserved and the other will be—as stated in the parable of the wheat and the tares—tied up and burned (Matt. 13:40–43). Thus, this is the eschatological role of discernment and setting right. Evil is not merely pruned back; it is entirely uprooted by the Son of Man on this day. As in Tolkien’s tale, evil is become undone.

From the image of Jesus as the one that uproots and conquers evil we now turn to the image of Jesus as the one that provides healing and fecundity. This healing is only possible because evil has been uprooted; evil has no place or possibility in the garden at the end of things. In Revelation 22 we are given a vision of the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb and runs down the middle of the New Jerusalem. On either side of this river is the tree of life, which is continuously fruitful and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

I can clearly imagine Jesus as the gardener of the New Jerusalem. The water of life flows from Jesus and sustains the tree of life. It is this tree that provides healing for the whole of the redeemed creation. Jesus is almost Bacchus-like—though he is filled with the water of life rather than wine—as he causes lush vegetation and fruitfulness to spring forth from everything that he touches.[13] Here and there he runs and leaps and in each place is fruit beyond imagination. Everything is healthy and his presence brings light and beauty to all things. Jesus the gardener spreads his glory wide and all people and every thing responds. This is the fulfillment of II Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Our transformation into the likeness of Jesus the Lord through the Spirit is the invitation given later in the chapter: “Come!”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)[14]

Lavish is the tending of this garden. The gardener has prepared an overabundance for those who dwell there and never ending is the water that nourishes and satisfies. Where there was once nothing, there is now life. Where there were weeds that destroyed and choked, there is now fecundity and freedom. The book of Isaiah is filled with imagery of streams in the desert that are turned into gardens as God proclaims,

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

Jesus makes a way for redemption for the sake of his glory and the glory of all people and things. And in the end, Jesus the gardener names all things good.

Holding Together the Uprooting and Healing Roles of Jesus the Gardener

In order to maintain a fuller understanding of Jesus, we need to hold together in a dialectical tension the concept of the victorious Christ, who is able to vanquish evil, with the concept of the healing Christ, who is able to make all things new. It is important to balance these two concepts because an overemphasis on one or the other leads to a misunderstanding of who Jesus is for us. On the one hand, an emphasis on the victorious Christ tends to lead our theology towards an overly triumphant and domineering God who has little space for our frailty and humanity. On the other hand, an emphasis on the healing Christ tends to lead us toward an assumption that love and healing is equivalent to blind acceptance and inclusion of all people, regardless of sin or what one of my friends calls “holiness issues.” Instead, we need a more robust middle way that combines the warrior and the healer in our understanding of the hero.

The concept of the gardener brings together these two ways of thinking about the work of Jesus for us. Somehow, thinking of Jesus as the gardener-hero leads us down the right path. Because that which has not been planted by the Father must be pulled up by the root (evil must be undone) in order for the healing waters to flow and for the leaves of the tree of life to go out to all the nations for healing. Jesus is both the warrior- and the healer-hero. His warrior role makes way for the possibility of healing, and healing fulfills the work of the warrior. These are mutually constitutive roles for Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate gardener-hero.

Conclusion

The way we tell the story is important because we are storytellers. We are story hearers. We are even story dwellers.

This reality is shown in how we dive into the ups and downs of our favorite teams. The narrative of victory and defeat pulls us along, and occasionally, when a great victory is won, entire cities full of strangers run out into the streets to hug one another and raise their voices in triumph. The story pulls them together in community.

This unifying power of narrative is what is most potent about football or any other team sport. It defines and it shapes entire communities. Loyalty is earned over time and jerseys are bought by fans because of the great accomplishments of the best players.

Although this is such a powerful force within our culture as a storied people, we rarely stop to ask why and how we tell our stories. What we value shapes how the story is told. In football, what is most valued is the glory of winning, and Christianity often takes on this same narrative. The problem is that we belong to an upside-down kingdom; our values are different. Victory is not always about winning. Sometimes it is most profoundly about losing. Jesus surrenders his power, and it is in that reversal that redemption is made possible. The cross is a transforming subversion to the triumphant warrior story. And this transposed triumph leads to healing, which is the unraveling of evil—“Oh death, where is your sting?” The power that defeated Jesus on the cross is utterly incapacitated.

So in our telling of the Christian story and in how we form our communities through ritual, we must be aware of the fullness of the story of this Jesus Christ who is the gardener-hero. We sometimes import things from our culture to help us tell the story but as Tolkien has shown, the most obvious heroic traits are not always the most significant. We must continue to search out and express well the subtleties of the Christian story.

On a practical level, it is important to have a full picture of Jesus because as the church we are making disciples that are being conformed to the image of Christ. And if we are to be conformed to this image, we too must become gardeners. We fight for truth (a skill at which evangelicals excel), but we also must tend and bring health to all things around us. Our spiritual lives and communities must on some level reflect the gardener identity of Jesus. We must continuously strive to embody this story fully for the entire world to see.

And in the process, we may even watch a bit of football.


[1] As the Sea Gals ran onto the field and began dancing in their skimpy outfits, a friend of mine (who is the father of a young girl) leaned over to me and commented, “I wonder what their fathers think?”

[2] I still remember marching around the pews in the sanctuary singing this song.

[3] As a teenager, I was enamored by the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, and by the way that Elisabeth had gone back to work with the tribe that had killed her husband and four other missionaries. I do not want to minimize the power of this story, but it is significant that Elisabeth soon came back to the states to raise her daughter. The majority of her life has consisted in teaching and writing, yet she is most widely known for being the widow of Jim Elliot.

[4] See Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000); and The Great Code (Fort Washington, PA: Harvest Books, 2002). For an analysis of Northrop Frye’s theory of the heroic story see Loren Wilkinson, “Tolkien and the Surrendering of Power,” in Tree of Tales: Tolkien, Literature, and Theology, eds.Trevor Hart and Ivan Khovacs (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 73–74.

[5] Behind these examples are a few of the women who were important heroes from my youth.

[6] Wilkinson, “Tolkien and the Surrendering of Power,” in Tree of Tales: Tolkien, Literature, and Theology, ed. Trevor Hart and Ivan Khovacs (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 74. I owe much of my consideration of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to insights drawn from Wilkinson’s article.

[7] In the books, Sam’s longing for home is illustrated in subtle ways that are never as explicit as this scene in the movie.

[8] In the books, it is very provocative that Sam never opens the box until he returns to the Shire. In the movie version, Galadriel instead gives Sam a rope. This is a significant though subtle departure from Tolkien’s portrayal of Sam. In this move, they undermine Sam’s identity as the ultimate hero of the story, who is both warrior and healer. Similarly, the movies also miss the importance of Aragon’s healing gifts, even though the books suggest that this is one of the signs that he is the true king of Gondor.

[9] This motivation can be observed most poignantly when Sam refuses to use the ring to save Frodo from the orcs in the tower of Cirith Ungol:

He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this [Sam’s version of power and glory] could be.

In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command. (Tolkien, The Two Towers [London, UK: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999], 206–7.)

[10] Wilkinson, “Tolkien and the Surrendering of Power,” 83.

[11] View the painting here.

[12] All scripture is quoted from the NIV.

[13] I am thinking of a scene near the end of C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian where Bacchus and his entourage frolic from place to place, setting ivy and other green things to grow in order to take down the bridge and then the buildings on the other side of the river. Everywhere they go in their merrymaking, new life springs; all is turned to green and are healed. In the following scene, a school is overrun and transformed into a forest:

Ivy came curling in at the windows of the classroom. The walls became a mass of shimmering green, and leafy branches arched overhead where the ceiling had been. Miss Prizzle [the teacher] found she was standing on grass in a forest glade. She clutched at her desk to steady herself, and found that the desk was a rose-bush. (Lewis, Prince Caspian [New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Corporation, 1951], 194.)

[14] See also Isaiah 55:1–2.

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Author:
Chelle Stearns :
Chelle Stearns has a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews. As a practicing violinist (and lover of literature), she enjoys teaching and writing about the intersection of the Christian imagination and theology. Stearns currently teaches systematic theology at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.
  • Rosalee Killian

    Wow! What insight you have shown. Your are truly a blessed communicator and most loved daughter.

  • http://restorativetheology.blogspot.com Brian G.

    Love this post!! At seminary this past spring, I studied and wrote a paper about the “tear down/build up, uproot/plant” theme in Jeremiah, and this post makes the Christological connection which I didn’t make in the paper. Awesome, thank you!

  • Jasmine Wilson

    This is a really great piece! Thank you so much for writing.