Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fighting the long defeat, hope without guarantees and a Judge standing outside of time.

Boromir's Fate.
This essay came to me quite by accident at a time when I needed it most in the dark, insomniac wee hours of this morning: "Tolkien and the Long Defeat." On the other hand, perhaps it was no accident after all.
It is no secret to you, my sometimes frustrated readers, that I have been struggling with a lot of issues these past two weeks -- of health, finance and the usual accidents of life. The cumulative effect has been corrosive on my determination. There is a point where the adage, "Drink water, drive on" no longer motivates. Good friends have been very ill with the flu and other maladies and as I prayed for their recovery, I prayed for my own. But it has been a struggle. And so the words of Andrew Barber's essay came to me at a very propitious time.
". . . together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat."
It has been said that J. R. R. Tolkien did not create Middle-earth but discovered it. Certainly for those of us to whom Tolkien has extended an invitation, who have feasted in the Shire and climbed the Misty Mountains and slept under the golden leaves of Lothlorien, our memories have the echo of truth. And in every folded corner and smeared ink spot, we find the long defeat being fought: elven maids fall in love with humans at the cost of their immortality, hobbits spare their tormentors out of a simple sense of mercy, and men march into war as a sacrificial decoy. Time and time again, our heroes come face-to-face with what Tolkien calls "hope without guarantees."
Even if we believe that the lights go out when our heart stops, it is hard not to be attracted to this strange morality that leaves Boromir fighting off hordes of orcs in order to protect two lowly hobbits (without success, as it turns out) or King Theoden leading a seemingly hopeless charge into final glorious battle. Tolkien has made his stand against the utilitarian spirit of the age, not through self-righteous diatribes, but through story after grand story of characters living in testimony to inherent goodness. Characters consistently make potentially catastrophic decisions simply because they believe it is the right thing to do. Tolkien, for example, describes the mercy that the hobbits show to Gollum, their conflicted tormentor, as "a piece of folly, or a mystical belief in the ultimate value-in-itself of pity and generosity even if disastrous in the world of time."
A piece of folly, maybe. But certainly one that defines the goodness of the hobbits and dictates the climax of Frodo's journey to destroy the One Ring.
The phrase itself, "we have fought the long defeat," can seem fatalistic or pessimistic, more akin to a Libertarian bumper sticker than a life-guiding principle. Certainly Tolkien, who was orphaned as a child and lost many of his good friends in World War I, had some pessimistic tendencies and meant this phrase on the largest possible scale. The farther one heads down the Middle-earth timeline, the less happy it becomes. Middle-earth is a world in decline.
Whether or not we think our world is in decline is up to each one of us. But in application, we see this life principle guarded against pessimism by love and hope. Fighting the long defeat is not meant to protect our hearts from suffering or lead to resignation. I am reminded of a wise counselor's words to me when I complained that, after all this counseling, I seemed to cry more frequently than before: "What made you think counseling would cause you to cry less?" Fighting the long defeat is meant to push us towards full, unapologetic engagement before a Judge standing outside of time.
If anything, we find that most of the characters in LOTR cast their whole hearts into their endeavors. What they love is on the line: their friends and family, their gardens, a mug of ale in the company of friends. They hope and long for these things to be protected and offer themselves as sacrifices to make it so.
Is this not why we struggle, why we even care, to try to preserve the Founders' Republic and a way of life that is in mortal peril? What we love is on the line. But no matter the outcome, we are required to stand -- by our God and the principles we espouse and, most especially, by all we hold dear.
As Barber reminds us:
We fight the long defeat because results are not as important as our Father's delight. We fight the long defeat because we are not the authorities over "success."
We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming.
Now, I can drink water and drive on. I am ashamed that it took this essay to remind me of the larger picture.


rexxhead said...

Tears wet my keyboard.

CB said...

"What we love is on the line. But no matter the outcome, we are required to stand -- by our God and the principles we espouse and, most especially, by all we hold dear."

Yes. One look into the eyes of my children and grandchildren confirm the above.
My comfort: There is a Just Judge at the end of all things.

Anonymous said...

I fear meeting my uncles, men I have known, and the unknown peoples when I pass on that have fought and died for this country. Giving up is not an option, not when the enemy is not at the gate, but within the republic.

Anonymous said...

Terrific essay! It helped you and many others, I am sure. Barber was a genius.

WarriorClass III said...

A most excellent and timely post!

Anonymous said...

A very elegant and soulful expression of "It isn't whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game".

Indeed. The end of each of us is never in question - it's how we get there.

Paul X said...

Why feel ashamed? Everybody gets depressed once in a while. Picking yourself back up is part of the fight.

I wrote an article about that fight, although it was not quite as poetic as this one.

Anonymous said...

What you have written is the essence of journalism; taking a premise, backed by excellent references, and organizing it so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and it has relevance to the target audience.

As a reader, I can feel the searing emotion, correlate it with Barber's essay, and apply it to my life, so that in times of trouble, I will have comfort.

Articles like this, the FBI piece, and others confirm that yo are a true journalist, this site is a must read. God bless you for your vision, persistence, and ability. Thank you for reminding us to act with honesty and determination. If we do so, right will always be on our side. Thank you also for reminding us that there is an ultimate Judge and to never forget it.

oughtsix said...

Thank you, Mike.

That is the very Essence of it all.

Engrave it on my heart, to bear the burden well.

And bless you, Mike, for all you have done and will yet do, and May God heal you and ease your suffering.

Anonymous said...

This is the third time I came back to read you eloquent insights Mike. I will refer to this often.

Crustyrusty said...

As I sit here, my 5 year old son is on my lap tweaking my nose :-)

I am 50 years old. I'm not likely to live long enough to see his grandchildren, but I don't want to leave this earth thinking that they or any of my progeny will have to live under tyranny without my having tried to do something about it. I am going to the grave one way or another. Might as well be in a huge pile of brass taking a whole shitload of 'em out with me.


LC Sons of Liberty said...

Tolkein understands the battle all to well and we must continue and "finish the race."
Our Lord and Savior demands it our family demands it and our country demands it from every crevace of the Founders history!