A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A Good Name

On every cruise, there are a number of sea days where you have time to kick back, relax, and soak up the sunshine and sea breezes. One such morning, after working out, we splashed in the pool and then decided to parboil in a jacuzzi before lunch. Almost everybody on a cruise is in vacation mode, cheerful, talkative, and inquisitive, so if you meet another couple, common courtesy includes a greeting and exchanging some light banter around, “Where are you from?” and “What’s your line of work?” This particular morning, a couple joined us in the hot tub, and the wife’s answer included, “We live  about 50 miles south of Chicago,” and “I’m a retired nurse.”

One of my dearest friends, Lizzie, grew up 50 miles south of Chicago and is a nurse, so I followed up with, “Oh! Where did you work?” Long story short, she worked in Kankakee (my friend’s home town) at St. Mary’s, where Lizzie’s father worked and her brother still does work! So, I asked if she ever ran into Lizzie’s brother, which set off an explosion of effusive compliments! He is wonderful. Not only an excellent surgeon, but a good man. “Do you know what I mean? Some doctors do great work—and he and his dad were both gifted surgeons—but the son is a really good person as well.” Good. Good. Good. I think she used that term no fewer than six times, wanted to know all about how I knew him, and in minutes I felt like we were fast friends simply based on our mutual admiration for this “good” man.

Now, I know for a fact that if you asked Dr. Lang if he’s a good man, he’ll tell you that he’s not, because we’ve had that argument. “There is none good but God.” True enough. The rest of us are self-deceived if we think we’re ultimately good and free from defects. I’ve known David for over 50 years, and ya, he’s not perfect, but I totally resonated with this nurse’s endorsement of his reputation for integrity and “goodness.” We will never be perfectly “good,” but we can definitely do “good works” and earn a “good reputation!” Want to? I do!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

P.S.—Jesus Christ was the only person who was ever truly perfect in his goodness, and I’ve also noticed that I become fast friends with others who share a mutual admiration and love for Jesus!

Then saith he [Jesus] to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

Chris LaPorte: Have You Found a Venue?

Mural Pictures 400So, ArtPrize is officially off and running. Here’s a picture of my entry, although it’s actually 33 feet long and 7 feet high. Artists are registering their entries, and last week began the “connection” period, where artists try to find a venue that’s willing to host their work.  I am hoping in the worst way that DeVos Place Convention Center will be willing to display my mural, but I was informed that DeVos is a really “primo” place, and so I’m applying to some other places too. If you want to see my profile and a few samples, here’s the link:


Chris LaPorteHave you ever heard of Chris LaPorte? Cavalry, American Officers, 1921 He was the first place winner of ArtPrize in 2010 with his stunning 28-ft. pencil drawing entitled “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921.”Chris LaPorte 4Chris’s work is being exhibited at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services’s Grand Rapids campus right now, and a couple of nights ago,Chris LaPorte 3 Alan and I attended a reception for him at the Postma Center. Chris LaPorte at Pine Rest Reception 2There were lots of delicious hors-d’oeuvres, Chris LaPorte at Pine Rest Reception 3 and our CEO introduced Chris  with some very insightful encouragements  Navarres of Woodside to think of every person (and patient) as a wonderfully unique and valuable individual, Chris LaPorte Pencil drawings 1 just as Chris draws each of the characters in his portraits. Chris LaPorte at Pine Rest Reception 1Chris answered lots of questions from all of us curious art lovers.

“How has winning changed your life?” one lady asked. Chris answered that the attention directed to him (Can I have a selfie with you??) is embarrassing and awkward, but that he finds it very gratifying when people are moved by his artistry. (One man told him the picture [and the story behind the picture, which was that Chris was working through the loss of his dearly loved father and somehow trying to “bring him back to life” through the depictions of the cavalry] had moved him so much that it motivated him to be reconciled to his father-in-law.)

Chris LaPorteI found Chris’ reflections most inspirational, and he also helped me think through some additional venue options that might work for my entry.

06 Landscapes copyAs fun and exciting as it is for me to enter ArtPrize, it occurs to me that each of us is a piece of art. Attention to self is awkward, but when others are inspired by hearing our stories, isn’t that a blessing?! In order for people to know our stories—and best of all—what God has done for us, we need a venue…a platform…or whatever you want to call it, where God’s work can be seen. Finding a venue is a good thing. Be it home, work, church, clubs, volunteer work, or ?? But, wherever we find ourselves, may the light of Christ in us shine out brightly!

18 Potpourri“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Japan’s Festival of Lights and Tunnel of Lights: Lighting Up the Darkness

festivalEvery once in a while I receive an email forward that is so stunning I just have to share it with you, even though I don’t know whom to credit (besides, in this case, my girl friend Maya, who is with her family in India and no where close to Japan at the moment…so I know she didn’t take the pictures herself…).kobelights01At any rate, the following photos are from Japan’s two spectacular light festivals. -1    The first set are from the Kobe Luminare: “Back in 1995, the city of Kobe was hit with one of the most devastating earthquakes in Japan’s history. Among the major cities, Kobe was the closest to the epicenter so it experienced the most damage both in terms of infrastructure and in lives lost.kobelights2 “After the earthquake, Kobe was without lights and was plunged into darkness. To pay tribute to the thousands who perished and to give hope to the surviving citizens, Kobe Luminarie, a light festival, was put on that year in December.festival10 “The lights were donated by the Italian government and the installation was produced by Italian designer Valerio Festi and Kobe native Hirokazu Imaoka. Most amazing is that each of the lights is individually hand painted!2010“The first Luminarie was meant to light up the city and to give the people of Kobe hope that their city could, one day, be restored.festival2“Though not meant to be an annual event, it proved to be so popular that the city had no choice but to bring it back every year since then. Over three million people now flock to Kobe to witness the country’s most spectacular festival of lights held for approximately two weeks every December.winter_light_festival_japan_3 The second lighting spectacular is the world famous Tunnel of Lights, which is ongoing now until March 31, 2013. It is “one of Japan’s most stunning displays of -1light called Winter Illuminations at Nabana no Sato, a botanical garden turned light theme park on the island of Nagashima in Kuwana.”winter_light_festival_japan_4It is “one of the best winter light shows in all of Japan.”winter_light_festival_japan_5 “The park really outdoes itself by using millions of sparkling LED lights all over winter_light_festival_japan_6the vast grounds including on the water winter_light_festival_japan_7and in the gardens.” winter_light_festival_japan_8“This year’s theme is ‘nature’ and it promises gorgeous scenes including a a28d647928aa71baa01458232e3ded2fbeautiful sunrise winter_light_festival_japan_10 inspired by Mt. Fuji at dawn,winter_light_festival_japan_9a rainbow across the sky, and even an aurora.”ad495a6fe04df2a896823b8ae159d837Are you inspired?01I’ll tell you, when I think about how much work it is 02just to hang a few twinkling lights at Christmas time, 03it’s more than inspiring…it seems overwhelming! Still, if we work together04we can certainly brighten our little corners of the world05and make our homes, if not gorgeous, at least warm and cheery! So, let’s not feel06intimidated!  Let’s just keep trying to brighten the corner where we are!

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

1. Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

2. Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear,
Let not narrow self your way debar;
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
Brighten the corner where you are.

3. Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are! (—Ina Duley Ogdon)