Pity and mercy in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, Gríma, and Saruman

This is another reason The Lord of the Rings is so richly applicable to life: pity and mercy are held out, often in hope for redemption, for even some of the worst characters. This brilliant story richly and deeply brings this theme home through its complex drama. It breathes on your heart with the sweet and divine scent of committed mercy.

So, I want to look at the three characters through whom these themes of pity and mercy are most clearly illustrated: Gollum, Gríma Wormtongue, and Saruman.


This is the hope for redemption that the films most clearly portray, though it’s still not as strong as in the books.

Gollum is clearly wicked. The first time we meet him (in The Hobbit) he plans to deceive and kill Bilbo after losing a fair contest to him. We later learn that he murdered his best friend for the Ring. Finally, it’s because of Gollum that Frodo is in great danger, because it was through him that the Dark Lord learns the names Shire and Baggins. Frodo, hearing all this, says, ‘What a pity that Bilbo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!’ Yet Gandalf gently rebukes him in some of the greatest lines of the book (the bold is mine):

Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need…

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it…

Frodo takes the lesson to heart. When he finally sees this wretched, malicious, skulking creature face-to-face, the sight moves him to pity. He gives Gollum a chance to redeem himself, saying, ‘if you really wish to be free of [Sauron] again, then you must help me’ (Towers, 247). And indeed, for a little while we hope that maybe, just maybe, he will be free.

Even Sam, on the slopes of Mount Doom, spares Gollum out of pity. He has him at his mercy, ready to kill, but “he could not strike the thing lying in the dust, forlorn, ruinous, utterly wretched. He himself, though only for a little while, had borne the Ring, and now dimly he guessed the agony of Gollum’s shrivelled mind and body, enslaved to that Ring, unable to find peace or relief in life again” (Return, 238).

The beauty is Sam’s mercy; the tragedy, that Gollum rejects is. Once Sam turns to go, Gollum does not retreat, but rather continues to pursue Frodo and Sam “with a wild light of madness glaring in his eyes.” In the end, his own lust and greed topple him into the fire. Had he chosen differently, he could have lived and been healed.


The king’s once-loyal counselor sells the kingdom to Saruman.

What is it with evil viziers and their hijinks?

But once Gríma’s treason is exposed, his king still shows him mercy!

Gandalf’s advice to Théoden is to give Gríma two things: a horse and a choice where to go.

Théoden agrees and says to Gríma, ‘Do you hear this, Wormtongue? This is your choice: to ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true; or to go now, whither you will. But then, if ever we meet again, I shall not be merciful.’ That’s pretty generous for high treason. (Sidenote: in the book there’s none of this nonsense about Gríma knowing about the “one weakness” of Helm’s Deep and giving that crucial information to Saruman).

He follows his chosen master, apparently thinking it safer. He ends up a skulking slave, still following Saruman past the edge of ruin. When Gandalf, Frodo, and the rest of the company overtake Gríma and Saruman on the road back to Rivendell (#deletedscenes), the wretch is whimpering to himself, ‘Poor old Gríma! Always beaten and cursed. How I hate him! I wish I could leave him!’ Gandalf calls, ‘Then leave him!’

“But Wormtongue only shot a glance of his bleared eyes full of terror at Gandalf, and then shuffled quickly past behind Saruman” (284). He’s apparently followed the crooked old man for so long that he doesn’t know to do anything else, and in the end he dies a murderer far from home.


This wizard’s treachery leads to the deaths of thousands yet even he is shown mercy! Gandalf says, ‘I gave him a last choice and a fair one: to renounce both Mordor and his private schemes, and make amends by helping us in our need… Great service he could have rendered’ — if it weren’t for his pride: ‘he will not serve, only command.’

Then Merry asks Gandalf what he’ll do to Saruman if they win this war. His reply: ‘I? Nothing! … I grieve that so much that was good now festers in the tower'” (Towers, 210). Rather than kill Saruman (and it seems he was the only one who rightfully could), he leaves him to his own devices. Gandalf is wise enough to know that he will either repent or destroy himself.

Much later, on the road to Rivendell, Gandalf again offers Saruman his help. Galadriel joins in, replying to Saruman’s scorn, ‘Say rather than you are overtaken by good fortune; for now you have a last chance’ (Return, 283).

Saruman only retorts: ‘If it be truly the last, I am glad, for I shall be spared the trouble of refusing it again.’ (283). And it is the last. He goes on devouring himself and his slave, Gríma, in his masterful pride, and he ends with Gríma’s knife in his back.

Why is this so important?

For the two of you who’ve stuck around out of unhealthy love for Tolkien, let me remind you: this is not just a story. Like all great tales, it’s a comment and a mirror on life. So why do Tolkien’s characters find pity and mercy so important?

They’re like us

One reason is that these villains are not wholly unlike our heroes. When Frodo and Gollum first meet, it says, “Yet the two were in some way akin and not alien: they could reach one another’s minds” (Towers, 250).

We all strongly tend to look at people who are not like us and find everything we can to distance ourselves from them. In very modern terms, this is called Othering. It’s one of the biggest ways we divide ourselves from each other.

But Tolkien knows better. There is no Other. There is only us.

No evil origins

Again, just as in reality, nothing is evil to begin with. As Elrond says in Fellowship, ‘For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so’ (300). And because of that…

Hope for redemption

…hope for redemption is always held out. That is a beautiful, life-changing thing.

The tragedy of these characters is that all their bitter ends could have been much different, had they only taken the outstretched hand of mercy. Instead, they chose their own greed or pride, and it killed them in the end.

Does that mean that Frodo, Théoden, Sam, Galadriel, and Gandalf wasted their pity and mercy? By no means! The choice to show mercy is something we do with our own souls. That’s all the power we have, and these people used it for good.

Despair and hope in The Lord of the Rings: Denethor and Théoden

It wasn’t until my third read of The Lord of the Rings that I was struck by the links between Théoden and Denethor, lords of the last free realms of men. Both are old yet strong, both are widowers, and both are mourning the death of a son and heir when we first meet them. Both are enmeshed in lies, and both struggle with despair. And both receive a hobbit into their service (though in tellingly different manners).

And the contrasts between them are arresting: one is humble and kindly, plain and honest, yet fierce in battle even to the death; the other is proud and lordly, shrewd and subtle, not leading the charge but sitting in his hall. Théoden risks everything, his people and his realm, to ride to Gondor’s aid, while Denethor cares for Gondor only.

Finally, the contrast between their deaths: Denethor dies of despair by his own hand, while Théoden rides out to meet death head-on, determined to strike one last blow before the end.

Continue reading “Despair and hope in The Lord of the Rings: Denethor and Théoden”

8 books that made 2018 better

books on a bookshelf

I wish I’d read more in 2018, but to be fair, I was pretty busy (#5 might give you a clue why).

Part 1: Some zesty, fresh nonfiction

In no particular order:

#8: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Christopher Hitchens, 2007

Let’s start right off with the spiciest. The late journalist and debater, one of the “four horsemen” of the New Atheists, attacks every aspect of religion with rhetorical flourish and plenty of vitriol. His basic objections to religion are that it:

  • conflicts with science
  • makes people egotistic and servile
  • springs from wishful thinking and sexual repression

Although his main arguments don’t hold up and he makes some very ignorant statements about history and the Bible, he’s a keen observer of many real abuses of religion, and asks some questions of the Bible that deserve an answer. He is obviously very well-read, with a fine aesthetic sensibility, and that makes his book enjoyable on at least a literary level.

I wish more Christians would read books like this, for three reasons:

  1. To gain a sense of the horrific and widespread crimes committed by people using faith as a pretense for evil, or convinced they were doing God’s will
  2. To meet and grapple with uncompromising challenge to their faith
  3. To practice listening patiently to someone who might make them very angry

Not that I felt angry while reading it: more annoyed, amused, shocked, and sad.

#7: The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, 2012

In American culture, we don’t know our neighbors and the news teaches us to be afraid of strangers. This tends to get in the way of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Authors Jay and Dave (one feels on a first-name basis with them) believe Jesus really meant we should actually love our physical neighbors.

This could have easily been a Proven 12-Step Plan to make sure you’re obeying God by loving your neighbors, checking all your boxes to clear your conscience. Instead, it unfolds like sitting down with Dave and Jay over coffee and talking about neighboring. They get it: our lives are too full, we’re all too busy, we’re scared of the psycho next door. They’ve been there.

Thanks to this book, Megan and I have started with baby steps towards getting to know our neighbors. You know what I love about that (besides new friends and home feeling homier)? Learning people’s stories. You don’t get to know a young father from China who came here alone to teach animation without, well, getting to know them. They’re all just a knock away.

#6: Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past

John Fea, 2013

Most people seem to think that history can be summed up like this: At the end of the day, a lot of things were done by a lot of quaint people, but they don’t matter anymore because they were too dumb to invent cell phones.

This book paints a very different picture: the past is wildly and wondrously complex, full of people who are strange and familiar at the same time, and historians are interpreters of that past, with all its irony and paradox. History is not about memorizing names and dates: it’s about resurrecting the people who came before us, who have shaped our present reality, and meeting them face-to-face. We’re confronted by their worldviews and, if we’re honest, force to engage with them as ideaseven at the risk that our own worldview might change in some way. That’s why history, more than any other secular discipline, inspires humility if it’s done right.

#5: What I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married

Gary Chapman, 2010

An intensely practical guide to asking the tough questions that make a marriage strong. The author has been counseling married couples for 30+ years (and himself been married for longer). He seems to know what binds couples up and tears them apart. At the same time, his words are warm and humbly personal.

Each chapter is framed as a completion of the statement, I wish I had known . . .

  • That romantic love has two stages (ch. 2)
  • How to solve disagreements without arguing (ch. 4)
  • That apologizing is a sign of strength (ch. 5)
  • That mutual sexual fulfillment is not automatic (ch. 9)
  • That I was marrying into a family (ch. 10)

These are things many couples appreciate only in hindsight. Thanks to Mr. Chapman and our pastor, though, Megan and I got a chance to learn these things before we got married, and I think we’re stronger for it.

Part 2: Fiery Fiction from Faerie to Darbyshire

Again, in no particular order…

#4: Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women

George MacDonald, 1858

This book transports you to a world that is strange and familiar, like a dream of the world you were born to inhabit but missed by a slip of fate. For all its garden-fairies, rock-goblins, tree-ogres and living lady carved from marble, it feels stubbornly, wondrously real. So real that you yourself, if you take the journey, may die and rise again on the way. Step with an ordinary young man into Fairy-Land, where everyone must be allowed do as they please and anything can happen.

#3: The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955

If you haven’t read it, forget everything you think you know.

I’ve loved this long-yet-too-short journey every time I’ve taken it. It’s deep and strong and heroic and ancient in a way I’ve encountered almost nowhere else (certainly not in anything else so modern). Our heroes set out not to win treasure but to lose it, not to gain power but to give it up, not to win glory but ensure peace, preferring to diminish and remain themselves rather than master all and be twisted.

The wonder of Tolkien’s world and all its folk is that they are there. At the beginning of the story, it feels as though the curtain has risen on a world that’s been going on long before we looked in on it and will continue long after we leave it. And perhaps it’s because they feel so real that their stories make me want to be more loving and courageous.

Take this journey with four small, homely hobbits out of safety and comfort into an ever-widening, terrible, beautiful world.

#2: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

C.S. Lewis, 1956

Move over, Wicked. C.S. Lewis is here for a mythical alt-perspective tale (and it’s nothing like Narnia).

In an ancient Greek myth, Aphrodite becomes jealous of Psyche, a beautiful princess, and orders her to be sacrificed. Aphrodites’ son, Eros, rescues and marries Psyche, but forbids her to see him, coming only in the dark. Psyche’s jealous sisters persuade her to bring a light to her bedchamber, thereby exposing her and Eros to his wrathful mother. Aphrodite sets her a series of impossible tasks, which she nonetheless completes. Reunited with her lover, Psyche becomes immortal.

Lewis retells this story from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. I’m not too big to say it is four-for-four for making me cry. This is one of those books that, once I’ve read it, I can’t believe exists: it seems to have been miraculously conceived.

Read the life of Orual, ugly sister of the worshiped princess, who writes (in her words) “what no one who has happiness would dare to write:” to “accuse the gods.”

#1: Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen, 1813

Aaand #1 not because it’s my favorite of the bunch (sorry, Ms. Austen), but because I want to end on this note:

You might not expect this from one of the greatest romance novels ever written, and one from the early 1800s at that, but this was just plain fun. It was also beautiful and absorbing and worth its legendary status in literature, but I was laughing out loud. My wife read this to me, and we had a great time.

If you’re a lit nerd and you’ve been thinking forever, “Oh, I know, I should get around to Jane Austen sometime,” start here!




God is Not Great: first impressions and thoughts on book and author

I’m three chapters into God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by the late, atheist debater and journalist Christopher Hitchens, and I’m getting a few distinct impressions of the author’s overall argument and personal qualities.

At the end of the first chapter of this book, I wrote, “So far, I’ve found this book alternatingly entertaining, saddening, thought-provoking, wise, foolish, absorbing, and irksome (sometimes several of these at once). I can’t wait to continue.” That remains true.

A few initial thoughts:

Who was Hitch really mad at?

It seems his original gripe was with 20th-century, British-American, pietistic, ideologically-driven, shallow, pseudo-Christian religion, of the kind that is commonly seen in the U.K. and U.S.A. today (and about which there’s certainly plenty to criticize). I sense his complaint started there (very legitimately) and grew with his experience to encompass all forms of legalistic, domineering religious belief and practice (of which there’s been no shortage in world history).

He accurately sees and rightly repudiates much that is vile, regressive, and unjust in many religious people, factions, and organizations across the world.

Are “religious” conflicts religious?

In any conflict in which the opposing sides have claimed different religious denominations, Hitch seems to automatically assume that religion must have been at the heart of the conflict (or at least an intensifying factor). I mean conflicts like the Roman Catholic Croats vs. the Orthodox Serbs, or the Northern Irish Protestants vs. the Southern Irish Catholics.

I have a problem with that automatic assumption: it seems plain to me that, in cases like these, religion has been completely assimilated into nationalism. As Hitchens says, “To be Croatian…is to be Roman Catholic.”

The transition from religion to religion-as-nationalism is easy, natural, and common, but I don’t think that’s because religion is predisposed to it: it’s because people are disposed to be nationalist and tribalist, and nationalists will seize on any difference at all to puff themselves up at the expense of the “others.” And once religion has become “baked into” a culture—once the form is everywhere and the substance is gone—then one of the most obvious differences between the nationalist’s culture and the “enemy’s” culture is their religion. So this too is chewed up by tribalists—and readily received by the outwardly religious who’ve lost any real substance of what their ancestors believed.

His doctrine

So far, he doesn’t strike me as having well understood the claims the Bible and Jesus Christ actually make about themselves and God. Then again, for all I know at this point, that could be because the people he most criticized didn’t well understand these things either.

His language

He was a commander of words, with a sharp and incisive mind—a true reporter’s eye and satirist’s wit. I’ve greatly enjoyed the quality of his writing.

His sweeping claims

So far, I’ve read at least one statement in this book that is plain bunk (there’s another possible one that I’m still holding in suspension of judgment).

The statement, from chapter 4, is, “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile.”

Always? Necessarily? This was too much for me. Did Hitchens honestly not know of the faith of Galileo, Kepler, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, Copernicus, Mendel, or a host of other great figures in the history of modern science and medicine? Not even of very contemporary figures like Raymond Damadian, co-inventor of the MRI scan? What about Christian theologian and Oxford biophysicist Alister McGrath? Or even Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, whom Hitchens chose to supervise his medical care during his battle with esophageal cancer?

I mean no acrimony towards Hitchens in saying all this. The statement I’ve highlighted is simply exasperating. It puts me out of patience, as the old idiom goes.

I suppose the most charitable interpretation is that Hitchens grew up (as seems likely) in a pseudo-Christian community that discouraged and deplored science as a menace to faith; from there, perhaps he bought into the popular narrative that faith and science are inherently opposed. This blatantly false narrative is now so common that many people seem to think it self-obvious, and Hitchens may have been one of them.

Other impressions of Hitchens

In no particular order, it seems to me he:

  • had a fine aesthetic sensibility
  • was wise enough to wonder at the marvels of the universe
  • could be crude and vitriolic
  • was very well-read
  • was well-traveled and, if there’s anything to his brief sketches of his journalistic journeys (which I see no reason to doubt), physically courageous

Last words

Just to be clear, Hitchens and I would have disagreed on nearly every fundamental question of life, especially the question of who is Jesus of Nazareth.

All the same, had circumstances concurred, I think he and I could have been friends. At the very least, I would’ve enjoyed a chance to talk with him. I hope he had someone in his life to show him plainly, not in words and arguments but in deeds and manner, who Christ really is.

What Tolkien’s greatest tragedy teaches us about how to live

Though Túrin, a mighty warrior, was cursed by Morgoth (Sauron’s master, from way before the events of The Lord of the Rings), he had the opportunity to escape the curse—but he continually made terrible choices that brought pain on himself and ruin and death to everyone around him. He tried to do the right thing, but his pride continually prevented him from doing what was best.

Túrin had his excellent qualities: he was strong, skillful and brave in battle, and compassionate to the needy, and he had a strong sense of justice. But all of these could not overcome his pride, hotheadedness, desire for glory, and refusal to listen to wise counsel. In fact, his strength and charisma only made the effects of his pride and rashness even worse.

What Túrin teaches us is that a strong and compassionate person will still cause suffering and bring ruin if they allow themselves to be arrogant and foolhardy, ignoring good advice and seeking glory and revenge.

His story is told in a chapter of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s great history of Middle-Earth from its beginning through millennia of the war of the elves with Morgoth, and in The Children of Húrin, a novel.

Why you should care about fantasy fiction

Image courtesy of Jason Coates
Image courtesy of Jason Coates http://bit.ly/1yPwIZ5

I’ve known a few people (and I’ve heard of more) who say they just don’t like fantasy. When I’ve asked why not, the answer has usually been that they don’t like the orcs and trolls and goblins and elves and dwarves and all that sort of thing. They prefer realistic stories that have to do with the real world.

So why does fantasy exist at all if it’s mere freakish escapism with no connection to reality? Why can’t we get our heads out of the clouds and settle down to something more practical?

I’ll spoil the end for you: I believe that fantasy is eminently practical — that it has much more to do with real life than most people might suspect.

Fantasy reflects our world through a curious sort of lens, and by showing it this way, it helps us see our world all the more clearly. That’s the real magic.

Sometimes this roundabout way is the only way for us to see things about our world that we’ve been blinded to, not because they’re hidden, but because they’re right under our nose. I agree with C.S. Lewis that humans are marked by “the horror and neglect of the obvious.” Fantasy helps us see the good and evil, mercy and cruelty, courage and cowardice, justice and treachery, and wonder and awe in our world more clearly than we might have seen otherwise.

But some people haven’t experienced this. Either they’ve never tried, or they have tried but couldn’t see past the elves, wargs, wizards, nymphs, and the like. It seems people who don’t like fantasy make a great mistake: thinking that these fantastical things are what fantasy is *about.*

All these fay and faerie elements are the skin of fantasy, not its soul.

Of course, bad fantasy might focus on the dragons and gnomes and witches and magic for the sake of the spectacle they provide, and stories like that are hardly worth telling.

What do you think? Does fantasy give us something that can’t be gotten elsewhere? Does it have other value or uses?

I graduated from an extraordinary place of learning, and now I get to encourage others to go!

Vision of Inner Thoughts 0007 by agsandrew

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a student in the Sunday school class that I help teach. She answered the questions in a weary tone, looking bored.

That sparked something in me. I guessed she was bored with the lesson because she was already far beyond it. She was ready to learn more sophisticated stuff than the basics being taught.

I remembered what it was like for me in public school — constantly frustrated that we couldn’t move ahead more quickly.

While keeping an eye on the class, I started writing on an index card. While the other teachers were cleaning up at the end of the lesson, I called her over.

“I noticed that the lesson seemed a little simple for you. You get easily bored in school, don’t you? You get frustrated because you could be learning much faster than the class?”

She confirmed exactly that.

I told her what I’d written, then handed the paper to her. Here it is:

Try to get your parents to send you to Trinity Classical Academy. There, you will learn much more and more deeply than at public school.

Whether or not you can go to Trinity, go to The Master’s College. There you will learn to divide and discern the truth, rightly handle the word of God, and know yourself aright. You will find true learning, guided by the light of God’s truth, administered by teachers and staff who really care about their students.

If you go to Master’s, work as hard as you can to get scholarships. I recommend the book How to Go To College Almost for Free, by Ben Kaplan.

Good luck, and God bless. Never stop learning.

-Nathan Paul, alumnus, The Master’s College

She glanced over the paper, looked up at me with a big smile, and left.

Book TunnelOnward and upward!

Image credits:
“Vision of Inner Thoughts 0007” by agsandrew [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 License] via DeviantART. No changes made from original.
“Knowledge tunnel” by PublicDomainPictures [CC0 Public Domain license] via Pixabay.

Are Christians prudes?

Prudery 1 - George Augustus Sala“Prude” wasn’t always a negative word, but in the last century it’s come to describe someone who seems to feel disgust, revulsion, or fear towards expressions of intimacy.

Synonyms include: prig, prissy, goody-goody, fuddy-duddy, killjoy, moralist, and puritan (ironic, that last one, as the original Puritans definitely enjoyed the good life, but that’s a topic for another time).

The people I’ve most heard called “prudes” are Christians, and that’s why I care about this topic. Some of us who follow Christ may well be prudish (but so are a lot of non-Christians)—but what I want to show you is that Christianity is not prudish.

What I want to show you is that Christianity is chaste, and chastity is a very good thing. In fact, it’s the opposite of prudery, just as love is the opposite of fear.

Chastity isn’t just virginity: chastity is appropriate expression and enjoyment of affection and intimacy. For example, sex with someone who’s not your spouse is utterly unchaste, but nothing is more chaste than sex within marriage.

The difference between chastity and prudery can be confusing, because the two can act very similar. The difference is in the attitude. Prudery tends to be fearful, disgusted, cold, and self-righteous (especially when a prude is priggish). On the other hand, true and God-inspired chastity should be joyful and celebrate intimate affection!

The bottom line is that God invented intimacy, and He thinks it’s a great idea. Like anything else, it has its boundaries—just like water, food, fire, and wine, it has its harmful and helpful uses—but within those guides, it is a wonderful, God-blessed thing, and Christians should treat it as such.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure . . . ”

We’ve made room for a lot of lies by treating these words as purely negative—as though “honoring marriage” had only to do with abstinence beforehand.

Marriage should be the one place in all the body of Christ that He shines through most clearly. The Christ-centered union of a son of the King to a daughter of Heaven is one of our clearest pictures of what God Himself is like. To enjoy and celebrate that, for yourself and your spouse and others, is incredibly chaste. Prudery is not part of Christianity, but chastity certainly is.

Thanks for reading!


Image credit: “GeorgeAugustusSala1828-1895” by Allister – Flickr: George Augustus Sala (1828-1895). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – link.

Won’t fascists just go away if we ignore them?

Image result for nazi rally

From Joe Messina, a local Republican Party chairman, in the Santa Clarita Signal:

“Chairman Messina argued that if counter protesters hadn’t shown up in the first place, nothing would have happened and the white supremacist message, which he and his fellow 38th District Republicans strongly oppose, would not have been broadcast on an international level . . . ‘You let those idiots over there go do their thing, leave them alone, don’t give them any attention and they burn themselves out,’ Messina said” (A5).

No, they don’t. They don’t stamp and scream for attention and tucker themselves out unheeded. They’re not toddlers. They’re ideologues. It’s ignorant and shortsighted to suggest that the best strategy is to simply ignore them until they go away.

White supremacists are dedicated to white power. Their “great cause” carries quasi-religious tones. They will no more starve from lack of attention than will ISIS. They imagine their culture, their way of life, and their very bodies are threatened. When you believe you’re threatened this way, do you just quiet down because no one’s paying attention? No: you yell louder.

Fascism will be a danger for as long as the United States exists. As long as there are people frustrated with the political process who are willing to justify violence to get their way, fascism will be a threat. Fascism will be a threat as long as anyone buys the myth of racial superiority.

Evil must be called out for what it is, because evil does not die in the dark. It festers.



Ender, G. and Monterrosa, C. (2017, August 15). SCV reacts to Charlottesville events. The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, pp. A3, A5.

The cost of following Christ

In the church circles I know, it seems that when we talk about “the cost of following Christ,” we mean one of two things:

A) enduring ridicule and ostracism from nonbelievers; or,

B) literal martyrdom

People seem to tend towards one extreme or another. But do we consider anything else on the spectrum between the two?

Following Christ might mean you’re late for a date because you stopped to help someone on the side of the road (and decided not to leave until it was resolved). Showing mercy might mean missing events altogether because of Kingdom business.

Following Christ might mean associating with people you’d rather not: people who make you uncomfortable, whom you’d rather not be seen with, who trigger every prejudice (disguised to you as “reason” or “wisdom”) you have. Visiting “widows and orphans in their distress” might mean embracing people who’d make your friends’ noses wrinkle.

Following Christ might mean passing up opportunities to make money because you have more important things to do. It might mean you can’t buy a home or a new car. It might mean going without new clothes, movies, eating out, smartphones, wifi, or any luxury we’ve come to consider essential to life. It might mean getting funny looks, then concern, then ire even from other Christians who think you’re too extreme: you’re giving too much of your time and money.

Following Christ might mean drawing ridicule from those in power and their clients; then, after ridicule, subversion and even open hostility, because whatever the GOP wants you to think, the powers that rule this world are not friendly to the mission of Christ.