Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 1) transports me to the Black Gate, the entrance to the evil land of Mordor in Tolkien’s The Two Towers. Frodo Baggins, tasked with taking the One Ring of power into the heart of this land where it was forged, and to cast it back into the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it, finds the Black Gate closed and his errand halted. Frodo is accompanied by his trusted friend, Samwise Gamgee, and their untrusted guide, Smeagol, aka Gollum. Gollum is completely obsessed with the Ring, his Precious, and will ultimately play an unwitting part in its demise. Now, though, Sam, who has heard the pitiful creature engaged in a debate with itself, has come to see Smeagol and Gollum as two sides of psychologically twisted character, a split personality he calls Stinker and Slinker. Sam is convinced that Slinker, the Smeagol side, is simply cunning and devious, and will do anything to re-capture the Ring for himself. Stinker, on the other hand, is the side under the control of Sauron, bent on evil and destruction, and would likely throttle their necks in their sleep if they gave him a chance. With the Black Gate closed, Slinker/Stinker leads them back to another path that will give them the opportunity to gain entrance into Mordor and scale Mount Doom. Sam’s suspicions will prove to be well founded before they get there.
When I read an overly familiar passage of scripture, like Psalm 1, which I memorized as a kid, I like to check out other translations, like Eugene Peterson’s Message, to hear it afresh. So when I read the first verse, translating the traditional Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, as How well God must like you– you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, I couldn’t help but see and hear Gollum as the foil for this proverbial blessed man the Psalmist extols. It also helps me get past the unfortunate dualism the Psalm so easily paints for us– the world is divided up between good people and bad people, good seed and bad seed, righteous and sinner, saint and scoffer. Much as church folk might like to think that to be true, and to delight in the law of the Lord so we won’t wind up like those wicked folk out there, it neither rings true to experience, nor does it square with the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament. We are all comprised of both saint and sinner, often sinning when we are trying our best to be saints (Mick Jagger had it right in Sympathy for the Devil). Tolkien understood this, casting Smeagol as a companion in the journey, necessary for the accomplishment of the task. Jesus understood this as well, as he spent so much time with the slinkers and stinkers of his day, gaining a terrible reputation for walking in the counsel of the ungodly, hanging out at Sin Saloon, standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the seat of the scornful. Jesus had a task of his own to accomplish, to take the Power of sin to his own Mount Doom, the cross of calvary, where that Power would forever be destroyed. He had a host of destructive Gollums and devious Smeagols who accompanied him along the way.
Our culture, like that of Jesus’ day, is addicted to power. It does not help our addiction for us to be the most powerful country in the history of the world. Our exceptional power is Precious to us, and it deforms us. We enact our Gollum-like addiction into public policy of one stripe or another – economic, military, criminal justice. It is within this culture that Jesus calls us to take up our own cross and follow him. Accompany him to Mount Doom. Be on the Way to the cross, where we can ultimately release the Powers that so tempt us, and be released from their grasp on our lives. We travel that road as saint and sinner, with the opportunity to put the Ring on and use the Power ever at our reach. Lest it sound too fantastical a scenario, it can be couched in far more mundane terms. Every day, we have the opportunity to deceive ourselves and others, to wish ill and defeat for our enemies, to fall for the delusion that satisfaction in life lies in material or technological gain, to live comfortably with the presumptions of privilege and maintain a secure distance between ourselves and those we deem strange. The corruptions of life can be fairly pedestrian, when you get right down to it. Which make them even more insidious. So may we have the daily courage of Sam, who, after over-hearing Gollum’s internal debate, was nevertheless ready to travel on, answering him with a simple, Go on with you. Let’s get it over with!
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.