Books to Movies… And Back Again…

When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out in the fall of 2012, I was excited. I had just finished reading the book a few weeks before the movie debuted. It was the opposite case with The Lord of the Rings; I actually watched the movies before I read the books. I didn’t want that with The Hobbit.

I’m usually that guy who points out what did or did not happen in the book when watching a book-movie. Sometimes I’m sort of a snob, especially if it’s a book I really enjoyed. Yet there’s something I’ve come to notice about how I treat the book-movie genre: I’m expecting the producers/writers/directors to follow every bit of every detail to the letter. For one thing, it’d be a ridiculously long movie (perhaps why The Lord of the Rings movies were so long?). For another, even if the book was followed in every detail and was of reasonable length (you know, like no more than ten hours?), it still wouldn’t do the book justice.


It wouldn’t do the book justice because when one reads a text, one’s imagination is engaged and creates a world no one else could even come close to. That’s why I love reading fiction; because it causes me to create a world no one has ever seen before (maybe God?). Sure, the author sets the scenes, describes the characters, but the exact shapes, sizes, and appearance of everything is totally different through my imagination. Perhaps not far off the mark, but completely different nonetheless.

Another thing that I’ve seen happen when I get all bent out of shape about the movie making alterations to the book is I tend to miss out on the story being told from the movie-writer’s perspective. Think of the Gospels; we all might assume that they’re telling the same story just from a different perspective, but they actually aren’t. Sometimes there are subtle differences and other times there are major differences. But there is no question in my mind that after a good side-by-side comparison, I know that because I read John it doesn’t mean I also read Matthew.

Every time a writer receives a cool story (or really any story) and goes to put it to paper, they change things. They add in characters (like Legolas being in The Hobbit) or completely alter the setting of the story (Blue Like Jazz: Don’s an undergrad living in Reed College’s dorms instead of auditing a few classes). Whatever the change may have been, it was changed for a reason. Either they were short on time, or they’re trying to say something through the change – like Legolas helping to foreshadow The Lord of the Rings or Don the college kid possibly being more relatable to a broader audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to seek out the book before I watch the movie. But when it comes time to watch that movie, I think I’d be better off recognizing the differences and trying to figure out the creative purposes of those changes – instead of pretentiously pointing out to my friends that I can read.

Believe it or not, creativity is not limited to any book. Instead, it’s everywhere where a story takes place. We might actually enjoy a little more in life if we listened to the story – even if it bears the same title as our beloved book.


The Great Commission: For Everyone, Not Just the Missionaries…

Perhaps it’s the lazy part of me, but whenever I’ve read the Great Commission located at the end of Matthew and Mark (and kind of Luke), I’ve always assumed that Jesus was talking to the missionaries – the ones who love to travel to different countries and who are more open to talking about Jesus with complete strangers. It seems the whole “Go and make disciples of all nations” part is more suited for people who are more out-going than I am. And yet, when I read Luke’s ending, which kind of has a Great Commission tone, I realized that Jesus was talking to His disciples. In a way, Jesus is talking to everyone who has chosen to follow Him.

There is a slight indication of this when you read each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) individually. Matthew’s account is very direct and organized. Mark’s account, although not found in the earliest manuscripts, begins with rebuking unbelief and lists several indications of true believers (which includes protection against snakes and poison… weird). And Luke’s gospel has a more educational tone to it; that this idea behind preaching the gospel to all nations stems from a correct understanding of the Scriptures. Since a Great Commission style of closing is included in each of the Synoptics, I’m led to believe that the earliest followers found it to be exceedingly important. And since each gospel ending varies in style and content, I’m led to believe that such missionary actions weren’t meant to be formulaic. They were meant to be personal.

Believe it or not, but I don’t really like to travel. Sure, it’d be nice to one day see London, Paris, and Rome – cities rich with history. And thinking back to the vacation I once had in Atlanta and Florida, I loved every bit of it. But it’s never been a strong desire of mine to go places. If I were to live out my days here in Oregon (the only state I’ve ever lived), I would be perfectly content. So when Jesus said to go to the ends of the earth to preach His name, I’ve always assumed He wasn’t talking to me.

And yet, one does not need to leave one’s own city to be a missionary. For all we know, James (most likely author of the book of James) never left Jerusalem. And in fact, Luke’s account of Jesus’ commission-like statement specifies that this whole mission of proclaiming the gospel is to begin in Jerusalem, that it need not leave the city just yet. It seems that Jesus was more focused on having His disciples tell His story – not necessarily going anywhere and everywhere to do so. They could, but it wasn’t an obligation.

I bring all of this up because I’m still in a very transitional season of life. I’ve been out of college for a year and a half, I’m still working a part-time(ish) job, and I’m still figuring out what I want to do with the next phase of life. At such a point in one’s walk with the Lord, I have found it helpful to reevaluate my own mission statement. It’s like updating a résumé in between jobs; it gives you a renewed focus for what’s next.

Tonight I got some coffee with Scott Lamb, pastor of Emmaus Life (my new home fellowship). Over a tall vanilla latte, we talked about attending seminary, ministering to people within our own church, and investing into peoples’ lives. In essence, we talked about missions in action – after mission statements are made. No, you don’t need to write out a mission statement before taking on a new phase in life. As much as it might help, it’s not a prerequisite. What I think might be, though, is having a strong vision for what you hope to accomplish – be it helping transform certain individuals’ lives as much as possible, serving hurting people as much as possible, or simply striving for a stronger Christ-like character in your own life. Having a strong sense of what you wish to do makes all the difference.

“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law,” – Proverbs 29:18, ESV

What the author of Proverbs is saying here is that where there is no vision for the future, no laying out of a path to follow, then nothing but laziness and recklessness ensue. All that energy that you might have put toward something positive and constructive might then be used for negative and destructive things. In short, bad things can happen when you let yourself get bored.

I don’t wish to jump ahead to New Years and amending one’s New Years resolutions before Christmas arrives because that’s like thinking only of Christmas right when Halloween has ended. But I find that I have frequently asked myself about what I want to do in the next phase of life. And if you’re in a similar boat as I am, I’d encourage you to do the same. Seek the Lord, inquire what He would like you to do, and be ready and willing to hear the answer, especially if it’s an answer that makes you terribly uncomfortable. It might be like Bilbo Baggins from Tolkien’s The Hobbit being thrust into an adventure he never would have asked for; you just might get tossed outside of your comfort zones.

Deciding what to do next is (usually) difficult. Will I have a job? Will there be a strong, Christ-seeking community? Will I enjoy any of it? These are some questions that have flooded my mind recently. What has helped settled them all is something Scott once said during our Monday night Villages gatherings. He was talking about a professor being asked by his students about what they should do with their lives. The professor’s question to them was, “If money had no part of the equation whatsoever, what would you want to do?”

May this question help you as it has helped me.

God bless.

Tolkien and Origins of Golf…

In case you never knew or had forgotten, I used to love golf. Still do, but I’m finding it quite an expensive hobby. Anyhow, my pastor, Tony, often gives me a hard time for liking a “sissy” game. He used to wrestle for Oregon back in the day (way back in the day), so something like the game of golf – with its clubs, tees, and odd apparel – doesn’t quite associate as “sport” in his mind. No one to throw around, no one to steal a base from (he also loves baseball) – heck, it doesn’t even require two players. Being such a unique (or “irregular”) game, it’s often regarded as “not as cool.”

Well, Tony, here’s a nice little story for you.

It comes from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I’ve barely begun to read it (just made it through the first chapter), but I’ve enjoyed the fantasy folklore thus far. One story in particular is about an overgrown hobbit named Bullroarer:

“He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.”

Not so sissy now, is it, Tony? I find no enchanting stories about grappling goblins in onesies and pinning them to the ground to win a battle…

Just sayin’…

A Sword’s Power…

On Monday I begin my Italian Long Sword class. You know, like Aragorn’s sword from Lord of the Rings? Yeah, I get to learn how to use one of those. I happen to have an Excalibur King Arthur sword hanging out in my closet. I cannot tell you how long ago it all started, but something about the long sword has always ignited my imagination.

When I was younger, like in the fifth grade or so, I started reading Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, but I didn’t start with Redwall; I started with Martin the Warrior. And in that novel you learn how Martin’s sword – the sword of Redwall Abbey (the Warrior’s sword) – came into the scene.

To summarize, Martin is a teenage warrior mouse captured by Badrang the Tyrant and enslaved within his fortress. Martin’s first sign of resistance appears when an elderly mouse is being whipped repeatedly because she wasn’t doing her work. After several lashes, the whip came back again, but didn’t lash the elderly mouse; Martin had seized it in his little teenage paw. He beat down that slave driver and proceeded to take on anyone else that came his way, which ultimately ended with him being hung up between two poles by his wrists and ankles on the western wall of Badrang’s fortress so that he’d get a full dose of the coastal storm heading their way. Martin would eventually find a way to escape, raise an army, and return to bring down the fortress and retrieve the one thing Badrang had stolen from him: his father’s sword.

For almost any fifth grade boy, a story like this sends the imagination wild. I even named many of my Lego guys after the characters I had read about in the Redwall series. There’s something about the medieval setting that appeals to me.

A little over a year ago, I took an Old English class wherein we had learned the Old English Runes; characters that J.R.R. Tolkien played around with and created the characters for Elvish – the language he created (he was actually a big time scholar for Old English nerds, like myself). In fact, there’s an addition of The Hobbit that has the title written in Old English Runes. I found a copy at Barnes & Noble and almost bought it just because I could read the Old English. At one point in that term, I was good enough at reading the writing and speaking the language that I could say entire sentences in Old English. By now it’s all gone, but I kept the book we studied from and all my notes; I could very easily pick it back up if I wanted to.

The only reason I write all this out is sometimes it’s just good to trace your passions. My passion for literature began with Martin the Warrior; the first book I had ever read the entire way through. I remember being somewhat embarrassed by it that I had tried to read it in secret; I didn’t want my classmates to find out and mock me – even though many of them would read Redwall later in the school year.

I was side-tracked from this passion for a long time. The allure of sports and athletic success seemed more valuable in the world’s eyes and I was at an age when I wanted people to notice me, so I ultimately joined up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing all the sports I did, but I loved even more the combination of words, the flow of sentences, and the rhythm of stories. Nothing has ever moved my heart like a good story.

When I started following Jesus – like actually following Jesus, not just showing up to church – I was immediately drawn to the power of the words in Scripture. Not because I was told they were holy or perfect or God’s words, but because they told beautiful stories. And when I learned that Jesus is described as the “Author and Perfecter of our faith,” I was undone.

I’ve gotten plenty of strange looks from people when they see the sword sitting in my close or in my room and many have asked, “Why?” I couldn’t really tell them then because I couldn’t really articulate why. There’s something behind certain symbols that requires no words at all; if you’re moved by something in a certain way, you know full well why and how a thousand different things blend together to give you those emotions and that love for that something, but you can’t really explain it. You’d be there all day giving your life story.

It’s this deep passion and love of the written word and the image of a sword that leads me to an idea I had about a week ago. It’s not going to make sense to many people, but I was reading my Bible one night while following along with a blog-conversation on Near Emmaus and all of a sudden, I wanted more out of it.

I wanted to see how these words – words that have given us life two thousand years after their inscription – were pieced together. I want to know what was at stake for these men and women who moved about many times in secret to preserve this text for us, though they would never have even guessed that these words would last this long. In a million guesses, they would not have guessed how the Bible came to be in today’s time. But they preserved it as though their lives depended upon it. And I look at that history and what they were willing to sacrifice to keep the movement of God, not the movement of Christianity or Catholicism or whatever worldly agenda we’ve given it, but the movement of God alive, and I can only think of one sentence; I want in. I want to be a part of that history.

What do I mean by all of this? Well, I’ve had my eye on Biblical studies programs around Oregon for the last few days, trying to pick out which one is a good one, which one could really teach me how that sword of God was pieced together and preserved for all these years. I don’t know if it’s perfect and I know the version we have today is something much different than what was originally written, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful. That doesn’t mean God’s Spirit isn’t embedded within it.

Seminaries may not be able to provide what my heart is craving, but perhaps it’s a starting point. No matter where I decide to go after college, I know there are still many, many enslaved by a tyrant. And I know, like Martin the Warrior did facing Badrang who had thousands enslaved behind him, that I want to do something about it.