Greetings Internet! In an attempt to continue the conversation on faith and fandom more regularly than we can currently provide in our podcast, welcome to the new blog feature of Geekually Yoked! I have no idea what Leeman will will be posting about. I gave up trying to make sense of him *years* ago. But, as for me, I’ll be doing a series over the next several weeks on transformation.
From the the companions of The Doctor to Eustace Scrubb, speculative fiction presents us with no shortage of characters who find their lives transformed when they encounter the wonders (or the nightmares) of sci-fi and fantasy.
I got to thinking about this last week when I was writing my homily for the Baptism of Christ (the first Sunday after Epiphany for all you non-liturgical nerds out there). This was one of the rare sermons where I actually got away with geeky self-indulgence. I was thinking about Bilbo’s journey and how it, in a weird way, parallels the life of faith.
There’s a line in the Hobbit movie where, contemplating the risk of going on an “adventure”, Bilbo asks Gandalf: “Can you promise me I’ll come back?” To which Gandalf sagely replies: “No, and if you do come back, you will not be the same.”
And that sums up the whole story of a little homebody who discovers that the world is more wonderful and more terrifying than anything he could possibly imagine. Bilbo’s “unexpected journey” is something of an Epiphany for him. It radically changes him and his understanding of the world around him. But in order to undergo such a transformation, Bilbo must let go of a very neat and orderly life, a life of tea-time and properly pressed pocket-handkerchiefs. He is, indeed, no longer the same.
Check out Martin Freeman talking about Bilbo’s journey!
In the church, we believe that all those who are baptized are incorporated (or, in slightly more archaic language “grafted”) into the body of Christ. But, those of us incorporated into Christ’s body are also incorporated into his death. The crucifixion is where Christ’s ministry ultimately leaves. Our spiritual journeys are transformative only if we, in a sense die to ourselves and are reborn in the image and likeness of Christ. A life lived in following the example of Christ is about being *transformed,* little by little, day after day. It is about allowing God to separate out all those parts of ourselves that are the good, wholesome wheat, and those parts that are the chaff, deserve to be set into unquenchable fire.
The Christian author Rachel Held Evans—whose writing I really can’t recommend enough—describes this type of death and rebirth very practically in her book “Evolving in Monkeytown“. For her, life in Christ “means learning to give up my grudges and learning to diffuse hatred with love, to stop judging other people once and for all, to care for the poor and seek out the downtrodden, to finally believe that stuff can’t make me happy, to give up my urge to gossip and manipulate, to worry less about what other people think, to refuse to retaliate no matter the cost, to be capable of forgiving to the point of death, to live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved … Following Jesus means liberation from my bitterness, my worry, my self-righteousness, my prejudices, my selfishness, my materialism, and my misplaced loyalties.”
That sounds really nice. But it is a tall order. I think if most of us were honest with ourselves, we would admit that there are times when we are like Bilbo at the beginning of his journey—we want our world and our spiritual lives to be comfortable. Dying to ourselves and our sinfulness every day in dozens of little ways can be just as daunting as a single dramatic moment of “conversion.” But it is also the way that true spiritual transformation occurs. And just like the little hobbit who finds his encounter with the world of “adventures” profoundly changed him in little bits and pieces, we cannot help but be “reborn” when God’s presence touches our lives. As we encounter God’s presence more and more in our lives, it only makes sense that we would be gradually–but profoundly–changed by it.
So, stay tuned over the next few weeks (or months, who knows) as we talk about themes of transformation and “conversion” in speculative fiction and what that looks like!