Posts Tagged ‘Gandalf’

What is your name?  What is your quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” – The Keeper of the Bridge of Death

What is a Quest?  The term is defined as “a long and arduous search for something” or “An expedition undertaken in medieval romance by a knight in order to perform a prescribed feat”.  I looked a few days ago through the dictionary that sits just to the left of the dais on the floor of the House of Representatives for what it had to say about “Quest” and what I was presented with was nothing but lame jargon…on the floor of the House of Representatives?!  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Tim Keller purports that a quest is a journey upon which one embarks  – not entirely of their own choice – that either leads to their death, or they return from the journey so changed that they cannot return to their old life.  Conversely, an adventure is something chosen freely that one embarks upon and at its end is able to return to their old life as it was before they left.

Looking at an example such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings is a quest, while The Hobbit or There and Back Again – as it is also calledis an adventure (even if the the trailer for the upcoming film may hint  at it being a quest rather than an adventure).  Bilbo comes back to his old life as it was before he left it.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Merry, and Pippen do not – and – spoilers – Baromir dies.  Frodo and Gandalf go with the elves to the Grey Havens; Aragorn marries Arwen, becomes a father, and embraces his destiny as the long expected King of Gondor;  Gimli and Legolas become life-long friends; Merry and Pippen are now the tallest of Hobbits and in the books must return to the shire to defend it from destruction; and even though Sam marries Rosie and lives inHobbitton for some time – sans Frodo, his dearest friend – he eventually is called to the Grey Havens as he had been a  ring bearer too, never to return to the Shire once he leaves.

Much like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is a quest, Dune is certainly a quest, as is the Terminator franchise; in these cases the main characters go through things that leaves them vastly different than when they began.  Luke Skywalker goes from a lonely and forlorn  farm  boy on a backwater word to the hero of the Rebel Alliance and the last of the Jedi Order.  Han Solo: from rouge smuggler to, Rebel hero, hunted bounty, General, and the pirate who actually has a change of heart and finds it within himself to love a princess.  Leia: from youngest member of the Imperial Senate, to Rebel leader, orphan without a home, hunted fugitive, warrior princess, and willing to risk it all to save the life of the pirate who’s heart she won.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi…from Jedi, to hermit, to teacher, to sacrificing himself for a cause greater than himself:  allowing the rebels to escape the Death Star and calling out the potential he saw in a 19 year old farm-boy who he’d spent the child’s entire life thus far guarding in secret under the guise of “a crazy old man” (who thought it too dangerous to go alone, so he gave him his father’s lightsaber).  In Dune, there is no doubt what-so-ever that young Paul  Atradies cannot go back to the life he lead as the son of Duke Leto on the water-world of Caladan once his family leaves their home to manage spice production on Arakis at the behest of Duke Leto’s cousin, Emperor Shaddam the IV.  Paul goes from a young teenager to the Duke of House Atradies after the murder of his father and subsequently  the undisputed leader of the Fremen – the native people of  Arakis – waging war on House Harkonen and the Emperor for the freedom of Arakis and the Fremen; eventually waging war across the galaxy and becoming Emperor of the known universe himself.

These stories are fraught with danger and intense conflict which bring about great transformation and change within it’s characters, but it often isn’t “all pony rides in May sunshine”  We often shy from quests because we don’t like the pain and difficulty that must be persevered though and the unknown that is the fork in the road:  deciding to do what is right or shirk from it.  It’s why some, when faced with such choices, become the hero while others become the villain of the story and such a choice leads to a destiny of “glorious purpose” bent on selfish and devious ends.  It’s why Yoda voiced concern about Anakin Skywalker and was reticent to know what came after suffering because he didn’t know if perseverance and character would result in Anakin’s life or resentment and anger and it took a generation to ameliorate that mistake amidst Yoda questioning the readiness of the younger Skywalker.

The truth though, is that human beings need quests, especially men, and Superhero movies – from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Iron Man and the Avengers, and Green Lantern – to video game franchises, like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda, readily support this idea.  Often though, destiny does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing and we are reluctant to get involved.  We’d rather save whales, because that’s easy…and not the universe.

And so I will end as I began: Who are you and what is your Quest; what are you searching for…and are you willing tto embrace that quest in the same manner which young Talia Al’Guhl escaped the pit…jumping without the rope?

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Last weekend I attended the Leadership Summit at National Community Church.  It’s a once a quarter event wherein all the Small Group Leaders and Ministry leaders at that church get together to listen to and learn from the staff.  The theme for this year has been “If Leaders (fill in the blank with something leaders should be doing)” Building off the successful format of past incarnations of Leadership Summit, this instance continued the trend of doing short TED style talks on various topics.  One in particular was Dave Schmidgall’s “If Leaders Embrace the Tension”, wherein he talked about living in that uneasy place of pressure where strings are being pulled, hard and uncomfortable questions are being asked and ease is nowhere to be found.  Yet, leaders are called to live in that space; just like leaders are sometimes asked to walk through the dark Valleys of Shadow with those who are living in them and struggling to press forward out of them (though like pronouncing the language of Mordor “there are few who can”).

After the summit last weekend I was ruminating on this idea of tension, and it became much harder and much more personal:  How do I live in the tension between reliance on the Creator and Master of the Universe (a good thing) and the continued pain, discomfort, and difficulty in life that I loathe but live in regularly because of my biology and medical history?  The answer is a simple one, but it isn’t easy: I just do.  I persevere because there is no other option. I get up every morning and ask the Master of the Universe to handle the things I can’t (and working in Congress is a lot of that).

The FENX was born of that tension, it’s helped answer some of the question of “how do we live  in this difficult space?”  If I didn’t have to live here, the need for the FENX wouldn’t exist; the future possibility of the “needs of the one meeting the needs of the many” might never even have been, and many of my crazy stories wouldn’t either.  As my friend Heather Zempel wrote recently, there is “Beauty in the Tension

My friend Andy Piscotti asked me this week what I might have to say if ever put in a “TED Talk” style situation as he was asking me my thoughts on this last Leadership  Summit.  more than anything thoughts on perseverance began to coalesce and he inspired me to get that on paper (or screen as it happens):

Perseverance is: “Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success” or “Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory”

Having been born ten weeks premature, expected not to live though the first night, raised by parents who were told my quality of life would be nil, had more procedures done on me than I can remember and bearing the scars to prove it, lived with Cerebral Palsy my whole life and all that’s brought with it, I know a little about perseverance; friends have said I actually have a PhD in it.

Our culture hates the idea of perseverance (or long-suffering) because it implies hardship, work, suffering, and maybe even loss; it is the antithesis of our “Society of instant gratification and ease”. You see it everywhere…even in A Galaxy Far Far Away…

Episode I clip of Anakin Skywalker before Jedi Council

I’m an unabashed Star Wars fanboy, and Yoda is my favorite character, but even Yoda doesn’t really like the idea of perseverance, because he says “Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering…” and he stops; he doesn’t know what’s beyond. I can hear Ian McKellen’s wizard voice whispering in Yoda’s head “You shall not pass…

If we need to find an answer to “What’s AFTER suffering, what’s on the other side?” (and we crave that answer when in the midst of it) Yoda doesn’t help, but Paul’s letter to the church in Rome does. In Romans 5:3-5 Paul writes: “but we rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope and this hope does not disappoint us because it comes to us through the Holy Spirit whom Christ has given us.”

So perseverance comes out of suffering, out of testing as James confirms in James 1:2-4 “for the testing of your faith develops perseverance”, but leads to character and an unwavering hope that is eternal –if you know Christ – and that hope is something our instant gratification culture yearns for even if they don’t know it, something they need leaders in culture to embody – and, as leaders, that means us.  As Captain Tal cautioned a trigger-happy Giulo in Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness:  “Forbear, Forbear, he must go through it”

As we attempt to embody this, reliant on the Holy Spirit to do it, may we continue in a state of grace until we reach that state of glory, and just tell Yoda the truth: Much to Learn, you still have.

 

 

It was a cold and blustery Sunday morning in late January and I was in a suit, tie, and sweater headed for Capitol Hill.  The FENX provided as much shelter from the frigid wind as it could on the sidewalks of Washington, DC as man and machine prepared to go in front of TV cameras to tell the story of The FENX Project, it’s pilot, and it’s creator.  I was to meet with the production team of Facing Life Head On, an Emmy award winning show that tackles the abortion issue and along the way tells amazing stories of inspiration and perseverance for the sake of LIFE, endeavoring to show the world that life is sacred and that the practice of abortion does, in fact, deprive the word of wonderful individuals who would have been a joy and blessing to those they would have encountered.  The entire time-line of events leading up to this interview actually taking place was initiated by Olivia Braaten, a friend and fellow Fall 2005 intern with the Heritage Foundation Young Leaders Program, who is a field producer for the television show.

Arriving early, I parked the FENX outside the all-access entrance to the Longworth House Office Building, across from the United States Capitol building. Making my way through the labyrinthine underground tunnel system that connects the three House office buildings, I was headed into the halls of the Rayburn building to the office of my boss, Representative Thaddeus McCotter.  I was anticipating a phone call from Rachel Reeves, the producer of Facing Life Head On, as I plopped down into the chair in my little office known as “The Batcave”; a hovel filled with Star Wars novels, historical tomes, and a number of volumes from the Philosophy and Popular Culture series.  Soon, the call came and I retraced my steps back to the entrance in Longworth to meet the crew and escort them through security (there was quite a lot of gear for multiple cameras and monitors).  As we walked back to the office they asked questions about the FENX, how I came to be on Capitol Hill, and what it’s like for someone with a “disability” to be here doing the work I do on various policy issues – it is an interesting question to ask when you are the only individual you know of with a obvious physical condition like Cerebral Palsy working in Capitol Hill in a congressional office. (Ed: It is a unique spot to be in, often difficult, wherein you’re blazing a path in hopes that others will follow in your tread).

Upon arrival the production crew began set up all the equipment in the Representative’s personal office, as that was the prime location to conduct the interview.  Before long one of the camera operators told me they needed to shoot some “B-roll” footage of me in the office – footage to accompany voice-over sections of the interview – and I realized later upon watching the interview that some of my Philosophy and Popular Culture volumes actually made it on screen.   (Ed: It was odd to me, and certainly something new, to know that there was a crew across the office lobby setting up equipment to film me, to ask me about my life and my experiences, seeing it as something that is unique and special; I often forget this about my life, that my idea of “normal”/”conventional” is anything but that to the vast majority of people I meet.)

Soon enough, Rachel got a call from Brad Mattes, the host of Facing Life Head On, and he was waiting for us at the entrance of the Longworth building so I could get him through security.  As we walked back to the office in Rayburn, Brad asked me what it’s like to be part of the policy making process – so close to these powerful decision makers – and not be overwhelmed by it.  In what many would see as an unconventional answer to that question, I took a page from Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring and recounted the scene near the beginning of the film when Gandalf the Grey is explaining to the hobbit Frodo Baggins what the One Ring actually is and the power it possesses.  Upon hearing the tale of Isildor’s failure to destroy the One Ring and subsequent subjugation to it, Frodo begs Gandalf to take the One Ring from him and (wisely) Galndalf refuses and says “Understand Frodo, I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine”  I told Brad that I see Capitol Hill in much the same light, therefore I hold at an arm’s length a desire for power and influence, knowing there is no certainty I would not be overcome by it if drawn to it.  He was surprised, but I think impressed too, having been given such an answer.

Once we arrived at the office and made sure all of the equipment was prepped, Brad and I jumped right into the interview, as he started asking me a series of questions about my life, my work, my childhood, and The FENX Project, much of it detailed in the footage shown in the two episodes featured on the Facing Life Head On website and on television these last two weeks.  It was a very comfortable environment to be honest – considering I did not know the questions in advance – and even I was surprised with how at ease I seemed in telling my tale – the surprise goes back to seeing my life very differently than the majority of folks see it .  (Ed: I really see the opportunity to be part of this show as a chance to talk of what the Heavenly Father has done with me, a chance to honor my earthy parents for the lengths to which they have gone to ensure my quality of life, and a platform from which to undermine the insidious, and yet prevalent, stream of thought in society that those with longterm physical, mental, and medical challenges are incapable of a good quality of life and therefore are of less worth in our society because they will accomplish less.  This is something that doesn’t get as much attention in the Pro-Life/Conservative community and it needs to; it is unfortunate that in a society built on the idea of inalienable and God-bestowed rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (notice that is NOT “the Guarantee of Happiness”) many focus on what a person can do and not who they are; the focus is too much on what they can contribute (and what the definition of contribution is). As I stated in the interview “You matter because the Master and Creator of the Universe took the time, and that is enough”

After the interview itself was done, we headed back over to Longworth and on to the Capitol grounds to film the FENX and I in action and so Brad could film his closing thoughts for the episodes.  (Ed: Props to Brad, Rachel, and the rest of the crew for standing out in  the bitter cold for those final takes.)

It was a wonderful opportunity to work with great people to tell an inspiring story, and a continued affirmation that I have been given gift, abilities, and talents and that there is a Plan in motion for using them to speak Truth.  Not to mention another chance to see how television is made.  Many thanks to Brad, Rachel, the tech crew, and especially Olivia; no one would have guessed that connecting as Heritage Interns years ago would lead to a unique adventure such as this one. 


Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron