Daily Reflection
January 22nd, 2004
Ken Reed-Bouley
Creighton Center for Service & Justice
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Three and one half hours of Elf blood and Orc guts—so ended my first cinematic trilogy. 'Return of the King' was the final installation of J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series, an epic work replete with medieval honor, Christian imagery, good triumphing over evil, and violence in a radically racialized, simplistic world. Although I am glad I persevered through more than nine hours of thrilling, sometimes touching film, I am also grateful there is not a part IV.

And thank God I do not live in Tolkein’s (or the movie director Jackson’s) world of Middle Earth. It’s not that I am horrified by Wring Wraiths and Balrogs (though I certainly am!) so much that I reject the simplistic, fundamentalist worldview of good versus evil, Gondor versus Mordor, Men (sic) versus Orcs. Perhaps better stated, I reject the audacious assumption that I can so easily judge who is good and who is evil. In Tolkein’s Middle Earth, it’s easy to discern good from evil: men (sic) are good and Orcs are evil. If you’ve met one Orc, you’ve met them all, and there is no chance of metanoia, change, or redemption. Of course there is the occasional man (sic) or even wizard who becomes corrupted by evil, but by and large we know who is evil and what to do with them. Knowing that someone is completely evil “justifies” killing her.

I am grateful that I live in a world much closer to that of Saul, David, and Jonathan. In this always relevant story from first Samuel, King Saul’s servant David has just killed Goliath. The people shower David with love and gratitude. Saul resents the special attention given to David. Saul becomes jealous of David because he fears David may rival him as the king. Saul plans to kill David until Saul’s son, Jonathan, convinces him he has no just cause to kill his servant. With Jonathan’s help, Saul and David reconcile.

I easily relate to Saul, David, and Jonathan, and I admire Jonathan’s skills in conflict resolution. Although Saul is prepared to kill David out of what seems to be petty jealousy, Saul is not one-dimensionally evil. I can understand why Saul would resent David, and I admire that he was willing to listen to Jonathan’s rational argument. Upon hearing that Saul was planning unjustly to kill him, one could argue that David might have been justified in killing Saul first. But David was willing to listen to Jonathan and to wait patiently while Jonathan first talked with Saul.

Jonathan was willing to risk his own safety by calmly yet directly speaking truth to power. He did not allow either side to dismissively demonize the other. Instead, through direct communication, wit, bravery, action, and love, Jonathan prevented more bloodshed, more violence, more simplistic answers supposedly justified by absolutist thinking. One only need consider any of the violent hotspots around our communities and world to see how tempting yet tragic it is for us to simplistically demonize those with whom we disagree. Once we stop seeing gradations of pink and only see red or white, good or evil, violence is sure to follow. Saul and David are fortunate Jonathan sees in Technicolor.

Tolkein’s world of Middle Earth may offer more certainty, but I believe our world full of diverse color and complexity ultimately offers more forgiveness and redemption. Thank God for the Jonathans in our lives and world.

Loving God of peace, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation, help us to celebrate the Jonathans in our world and to act like Jonathan in our many relationships and roles. Help us to appreciate your grace present in all things, all people, all relationships. Amen.

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