About Kiel Nation

Loving my wife. Teaching the Bible. Surviving nuclear threats, earthquakes & typhoons. Cooking curry.

Tolkien’s other stories

I’m listening to the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack tonight. I haven’t seen the recent film yet, but I plan to once it’s out for streaming. I just didn’t have time to get to the theater here in Korea, and this film wasn’t exactly worth it to me. However the flick has had surprisingly staying power in the Korean theater. Often films come and go quickly, they move quick when ticket sales dip. I’m OK with Queen. They aren’t my jam really, but I find it fun.

A few years ago I decided I was listening to too many podcasts, reading too many blogs and articles and not listening to nor reading enough books. So I decided to always have a hard copy, a kindle, and an audio book actively being read and to track my reading with Goodreads. My goal this year was to read 100 books, though I’m only at 53 and not likely to make up the difference. Still, I’ve managed to increase the intake of long-form content in my reading diet which has been good for me. Because of my schedule and my audio learning style, audio books have become a big deal for me. I subscribe to Audible and use Christian Audio as well when they have deals. I’m loyal to whatever is cheapest and legal….est. Usually audio books are more expensive but sometimes they are dirt cheap. One surprise was finding Tolkien’s shorter stories for really cheap prices on Audible. So far I’ve listened to four of them and they were quite fun.

The Smith of Wooten Major was a book I had previously never heard of. Tolkien was writing a preface about fairy tales to an edition of MacDonald’s Golden Key that ended up a fairy tale in the process. He was intending to illustrate how fairy tales work, and so this story in many ways is a simple illustration for how Tolkien thought of fairy tales. This story has a young smith’s son participating in a feast for good children that takes place every 24 years in their village, with a cake that has many items inside for the children to find. The smith’s son eats a star that gives him a special access to a town a town called Faery on his 10th birthday. There he travels and meets the King and Queen of Faery, and he earns the name Starbrow because the star he ate appears on his forehead. After 24 years he must return the star and go back to his common duty, training his son in the craft of blacksmithing. It’s a story filled with longing and loss, that while light for most the plot ends up feeling quite heavy. An hour to listen or 149 pages to read, Tolkien never lets a story lover down.

Mr. Bliss is a short children’s story written by Tolkien and published posthumously in 1982, inspired by his personal adventures with his first car, and his sons toy bears. It was published as a picture book but I had fun listening to it. Mr. Bliss bounds about through a story interacting with hobbit like creatures of all kinds in hobbit like ways. This was clearly an early iteration in his formation of hobbit culture, even with two characters from LOTR that found their inception in this work, Gaffer Gamgee and Boffin. An hour to listen, or 107 pages to read, another fun foray into one of Tolkien’s creative worlds.

Farmer Giles of Ham is a fun and short story by Tolkien about a Medieval farmer whose dog warns him about a giant that he successfully scares away, to them be called upon by the locals when a dragon is about. I believe this story is only tangentially connected to the world of Middle Earth in the sense that it comes from the same lore family, shares many themes and with a similar tone to the Hobbit. By the end Giles faces down the King, whose sword he used to tame the dragon and get its gold, to much fanfare in his village of Ham, who then esteem him more than the King. Lots of fun lessons about life, luck, unlikely heroes, and bravery. 127 pages or 2 hours of fun yet epic narrative in the Tolkien manner.

Finally, Roverandom is the one I just finished listening too. It is by far the most fun of the short stories I’ve listened to from Tolkien. This one must have been written after a long draw from strange leaf of the shire. A dog named Rover bites a pant leg of a wizard and gets turned into a toy. He ends up meeting all kinds of wild characters and travels to the moon and the depths of the sea seeking the wizard who cursed him in order to make him normal again. Apparently this was written for Tolkien’s son once his favorite toy went missing, in order to cheer him up, to then be published much later once Hobbit was a hit. It’s Toy Story meets Homeward Bound meets Pinocchio. 3 hours or 116 pages of tripped out, imaginative fun.

I recommend the credit plans on Audible. I get the biggest one at $230 a year for 24 credits, and a book is usually one credit. I’ve never used more than one credit per book. That’s about $10 a book. So any audio book under $10 that I want I usually buy outright and save my credits for the real monster prices to save more money. Christian audio is usually more expensive but they have regular sales when books are around $5. If you like listening to books it’s a great way to add 20 to 30 books a year to your diet (or more). I listen at 1.5 speed usually as well, plus I travel internationally quite a bit and enjoy listening then, and have a waterproof bluetooth speaker in my shower, because I’m insane, and because I just enjoy redeeming the time. But hey, whatever floats your boat. If you don’t like it you can read someone else’s blog. 

That’s it tonight dear reader. After telling you I cut most blogs out to read more books I’m glad you took time to read mine. Now go read or listen to something awesome. 

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Bad preaching

I’m listening to Ryan Adam’s Prisoner album tonight. I don’t know why, I’m just in the mood for some moody rock and technical musicianship. That can happen after lesson planning for the week after being in traffic for a few hours. 

The title may lead the reader to think I’m about to dunk on some specific bad preachers. I’ve made a habit of such practices in that past, but not tonight. I’m not in that bad of a mood. What I do want to talk about is the nature of bad preaching, and the practice of noticing it, assessing it as such, and doing something about it. At root is really the challenge of coming up with a consistent definition of what preaching is, and what makes it bad and/or good. My dad is a full time preacher and I’ve grown up around it all my live long days. After swearing off public speaking when I was 10 years old, I have preached at least monthly since I was in high school, in some format at least. I was a total boss at 10. Something else I grew up around was opinions on preaching. I got one sermon per week, but I got endless opinions on said sermon. Likewise, regarding my own preaching, I give one but the opinions are many. And these opinions take all the many shapes in like manner to the blogesphere’s eruption of opinions on all things foodie, political, and cultural. That is to say, they are endless. When I was little my parents listened to one other pastor on the radio other than the sermon my dad gave every week. That was about the only variety in homiletic consumption they had. Today however, it’s easy and common to inundate oneself with an ever flowing sermonic fountain. There are worse things to listen to, for sure, but it begs the questions regarding not only the quality, but the assessment of the quality by it’s hearers.

I’ve been thinking that the same thing I think is wrong with bad preaching is also what is wrong with bad opinions about preaching. Weak theological education, which is an extension of weak discipleship. There is a bit of a vicious circle when it comes to this. The ill-formed disciple hears a bad sermon and thinks it’s good, or thinks it bad but for the wrong reasons, and then times this cycle of possibilities across a given congregation, and now multiply that by the internet. The exponential disaster that is the aforementioned scenario aside, what really bothers me is the preaching that comes out of untold thousands of dollars of theological education and still doesn’t even come close to the mark of being good, but yet gets popularized and then bolstered as legitimate because of the paper that hangs on the preacher’s office wall. So what is good preaching anyway?

I had a simple formula come to me from several teachers in my life. Without going into detail the basic idea is that true Christian preaching proclaims the central message of the Christian Bible, which itself is the core teaching of the creator God, and his primary act was sending his son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of mankind to save them for himself, such that good preaching proclaims the whole of the Bible through the lens of this central, divine, act of salvation, and making clear all it’s depth and all it’s ramifications. The proclaiming act for the Christian preacher involves both clear and cogent teaching on relevant subject matters related to any given text from the Bible one is preaching from, but also, very importantly, to be emphatic and passionate (at some level in line with one’s personality, not fake) in the declaring of the truth of the good news of God’s kind rescue of mankind. The ditches that bad preaching finds itself in, now and through history, is related to either not teaching the whole counsel of scripture, or not proclaiming it’s central theme, usually favoring secondary themes that obscure Christ’s work in favor of man’s. There a listing effect that occurs when preachers, churches, or denominations decide something other than all of Scripture is really where the power of good preaching, and by extension the Christian life, is. Furthermore, even where all of the Bible is taken seriously, there can be an aversion to center the preaching and therefore the life of the church on the finished work of Christ. This may all seem dogmatic for a late night blog. At the least I will lean on one of our agreed upon intellectual betters, dear reader. The good chap Chesterton said the following, and I know we’ll both agree. “A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.”1 I’m a teacher, and I intend to teach something here if for no other reason that you will know precisely what it is you are disagreeing with. However, at the best, what I’m really saying is this.

If the Bible is God’s word, and if Christ is central to it, and if central to Christ is his work on the cross, then what is it in one of his preachers that drives them away from it? Can it be said to be anything good in the end? And yet today our sermons are often filled with anything but. Why? Why self help? Why prosperity? Why moralism? Why not the cross? These questions have book length responses elsewhere, but tonight I reflect on where asking these questions lead, and it’s to some dark truths about the health of today’s churches in many cases. And as a bit of preacher myself, I look inward to where it’s darkest, and the only light there is Christ. And he’s enough. And he’s who I’m going to share.

That’s it dear reader. My Monday starts tomorrow where I am. Wherever you are I hope the light of Christ is there, and that you get a better glimpse at it from what happens on your Sunday. 

  1. Chesterton, G. K. (1910). What’s wrong with the world. (p. 246). New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

A different shade of brown

I’m attempting to post a blog from my phone for the first time. Probably not that big a deal, but a first for me. I’m visiting family in another city in Korea. My wife’s sister and her husband teach at another international school here, and have for many years. They are good fiends and mentors to us in our common work.

I always get away for a bit to have some bro time with my brother in law. He’s been in the big leagues of international education for his whole life. He graduated from a top tier international school in Seoul and has always worked as an international teacher or administrator his entire career. For someone like me, who has worked many different jobs and now works at a school that just barely qualifies as an international one, learning from his experience is quite valuable.

Tonight he told me he was recently at a gathering of a lot of other international school administrators in Japan, and like in any field they all shared battle stories. Some of these other folks worked for schools that were started and are maintained by the United Nations, and for him that’s his dream job. But, as they all shared he realized that all of them had their version of jobs that were greener grass, and usually at schools either directly represented at this meeting or schools very much like those represented. He came away thinking that what the reality is is that it’s all just a different shade of brown wherever you go.

I have to agree from my experiences as well. The grass is indeed not greener, as the old adage tells us. We just need to determine what shade of brown we can live with sometimes, or as I’d really like to think of it, the brown God has called us to make as green as we can. The ground is cursed after all, but one day it will all be made green again.

That’s it for now dear reader. May God’s kingdom come, and will be done on your patch of brown grass as it is in Heaven.