J.R.R. Tolkien

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

It was Christmas Eve as Harry Potter and his best friend Hermione Granger arrived in the town of Godric's Hollow, searching through the snowy church graveyard for the graves of the teen wizard’s parents, Lily and James Potter.

Here’s how the scene is depicted in the final novel — “"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" — of J.K. Rowling’s seven-volume set. Christmas carols are drifting out of the church when the duo discovers the tombstone for the family of the late Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The inscription is from the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

That’s just the start of the faith content in the Potter-verse rooted in the author’s worldview. Hang in there with me, because this is going to link up with this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in) and the national column that I wrote about the God-shaped hole in “Avengers: Endgame.”

Now, about the Potter family tombstone: In a 2007 “On Religion” column on this topic, I noted:

… The Potter headstone proclaimed: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

Harry was mystified. Was this about defeating the evil Death Eaters?

"It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry," said Hermione, gently. "It means ... you know ... living beyond death. Living after death."

This is another Bible verse — one that Rowling said stated the theme at the heart of her Potter series. It also helps to know that the Harry Potter stories grew out of the author’s grief after the death of her mother. Rowling wanted to make a statement that death is not the end.

It also matters that Rowling has been upfront about the fact that she is active in the Scottish Episcopal Church and, based on her remarks through the years, it’s pretty clear that she is on the left side of Anglicanism. Her academic background in classics (and love of Medieval Catholic symbolism) also shaped the Potter-verse.

So what is the context of the verse on that Potter headstone?

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What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

So what is the story with the new Disney version of the classic, Newbery Award winning novel "A Wrinkle In Time" by the late, great Madeleine L'Engle?

I'm talking about a news story here.

I'm talking about the attempt -- another one -- to make this beloved youth-fiction classic into a blockbuster movie. Why is it is causing discussion, debate and even controversy? Yes, I'm asking this because that's what we talked about this week in the GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Is it news because it appears, to one degree or another, to be a box-office flop? Is it news because, at Rotten Tomatoes, only 40 percent of critics like it? That's bad, but the score from ordinary people in theaters was even lower, to the tune of only 34 percent positive reactions.

Director Ava DuVernay was not amused and argued that race may have had something to do with it, since she -- as a star African-American director -- changed the racial mix of the cast.

It's clear that some of the movie's supporters thought race was a crucial part of the mix, as seen in this NBC commentary: " 'A Wrinkle in Time' isn't a film for critics. It's Ava DuVernay's love letter to black girls." And over at CNN there was this: "Watching 'A Wrinkle in Time' is a political act."

So one more question: Why write a religion column about this book and its author?

That's what I did this past week, for the Universal syndicate. It did that because, nearly two decades ago, I had a chance to spend two hours talking to L'Engle about the crucial themes woven into her book. In particular, I asked her if there were concepts and even quotations from her novel that needed to be in a film adaption of it. Here is a key piece of that column:

It would be hard, explained L'Engle, to grasp this book's cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

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Religion plus travel: Are only secular pilgrims walking UK's pilgrimage trails?

Religion plus travel: Are only secular pilgrims walking UK's pilgrimage trails?

Religion and travel are two topics that are rarely combined, yet the Guardian did so –- in a fashion –- with a piece on Britain’s ancient pilgrim routes and how they’ve soared in popularity. The point of the feature was that one need not be religious at all to tread ancient paths that honor everyone from St. Cuthbert, St. Cadfan, St. Werburgh and St. Chad to Saints Wulfad and Swithun.

What results are nature walks with likeminded people with not a nod to the religious history that has traditionally surrounding this activity. Imagine traveling to Mecca for the … architecture? Might religious convictions have something to do with the motives of some of the travelers?

Here’s an account of how secularized Brits are strolling from church to church just to get some peace and quiet.

In one of the smallest churches in England, a couple of dozen people are taking the weight off their walking boots for a moment of quiet reflection in the cool gloom. Outside, an unlikely April sun pours over the South Downs.
It seemed, says Will Parsons, a good moment to learn the lyrics of John Bunyan’s To Be a Pilgrim -- perhaps, he adds, adopting neutral terms “to be more inclusive”.
The group was soon belting out the 17th-century hymn, drawing curious passersby to peer into the tiny hillside Church of the Good Shepherd, in Lullington. Come wind, come weather, regardless of lions, giants, hobgoblins or foul fiends, “there’s no discouragement / Shall make them once relent / Their first avowed intent/ To be a pilgrim”, they sang.
This merry band are part of a new boom in pilgrimage which has seen the re-establishment of ancient routes and the growing participation of people on a spectrum of belief from religiously devout to committed atheists.

The story goes on to say the hikers were walking Lewes Priory to the Holy Well in Eastbourne over two and a half days.

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At this point, why would journalists ignore faith issues in Colbert's life? (updated)

At this point, why would journalists ignore faith issues in Colbert's life? (updated)

As far as I am concerned, there was journalism about comedian Stephen Colbert before the GQ cover story by Joel Lovell -- "The Late, Great Stephen Colbert" -- and then there is journalism on this subject after that piece.

It's not that this was some kind of stunning investigation into Colbert's career, his finances, his alleged politics, etc., etc. It's not even that this story covered totally new material about Colbert's faith and family history.

Trust me. I've had a research folder open on Colbert and Catholicism since 2005 or thereabouts and I've read most of the crucial speeches and interviews in which he talks about his beliefs. I have a pretty big collection of iTunes selections and Comedy Central URLs that feature revealing quips and comments. I've written some columns on this guy and led seminar sessions focusing on the debates about his work.

What made this interview special was the depth of the comments and the way in which they linked the wounds in Colbert's past to the strengths of his comic sensibility today. It was really quite stunning, even for people (I've heard from some) who didn't take Colbert all that seriously in the past. 

After that interview, why would journalists for a major news organization -- The New York Times leaps to mind  -- fail to explore the God questions (and answers) that haunt this guy? In a major magazine feature before his arrival last night on CBS, this is what the Times team offered while trying to talk about the "humanity" that Colbert has hidden in the past:

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Was there a religion ghost in the life and haunted film career of Sir Christopher Lee?

Was there a religion ghost in the life and haunted film career of Sir Christopher Lee?

Sir Christopher Lee was not able to attend the New York City press events held just before the 2002 release of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," but it sure seemed like he was there, based on the number of times members of the cast and creative team made references to him.

There were members of Peter Jackson's team -- especially co-writer Philippa Boyens -- who knew the fine details of J.R.R. Tolkien's worldview and masterwork, including the ways in which his Catholic faith influenced its symbols and substance. In one famous quote, the author called the trilogy a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work."

However, various members of the team agreed that Lee was, in many ways, the official keeper of the Tolkien flame during the filming, the person whose knowledge and love of the books made him care, fiercely, about getting key details right so that the spirit of the books would soak into the movies. Several people said that they thought Lee was, himself, a Catholic.

Was Lee a believer and, if so, of what stripe? I thought that this detail might surface in the obituaries over the past day or so, but apparently journalists were not interested in the role that explorations of good and evil -- incarnate evil, especially -- played in his life and work. Alas, this didn't happen.

Now I really regret that he wasn't at those NYC round-table interviews. What did Lee say years earlier? I'll come back to that.

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