Who Was J.R.R. Tolkien? – Fr. John Folmer


Father John Folmer, of the Sacramento Catholic diocese, gave a fascinating lecture this evening on John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (pictured left), author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These are my notes from the evening.

Fr. Folmer became acquainted with Prof. Tolkien in the mid 60s, when he was a theology student in Europe, through Tolkien’s son John, a Catholic priest. Fr. Folmer described an interaction in which he had told Prof. Tolkien that everyone he met in Germany kept on trying to get him to pronounce his name in a more German way. Tolkien then recounted a story of when he was in the first World War. After a battle he came across an injured German officer and in German, asked him if he would like some water. The officer replied that he would. And after Tolkien brought him some water, the officer proceeded to lecture Tolkien regarding his German pronunciation.

Tolkien was born in South Africa and returned to England with his mother and younger brother when he was three. His father died in South Africa before he could rejoin them. His mother received help from both sides of the family to raise her family, until she converted to Catholicism, which alienated both sides of the family from her. She died of diabetes when Tolkien was still quite young and JRR (Ronald as he was known) and his younger brother were taken care of by a Catholic priest from the Birmingham Oratory, founded by John Henry Cardinal Newman.

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Have you ever seen a tire so shredded? This was my adventure this weekend. Saturday afternoon west bound I-80, 75 mph, fast lane. All of a sudden I think the guy in the lane next to me needs a muffler. Then, shit, why is the road so bumpy? Then, what the ? My car is shaking so hard it’s all I can do to get it over to the right lane. There’s been some road work so there is no shoulder and I’m blocking traffic in the right lane. I call 911 and am assured the CHP is on its way. After a few cars slow down at the last minute to avoid hitting me I realize it is not safe in the car. I walk down a ways and start flagging oncoming traffic away from my car as most cars are zooming by at 70-80 mph.

Fortunately two young men in two different trucks stop and help me out. While I’m diverting traffic, they put on the spare, and by the time the CHP finally shows up 15 minutes later, they are just finishing up. With a handshake and a smile they are on their way. Thank you gentlemen. Thank you for your help and for reminding me that we live in a great country where people will go out of their way to help a stranger.

New Hampshire


Columbus Day weekend with my best little friends. To celebrate Alden’s 5th birthday we all went up to New Hampshire for the weekend. Alden and Reilly made the treck up this peak with me and their mom. Somehow Heidi made the last quarter mile or so up with Aldie on her back. Trails are so steep in New England! I guess switchbacks were invented after these trails were made. The trail we climbed is actually a cross-country ski trail, practically straight up. It goes to two peaks, or humps. We made it to the first one; this is the view from the top. Gorgeous fall day.

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Seven Commandments for Being an Extraordinary Person

26 years ago, I spent two weekends in an remarkable workshop that eventually developed into what is now known as The Forum, by Landmark Education. My main insight at the time, which has served me well throughout my adult life, is that the way I see the world, my belief-system, is only just one view, one perspective, how my mind makes order out of the universe. Everything I know to be true is just my interpretation. This insight helped crack my mind wide open, allowing me to thoughtfully entertain new ideas, adopting them for my own if they worked for me, and letting go of intellectual prejudices that no longer served me.

The second insight was that I, and only I, was responsible for my experience, happiness, and life. I could never again blame anybody else if I didn’t like the way my life was working out.

Pretty good for a 17 year old.

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Guest House – Rumi

“This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the sham, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”