I love “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I can’t say that I am a hardcore fan because I haven’t actually read any of the books (blasphemy, I know), but I have watched the movies more times than I can count. They get me every time. Gandalf in all his awesomeness. Aragorn’s quest to reclaim the throne of Gondor. Golum’s innocence and darkness. But most importantly, the power of the simpletons, the Hobbits. Each character, each theme, each story line is so rich with theological meaning that every time I watch it, I learn something new about God and myself.
Sadly I didn’t have that immediate connection with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Sure it was entertaining, but I didn’t get the same spiritual rush of the LOTR trilogy.
Until I watched it again this past weekend.
Bilbo: Good morning! We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water. (By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.)
Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that
I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.
Bilbo: I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!
At first I was annoyed with Bilbo. He was so limited by his attachment to his stuff and his creature comforts. He was too happy living by himself where he could control who ate his food and drank his drink. He was overly content leading a life of predictability because it meant there was always a clean hanky in his pocket and a warm bed to sleep in at night.
Then at the peak of my frustration with this ridiculous character, I made the sudden realization: I am Bilbo Baggins.
I forsake the unknown for that which is safe and familiar. I reject the danger of possibility for that which is guaranteed. I choose the mundane over adventure every day of the week. And while I love Tolkien’s hobbits, this similarity didn’t sit well within me because deep down I know there is something beautiful about the unknown, something holy about possibility, something sacred about adventure.
Why does God want us to go outside of our comfort zones? Why does our Lord challenge us to push beyond our attachment to tradition in order to be better witnesses of the Christian faith? Why does the Spirit invite us to journey to places unknown with people unknown?
Because that is where life happens. Because that is what Jesus did.
Scripture shows us that Jesus grew tired, longed for solitude and felt overwhelmed by the crowds. Yet that never stopped him from dining with another tax collector, healing another paralytic and telling another parable. Jesus was an adventurer not for adventure’s sake, but for the sake of those he would encounter along the way.
For those who know the story of Bilbo, he doesn’t stay home. He listens to that holy desire within him. And he leaves the Shire for the great unknown. I hope one day soon to follow him.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
Charlene Han Powell is currently the Associate Pastor for Christian Education at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. She oversees Adult Education, Young Adult Ministries, and Family Ministries at this historic Manhattan church.