Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post: Five Things I've Learned from a Hobbit

Today on the blog I have the delight of welcoming a fellow author, Jill Richardson, who will be encouraging us with some meditations on Hobbits and faith. You should definitely check out her book, Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World of Middle-Earth. It's a fascinating devotional and study book that's grounded in the wonderful literature of the Hobbit and the even more wonderful Scriptures. So, without further ado, here is her blog post!

Bilbo's Journey and Me—Five Things I've Learned from a Hobbit

Have you enjoyed the last two winters of Bilbo Baggins' adventures on the big screen? I definitely have. (Although I've had to keep repeating to myself—This is not the book. This is not the book. Because it isn't, for those of us who love the book. Still . . . it's fun.) I even made last year my first ever midnight showing. (That was rough. I'm a little older than . . . many of you.)

Six movies and thirteen years later, Bilbo Baggins' cinematic sage is almost over. It started in 2001 with his birthday party (Fellowship of the Ring) and ends this winter, technically sixty years before that party. Yeah, a little timey-wimey thing going on there; it's complicated.

My love affair with all things Tolkien started late. It's not like my brother didn't try. He told me Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works were the best books ever written. He even gave them to me. But I never read them.

Then my husband started reading the books to our girls in preparation for seeing the movie, thirteen years ago. I went, and I sat in that dark theater in Bozeman, Montana, expecting not to like the action adventure film.

I fell irrevocably in love. Went home. Read all the books. Started studying them, and finally wrote a book about them. My fascination with character study and these particularly amazing characters flooded together in that book that combined Tolkien and Scripture (and trademark sarcasm).

So I thought perhaps today we could look at one of those characters. Specifically, the main one. You don't name an entire book (and three movies) The Hobbit if that hobbit is not somewhat important.

What makes Bilbo such a popular hero? What does he teach us about adventures, and heroism, and life?

1—Don't leave the path.

Gandalf's last words to the hobbit and dwarves before they go into the ominous forest are, “DON'T LEAVE THE PATH!” You know what's going to happen right there.

Directions we receive when life is all sunshine and rainbows are easy to remember. However, spend a while in the dark--lost, surrounded by frightening noises, and uncertain you'll ever find your way out--and . . . those simple instructions seem long ago and far away.

Maybe God didn't mean exactly what He said. Maybe I can take a short cut. I'll still end up in the right place, but I'll find an easier way. (Sounds just a little like Satan in the Garden of Eden hissing, “Did God really say that? Are you sure that's what he meant?”)

CS Lewis said that the devil was never in more danger than when a human could no longer feel God's presence but obeyed him anyway. When God seems silent, I try to remember Bilbo's insistence they remember what they last heard. Stay on the path. Even when scared and lost.

2—Never laugh at a live dragon.

Bilbo truly enjoyed matching wits with Smaug. He'd shown his mental quickness already with Gollum. Now, in the cave chatting with a dragon, it was taking all his abilities, and he got a little carried away. That intellectual adversary was a dragon. He didn't need a lot of incentive to create hobbit flambe. Bilbo was so into his own brilliance there for a while that he forgot he was dealing with something way beyond him. He started to underestimate the danger and overestimate his own capacity. 

I've done that. Getting so impressed with my own intelligence, or ability to handle temptation, or good judgment, that I start to think I can handle whatever the situation is. So sure of myself that I forget this battle is way beyond me. I forget that Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

3—Be a Problem Solver.

Barrel scene—best ever. OK, so it wasn't the easiest route to freedom, but while the dwarves sat around complaining about how nothing was going to work, Bilbo came up with an idea that might.

There are people who let life happen to them, and there are people who take charge of life. Bilbo progresses throughout the book from being the first kind of person to the second. Life is full of obstacles to getting where you're supposed to be. A victim of life  wonders why nothing has worked out for him; a Bilbo looks for a way to deal with the things that aren't working. You may get wet, but you'll get where you wanted to be.

4—Trust the One Who Chose You.

Bilbo does not think he is a burglar. Nor a warrior, adventurer, or dragon slayer. He doesn't even think he can skip breakfast without serious consequences. Neither does anyone else--and they are right. He isn't.

Bilbo continues the journey because he was given a job and he is committed to getting it done. Even when no one believes in him. Along the way, while he keeps trusting that call, he finds his courage. He becomes the hero in a way that only he could.

There's a reason I sign my book with the verses: “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (1 Corinthians 1.26-27)

When God calls, he knows how capable or incapable I am. He knows where I'll need help. What he wants is my willingness to trust and keep going.

5—Be the Boss of Your Fears.

I love the paragraph in the book where it says that Bilbo fought his greatest battle not when he saw the dragon but in the tunnel beforehand. His greatest struggle was with his fear, not with the creature. Once he defeated the urge to turn back, he had already won.

Sometimes the biggest thing we fear is not the dragon but our own reaction to the dragon.

We're more afraid of how terrible we'll feel running back down the tunnel. We don't like feeling like failures. When Bilbo takes charge of his fear and makes himself keep waking, he shows us all how to face the things that frighten us.

And One Bonus Lesson—Stay away from large spiders. Really, why should anyone have to tell you this? It should be obvious.

Jill's somewhat unnatural love for hobbits and elves comes from her time as a literature teacher and as a lifelong reader of great stories. She also loves an epic challenge and a chance for grace wherever they exist. Jill is pastor of Discipleship at Resolution Church in Illinois. She is the author of Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World.

Contact Jill by email at, check out her website, like her Facebook page, read her blog, follow her twitter… Yes, there are many ways of contacting her! Choose your favorite!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Advent is Coming

Advent is coming soon, and I've been reading a beautiful book called The Gospel of Christmas, by Patty Kirk.

Now, the book doesn't talk about fairies, monsters, dragons, or princes in disguise, but it does tell an even grander story: it describes the wonderful mystery of Christ's birth. By reading this book, I've seen the Advent of Christ in a whole new light.

For example, here's one quote that illustrates beautifully one small part of what I've learned from her book:
I got so caught up in the details of our shared existence--the schedule, the car, the children, the 10:50 church service--that I no longer paid much attention to the real events of my life, no longer pondered their meaning or treasured them up in my heart.
Did Mary feel the same way sometimes? I wonder now. Did she long for a quiet place in the tumult of giving birth and fleeing to Egypt and finding a cheap place to live and making friends among strangers and wanting to be home? … 
As she was raising up Jesus and soon his brothers and sisters, as she reviewed their activities in her head so she wouldn't forget one, as she washed clothes with the other women of the town and helped organize a niece's wedding, did she, like me, long to escape the commotion, the words spoken and not spoken, the noise and responsibility and turmoil of belonging, the "with-ness" of life, and just be alone? 
As you all head into that busy, noisy advent season, I hope you can find moments to treasure up the meaning of life in your heart, as Mary did. Take a few moments to be alone, in silence. Journal and reflect on God and what He has done in your writing and your life this year.

Treasure the stillness, the "Silent Night," the "Stille Nacht," whenever God gives you the chance.

What are your thoughts as we approach the season of Advent? Have you made time for stillness in your life and in your writing?