Part II – Of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Wizards
Welcome to our party! We are on an expedition to slay the dragon of church culture. We are so glad you’ve joined us. If you want to see the beginning of our journey, please feel free to take the trek through Part I: The Dragon of Church Culture. This previous post will give you the important groundwork for the metaphors and allegory upon which this blog series is leaning upon. And now, on with the quest!
Our Brain Likes to Categorize, Label, and Group
I admit being in love with several missionaries during my time as a pre-teen and teenager. I grew up in mid-Missouri where members of the church were relatively few, and especially dateable young men. Unlike member-dense areas, our missionaries were in our ward every week, and often in our homes a few times a month for meals. I saw young missionaries as the height of male righteousness. In my heart, I decided that I would someday marry a “return missionary”. I believed that if I did, my life would be a fairytale.
Labeling is something that our brains do as we develop a culture. As we discussed back in part I, culture is not something that is good or evil, in and of itself, initially, but it is something we develop to support our belief systems until it becomes a way of life.
At a young age, I responded to the label of “return missionary”. It is something that, at some point in the past, we began to call people who served a mission to separate, or distinguish them, from others who had not served a mission. Then, it became a label that, for later generations, we began to use to distinguish between members of the church perceived as righteous, or not as righteous, or perhaps even unrighteous. The label “return missionary” established a group. For me, it instilled in me the cultural idea that returned missionaries were the only choice for marrying. This is not altogether a bad thing, but that does not necessarily mean that it’s a good thing, or a right way to make such an important decision.
There are a lot of good things about those individuals who are willing to give up 18-months to 2 years of their life to serve the Lord. Serving a mission impacts the spiritual trajectory of those who do so. Yet, marrying a “return missionary” does not guarantee that the person who served is better than someone who didn’t. Sometimes, through the label “return missionary” the cultural dragon communicates something generalized and untrue: that a person who served a mission will remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, or even be a good match in other ways.
I did end up marrying a return missionary. However, that marriage failed because that young man—as amazing as he was—had many, many other issues that I should have factored into my decision aside from his “return missionary” status. I should have thought a little deeper and saw past an outward achievement. I should have seen past a label and a cultural grouping. But I liked that label, at the time. It reassured me. And that’s the point I want to make. That cultural label shouldn’t have been something I leaned upon for reassurance.
I eventually learned that I put too much trust in the label. Because in the end, he didn’t want to stay married. Did I marry another return missionary? I absolutely did. But not because he was a “return missionary”. I married him because he loved God as much as I did and it showed in everything he said and did. I married him because he’s the most interesting man on the planet, and many, many other important characteristics that I took into consideration after I learned not to judge people by cultural labels. Is he perfect? No. But God brought us together in a miraculous way because I was looking for something other than a labeled group of individuals—I was looking for evidence of the things that really mattered.
Do you see the difference in how I made my decision the second time around? The first time, I let a label of “return missionary” carry too much weight in influencing my first marriage choice; more weight than other evidence and experience I had. However, it carried no particular weight in my second marriage choice. I understood, the second time around, the “fruits” of the love of God, the “fruits” of a disciple of Jesus Christ and deep personal testimony, not just a cultural check mark that someone has risen to in order to fulfill a group expectation. You’ll remember in Part I, the story of the wonderful couple I recounted. What a tragedy if that amazing woman had judged that amazing man by his choice to not serve a mission!
Church culture—and family cultures which are patterned after church culture—often tend to encourage categorizing and labeling people. We put them in a labeled group so that we can, at a high level, protect ourselves from sin, suffering, and trials. In fact, creating labels is a natural way that our brain makes sense of the world around it. I could no sooner ask all of us to stop categorizing and labeling then I could ask you to stop drinking water. There is, however, a better way to apply this natural technique that our brain uses. There is a way to use categorizing and labeling to avoid forming judgmental groupings that destroy a gospel-centered, Zion culture. This skill that our brain has becomes a help, and not as much of a hindrance, when we put it to use in self-evaluation. When we use this skill to self-evaluate and repent, we can change our church culture from one that uses labels and groupings to one that is gospel-centered and Christlike.
In the story of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, there are several races of fantastical beings which he employs in the story-telling process. Each of these races have great strengths and great weaknesses. None of the races are perfect. None are best or worst. They simply are what they are for the purpose of the world he created, Middle Earth, and the story.
I’m going to talk a little bit about modern pharisees in this cast. And I’m going to do it by talking quite a bit about the different races in The Hobbit and detailing, to some extent, their characteristics. By so doing, I want you to look for each races’ strengths, each races’ weaknesses, and I want you to figure out which of these fictional races you most identify with, or to which you are the most sympathetic. I’m asking you to use your brain’s inherent categorization powers to self-evaluate the areas of your life and thought-processes where you might be a modern pharisee. Then, we’ll catch back up with that self-evaluation at the end of the cast.
Of Modern Pharisees
Someone once told my mother that it was wrong for her to let her kids change back into normal clothes on Sundays, after we had attended church. They told her that she should make us wear them until bedtime, so that by so doing we wouldn’t forget it was Sunday and would always keep it holy, protecting us from committing sin. They were apparently really worried about how our family observed the Sabbath day. They, without realizing it I’m sure, preached to my mother that if she kept us clothed in Sunday attire for the entire Sabbath day, none of us would ever “fall away” or “go astray” from the gospel of Jesus Christ. My mother, who has always studied the scriptures with a reckless desire for knowledge, was baffled. Great prophets like Adam and Israel had trouble with their kids even though they were prophets and kept the commandments. Did this person, who had chided her, really believe that keeping us girls in Sunday attire for the entire Sabbath day was the key to our eternal salvation? It was very clear that they did. They often, innocently, pointed out how righteous their kids were and how they were all going on missions and getting married in the temple because they had kept them clothed in Sunday Best all day. They were comparing their children’s outward spiritual achievements against hers.
This poor, well-meaning, yet unsuspecting pharisee. Luckily, because my mother studied the gospel, she knew such an assertion was silly, if insulting. But the constant disapproval of her gospel parenting-techniques often hurt her feelings, and made it difficult for her to endure conversations with this person. I think there were times, too, when we had given her grief—which we did a lot—that these other person’s opinions may have made my mother second guess herself and the efforts she was making. In most other respects, this person was inspiring. And perhaps for their own family, this was the personal revelation they had received and therefore the right thing for them—which is great! But the error was in persecuting my mother and making her feel that me and my sisters’ spiritual failures were my mother’s fault for what clothes we wore after church. This person didn’t understand important aspects of the atonement of Jesus Christ, or of moral agency.
This is an example of something else that culture does. It produces, in time, different schools of thought in how the gospel of Jesus Christ should be lived. Different kinds of people begin correctly by seeking personal inspiration and they receive answers for how to stay on the covenant path for their unique lives, and for their families. Then, as they do so successfully, they begin to feel that if everyone would only live the gospel exactly the way they live it, those poor people could be happy and spiritually successful as well. This sentiment grows as people who tend to adopt the same methods of obeying the commandments find each other, share sentiments, and build large clans and groups. The groups, as they validate each other, begin to feel and believe that “their way” of living the gospel is the best way, and so they begin to feel that it is “the only way”. These clans and groups grow and begin to assert active influence on other members around them, and thus, their ideas of how to live the gospel spread and grow into a culture. They then begin to judge others as inferior, or misguided, who don’t live the gospel as they do, and who don’t adopt the same family or cultural traditions as they do.
It’s hard to see when it happens. It all seems to logically make sense. These people think, with fundamentally good desires: “Look how well our families are doing spiritually because we do things this way. So, everyone else should do it like us.” But this is not the gospel at all. It is pride. “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders… Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:3,13-23). In other words, we encourage them to live our way instead of seeking their own personal revelation for where they and their families are in their own, unique progression in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christ goes on to scold the pharisees for making rules about what people should and shouldn’t do. They made rules for people to follow outside of the gospel and then persecuted the same people for not following their rules. They touted their own “good works and ways” and then treated others in unchristian ways by being unjust, prideful, unmerciful, and unfaithful. They gave more credence to “their way” of keeping the commandment rather than to acts of faith that fell outside their carefully vetted parameters (Ibid.).
I’m pretty sure that the person that gave my mom a hard time had no idea how we lived the gospel in our home. They made assumptions based on outward comparisons. My mother didn’t just gather us together to read as a family every night. She persevered through all of our moaning and groaning, complaints, fights, and disrespect to actually teach us. She would stop in the middle of the verse, or many verses, when we just wanted to get it over with, and try to help us understand it. She did it for years and years even though we made it so difficult for her. She and my dad gathered us for prayer most mornings (when it was feasible) and every night. With some infrequent resistance, my parents ensured that while we were under their roof we had every opportunity, and a lot of parental encouragement, to attend church and activities. My mom sweat blood and tears, leaving nothing left, to ensure that when we left home, if nothing else, we knew that she knew that God lived, that Christ was real to her, and that she had a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ that she would give her life for. It was easy to trust her testimony, because she had given her life to teach us. Her life was evidence. It still is.
Let’s talk first about J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves.
Elves very much like being “separate” from men, dwarves, hobbits, and all other races. They build elaborate places of retreat, usually in forest areas. They tend to pride themselves on being associated only with themselves, or distant relations of high renown. They often build barriers between themselves and others based on their ancient elvish heritage. They believe in, and have access to, all manner of magic and world knowledge. They tend to know a lot about magic’s origins, history, and use. They often know many languages which helps them to instruct or aid others in magical lore problems. They pride themselves on their superiority in these things, and it is that feeling of superiority, of being better, that sometimes spurs their helpful actions, not necessarily a sincere love for others—though there are some who do truly care and are happy to be caretakes of Middle Earth and its beings. Elves tend to be well-dressed and to measure you with their eyes based on elvish standards. While elves tend to be very powerful and do a great deal of good, they also can damage feelings and relationships in their attempts to help “the lesser races”. Their pride at being better than others is often evident in the manner of their service. They tend to be able to see some magical things very well; while other magical elements totally elude them because they’ve assigned such things to “lesser races”, or to epochs long past, when their high-born ancestors lived.
Now, if we examine the elves of Mirkwood, in the story of The Hobbit, we see many of these pharisaical characteristics. All who come within their borders are examined and quickly judged based on their race. They offer help, but as evidence of their superior goodness, not necessarily out of genuine concern or care. They see the outside world as evil, unsavory, and lost. The other creatures in it are rarely worth their time, nor do they sully themselves to venture into it except at utmost need—when their own retreat is in danger. The elves of Mirkwood do not come to the aid of the dwarves of Erabor when the dragon, Smaug, comes and destroys the kingdom under the mountain and takes perch there. They look upon the dwarves as lesser creatures for hoarding “good works” in their mountain and drawing Smaug there. The elves see the dwarves as those who created the evils of “the culture”, little seeing how they have created something similar within their own race. Most frightening, however, is that the Mirkwood elves, do not see the danger in Smaug allying with Sauron. Sauron is presumed vanquished. So, they take it for granted that they are “safe” because of who they are, how they live, and the magic they have.
Thranduil, the King of the woodland elves, is beautiful and terrible. You almost admire him and then you feel sorry for him, because he is so self-deceived. He is so proud of his little kingdom and seeks no greater good beyond it. He has ulterior motives for coming to battle after Smaug has demolished Lake Town—he wants to recover notable ancestral objects. He’s been tipped off about Sauron’s existence—that he’s not vanquished after all—but Thranduil isn’t worried about the enemy. He feels confident that his woodland realm will be safe even if the enemy comes back. It isn’t until outright war with Sauron becomes real that Thranduil employs his forces in fighting, though he is tempted to retreat many times back to the woods, rather than to fight.
Now, I have pointed out many wonderful, praiseworthy things about the elves. But as you can see, allegorically they have a few things they need to work on when it comes to living the gospel of Jesus Christ, and helping to slay the cultural dragon. We see similar elvish-types in the Book of Mormon. They called themselves “kingmen”. There were others too, who were professed Christians, who also felt and believed as these kingmen did. We read that: pride began “to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church” (Helaman 3:33-35). The kingmen and these other professed members didn’t like the idea of people all being on the same level with God, or each other. They didn’t like that the dwarves had different political aims than they did. They didn’t like grace being available to all unless it was available in the way they thought it should be. They didn’t want a government of judges and to be ruled by the same rules as everyone else. They wanted a king, because they considered themselves of high birth (Alma 51:8). They liked the idea of being given power and authority over others because of their spiritual superiority (Ibid.), their heritage, and their riches. Yet, this thought-process put the rest of the Nephites in danger when the Lamanite armies came. The prideful members of the church were willing to side against their own brethren, the Nephites, to let them get destroyed in battle because they hoped that by siding with the Lamanites, they would be given positions of power and authority over others. They were willing to sacrifice their brethren to fix things the way they wanted them.
Jesus taught regarding similar elvish-pharisees in the New Testament: “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ: and all ye are brethren… And whosoever will exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:5-12, italics added).
Another very elvish thing that modern pharisees sometimes do is to preach beautifully but then often they struggle to actually do what they preach about in real life. In Matthew 23:1-3 we read: “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do ye not after their works: for they say, and do not”. The pharisees preached beautifully about internal devotion, but struggled in those matters themselves, such as: charity, love, mercy, and “righteous” judgment (Matthew 23:23).
Second, we have dwarves. Dwarves have their own pharisaical tendencies as well as a little modern scribe. Dwarves, like elves (whom they don’t like being compared to) also like being “separate”. They hide deep in their underground societies, and pride themselves on their physical strength, independence, and mining craftsmanship. They have a history of working alongside other races, but take offense easily, thus causing most of those past alliances to die in the face of their stubborn determination to hold on to the grudge and judge others ungracefully. It is possible that a little bit of their “touchiness” is due to a subconscious sense of inferiority. They sometimes like to make shows of their dwarvish strength to prove they are “up to par” with everyone else. They judge all current interactions by past insults, because to forget is to become soft and open themselves up to more insult, and dwarves are anything but soft. They have immense hospitality for those who are dwarvish or who have an affinity for dwarves. They tend to have their own kind of magic which, in its way and for its specific uses, is better than that of elves or other races. They tend to be somewhat immune to, and disapproving of, other races’ magic. They tend to dress for their trades. They prefer kinship and loyalty. But if you cross them, you may never get back into their good graces. There is very little question of ever making amends. Dwarves are in Middle Earth “for the long haul”. They intend to survive. They might do so, better, however, if they would forget past offenses and learn to ally more genuinely with other races.
The dwarves who make up the company Bilbo, the hobbit, travels with, are exceedingly lovable and loyal. But they are also annoying, emotional, and fickle. They don’t take much time to think, ponder, or make sense of things; often, they whip out their swords when a little pondering and forethought and especially faith in other races might have saved them a bit of trouble. They tend to jump to shallow conclusions. They spurn help, knowledge, and magic even when their quest cannot proceed without it. They adopt Bilbo quickly. But because he is not truly like them, they nearly oust him from their party a few times. Only a few shows of true love—true Christianity by the hobbit—help the dwarves to see that Bilbo is worthy of their trust and care. They give great credence to their ancestral history (just like the elves), but are sometimes blind to the obvious issues and flaws inherent in the traditions that are passed down. Thorin Oakenshield, in particular, the heir to the kingdom of Erabor, is certain he is not going to fall under the same “gold sickness” as his grandfather. Yet, once back “under the mountain” he becomes jealous and judgmental, and makes poor decisions all to protect “his gold and traditions” at the cost of his dwarvish companions, and Bilbo. It is only outright war with Sauron that shakes him out of his determination to drown himself in “the culture”.
This is a critical point. What we see with Thorin we also saw with Thranduil. Do we want outright war with Satan, our enemy, to be what wakes us up to our cultural struggles and prejudices? Do we want spiritual warfare to come before we wake up to what the enemy is doing with our church culture to separate and weaken us? Do we want Satan’s minions, marching against us and taking spiritual lives, to be what opens our eyes to our own self-imposed cultural groupings and prideful beliefs?
We see some very dwarvish behavior in the New Testament. A pharisee asks Jesus to come to his house to eat. While Jesus is there, eating, a woman comes and sits near Jesus’s feet weeping. She begins to wash his feet with her tears, and to wipe the tears off with her hair. She’s also brought an expensive alabaster box full of ointment. After wiping Jesus’s feet, she anointed them with the ointment. In Luke 7:39-47 we read:
Now, when the Pharisee which had bidden [Jesus] saw [what the woman was doing], he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
And Jesus [answering the pharisee’s thoughts, which he didn’t speak aloud] said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman, since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore, I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
Simon, the pharisee, exhibited a natural dwarvish resentment for the woman, because she was not a pharisee, like himself. She sinned differently—in a more outward way—and thus, she didn’t fit into the dwarvish, or pharisaical mold. He compared his outward righteousness with her outward sins, calling her a sinner, not realizing that he was also a sinner. By outward comparison, Simon was congratulating himself internally. And we can see that because of his self-congratulation based on outward acts that it never occurred to Simon to wash Jesus’s feet, to kiss him, or to anoint his feet. His love for the Savior was inhibited by his feelings of dwarvish superiority. He was overly confident in his personal righteousness and didn’t think he needed Jesus as much as the woman because of the outward ways in which he measured. Perhaps he felt that he was doing the Savior a nice deed by simply having him into his home for a meal, adding the gesture to his list of spiritual accomplishments. His misconceptions inhibited his ability to recognize and love the Savior as he ought. His misconceptions inhibited the scope of his relationship with Jesus. On the other hand, we have the woman, who while she didn’t exhibit pharisaical—or dwarvish—righteousness, and was not outwardly righteous in the ways that were expected by pharisees; yet, her acts revealed an inward righteousness that Simon didn’t have. She loved Jesus more and could not help but cry over Him, wash His feet, kiss Him, and anoint Him. Her relationship with the Savior was closer than the pharisee’s. She saw her need for Him, thus her sins could be forgiven.
Like elves and dwarves, all of us—with no exceptions—is at one time or another, to some smaller or greater extent, a modern pharisee. Despite our best efforts, the dragon gets to us, often without us knowing it. Sometimes, we just like the gold. So, because of that, we’re going to stop for just a minute and get a little deeper on our elves and dwarves, who, for the intent of this allegory are the most visible and outwardly recognizable modern pharisees.
Most of us don’t have all these issues. But, most of us have some, or at least one. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Personal misinterpretation or cultural misunderstanding of grace, through the atonement of Jesus Christ; most especially, our understanding of how to access, apply it, and give it to others.
- Tendency to judge other people’s righteousness using our own outward, cultural righteousness as the measuring stick.
- Tendency to blame and judge others for our spiritual struggles and problems, or the spiritual struggles and problems of our loved ones; things might have been better had not __________ been the leader, teacher, etc.
- Harsh, biting words which reflect an inner resentment, submerged hurt, a subconscious despair, or often impatience with other people’s perceived spiritual inferiority.
- Need for spiritual control. This manifests itself in the preference of a checklist of how to excel spiritually and how to measure spiritual righteousness. We love to be rule and commandment police. We excel in the face of checklists.
- Eccentric fear of sin, negative consequences, or losing spiritual control over our lives, or the lives of others. This is often why we appreciate outward signs and checklists to comfort and ensure our own minds that we are “on track”.
- Innate need for extra rules, which is fundamentally a protection system that we develop to alleviate our fear of sinning, and to protect ourselves from even getting close to committing sin.
- Fear of losing to others in comparison, or of not achieving or passing “the test” of knowledge, righteousness, or strength. This is why checklists comfort us so much. We can prove we are getting “good grades”.
- Have a self-esteem or a self-worth that is defined by things we can control, measure, and compare against. We often compare our own measurements to others from a need to double-check and be sure that we are “of worth” or “of value”.
- Need to self-validate and self-comfort through awards, certificates, acclamations, and successfully checked off lists because we don’t trust comfort or validation from the Holy Ghost because it isn’t as visible as we would like. To measure in this manner leaves us feeling uncertain, a feeling we do not like. Plus, it requires us to seek personal revelation, rather than to “trust in the arm of flesh” (2 Nephi 4:34).
- Need to feel that we are a part of an elite group of righteous people, to be friends with high elves or wizards, and receive their validation.
Now, this list might sound harsh. And it is. It is extremely uncomfortable truth. I list it, not without being guilty of several of its bullet points myself, many times throughout my life. I’m not categorizing each of you. That’s your job, today. You get to listen to, or read, this list and self-evaluate for yourself. Do you have one, a few, some, or many dwarvish or elvish struggles? Have you ever been afraid of “not passing the test”? Have you ever been afraid of what others will think of you or your family based on outward acts? Have you been afraid that you or your family will look less righteous, or inferior if any of you makes a visible mistake? Take a look at these things not as a way to take offense, but as a way to find out if there are things about yourself that you are not aware of, just as I have been totally unaware of them at times. We are all, at one time or another, tricked by the cultural dragon into adding to the hoard of golden coins, to pad his ego or our own. You are not alone. We are all in this story together.
Hobbits are all things hygge. H-y-g-g-e (pronounced something like hoo-gah) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. Hobbits set up their lives to be as happy and comfortable as possible. While hobbit life is not without its flaws, they value “good tilled earth” and cozy home life far more than position, renown, or other things that tend to proceed from outward acclamation and pride. Hobbits don’t even have a real government. They don’t place anyone above or below another. They have a mayor who is mayor in name only. He doesn’t actually have any clout or responsibilities. Hobbits are incredibly humble. While they grumble at each other a bit, they still treat each other with respect, accepting each other as they are and with all their very many oddities. In many ways, Hobbits are a great example of meekness. They find joy in shows of magic, but don’t particularly prescribe status or long-term awe to someone like Gandalf, the wizard, who for all intents and purposes is one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth. To them he is just an old man with a few tricks up his sleeve. They love him. But he doesn’t particularly over-awe them at all, though they love his fireworks. Hobbits accept people for how they are, more or less. They don’t compare themselves against others. They are quite content to be hobbits, and have no shame about not being wizards, elves, men, or dwarves.
Hobbits do interact with all the races, and find them all interesting, but do not necessarily like to leave their homes generally, except perhaps to go to local parties, and sometimes not even that. Hobbits also really like to get gifts. Hobbits might interact more with elves and dwarves if these two races were more aware of them. However, elves and dwarves, in general, are more concerned with themselves, and so hobbits often fly under their radar. If they do meet them, they simply find hobbits interesting and unusual, even childlike. Hobbits also manage to go unnoticed, for the most part, by men. Yet, they do trade with them, in small degrees, and interact with them where their neighborhoods come into contact.
In the scriptures we have a few hobbit-like individuals. The two that I thought of first are Sam, Nephi’s older brother, and Jonathan, the son of Saul and the best friend of David, the king. We know very little about Sam except that he believed in Nephi’s words when Nephi shared with him the things the Lord had shown him (1 Nephi 2:17), he took a beating from Laman and Lemuel by Nephi’s side when he stood by Nephi about going back yet again to get the gold plates from Laban (1 Nephi 3:28), he was shown partaking of the fruit of the tree of life in Lehi’s dream, and that he and his family received a covenant inheritance with Nephi’s family, Lehi’s “first blessing” (2 Nephi 1:28-29), and that he and his seed were grouped in with those who took upon them the name of Nephites and embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sam didn’t get the celebrity that Nephi got. He simply accepted the truth when he heard it and obeyed humbly, and received all the same blessings that Nephi got without it being broadcasted everywhere. Was he okay with that? We don’t have his words on that. But it seems as though he was content to stay out of the drama. And Nephi and his two eldest brothers, Laman and Lemuel certainly had their share of drama.
Jonathan (1 Samuel 13-23) is another hobbit-type. He might have been the heir to the throne, except that Saul lost the Lord’s backing. Jonathan knew when David was brought in by the prophet Samuel that David would be the next king, not him. He was okay with that. In the Bible Dictionary we read about Jonathan: “His friendship for David, whom he might naturally have regarded as a rival, is one of the most unselfish incidents in Old Testament history”. He even protected David from his own father’s murder attempts. Jonathan exhibited the loyalty and determined friendship of a hobbit.
What we see in these two hobbit-types is incredible humility, charity, and meekness. These are internal Christlike characteristics that also manifest themselves in outward actions. But not in outward actions that usually bring recognition and renown. And, it is critical to note that Sam and Jonathan weren’t concerned about being in the spotlight, or being seen as righteous, nor were they threatened by the outward righteousness or talents of others. They were powerful, extremely powerful, in their own right and yet no one around them registered it. But they didn’t care. They didn’t need everyone else’s validation and praise. They weren’t unselfish for others. They were unselfish because their relationship with the Lord took precedence over everything else. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about each of us developing a personal relationship with the Lord and becoming like Him. Nothing else should matter, no other validation or outward recognition should be as important as this goal.
Men—in The Hobbit—compared to all other races, even hobbits, have a very short life span. They are everywhere and come from many different lineages and backgrounds. Because of this, they are less cliquish and have a lot of contact with all of the other races. Because men interact a good deal with other races, they have, by default, had to develop a thick skin to protect their vulnerabilities. Thus, they are a little less lovable and far more corruptible than hobbits. Some of them are often subject to selfishness, ignorance, and the need to prove their worth in the world. Yet, because of their short life spans and natural fragility, they are also subject to glorious acts of honor and renown in their desperation to do good. It was, after all, Bard—the man—who shot the arrow that slew Smaug the dragon after he was urged out of the Lonely Mountain by the dwarves.
Men are also wary and respecting of the wizards and the elves. They usually follow them—even if they grumble under their breath. Men find dwarves frustrating, and rare—for dwarves very rarely interact with men. Men both fear the wizards and elves and envy them, at times, wishing to have their seemingly unique talents and capacities. Men see themselves as unable to rise to the magical knowledge and capacities of Wizards, elves and dwarves. They may decide that they, as men, are generally made of good stuff, but they frequently doubt their worth. This self-doubt often keeps them from discovering their unique and innate magic and their capacity for good in Middle Earth. Some struggle to live up to their potential, because they doubt their potential.
Though some men rise up to become masters of magical lore, human magic, and other tale-worthy feats, they tend to feel, in general, that they can’t achieve much of what elves, dwarves, wizards, and hobbits do. They often don’t realize that heroic acts and magical achievements aren’t a race thing, but a faith thing. And they struggle to have faith in themselves, though their faith in God is strong. We see this in the Lord of the Rings, in Aragorn. He is extremely wary of his humanity and worried that his weaknesses will trick him into accepting his birthright as king. More than anything, he wants to do what’s right, so he avoids reclaiming the throne of Gondor, until outright war with the enemy is upon them.
Men, because of their frailty, can be inhibited in their relationship with God by their feelings of inferiority. But they are also some of the first to humble themselves when the wizards knock on their door and invite them to join a righteous quest. Bard, though he was extremely skeptical, was willing to do a good deed and hide the dwarves and sneak them into Laketown. Then, when he was suspicious of the dwarves’ identity, he went and did the research to figure out who they really were. He didn’t just let his doubts about them pass by. He was willing to stand up against the dwarves, once he knew who they were. In front of the Master of Laketown and all its people he spoke up, dissuading them from helping the dwarves because of their desire for the gold. He knew the gold was going to be more of a problem than a help. He also saved that special dragon arrow and even when others in his race were against him, and were fleeing, he had the heart to slay the dragon, Smaug.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the church, and in the scriptures, men are those that sometimes tend to fall under the radar of celebrity. They rarely get the recognition that Wizards, elves, and dwarves get. Most often, they are not noted for their hobbit-like meekness, even if they exhibit it in lesser degrees. Instead, they fall within those groups of people about whom we often learn very little. They are the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err, because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:14). They are those who respond to the powerful preaching of prophets and missionaries, who are brought down “into the depths of humility, to be the humble followers of God and the Lamb” (Helaman 6:5). They are those who often suffer afflictions and persecutions because of the pride of the elves and dwarves (Alma 4:15). They are those whose numbers are so great that we hear about them in generalities. They are often the ninety-and-nine that Jesus refers to—which, I might add, is a pretty good place to be. They are often those upon whom He can depend and thus they don’t get the same outward attention as the one who strays (Matthew 18:12). They aren’t the squeaky wheel. They are those few, of the five wise virgins, who do know the Lord, or who are trying with all their might, mind, and strength to develop a relationship with Him, and thus “He knows them”, and they have sufficient oil in their lamps to be guided to the wedding feast, and to be allowed in (Matthew 25:1-12).
We’ll be talking a great deal more about wizards in Part IV. But I want to touch upon them shortly for this self-evaluation.
Wizards, are perhaps, the category of people we are most familiar with. Wizards are the caretakers of Middle Earth. They are, for the intent of this allegory, spiritual leaders. Prophets, for sure, but in some examples, even area leaders, bishops and stake presidents, and other stake or ward organizational leaders. Wizards, as we see with Gandalf and Radaghast, in The Hobbit, are not perfect. But they have been chosen and given authority and power to do “caretaking” for certain aspects of Middle Earth. They have been given a great deal of responsibility over large areas or large issues. Sometimes, as is evident in the book, wizards make mistakes or suffer from mortal limitations. But generally, they are doing their best with the vast caretaking stewardships they’ve been given. And in the case of prophets, seers, and revelators, they act—almost exclusively—in God’s name and under His direction. Because they are still characters in the story, just like we are, we must expect their mortality and individual personalities and experiences to color their approach to their calling. Like Galadriel says in The Fellowship of the Ring about the wizard, Gandalf, “we don’t yet know his full purpose”. Neither do we know the full missions or purposes of God for our wizards. Their stewardship is often much larger than our own, and its complexities unknown to us, except perhaps in part.
What is important to note about wizards, is that they are as much a regular character in the story as we are. However, unlike elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men, they are not another race. The title of wizard is a calling or a role, that cannot be ignored or cast aside in pursuit of our spiritual quests. Sometimes we get elvish wizards. Sometimes we get human wizards. Sometimes we get dwarvish wizards. And hopefully, more often than not, we get hobbit-like wizards. But most often what we get are half breed wizards; a combination of virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses. Thus, there are things we love about our wizards, but then we also find things to be offended by. Most importantly, no matter their unique personalities and flaws, without them, the quest to slay our dragons cannot succeed.
Wizards, like Radaghast and Gandalf, are often called off to do other things that help the quest even though we don’t always get to know the details, and often when their departure makes if feel like they are abandoning us. Sometimes they seem to speak in riddles which we find frustrating. Sometimes, they get frustrated with us for doubting them so much, or asking them to make it stop raining, like Bilbo did when the quest for the Lonely Mountain had only just begun. Some wizards are better working alongside all of the races, like Gandalf, and some do a whole lot better only interacting with certain ones, or only other wizards.
Samuel, the prophet, is one of my favorite wizards. To me, he is very much a Gandalf type, who calls people on spiritual quests and tries to save them when their own issues are causing havoc—to get them back on track so that they can grow closer to the Lord. He seems to leave people and kings to themselves when they are on the right track—for the most part—and then he shows up with counsel and reprimand when things are getting well off track. Elijah, too, seems to fall into this category of a Gandalf-like wizard, and Moses as well. These prophets were imperfect, yet powerful in their role as prophets.
We’ve been through a lot in this cast. So, let’s do a brief recap. First, labeling leads to putting people in groups making cultural assumptions about people that affect our ability to judge, and make important decisions for life, in a Christlike manner. As well, assuming that the personal revelation we receive for how to best live the gospel of Jesus Christ for ourselves and our family, is also what everyone else should be doing, leads to the creation of religious groupings similar to our New Testament pharisees and scribes. These groupings are encouraged by the cultural dragon, and Satan, our enemy, so that we begin to pridefully judge and evaluate one another in unChristlike ways. Groupings and labels encourage us to be modern pharisees. Modern pharisees, then, end up nurturing their own spiritual egos based on outward evidence rather than developing a deep relationship with God.
I wonder, if while reading/hearing these allegorical race summaries, you have found pieces of yourself in any of the races. Was there one race you sympathized with most? Or maybe you found a little of yourself in all of them? What you discovered might both please you and frighten you. I have to admit, the elves of Middle Earth are fairly inspiring. They have awed many with their looks and words. They have also offended many with those same looks and words. The dwarves? They have their own charm. They are a fighting, sturdy, loyal race. They have often been offended and been unable to let go of the resentment. Forgiveness certainly isn’t their strong suit. They sometimes come to the wrong conclusions from a lack of deep pondering. They sometimes give their own offense, for they are not known for being particularly diplomatic. But yet, they’ve always come to the rescue when they’ve been called upon, and their deep love of goodness shines through magically in those saving moments.
Maybe, however, you are all for 6+ meals a day and a life of meek and humble hygge. You prefer to help everyone, stick to the doctrines of the gospel, and be a peacemaker, or minimally, not a part of the drama. Or perhaps you even prefer the flawed goodness of man. He too is inspiring and real—extremely relatable, and often heroic. He doesn’t ever seem to place himself above you or below you. He just goes with the flow in his own way, supporting the right when the wizards come calling. He does so much good despite the fact that his own feelings of inferiority are often against him.
Did you also, while reading these allegorical summaries, label people you know? If so, did you also, while assigning these people you know to a fictional race because of their spiritual or personality flaws, also note the immense good they had to offer? Did you see that often, even those who can be the most frustrating, also play a critical and important part in our church lives, in our wards, and even, perhaps, in our families? This is hard to do. Offenses are painful. The peer pressure of cultural expectation is stifling. But the good in these individuals is also undeniable—even if it is often obscured by their pharisaical weaknesses. They have graces that have blessed our lives and the lives of many, even if their foibles have also caused injuries. They are both frustrating and amazing.
When it comes to the dragon of church culture, our very own Smaug, we all have succumbed to the lure of that gold pile, except perhaps, our dear sweet hobbits. Or, if those hobbits once counted gold—both of their own and others—they have long since abandoned the worm for the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. They are perhaps too few in number and yet well-beloved by all who come to know them. They leave those who come into contact with them better off for the acquaintance. They seem to feel and understand grace, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, so deeply and are able to apply it and give it in ways the rest of us struggle to comprehend.
Something that is very important to know is that God works with culture. He works with the cultures of different nations and races (elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men), religions, and families. He works with those cultures—and our attachment to them—until He can help us rise up to a Christ-centered celestial culture—a Zion culture, where despite our differences we are of “one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18) and we are all forming a deep, personal relationship with Him that is leading us to become ever more like Him.
If we are to prepare the earth for His second coming, it is time we came to ourselves inside our mountain homes, inside our magical forest retreats, inside the finicky “Laketown” or other cities, or our hobbit holes. It’s time we got up off our backsides, and went and slayed our cultural dragon. We do this to stop the enemy of our souls, Satan, from using his alliance with the dragon to destroy us and delay our Zion culture. We do it not for status or personal validation, but because of our deep love of God and ALL of his children. We need to do this, not only for ourselves and our own personal relationship with the Lord, but for all of the other beloved races, and our wizards, too. They are His children, as we are. He loves them as much as he loves us. “Oh dearly, dearly has He loved! And we must love Him too and trust in His redeeming love and try His works to do” (LDS Hymns, 194, There is a Green Hill Far Away) by loving our fellow saints (Matthew 25:40).
This is the end to Part II: Of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Wizards. If you haven’t already, I invite you to begin your journey. Get up and gear up! Head to the Lonely Mountain and slay the dragon!
In Part III: Of Turning Mountain Trolls of Jargon to Stone, I will get more specific as we run into the mountain trolls of church jargon, which capture us and try to make a meal of us. We need to let light and truth turn them to stone, so we can leave them behind. I hope to see you on the quest!