‘There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale’, by Bilbo Baggins
I have begun re-reading the ‘Hobbit’ by Tolkien in preparation for the first installment of the movie trilogy coming out this year and to be honest, it (LOTR) is the only fiction I have ever enjoyed. I never read fiction, not sure why, but it’s not a genre that connects with me though I really like ‘story’ and ‘narrative’. Perhaps I’m more of storyteller than a reader. But I do find the themes in the LOTR epic to be full of meaning and lessons for our real-life adventures. Themes of courage, perseverance, community, friendship, wonder, questions, lusts, greed and the personifications of evil. This is the stuff of real life. The simple hobbits from the idealic shire have much to reveal to us as to how to adapt and take on the challenges in life we choose, and more importantly, how to take on the challenges in life we have not chosen but seemed to have chosen us.
Most notably in the Hobbit, it is a theme of life being incredibly ‘cyclical’.
There’s a cycle to life in that if we live long enough, we start in diapers and we end in diapers. But that’s not the adventure I’m speaking of. Bilbo is coerced to leave his simple life and in the end, he returns back to his simple life, though notably changed. When we look at the cylcles of societies, governments and nations in history, we see similar cycles. Nations are born out of revolutions of the people, typically the grassroots. Once the grassroots gain power, they organize as is neccesary for governing. William Penn experimented with the ideal of less governance so that the people would choose rightly, they rarely did and metaphorically ate each other in early Pennsylvania days. Penn practiced leadership differently in his later governing period than he did in his early and perhaps naive Quaker roots. Given enough time, organizations/societies/governments naturally evolve away from grassroots to the development of systems that exist to perpetuate the norms and the survival of those systems. In worst case scenarios, this leads to a kind of institutionalism that is a far cry from its revolutionary cry. Literally the revolution became what it was against, co-opted by time, differing agendas and the complexity of organizational leadership. In time, new grassroots rise up and revolutions are spurred on only to repeat the cycle again. It is a world history tale of ‘there and back again’.
While in Korea the past couple weeks, I listened to the history and evolution of the Christian Church in Korea. It has for decades been seen as the hotbed for evangelicalism around the world. Of the 100 largest churches in the world, Korea has 50 of them while sending missionaries around the entire globe. The narrative of coming out of poverty after Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the explosive growth of the church in South Korea paralelled the equal growth of economy, technology and modern development. A driven and faithful people rising early several mornings a week for concentrated prayer, they ‘awakened the dawn’ asking their God for deliverance and direction. Growing nationalism was directly tied to growing Christianity. What resulted was a miraculous crescendo of the Modern ‘Era’ like never seen before. However, like the rest of the world, with the dawn of postmodernism and the seductive power of consumerism, the church in Korea is on similar decline like the West. Out of poverty, they don’t have a yearning for deliverance as they did in their ‘grassroots’ days. This is so similar to the American story yet in such a dramatically shorter timeframe. It is showing a ‘cycle’ that no one is immune to, it’s another story of ‘there and back again’.
So why don’t I take myself that seriously as a leader? I’m not a fatalist, but I deeply understand by looking at history that I’m a part of a larger story that is in and of itself, a part of a larger story. I live on a globe that is one planet in a galaxy of what we now understand is interconneted with millions of other galaxies. Quite simply, it’s not up to me. But also quite remarkably, I’m an individual story in community with trillions of other stories called life in this Creation. And I do get to play a part. I get to choose some adventures, and I also get to respond to some adventures that seemingly have chosen me. It’s not up to me, but I do get to live my story and let it rip so that others can read of and learn of my tales. Leadership isn’t a science, it’s not done in a clean and sterile lab. Leadership is a response to the needs in front of you and a thirst to get on the adventure of doing something about it. People don’t follow statistics, they follow those with dirty feet who have been to the dark places and can act as the guide for a way out. None of us know ultimately how our story will be used in the greater story, but we do get to choose to show up, have some courage and even fight a few dragons along the way.
My encouragement to leaders is not to take yourself too seriously, it’s not about you. It’s about the wonder of a larger story. Cheers to the tales of your courageous journey of ‘there and back again’.