When my wife and I first moved to Louisville, Kentucky, we were simultaneously enamored and scared out of our minds by the vastness of the future we saw unfolding. We had only known our lives in Houston. We had only known ourselves as students. As a son, and a daughter. As members of a previous church. We honestly didn’t know too much of who we actually were.
After living in Lousivlle for five years, we moved yet again - this time, to Austin, Texas. However, that initial move to Kentucky was like being given the pen to write your own identity. It was daunting.
After reading Brian Renshaw's post, Richard Bauckham on Wholeness in James, I've been thinking about how the Lord has spoken to this. Who is Jordan... as a "whole", and complete, and true, person. To which, I was reminded of two heroes of mine: Tom Bombadil and Mark Janke.
‘I am sorry to take leave of Master Bombadil,’ said Sam. ‘He’s a caution and no mistake. I reckon we may go a good deal further and see naught better, nor queerer. ~ Sam Gamgee (Lord of the Rings )
As I look back at that first move, I find a connection with Frodo Baggins - albeit small, a connection nonetheless. As he set out on his epic journey of ridding the land of evil, the reader finds Frodo’s story to equally be one of self-discovery as much as it is of defeating Sauron. Now, we didn’t exactly have any “evil to rid” in Lousiville, but we were amazed at the depth of self-discovery that God was bringing us into.
In Tolkien’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings the reader encounters a very odd fellow: Tom Bombadil. Not represented in any of the films - and with good reason - Bombadil is called “the master”. Portrayed as an eccentric hermit, Tom’s character sings most of his comments, dresses… well… awkwardly, and seems to have no ties with anything if it tends to be burdensome. About himself, Tom sings
Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow. None has ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the Master: His songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster. ~ Tom Bombadil (Lord of the Rings)
Whether fallen-nature or evil ghouls, as threats arose around our heroes (Frodo and his Hobbit company), Tom shows himself to consist of a power to speak into such perils, and dispel them from the heroes’ journey.
The peculiar thing about how Tolkien chose to write him into the story is that he’s deemed odd by others, primarily because of his apparent “differences”. Now, these differences aren’t odd in nature, but are seen as such only by way of their being juxtaposed against the “norm” of the other characters. In fact, Tom seems to have a better handle on life than any other character - so much so that Gandalf calls him “quite untroubled” as he wasn’t too interested in their affairs. Bombadil wasn’t interested in what others could do, nor even what he himself could do. His hope rested in who he was.
If any one person in my life resembles the joy and freedom of Tom Bombadil, it’s my old pastor, Mark Janke. When we first moved to Louisville, we felt as if we had officially left the “Shire”. At times, it even felt as if we were in the horrible barrows of some hope-stealing wight. However, once we found our home church, Grace Church of Louisville, Sharla and I finally enjoyed the comfort of home once again. Although this was all due to the work of God’s providence, the immediate source of aid came to us from Mark.
I’ll always remember the cold mornings when we would sit outside of Vint coffee shop, next to the fire, me bearing my soul to him, and him just gently looking at me through the smoke of his puffed pipe - and while bearing an unburdened smile, he'd freeingly say “It’s okay! It’s okay.” Mark’s testimony of the Lord’s grace might be one of the strongest affections to have graced my soul. While at Grace Church, my wife and I learned to lay down everything that burdened us, although we’d stubbornly pick it right back up at times, like a child does their security blanket. But, we’d lay them down just long enough to have our church receive and accept us, and in a Jankeian manner, say, “It’s okay!”
I cannot even begin to articulate how I’ve felt something lacking ever since we’ve left his guidance. As the hobbits were able to identify Tom’s impact on their hope and worldview, so I’ve acknowledged from Mark. Mark wasn’t worried about who I thought I was based off of some current event (whether success or failure), but instead was interested in who I was. Although I should’ve known this, I was reminded that titles, accolades, actions, etc. don’t define “Jordan”. I, as we all are, am something far more rich. Every time I asked a uninetentionally superficial question, Mark would gently lead me back to my true self, the status that God had established for me. To this, one other Bombadil phrase comes to mind -
‘Don’t you know my name yet? That’s the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?’ ~ Tom Bombadil (Lord of the Rings)
Our Shared Hope
Once we left Rivendell, err… I mean Louisville, we were met with that same pressing fear we had when we first left Houston. Now, part of this is the awkwardness of leaving “home”. But part of it is the temptation to lose focus of the true. I now cling to the revelations that God brought to me through Mark. I look into Bombadil and am reminded of the greater essence of humanity. There is more than the circumstantial and “superficials” that meet us in our lives. We are not our names, nor our pasts, nor our actions.
We are whole beings, which cannot be compartmentalized into smaller parts for defining. My true self rests inChrist’s accomplishments, not in who I “make” myself to be. Not in my successes, nor failures. Not in my dreams, nor my fears. I walk, timidly, into this new chapter of my life, reflecting on the cadence of “It’s okay”, as it reaffirmingly resounds in my mind. As Bombadil gave the hobbits hope, Mark, and many others in our livrs, do the same for us. As children of God, we are never without a testimony of the Lord’s message that
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)