This is an abridged version of a post that first appeared on Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership blog site.
In a conversation with Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo Baggins, elder statesman of Bag-end in Hobbiton, anxiously complains that he is feeling “thin, like butter spread over too much bread.” Uncharacteristically, Bilbo had been the first hobbit ever to venture outside the safe, recognizable confines of the Shire. There, life was well planned, neatly cropped and decently fitted to those more inclined to an afternoon of tea and scones than giants, goblins and dragons. How distasteful.
“Butter spread over too much bread”, I quite relish cryptic statements like this. There are any number of ways to parse his meaning. Bilbo might just have easily said that he needed less bread upon which to spread his limited butter. It means basically the same thing, doesn’t it?
His original statement suggests that there isn’t enough of Bilbo to accommodate all that life throws at him. He was verbalizing the fact that, under any circumstances, he was always the same person; a hobbit of limited emotional and physical resources (the latter being especially true of Shire folk). For hobbits, adventures are unsightly, unnecessary inconveniences. What had changed were the additional demands his world imposed upon those limitations. Sound familiar?
As we consider Pentecost, this should invite the question, “is the Spirit-empowered life intended to prep us for a world that makes no allowances for the spiritual needs of its inhabitants? In other words, do we, by God’s strength, bend to suit the frenetic nature of the world around us? Conversely, is the Christian life designed to provide us with the tools necessary for us to discern such demands and, in response, live counter-culturally? That is, do we, by that same grace and power, embrace a just-say-no policy to insane living?
Mindy Caliguire, founder of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry, (and committed non-hobbit) places we Pentecost people into two broad categories: jet-fuel drinkers and candle lighters. At first glance, I envision those type-A, scale the world with bare hands types to be drawn to the former option. Pentecost to them means that we are given more than adequate resources to meet the challenges imposed by a frenetic culture. More butter to meet the demands of much bread.
The second scenario might be considered more the domain of the candle lighters. They are those who see the inherent dangers to an integrated wholeness of the prevailing culture and risk either apathy or antipathy in their subversive, counter-cultural response to that same milieu. They seek freedom from the imposed insanities rather than power over them. In this ideology, Pentecost provides the inner sensitivity that allows for careful discernment of our crazy predicament. Less bread given our limited butter.
What then is the biblical alternative for he or she who seeks to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ? As I read the scriptures I am forced to concede that the best answer is, both and neither. From the Bible’s earliest pages, one discovers jet-fuel drinkers and candle lighters dwelling together in a veritable stew of divergent sojourners.
An example of a few jet-fuel drinkers: Matthew, Rome’s corporate yes-man; Gideon, the mama’s boy turned warrior; Samson, Mr. Testosterone of the Old Testament; Peter, the man with a mouth as big as his heart, and Elijah, a candle lighter in a jet-fuel drinker’s body.
The apostle, John, Anna and Mary, sister of Martha might best be described as candle lighters.
So, what does all of this have to do with Pentecost? How might Jesus’ example help us interpret Bilbo’s complaint? Does Jesus, by the Spirit, primarily present the victorious life of the jet-fuel drinker, thereby modeling the ideal spiritual life as the power-to-rise-above? Conversely, is Jesus, by that same Spirit, to be viewed more as the perfect version of Martha’s whimsical sister, whose strength for service came at the feet of her Savior and friend, the candle lighter? Was Jesus drinking jet fuel or hot wax?
Yes. Any questions?
To follow the Pentecost road with Jesus is to live rightly and well. It guarantees that our butter will last and that the constant stream of toast demanding our butter will never be more than our butter can manage. Let us rise to thank Bilbo Baggins for his good, but unintended, spiritual counsel.
I need a sandwich.