Frodo & Vocation

The Lord of the Rings is another tale about vocation, as John Ortberg realizes:

My daughter and I were re-watching Lord of the Rings before Christmas. At one point, on the last part of the journey through Mordor, Frodo turns to Sam and tells him how badly he wishes he did not have to be the one to carry the Ring. Being the Ring-Bearer was a difficult and dangerous role. He took it up voluntarily; he knew it was a worthy task; he understood in some dim way that he was suited for it—even his weakness was part of his gifting, and yet the cost of it wore him down. . . .

“But you have been chosen,” Gandalf says to Frodo. “And you must therefore use such strength and hearts and wits as you have.”

You have been chosen. I don’t know if you (or I) am in exactly the perfect fitting job. But that’s not the issue.

You have been chosen.

And this sense of having been called—the worthiness of it, the glorious goodness of a life lived beyond an individual’s agenda—is a precious thing. It is sometimes subverted into grandiosity. It is perhaps more often lost in the ministry of the mundane. It needs to be guarded.

Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond; the Fellowship is united and strong, the plans are glorious, hope is fierce, and hearts beat fast.

But you don’t get to spend every day there.

All ministry involves slogging through Mordor.

via Guard Your Calling, Frodo | LeadershipJournal.net.

Rev. Ortberg is discussing specifically the pastoral ministry.  But doesn’t the example of Frodo apply to all vocations (marriage, parenthood, one’s job, citizenship, life in the church,etc.)?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    Yes.

  • Jonathan

    Yes.

  • Matthew Surburg

    I have long loved the examination of aspects of vocation in LOTR. (I have read the books twice, but it’s been a while and I am more familiar with Peter Jackson’s movie versions, so forgive me if my citations are more in line with the movies than the books.) Theoden faces the challenge given to him, saying “Alas that these evil days should be mine!” Denethor’s greatest sin is not his despair in the face of danger, but his abandonment of his duty as Steward of Gondor. Sam fulfills his calling to support Frodo, even though Frodo tries to prevent him from doing so – and in the end, Frodo cannot succeed without Sam.

    The only thing that has bothered me is the depiction of Eowyn. She wants to go out and fight, but she has been given the task of caring for those who stay behind and reigning in Theoden’s place should he fall in battle. When she objects, Aragorn reminds her, “That is an honorable charge.” (I love that part! The honorable task may not be the most glamorous. Very Lutheran.) When she abandons her vocation to go to battle as Minas Tirith, she is unable to save Theoden but does prevent the Witch King from defiling him. Yet, there seems to be no consequence to her failing to perform the duty she was given, other than the injury she herself sustains.

  • Matthew Surburg

    I have long loved the examination of aspects of vocation in LOTR. (I have read the books twice, but it’s been a while and I am more familiar with Peter Jackson’s movie versions, so forgive me if my citations are more in line with the movies than the books.) Theoden faces the challenge given to him, saying “Alas that these evil days should be mine!” Denethor’s greatest sin is not his despair in the face of danger, but his abandonment of his duty as Steward of Gondor. Sam fulfills his calling to support Frodo, even though Frodo tries to prevent him from doing so – and in the end, Frodo cannot succeed without Sam.

    The only thing that has bothered me is the depiction of Eowyn. She wants to go out and fight, but she has been given the task of caring for those who stay behind and reigning in Theoden’s place should he fall in battle. When she objects, Aragorn reminds her, “That is an honorable charge.” (I love that part! The honorable task may not be the most glamorous. Very Lutheran.) When she abandons her vocation to go to battle as Minas Tirith, she is unable to save Theoden but does prevent the Witch King from defiling him. Yet, there seems to be no consequence to her failing to perform the duty she was given, other than the injury she herself sustains.

  • Dan Kempin

    “Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond; the Fellowship is united and strong, the plans are glorious, hope is fierce, and hearts beat fast.”

    Sorry, the pointy ears are too distracting for me to embrace the metaphor!

  • Dan Kempin

    “Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond; the Fellowship is united and strong, the plans are glorious, hope is fierce, and hearts beat fast.”

    Sorry, the pointy ears are too distracting for me to embrace the metaphor!

  • Arfies

    It is a great comfort, when I look back on more than forty years of ministry, to think that despite all the other occupations for which I might have been suited, being a Lutheran pastor was the vocation for which I was called. I didn’t become famous, I didn’t get paid extravagant salaries, and I didn’t even succeed in helping some of the people whom I tried to help. I did proclaim the Gospel, however, and everything else was–and still is–up to God, whom I thank always. I also thank you, Dr. Veith, for this post.

  • Arfies

    It is a great comfort, when I look back on more than forty years of ministry, to think that despite all the other occupations for which I might have been suited, being a Lutheran pastor was the vocation for which I was called. I didn’t become famous, I didn’t get paid extravagant salaries, and I didn’t even succeed in helping some of the people whom I tried to help. I did proclaim the Gospel, however, and everything else was–and still is–up to God, whom I thank always. I also thank you, Dr. Veith, for this post.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    How come I don’t get to carry a sword for MY vocation???

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    How come I don’t get to carry a sword for MY vocation???

  • thirddayfreak

    I love this writing by Rev. Ortberg! It is an excellent reminder and helpful in creating a solid foundation for going through each of the hard and easy days in our lives. This is why we all love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are so many things he wrote in those books to help build that foundation. We choose the hard thing, and are able to stay strong, because it is there right thing to do. We also all need Samwise Gamgees in our lives to help us through those hard things. Thankfully we have our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with us EVERY day!

  • thirddayfreak

    I love this writing by Rev. Ortberg! It is an excellent reminder and helpful in creating a solid foundation for going through each of the hard and easy days in our lives. This is why we all love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are so many things he wrote in those books to help build that foundation. We choose the hard thing, and are able to stay strong, because it is there right thing to do. We also all need Samwise Gamgees in our lives to help us through those hard things. Thankfully we have our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with us EVERY day!

  • David

    A calling is also important for Aragorn. He is given the “calling” by Elrond to “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

  • David

    A calling is also important for Aragorn. He is given the “calling” by Elrond to “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

  • utahrainbow

    You forget, Matthew @ 2, that Eowyn fulfills a task that no man could. She didn’t just prevent the witch king from defiling her king, she ‘killed’ him, which even Gandalf could not do. That ended up being her vocation. She is, after all, a shieldmaiden of Rohan. The lines of vocation are not always neatly drawn.

    Another wonderful example in LOTR of the weak overcoming the strong.

    Oops, my geek is showing!

  • utahrainbow

    You forget, Matthew @ 2, that Eowyn fulfills a task that no man could. She didn’t just prevent the witch king from defiling her king, she ‘killed’ him, which even Gandalf could not do. That ended up being her vocation. She is, after all, a shieldmaiden of Rohan. The lines of vocation are not always neatly drawn.

    Another wonderful example in LOTR of the weak overcoming the strong.

    Oops, my geek is showing!

  • Matthew Surburg

    Utah @ 8, that is true, and one of the few things that the movie got really wrong. “But no mortal man am I, for behold, you look upon a woman!” (or something very close to that, I don’t have the book close at hand) became, “I am no man!” I can’t for the life of me figure out why they changed it. Still, while no one will dispute the value of Eowyn’s accomplishment, I wonder at the direct disobedience to her king which brought her to that point. Granted that those in authority can be wrong (as Denethor is when he wants the Ring brought to Gondor at all costs), it still seems to fly in the face of what Tolkien illustrates in so many areas about people doing their duty whether they like it or not.

  • Matthew Surburg

    Utah @ 8, that is true, and one of the few things that the movie got really wrong. “But no mortal man am I, for behold, you look upon a woman!” (or something very close to that, I don’t have the book close at hand) became, “I am no man!” I can’t for the life of me figure out why they changed it. Still, while no one will dispute the value of Eowyn’s accomplishment, I wonder at the direct disobedience to her king which brought her to that point. Granted that those in authority can be wrong (as Denethor is when he wants the Ring brought to Gondor at all costs), it still seems to fly in the face of what Tolkien illustrates in so many areas about people doing their duty whether they like it or not.

  • utahrainbow

    Matthew @ 9,
    I guess I would disagree that the movie got that really wrong. How are those two statements all that different? In spirit, they got that moment right. Merry also directly disobeyed the king in coming, and he helped Eowyn in bringing down the Black Captain. This should not bother you, but serve to show that duty is not always easy to see or what you would expect.

    Also, it’s interesting to note (in light of this blog post) that Frodo ultimately fails to do his duty and destroy the ring on his own. It is more or less taken out of his hands.

  • utahrainbow

    Matthew @ 9,
    I guess I would disagree that the movie got that really wrong. How are those two statements all that different? In spirit, they got that moment right. Merry also directly disobeyed the king in coming, and he helped Eowyn in bringing down the Black Captain. This should not bother you, but serve to show that duty is not always easy to see or what you would expect.

    Also, it’s interesting to note (in light of this blog post) that Frodo ultimately fails to do his duty and destroy the ring on his own. It is more or less taken out of his hands.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I like that bit about how “Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond … But you don’t get to spend every day there.”

    Thirddayfreak (@6), I’m not sure if you meant to imply this or not, but I find it a little painful to see Jesus fashioned as our personal Samwise Gamgee, there to offer us encouragement when we need it in our personal journey.

    If anything, Jesus would be more aptly compared to Frodo, willingly taking on his difficult journey in order to destroy evil. In such a scenario, I would be just some hobbit back in the Shire, living out my normal life blissfully unaware of the danger in the world and how it could affect me, to whom the good news of the Ring’s destruction came.

    Eh, maybe that was a bit overwrought. Not sure.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I like that bit about how “Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond … But you don’t get to spend every day there.”

    Thirddayfreak (@6), I’m not sure if you meant to imply this or not, but I find it a little painful to see Jesus fashioned as our personal Samwise Gamgee, there to offer us encouragement when we need it in our personal journey.

    If anything, Jesus would be more aptly compared to Frodo, willingly taking on his difficult journey in order to destroy evil. In such a scenario, I would be just some hobbit back in the Shire, living out my normal life blissfully unaware of the danger in the world and how it could affect me, to whom the good news of the Ring’s destruction came.

    Eh, maybe that was a bit overwrought. Not sure.

  • Mrs. Peel

    Eowyn is rebelling against her greatest fear – “a cage. To remain behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” But when she has done a very great deed, she falls into despair – “To health? It may be so, while there is a saddle I can fill…But to hope? I do not know.” It isn’t until she lets go of her love for what Aragorn represents (not Aragorn himself, note) that she also relinquishes her desires for fame, and says, “I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” (And falls in love with Faramir, which is partially tied to vocation since the two are later given Ithilien to tend.)

    He is given the “calling” by Elrond to “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

    This is actually at the heart of my greatest disagreement with the films. Peter Jackson refuses to let Aragorn be larger than life, which he’s supposed to be (the hobbits are supposed to be the ordinary people). In the text, Aragorn was not in the least reluctant to take up his vocation. As a matter of fact, he’s quite like David, who is anointed by Samuel and then returns to tend the flocks until God is ready; Aragorn is given the Ring of Barahir and the Shards of Narsil, two of the four tokens of the House of Isildur, at a young age, and then he patiently waits (something like 50-70 years, iirc) until the time has come for him to take up his role. He doesn’t dither and resist doing so, the way Peter Jackson portrays.

  • Mrs. Peel

    Eowyn is rebelling against her greatest fear – “a cage. To remain behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” But when she has done a very great deed, she falls into despair – “To health? It may be so, while there is a saddle I can fill…But to hope? I do not know.” It isn’t until she lets go of her love for what Aragorn represents (not Aragorn himself, note) that she also relinquishes her desires for fame, and says, “I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.” (And falls in love with Faramir, which is partially tied to vocation since the two are later given Ithilien to tend.)

    He is given the “calling” by Elrond to “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

    This is actually at the heart of my greatest disagreement with the films. Peter Jackson refuses to let Aragorn be larger than life, which he’s supposed to be (the hobbits are supposed to be the ordinary people). In the text, Aragorn was not in the least reluctant to take up his vocation. As a matter of fact, he’s quite like David, who is anointed by Samuel and then returns to tend the flocks until God is ready; Aragorn is given the Ring of Barahir and the Shards of Narsil, two of the four tokens of the House of Isildur, at a young age, and then he patiently waits (something like 50-70 years, iirc) until the time has come for him to take up his role. He doesn’t dither and resist doing so, the way Peter Jackson portrays.

  • Mrs. Peel

    I guess I would disagree that the movie got that really wrong. How are those two statements all that different? In spirit, they got that moment right.

    Rabid Eowyn-lover speaking here, but that’s my second biggest complaint with the films (third would be Faramir taking Frodo back to his father, even if he does change his mind). Here’s the exchange from the book (and yes, this is all from memory):

    [Scene: The Witch-King of Angmar and his fell beast have frightened Snowmane, who has reared up and fallen onto Theoden. Eowyn/Dernhelm is weeping, and as the fell beast lands on the battlefield...]
    Eowyn: Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!
    W-KoA: Stand not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee alive to the Houses of Lamentation, where thy flesh shall be devoured and thy mind left naked to the Lidless Eye!
    Eowyn: (draws sword) Do what you will. Yet I will hinder it, if I may.
    W-KoA: Hinder me? Thou fool! No living man may hinder me!
    Eowyn: (laughs) But no living man am I. You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.
    [The Witch-King pauses, a little uncertain; the fell beast attacks, Eowyn beheads it, etc.]

    Here’s how it went down in the movie:
    W-KoA: No man can kill me!
    Eowyn: (screeching hysterically) I’m not a man!!!!!!!1111!!!11!!eleventy!!

    You’ll forgive me if I was a bit disappointed. Especially since in the first movie, Peter Jackson had gone out of his way to change Arwen to make her awesome, apparently because there weren’t enough chicks. Here, he has a truly legitimate awesome chick, and he turns her into comic relief (cf. the scene where she brings Aragorn stew) and ruins her best scene in the entire story. :-(

  • Mrs. Peel

    I guess I would disagree that the movie got that really wrong. How are those two statements all that different? In spirit, they got that moment right.

    Rabid Eowyn-lover speaking here, but that’s my second biggest complaint with the films (third would be Faramir taking Frodo back to his father, even if he does change his mind). Here’s the exchange from the book (and yes, this is all from memory):

    [Scene: The Witch-King of Angmar and his fell beast have frightened Snowmane, who has reared up and fallen onto Theoden. Eowyn/Dernhelm is weeping, and as the fell beast lands on the battlefield...]
    Eowyn: Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!
    W-KoA: Stand not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee alive to the Houses of Lamentation, where thy flesh shall be devoured and thy mind left naked to the Lidless Eye!
    Eowyn: (draws sword) Do what you will. Yet I will hinder it, if I may.
    W-KoA: Hinder me? Thou fool! No living man may hinder me!
    Eowyn: (laughs) But no living man am I. You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.
    [The Witch-King pauses, a little uncertain; the fell beast attacks, Eowyn beheads it, etc.]

    Here’s how it went down in the movie:
    W-KoA: No man can kill me!
    Eowyn: (screeching hysterically) I’m not a man!!!!!!!1111!!!11!!eleventy!!

    You’ll forgive me if I was a bit disappointed. Especially since in the first movie, Peter Jackson had gone out of his way to change Arwen to make her awesome, apparently because there weren’t enough chicks. Here, he has a truly legitimate awesome chick, and he turns her into comic relief (cf. the scene where she brings Aragorn stew) and ruins her best scene in the entire story. :-(

  • thirddayfreak

    @tODD # 11 I was saying we need people to keep us going and encourage us, thus the Sam Gamgee statment. And (this is what I should have included) thankfully when we are alone and without others around us (i.e. Sam), we have Christ.

    I agree with your statement about Frodo as well. =)

  • thirddayfreak

    @tODD # 11 I was saying we need people to keep us going and encourage us, thus the Sam Gamgee statment. And (this is what I should have included) thankfully when we are alone and without others around us (i.e. Sam), we have Christ.

    I agree with your statement about Frodo as well. =)

  • utahrainbow

    Hi, Mrs Peel,
    I sometimes forget to check back, so sorry for this delay. I have loved the books since I was 11 and received them as a special Christmas gift. I admit it has been several years since I read them, unfortunately, but yes, the text is much better in that scene, no question. But I feel that it is better in the same way that books are often better than their movies. You can get more “wordy” in a book, and have more texture in the dialogue. In a movie, sometimes its important to “move things along” more quickly. Is not the takeaway the same? Am I missing a key point here? I felt much the same way watching that moment in the movie, as I did when reading it in the book.

    I suppose LOTR fans will disagree from time to time about what’s good and what’s not in the movies, but I was defending Eowyn in the context of vocation. Obviously her vocation extended to beyond just staying behind. Yes, there’s a lot of difficulty for her, in her vocation, but that is the nuance there, and I quite like it the way it is. I would not change Eowyn to fall in line better with what her vocation “ought” to have been. Or have her suffer some consequence as a result, like Matthew suggested. Like you pointed out, she does, however, after her encounter on the battle field, and that feeling of coldness and sorrow, “settle down.” After all, what more could a girl want, smiting Sauron’s captain? ;)

  • utahrainbow

    Hi, Mrs Peel,
    I sometimes forget to check back, so sorry for this delay. I have loved the books since I was 11 and received them as a special Christmas gift. I admit it has been several years since I read them, unfortunately, but yes, the text is much better in that scene, no question. But I feel that it is better in the same way that books are often better than their movies. You can get more “wordy” in a book, and have more texture in the dialogue. In a movie, sometimes its important to “move things along” more quickly. Is not the takeaway the same? Am I missing a key point here? I felt much the same way watching that moment in the movie, as I did when reading it in the book.

    I suppose LOTR fans will disagree from time to time about what’s good and what’s not in the movies, but I was defending Eowyn in the context of vocation. Obviously her vocation extended to beyond just staying behind. Yes, there’s a lot of difficulty for her, in her vocation, but that is the nuance there, and I quite like it the way it is. I would not change Eowyn to fall in line better with what her vocation “ought” to have been. Or have her suffer some consequence as a result, like Matthew suggested. Like you pointed out, she does, however, after her encounter on the battle field, and that feeling of coldness and sorrow, “settle down.” After all, what more could a girl want, smiting Sauron’s captain? ;)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X