Howdy, folks. I’ve just spent a few days with some wonderful folks in Makarora Township, just south of Haast Pass.
Andrew and Ingrid Shepherd have a lovely house and garden, three beautiful girls, and a wealth of knowledge and experience about living in Christian community, practicing Christian virtues of stewardship and hospitality, and finding one’s call in a world where CV-building takes priority over lived discernment. Andrew helped me coordinate transport to the Gillespie Pass tramp (see below)–four days, three nights–and since then I’ve been playing house with Julia and Kristin, going into Wanaka to see Where the Wild Things Are at this hip cinema, cooking Andrew and Ingrid some fantastic breakfast migas (with homemade tortillas!), and talking about theology, the land, and scriptural witness endlessly.
“Tramping” in NZ is rather different from the “hiking” we Americans are used to. “Hiking” usually involves driving to the base of a mountain, walking a trail up to the top, and then coming back down the same day–often with a feeling of rich satisfaction. But New Zealanders rarely summit mountains; their “tracks” (= trails) are mostly energetic climbs up valleys, over minor passes, and through bush-laden woods. Kiwis don’t go tramping for the “sights” (say, for example, the vistas from the mountaintops) as much as they do just to be “in the bush” or for simple exercise.
This cultural difference also leads to a logistical difficulty for a lone tramper like myself: the popular tramps in NZ aren’t usually circuits; rather, they’re likely to be one-way traverses of a mountain range–so you end up in an entirely different region (let alone carpark!) than the one you began in. One must hitchhike, sometimes for miles and miles, to make it back to one’s car.
Sometimes, one can get fairly delirious…
Why is this relevant?
Because JRR Tolkien differentiated his Lord of the Rings trilogy from The Hobbit by making a technical literary distinction between “quest” and “adventure.” The Hobbit, Tolkien explained, was an adventure: Bilbao Baggins left his home in the Shire, went out into the Great Unknown and encountered sundry foreign phenomena, but at the end of the book he returns to the Shire unharmed, and all is as it was.
In The Lord of the Rings, in contrast, Frodo (and, arguably, Aragorn and Sam Gamgee by affiliation) ends in an entirely different location–perhaps not physically, but psychologically and emotionally–than where he first began. See, Frodo went on a quest, a quest that changed him significantly, a quest the end of which wasn’t predictable or convenient. Bilbao Baggins went on an adventure: as Tolkien admits, The Hobbit is a children’s book, and at no point in the story does one truly doubt that Bilbao will make it back home again.
(I’m getting all this from Tim Keller, by the way, in a sermon called “Real Security and the Call of God.”)
Folks, the Christian life is a quest–not an adventure. It is highly unpredictable, and very often inconvenient. I came to NZ to learn more about something I had a lateral interest in; I’m going to leave with a lot more questions–and a lot more “lateral” interests–than when I arrived here.
But that’s OK. God is in control.