Hobbit Holes and Homelessness

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”  - The Hobbit On Christmas Eve this year, the film comfortably at the top of the box office was The Hobbit. By New Year’s Eve, over $700 million worth of tickets had been sold worldwide.   What drove Bilbo in his adventure was one thing: appreciation for his hobbit-hole home. Chris Mitchell, head of the Wade Center at Wheaton College that houses J.R.R. Tolkien’s papers, explained to us at a recent conference the concept of “eucatastrophe”, a term Tolkien coined to describe a sudden turn of events in a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible end, but instead, his or her conflict results in a positive development/revelation. The eucatastrophe in The Hobbit takes place when Bilbo risks his life to save Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves, from the main Orc antagonist.  Thorin was fighting against all odds to lead them to their lost home, the Lonely Mountain, and it was for the sake of their home that Bilbo was willing to risk losing his. At several recent gatherings of staff and friends, we all shared our favorite Christmas movies. The overwhelming consensus was It’s a Wonderful Life. We weren’t alone.  On Christmas Eve, NBC won the ratings by airing the classic film with 4.9 million viewers tuning in. I was struck, watching it for the umpteenth time, that central to the film is the idea of the home:  the Savings and Loan providing decent homes in Bailey Park; Potter’s Field, the slum with the ironic name alluding in part to a burial place for homeless indigents; even George Baily’s own home redeemed from near collapse to one warmed by family and love. As we enter this New Year, thankful for our families and our homes, we know that in the shadows of our nation is a reality not far from that of the Great Depression for thousands of families.  Homelessness of many different kinds.  The families that have lost their homes due to the mortgage crisis.   Families unable to afford their homes due to joblessness, living on the edge of security.  Young couples unable to find affordable housing, living with their parents.  Veterans, the mentally ill and those down on their luck, forced to find shelter where they can. This Christmas morning, as we gathered in our home, I was thankful for another story of a family and homelessness.  The teenage mother, pregnant, out of wedlock, looking for shelter where she can deliver her baby.   This young couple, finding no room, ending up in a barn with sheep and goats as company.   The baby grown into a man who, although foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, had no place to lay his head.  And even now, who prepares a home for us -- for in His Father’s house are many rooms. As T. S. Eliot so powerfully described in his remarkable poem The Journey of the Magi, the eucatastrophe that gives us hope in the New Year at Clapham is this: A birth, which led to a death, provides for us a new home.  May that story give you comfort in this New Year as well.