In the prologue to The Lord of the Rings, the author describes life in the shire…
There in that pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living, and they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved, until they came to think that peace and plenty were the rule in Middle-earth and the right of all sensible folk.
They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it.1
“Sheltered” describes my upbringing… innocence untainted… unencumbered by the pain and injustice suffered by so many… never concerned for where the next meal would come from… unaware of dark realities lurking in the world beyond. It was quite a journey from knowing so little to wishing I didn’t know so much.
“Sheltered” describes my new neighborhood… the United States of America. Four decades of absence changed me. Transitioning back rattled me. It felt rather like a hobbit returning to the shire after a long adventure. So snug and cozy and easy… so provincial and clueless and uncurious about what lay beyond our shire. We seem to think that "peace and plenty are the rule here and the right of all sensible folk." We too, in fact, are sheltered, and we have ceased to remember it.
“Sheltered” breeds a sense of entitlement. There is a baseline of quality of life, job security, health and safety that becomes expected. We anesthetize ourselves with order and manicured yards in peaceful neighborhoods. We think we live in Disneyland and that everyone else could if they wanted to. Never-mind that most of the planet lives and dies dreaming of a hot meal and a warm coat.
“Sheltered” becomes our weakness. It will be our demise. We will tear each other apart over what each of us thinks we are entitled to. We have been spoiled rotten by our consumerism. It has left us bereft of character. We look like Gollum, consumed by one thing only: “my precious!”
“Sheltered” is an illusion. Our myopic view of neighborhood has been shattered by a pandemic. We are all equally subject to its threat. That makes the world our neighborhood. Welcome to entitlement-free living! Life down here among fellow mortals enriches like nothing in the towers of the rich and privileged.
Sheltered—truly sheltered—is attainable. But we need a revised definition of neighborhood. The only one that matters is spiritual… and eternal. It is called the kingdom of God. We become citizens when we enter through its narrow door (Jesus Christ). His once-for-all sacrifice bought our way in and booked us eternal lodgings. Truly sheltered we are, not by wishful thinking, but by Almighty God.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
God is known in her palaces for a refuge.2
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 6). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.