My family is among those who have waited for the prequel to The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Rings of Power premiered this past week on Amazon prime and we watched with eagerness and excitement. It was interesting to note how the characters, almost too many to keep track of, imbued good and evil. This interplay of characters revealed how cultural differences impacted the unfolding fantasy story. Some of the cultural differences were easy to take note of (Elves are tall and stately in appearance, dwarfs are short and rugged looking) and others were less noticeable (relationship expectations, and historical implications in the relationship). I made connections with this episode and my current reading of Culture Map by Erin Meyers and watching Karen Tremper’s presentation on Intercultural Competencies
Two cultures brought together in the Rings of Power are the Elves and the Dwarfs. The meeting of two characters might be better described as a collision. Elrond, an Elf, visits the underground kingdom of Khazad-Dum, with the objective of recruiting workers to forge a new Middle Earth. Elrond is an old friend of Durin, a great leader among the dwarfs. It is curious how these two might align when the ethos among them might be summed up in the words from the trailer: “There can be no trust between hammer and rock. Eventually, one or the other must break.” Elrond, who had offended Durin many years prior to this meeting knew that he would need to regain the trust of his hurt friend and agreed to a competitive game of splitting rocks with hammers. This began to soften Durin’s hardened heart. With reluctance, Durin agrees to have Elrond meet his wife, and this greeting opens an invitation for Elrond to stay for dinner. Elrond masterfully waited to gain trust and by the end of their meeting, Durin was willing to hear his old friends’ plan to employ the dwarfs.
Applying Karen Tremper’s Intercultural Competencies, I find that Elrond was wise to consider the context and environment he entered when visiting his dwarf friend. Elrond had a growth mindset and was willing to live dangerously by traveling to where his friend lived to seek consultation. As an Elf ambassador, he was able to tolerate the risk of rejection and humbly asked for forgiveness and congratulated his friend for the accomplishments he had achieved. Elrond had the goal of proposing an allegiance with the dwarfs and this drove him to be persistent in spending time with Durin. Elrond thought ahead by gaining an invitation to dinner by first asking to meet Durin’s wife (the elf intended to win the wifes favor). Befriending Durin’s wife became the bridge for Elrond to share freely why he had traveled to see his friend. Elrond did well to navigate the cultural differences that were not visibly noticeable. His thoughtful and non-judgmental manner smoothed the rigid and unyielding dwarf.
Communication among elves and dwarfs have unique intercultural indicators as does the communication found with Jesus who, on the road to Emmaus engaged two disciples. Jesus, being Semitic in his cultural background (33 years of life), would know how to approach two fellow Jewish men but it is worth noting that Jesus came from a Kingdom which He was establishing on earth. Jesus, recently resurrected from the dead, brought His own unique approach to communication outlined in Luke 24.
“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Luke 24: 15-17
Jesus personally joined the two disciples in the conversation that they were pursuing by asking a question. Dave Kerpen, in his book The Art of People, discusses this approach in chapter four: Be interested Instead of Interesting. As humans we are egocentric and are interested more in ourselves than others. If we “shut up and listen” then our relationships will be strengthened. Jesus, in his cultural competency,” knew that revealing Himself in his glorified body would not be what the two disciples needed but rather, they needed a listening ear.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus asked the disciples questions with an ear to hear their explanation of the events taking place in Jerusalem. Erin Meyers in her book The Culture Map shares a story about a Chinese businessman who did not speak but listened during a business meeting with British colleagues. This resulted in a lackluster relationship with his British contemporaries. As a Chinese businessman, he wanted to pay due respect to those in the business meeting and waited to be invited to speak; waiting for questions that did not come. The British businessmen wanted to hear the input of the Chinese businessman. It had been their loss to not gain his perspective.
Jesus knows when to listen and when to speak. Fortunately, Jesus joined the conversation with the disciples and after they talked about who Jesus of Nazareth was, Jesus explained who He was in His own words. Luke 24:27 “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Whether Jesus chooses to join a conversation with a question or speaks about Scripture and His true identity, Jesus intercultural competency is a role model for all to follow. Luke 24:29 finds the disciples strongly asking Jesus to stay with them. Jesus had clearly communicated well with a hospitable invitation extended from the disciples.
Intercultural competency is a necessity in a fantasy land of elves and dwarfs, in modern day cultures, and in communicating Christ’s Kingdom. What may come from the various attempts to communicate well? When everyone feels valued and respected, relationships and adventures begin.