The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;

~

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

~

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

~

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

This lovely poem by G.K. Chesterton reminds us that Jesus came to redeem the rejected and despised. It is a telling of Palm Sunday from the point of view of the donkey. Chesterton builds on the detail found in Luke’s gospel that the donkey chosen for Jesus to enter Jerusalem with had never been rode upon. Such a creature must feel rejected. The donkey is a creature considered to be unnatural and a half breed. One beaten and abused. Yet it is this creature that takes place in the triumphal entry. As disciples we are called to see even the most despised creatures as children of God and to be agents of redemption in their lives. Because the truth is all of us were among the rejected when Christ chose us.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables, is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The One Who Stayed

You should have heard the old men cry,

You should have heard the biddies

When that sad stranger raised his flute

And piped away the kiddies.

Katy, Tommy, Meg and Bob

Followed, skipped gaily,

Red-haired Ruth, my brother Rob,

And little crippled Bailey,

John and Nils and Cousin Claire,

Dancin', spinnin', turnin',

'Cross the hills to God knows where-

They never came returnin'.

'Cross the hills to God knows where

The piper pranced, a leadin'

Each child in Hamlin Town but me,

And I stayed home unheedin'.

My papa says that I was blest

For if that music found me,

I'd be witch-cast like all the rest.

This town grows old around me.

I cannot say I did not hear

That sound so haunting hollow-

I heard, I heard, I heard it clear…

I was afraid to follow.”

 

This haunting poem by Shel Silverstein reminds us what adventures we forfeit when we are crippled by fear. The child in the poem hears the music but cannot bring himself to leave his comfort zone and now the world grows old around him. It is often said that our biggest regrets are not the times we've failed but the chances we never took. For the disciple, this poem is also a reminder of the courage it takes to follow Christ. It can be tempting to stay behind when we we hear God calling us to an extraordinary life beyond the bounds of everything we've known. In the gospels, Jesus does not wait around, he says, “Put your shoulder to the plow, and don't look back,” “let the dead bury their own dead.” When you hear the music calling you, will you be afraid to follow?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns

before me;

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,

divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he

lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is indeed one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another entirely to look up at them in wordless wonder. All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

 

Duck Church

There is a little town of Ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes it place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible (Ducks, like all other creatures on earth, seem to have their own special version of the Scriptures.) He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shout “Amen!” And they all waddle home.

This short parable by Søren Kierkegaard perfectly illustrates the truth that faith is meaningless unless it is put into action. We should leave Church transformed and ready to change the world. The book of James tells us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers of the word. Too often, though, we listen to eloquent sermons about the extraordinary way in which we are to live but fail to put those words into action. We have just wasted an hour of our time if we waddle out of Church the same way we waddled in.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

St. Bede’s Sparrow

During the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria was trying to decide, after hearing the teaching of the missionary Paulonius, whether to allow Christians to preach in his Kingdom and whether to convert to Christianity himself. He consulted some of his advisers, the final of which gave him this sage advice:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in

comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the

swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit

at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,

while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,

but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.

The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out

at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry

tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-

mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter

to winter again. So this life of man appears for a

little while, but of what is to follow or what went before

we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine

tells us something more certain, it seems

justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The above quotation from “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” by the Venerable Bede, is likely more legend than history. But what a powerful image of the fleeting nature of life. King Edwin’s adviser knew that this life is short and that what comes before and after is vast and mysterious. He also knew that some certainty could give life purpose and meaning. Even the Christian mourns the dead and trembles at the thought of losing his grip on life, yet we live lives anchored in hope that what we do here, in the short time we are here, matters. We have some glimpses of eternity from scripture but in the end we don’t know that much more than Edwin’s adviser. We only know in whom we have placed our trust, and that He will be with us in whatever awaits that vast world beyond.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Caged Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

This poem, by Maya Angelou is a wonderful parable about privledge and oppression. It was no doubt drawn from Angelou’s experience in the segregated South, but it’s universal message speaks for all oppressed peoples everywhere. It is also a powerful reminder to those of us who fly freely that the sky is not our own. In fact, Christ promised that it was the poor who would receive the Kingdom of heaven and the persecuted that would be called children of God. It was the slaves, not the Pharaoh, that God demonstrated His power to in the wilderness. To be on the side of God is to sing for the caged bird.

 Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students’ innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

image

This great poem by Billy Collins reminds of the essential truth that we must bear witness to the darkness of the past if we are to strive toward a brighter future. To shelter children from the more brutal aspects of our history is to deny them their lessons. God repeatedly in scripture instructs us to teach His laws to our children. Education is about more than the mere recitation of facts. It is also about moral development. Perhaps the 34th Psalm puts it best: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…