The Horse Parable
There once was a poor old man who owned a beautiful white horse.
Whenever noblemen passed through the village, they always noticed the horse and offered handsome sums of money for the stallion. But the old man always declined their offers, saying, "This horse is my friend. How can I sell my friend?"
One morning the old man awoke to find the horse was gone. The village people gathered and said, "Old man you were a fool not to sell the horse. You could have been wealthy! Now it has been stolen, and you have nothing. It is a great misfortune!" But the old man replied, "Don't go so far as to say that. Whether the horse was stolen or not, or whether it is a misfortune or a blessing, is unknown. All we know is that the horse is not in the stable."
Some days later the horse returned, bringing with it several beautiful wild mares. Again the village people gathered, and they said, "Old man you were right! The horse was not stolen, and it was not a misfortune. It was a blessing, and now you have many fine horses!" But the old man replied, "Again you go too far. Don't say it's a good thing, don't say it's a bad thing. Just say the horse is back. Whether it is a blessing or a misfortune is unknown."
Some days later the old man's only son began to train the wild mares, but he was thrown and trampled, and one of his legs was badly broken. Again the village people gathered. "Oh old man, you were right! It was not a blessing but a great misfortune, and now your only son is lame! With a sigh the old man replied, "Don't say it's a good thing, don't say it's a bad thing, just say my son has broken his leg. Whether it is a blessing or a misfortune is unknown."
It happened that a few weeks later the country went to war, and all the able bodied young men were forcibly taken for the military. Only the old man's son was passed over, because he was crippled. The whole village was crying and weeping, for they believed their sons would probably be killed and never come home to them. In their grief they came to the old man and said, "You were right old man, your son's injury has proven to be a blessing. Your son may be crippled, but he is with you, while our sons are gone forever! The old man simply shook his head and said, "Will you never learn? Only say that your sons have been forced into the military and my son has not. More than that is not known."
-- attributed to Catherine Marie Heath
I love this parable. It highlights how we create so much misery for ourselves by attaching value to a particular experience. Poor me, I have to go to the doctor. Poor me, my family is in a shambles. Poor me, I didn’t get the promotion. I am so lucky to get that parking spot. Jesus loves me because I got the job, etc.
I think the American church could learn from this parable. We have been up and down, but the only worthwhile thing has always been cultivating the love of God. That may sound trite, but I think it really is the only thing the church has going for it. It is our raison d’être.
Throughout our history we have been pushed and shoved around with no voice in the public square. But at certain points in history we got a bit of power. Once we had a sense of agency we decided to do the pushing around. As far as I can tell the church has the clearest witness in history when it is not entangled with power, money and prestige. That is not a reason to avoid politics. It is a warning not to curry favor from politicians. MLK turned down a government appointment because he knew his ministry would be over on his first day in that office.
Like in the Horse Parable, I don’t know much about the trajectory of my life. I am working to resist labeling an experience as good or bad. I would do well to remember what my kid’s teacher in PreK said, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.“ Back to the horse parable from the beginning - the only issue I would take with it is a theological one. I don’t think stoicism is heroism. The only way I can detach from my judgmental attitude is not through force of will but through remembering, ”Jesus loves me this I know ‘cause the bible tells me so.” My guy, Jesus, is watching my back and that is enough.
Labeling and worrying about the future is literally killing all of us. What will happen, might happen, won’t happen, and should happen are like the four horsemen of the apocalypse against our peace. However; maybe they can also be our friend. Worry reminds us that we need to repent. Freaking out, watching cable news, staring at your newsfeed on your phone at 5am (guilty as charged), pontificating about the decline of Christianity in the marketplace won’t serve the purposes of the Kingdom of God and don’t bring us closer to the lord of life.
In a paradoxical way – I believe worry and freaking out is a form of irresponsibility. We have no “right” to freak out. If we think of ourselves as anything but grateful beggars before Jesus, we start flailing around and pierce ourselves with many sorrows. Worry is the poor relation to responsibility.
Responsibility is different. It is like worry, but it is engaged and non-judgemental. Working to make things better is far different from throwing our hands in the air about the decline of western civilization. The next time you start fretting, or hear someone fretting around the dinner table, I am almost certain they are not taking any actual steps to fix the problem they are bemoaning.
Ascension’s Annual Meeting
We had our annual meeting on February 5. I asked the congregation not to worry about budgets and Sunday attendance. I challenged them to seek the renewal of their minds and the renewal of Ascension as their first priority. If we repent of worry and focus on Christ we are going to be a happier people, a renewed people. I really do think God will help Ascension accomplish more than we can ask or imagine. If we let God be in charge by casting our worries on Her, we’re on the right track. I pray that our community will rediscover our responsibility and privilege to be agents of peace and joy.
Ssh don’t tell anyone, but happy churches grow regardless of their current size. When new people come and see that Ascension is grounded in the joy of Jesus, they will stick. We don’t make a great community by fussing over the funding level of various ministries. We don’t make a great community by scaring newcomers with our grousing. We don’t make a great community even through strategic planning, without the secret sauce of joy.
Joy is so life giving for newcomers and old-timers that it is hard to overstate. Worried churches freak out people and they don’t come back. Joyful churches invite other to join in the work of Jesus. As more people join in the mission of the church, the problems of stewardship and attendance sort of fix themselves.
Maybe I am Pollyanna. We are lucky that we live where we do, and lucky we have Episcopal churches focused on the grace and mercy of Jesus. We are ideally situated at Ascension to get back to the basics - love God and don’t be a jerk. I really have a sense that 2017 is going to be special, because we will choose joy and renewal over worry and decay.
I want to leave you with my favorite band from the college days -The Verve. They are not to be confused with the The Verve Pipe - those guys are bad hombre losers – sad. Not really, both bands are good, but I love the song “Lucky Man” from The Verve. I think it expresses well what I have tried to say over this blog post and last - the sense of joy and wonder that we are alive.
More or less
It's just a change in me
Something in my liberty
But how many corners do I have to turn?
How many times do I have to learn
All the love I have is in my mind?
Well, I'm a lucky man
With fire in my hands
I hope you understand
I hope you understand
Gotta love that'll never die
We are lucky my friends. Who knows what arrangements God has in store for us? Regardless if we are blessed with a life of sweet luxury or brutal grind, we have a love in Christ that will never die. No worries “mon”. Christians - let’s worry a little less about our future, and enjoy the present presence of God. If we get a thriving church thrown on top of all that - great, but it ain’t never been the point
As the man in the horse parable says -Whether it is a blessing or a misfortune is unknown. The only thing we can know for sure is that God has our back.