Alumnus Andrew Weeda is ministering in New York for a short term missions trip. Follow his stories here:
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Stories sound different when you’re the listener instead of the reader. Ever notice that? You hear things for the first time. You pick up on themes you’d missed before. And often times, the storyline comes in at a different angle, which can knock you off your feet if you’re not careful.Well, the other night I wasn’t careful.
Bedtime for our three kiddos can get a bit crazy. Eventually, though, they settle in for a bedtime story. Usually the kids pick the story and Amy or I read it. This particular night, however, Hope had assumed the role of reader. Night off for Mom and Dad. The story: “Princess Grace and the Little Lost Kitten.”
“Once upon a time…” the story began, as all really good bedtime stories begin. Then imagination kicks in. The story is set with a castle on a hill and a king with five princess daughters, each named for biblical character. Grace is the adventurous one. Drama and dilemma typify her day. The author doesn’t list birth order, but she’s probably the youngest.
The opening scene: Grace has slid down a lengthy banister and knocked over a vase of flowers. In her efforts to clean up she finds a litter of five kittens in a nearby closet. You’re doing the math aren’t you? Five princesses and five kittens, along with some spoiled princess pleading, is argument enough to convince the King to keep the kittens for his daughters. The furry bunch is doled out to the girls and, wouldn’t you know, Grace ends up with the adventurous one.
One morning, the kittens were called in for breakfast and Grace’s kitten was missing. She searched high and low, but her kitten was lost. The King ordered a search of the entire kingdom. “Bring her back safely to the castle,” the King declared. I know, you’re thinking the same thing as me. It’s a kitten! Search the whole kingdom? Seriously? At any rate, the search begins in haste. All day the search went on throughout the whole kingdom. Where could this kitten have gone?
As the day drew to a close, the princesses came upon “the Black Woods.” If you say it just right, it sounds frightening and adds to the dramatic appeal. It’s the kind of place with eerie noises and damp undergrowth. (Spoiler Alert!) As things would have it, Grace, along with her sisters, maneuvered the woods with courage and found the lost kitten. She tucked the wet little heap in her cape and they all rode back to the castle where their Father, the King, greeted the girls and the kitten with great joy.
The whole story sounds a bit like the parables Jesus told in Luke 15, doesn’t it? I think it’s supposed to. You may remember the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. They are all very similar in some senses. These stories have always struck a chord with me, as my own story of being lost and finally found by Christ Jesus proceeds with more than a few similarities.
Indeed, it has never been difficult for me to identifying with the sheep who blindly lumbers away from the flock, falls between the rocks, and is eventually found by the shepherd. Nor has it ever been a trick for me to identify with the coin that tumbles from the table, bounces and rolls about the floor, finally getting lodged between the floor boards beneath a cabinet, and is eventually found by the woman. And certainly it has never been a challenge for me to identifying with the son who considers his father dead, takes his inheritance and squanders it away, winds up living in squalor, and eventually comes to his senses and humbly returns to his Father.
Nope, identifying with those hasn’t been much of a wrestling match, any more than it has catching onto and identifying with the story of the lost kitten. (I just can’t picture myself as a kitten.) I suspect most of us who live in the shadow of the cross of Christ can easily pin ourselves into those stories and be found humbled by the great lengths God has traveled and enormous cost He has paid in pursuit of us. But, with all the similarities these stories share, both with each other and with our lives, there are a few differences. You’ve noticed them before, I’m sure.
The first two stories are much shorter than the last one. In the first two stories someone goes searching for what was lost. In the last, what was lost is found by returning home. And in the last story, the one about the lost son, there is an additional character with no direct parallel part to the first two stories: the older son.
Ever noticed him there? He’s somewhat forgettable. Maybe because, as I mentioned, he has no parallel part in the other stories. Maybe because most children’s renderings of the story don’t make it so far as to include him. Maybe also because he’s not a hero. In Rembrandt’s painting, “Return of the Prodigal Son,” the older son is just standing against the wall out of the way, totally missing what God is doing. Sometimes Christians just kind of stand against the wall out of the way too, don’t we?
Ever stop to identify with the older son? Mostly, I haven’t…until recently. Who wants to? His smug demeanor smacks of piety and stinks of pride. Makes you wonder which son was really lost. None of us would balk at joyfully celebrating the salvation of a brother, or sister, or friend; even a friend who gossips a bit much and doesn’t discipline her kids the way we would and still gets tangled up in Saturday night sins. Why would we; many of us having been around the Christian faith for years, become angry and refuse to join the “lost and found” celebration of our neighbor, even though they have maligned us or stolen from us or lied to our face? Or that of a stranger; a smelly stranger even, with dirty hands, who lives in a trailer on the other side of town and who sat next to us in church, or in our seat even, and who sings too loud and off key and doesn’t make much sense when he talks? That would be ludicrous not to rejoice in that! Yeah, comparing ourselves to the older son feels distant. It’s like we don’t understand someone who is impatient, skeptical, fearful, critical, stingy, insecure, selfish, cynical, envious, joyless, or jealous? I mean, none of us are those things.
You may remember, when Jesus was telling these stories, there was a clique of Pharisees within earshot. A cursory study of the text quickly turns up a parallel between this older son in the story and the Pharisees lingering nearby. I’ve always wondered if they drew that parallel too. I wonder if we will? The last thing we want to do is try to draw parallels between us and the older son. I know that.
But he’s there. Isn’t he?
The story of the lost kitten didn’t have an older son type…or so I thought. As Hope wrapped up the story she read about the King’s joyful greeting upon receiving back the kitten along with his daughters and how he “led them into the ballroom for a huge feast and a special dish of cream for Poppy (the kitten who was lost and was now found),” and I kid you not, the thought that went through my mind – and I had never thought this all the times I read it myself, but here I was the listener hearing the story at a different angle – and the thought that went through my mind was: Why should the kitten get a special dish of cream for wandering off and causing such a fuss of urgency throughout the kingdom?
I guess the story did have an “older son” after all.
It’s up to you, but if you have time and courage, you may ask someone to read you the story of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32. Be the listener for once, but be willing to be knocked off your feet.
Andrew Weeda is a graduate of Western Seminary. Read more of his writing at his blog, branchtown.
By Andrew Weeda
Look around you right now. Do you see them? Shadows?
Your monitor has a shadow somewhere. Your fingers on the keyboard or by the mouse; there are shadows around there. The chair you’re sitting in, the books on the shelf, the flowers on the table, the lamp in your living room…shadows somewhere around there.
Most of the time we miss shadows. We aren’t trained to admire them, much less notice them. And I’m not sure we ought to admire them. There isn’t much there to admire. But one day I did…
I’m a craftsman. That’s a broad term and it touches lots of things in my life. One thing it touches is my love for woodworking. I have a space in a pole building that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to a marvelously generous person and it is filled with tools and wood. It’s where I retreat. It’s where I put my hands to work and make things I can see and smell and touch. Being a pastor doesn’t often yield such a gift.
A couple weeks ago I was in my space and my hands were at work. I was using some wood putty to fill small gaps in the joints I had been cutting. All of a sudden and all at once – and maybe this has happened to you – several things occurred that stirred me to the point of overwhelm or wonder or curiosity, or something like that.
The sun emerged from behind the clouds. Sunlight poured in through the window where I was working. Sharp lined shadows from my work piece appeared on my arms and chest. Dark shadows rushed into the gaps I had yet to fill. Lengthy shadows from the jar of wood putty and other tools spread about my work table pointed back at me. Sparkling shadows from the wood dust that always hangs in the air danced around my nose.
My eyes narrowed to slow the glare and my finger tips warmed. And as my mind swiveled to take in this spontaneous assault on my mind and senses, these lines from an old hymn made new streamed from my mp3 player into the lit up space:
“While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
clouds will over spread the sky;
but when trav’ling days are over,
not a shadow, not a sigh.”
The hymn continued with the familiar chorus celebrating the day of rejoicing it will be when we all get to heaven. But I was all a halt. What in the world was that? I thought to myself. I spun my stool around and hopped off, taking care to not trip over the web of power cords I often weave. I stood back and looked around the space. Even with the lights on the space felt dark compared to the light splashed across my work table and onto the floor. I opened the door and stood there in the warmth for several seconds. I turned and there was my shadow on the floor, long and narrow. Then I began to pace through the yard outside the pole building.
The massive cedar trees and bulky maples…shadows. The fence posts and wire fencing…shadows. The bean poles and other garden remains…shadows. The water spigot, the chicken coop, my car, every blade of grass, the burn pile, each piece of gravel, the two dogs, the dried up flower stems, the bird near the gate, the pole building itself…shadows cast from everything, everywhere I looked!
Now I know this is not breaking news. The science of shadows is ages old and rather elementary. The presence of directional light cast upon an object of certain mass produces a darkened outline of that object representing space the direct light can’t fill. Yada, yada, yada.
And this was surely not the first time I had ever seen a shadow. I’ve played shadow tag with my kids. I’ve spent hours reading or sleeping in the shadow of a backyard tree. I’ve kicked plenty of unseen toys out of the shadows with bare feet. No, the presence of shadows was not what captured me this day. Rather, the future absence of shadows, like the song suggested, was what stole me away from my craft.
We can go nowhere and not experience shadows. (A double negative seemed appropriate there.) My list of shadows observed is less than exhaustive, but you get the idea. Bury yourself under blankets, turn the lights out in the basement, hike to the back of a cave; no matter, there you are in a shadow. As the line in the hymn indicates, even when the sun goes behind clouds, we still travel the earth in the shadow of the clouds. As you think that through, think about this: When the sun goes down we don’t merely encounter nightfall. We encounter the shadow of the horizon, or perhaps better yet, the shadow of the earth itself….
Read the rest of Andrew’s article at his blog, branchtown.
By Andrew Weeda
Christmas is now back there, behind us. Ask anyone at the mall or at work, “When’s Christmas?” The response flies with a duh tone: “We just had it.” Indeed, we did. The Christmas season and its subsequent 12 days are in the rearview mirror.
For some of you the road may still be straight away. A glimpse in the rearview mirror as you leave the season still shows a finely decorated tree in the window, a brightly lit home lined with colorful lights, and loved ones waving goodbye from the front porch.
By Andrew Weeda
Andrew Weeda is a Western Seminary graduate who blogs at “Branchtown.“
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