Civility

Cabbages and Kings

Like a fly on a wall, I too can eavesdrop. I overhear because I am overlooked. Like God. Sometimes I get an earful.

Recently our pastor preached a sermon on “Civility.” His text was “Be ye kind one to another” (Eph. 4:32). Many in our congregation are. They shower the sick with get-well cards, pray for each other, and live together in peace. Yet sometimes some members remind me of those boys kicking each other in the shins during prayer time. I hear gossip, for instance. And backbiting.

Being a mouse, I suppose I am especially sensitive to unkind remarks likening people to creatures in my world: “So- and-so has the disposition of a BEAR. Look at the old HEN. Brother so-and-so is a dirty DOG. The richest member is a fat CAT. The young people who didn’t clean up after their party are a bunch of PIGS. That RAT betrayed me. The lady with the ample proportions is a COW. The leading elder is an old FOX. His son is a SNAKE in the grass. The person in the front row of the balcony looks down like a HAWK. Old HIPPO at the church picnic was WOLFing down a dozen hot dogs. Old EAGLE Eyes is telling all about it. What a SKUNK. The lady in the choir has FISH eyes. And has a WORM for a husband. Did you see the preacher run for the bus? He runs like an ELEPHANT. That guy’s son was caught breaking curfew, but he WEASLEd out of it. He’s got BATS in the belfry. His mother is MOUSY. His sister is a BIRDbrain. His other sister, who knows everything about everybody, is a FERRET.”

Why do people use us lower creatures to make unkind cuts? I’ve heard them all in church. I take it personally when people ask, “What are you—a man or a mouse?” Haven’t they ever heard of Mighty Mouse? And what about Mickey and Minnie, whom parents take their children to see? And what about computers that cannot be operated unless you use a mouse?

In the animal world we have canonized Aesop, our patron saint. He wrote a story about one of my ancestors who freed Mr. Lion—our king who was entangled in a trap. A beast who once had my great-granddaddy in his paw and who let him go instead of eating him. The fright of my ancestor put Mr. Lion in a friendly mood. He thereupon found himself entrapped and beyond hope of escape.

Our king filled the forest with his roar. Grandpa, recognizing the voice of his former captor, came running and, without wasting a moment, set to work nibbling at the knot that held his king. Grandpa’s teeth were sharp. It wasn’t long before the noble beast was set at liberty.

Saint Aesop, in telling the story, made an observation. He wrote, “An act of kindness (of the lion) is a good investment.” Our preacher could have used this story in his sermon on “Civility.”

In an earlier article I mentioned C.S. Lewis, who had a copy of Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows—stories about Mr. Mole sculling down the river, and Ratty, Mr. Toad, and Mr. Badger. Lewis was as brainy as they come. A devout Christian too. This great man with his great mind loved animals.

I wish all Christians did. Pigs are intelligent. A dog is man’s best friend. What would your world be without us? It’s not nice when some of you refer to others of you as the south end of a horse. God loves us. He made us. The Bible tells everybody to treat each other kindly. So be kind to each other, just like the preacher says. Let me be so presumptuous as to make a suggestion that will help you in applying the preacher’s message:

Be kind to us lower creatures, and avoid using us as insults in your descriptions of each other. It will help you in practicing mutual civility.

About the Author

Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga was pastor emeritus of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He went to be with his Lord March 1, 2008. This column concludes his popular “Cabbages and Kings” series, which he wrote for 40 consecutive years. Watch for It’s All Grace, a collection of his best and more recent columns to be published in book form this fall by Faith Alive Christian Resources.
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