The shepherd has his flock…..

IMG_0026The concept of a job description may seem like a twentieth century invention but in fact it’s really just a new word for something we have always known. That is? What we do actually defines us in the eyes of others. So the shop worker becomes a nameless face behind a counter who wasn’t good enough to become a doctor. The doctor, in turn, moves from the old names of sawbones or quack to become a shining example of the salvation of mankind. The man who empties the bins is still lowly despite the fact that if he didn’t you would be neck deep in your old pizza boxes, and the civil servant will always be a conniving bastard who is polluted by the power he wields. The knowledge of the job creates an expectation of what the character of the worker actually is. The titles become archetypes where everyone doing that job will fall into the same traits and behaviors. We don’t question it, we don’t try to find out whether the shop worker is only doing it because they actually like meeting and helping people. The doctor may have scraped through to pursue his passion for the drugs that he should be prescribing to his patients. The bin man may be able to quote you Homer in four languages and then explain the meaning of life. He may believe the meaning of life is that a world without rubbish everywhere is a better world. And the civil servant? Well it may just be possible that he believes working within the system allows him to make the world a little better for everyone.

The same is true of the ancient job descriptions. In the ancient world it was always good to be king right? Well if you avoided the poison in your dinner, the contenders for the throne, and the red hot poker up the bum then certainly you could have some fun. In turn the peasant who worked the king’s fields was always a half creature born of mud and ignorance. Little more than a rutting animal to be used and not considered as anything but property. Their job was to fill the Lord’s granaries and storehouses, provide bodies if there was a war, and say “thank you” for the privilege. Jobs defining how one group looked at another without question or having to look at individuals. It’s good to be the king!

When it comes to the church the same is true. If we look at the titles we find king of kings, we find shepherds, we find fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, prostitutes, and soldiers. Again we are brought back to archetypes, misunderstanding is encouraged so that we see ourselves and others in particular ways and when we do we are triggered to react accordingly. Why? Because the church still sees us and has taught us to believe that we are still peasants of the old job description and there to work for them without question and with the risk of loosing our livelihood or as some call it place in heaven. Life was brutal in the middle ages my friend, and perhaps we should look to how far we have progressed as a society and begin to ask for new job descriptions.

Two that truly offend me are the concepts of fishermen and shepherds. Two jobs that have been totally misrepresented by the church and we in our peasant state have accepted them in as a bucolic ideal. After all the shepherd is there to care for the sheep isn’t he? There he stands, a willowy figure in his beribboned waistcoat playing his pipes to his lady love as he gazes over his gorgeous flock. Its also always summer and there might be a chance of dancing with nymphs later if he’s lucky. The image of the shepherd is the same now as it was for Marie Antoinette. Likewise the fisherman is always strong in the arm and brave for challenging and beating the sea. He provides the world with food and is always a “good” man. When we apply the titles to the church leaders and ourselves we are rewarded with a warm, fuzzy feeling like reading a fairy tale.

When we place the minister in the position of shepherd, we put the ribbons on his hat because he should look right for the job. We feel secure and safe because he’s there complete with crook and pipes leading us through that endless summer, finding the best places for us to feed before he brings us safely home. Oh, and we as the flock look so cute, all fluffy and white and just picture perfect. We, cute little lambs that we know ourselves to be, are kept safe from the wolf and all we need to do is baa in time to the pipes.

As christians we talk about ourselves being fishers of men. We see ourselves as challenging the world as the man in the boat does to the ocean, casting our nets and bringing in the people of the world to Christ.

I’m sorry but as metaphors the shepherd and the fisherman are just complete and utter bollocks.

The average shepherd would remind you that there are no ribbons and sadly no nymphs. His is a hard life sleeping in the fields, lashed by rain and frozen by snow with the product trying its hardest to kill itself by falling into rivers, getting stuck in mud, or walking happily into a predator’s throat. The image in our mind of the sheep across the shepherds shoulders is also a myth. In the end its three hundred pounds of kicking, bucking weight and unless you seriously need to there is no way you would want those hooves near your throat. The work is hard, painfully so, and the sheep are not coiffed from the salon. Thanks to a dunk in the sheep dip you can make them barely acceptable healthwise. Its all you can do is remind yourself of why you put up with dangleberries, blue tongue, foot rot, and fleece rot. You do it not for the benefit of sheep as a species but for the money at the end of the day.

True the shepherd will find the best places to eat but he wants the fleece from your back as reward and when he finally leads you home its to the slaughter. You are not there to be pretty and enjoy life, you are there so he can make money. You are in the end the profit and the bottom line to his own continued existence and comfort.

Sounds like the job description of a priest to me. Control the flock, fleece it, and eat it. You may feel safe but he isn’t leading you to a heavenly home he’s making sure you produce more lambs so his profits increase and he will work so hard and dirty to achieve it. Why else would the latest pope just happen to also come from the continent which is the strongest bastion of Catholic belief……. The largest flock, the most new lambs and the money is good.

I have a friend who keeps sheep. He will definitely tell you he doesn’t do it so the sheep have a wonderful life and die peacefully in their sleep with their great grandlambs gathered round the bed in an atmosphere of sublime goodness. No he wants the wool, he wants the meat, he wants the money and in the end the sheep need to be healthy and stress free because that makes for more lambs for next season. Offer him a ribboned hat he’s punch your lights out though knowing him he would quite like the nymphs. So when you call the priest your shepherd I would suggest you remember the reality and go with the mountain goats.

Similarly the fisherman works in dangerous conditions because he wants something. When he casts his nets there are holes, if there are big holes he’s only wanting big fish. The biggest cod or tuna are trapped while the ones which are less profitable swim through the holes. If you are a greedier fisherman you use a net with tiny holes so you grab everything from the sea. Then you just have to pick through your catch throwing away what you deem unworthy, usually damaged in the process so they die, and then take the best back to be devoured. In the second method everything is damaged and ultimately dies for the good of the fisherman, so yes a great metaphor for christians. We look good when we bring a fellow human to Christ and help them gain their salvation but and lets be honest, how many christians are going into the streets and trying to save the ones who are a bit smelly or might challenge our right to feel good about their conversion, who don’t blindly accept your view? In the end neither the welfare of the sheep or the fish is the principle goal its the bringing in of a bountiful harvest which matters. You have been told stories to make you feel good and it is time to get up and stop allowing yourselves to be treated like the ignorant peasants they want you to be and start claiming your true job titles.

My own job title is one that wouldn’t have been known to Christ which is a shame. I like to think he would have commanded us to becomes “gardeners of men” rather than “fishers” and told our priests to become the “head gardeners”. So let me give you the skinny on what it means to be a “gardener of Christ”.

We get up early, we walk out in the rain and the snow and the blistering sun. We shovel the horse shit that will turn into something beneficial to the plants. We get scratched by the thorns, break our back lifting heavy wheelbarrows, use all our skill to give the plants the best chance they have to be truly beautiful. As head gardeners we teach the other gardeners to increase their skills and to ensure that the end result is a beautiful garden. Whether we are under or head gardener our role is to nurture the plants we care for, and each other, so that the lady of the house has roses on her dining table.

Every plant is there because it is meant to be. Every plant has benefit. Even the weeds are only weeds in the rose garden, in the wildflower meadow and the woodlands that we also care for, they are essential and beautiful. In its right place every plant shines and is able to increase its numbers. As a human I look at my fellow men just as I do the plants I care for. All are beautiful and all have worth. Some are roses and some are thistles but all deserve the same degree of care and have the right to make their environment beautiful. Alas and alack there were no gardeners in Christ’s time or I think he would have liked the allegory for his followers. Go become gardeners of men, nurture the flowers that your father in heaven has placed in this world in their proper place and let them increase and make the world more beautiful. Yep. Sounds a bit like “love one another as I have loved you” without a job title.

True gardeners have to hold our hand up and admit we use words like prune and train. Unlike the shepherd who prunes his flock for profit, we prune to remove the things which will ultimately kill the plant. In the end we do it to allow the plant to be more beautiful not because we want anything more from it. The skill of a good gardener is to make sure everything is in balance. Enough food but not too much or too little, the right habitats to bring in the beneficial insects, shade if shade is needed or full sun. Its also an inclusive club. You have to have a boat to be a fisherman and you have to be trained to be a shepherd. A gardener’s wage is small for a job well done and the right to come back tomorrow and do it again. We have no right to sell the flowers we grow because they are the property of the owner. Our job is the make the garden beautiful and our reward is our wage.

If the garden is the people of this world, if the owner is God, our reward for nurturing the people of this world, our wage becomes heaven.

So perhaps its time as Christians to see our fellow humans differently. Not to be thrown away for being the wrong sized fish as a fisherman would, or slaughtered when we need meat and shorn when we need the fleece. Rather to be seen as living beings to be nurtured for our own intrinsic beauty and according to our own habit. In the end who would you prefer turning their attention on you? A fisherman who could damage and discard you for not being good enough, a shepherd who will raise you to be slaughtered, or a gardener who sees the true beauty of you and who has dedicated himself to your care so you can achieve the very best possible.

When you place a priest in authority over you perhaps you should insist their job description is a little more about your being nurtured.

Oh lord let me be a gardener to this world because that way every one is beautiful and acceptable and all are able to grow for your pleasure as you created them. Some in your rose garden and some in your meadows but all beautiful and fruitful as you intended. And where needed give me the strength to shovel the shit they need to grow. Amen.

When I look at the world this is my prayer.

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