There is an African proverb that counsels, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am sure of this, based on my son’s and grandchildren’s experience of caring adults, who took an interest in them, providing advice, guidance, mentoring, and in Matt’s case an introduction that opened doors to success.
I think it also takes a village to support an adult. Even if we love solitude, we all need a community – friends and family of origin, or a family we choose if our own family experiences have been traumatic – to help us find our moral compass, spiritual center, and path in life. We need communities of conscience and care, filled with all sorts of interesting and sometimes quirky people, quite fallible, yet willing to take us as we are in our own wondrous humanity. People who are kind, even when they challenge us.
For most of my life, I’ve lived with Winnie the Pooh’s peaceable kingdom, the 100 Aker Wood, that has inspired children for nearly hundred years. I read Winnie the Pooh to my son, and I rediscovered Winnie and his friends when my own little pooh bears, Jack and James, came on the scene, and I learned once more the joy of children’s stories, the 100 Aker Wood, and bears that talk and donkeys who complain.
I found a gospel in the critters of the 100 Aker Wood, a community where everyone knows your name, sees your imperfections, and accepts you anyway. A community where kindness rules in word and deed. That’s good news – that’s the gospel – to be accepted just as you are, and loved in all your unique quirkiness.
In fact, that’s what church is at its best, isn’t it? That’s what that first group of disciples were – men and women – cowardly and brave, big spirited and sometimes narrow minded, faithful and doubting, whose very uniqueness became the rock upon which the Jesus movement emerged.
The thing about the gospel, the thing about Jesus, is that he always saw more than meets the eye, and always brought out the best in you, and even if the best didn’t seem particularly good, Jesus found a way to use imperfection to bring something beautiful into the world. That’s the gospel according to Winnie the Pooh, as well; the realm of stuffed animals coming to life through the spirit of A.A. Milne’s Christ-bearer, Christopher Robin.
Take Eeyore, he’s always dour and ready to look for the dark cloud on any sunny day, and yet as actor George Takei from Star Trek says, “One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.” In the church at its best, we welcome folk just as they are, the one in the pew next to you, or the homeless person who wanders into the Niche or church office. We are kind even when we disagree.
Or take Piglet, always a little anxious, after all he’s a Small Animal and the world is so big, and yet in a pinch, it’s Piglet who saves the day, summoning all his courage to rescue his friends from danger. Here, we take little ones, and give them a dream and tools to become larger than they imagined – that’s what Jesus did with the boy with five loaves and two fish, whose generosity fed a multitude.
Or look at Rabbit the micro manager, suspicious of strangers or anything that’s unfamiliar. He’s the apostle of “we’ve always done it this way.” He likes the way church was in the good old days, and worries that strangers will destroy our way of life. His bluntness can hurt. And, yet, he overcomes his suspicion of strangers and makes new friends with those strange animals who come to the Wood, Kanga and Roo.
Or Kanga and Roo, who come without documentation, strangers in a strange land, and give heart to the community.
Or Owl who uses big words – reminding everyone he’s the smartest critter in the Wood. The problem is: no one understands him and once he gets talking, he doesn’t even understand himself. Yet, he is loved; the brightest and the simplest belong in God’s realm.
Then there’s exuberant Tigger, hopping through the forest, talking loudly, and sprinting up the aisles of the church just to show how happy he is, a regular nuisance, disrupting the order of worship – sometimes during the pastor’s prayer. And yet his messy spirituality is as real as the pastor’s or the most ardent believer.
And, that honey-driven Pooh, who meanders throughout the Wood, always in search of a snack or a honey bee hive, a bear of little brain, but all heart and all love. He saves the day, by reminding us that love is the only thing that really matters, and that when we love God and one another, we’ll be the church God wants whether we are fifty or two hundred, and whether we worship on the sands of Craigville Beach, the woods of Craigville Conference Center, or the green in Hyannis.
In the 100 Aker Wood, they all belong, they’re all needed, and together they bring out the best in each other just like that “body of Christ,” described by the apostle Paul….everyone needed, everyone important, everyone having a gift to share….
Today, in our community lunch, we’ll be thinking of our church’s vision for the future. We need a polestar; we need dreams and possibilities to lure us forward, and remind us that God is the God of possibility and adventure and abundance, and that when we protest about what we don’t have, God reminds us that right here, in what we perceive to be limits, new life is waiting to be born.
One day, Piglet asks Winnie the Pooh: “When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
Pooh responds with “What’s for breakfast,” and then asks Piglet about his first thoughts of the day. To which Piglet responds, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”
What’s going to happen exciting today? That’s the message of Winnie and his friends, and it’s the message of the gospels. You never know when God will show up – and God always does – to bring something adventurous into our lives and to call us from the familiar to the exciting and the predictable to a holy adventure.
Yes, it takes a village to raise a Christian….so, sing ho, my friends, God is with us and we can reclaim the holy child in each of us…. and wherever we are, will be home….
“So they went off together. But wherever they go and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”