Heidi and James and I are at the Noah Conference this weekend, along with a lot of our family and about 2000 friends. We’ve had a lot of great conversations, a lot of exciting stories, and heard a lot of great lectures. Five of the Botkin kids also got to give a talk this afternoon, entitled “What Our Parents Taught Us to Do with Our Lives” where we talked about nine spiritual tools that they gave us to build with.
When our parents were raising us, they gave us specific goals, goals like service, making disciples, meeting needs, and ultimately seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. But they also gave of a lot of tools to help us work to meet those goals. The list of things that our parents worked hard to give us is unending, but for the sake of brevity, my siblings and I sat down and we distilled nine really key tools:
Last week Douglas Wilson wrote an excellent blog post mentioning Calvinball, a game invented by Calvin and Hobbes author Bill Watterson. While Wilson’s main point is the need for Christians to maintain consistent definitions in the cultural battles that rage around us, he got me thinking about what a brilliant metaphor Calvinball is for the aggressive relativism of our day.
Bill Watterson, easily the best comic strip writer and artist since Walt Kelly, was an extremely gentle satirist. While he would occasionally poke fun at academic double-speak, the shallowness of mass media, or modern artists, I’m sure that Calvinball was not meant to represent the philosophical system behind post-modern thought. It’s merely the spontaneous creation of an extremely self-centered six-year-old trying to have everything his own way. On second thought, how could the game not exactly reflect the liberal ideal of total moral relativism?
Calvinball is the perfect representation of a game with no rules, no standards, and nothing to stop you from changing absolutely everything about the game all of the time. As Doug Wilson points out, there’s no point in playing a game, or having a conversation, when the definitions are totally fluid and even the goal of the argument is in flux. For one thing, it becomes impossible keep track of the score.
When I lived in New Zealand, I learned a little bit about the sheep business. It’s handled differently there than in the rest of the world, particularly on the South Island, where sheep farmers run exceptionally large flocks. The typical practice is to send the sheep out to forage for themselves, up into the hills and mountains, and there isn’t much messing around with fences and paddocks. At shearing time, the sheep are mustered together back at the station, usually by part-time hands using dogs and ATVs. After the sheep are sheared and dipped, they get sent back into the wilderness to continue fending for themselves.
New Zealand’s average flock size is 3000 ewes, with an estimated 7000 sheep per shepherd ratio. This farming method really only works because this unique island nation has a very mild climate, a great abundance of forage, and a complete lack of predators. The rest of the world is generally less forgiving to wandering sheep.
In the Bible, we see Jacob and Moses leading their flocks far, far afield in search of food and water. David has to defend his sheep from lions and bears. Psalm 23 describes a shepherd as being constantly close to his flock, providing all of their sustenance, protection, and comfort. He goes into the wilderness with his flock. He experiences all of the same discomforts and dangers that they do, no matter if it is rough terrain, bad weather, or deadly beasts.
While there are many American megachurches that to follow the Kiwi model – sending thousands of sheep wandering into the wilderness to look after themselves, only sporadically rounding them up for fleecing and dipping – the New Testament makes it clear that elders and deacons are meant to imitate the shepherds of the Old Testament. 1 Peter 5, after four chapters of exhorting us to put off unrighteousness and put on more holy behavior, even in trials, says this: