first published September 22, 2011
I feel like a shepherd a lot of times. If I’m not shepherding singers than it’s a husband or parent or child. At least I think they need it…sometimes they disagree. And while it hasn’t yet been asked of me to lay down my life, as The Good Shepherd did for us, I have certainly put aside personal preferences and needs at a given moment for the sake of my flock.
The 1995 film Babe, one of my favorites, gives lessons in how to be – and how not to be – a shepherd. The border collies, which do the work of herding sheep on Hoggett’s farm, have a strong-armed method of dealing with the sheep, and the male dog, Rex, is heard frequently muttering about the stupidity of the sheep. While not a bad soul, his methods don’t necessarily bring out the best in the sheep, who do often live up to his low expectations. Babe, the pig, finds his talent for herding the sheep comes with a gentler approach. “Please madam, would you mind standing over there?” gets better results and Babe goes on to win the National Sheepdog Trials.
We have a saying about trapping more flies with honey than vinegar, but I’m not sure shepherding is about trapping anybody and I certainly don’t think it’s about manipulating someone into doing something. Jesus, in the image often assigned to him of shepherd, didn’t trap or manipulate his flock. Rather he offered possibilities and clear expectations for better behaviors and ways of thinking that would help the flock as a whole. It was Babe’s respect and love for the sheep that helped them live up to their full potential.
I aspire to being that kind of shepherd. Maybe the more important question, though, is whether or not I know how to be a good member of the flock. I think we’re all called to be in one role or the other at various times in our lives. Listening and following directions are just as important as they were in kindergarten. Knowing when to take care of others and when to be taken care of is one of the greater signs of wisdom, in my opinion. Knowing that we are still being taken care of even when we’re too broken or exhausted to do that shepherding of others is one of the greater signs of faith.
I’m re-issuing this posting from 2011 because I played a postlude on Sunday, based on the theme from Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony.” A few told me how much they love that music and were surprised when I mentioned its use in the film. There is a wonderful moment in Babe when the taciturn Farmer Hoggett is trying to cheer up a sick Babe by singing and dancing for him, to a this very same tune.
I’m hoping I’m never called, in my role as shepherd, to dance to Saint-Saëns for you. But I would.