My dad was a state trooper for the state of Oklahoma. He said once to me that our jobs were very similar in nature. As a law enforcement officer his job was to ask people to honor and abide by rules they probably didn’t want to. As a minister, I did the same thing. The only difference was that I didn’t get to arrest people if they didn’t listen!
I can remember a conversation in which I was sharing with him some of the challenges of working with church people. Their conflicts, arguments, bickering and hypocrisy can be exhausting. A holy people who advocate for incredible ideals, worldview and hope can also be so entangled in self-made messes and selfishness.
My dad thought for a minute and then said “Monty, church people are like porcupines in winter”. I had no idea what he meant. Porcupines? Church People? Winter? That’s a lot of symbolism crammed together. From a lot of different contexts. Right?
He could see the look of confusion on my face. “Porcupines,” he said, “get really cold in the heart of winter. They can get so cold they will do whatever it takes to keep warm. So they will gather into a great big bundle of warmth and closeness for preservation. Everything is good for a bit. Then someone pokes someone. Someone pokes back. They start to get frustrated and angry with each other and begin to make space. The great big bundle of warmth becomes an expanded patch of cold, frustrated, angry porcupines. They get colder. And colder. They shiver and complain and grumble because of their misery. And there is nothing worse than a disgruntled, angry porcupine.”
“But the need for warmth overcomes the fear of getting poked by someone’s quills. Slowly, quietly, they start the process of moving closer together. Warmth is better than cold. Together is better than being alone. Church people are like porcupines in winter.”
I think of this old man-ism often. First, I am amazed at the simplicity with which my dad grasped complex human dynamics. Somehow, he had boiled down the human need to practice love and grace to sustain connection and relationships into an application from porcupines in the winter. Finally, he had helped me understand that life with rules is not enough. Life with independence and freedom is not adequate. You and I were made by a God who knows we will need each other’s warmth and grace more than anything else in life.
The prophet, Micah, once asked God “With what shall I come before the Lord?”. God answered him and said “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God wants the porcupines (that’s us) to overcome ourselves and offer our lives for each other.