Herd spirituality

Bang! I’m wide awake. My fuzzy brain tries to identify the familiar sound. Bang! Bang! Our ferocious golden retriever opens one eye and growls. Bang! Bang! Bang! The dog is barking now. It’s a Javelina attack!

I turn on the porch light and spot them: a dozen muscular wild boars, circling and charging our garbage cans with the zeal of line-backers. Ignoring the dog’s barking and my threats, they concentrate on the prize—spilled garbage, nectar of the gods, moonshine of the urbanized desert.

I grab my trusty broom and charge into their midst. “Skee-daddle, you dang hawgs!” I swat a couple on their ample rumps and they saunter away, snorting and snuffling, thwarted but not defeated. They’ll be back. They always come back.

Javelina (pronunciation: ha-ve-LEE-na; AKA: collared peccary, tayassu tajacu) are opportunists. God provides them with succulent cactus fruit, but they’ve learned that garbage cans hold unimaginable delights. They run in herds, and with so many mouths to feed, the herd takes shortcuts. Javelina seldom wrestle with the ethics of eating garbage; they just go for it, with great vigor.

Our culture creates herd-like pressure on us, too. Everyone prefers to think of himself or herself as an individualist, but more often than not we bow to the whims of the crowd. Herd-think has many familiar refrains:

  • everybody does it;
  • there are many paths to God;
  • what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me;
  • what does it matter as long as no one gets hurt?

Jesus distinguished himself from the herd, and it ultimately got him killed. He was a non-conformist. He preached a gospel that challenged the religious and cultural status quo. He questioned popular assumptions. He made people angry.

Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. —Matthew 7:13-14, The Message (Jesus speaking)

There are plenty of shortcuts to life, but there are no shortcuts to God. There are plenty of easy roads, but none of them lead to what Jesus called “life in all its fullness.”

I myself am the road and the truth and the life. No one approaches the Father except through me. —John 14:6, J.B. Phillips (Jesus speaking)

These days, we label people “intolerant” who claim that there is one truth, one path, one way to live, one way to know God. If herd-think and cafeteria-style spirituality defines tolerance, Jesus was intolerant.

He may also have been right. If Jesus was truly God incarnate, as he claimed, and not some dime-a-dozen moral philosopher, then his words are True, and his warnings about the dangers of herd-think are worth considering.

There’s a passel of garbage cans out there, and every one of them is full of the sweetness of rotten fruit. When you figure out where the herd is going, look in the other direction to find God.

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