Lessons from the elephant herd
We were travelling the short distance form the ferry which had taken us across the Zambezi from Zambia on our way to the game park in Botswana, when our driver and guide suddenly brought the Landrover to a stop. He had spotted a lone elephant at the side of the road and swung the vehicle as near as he could without startling the animal. He need not have bothered. The elephant was fully absorbed in the business of grazing on the grass and small trees and quite unconcerned at his audience of wild life enthusiast leaning out of their seats in the high Landrover with hats, sunglasses and cameras clicking. “This is an adult male” said our guide and he went to explain how, in common with other wild animals there were three groupings: the first group, the breeding herd, which consisted of the young , females and one significant male, the second group which he termed the “bachelor herd” which was made up of males who were kicked out of the breeding herd at puberty, and the third group which was not a group as such but consisted of the males who did not fit in or were kicked out of the “bachelor group” and who wandered on their own through the bush. We watched this lonely looking creature with his dusty skin and deep sad eyes pull and munch at the long grass for some time. “This is a lone male” said our guide “He is a loser!”
The rest of the day was spent exploring the game reserve with many close encounters with, kudus, impalas warthogs, water buffalo, elegant antelopes, sinister crocodiles, sad hippos, numerous brightly coloured birds, majestic giraffes and the purposeful elephant breeding herd making their way through the bush in well remembered tracks. What could not leave my mind was the thought of how the three groupings seem to mirror groupings that exist in society, and in some measure, in the church. Here was a fascinating insight into clearly defined and differing roles.
We have the “Carers”, the breeding herd, who are by far the largest and most influential group. Their principal concern is with the care, protection and nurture of the young. This demands the greatest priority, resources, time and money. This is necessarily so, as this group protects the future of the species. The first responsibility of any grouping is just that, the care, protection and nurture of those who will come on after to continue the line. Within the organisation of the church this is the dominant theme; children, young people and families.
Inevitably this means that there are those who do not fit in to this programme. They have no particular skill to offer and no emotional pull or burden to allow them to participate in this work. These are the “Wasters”. They may not be described as such, or even spoken of as such, but deep within the psyche is a feeling that, as they don’t have a role with caring, they are in some senses irrelevant. Perhaps they can find some non caring function on the edge of things but that only reinforces the feeling that they are on the outside. The result is that they find their home and their fulfilment with the “ Bachelor herd” in sports activities, drinking, and work particularly in the heavy industries ,the miners and shipbuilders of previous years, trade unions and the armed forces. Here they find a common bond and a very deep loyalty to each other. Jackie Bird’s diary of her time with Scottish troops in Camp Bastion illustrates this very clearly. She spoke of the fierce loyalty that the troops had, not for their country, nor for their commander but to each other. In the past these would have been the ones who created the wealth, protected and defended, came to the rescue in disasters and emergencies and often with bare hands and physical strength brought the supplies, made the repairs, restored the peace. In a time of relative ease and calm, when military adventures are despised and when heavy industries have been degraded, their role is diminished. In the church it is almost non-existent.
Despite their complimentary and co dependant roles the carers and the wasters regard each other with a degree of mutual disdain. But there is another group the “Losers” who don’t fit with either “Breeding herd” or the “Bachelor herd”. They are not club people have no affinity either with the macho world of sport, machines and militarism (usually of men) or with the homely world of the “Carers” . They wander through life on their own. They may have partners and families and they make take part in activities but that is not where there soul lies. It is in the other world of solitude, of ideas, of beyond. The “Carers” pity them and think they are lonely. The “Wasters” despise them and think them pathetic. Strangely they may not actually be unhappy and the sad look in their faces often belies a stout contentment. They wander around on the fringe of society and while not strangers to the church, never seem to have found their potential there and sit on the edge
In our 21st century western smugness, it is easy to be lulled into an illusory sense that we have reached a plateau of civilisation and progress where we no longer need armies or miners or shipbuilders and that the “Wasters” should be given some soft toys to play with, fight with paintballs and vent off steam running naked through the woods. There is no place for the “Wasters” here.
It is also very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and belief that things will go on just as they have done before. The worst disasters happen elsewhere and are eventually tamed by television. Even the most complicate international event will be explained once John Simpson gets to the scene. In this illusory world secured by health and safety, glossed by celebrity and covered by insurance, there is no place for a prophet of doom or a prophet of any kind for that matter. We know the future and there is no role for someone who sees over the hill and round the bend. There is no place for the “Losers” here.
But the point is that in a healthy society each must have a part to play and in the Church every individual has a gift to bring to the work of the kingdom. Without the “Carers” there will be no future generation. Without the “Wasters “there will be nothing left after the marauders, bullies and earthquakes have had their way. Without the “Losers” there would be no vision and where there is no vision the people perish.