My church asked me to preach last Sunday.
The minister was on vacation and I can think of two reasons why my name came up as a possible substitute.
- They wouldn't have to pay me.
- Christianity has been around for 2000 years -- how much damage could I do in one week?
It was Good Shepherd Sunday and when I was doing research on what I was supposed to preach about, I found a website that said that since most churchgoers live in urban areas they donâ€™t actually know what a shepherd does, so a little education should be in order.
I was pretty sure that everyone in my church would know what a sheep was and if you know what a sheep is, the role of a shepherd seems fairly obvious.
But maybe I was wrong. I've never raised sheep, so I lack firsthand knowledge in the intricacies of sheep-raising. The first year I farmed, I was casting about for something to do that might generate some actual income and I broached the subject of perhaps getting into the sheep business.
My father looked at me and said, "It'll be a cold day in hell before there's another sheep on this farm."
I don't know what sheep-related trauma lurked in my father's background and I never actually got up the nerve to ask. My potential career as a shepherd ended right there, but over the years I've picked up a few helpful facts. For instance, the sheep breeds that evolved in places where there arenâ€™t many natural predators, like Ireland and Great Britain, don't flock together -- they straggle out all over the place to graze. The sheep breeds that were developed on mainland Europe, where they had to worry about wolves and bears and the like, tend to stay close together. That means there are two kinds of dogs used to work with sheep. In Great Britain you have the Border Collie and all the other herding dogs. They're used to run out across the pastures to gather the sheep together in one flock so they can be moved from one place to another. On mainland Europe that isn't so important, because the sheep already stick together. Instead the breeds of dogs are more like the Great Pyrenees.
Here's the thing about Great Pyrenees. They're big dogs, really big dogs. What sheep owners do is get a pup when it's about a month old and put it in with the sheep, and it grows up with the sheep, so it sort of thinks it's a sheep. Except, when a wolf, bear, or coyote shows up, one of the sheep weighs about a 120 pounds and has teeth three inches long, and it's the world's toughest sheep.
I think that's fascinating -- that you need two things in a shepherd. Someone to tell you where to go and someone to take care of you.
Sometimes I think about what it'd be like to be sheep -- of the four-legged or two-legged variety. I've never been very good at following the flock, although the thought of someone taking care of me occasionally seems appealing. In practice, I've never been particularly good at being taken care of.