The Paper Pulpit
The porcupine, a member of the rodent family, has around 30,000 quills attached to his body. Each quill, when driven into an enemy, becomes firmly embedded and hard to remove. The wounds can become infected, which causes great pain, affecting vital organs, and can be fatal. Porcupines are not normally thought of as friendly animals. Should you meet one, you would be wise to give him lots of room.
Books and movies celebrate almost every conceivable animal — not just dogs and cats and horses. Take, for example: pigs (“Babe,” from the TV show Green Acres); spiders (Charlotte’s Web); dolphins (Flipper); bears (Gentle Ben); and killer whales (Free Willy). Even skunks have the cartoon character, Pepe Le Pew. If there are any famous porcupines, I haven’t heard about them. I don’t know of any parent who would want their children to have a porcupine for a pet. They are solitary animals. They travel alone.
We have all known people who have some porcupine DNA. If you to get close to them, they raise their quills. They fear being hurt, or of losing their freedom, if they get too close to others. Thus, they withdraw into their own little world. They have experienced pain or rejection somewhere along the way — in their family, or in one or more of their other relationships. If you try to get too close to them, they will attack. They have difficulty living in community with others, but they have specific needs that only others can meet.
Though porcupines are solitary animals, there are times when they do not want to be alone. Otherwise there would never be another generation of little porcupines. In late autumn the thoughts of young porcupines turn to love. But love can be a difficult emotion to express if you happen to be carrying 30,000 quills with you everywhere you go. Thus, the porcupine’s dilemma: How do you get close without getting hurt?
This is our dilemma also: How do we get close to others without being hurt? Our barbs have names like rejection, condemnation, resentment, anger, arrogance, selfishness, envy and contempt. A young man and a young woman fall in love and decide to get married. But following the wedding, perhaps years later, they drift apart and move in different directions. Problems develop because they do not continue to develop the kind of closeness that enables their love to become mature. Their quills are raised and they shoot them at each other. What began in unity ends in bitterness and divorce. The happiness they originally wanted is lost.
The same thing happens in churches, for church members are human. Every human has some porcupine DNA. Some people have a lot more than others. When church members lose their ability and desire to love one another, they violate the one great commandment Jesus gave His followers. Loving one another is the way the world knows that we are Christians.
Relationships do happen — even for porcupines. Naturalists tell us that males and females may remain together for some days before mating. They may touch paws and even walk on their hind feet in the so-called “dance of the porcupines.” Only God could have thought up two porcupines fox-trotting paw-to-paw. They pull in their quills and learn to dance. It is how the next generation of porcupines comes into being.
God’s dream for the church is that it be an ideal community — and He has not given up on that dream. It is also His dream that the church bring into being a new generation of believers. Every church has a role to play in helping God’s dream become a reality. However, the only way that can happen in any church is for personal differences to be laid aside and a unified commitment be given to the task at hand.
In other words, we must follow the example of porcupines: pull in our quills and start dancing!
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.