Smarter than Pigs

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old “Green Acres” television series. He’s semi-retired now and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. Tuesday, Tom and I were on the program together at the First Baptist Church of Covington’s annual senior adult thing, and over lunch he told me this story about another star of “Green Acres,” Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” he said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.” At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there.” And how many times have we heard people remark about a sermon that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

I found this in my notes from a Wednesday pastors meeting some weeks ago. We were talking about positive leadership in our congregations and communities.

One of our new pastors was trying to figure why his little congregation had not been reaching anyone. He found a clue in the parking lot. A sign read: “Parking for church members only. Violators will be towed.” He said to us, “How’s that for community relations!” He tore the sign down.

I’ve suggested to our pastors that they not do a foolish thing I’ve observed at the beginning of a lot of worship services. The minister walks to the pulpit and calls out, “Good morning!” The congregation murmurs, “Good morning.” He says, “I said GOOD MORNING!” And they reply a little louder. Then he says, “Come on, folks. You can do better than that.”

That minister has just begun his worship service by rebuking the congregation. Oh, they feel just fine now. He has really drawn them out and they’re now ready to enter into worship. Not!

May I say to pastors reading this and thinking, “I’ve done that,” that almost all of us have done it at one time or other. But it is a truly foolish thing to do, and so counter-productive.

It makes one wonder how many other self-defeating things we say from the pulpit that undercuts our effectiveness and puts blockades before anyone who came to church to worship.

I suggest you step out confidently and call out a great affirmation of Scripture, such as “This is the day the Lord hath made! I will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or this one: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His righteousness is everlasting and His mercy endureth to the end of the age!”

In place of printing the minutes of our Wednesday pastors meeting here–as we’ve been doing–I’ll direct you to our associational website where our administrative assistant Lynn Gehrmann posts her notes of these weekly gatherings. We started with 25 at 10 am today and ended up with perhaps 35. For the first time we had Pastor John Baye with us, and also Courtney Freeman who represents a ministry called Court Vision Sports.

Courtney lives in Tennessee, but was raised a Catholic in New Orleans, attending Dominican High School. “I went to Mississippi State University,” she said, “and got involved in Campus Crusade where I found Christ and was saved.” Court Vision Sports holds week-long basketball camps for children, with famous sports figures coming in to lead, teach, and inspire. She’s encouraging our pastors to consider hosting such camps this summer or next.

Oh, one fascinating thing about the senior adult conference in Covington on Tuesday. I had taken along my sketch pad and arrived early to draw people. Anyone who knows this age group will tell you they start arriving an hour before any event. Senior adult minister David Rockett set me up at a table in the foyer and I called over two ladies to be my first victims…uh, models. As we chatted, I said, “So, what church do you go to?” They laughed and one said, “We’re kind of different.” I said, “Aren’t we all. What’s your church?” And she said, “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I’m sure I did a double take, because in a month of guessing, that would have not entered my mind.

The next group of women were all Catholic. Then I drew some from the First Baptist Church, and after them, several women from St. Bernard Parish, just downriver from New Orleans. They had all lost their homes in the post-Katrina flooding and all are now living on the Northshore.

When I stood to speak in the sanctuary, I asked the crowd of 200 to 300, “How many of you were living in the New Orleans area when Katrina hit and you lost your homes?” At least a dozen raised their hands. I said, “God bless you.”

Several readers have been waiting for me to comment on the most recent verbal blunders by Mayor C. Ray Nagin, speaking in Washington, D.C. I’ve decided to refrain. Calling attention to hizzoner’s blunders is like clubbing baby seals: so easy you feel ashamed for doing it.

The editorial cartoon in today’s paper shows him no mercy, however. Cartoonist Steve Kelley has the mayor’s administrative assistant announcing his day’s schedule. “You’ve got race baiting at 10…followed by vacant blathering at 11:30…loony proposals are from 1 to 2, deflecting blame at 2:30 sharp, then an hour of indignant tub thumping about the slow pace of recovery.”

Yesterday, in a tearful news conference Governor Kathleen Blanco announced she will not run for re-election. This means former Senator John Breaux will run on the Democratic ticket against Congressman Bobby Jindal on the Republican ticket. Lots of others are in the race, but those are the two big guns. The good news, hopefully, is that we will not be subjected to a litany of Governor Blanco’s failures during the campaign. Presumably, the campaign will be about the future, not the past.

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