Tuesday, August 11, 2009
A Meditation on Tiger Truck Stop
Where else but Louisiana might one find the rather unique blending of live tigers and a truck stop? Such is the case with the Tiger Truck Stop or Grosse Tete, Louisiana. Being that the Tiger Truck Stop is located on I-10 between Baton Rouge and Laffayette I have travelled by this wonder of the modern world on more than a few occasions over the years. I have even succumbed to the urge to visit said truck stop once or twice (perhaps because of just how bizarre the thought of tigers in the swamps of south Louisiana seems to be).
I didn’t realize until doing a little research for this blog that the Tiger Truck Stop is actually at the center of a debate between animal rights groups wanting to see Tony the Tiger (the name of the tiger at the truck-stop) set free and the owners of the truck-stop who say they have cared for the tiger since it was just a cub and feel that he would be better suited with the love and care of his owners and his humble existence at the truck-stop (besides, they say, it’s all he’s ever known and to throw him out in the wild would be much more cruel).
While this blog is not about animal rights I do have to say that each time I drive by the Tiger Truck Stop I can’t help but feel a little bit sad for old Tony. Why? Well because a truck stop is not where a tiger belongs; a cage on the edge of a parking lot of a second-rate truck stop in the swamps of Louisiana is a pretty pathetic existence for such a majestic creature as a tiger.
Why is it that we frequently feel sorry for animals such as these tigers in a truck stop (or a lion in a zoo for that matter)? It’s not like they are sickly or even being abused or tortured (though some animal rights groups might disagree with that statement). We feel bad for these tigers because there is a sense that they were made for something much greater. It’s the sadness of failed potential, of purpose thwarted, of a life that will not be fully lived. There is a sense of sorrow that these giant cats are alienated from what life as a “big cat” should be—namely running around in the wild stalking prey. Though these tigers of the Tiger Truck-Stop are alive they certainly are not thriving in any sense of the word. They technically have everything they need for life—food, water, shelter, but there is something big that they are missing—namely their natural habitat (encountering one of these big cats in the wild, their natural habitat, would be a completely different and possibly even quite terrifying story).
Too often we have a tendency to look at the spiritual life as just a matter of working moral principles or formulas without any regard to context and we wonder sometimes why we are not thriving. Just like those tigers in the Tiger Truck Stop we may have food, water and shelter (technically alive) but we aren’t thriving because something or should I say somewhere is missing. We are living our lives out of context!
In John chapter 15:1-17 Jesus talks about the nature and the goal of the spiritual life. To make his point Jesus uses the analogy of a Vineyard: a famer (representing God the Father), a vine (representing Jesus), and fruit (representing our maturity as Christ-followers). What is interesting in these verses is how they speak more of our connection to God than our activity for God. Jesus makes the point that if we get the context right then fruit will be the natural product. And what is the context of which he speaks? It is our connection to Jesus and to one another. Jesus tells us to live in his love the way he lives in the love of the Father and in the same way to be conduits of that love to others. Too often we miss this aspect of the spiritual life and think that Christianity is simply about following rules, going through rituals, and staying busy with Christian activities. Yet, without a connection to Jesus and others we simply cannot thrive (or bear fruit) in our Christian walk. Principles (even Godly principles) divorced from context will never produce fruit and never bring forth life that is thriving.
In these verses it is quite evident that the goal of our connection to God is fruit. Why fruit? Because fruit is not only the part of the plant that frequently nourishes others but it is also the reproductive mechanism of the plant. In nature it is fruit that attracts animals because of its scent and taste and it is also fruit that contains the seeds of the plant that will cause more plants to spring up wherever the seeds are deposited. The metaphor of fruit speaks of the purposes of God in us and through us. As we live our lives connected to Jesus we will produce fruit (Paul writes about spiritual fruit in Galatians 5:22-23). This spiritual fruit won’t come with stress or anxiety but will be the byproduct of getting the context right. It is this spiritual fruit that will attract others to Christ and which contains at its core the DNA of the Kingdom of God. This is one of the ways that the Kingdom of God comes on earth. As Jesus said just two chapters earlier, “They will know your are my disciples by your love for one another” (John 13:35 )
I truly believe one of the greatest forms of evangelism is not the words of Christ-followers but the fruit of their lives—the fruit of peace when everything is chaotic, the fruit of joy in the midst of trials, the fruit of love in the very face of hatred and contempt. This kind of fruit doesn’t come from willpower, self-help books, or positive thinking but is the manifestation of a life connected to God. It is spiritual fruit that will help people to taste what God’s kingdom is like and cause them to want to be a part of it themselves.
Is the Context All That Matters?
Does this mean that the Christian life is just passive; that it is just a matter of believing God loves us? No, it's much bigger than that, because Jesus does not simply tell us to live in his love but to love other people as well (John 15:9-13). There is an inflow of his love and an outflow of love to others (in fact as we receive God’s love and love others we begin to realize his love for and through others). I know sometimes it seems as if the Christian life would be a whole lot easier if it didn’t involve being in relationship with other people, but the reality is that this is part of our natural habitat and thus the only place in which we will truly thrive. We were created to be in relationship with God and others and any attempts at the Christian life apart from these fundamental connections will be futile. The context anchors the activity of the Christian life. Think of it this way: A tiger in it’s natural habitat will get busy doing what tigers were created to do—hunting, eating, and running around (as well as a few cat naps) and in the same way when we get the context right we are freed up to live as we were created—to be a part of God’s restorative and reconciling work in the world—and that’s good news indeed!