... to make a day for you
I'd give you the morning
golden and true
I would make this day
last for all time
and fill the night deep in moonshine
-- Farmer Hoggett, Babe
For an assignment for my pastoral counseling class, we've been asked to write a paper describing our metaphor for pastoral or Christian care. Of course, we've been inundated with shepherd images. Twenty-third Psalm this, Feed my sheep that, you know. You've read it (or you haven't, but you're not missing anything).
Quite honestly, I've got no real love for the shepherd metaphor. Nothing really against shepherds; I know they're cowboy-like -- the real kind that work for next to nothing in crappy conditions, the kind that get that for a job because it's either what their family does, or there's no other job in the world that they can get, or they are the kind of person who really does love the life. Think the protagonists in Brokeback Mountain and you'll have more of an idea of what the image of shepherd means to me. Or the shepherds in the deleted scenes of Monty Python's Life of Brian. Or the shepherds in Jill Paton Walsh's Knowledge of Angels. Or the shepherd in The Alchemist. Or the shepherd in the short story Pecado de Omission de Ana Maria Matute. Wow, I just realized that there are lots of movies and books that feature shepherds.
Anyway, but in christianity, we romanticize shepherds to make the 23rd Psalm imagery work; yes, the shepherd is a good one because it overturns the idea of what a messiah was supposed to be back in that day. But the thing I just can't get past is that the shepherd-sheep relationship is typically hierarchical, a top-down affair in which the bleating little shit-covered mincing piles of fluff are managed by a person with a staff and sling/gun that may or may not actually give a damn about them. And, for all the verses about the shepherd loving the sheep so much that s/he'll leave 99 to go look for the lost one -- at the end of the day, the sheep are a commodity. They will be eaten, shorn or sold, and the care that they're given is primarily based on the price that they will fetch.
As far as pastoral/Christian care metaphors go, that doesn't do a lot for me. Considering all the evils that people in power do in church (men to women, women to women, adults to children, one religion or denomination to the other) I think I've had enough metaphors that are rooted in power. Maybe it's OK that in the end it's God that eats, shears or sells us, for whatever those metaphors might mean to God, but I'm not a fan for applying them to a human being.
So it occurred to me that maybe we need less shepherds and more sheep-pigs.
If you haven't seen the movie Babe, you should go out and rent it immediately. It was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, and it's so good it'll make you cry. The sheep-pig, I realized upon another viewing of the movie to confirm my notion of refashioning the shepherd metaphor to include a cuddly little oinker, shows a different view of the shepherd-sheep relationship, even from the movie's opening line:
This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever.
Instead of sticking to the barnyard script of dogs have one purpose and sheep another, the ousider Babe befriends both sheep and sheep dogs, and becomes a sheep-pig and herds to sheep by treating them not with aggression or intimidation, but with respect and kindness. This, in turn, catches the attention of Farmer Hoggett, who comes to treat his piggy prodigy with the same love and regard and upends the wisdom of the world to a new, inclusive idea.
If you think I'm pushing the image just a tad, check out what the director, George Miller (you know, from the Mad Max movies) said about the theological dimensions of the film:
I must say that Babe is much closer to a Christ figure than Max. Particularly in Babe (dir. Chris Noonan), he does change the established order. In fact, in Babe, Pig in the City, he's much more a Christ figure because he turns the other cheek. He goes to save from drowning the one who was about to kill him. But in Babe, he relinquishes his self-interest in order to save Farmer Hoggett [James Cromwell] and to help fulfill the dream for Farmer Hoggett and to show that a pig can, indeed, be a champion sheepdog. He does it in part for himself but it's mainly for the farmer. Yes, he's closer to Christ— not that a pig should be Christ but he's more Christ-like than Max!
So that'll be my pastoral metaphor, not the Good Shepherd, but the Good Sheep-Pig. And it brings me to what I really meant to post about all along, that the above quote came from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, which along the Journal of Religion & Film is one of my new favorite academe places to visit. If you're interested, I'll post the paper after I get it back. But what's your metaphor for Christian care? Let me know. Or, what's your favorite shepherd movie or book or story? Or your favorite movie/book that seemingly doesn't tie into a spiritual message but you've done it?