Posing a parable
The Salvation Army’s international mission acknowledges that it is ‘an international movement [and] an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church’. ‘Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by love for God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination.’
In consideration of an understanding of the final clause, meeting ‘human needs in [Christ’s] name without discrimination’, we offer a modern parable.
A parable of us and them
Once upon a time, deep inside a forest, long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a tribe of shiny happy people. They called themselves, duly inspired, the Shiny Happy People.
The Shiny Happy People dug in the rich loamy soil of the forest floor for mushrooms, grubs and dewlip berries dropped on the forest floor. They hunted from the top of the forest’s leafy bowers (for the flighty yet meaty breadfruitgobbler birds) to the surrounding plains (for the succulent little honeybee hogs). The Shinies knew they had it good. They felt blessed by their richness of their lives, the closeness of their familial ties, and the Great Spirit whom they worshipped in the best possible way.
Upon the face of this best of all possible worlds, there lived in the neighbouring forest a tribe of similarly shiny happy people who also called themselves, without qualm or concern, the Shiny Happy People. These other ‘Shinies’ (for thusly they also abbreviated themselves) were fewer in number, but just as Shiny. They knew in their hearts of hearts that they were truly blessed by the richness of their lives, the closeness of their familial ties, and the Great Spirit whom they worshipped in the best possible way.
They, too, were keen on shrooms and grubs and dewlip berries dropped on the forest floor. They also hunted those meaty breadfruitgobbler birds and the afore-mentioned succulent honeybee hogs.
There were few discernible differences between these happy tribes. They all cared for their own. They all hunted and gathered conscientiously. They all sought the happy guidance of the Great Spirit. The distinguishing feature? One clan had very pretty vestigial tails, which they wagged stumpily as they ate their dinners. The other clan had long, cute, prehensile tails from which they swung merrily as they chowed down.
Conflict arose, as it tends to do in all such sagas, over the primacy of ‘Shininess’. Who was more righteous in the Great Spirit’s eyes, and therefore more worthy of the plumpest little honeybee hogs and the ripest of the dewlip berries? While there was plenty to go around, was either group more worthy to receive it?
There was no doubt in the minds of both parties that they were who they were because of the Great Spirit’s largesse, and that they had received their natures from a benevolent provider of grace and gifts. A nasty little war ensued.
Toes were crushed, fur flew, noses were bloodied and tails were tweaked, singed, jumped on and broken. In many cases lives were lost.
Once the forest had resounded with the sounds of laughter, industry and the happy munching, slurping and gobbling sounds of contented folk. Now there was the noise of bitter tears, the wails of mourning and the crackling of funereal pyres.
Shinies were dulled, clobbered by grief. They seemed unable, or unwilling, to unearth a common truth: each other’s tails were equally valid.
Welcome but long past due, a forlorn peace broke out; stumbling forth like welcome birdsong on a cold morning. There was but a handful of ‘lesser Shinies’ present to greet and enjoy it. The majority of their set-upon families were killed or long gone, choosing exile over terror.
When two tribes go to war there are no victors. All fall victim to hatred’s flames and the life-denying pettiness of fear.
The bottom line? The forest floor is big enough for all Shiny Happy Peoples.
Barry Gittins, territorial social programme and policy consultant – researcher/writer, The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory’s Social Programme Department.