November 24, 2013
It is an unplanned irony that the issue of intellectually empty calories has emerged during the winter holiday seasons, a time when we make a ritual of eating more than we should while admitting cheerfully that much of what we eat is less than good for us.
Actually, if I wrote columns in advance as proper bloggers do, I would have scheduled this material for early next year when dealing with diet is the common consequence of holiday indiscretions. Being careful about what we take in is not seasonably encouraged at this time.
However, by dealing with empty intellectual calories it is not my intent to communicate a Scrooge-like attitude toward holiday cookies. Nevertheless, I plan to handle the tricky rascals with caution if they appear, gift-wrapped, at my door.
My intent is to encourage serious thought about discipleship of the mind, and to consider at a practical level guidelines for choosing what we read and watch.
As you may remember, only the first portion of Chicken Little’s story appeared last week. (You may want to re-read last week’s blog—we’ve all lived a lot since we last met, living that left little energy or time to think about Chicken Little’s adventure.) The next portion of the story appears in today’s blog near the end (a bit of patience, please?).
I want to revisit two points that the initial portion of Chicken Little’s story illustrates. First, Chicken Little teaches us (I hope) caution in the use of categories to assess the value of content. Chicken Little is a children’s story, a category stereotypically considered beneath adult attention. Considered more carefully, however, Chicken Little’s story centers on an experience that is common both to adults and to children: unexpectedly, without warning, a bad thing happens to a good person in a way that cannot be easily explained. Given this content, Chicken Little, while remaining a children’s story, might appropriately appear on a bibliography of philosophy books dealing with the problem of pain, or on a bibliography of psychological texts dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Not all children’s stories are childish either in tone or content. Indeed, some children’s stories deal with the inevitable fallibility of being human with a devastating simplicity that challenges the best of adult thinking.
Secondly, from the beginning, Chicken Little’s story deals with matters that, in the best sense of the term, are characterized by true gravitas (seriousness). This is a children’s story, but the action does not turn around childish things. Chicken Little struggles to make sense of pain, to confront consciously the randomness of life, to act responsibly in the context of community. Are these not serious issues of life-long concern for us all?
As we move on to the next portion of Chicken Little’s adventure, keep in mind these two ideas. One, categories (i.e., children’s stories) are not reliable guides regarding value of content. Two, themes with true gravitas may appear in forms that are misleading: issues of pain and randomness in this example appear as an anthropomorphic chicken’s adventure that begins with the ordinary chicken process of hunting a breakfast bug.
On with this week’s story.
Last week we left Chicken Little very frightened, setting out to tell the other animals his terrible discovery: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling.”
If I were to include all of the story here, next you would learn of Chicken Little’s visits to Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Poosey, and many other animals all with similarly distinguished sounding names. In this part of the story much occurs that would lead us to think about differing responses both to Chicken Little and to Chicken Little’s news. Additional themes of true gravitas would emerge (the danger of emotional infection, the risks of boredom, the paradox of the danger and the safety of conformity, and others). Eventually, however, Chicken Little, followed by a long procession of animals who (allegedly) believed that the sky was falling, reached the home of the Lion King to tell him the terrible news. Today’s story resumes at this point.
After he had listened to Chicken Little’s story, the Lion King suggested that they all go back to look at this place where the sky had fallen on Chicken Little’s head.
Led by the Lion King (who was wise and powerful and had a great deal of common sense as well) the animals returned to the place where something had hit Chicken Little on the head and frightened him and made his head hurt.
No one could find a piece of fallen sky.
The Lion King, however, found a very large acorn lying in the grass.
If we were a seminar studying the discipline of the mind from a Christian world view, at this point I would give you a mid-term essay question:
In your understanding of Chicken Little’s adventure, what does the acorn found by the Lion King represent? Explain your understanding of the story’s conclusion in the context of intellectual discipleship for adult Christian living.
Thinking with you this week, “Oh, if only it were as simple as asking the Lion King to find the acorn.”
Grateful for all that gives life meaning and tomorrow hope, including my weekly gathering with you,