March 9, 2014
He was a particularly splendid camel, although there was a suspiciously malevolent gleam in his eye. As I remember, his name was Homer, and while he was a trustworthy companion for a dangerous trip across the desert, he was certainly no safe candidate for the petting zoo.
Although the paper on which Homer’s picture was printed had become brittle and yellowing with age, Homer had survived the years safely sheltered in a forgotten old file folder that was labelled “Flannel Board Figures.”
Flannel board belongs to the world of buggy whips, and lies outside the experience of you contemporary readers. In its time, however, flannel board was quite useful as a primitive visual aid in the pre-digital pre-video world. It was often used by teachers in religious education classes to provide a human-powered “video” to tell Bible stories to wiggly children who were interested and teachable but easily distracted.
Flannel board concept and construction were simple. A plywood board covered with flannel was placed on an easel (cardboard would do under necessity). Pictures such as the one of Homer the Camel were backed with flannel so as the story progressed the teacher placed figures on the easel board to illustrate important points. (Yes, Virginia, there was a way to make things stick together before Velcro.) The process of sticking flannel to flannel was fragile and unreliable at best, but it did provide a moment’s magic for young minds.
My memory of Homer’s role was his part in my version of the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Those of you who are purists in the telling of the old texts may object to my “embroidery” of the narrative. But faced with making the story real to prairie children with no experiential knowledge of the desert, the danger or the distance, I started the journey with Mary and Joseph and Jesus riding on donkeys (a picture likely close to historical reality), but as they came closer to Egypt in my story they bought Homer from a desert trader to carry the supplies since the donkeys were now tired and discouraged by the long hard journey.
One favorite moment in the story came immediately prior to the purchase of Homer. In order to make the necessity of Homer’s purchase clear, as the story teller, I would take one of the donkeys trudging wearily along the flannel board road and turn him upside down in the ditch, legs sticking up in the air in utter exhaustion.
After giggles had subsided, Homer’s appearance in the story seemed a good thing even if Homer was quite difficult to get along with. We all understood that the story was about a hard journey into Egypt that took a long time and in which the Holy Family faced difficult challenges, some, like Homer, that were not fun.
As I sat in my study, remembering Homer (file folder leaned up against my IPad), I was grateful for all that Homer taught me in those flannel graph days whether he was historically accurate or not.
I know now in ways that I could not have imagined then that being part of God’s family does not protect us from long, dangerous journeys. I know too that in these journeys, God’s provision—indeed, His blessing—may be Homer even though Homer has a bad disposition, a habit of biting, and a distinctively unpleasant smell.
Grateful with you today for God’s faithful provision, knowing that blessing does not always come packaged in easy-to-manage forms.
See you next week.