Notice the following list. What do these things all have in common?
- Aesop’s fables
- Illustrations from outstanding Circuit Overseers
- Psychological experiments done on college campuses
- Rats-in-a-maze experiments done by scientists
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales
- A song or poem from a gifted writer
- A humorous anecdote or news item in the “Watching the World” section of Awake
- Illustrations from professional preachers, motivational, or inspirational speakers
- Sociological experiments performed on unwitting volunteers
Despite being wildly different in some ways, they all speak to us about the human condition and experience. Also they tell us about ourselves if we let them. They talk to us by the way that we choose to interpret them, i.e., what we personally take away from the story or report or finding.
In this vein, our unnamed brother that has faded many years ago continues to be a great source for more of these kinds of thought-provoking topics for us as struggling Witnesses and former Witnesses. And really a better label could simply be that these kinds of stories edify us as struggling Christians, ones that are trying to make sense of our world as we daily try and squeeze through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14) and live a life pleasing to God.
With that in mind, here is one of these stories:
Shaggy-dog story #1 (You make application as you see fit)
I’ve been told that if you put five apes in a room with a ladder leading to an access hole in the ceiling, those apes will try for the ladder and head for the hole. I’ve also been told that if you spray them with a fire hose every time they make for the ladder, eventually they’ll all stop trying to climb it. Furthermore, if you take an ape out and put a new one in with four of the original apes, the new one will go for the ladder. However, the veteran apes will pounce on and beat on the new one for his foolish attempt until he too stops trying for the ladder. And so it will go each time you take out one of the veteran apes and replace him with a new one: the new one tries for the ladder until he’s tromped into simian submission. Eventually, you’ll have a room full of five apes who weren’t of the original five that had actually experienced the initial fire hose treatment. None of these succeeding apes will go near the ladder, but not for the same reason the original ones didn’t. The moral? Programmed response, conditioning and heritage can make a monkey out us.
This story reaches most of us on numerous levels- it certainly does me. Sometimes we “beat our fellow slaves” (family members, congregation members) verbally or emotionally and we don’t even know why, and later we are ashamed of our lapse in self-control. Jesus spoke of it this way:
But if that wicked slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delayed,’ and starts to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 24:48-51 HCSB)
It reminds me of an illustration that a District Overseer used to tell about the woman that always trimmed the edges off of her pot roast before putting it in the baking dish and popping it into the oven. She regularly did this, and didn’t think a thing of it. One day her young daughter who was watching her asked about it. The woman stopped; thought about it, then said “Well my mother always did it so I suppose that’s why I do.” …She didn’t know why she sliced the edges off the roast she just always did it, and had learned to do so through osmosis. Her daughter asked, “Can we call Grandma and find out?” And so they did- and the grandmother, when asked why the pot roast had been trimmed, said with a smile, “Well that was the only way it would fit into the pan I had at the time!”
Do we “cut the edges” off of certain aspects of life not knowing the WHY behind it? – Have we been conditioned as the apes in the previous shaggy-dog story were? They lashed out in violence at anyone that dared to do something they had been instinctively trained not to do. They viewed it as taboo but didn’t know why. Why not climb up and out through that hole in the ceiling? What psychological locks hold us (or used to hold us) in a similar way?
My prayer is that all of us continue to break out of man-made conditioning. That we widen out in our love for all men for whom Christ died. All praise goes to our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus! We can’t do it on our own strength. But we can and we will continue to rely on them (Psalms 37:5) and try our best to serve with a pure heart.
Create in me even a pure heart, O God, And put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one. Do not throw me away from before your face; And your holy spirit O do not take away from me. (Psalm 51:10, 11)