Once upon a time on a mountain not very far away, an eagle’s egg wobbled itself out of its nest and rolled all the way down the mountain to the meadow below where it was discovered by a brood of chickens. The good hens knew just what to do and faithfully took turns perching on the unusually large egg until it hatched and brought forth an unusually large and rather funny-looking chicken. Still, they named him Theodore and raised him as one of their own.
Theodore learned to strut like a chicken, cluck like a chicken, peck like a chicken, and scratch like a chicken. There was no doubt of his chickenishness; Theodore was a full member of the flock and happily content in the chicken coop. All was normal and acceptable…except for those rare occasions when a breeze whispered over the meadow and ruffled Theodore’s unusually shaped feathers. Then, and only then, was Theodore embarrassingly tempted to do something very unchicken-like: he was compelled to look skyward.
One can scarcely imagine a behavior less dignified for a chicken. To look skyward? Beaks down. Peck. Peck. Scratch. Peck. Strut. Cluck. These were the standard, expected, and acceptable postures for chickens in the flock. Pausing from such industrious activity to stare blankly at the sky was not only unseemly, it was downright ridiculous! Yet for reasons Theodore could neither understand or explain, when the meadow breeze stirred his feathers, he was compelled to stop, turn, and stare blankly up at the big blue sky.
One day the breeze was particularly breezy, perhaps even windy, and Theodore found himself staring awkwardly at the sky as he experienced a new and peculiar urge to move upwards. Because he had never felt this odd skyward tug before, he was unsure of how to respond. At first he tried standing taller, stretching his neck up and lifting his head higher, but that only made him look and feel more ridiculous. Maybe even pompous. He was just a chicken after all. Next, much to the befuddlement of the hens, Theodore awkwardly scrambled to the top of the hen house. But even that bold move was unsatisfying for him, and it only caused the flock to peck, scratch, and cluck frenetically about the coop, their eyes worriedly fixed on their weird-looking kin atop the roof.
In divine moments, something or Someone beyond ourselves beckons us to come, and despite his bewilderment, Theodore did what all good creatures should do in the moment when their Creator calls…he went. He left the coop and strutted across the meadow and up the hillside as far as he could walk.
So there he was, Theodore the chicken, standing near the sky in the wind and under the sun, and yet he had no idea what it all meant. At this point, the wind had grown from a whisper to a howl, but it was speaking a language foreign to Theodore.
Theodore responded with a cluck and a scratch and a peck.
“Eeeeaaaagggglllleeeee!” howled the wind again.
Cluck. Scratch. Peck.
And on the third time (because in stories it is always on the third time), Theodore didn’t cluck, scratch, or peck. Instead, he dug his talons into the ground and intuitively spread his wings. The wind raced under his feathers with furious delight, and it took all of Theodore’s strength to hold onto the earth.
Theodore the chicken, born to be an eagle, was suddenly torn between earth and sky. All his strength and might was bearing downward through his talons as they clutched desperately onto terra firma while the wind, now wild and excited, lifted, pulled, and tried to push him skyward. The collision of chicken and eagle was ferocious, the clash of kingdoms violent, and Theodore was just barely able to summon the strength to be reasonable and resist the urge to let go and be swept up and away into what he feared was certain death. Theodore chose the only life he knew, indeed the only life he was prepared to know, and therefore, prudently and with great effort, he folded his chicken wings back against his chicken body and turned away from the sighing wind. He strutted, pecked, scratched, and clucked his way back to the chicken coop to live the remainder of his chicken life happily and safely ever after.
The end?!?! Ugh. What a terrible story. Or at least what a terrible ending! Theodore was so close to learning his true identity and soaring into his God-given destiny, only to be thwarted by fear and ignorance. It was near victory followed by total defeat.
The ugh produced by the unhappy ending in this story is the same ugh I feel when I consider the identity crisis of the next generation. Our kids are growing up in a world that has tilted off its rotational axis and is accelerating at the speed of fright. The slow-and-steady institutions of family, church, school, and country are being outpaced and outmaneuvered by the quick-and-nimble digital torque of the technological revolution. Since the birth of the iPhone in 2007, a whole generation is learning to strut around the coop with their heads down, pecking at their screens and scratching through their social media communities in search of meaning, purpose, and connection. And while it’s certainly true that these innovations have their benefits, researchers are telling us what we intuitively already know: the next generation is not finding what they are looking for by looking down. God never intended for eagles to live like chickens. His answers are found when we look upward.
We must help our students avoid Theodore’s fate. We must teach them to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit, to behold the radiance of the Son of God, and to be ready to let go and take the flight of faith with their Heavenly Father because He will carry them higher and further than they can possibly imagine. They won’t learn who they are with their heads down, pecking, scratching, and strutting around the coop. They must have the courage to look up and listen.
When we look up and become fully alive in our true identity in Christ, we are transformed, and the world around us is also transformed. Math becomes the language of God. Science becomes the appreciation of His handiwork. Music becomes the response of our hearts. Football becomes an expression of brotherhood. School becomes a community. Suffering becomes a way to grace. All things take on new meaning and new life when lived in and through Christ.
My prayer is not that Linfield does a good job teaching chickens to read, write and do arithmetic, but rather that through reading, writing, and doing arithmetic, Linfield’s students begin to hear the skyward call of God. My prayer is that the goodness of the Good News will begin to capture the hearts and minds of our students so that they learn to live in the aliveness of God. My prayer is that we will be faithful to prepare them so that when the Divine whispers their names, they know Who is speaking and have the courage to let go and take flight in their true identities. My prayer is that they will look up and listen to the only One who can tell them who they truly are.
Looking up and listening with you,