Sunday story

(Image from

I don’t know where I got this from:-

Once there was an old man who always had witty and wise answers for people who asked him anything.

Someone came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the sage that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead.

He, of course, planned to prove the old man wrong, because if he said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands.

The old man proved wiser than he thought, because he said, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

Chicken story

I like this story, not so much for the overtones of ‘be all you can be: go for it’ that some might spin on it, but more so for the idea of potential and of being open to change and growth.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbour. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.”

So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

Anthony de Mello (1931 – 1987)

Sunday Story

I like stories. Stories seem to express more reality than anything else. This one is a keeper:-

Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, “Where, where?” but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm has its best harvest ever.

A parable told by Benjamin Sander (From ‘The Art of Possibility’)


Just get out of the way…

Two ministers are standing in a hospital chapel having a meeting. A woman wonders into the chapel looking for solitude and then backs away. The ministers stop their meeting immediately, invite the woman in and give her the solitude she craves.

The story could have ran ‘Two clerical workers are having a long chat and someone comes to their counter and they stop to serve them’, I guess; or 2 business people are having a long chat about strategy and an underling walks into their room and they stop, smile and ask his opinion’ or…you get the picture…

Two people realise that they are not the centre and reason of their own world; they don’t just exist for themselves and their needs- the ‘other’ is most important. It’s not hard is it?

…except that it is: I got here first, this is important, what would you know? etc.

If you are really secure in your own skin it could be so different.

A story about a bird

I don’t know where I got this story from but I like it:-

There is a story about an old man who always had witty and wise answers for people who asked him anything.

Once, someone trying to catch him out came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the sage that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands.

He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. He, of course, planned to prove the old man wrong, because if he said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands.

The old man proved wiser than he thought, because he said, “The bird is whatever you choose him to be.”

It is the stories that matter

As I have got older, it is the stories that matter most to me. My interest in grand schemes, policies and procedures has declined, but give me a person with a story and an openness to tell it without hiding and nothing else seems to matter.

We were in a seaside town this week. A photographer was selling his pictures. We had looked at one of his pictures for months & finally he had produced it in a size and at a price that we could justify.

I started to talk with him: I really struggle these days to confine any transaction to a simple ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘please’. I began to talk about how we had looked at this picture for ages and liked the movement and life within it. I then spoke about where we had come from that day.

He began to respond, making links with people he and I knew and spoke how about how he had got into photography. He told of a younger brother dying from cancer and his own struggle with cancer. He looked at me with a bittersweet smile ‘Cancer changes you: life is never the same again’. He spoke about seeing life differently, almost like being ‘born again’.

Eventually other customers came along, our conversation finished and I walked away.

Thinking about it, I felt lit up inside. I love moments like this and they are all around, everyday. Most times you don’t see them: you are too focused on getting things done or judging the other person that you don’t stop or even slow down to listen.



The Lectionary (the list of readings that churches use for each Sunday: most often I use it as it stops me preaching ‘greatest hits‘) has thrown up the Parable of the Sower in Matthew chapter 13 (go on: read it…and skip later on in that chapter to the explanation- you know you want to). Sometimes with well known passages like this it is tempting to ‘phone it in’, instead of grapple deeply and daily with it.
Mostly I resist this: life is too complex and I am fed up of the smug smile and the easy answer. Also, each time I sit down I think of my disparate group of mates that meet Fridays at my local or other friends I have that come nowhere near a church- if they ever came to hear (and some very occasionally do) would they appreciate and understand- have I descended into simplistic and Christian cliche?
I found this: a retelling of a Native American tale. I am not going to use it, but I think it takes the meaning in a different way:-
One day an opossum visited his good friend, a raccoon, at his home near the river. The opossum marveled at his friend’s lush garden and asked if he could grow one like it. The raccoon assured the opossum he could do so, although he cautioned him, “It is hard work.”
The opossum eagerly vowed to do the hard work necessary, then asked for and received some seeds. He rushed home with his treasure, buried them amid much laughter and song, went inside to clean up, ate, and went to bed. The next morning he leapt from bed to see his new garden.
Nothing. The ground looked no different than it had the day before!
Furious with anger and frustration, the opossum shouted at his buried seeds, “Grow, seeds, grow!” He pounded the ground and stomped his feet. But nothing happened. Soon a large crowd of forest animals gathered to see who was making all the commotion and why. The raccoon came to investigate with all the others.
“What are you doing, Opossum?” he asked. “Your racket has awakened the whole forest.”
The opossum railed about having no garden, then turned to each seed, and commanded it to grow. When the animals began to mock the opossum for his silly actions, he only screamed louder. At last the raccoon spoke up once more.
“Wait a minute, Possum,” he said. “You can’t make the seeds grow. You can only make sure they get sun and water, then watch them do their work. The life is in the seed, not in you.”
As the truth sank in, the opossum ceased his yelling and began to care for the seeds as the raccoon instructed, watering them regularly and getting rid of any weeds that invaded his garden. (On some days, though, when no one was watching, he still shouted a bit.)
Then one glorious morning the opossum wandered outside to see that multitudes of beautiful green sprouts dotted his garden. Just a few days later, gorgeous flowers began to bloom. With uncontrollable excitement and pride, the opossum ran to his friend, the raccoon, and asked him to witness the miracle. The raccoon took one long look at the thriving garden and said, “You see, Opossum, all you had to do was let the seeds do the work while you watched.”
“Yes,” smiled the opossum, finally remembering the wise words of his friend many days before, “but it’s a hard job watching a seed work.”
( From a retelling by Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal (1999) )

A story

I’ve used this story a couple of times & I really like it.

Time was I shied away from stories in favour of the ‘pure solid word’, these days I think a good story tells us more & treats us more as creatures of wonder than passive recipients of logic.

At least that is where I am now.

It’s a long story, but is worth reading even if you have faith or not.

‘There was one a father who had 2 sons.

He wanted them to learn and make their own way in life, so he summoned them and told them he was going away for a long time.

To each he gave a loaf of bread & £10 & told them it would be enough for the time he was away. They each protested, but he would not be moved. Furthermore he insisted that he be repaid what he had given them when he returned.

Eventually he returned and asked each son what he had done with it.

The first said that he had invited his neighbours to share the bread and paid £5 on wine to accompany it. The day after, he had given his last £5 to a beggar.

At this, the 2nd son jumped into the conversation to tell of what he had done to preserve what he had been given & he could return it, but the father wanted to hear what the first had done.

The first explained that one of his neighbours had returned and offered him a job at his bakery and he had gladly accepted it.  One day the beggar came into the bakery & recognised him. It turned out that beggar was actually very wealthy but eccentric & he gave the son a diamond that he had been carrying around for years as a token of gratitude. ‘So you see, father, I have £1000 pounds here that is yours.’

The father turned to his 2nd son. He told him that he had spent the £10 to buy a special sealable container in which to keep the loaf of bread: he knew his father wanted the loaf back when he returned. ‘I have guarded the bread all through your absence, even though I’ve had to borrow food from my brother and I have it here for you.’

After he said that, he prized up floorboards to reveal the hiding place for his container. With a great flourish he opened to lid. Inside was a shrunken, moulddy & stinking lump which may once have been a loaf.

‘I’m sorry’, he tendered to his father, ‘but at least I tried to look after that which you gave me, rather than wasting it like my brother.”

Story adapted from M.Riddell ‘Sacred Journey’ p121-2. At the end of the story he says ‘Nothing in life can be preserved unless it is first let go of. One of the challenges on our pilgrimage is to learn to live with open hands, rather than with clenched fists.’

A story

I like stories: I think that we understand the world through story. Truth/logic/rationalism are important: or you wouldn’t be able to read this, but story…

I dug this out of an old sermon when I was looking something up yesterday. I have no idea of the original source, but I suspect it was a sermon mailing from an American source; I have no idea whether it is true or not. I used it at the time with an application: now I am more content to let it stand….

During the war in America, a man had a son. His only son. He loved Him. His wife suggested that they take in a refugee child; Paul. He was against it, but agreed. learned the language, but as he learned it, he learned to manipulate the truth & began to steal. He broke the hearts of the people who looked after Him. But he did develop a close relationship with their son, Sammy.


One day, Paul, despite being warned against it, went swimming in a polluted stream that he had been warned against going in. He caught a fever, that was highly infectious and was isolated and Sammy was told to stay away from him. However, one morning , Sammy was found asleep in bed with Paul . As a result, Sammy caught the disease and died. Yet Paul lived.


A friend wrote to them expressing sorrow and told them that he would understand if they wanted to send Paul back after how he had hurt them. Some months later this friend visited and found this man working in the garden with Paul. The friend told Paul that he was a lucky person, but the man replied ‘We have now adopted him; he is the son that we lost’.

Some old stuff I rediscovered:1

Grey-Wolf.jpg (1280×1024)

I was looking through my files to find some old sermons. I like filing: ordering & categorising stuff as a barrier against an uncertain world. I found a couple of good bits (ok: I preached them: so the stuff around the good stuff was simply stunning….). Here is one- an old story that I may have used before:-

‘One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves, which live inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, lust, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

 The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf wins?’

 The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed’.

(source unknown, cited in Pimlott (2008) p96 ‘Youth work after Christendom’)