March 2013

A Tale of Two Hens

Dr Martin Dowson tells the following story:

Once upon a time there were two hens. One hen was raised caged in a battery. The other hen was raised free-range on the farm.
The caged hen learnt that every day was the same. The lights went on at the same time, they went out at the same time. The farmer cleaned her cage at the same time, and took her eggs at the same time. The caged hen also learnt that all other hens were the same as her. They all had the same life experience. So, they all thought the same way, acted the same way, and talked (or clucked) the same way. The caged hen also learned that life was safe. Everything she needed was provided for her, and so she never had to try. It was never too hot, and never too cold. Foxes couldn't get in, and hens could never get into trouble by roaming outside their cages. All she had to do was sit and lay eggs.

The free-range hen learnt that every day was different. Some days were sunny and warm, some were cloudy and wet. Some days she saw the farmer, some days she didn't. The free-range hen learnt that she could eat whenever and whatever she wanted, but some of the time she had find her own food, and if she didn't find enough she went hungry. The free-range hen also learnt that not all hens were the same, and that there were lots of other animals on the farm who weren't hens at all! The free-range hen also learnt the hard way that life wasn't always safe. Sometimes foxes did get in and kill some hens. Sometimes hens wandered too far and got themselves in trouble on the road or in the river.

Then, one day, there was a fire in the battery shed. The alarm went off and automatically all the doors on the cages and fire exits flew open but the hens didn't move. They were unable to move. They wanted to get away from the fire, but they had spent so long sitting on their comfortable perches that they didn't know how to move. Our hen tried to move, but her legs were too weak, and she wasn't sure which way led out of the battery. So, she sat there and hoped that the farmer would come for her. She was still sitting when the fire started to lap at her feathers. She died sitting.

There was a fire on the free range farm that day as well (it was a bad year for fires). The fire swept down out of the hills. Some animals sensed the fire before others, but soon all the animals, including all the hens, were running for their lives. Not all the hens escaped the fire. Some weren't quick enough. Some took a wrong turn, and drowned in the river. But, most of the hens (including ours) made it to the clearing away from the fire, and they are still around today to tell the young chicks what a fire looks like, and what to do when you see one coming.

The point of the tale is this: the fire has arrived. Whether in the form of globalism, pluralism, post-modernism, multiculturalism, secularism or whatever other "isms" define our increasingly-diverse society and world. And, the fire is forcing either change or "death". (Whether this death be of shops, pubs, churches, ministries, careers, or whatever.)
The people or organisation most likely to get burnt by the fire are those who have a "battery cage", mentality. That is, in passive, one-size-fits-all, mindsets. These people or groups simply don't have the initiative, flexibility and endurance to deal with the fires of our times. Passivity and “mono-dimensionality” in thought eventually breeds "death".
Those people or groups that have “free-range” thinking, that is, in active, flexible and intentionally relevant open thinking; are also getting burnt. However, a lot more of these people (and the businesses, shops, pubs, churches, clubs etc. they belong to) are surviving the fire. Some are even prospering, despite the fire.
Flexibility and willingness to use initiative, are necessary to at least do something when the fire comes. What's more, those that survive pass on to the next generation tales of how to adapt to rapidly-changing, even life-threatening, circumstances. Activity and dynamism in faith and life breeds faith and life.

Finally, the fire isn't going out. In fact, in many places it continues to burn hotter and move faster than ever before.
The life of faith is challenged and threatened by our society as never before. Even if the present fires do eventually burn out, the world will never be the same again. The only question, then, is whether we will continue to cage ourselves in inflexible and, ultimately, counter-productive ways of thinking and activities. Alternatively, we can become “free rangers” living outside the comfort zone, in order that we can begin to fight the fire now, and live to fight another day as well. Faith in God isn’t a block of truths but a way of being and living, faithfully on the free range.


March 2013