For all that I love the sublimely surreal whimsy of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, it is important not to forget his other wondrous works. Personally, I’m a big fan of his poem “Beetle” which recounts the epic tale of a small child in the tireless search of their escaped beetle. It seems to capture a fundamental feature of childhood: Creepy Crawlies.
My creepy crawlies of choice when I was small were snails and woodlice, which I kept in margarine tubs. I tried to make them a little home from home, with rocks and earth and their (possibly) favourite foods. Now it is the turn of my children. Elías (5) has discovered caterpillars. We have discovered stripey caterpillars, spikey caterpillars, and an elephant hawk-moth caterpillar. Many of the specimens have been captured and Elías has made them a little home-from-home, with sticks and leaves and their (probably not) favourite foods.
..and then I discovered the cabbage-moth caterpillars. The cabbage moths themselves are lily-white creatures that flutter beautifully in the sunshine…and lay eggs on my broccoli. By the time we discovered this, the broccoli plants that had been thriving in my vegetable patch since spring were all but lost. The caterpillars had hatched from the eggs and had begun to strip the leaves bare.
There was only one thing for it. I called Elías and excitedly told him there were more caterpillars to add to his collection. Without hesitation, he set about collecting all the caterpillars from the broccoli. Within half an hour, he must have caught over fifty and added them to his collection. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The next day there were more. I sent Elías in again. More the next day, and more the next, in a never-ending stream of brassica-destruction. Google tells me they will keep going until the hard frost of winter. It became clear that, for all Elías’ best efforts, my vegetable-patch was doomed.
But more of that later. We have other creepy-crawlies to deal with.
Along came a spider
There is a spider living under our computer-desk. I’d get rid of him, but he scuttles off every time I see him. He is on the large-ish side. I’m not scared of spiders, but that doesn’t mean I like them. I know they’re sinister. I know how they trap their food and wrap it up with their thread and their eight spindly little mechanical legs. They make me shiver a bit. And secretly I suspect they have something like this planned:
But I’m big enough and ugly enough to shrug it off and tolerate the spider living in the corner.
Having said that, I don’t ever recall seeing as many spiders as I have this autumn. Their webs adorn the garden and stick in my hair as I try to get to the shed and the compost bin. And I tolerate them. And as the number of spiders has shot up, I have noticed the number of caterpillars start to dwindle. Another quick Google search confirms that spiders do, indeed, eat caterpillars! Gradually the leaves have begun to grow back on my spider-web-festooned broccoli.
The creature I had grudgingly tolerated for so long had saved the day. Instead of being one of those things I put up with, they now play a critical role in the life of my garden.
“Tolerance” is one of those words which crops up a lot. Some people think we should be more tolerant. Some think we should be less tolerant. Some want to look tough by advocating “zero tolerance”.
Jesus’ model blows tolerance out of the water. When he told his closest followers to love one another, he knew that one of them was a terrorist against the occupying army and one was a collaborator with the occupying forces. He knew some of them were no-nonsense fishermen and some were ideas and numbers people. They were the kind of people who would, at best, grudgingly tolerate one another. And yet he expected them to lay their lives on the line for each other.
I suspect I’m not the only one of God’s Toddlers who finds it too easy to find a place for ourselves the world’s sliding scale of tolerance; to hang out with those who think like us and do things like us, while grudgingly tolerating those who are different. To tolerate precisely those people who God has welcomed with open arms; those who are as much part of his plan as we are; those we should expect to – figuratively – rescue our broccoli; the spiders who we should welcome with the same delight as God does.
You might be like me and think you are comfortable with most people. If so, try listening to Vagabonds by Stuart Townend, which includes just some of the groups who are welcome at God’s table.
If, like me, a few of these made you flinch with discomfort, they might be your spiders. What if, instead of being one of those things we put up with, they played a critical role in our lives, and we in theirs?
© Text and photo 2014 Paul Brownnutt
Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Today’s post was brought to you by 1 Corinthians 12:22-23