The Parable of the Tiger and the Goats: The Necessity of Spiritual Formation in Personal and Parish Renewal

In a sermon on “The Church’s Search for Identity,”
Bishop Kenneth Carder shares a most compelling metaphor/parable:

The nineteenth-century Hindu philosopher Ramakrishna told a fable about a tiger cub who was separated from his mother and fellow tigers. He was adopted by goats who raised him as if he were a goat. So, instead of roaring with a voice that shook the forest, the tiger bleated softly in sounds heard only by his adopted family. Instead of eating red meat, the tiger grazed on the soft grass and ate bark from tender saplings, which caused him to lack the robust strength characteristic of well-fed tigers. Instead of roaming the lofty peaks and leaping the treacherous mountain crevices, the tiger who thought he was goat roamed the paths of the lowlands. He didn’t know who he was. His only image of himself was taken from the world around him, a world of goats rather than of tigers. He was less than a tiger because he had no understanding of what it meant to be a tiger. He had been cut off from his true identity.  (Carder, Sermons on United Methodist Beliefs, p. 15)

So that no one misses his point, he goes on to conclude – with words that undoubtedly have meaning in any number of denominations and congregational settings:

The church suffers from a similar malady. We have been orphaned by our broken connection with our biblical and theological parentage. Our failure to stay in daily contact with the images of the church as found in the Bible and in historical theology has left us with the inadequate images of the world around us as our models of being and doing. The business world, civic clubs, and social and political organizations have become our patterns. Consequently, the church is treated as an institution among institutions—an organization among many organizations to which we belong, in which we find fellowship, and in which we engage in endless activities.

The result is that we wander around on the smooth, well-worn lowland paths, grazing on tasty but unnourishing pious junk food. No one trembles at our blah messages or pays much attention to our bleating pronouncements. We hear the echo of a distant roar which temporarily strikes a responsive curiosity. We have a vague hunger that is not satisfied by palatable pious platitudes. Occasionally we glimpse a lofty height, or a Christlike image falls momentarily across our path, giving us a nudge to be more than we are as a church. We go through the motions, but our hearts are elsewhere. We know deep down in our souls that there is more to this church thing than going to meetings and promoting an institution. (Ibid)

It’s just one more way of framing
the general ministry of spiritual formation
and our mission of Zoe-Life Explorations:
facilitating discussions and explorations
of those spiritual dynamics and rhythms
by which God equips the Church
(and its leaders and members)
to recover true identity, calling, and voice in Christ!

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