Sunday, May 27, 2012

Guess Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but when I was about ten years old, a wolf would come to my bedside at night.  He wasn’t the sort of wolf that howls at the moon and travels in packs.  He was the sort of wolf that walks upright on his hind legs, with a long snout and a dangling tongue dripping saliva.  In other words, he was the type that would occasionally get bit parts in Disney cartoons.   He didn’t watch me from my closet, or from across the room.  He would come right up to my head, sit on his haunches so he was at eye-level, and stare at me.  What particular interest he had in me, I did not know, and he would not say; but I guessed it was the same interest that Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with the big teeth had in her; which happened to be the same interest that the huffing  puffing pursuer of the three little pigs had in them. 
I suspect that not long before the wolf began to visit me, I had seen him in a movie, or I had come face to face with him on a visit to The Enchanted Forest (a park near Baltimore that had life-size displays of fairy tales).  Maybe one of my brothers planted the wolf thought by calling me a little pig.  I was what we used to call pudgy, or chunky, or roly-poly, as a school photo of me rounding out an official Davy Crockett shirt will attest.  In hindsight, my roly-polyness may be somehow related to the fact that Mom had officially anointed me the Dessert-King.  Perhaps it was one evening as I was exercising my royal prerogative over the family’s last piece of pie that the scurrilous little pig charge was made. 
One would think that the appropriate age for a child to receive a nighttime visit from a wolf would be about four or five.  Why this wolf waited until I was in 5th or 6th grade remains a mystery.  Either he was seriously late or I was seriously behind in my terror development, perhaps to the point of being terror-challenged.  I tend to think it was the wolf’s fault, because I have a distinct recollection of being terrified of Godzilla several years before.  
I just remembered something that could explain the wolf visits.  Desperate to come up with a science project in fifth or sixth grade, I had driven nails into a sheet of plywood, fashioned the heads of various mammals out of clay, and stuck them on the nails.  Then I wrote the name of the mammal beside the appropriate head, along with some facts that I gleaned from my one resource, a pocket “Guide to Mammals.”  That’s the small, slick-covered book you might use, while seated on your porch, to distinguish migrating herds of water buffalo from migrating herds of wildebeest.  Wildebeest is a fun word which I like to weave it into conversations as opportunities arise.  Evidently, one can use it in articles too.  If we had time I would invite you to say it a few times now, but I’m having a hard enough time moving this story along, so I need you to focus.  
My science project, then, amounted to a few dozen clay models of mammal heads, along with fun facts, such as:  “The African elephant has larger ears than the Indian elephant, and he weighs far more than a wildebeest.”  It may have already occurred to you that if there’s a list somewhere of the worst science projects ever submitted, my mammal board is on it.  If my dad had any hope that his third son might follow his footsteps into science and engineering, that hope was dashed against that sheet of plywood.  I mention all this because one of those mammal heads was probably a wolf.  Maybe, in my imagination, the wolf returned to avenge his impaling.  
In any event----however he was summoned, the wolf would come to me.  When I would see him, I would scream.  I should point out that at that point in my life, when I would scream, people would come running.  Now, when I scream, anyone nearby will usually go further away, until I calm down.  The exception is when I am screaming in the pulpit, in which case people will generally sit and take it.  But when I was a child, and I screamed in my bedroom, I could usually count on Mom or Dad or both to rush in.   So what was so strange about the wolf visits, apart from the fact that a wolf was visiting me, which was, in hindsight (No pun intended. I resisted the temptation to say hound-sight, which would have been a pun intended) a bit strange in itself, was that whenever I would scream, no one would come; the reason was, I quickly realized, when I opened my mouth to scream, no sound would come out.  It’s a frightening thing to scream and make no sound, and to attempt to flee and find your body doesn’t respond to your brain’s signals.  I knew intuitively that the wolf had something to do with it. 
This terror would continue for what seemed like hours, and then the wolf would leave, as suddenly as he had come.  With the spell now broken, I would run down the hall to my parents’ bedroom, in a state of sweaty delirium (you may find me in a similar state most Sundays at noon).   My parents would of course comfort me and tell me it was just a bad dream, and one of them would mention something about having to go to work in the morning, and needing his sleep, but I’m sure they had a hard time convincing me to go back to the bedroom of horror. 

As you can imagine, after the wolf’s first stopover, I was not at all inclined to go to bed the next night, for fear he would return, and he did.  His modus operandi was the same:  stealthily appear, then just sit and stare.  I don’t remember how many days or weeks this drama played out, but eventually he tired of toying with me, and went to find another chubby victim.  That's not much of a climactic ending to my wolf story, now that I think of it.  It would have been better if I had brought my BB gun to bed one night and shot the wolf between the eyes.  If I had foreseen that I would be writing this story one day, that's how I would have handled it. 
The Apostle Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, a city in what is now Turkey, that after he left them, “grievous wolves” would enter in among them “not sparing the flock.”  These “wolves” were men who didn’t really care for the believers, other than as a means of gain.  Just like my late-night visitor, when they looked at the sheep, they saw mutton.  This was just a few decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, and already there were men who viewed the church as a means of gain. 
A member of a Baltimore church recently asked my friend Barry, our church’s Associate Pastor, if our church provides a private jet for her ministers. 
“A private jet?” Barry exclaimed, incredulously. 
She responded with something like: “Our pastor wants the church to get him a private jet for his ministry, as other churches have done for their pastors.”
Let’s think about this; does any pastor really need a private jet?   If I’m not mistaken, commercial airlines already fly into the major cities of the world.  Yes, it’s true, on a commercial jet, the pastor will probably have to sit beside one or two strangers, and it’s a safe bet that he won’t have much leg room for a few hours.  But when we recall that those who first declared the message of Christ often traveled for days by foot, or sailed for weeks on dangerous seas, and endured some discomforts of their own: hunger, thirst, beatings, imprisonments, whippings, an occasional stoning or beheading; then maybe it’s not too great a sacrifice to sit in an upholstered chair on an air conditioned plane snacking on almonds and sipping cranberry juice for a few hours.  
I haven’t priced private jets lately, but I imagine that even if you picked one up at a yard sale, you’d be looking at the better part of a million, and your annual budget line for fuel and maintenance and storage and pilots would be enough to fully support a missionary family, or several indigenous Christian workers.
Private jets!  Is it any wonder that so many have ceased to consider the Christian church as a place to look for answers to their deepest questions?  In the Christian Church, wolves not only devour the sheep, their presence in our midst damages our testimony to those who are looking on.  I’m reminded of a perceptive comment from a boy on a Philadelphia street: 
“You preachers, you talk about lovin the Lawd, lovin the Lawd, then you come drivin’ up in some big hawg.”    I never had any interest in driving some big hawg, but that conversation settled the matter for good. 
It’s been at least fifty years since that wolf came to my bedside, but even now, when I see what looks like a wolf eyeing the flock of Christ, it still makes me want to scream.


  1. Russ..I don't see how those Wildebeest ..water Buffalo ..or Wolf..escaped my vigilant and stealthy hunting trips at 4610 with my deadly Robin Hood bow and home made arrows...I think the Wildebeest migrated into the little tree fort woods at the end of the dead end on Powel ave..The Disney Wolf explains the anxious and scary anticipation while walking the few hundred yard path between bus stop rd. and Powel ave at night?.I guess that wolf decided to let you grow into more challanging prey?

    1. If I'm not mistaken, this anonymous intrepid bow hunter must be my brother Eric!

    2. hm-m-m - how did your story end?