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The Rev. Martha Sterne The Rev. Martha Sterne

The Rev. Martha Sterne is an Episcopal priest and author. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

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The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA


Goats and Sheep

September 17, 2009

I lived for ten years in Maryville Tennessee and spent a lot of time out in the hollers and the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  We moved back to Atlanta two years aago, but we have kept a cabin out in the foothills.  We wanted to sell it, but the market was bad and we couldn't.  Now living happily in the midst of the tangle and confusion of our hometown big city, I know  how much my soul would grieve not to be in those green, quiet, ancient mountains, at least occasionally.  So, as so  often is the case, not selling our place is one of those backwards gifts that greatly nourishes my spirit, now that I have let it be. 

 

One of my favorites country roads  is East Miller's Cove for it winds through the mountains in the middle of a long, sweet valley filled with wildflowers and greens pastures and a clear rocky creek burbles first on one side of the road and then the other.One of the farmers must work at a bread company for in the afternoon you can see him driving his red pickup into the field and the cows come running and he throws bread off the truck and they moo like mad and gobble up the bread looking for all the world like a  four legged herd of huge ducks with horns.  East Miller's Cove is magical,  and the best part is that eventually it leads to a screen porch which is my soul's home on this earth.

 

One Thursday afternoon, I was driving along on East Miller's Cove,  minding my own business, when a cocker spaniel ambled into view.  Well I love cocker spaniels but, I have known several who were - forgive me - dumb as dirt and bad  to lay down to sleep in the middle of the road.  So I am waiting for this little blond cocker spaniel to act true to form and lumber out in front of my car,  when out steps from behind a tree behind the cocker spaniel none other than a very small wiry black goat, kind of nervously prancing around.  I am taking in the goat and cocker spaniel  situation and just creeping the car along past them, when up runs what looks like a great dane, twice as big as the little goat, teeth bared.  And the little goat is getting agitated and  I'm thinking uh-oh - that big dog is going to tear that little goat up and maybe the cocker spaniel, too, and now I'm going to have to figure out how to save the goat and the cocker spaniel from a hideous death.   

 

I slow my car to a crawl now looking at them in a rear view mirror and figuring I'll start honking and back up toward them as soon as the goat-cocker spaniel slaughter begins.  They're all whirling around - dogs and goat - and I'm oddly reminded of the picture of Jesus at the last judgement which when the sheep went to the left to heaven and the goats went to the right to hell.  Goats get a bad time of it in that instance, but that doesn't seem any reason why this little goat should be murdered on East Miller's Cove.  So I am preparing to back up and wade in at least with my horn when all of a sudden I notice that they are now all three in tandem hurtling in the same direction, which is toward my car and the dogs are barking like mad and the goat is lowering his head into butting position and I thought my word, they're not fighting amongst themselves.  They're just co-ordinating their joint  attack on me. 

 

So I jerked the car out of reverse and revved it up and boogied on down the road - a vanquieshed and unwanted rescuer - leaving the trio of little highway bandits united and triumphant standing at the top of a hill.

 

I don't know exactly why this memory surfaces for me just this moment. Health Care Reform?  I am so disappointed that our national discussion has been so silly and mean and fruitless.  I am so disappointed in our Congress.  If I hear one more person on Medicare say that they don't think the government ought to be in the insurance business, I am going to scream.  

 

You know.  you have your own "Sheep to the left, Goats to the right!" thinking. It's easy to go there. Politics.  Family.  Job.  Volunteer organizations.  You name it.  Life in any group of human beings  lends itself to 'goat-sheep' thinking.

 

So remember this little story.  Maybe the sheep and goats and cocker spaniels and great dames  in your life have got their game on and are just having a good time. Maybe they are just trying to suck you in to keep the fun going.  Maybe in the vast tangles and confusions of human interactions - maybe, just maybe you are misreading some situation.  Maybe we ride to the rescue a little to facilely and pompously as if we knew best.   Judge not too fast that you be not butted. Love, Martha Sterne

 


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