The Important Questions

This morning when I was driving to work, I was listening to the lovely soundtrack to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of the most recent movie adaptations of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Listening to the deep tones of danger and the dancing notes of wonder, I asked myself a very important question – which classic fantasy realm would I rather live in: Narnia or Middle Earth? My very quick response was Narnia. But why? I do thoroughly enjoy JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. I can totally see myself in the horse-centric culture of Rohan, but something about Narnia speaks to me more. The two fictional realms have a lot in common. Both stories have a self-important villain who seeks to conform the world to their own moods. Both stories have unlikely heroes who face the villain with more courage than anyone would believe they had. Both lands fall into a brutal war. And both stories end with victory for the heroes. But while Middle Earth seems like the kind of place you could have a good life, Narnia feels to me like the kind of place where dreams could be fulfilled. It has a bit more brightness – more hope.

I then turned the question to the Science Fiction realm. Would I like to live in the Star Wars universe or the Star Trek universe? Again, the answer was easy: Star Trek. I’ve always been more of a Trekkie, but that wasn’t the whole reason. Again, both realms have similarities. There are alien cultures I like, and some I don’t. There are planets full of happy people and planets ruined by war. But to me, the Star Wars universe seems like a place where you might have a good life, but the Star Trek universe seems geared toward fulfillment. It is about wonder and discovery.

I arrived at work and was brought back from my daydreams about fictional worlds into the real world. I have a good job, doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I have a home, pets, and food on the table. And yet, I still dream. Some dreams can be fulfilled here, but many are unrealistic. Earth is a place where I can have a good life. But Heaven is where dreams will be fulfilled. It won’t be what some believe it will be: a place where their every desire and every loved thing from Earth will surround them for eternity. It will be a place where dreams so wonderful we can’t even comprehend them will be real. Desires we don’t even know we have will be met. And all of it will be filled with the eternal presence of God and the light of Jesus.

 

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The Focus

When I was growing up, my parents planned wonderful vacations for our family. My dad does a great job of researching beautiful places and interesting attractions in cities all over North America, and even in the UK. One thing was always consistent: if there was a zoo nearby, he planned for us to spend at least part of a day there just for me. Of course dad, mom, and my brother found them enjoyable, too, but it was clearly a choice made for my interests. Because of this, I can honestly say I’ve visited most of the prominent zoos in the US and Canada as well as some I’m sure most people haven’t heard of. These ranged from small, privately owned collections to the “big guys” like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens, and San Diego Zoo. When I was a kid, it was all about seeing animals I’d only seen in books or getting different views of long time favourites. After I started my Zoo Animal Technology classes in college, I found my focus shifting. I was now an “insider.” I’d been behind the scenes in a couple zoos, seen how the work was done, so I found myself evaluating the exhibits as much as the animals in them. Now that I’ve been a zookeeper for 10 years, I do this even more when I visit other zoos. Of course, I still love the animals and I’m always exhilarated to see a species I’ve never seen before, but I’m also keeping a sharp eye on the design of the exhibit. I look for clever ways of concealing barriers and doors. I evaluate how easy the job of the keeper working in that exhibit might be. I may even criticize the designer for making “mistakes” that detract from the effectiveness of the display.

The other day, I had a few extra moments between tasks at work and I spent time watching one of my all time favourite zoo animals: the red pandas. The younger one was jogging around his exhibit, clearly enjoying the cool but sunny day. He would climb up one side of a tree and down the other. He climbed all over the platforms artfully placed between the trees. He even showed off one of the Red Panda’s special skills – using his super sharp claws to climb head first down a tree trunk. I smiled the whole time and delighted in the giggles from the children around me, laughing at the animal’s antics. I thought, “This is why I’m a zookeeper.” It isn’t because I’m an intense environmentalist, though I agree that conservation is vital. It isn’t because I have a desire to be an educator. It is because I love animals. I love watching them. I love hearing them. I love sharing them.

Lately, I’ve heard sermons and radio talks about Christians today losing their focus on what the Christian life is all about. I think they caught my attention because I see that in myself. The Christian life isn’t about the “exhibits” – going to church, reading your Bible, talking about the community events you’re volunteering at, or taking a stand on issues. The Christian life is about Jesus. Putting those other things before Him in importance is like building a zoo exhibit before deciding what animal will live in it. I might put in some beautiful fake logs, a climbing structure, and a deep pond and have a habitat that perfectly resembles a clearing in the woods of North America, but if I try to put a Tibetan Yak in there, it would make things difficult and confusing for the Yak, the zookeepers, and the visitors. We can put all the emphasis on being the most faithful attendee in our Sunday School class, but if we don’t know Jesus, we’re just wasting time. We can wave a sign in front of an organization we disagree with, but if we’re doing it for ourselves instead of for Christ, we’re just taking up space. Sure, God can use anyone and anything for His purposes and make it work. Just like the exhibit at my zoo that used to hold Mountain Goats and now houses Penguins. It has had modifications that make it work quite well. But nothing makes the same impact as something purpose built. Putting the focus on the animal’s needs builds the best exhibit. Putting my focus on Jesus Christ builds an effective life.

Hebrews 12:2 “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

The Characters

When I picture a room full of people I have learned valuable lessons from, there is quite an unusual crew surrounding me. Some are tall and some are short; some are clean and some are dirty; some are old and some are young; some are blonde and some are blue. All have their names and stories written for millions to read. Here are a few of them.

Merlin – Power comes with great responsibility for the good of others.

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Nightcrawler – “Don’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t just a cliche.

 

 

Tony Stark – The soft interior under your armour may be the strongest part of you.

Peter Pevensie – The strongest way to lead is to lean on the strengths of others.

Susan Pevensie – A scientific mind is an asset only when it doesn’t crowd out childlike faith.

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Edmund Pevensie – You can move past your mistakes with the love of friends and family.

Lucy Pevensie – The seemingly insignificant things can often be the most valuable.

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Severus Snape – Doing good things doesn’t make you a good person.

 

 

 

Johnny Rico – Don’t let people underestimate you, even when they are right.

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Kathryn Janeway – When you need to be strong, be very strong, but never forget that you may get just as far or farther with softness and a smile.

 

 

 

 

Nehemiah – Pursue something you believe in.

Noah – Follow God’s plans.

Samuel – Listen.

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Daniel – Quiet, steady faith can be a radical thing.

 

Fictional characters can feel real to us. Ironically, the real people whose stories are told in the Bible often feel like fictional characters. But whether they came from the mind of an author or the hand of the Author doesn’t change the fact that we can learn from them.

The Morning

Good morning, God. I know it is early and You’ve been up all night, but Your Word says you never sleep so I figured I could bug you now. I had a lot of fun last night talking to a new friend until it was late. Even though I slept pretty well, I’m awake at 5:00 AM with all kinds of thoughts whirling in my head. They’re not necessarily bad things but they are keeping me from resting. Do You mind if I give them to You? It amazes me that You can listen to all of Your children at once and pay total attention to every one. If You can do that, You can handle the song that is looping in my brain, the ideas for craft projects, and my plans for the week. I may not be able to get back to sleep now that I’ve been this awake, but I can rest in bed until I’m ready to get up. Or until my alarm goes off – whichever comes first. Thank You, God, for being there, for listening, and for caring about something so small.
“Casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7

The Little One

 A lot of times when we visit zoos, we like to see the “unusual” animals – the smallest species, the largest, the fastest, or the strongest. In some cases, we ooo and ahhh over rare colour variations like white tigers and albino pythons. As a penguin keeper, I’ve always kind of hoped one of my penguins would hatch out in a unique colour variation called leucism. Leucistic animals simply have less pigment in their scales, hair, fur, or feathers so they are a lighter or sometimes pure white version of the normal colouring. This sounds like I’m describing an albino animal but the difference is that leucistic animals still have the normal skin and eye colour where albino animals have no pigment there either. The white tigers I mentioned before are good examples. They still have stripes but they are lighter brown and the orange areas are white instead, but if you look at their eyes and lips, you will see they are the normal colour. Leucistic penguins end up having white feathers in the normal places and blonde feathers where they should have black or grey feathers. 

 

A leucistic African Penguin among his naturally coloured counterparts


Our colony of penguins has yet to produce a leucistic chick, but we recently had another type of unique baby: the smallest African Penguin I’ve ever seen. His name is Thumper and though all penguin chicks are adorable, he has an extra measure of cute! The average weight of one of our penguins is between 2.8 and 3.3 kilograms (around 7-12 pounds). The other two chicks raised with Thumper, Chip and Marty, weigh right around 3.0 kilograms. Thumper weighs just 2.0 kilograms. Thumper is just small proportioned all over. He has tiny feet, a short beak, and dainty wings. In fact, when we put his identification band on his wing, we only used 4 plastic beads instead of the usual 6 because that would have made the band wider than his wing. I love all of the birds I care for, but I readily admit that Thumper holds a special place in my heart.

 

Left to right: Chip, Thumper, and Marty

 
When Jesus was on Earth, He often picked the unusual people to pay attention to. Not the ones we would pick: the strongest, the smartest, the richest, or the best looking. He chose the weak, the humble, the faithful, the willing, and the child-like. Even His disciples were the “wrong” people for someone who was expected to save the world. Most had ordinary jobs like being fishermen. And yet, God used every single person that Jesus chose for great things. Even if that great thing was just going back to their town and telling their friends and family about Him. It is actually a wonderful thing to realize that God doesn’t need us to be extraordinary before He can use us. He makes us extraordinary when we are willing to be chosen by Him.

But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.'” 1 Samuel 16:7

The View from the Top

I was cleaning the outdoor area of the Penguin exhibit today when a small songbird flew over my head. I looked up and followed the path of its flight until it disappeared to the other side of the building beside me. But right beside, and far above, the path of the bird’s flight was another flying creature – an airplane. All I could see was its silvery white belly and two long lines of condensation trailing off the back. It looked like a very small toy. Then I thought about what the view from the plane would be like and realized the passengers wouldn’t even be able to see me from that distance. I was less than a toy – a speck. I remembered taking flights on many trips home and on vacations. Looking out of the windows, I would sometimes try to pick out something to distinguish the landscape below me. Usually, I can’t even figure out which giant city I am flying over. From up that high, everything looks small, insignificant, and all so similar.

We usually think of Heaven being up beyond the sky, yet we know that space is above the sky that we see. Even if it were just above the outer reach of Earth’s atmosphere, that would put God much higher above where that airplane was flying! There are times when it certainly feels like God is that far away. What is amazing is that God isn’t that distant. He isn’t looking down on the Earth and dealing with us at the level of countries and cities. He looks down and sees us as individuals. He saw me today, standing on the Penguin island. He sees me right now, sitting on my couch and typing. He sees you, and is right there for you, always.

“So she called the Lord who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, ‘In this place, have I actually seen the one who sees me?'”¬†Genesis 16:13

The Father

One of the most common questions I am asked about penguins is “Do they really mate for life?” My usual answer is that I prefer to call them “long term pairs.” One reason is that if a bird loses their mate for any reason, they will find a new one. The other reason is a bird named Penelope.

I’ve seen most of my penguins flirt with each other, but Penelope is something else. In the few years Penelope has been in my zoo, sh has had 3 mates, none of which were “lost,” and has had trysts with a couple other males. Because her genes are important to the penguin breeding program, she’s pretty much approved to raise chicks with all of the males she has paired with. The only problem is keeping track of who is the father! We’ve actually looked into having som of her offspring DNA tested to be sure they are carrying the important genes the breeding program is looking for.

As important as a family tree is in breeding zoo animals, it was considered even more important in ancint Israel. The Bible is full of lists of names showing the lineage of important figures. If you couldn’t trace your family, you were looked down on. So you would think that when God sent His Son to be born on earth, He would have chosen a family with a prestigious pedigree. Though the Bible does trace Jesus’ family back to King David as the prophets promised, His parentage was questioned from the beginning.

Joseph must have been shocked when his fianc√© told him she was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father and the explanation Mary offered seemed ridiculous. He was ready to break off their engagement. Only a direct message from an angel reassured him.

So, as important as a person’s parentage was, the most important Person in history was considered illegitimate, except by those who put their faith in Him.