The Zoo, Part 1

Eli is an elephant. In fact, his full name is Eli the Elephant as you would suspect. Eli the Elephant lives in a cage, but not a dirty cage, at least not dirty by elephant standards. Eli lived alone in his cage and was very old. His cage was a great comfort to him because he could still remember the “before days” in the wild world.
Eli didn’t like to think of the before days in the wild though often he was asked about them. The Zoo days were much better he decided. The before days were a time of uncertainty, risk, and peril. His cage allowed him safety and separation. That is what he liked the best. He faithfully expressed his feelings about the wild every chance he had. The many animals that arrived from the wild often didn’t last in the Zoo and Eli made sure the Zoo animals knew it was the wild’s fault.
Life was busy, thought Eli. He felt the tiredness in him and the insecurity of the path he had chosen. The wild seemed to be what zoo animals these days cared most for. They claimed it was more authentic; more genuine. They took short trips there and even a few moved back to the wild. Only foolish zoo animals wanted an existence that authentic. Short term visits usually gave them a sense of genuine work and wild but convinced them that zoo life was better. Secretly Eli reasoned that short-term visits to the wild actually created excitement that helped accomplish his objectives when zoo animals came home. He carefully labeled wild animals fanatics and rogues. Most zoo animals thought like Eli did about wild animals.
You shouldn’t think Eli too bad an elephant, however. He holds to the religion of the wild well enough. Each Freeday he administers the elements of worship, gives the lesson from the Holy Book, and councils with the younger animals about the way of the Creator. Eli is a pastor you might say. In fact, he is a pastor of pastors; a bishop of the Zoo. Under his many years of service he managed an unheard of feat.
In the before times, Zoo Guests and herbivores (for carnivores are a story for later) were enemies. Herbivores suffered with all the world from sin introduced in ancient times. Sin had brought death. All sinned, and all needed salvation from their sin through the Chief. That was Eli’s religion. He expected a return of the Chief, believed in the teachings of the Chief, and taught eternal life came through the Chief alone. Herbivores were those animals who believed the testimony of the Chief passed on to them from the great Savanna Council.
In the wild, all creation comingled, but the herbivores almost always suffered for it. Yet, through the power of the Creator, they carried the message to many more until the Zoo Guests could no longer hold down the message of the Chief. The Chief taught about peace and hope for all who believed but also judgment and condemnation for all who refused to believe. Zoo Guests would not believe and carnivores only sought to destroy from within. The carnivores and Zoo Guests killed the Chief as a spectacle thinking they could stop his message. He defeated death, however, and now reigns over all creation with the Creator. The before times were alive with the power of his activity. The wild times were difficult but productive. Eli remembers the wild times as hard and difficult and all together not worthy of repeating. But his decisions have consequences.
The wild was not a bad time. It was more risky to live as a herbivore during that time, however. Eli grew tired of the risk and accomplished the great feat I mentioned before. His great contribution to this world was the Zoo. The Zoo was more than a place for animals to live. It was a place in the midst of the city safe from carnivores and Zoo Guests yet still an outpost for the testimony of the Chief. Eli had brought the testimony of the herbivores into the heart of the enemy’s existence. Each day Zoo Guests would observe the exceptional existence these animals live. Eli told himself they were seeing lives changed in every smile from every amused kid who dreamed of growing up and being an herbivore. He would hear their excited exclamations to their parents and their parents would pat them on the head and move them along.
He accomplished this feat by making a few compromises. The first compromise was beneficial in that carnivores and herbivores had to be separated by high fences and tall gates. The herbivores had to protect themselves from the ferocious carnivores. The Zoo Guests devised a structure that seemed almost real but that separated carnivores from herbivores. This seemed a good trade to old Eli because he had few predators and others had many. Delilah the Shakey Gazelle, for instance, would have been chased nearly every week. True enough she had instead grown very fat and not too bright, but still she was safe. Eli felt proud of his providing Delilah with a safe refuge. Safety was worth the compromise.
Second, gates, bars and pits had to separate the herbivores from the Zoo Guests. Zoo Guests could not have direct contact with the herbivores. They could come and watch and pay their fee for entry but could not make contact with the herbivores. In return, the Zoo Guests didn’t have pesky Elephants in their yard or beavers blocking their rivers. The animals were convenient to view, if not completely sincere in their cages away from the wild. The compromise worked because it allowed Zoo Guests to visit the herbivores when they wanted rather than be obstructed by their religious activity when it was unwanted. Herbivores practice their religion in the way they keep their lives ordered and through worship on Freedays. True, herbivores no longer did much good for Zoo Guests because they no longer mingled with them, but at least they were a good show. Convenience was worth compromise.
Third, it was all pretend. Eli knew he needed the Zoo Guests to make the whole situation possible. He reasoned that the Creator wanted Zoo Guests to know about the Chief, and that growing numbers of spectators was the sign of success because it meant more would be exposed to the truth. In his heart Eli suspected this is not what the Creator meant to occur, but how could he escape now even if he wanted. Besides, his great feat brought harmony and peace between Zoo Guests and herbivores. The carnivores were isolated though they seemed to have more visitors than the herbivores these days. Success was worth compromise.
The Zoo had problems. The Zoo no longer flourished. Zoo Guests didn’t come very often and none of the sideshows Eli put together had brought more in. Without better attendance, the animals could not survive and would inevitably have to retreat back to the wild. Eli had no energy for such things and he had erected this massive Zoo to overcome these type problems. Plus, while in the Zoo the animals had become foolish about the wild ways and could no longer endure the harshness of that environment. Surely the Creator would not allow such a thing to occur, thought Eli.
The problem Eli tried to solve was an increasingly common one. He knew other zoos faced similar problems. For some time, many replicated Eli’s innovation. Some began to diversify in recent days but, despite doctrinal differences, they all operated in such a way as to keep their zoos open. For instance, in his zoo the animals were assembled according to their kinds. This was the most common ordering. The gazelles went to one Freeday school in one class, the Rhinoceroses to another, and so on. This was more comfortable for everyone. After all, animals like to worship in homogenous groups. Occasionally groups would intermix but the result was seldom successful. Other Zoos trumpeted “Family Zoo” and kept all ages of animals together. Some groups splintered because of internal strife. The list of problems continues, but all in all, the plan worked. It just wasn’t exciting the crowds any longer. The rate of Zoo failure exceeded the rate on new zoo starts. Some of the newer zoos tried to minimize the obvious division created by the zoo cages between zoo animals and Zoo Guests. Zoo Guests felt as if they were closer to the Creator by being closer to the Zoo animals. At first they succeeded and Zoo Guests flocked in. But eventually the result was the same; excitement wore off and the divisions caused by the cages were just too great even when minimized.
So, faced with an impossible consequence and the increasingly fickle crowds, Eli lumbered heavily about his daily business. Nothing worked and he had tried a lot. The Creator just didn’t appeal to Zoo Guests anymore.

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