One rather elegant carnivore lived next to Eli’s cage. She was the only one of the carnivores allowed so near. Most others lived beyond the divide placed their as part of the compromise Eli had made. The Zoo Guests wouldn’t allow the Zoo to keep only herbivores as Eli had wanted, so Eli had compromised on the condition that a great divide separated herbivores and carnivores. Eli was unhappy with the Jackal who lived next to him but thought since this animal was a scavenger and not a hunter, it wouldn’t be an issue. Besides, he was too old to be polluted by the likes of a Jackal and too big to be picked on.
The Jackal wore her hair impeccably fashioned. She never seemed out of sorts, frazzled or unaware, and except for her toothy mouth, seemed unthreatening. Eli grew quite accustomed to her and never had a problem with her behavior. Eli didn’t know her name but began to want to know it. This Jackal might be okay. Besides, the Jackal had a sense of importance and fortitude uncommon in other zoo animals.
Eli didn’t like mice. And Stephen the Mouse was no ordinary mouse. He lived in the wild and not in the Zoo. Eli especially disliked Stephen the Mouse. Stephen wore his hair matted or frazzled from many a night on the trail. His behavior seemed, well, wild and that made Eli nervous. Stephen was the sort that listened well but made you uncomfortable that he may correct your opinions with a little too much Holy Book. His high mindedness caused him problems with people. Some said he was too bold, too plainspoken, and too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.
Of late, Eli had heard others speak about Stephen the Mouse and his rantings. They were dangerous overtures made to weak minded and emotionally needy animals thought Eli. Stephen was said to want the animals to return to the wild. He knew Stephen’s preaching would unpin his efforts to maintain the Zoo and could cast a shadow over his legacy. Eli felt threatened by Stephen before he ever met him. But a meeting was on the way.
You can imagine Eli’s response when Stephen entered his cage unannounced. Eli nearly stepped on Stephen but then jumped from surprise and slipped on the steps of his cage, falling against the fence. The Zoo Guests watching Eli roared with laughter. Eli stood quickly, embarrassed but still afraid of Stephen who remained unmoved by the ruckus.
“Get out of my cage! Shew! Filthy mouse,” cried Eli!
Stephen remained silent and unmoved. It was not in Stephen to be turned away unheard. And today he had something to say to Eli. Stephen stepped forward causing Eli to uproot a small fake tree and swat at Stephen with it. The crowd jeered and mocked the spectacle. Stephen dodged the melee and retreated to the grate over the hole by which he had entered.
Stephen called to Eli from the mouth of the grate, “Eli the Elephant, cease your rampage and hear my word!” Eli calmed a bit but stayed a good distance from the grate.
“Speak your part, mouse. Then leave me be.” Eli replied gruffly.
Stephen began, “I have a word from the Creator. It is a word you know if you search the Holy Book for understanding…”
“Ha! You, a word from the Creator? You are an outsider from the wild. You are polluted with the wiles of this world and cannot speak to me,” Eli interrupted.
“And yet I will speak the Creator’s word to you. He says,
‘Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
Stephen continued, “You look for a solution to your problems and yet you will not turn from your own devices. This Zoo you built, promoted, and defended is a compromise on the truth. You insist to the animals to whom you minister that the zoo is better than the wild. Yet, the wild is where animals are supposed to live. There we interact with Zoo Guests and tell them the story of the Chief. Your precious Zoo is an obstruction to the Good News not a platform for it as you tell yourself.”
Eli was aghast and appalled with the audacity of this little mouse.
“Do you know to whom you speak, little mouse? I saved these animals from the perils of the wild. Without me, none of these animals would be here. Your ‘council’ you claim is from the Creator is the same poison spoken by those who resisted the idea in the first place. Look at our location, the magnificence of this place, and the crowds that comes in to experience the witness we give!”
The Mouse stepped forward as the zeal in his squeaky compelled him, “You claim this an advantage to the good news of the Chief, but it is a stumbling block. The Zoo Guests laugh at your belief. This cage is not where you belong. It’s a fabrication. The animals in your charge have never experienced the power of the Chief because they have never felt the wild. They know nothing of the life the Creator saved them for. The wild permits them to live as the Creator intends – among the carnivores and Zoo Guests and other herbivores. Even though the risks are great in the wild, the reward exceeds the risks.”
“Your decline,” continued the Mouse, “heralds the judgment of the Creator. You have a chance to change your course and abandon this Zoo. Choose your path wisely. The declining attendance, false worshippers in your congregation, and space you share with carnivores reflects your blind spiritual leadership. Zoo Guests do not believe in the Creator because you make a comfortable environment for them to see you. They believe because they see the value of the Chief’s way. Abandon this fabrication and honor the Creator before your pattern of compromise destroys everything.”
“Away from me,” Eli demanded as he approached Stephen. He still held the fake tree and intended to crush Stephen the Mouse with it if he could get close enough. “Off with you to the hole you crawled from”. With that Eli charged Stephen and swung the fake tree and rammed it into the hole. Stephen eluded him and scurried back into the hole.
From somewhere out of Eli’s sight he heard, “We shall speak again, Eli.” And Stephen was off.
Eli was stunned. The scare and fall had left his hip in pain. His pride was more so riled as he considered the foolishness of this small mouse. Had he not prayed about his actions? Were not the finances and negotiations unusually easy – The Creator had opened the way for this Zoo. His tactics had worked and many replicated the results with great success. Never before had herbivores had such a high profile in the cities of Zoo Guests. They even advertised heavily to bring in new Zoo Guests. The Creator accomplished this work through the strategies Eli initiated. Somewhere in Eli’s mind, however, Stephen’s words made sense. He couldn’t acknowledge it now but it troubled him nonetheless.
He turned around in the middle of his thoughts and saw something he hadn’t seen in a long while. The Zoo Guests lined the cage enclosure laughing and jeering and generally having a good time. What had brought them, Eli didn’t know. He would have to consider this. Maybe it was the beginning of a solution. If he could discover the source of this crowd, maybe he could find a new strategy to save the Zoo.
A soft and inviting voice called to Eli from beyond his cage. It was the Jackal. She had never spoken to him before but her voice seemed sincere and heart-felt.
She said, “Eli, that is your name right? So you know, I think the mouse is crazy. This Zoo is the best thing that ever happened to me and I am in your debt for making it possible.”
Eli hesitated. It was not in his nature to talk to non-herbivores. She did, however, seemed to understand the situation and at least saw the mouse for who he really was. So, against his conviction, Eli responded,
“Thank you for saying so” muttered Eli, “and what is your name?”
“Lucy,” replied the Jackal, “and even though you don’t know me, I know all about your work with the Zoo. I’m curious though, whether you will abandon this good work as the Mouse suggested? I think he’s jealous and wants to replace your plan with one of his own. He looks for control over this Zoo.”
Eli considered the Jackal’s question and was astonished that a scavenger like this knew anything about the Zoo. Most Carnivores had no idea why they were in the Zoo except that they enjoyed the relative safety for their wayward ideas. The Jackal however knew about Eli’s ideas and appreciated his accomplishment. She couldn’t be that bad. Plus, she saw through the Mouse.
“I will not abandon this good work,” Eli replied, “this work protects the animals and guides others in the faith. The Mouse speaks lies because he looks for more ‘spiritual’ connections through the wild. But I wonder, what is your story? What concern do you have for the Zoo?”
“The Zoo is my home and I have become very comfortable here,” said the Jackal. “The teaching soothes my concerns about the Creator. You teach about love and hope and never any of that judgment or sin stuff. That’s different from the wild where all I heard about was the bad state animals were in. This is a positive place and has had a positive impact on the Zoo Guests.”
“Yes,” replied Eli,” but they no longer come in the numbers they used to. They don’t seem inspired by the story I tell. In fact, I don’t know if half of them believe the story I tell.”
“You are too hard on yourself. I found a home in this place. You just need a new market to reach out to.” The Jackal gave her toothy smile and turned back toward her favorite spot in the cage. “Ignore the mouse. You are a great leader and the numbers prove it.”
Eli smiled a half smile. To be honest, he felt a bit of hope and a whole lot flattered. He hadn’t thought about it, but the market had shrunk. Lucy the Jackal was right! The Zoo needed to diversify its attraction. He would start to work on this new plan to reach out to new Zoo Guests. He would become seeker sensitive. Many came with little or no real understanding of why they were there. The Zoo was a nostalgic stop on their journey. He needed to pump up the people, simplify the content, and concern himself with how to make his efforts more appealing. But how? He would think on it.