Summary: We can unleash our courage if we know who we are and what we are about, and if we have a proper perspective on our relationships.
Most of God’s creatures are in some sort of cage. Animals that appear to run wild are not all that free; they have migratory patterns and other restraints on where they can go. They are caged, even when that cage is not visible. And what that cage does to their courage!
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, are generally permitted to roam at will; but there are aviaries where birds are caged and aquariums where fish are contained. In such places caged creatures at first try to escape, but then calm down and become docile. It looks as though their courage is gone.
The same with land creatures. If the elephants of India get off the reservation, they are driven back, lest they become dangerous. If the herds of wildebeest sweeping across the Serengeti in east Africa stray from their traditional migration paths, they become fresh meat for predators. There seems to be safety in numbers and peace living within restraints. Being caged appears to diminish courage.
But every now and again, an animal defies that rule and finds the courage to get past its restraints and do whatever it wants to do. Every now and then, some creature goes beyond the confines of its cage and becomes a courageous champion of its own ways.
A few months ago at the National Zoo a tiger, thought to be well caged and supposed to have settled in to its routine, was apparently taunted and teased by several young men. They thought they were safe, but they went too far. That great cat summoned up its courage, acted out its tigerness, and jumped the barrier. The result for these young men was disastrous. A sad moment; but what those fellows did not see was that even the most sophisticated of cages may not be enough to hold back a courageous cat. A tiger is what it is, a wild animal, and deep down in its instincts it knows what one of our poets has said, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” The creature summoned up the courage to act like what it is.
By contrast, however, I point you to Chloe. Chloe is my little dog. Chloe is a cross between Pekinese and poodle, called therefore a peekapoo. A breed called peekapoo just sounds tame and timid. And generally she is. Generally this 15-year-old smallish dog is quiet and seems happy with her cage, which is our house. She very seldom spends time outside that house. However, let a neighbor walk his dog, and Chloe’s personality changes. As the neighbor and his huge hound walk by outside, Chloe barks belligerently from within the house. She sounds off inside the windows. Now I cannot understand dog language, but it sounds like a taunt of defiance to me. Something like, “Arf, arf, you think you are so big. Arf, arf, you’re not so smart.” One of our neighbors raises a breed called Bouvier de Flandres, and those things are giants! When one of them is trotted down the street, has caged courage.
But guess what? When we put Miss Chloe on a leash and take her out, and one of those monsters is on the street, she is strangely quiet. She barks not at all. In fact, if one of those colossal canines so much as makes a move in her direction, she bolts for the house and wants to go back into her cage. The courage she exhibits so powerfully inside the cage is absent from the street. What happened to her caged courage?
Most of God’s creatures are in some sort of cage. Those that appear to run wild are not all that free. They are caged, even when that cage is not visible. And what that cage does to their courage! For every now and again, an animal defies that rule and finds the courage to get past its restraints and do whatever it wants to do. Every now and then, some creature goes beyond the confines of its cage and becomes a courageous champion of its own ways. But much of the time it is a victim of caged courage.
I wonder if we human beings are in the same situation. I wonder if we too are in cages that we hardly even notice, sometimes cages that we ourselves make – and we just do not summon the courage to get out of them and be what we were intended to be. I wonder whether we too are chained and have made peace with our chains, no longer even trying to get beyond the confines. Are we slaves in chains to difficult circumstances? Or are we God’s creatures, born free, but having lost our courage?
Last week we visited the Apostle Paul, chained in a Roman prison. We found that chains or not, the purposes of God will be accomplished. We learned that Paul’s spirit was not bound and that his imprisonment had actually become, for him, an opportunity for God’s work to go forward. Today we take a closer look at the same circumstance: Paul, in a Roman prison, caged. But Paul, having the courage to be who he was. Paul in Rome, writing to the church at Philippi, with caged courage. For in this passage Paul will teach us who we are, though the circumstances of life be difficult. He will proclaim, “To me to live is Christ; to die is gain.” Would you repeat that with me? “To me to live is Christ; to die is gain”. My pastor of some years back used to read it this way, “To live is Christ; to die is more Christ.” There is the secret of caged courage. There is the difference between the tiger leaping from his den and little Chloe barking in the safety of our house.