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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Boy with the Changeable Shirt (an Homage to Edwin Friedman)

Far, far away, in a remote hollow in the mountains, there is a tiny school for boys.  Every boy in this school, young and old, is on a team, and every day, those boys do everything with their team—eat, sleep, study, do chores, and play.  Each boy wears a shirt of the the color of his team from his first day at the school to his last, all the time, every day.  A boy on the Red team always wears red and never blue, and a boy on the Blue team always wears blue and never green.

But there was one boy in this school who was different from all the other boys.  This boy was very poor and only owned one shirt, but it was a special, magical shirt, for this shirt would change its color all by itself.  Unlike all the other boys in the school, this boy was part of all the teams.  When he was with the Green team his shirt turned green, and when he was with the Yellow team his shirt turned yellow.  He cared very much about the other boys.  When he was with a boy who smiled, he would smile too, and when he was with a boy who frowned, he too would frown.  On the whole, he was happy.  He enjoyed very much how all the other boys accepted him.

Now at this tiny school all the boys on all the teams look forward to the same wonderful event at the end of the year: a great tournament where all the teams compete against each other in games of strength, speed, smarts, and skill.  The boy with the changeable shirt looked forward to the tournament too and got more and more excited as the year went on, even though he didn’t know what games he would play when the day actually came or what team he would play them for.  He couldn’t wait to be with all of his friends at once.

At last the day of the tournament arrived.  The boy with the changeable shirt saw many of his friends early that morning wearing their best jerseys of Red and Blue, Green and Yellow, Purple and Orange.  He smiled back gleefully at each one as they smiled at him.  But soon the noise in the halls of the school began to diminish as the boys ran out of the building onto the grounds.  The boy in the changeable shirt tried to follow them, but he couldn’t move.  He stretched and strained after his friends, but he was stuck where he stood.  He called after his friends who were leaving him behind, but they didn’t hear.  And as the tournament began with every other boy gone, he became very sad.  His shirt became a drab off-white.  In fact, it ceased to look like a shirt at all, and he himself no longer looked like a boy.  For the boy with the changeable shirt didn’t know that he wasn’t actually a boy at all, and he didn’t wear clothes.  He was a mirror hanging on the wall of a hallway in the school.  His face and his shirt changed with every boy who walked past him.  And when they smiled at him, they were actually smiling at themselves.

It can be easier to be what the people around us want us to be than to be ourselves.  Rather than being honest about who we are and what we think wherever we go, we look like our family when we’re with them, like our friends when we’re with them, and like church folks when we’re with them, and they love us for conforming.  But unless we wear allegiance to Christ boldly whomever we’re with, we have no part of him.  “Whoever acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).  Such persons cannot inherit God’s kingdom.  The more they compromise themselves along the way, the more they cease to be persons at all.  They fade with the rest of the world they once reflected that is passing away.

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