On Timothy Q. Mouse and Saint Paul
In April of 1972, my parents went to see Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. I was five years old (nearly six, I would have said was an important detail at the time) and I was fascinated by the snippets of conversations I heard about the film when my parents thought I wasn't listening. I was so fascinated, in fact, that I was probably one of few children of five years of age (though nearly six) living at the time who said to his or her mother, "I insist I be taken to see The Godfather!" Though perhaps proud of my vocabulary and the correct use of the passive voice, my mother was naturally not going to take me to see the film, no matter how grammatically correct was my request. She would, she said, take me to the cinema, to see a film that was being re-released for the first time since she had been a small child: Dumbo.
Dumbo? Was she crazy? How in the world could she think that a cartoon about a flying elephant was in any way as remotely compelling as offers which could not be refused, big Italian weddings, and horse heads resting unsuspected in satin sheets? But, lured by the promise of popcorn dripping in butter and enough M and M's and Coca Cola to merit having our dentist on a retainer, I agreed to go. A trip to the movies was a treat, even if I suspected that the dearth of machine gun fire in Dumbo would significantly encumber my buzz.
In hindsight, of course, I have to wonder if there was more to taking me to see Dumbo than just providing a gangster consolation prize. I was a precocious, awkward and - hard now to imagine knowing my current Rubenesque physique - painfully thin boy who may as well have just had "Bully me" stamped on my forehead. A film about an elephant whom others made fun of who ended up doing something extraordinary would have been just the kind of lesson my mother would have wanted to teach me. And, of course, I cannot avoid the hypothesis that, just as Dumbo had to discover his amazing ability without his mother's presence, my mother was also preparing me for that sad eventuality which would become a reality for me just a little more than a year later.
Although it clearly wasn't The Godfather, I loved Dumbo. And though I did see something of myself in his big-eared awkwardness, I have to say I was more captivated by the character of Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo's friend (who - not that I'm obsessed with gangster films - spoke with a great accent which I thought sounded mobsteresque). Dumbo would have most likely been a bit of a disaster on his own, but with Timothy's encouragement he was able to grow in awareness and confidence until he could literally soar above all that would hold him down. Dumbo's acrobatics were amazing - no doubt about it - but no less amazing were the care, support, and encouragement of Timothy. Both were needed to bring about that enchanting elephantine flight. "Sometimes," my mother said, summing it up perfectly, "we need to be Dumbos, and sometimes we need to be Timothys."
She was right, of course. Who we are and what we are able to achieve as individuals is intimately linked to those who love us for who we are, to those who encourage us to achieve what we can. It is precisely this idea which is at the heart of what Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians in our first reading at Holy Communion today (Ephesians 4.1-6). Paul begs: lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. For Paul, individuals are certainly called to particular ministries, but that call and those ministries cannot be seen without also looking to the Body of Christ, from which people are called and to whom service is rendered. The worthiness (and I would add the efficacy) of our calling - and we are all called - is directly connected to bearing with one another. In love. We cannot soar as individuals or as a Church if we do not tend to this basic concept.
This is, I think, how the very idea of vocation needs to be approached. If one person soars (I never metaphor I didn't like, so will flog this dead horse - or elephant - until the cows come home) it is because others have supported that person. And that flight belongs to everyone who helped give wings; without them individuals remain earthbound, stymied. Church growth (and by this I don't mean numbers, but growth in expansion of hearts) occurs when we embrace this idea of vocation, when we understand just how connected we are and how much we need to support one another as we live out our calling in so very many different ways. Sometimes we need to be Dumbos and sometimes we need to be Timothys. Thank God for both. Thank God for a variety of gifts and talents, for support and encouragement, and for the love which makes it all work. Thank God for us all.
Thus encouraged by Timothy Q. Mouse (and some crows whom I haven't had time to talk about, but watch the movie ... the Disney version, naturally) Dumbo, that strange, bullied, quasi-orphan takes flight, the things that make him different the very things that allow his wonder to unfold. But Timothy Q. Mouse's work in living a life worthy of his calling is not complete, as Dumbo still needs encouragement, still needs to hear that he has done something truly wondrous. That's it! Dumbo! You flew! he says, voice filled with revelation. Your ears! Just look at 'em, Dumbo! Why, they're poifect wings! The very things that held ya down are gonna carry ya up, and up, and up!
May God continue to bless us to live lives worthy of our calling, to support one another - be we Dumbos, Timothys, or crows. I believe - I truly believe - that if we do this even the things which hold us down will see us all ascending up, up, and up.