The Church at Pooh Corner
No one knows it, but I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which beloved A. A. Milne character is most like various friends. If you aren’t familiar with world of Winnie the Pooh (the actual Milne stories and not the Disney version), you’re missing out on some of the best literature—ever.
Long before I read The Tao of Pooh, which idealized Pooh as the most Zen-like creature in the Hundred Acre Wood, I was silently categorizing the people around me as Owls, Poohs, Piglets, and the rest. Lately, I’ve been thinking of them in regards to Christians and churches I’ve known.
“Piglet”, said Rabbit, taking out a pencil, and licking the end of it, “you haven’t any pluck.”
“It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffling slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”
Kind, thoughtful, and well-meaning, Piglet is the sort of friend anyone would be lucky to have. Many believers are like Piglet, sweet and loyal to a fault.
But, like Piglet, they’re timid, risk averse, and prone to anxiety. The world is a scary, dark place with plenty monsters—both real and imagined.
“Help, help,” cried Piglet, “a Heffalump, a Horrible Heffalump!” and he scampered off as hard as he could, still crying out, “Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!”
Christians love to gather and sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” but don’t live as if it’s true. They’ve allowed Christian media to create in their minds a host of Heffalumps and Woozles that want to derail their faith and undermine their virtues.
But we don’t have to live that way. The culture is not out to get us, and even if it was, he who is within us is greater than than any frightening thing the world has to offer.
As Frederick Buechner reminds us, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.“
“Excuse me a moment, but there’s something climbing up your table,” and with one loud Worraworraworraworraworra he jumped at the end of the tablecloth, pulled it to the ground, wrapped himself up in it three times, rolled to the other end of the room, and, after a terrible struggle, got his head into the daylight again, and said cheerfully: “Have I won?”
Tigger is the antithesis of the Piglet—he’s all about joyful impulsiveness. I know a few Christians like this, but I know even more churches that have all the depth and forethought of a Tigger.
These churches don’t have a singular identity or area they major in. Because, like Tigger, they believe they excel at everything. What they really do well is enthusiasm and activity. Beyond that, they tend to struggle.
And who do they attract? Generally Roos. Small, immature versions of themselves.
For some time now Pooh had been saying “Yes” and “No” in turn, with his eyes shut, to all that Owl was saying, and having said “Yes, yes” last time, he said “No, not at all” now, without really knowing what Owl was talking about.
Of all the Pooh characters, Owl is the one I like the least. Vain and self-important, Owl personifies what drives me crazy in many Christians who fashion themselves theologians and scholars.
They get by with a limited understanding of theological concepts and a vocabulary rich in big, and often misused, words. Many people are easily intimidated by someone with important sounding talk and irrational self-confidence.
There isn’t anything wrong with study. In fact, I encourage it. But the minute you try to impress those around you with your knowledge, you’re off the path. Some owls spend all their time trying to out-owl other owls.
Genius comes with the ability to simplify complex ideas—not vice versa.
Winnie the Pooh
“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.”
It’s Pooh’s simplicity and lack of striving that made Benjamin Hoff, the author of The Tao of Pooh, exemplify Pooh as a Zen master.
He is definitely the opposite of Owl, a simple being with simple desires and absolutely no pretense. Jesus would probably say of Pooh the same the same thing he said of Nathanael, “In him there is no guile!” (John 1:47)
Many Christians are like Pooh, well-meaning, simple, and content. But like Pooh, they’re also compulsive and driven by their appetites.
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
Most of the risks Pooh takes are driven entirely by his desire to acquire the sweet honey he’s focused on. Like him, we are all struggling against the drift toward our comfort zones—or should be.
There’s a certain amount of Pooh in us that propels us at all cost toward the things we love most in the world. And like him, we don’t think twice about it, because that’s what best about life—right!?
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.”
Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
The world contains enough darkness to turn us all into Eeyores. Beyond that, some theological perspectives and eschatological outlooks lend themselves toward doom and gloom. I am at once sad that there are so many Christian Eeyores, and surprised that there aren’t more.
If you embrace a theology that seems to increase your despair, dump it. Our strength is found in the joy of the Lord.
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
I am convinced that when the world thinks of Christians, they think of Rabbit—a harsh, humorless character dead set on changing the behaviors of others at any cost.
Rabbit isn’t welcoming of newcomers and doesn’t put up with frivolous and silly behavior. Isn’t life serious business?
Like Rabbit, the church can easily fall back on counting on their cleverness to fulfill their goals. Often, we deal with the culture in the same way Rabbit dealt with Tigger—brute force. Twice Rabbit tries to stop Tigger’s bouncing, once by getting him lost in the woods and once by forcing the tree-trapped, hyper tiger to make a deal with the clever bunny for help.
It’s too bad that the best face we give the church is often the annoyed, dour, frustrated face of Rabbit. It’s so dissimilar to Christ.
Living in the Hundred Acre Wood
In the end, we all have our unique characteristics and all the weakness that come with them. Learning to live together in life-giving community is a huge factor in shedding the deficiencies that hobble us all.
In every Owl, Rabbit, Tigger, and Pooh are sincere strengths that Christ intends to capitalize on—if we’ll let him. But a great deal of that rides on learning to recognize our strengths, honestly assess our shortcomings, and rejoicing in the competencies of others.
After all, as Piglet says, “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”