Discipleship According to Winnie the Pooh: Part One
Discipleship is the passion of GreenTree and our goal for the New Year. Are we even sure what it means? It’s a word that sometimes sounds boring, always sounds theological, and is in danger of making us wince.
When Jesus tells us that His commands are not burdensome, we humans strain over weighty church-words that don’t seem to have anything to do with us, and we scratch our heads. We do feel burdened, and we sometimes wonder what Jesus meant with the yoke-is-easy thing and the abundant-life stuff.
A few days ago I was looking at cute Winnie the Pooh pictures in my daughter’s collection by A. A. Milne, and I chuckled at myself, and my grown-up plans and adult stresses. Here are a bunch of little talking animals in the Forest that have more sense than I do. They even do discipleship, but they aren’t bogged down with check-lists and guilt trips. This lovely story, told by a father to his son, gives me a picture of the D-word that changes everything.
All the animals in the forest are simple, with a child’s crude understanding of how things are supposed to work in their world. Rabbit manages to keep an image of having his wits together but can’t always feel completely generous; Owl, sitting high up in his tree house and offering wisdom to the animals who pass by, doesn’t know how to spell; and Pooh himself, ever-ready for adventure and ever-hungry for honey, lives under the identity that makes him perhaps the lowliest of them all: “Bear of Very Little Brain.”
But this little bear, for all his slowness of brain, has a Friend who lifts him up to the highest stair of his love and esteem. That Friend is a human boy named Christopher Robin. He’s the son in the beginning of the book who listens to his father tell the story of all the animals, and he’s also the boy inside the story, sharing in each part.
The presence of Christopher Robin is felt in a quiet way everywhere. He’s the sort of Big Brother of the forest. The door signs and notices among the homes in the woods show his handwriting. It’s Christopher Robin who comes to the Six Pine Trees and helps in the search for the lost Pooh, Piglet, and Rabbit. And in the very first chapter of the book, it’s Christopher Robin whom Pooh goes to for help when his lust for honey lands him in the gorse-bush. That honey-hunger always makes Pooh’s tummy too pudgy and gets him into all sorts of messes. From the very first, Pooh sees a bunch of bees in a tree, climbs straight up, cracks a branch, and crashes more than sixty feet into a prickly bush.
Pooh says, “It all comes of liking honey so much. Oh, help!” And naturally he goes to Christopher Robin’s house.
Pooh’s Friend and Guide throws no accusing stones, gives him no outline to follow for fixing his silly behavior. When Pooh asks Christopher Robin for a blue balloon with which to disguise himself and float up to the honey-laden tree, Christopher Robin asks Pooh, “Wouldn’t they notice you underneath the balloon?” but gives Pooh the balloon anyway.
The boy watches, and smiles, and encourages, while Pooh reasons and figures with his little mind and then rolls himself in the black mud so that he can pretend to be a dark cloud under the sky-colored balloon. Of course, the bees start stinging poor Pooh and he needs help getting down. Christopher Robin laughs in his heart, muttering, “Silly old Bear!”
But he loves Pooh, through all Pooh’s proud songs and falls and scratches and honey-searches and his crashes into holes. Pooh is cute and lovable and important, for one reason: he glows from the light reflected in the boy’s loving eyes.
Those of us who have accepted the gift of God’s Son are being discipled at this very moment, by One much greater than any Christopher Robin. He sits outside our little world, there with his Father who wrote our history, talking together about us, chuckling over us, holding us. He lives, too, inside our stories, always ready to help, letting us try and fail and picking us up when we land into a thorn-bush. Sometimes he waits for us to run to the other end of the forest to find him; and he is there. Many times he shows up alongside us as we are hurling pine cones at each other or trying to figure out what to do about our problems. Always he teaches us. Never does he leave us. Forever he is patient with us.
So, while we’re trying to figure out whether to camp on Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” and take on this elusive Discipleship Project, we might not realize that we’re part of it, already. The Teacher is here, with us, in our own Hundred Acre Wood. In the end, it’s not some project. It’s just life. The life he shares with us, and the love he teaches us to give as we share with each other, learn together, and bumble through the forest on each new adventure. The D-word is as important as life itself. The call from Jesus is real. The practice is hard work, but simple, as natural as breathing and having children. The reward is life, and love. The Example is the One who wrote history and lives within it. We can just ask Pooh, and Rabbit, and Piglet. They’ll get Christopher Robin and help us go and catch a Heffalump, and we’ll receive much, much more.