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The White Egret: A Story

Some time ago, at the suggestion of one of my friends, I signed up to be a “reader” for a group of pre-school children. I can read. And I know how to tell a tale, so I thought, this should be a snap. And it was. But, there’s no doubt about who learned the most.

This was the best behaved, most orderly group of children I’ve ever encountered. Bright inquisitive little faces ― shiny eyes, big smiles — and teachers who unhesitatingly kept them in line. The first issue was which of two books to read, and using all my diplomatic skills, plus some Jeffersonian democracy, we decided I would read them both. Makes sense.

You can’t just read to children, you have to look at every page and discuss the pictures. And decide what “sound” each animal makes. You feel very cool when you’re a grown man surrounded by children, and you’re making the sound of an elephant. Especially when you’re asked to demonstrate how the elephant’s trunk works.

One of the animals pictured in the book was described in the text as a “snowy white egret”. He was leading this little elephant to India. Don’t ask why. Now, what are the odds that a class of pre schoolers in South Atlanta could recognize a “snowy white egret"? But, dutifully, I held up the book, displayed the egret, and asked, ”does anyone know what this bird is called?”

Many hands were in the air. “No”, I noted, ”it is not a flamingo, no, it is not an eagle”, etc. etc. etc. Suddenly my brightest audience member said, ”I know what it is, it’s a crow.” Triumph.

I said, “but crows are black.” Without a moment of hesitation, the boy said, ”But this is a white crow.” I looked at the picture again, grasped the improbability that anyone in this group had ever heard of a “snowy white egret”, and said, “I think you’re right, it’s a white crow, they call it something else in this book, but it looks just like a white crow to me”.

Satisfied the class sat back on its heels and applauded. Of course it was a white crow.

I could have easily led some inquiring minds astray on this morning, and we may have kids all over South Atlanta looking for white crows, but I doubt it. The teaching point in this small book had to do with elephants, and how the elephants with small ears got to India, and the elephants with big ears got to Africa. Who cares what the “snowy white egret” did!

Learning and growing are all about staying focused. Focused on the message. Focused on the ideas that will serve us well in our lives. It is so easy to get distracted by the “snowy white egrets”, and wander off into long discussions or arguments over “egrets”, that we never experience the value of the lesson.

I have a friend who listens intently to every discussion, and stays focused on things he can disagree with. And he’s an intrepid representative of whatever the other point of view might be. Or, I have other friends who already know exactly what they think about everything, and they’ve shut down their capacity to learn.

You know these people, and others like them. The far better role is to enter every discussion, every new book, every movie, every sermon, asking ourselves: “what is the other person trying to say, and is there something here for me to learn”?

Contrarians hang up on the “snowy white egrets” of life, and they just stop growing. God asks us continually, are we listening, are we living in the Kingdom of God. Stay focused.

(Story submitted by David Houser)
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