March 28, 2011

Censoring Little Red

One night several years ago, my brother and I had a banned movie night. He was a college student, I was a teacher, and we decided to watch the films we weren’t allowed to see as kids. I don’t even remember what we watched—Gremlins and Ghostbusters stick in my mind—but I remember thinking: these movies were inappropriate for small children, but, to discerning grown-ups, they pose little moral threat.

However, I have learned that some stories can do harm to
child and adult alike. Heading my life-long banned list is the story of The Little Red Hen.

(You remember: she’s the bird who is denied bread-making help by her lazy friends and, in return, she denies them bread-eating pleasure.)

Unfortunately, no matter how diligently I ban Little Red from my home, I can’t seem to get her out of my heart. In many ways, her story could be a story of ministry life.

Little Red is doing a noble task: baking bread from grow-her-own-organic-grains scratch. What a hard worker! What a worthy idea! And I can also relate to her experience with her barnyard friends. They have starred in my life as the family who drops out of church life but suddenly reappears, demanding my husband’s time and emotional energy for family counseling. Or those guests, more than ten years ago, who complained that my coffee was tardy, cold, and weak. (It’s shameful evidence of the Little Red in my heart that I keep this record of wrongs. Down, girl!)

But it’s at the end of the story, at Little Red’s shrill squawking: You didn’t help me plant the wheat! You didn’t help me grind the grain! when I’m most ashamed to find that chicken roosting in my coop. I am Little Red, mentally pecking at the people who come to the party and skip the prayer meeting.

At such times, I must censor the folk tales and read The Book. Christ, the hero of that book, is the anti-Little Red Hen, and He calls me to be, too.

Christ says: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those that love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:30-33, 36)

It is Christ in me who can take Little Red to the chopping block; He who says in John 6:51: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”


  1. As I minister to college students, who are not as appreciative as I would like, I get resentful. Then, I think back to my own university days. I had a very thoughtless side. e.g., My ride to church waited patiently on days when I decided to sleep in and not notify him. Whne God brings back those memories, I realize that I am not so perfect.

  2. Responding to the Little Red hen theology:

    One could also say: Christ has done all the work for us...planting the seed, baking the bread (think: the Lord's Supper) and invites us graciously to partake. Such should create gratitude. Such can take the little red hen to the chopping block.

  3. This is Adrian Keister; perhaps you remember me from your GCC/Hillcrest days. Now I work as an engineer in Windsor, CT, not far from where your father pastors. I myself go to Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford (Al Baker).

    I was curious about the Little Red Hen story. While I would agree that the Kingdom of God is the upside-down kingdom, and thus we are not to exhibit the Little Red Hen attitude, surely the story still has value in teaching about how the world tends to operate?

    Perhaps even more than that, doesn't the story of the Little Red Hen exhibit pure justice? Granted, there's no mercy or grace there, and so it says little about redemption. But God is just, so it seems to me that the Little Red Hen does say something of value.


  4. Adrian, Good to "see" you again after all these years!

    Your comments are thought-provoking. I can see how the Little Red Hen might have a certain Matthew 25 quality: "Lord, when did we see you sick or in prison" [or baking bread]? And Jesus will be the Little Red Hen on the Last Day, denying the goodness of the glorified kingdom to those who did not participate in its earthly construction.

    However, the problem is in my own heart---when I try to take on the character of the Little Red Hen, prematurely denying the blessings of the kingdom to others when it is clearly still the day of salvation.

    So, perhaps you are right, and I should keep Little Red on my bookshelf, seeing in her the character of our just and holy God. Thanks for making me think!


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