All in a Day’s Work
I’m a poser. I try to manipulate the image you have of me. I want you to like me, accept me, admire me, compliment me and be taught by me. I’m the tough cowboy. You’re not. Therefore I am superior. Sucks to be you.
| “Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ. These toxic views of religious idolatry have led to widespread disaffection with religion in general and Christianity in particular. Thinking we have tried God, we have turned to other Hopes, with devastating consequences.”
Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods
There, I am blind to what I just wrote. But I just made you my idol. I now depend on you to flatter me or I will feel deprived. I will feel a deep emptiness. If you don’t come through for me, I will redouble my efforts to remedy the ache.
But wait. How can I despise the way I’m wired? Being a cowboy means I care for God’s creation. Care deeply. I get to see things in the raw and rarified light of life and death. The instincts of a newborn calf, say, like the one born last night in the twenty-below-zero snowstorm. Our clouds of breath mixed as I struggled to pack her the 100-yards to a safe, semi-warm bed of straw. She fought it, but I was determined to shepherd this newborn out of danger. When I joined her back up with her mother and witnessed the everyday miracle of a calf stand, though wobbly, and find the ‘faucet’ for nursing, I was dripping with melting snow, sweat, and care. I was born to this divine task.
There, I can tell that story without any sense of superiority or condescension. I can simply be grateful for the chance to participate in caring for and tending to God’s handiwork in a way that lets us be in awe of Him together.
All our idols have an element of goodness in them. But like tares sown in a field of wheat, we get things twisted and tainted. Our core motives sometimes reveal themselves and hopefully, by God’s grace alone, separate like dross rising for the skimming.
Timothy Keller puts it like this:
“Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desire they generate become paralyzing and overwhelming. Idols generate false beliefs such as ‘ if I cannot achieve X, then my life won’t be valid’ or ‘ since I have lost or failed Y, now I can never be happy or forgiven again.’ These false beliefs magnify ordinary disappointments and failures into life-shattering experiences.”
My patterns for posing started early. Age 17. I sat down in the rickety theater seats of the local livestock auction barn and waited. I’d been commissioned by my dad to learn the techniques used to introduce rapid genetic improvement into a cattle herd. Artificial insemination. The cows used for practice roamed the center stage auction floor while our instructor set up his presentation slides. Cowboy after cowboy wandered in and sat down. None younger than 50-years old. Just as I anticipated, one by one, they pulled a can of Copenhagen from their jeans, tapped it twice, opened the lid and pinched a two-fingered wad of tobacco for their lower lip.
Not to be out done, I casually hauled a plug of chewing tobacco called Day’s Work from my shirt pocket and carved off a sizeable slice with my jackknife. Inserting it in my cheek, I bent to the side and squirted out my first spit on the boot-worn wooden floor. A sort of euphoria washed over me. Junior-cowboy-prodigy.
Wisely, I thought, I’d chosen tobacco I could spit because my experiments with Copenhagen, that generates less spittle, had failed. I listened to words and phrases I was unaccustomed to in everyday vocabulary like heat-detection, semen, liquid nitrogen, cervix, and ovulation float in the air from the soothing drawl of our instructor. When he’d glance my way, I’d nod my head, topped by my work-worn, dusty cowboy hat, lean over and spit.
The puddle by my boots grew in diameter and I felt slightly embarrassed. Previous chewing episodes took place on horseback or on a tractor where spit was absorbed by dirt. So, to avoid getting caught in a scam, I simply spat less often. That is, until about 20 minutes into our training. Right when the slides of some of the greatest Beef and Dairy bulls on the globe were projected on the screen, my world reeled. Light-headed. Nauseous. Muttering ‘excuse-me’s,’ I began the long journey, dizzily stumbling along the row of many legs with boots propped up on seats in front of them, on the way to the Men’s Room. Mask off. Facade crumpled. Poser exposed.
I think I eventually completed that day’s session, but it is a blur. What is vivid, however, is the ingrained image of that plug of Day’s Work splashing into the Clearwater River on my way home along the road winding along its banks. How I tossed it two-thirds of the way across that broad river is uncertain. Stomach cramps didn’t help, but the distance that plug was launched accurately related to the distance my idol of projected image had fallen. It closed the chapter on my chewing-tobacco forays. If only my dogged determination to be done with posing came so easily. That takes liturgy. I won’t do it with self-help, self-determination, or self-will. I can’t do it. But by God’s grace, it will be done in me. It will take practice. It will take crucibles. It will take communion cups.
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, pg. 148.