The dance of the porcupines

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While I lived and pastored in Nebraska I enjoyed going to auctions. I find them entertaining, even exciting at times. But have you ever noticed that every advertisement for an auction has the same disclaimer: “All items are being sold in ‘as is’ condition.” So, no matter how well dear old Mrs. Smith took care of her possessions, we can expect defects, dents and deficiencies.

In his book, “Everyone’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,” John Ortberg writes that every human being comes with a tag that reads, “as is.” No one is perfect. We all have our defects, dents and deficiencies. Through his wit and humor, Ortberg describes the human condition through the metaphor of a porcupine. Each of us has the propensity to cause great pain and harm to everyone around us. We are, by nature, prickly people.

However, as the author says, porcupines do get together and create little porcupines. They do so very carefully in what animal behaviorists call the “dance of the porcupines.” The porcupine has the ability to lower its quills so they lay down along the skin of the animal whereby allowing another porcupine to get very close. That, says Ortberg, is one of the most important things that Jesus came to teach us – how to smooth out our quills in order to live in community with other people.

Just as the reader begins to adjust to the idea that everyone is weird and people just have to accept me for who I am, Ortberg alters his course. Even though I come with defects like everyone else, that doesn’t mean I can release myself from the responsibility of how my defects affect others. I am responsible for my temper. I am responsible for my hurtful and scandalous words, and I am responsible for my lack of compassion, mercy, and love.

As the author works his way toward the conclusion of his book, he reminds us that God has always been in the business of restoration. He can take an “as is” item and make it new, but we must be willing to undergo the process. When we come to Christ and lay our lives at His feet, He begins the process of making us whole, and His process always involves other people. Scripture tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We need other people around us who are not only able to see our porcupine quills, but are willing to confront us about our prickly behavior and do so in Christian love for the sole purpose of building us up in Christ.

It takes courage to let someone see me as I really am; and it takes courage on the other person’s part to confront me in the name of Christ. Believe me, I know there are people who love to point out other people’s faults, but I avoid those folks because they don’t have my spirit in mind, they just like the sound of their own critical voice. However, when I am with a true friend who is not afraid to let me know where I need work, I listen. I listen because he or she knows that I come with “some assembly required” and they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work with me.

Most of us don’t like confrontation. It makes us nervous and uncomfortable. However, in order for us to grow in Christ, we need godly people around us who are willing to take the time to walk with us as we learn how to live together.

True Christian friends know that they also come with an “as is” tag as glaring as mine. They know that they are not fully assembled yet, either. A true friend like that needs my help just as much as I need theirs and that’s really the essence of the dance of the porcupines.

Greg Barnes is the recently retired pastor of New Song Bible Church.

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