Bad ass?

donkey1I intend no vulgarity here. My title is a perfectly good English phrase with denotative and connotative meanings absolutely in line with my point. Yes, there are other meanings, I know. But since I am a bit mischievous, I trotted out on a limb and said “bad ass.” Stay with me please? I was going to offer to wash my own mouth out with soap after this but since my mouth didn’t get involved, I’ll just wash my hands. Fair enough?

Billy and his burro

Billy and his burro

Meet Speedy. He’s my new 150-lb. concrete donkey. Speedy moved into an honored corner of our backyard patio last Saturday (after failed lobbying attempts to put him in the front yard and by the front door). I rescued Speedy from a Benton Harbor, Michigan “concrete critters as yard art” gallery featuring the oddest collection of personal turf monuments I’ve ever seen. Yes, I passed on the life-size fiberglass rhinoceros (not kidding) though I reserved the right to come back with a trailer for that rascal later. What? For the modest sum of $3,800.00, I could be the talk of Elmhurst. I will work on that!

“Rescued” since Speedy was damaged goods with a cracked concrete ear. It’s evidently rough to be a donkey in the lawn sculpture lot. I think he got tangled in a little brouhaha Friday night with two concrete turtles and a mean-for-his-size concrete terrier. If you’re keeping score, Speedy’s broken ear makes him “bad.” Get it? Perfect. But don’t worry. I took him home and fixed him, something I love to do. Call it donkey doctoring.

“Why a concrete donkey?” Glad you asked…thinking minds want to know, after all. It has a little to do with the fact that when I was introducing my son Jonathan to Chris, a new friend and fellow cast member from my recent play, Chris told Jon he thought I was a “badass guy.” Jon laughed and told Chris he’d never heard his dad described in quite that way.  Me either! I shared that little story with my daughter Valerie on the day before Father’s Day. Yep, the next day I got a most unusual card from Valerie, Tim and the kids… “Happy Father’s Day, Dad” on the front with a googly-eyed donkey pictured. Inside it said, “You bad ass!” Ha! I loved it and have placed in my “prized possessions” collection. For the record, Valerie also added a written disclaimer about only choosing the card after hearing my story and suggesting maybe it’s best not to let the kids see it! Loved that, too. So, my recent “badassedness” is not the only reason I brought Speedy home.

badassI like donkeys. One of my traditions of each new year is the hanging of the “Jackasses and the Things They Say” wall calendar in my home office. Been doing that for about ten years now. Have a donkey app on my iPhone that lets me bust out a good solid authentic “bray!” anytime I deem it necessary. I’ve got several different donkey figures on my shelves (including my favorite, Babalooey, the sombrero-wearing burro sidekick to horsey Quickdraw McGraw), a Shrek Donkey Chia Pet, a 1950’s “Pin The Tail On The Donkey” game, a jackass decal on my car, and a “Brighty of the Grand Canyon” book. Donkeys make me smile. I can relate to them. Why?

There’s that reputation for being stubborn and defiant. They’re not really, just a strong sense of self-preservation and a loyalty which must be won, or so says a miniature donkey breeder I know. Either way. Donkeys are unassuming. Not highbrow. They work hard. They’re made fun of. They’re the enlisted troops, not the officers. They often get beaten. They live in the dorm, not a frat house. They will never run in the Kentucky Derby. They’re playful. They’re intelligent. They’re known for carrying a heavy load. They’re just a little cute. They smell funny. They have a special place in the Bible. The word “donkey” is mentioned more than 150 times in the New American Standard Bible.

I will warn you now, a bad pun is coming, as sure as my compulsive need to wash my car an average of more than once a week. I believe donkeys are God’s amb-ASS-adors of humility. Think about it. We find Samson using a lowly donkey jawbone to whack the bad guys. What, no knife or club? And with that hair, Samson really didn’t need a weapon at all…just his super-powered bare hands. But a donkey jawbone it was.

And who can forget Balaam’s talking donkey? After taking a wicked triple beating, this little critter’s mouth opened to actually speak God’s words to crazy-mean Balaam. Straightened him right up, too. Don’t know about you, but if a donkey starts talking to me, I’m listening and writing it down.  Heck, I might even open a Twitter account for that. “Tweets from a Bad Ass.” Nah! I will tell you right now, a bad ass does many things but tweeting is not one of them.

Then we have perhaps the donkey’s finest hour…as the vehicle of choice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself for His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The King of Kings aboard a lowly donkey! What a rich statement that made. Why not a majestic white high-stepping stallion? Just wouldn’t be right for the Carpenter King. Only a donkey would do. Indeed.

For all those reasons I brought Speedy the donkey with the broken ear home. Every time I see him I will think about being humble. Working hard. Doing my job. Being my burro-like self. Speedy will remind me daily that God chooses those with donkeyesque tendencies intentionally (“Consider your calling…not many wise, mighty or noble according to flesh…for God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise…” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Yep, donkeys. Worth some more thought for sure.

So I guess by my definition I am a bad ass…not in that cool, hipster sort of way meant as a compliment (I think) by my young friend Chris. Nope. I’m a bad ass in that I am a man who is broken like Speedy, who has fallen short, who is not particularly wise, mighty or noble, who carries a load, who has a strong sense of self-preservation, who requires others to win my loyalty, who smells funny (that’s why God made Old Spice), who is playful, and who would impress no one. When I see Speedy I’ll remember to thank God for using donkeys just like me. There is more to say about what I’ve learned from donkeys. Maybe another time around the pasture.

Now, on with the ear repair. Where’s my concrete epoxy? So you’ve made it this far! Thank you. And thanks to my “big brown four-footed brothers.” I hope I can get a real one someday. Here is C.S. Lewis’ poem, “The Ass.”

The Ass”

I woke and rose and slipt away
To the heathery hills in the morning grey.
In a field where the dew lay cold and deep
I met an ass, new-roused from sleep.
I stroked his nose and I tickled his ears,
And spoke soft words to quiet his fears.
His eyes stared into the eyes of me
And he kissed my hands of his courtesy.
“O big, brown brother out of the waste,
How do thistles for breakfast taste?
“And do you rejoice in the dawn divine
With a heart that is glad no less than mine?
“For, brother, the depth of your gentle eyes
Is strange and mystic as the skies:
“What are the thoughts that grope behind,
Down in the mist of a donkey mind?
“Can it be true, as the wise men tell,
That you are a mask of God as well,
“And, as in us, so in you no less
Speaks the eternal Loveliness,
“And words of the lips that all things know
Among the thoughts of a donkey go?
“However it be, O four-foot brother,
Fair to-day is the earth, our mother.
“God send you peace and delight thereof,
And all green meat of the waste you love,
“And guard you well from violent men
Who’d put you back in the shafts again.”
But the ass had far too wise a head
To answer one of the things I said,
So he twitched his fair ears up and down
And turned to nuzzle his shoulder brown.”

C.S. Lewis

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