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By Hook or by Crook

Even when the way goes through Death Valley,

I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. - Psalm 23:4

Acquiring something “by hook or by crook,” implies a lot of effort, with a suspicion of being a bit outside the rules. That is a curious if the source of the expression is from the customs regulating which firewood local people could take from common land; they were allowed to take any branches that they could reach with a billhook or a shepherd's crook. A billhook is a sort of knife or saw with a bit of a hook used to cut small branches. A shepherd’s crook not only was a tool shepherds used both to defend sheep from predators but also to corral them as they are prone to wander.

The practice of shepherding is not limited to humans. One example of birds leading other birds like a shepherd is the behavior of the African Crowned-Cranes. These birds have been observed leading flocks of other bird species, such as Wattled Starlings and Red-billed Queleas, to feeding sites or water sources.

The crowned cranes use a variety of visual and vocal signals to communicate with the other birds, including head bobs, wing flaps, and loud calls. They also actively encourage the other birds to follow them by moving slowly and deliberately, as well as pausing and looking back to make sure the other birds are following.

The only tool that these birds have is persuasion and their only reward is companionship at the watering hole. It is possible that the community-building protects everyone from predators better than going it alone, so the benefits are mutual.

Too often, humans lose sight of the reason for the goal and start serving just the goal. When we do this power can become the goal rather than the tool. We call clergy serving local parishes pastors as an allusion to their role as a metaphorical shepherd. When we elevate them to the office of bishop they get a symbolic shepherd’s crook. When these crosiers become ornate and expensive, we should probably take notice that we’ve strayed from the true goal. Maybe the fact that crook is also a name we give someone who breaks the law or misuses power is an irony we should not miss. Perhaps we should also see the irony of our need for a crane to lift us out love of power and lead us through the power of love like a wise Crowned-Crane.

Prayer: Good Shepherd, keep pursuing us with goodness and mercy, or by hook or by crook when we need it. Amen.


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