It's all happening at the zoo

Is your place of worship more like a zoo? It should be.

It’s all happening at the zoo.

I wish it was happening elsewhere too.

If the church is to fulfill its mission, its leaders cannot any longer see themselves as zoo keepers but rather as cultural conservationists.  We are losing – and have already lost – entire generations (plural), of an increasingly rare species: humans.

Google the phrase “it’s a zoo around here” and you more often than not will find posts about chaos and take-offs for books on better communication given the cacophony characteristic of a zoo at feeding time, cacophony meaning “harsh or discordant sound”. 

A rock group formed in 1986 called themselves the “Cacophony”.  

I think they might have moved in next door. 

One night the steady bass reverberation emanating from four cars got my attention.  Their radios were all tuned to different stations, all four cars with all four doors open including the trunk, and all maxed-out to the “Neighbor Irritation” designation on the decibel meter which is to the far right, in the red zone, of the dashboard’s volume dial.

I know this, not because I could hear it – I’m hard of hearing – but because I could feel it.  I swear (and I did) our house was shaking and the thought crossed my mind we hadn’t yet installed those earthquake straps to keep the house on the foundation.

Irritated (mild reference to how I really felt), I dressed (it was well past the mid-night hour), and walked barefoot next door (that’s how irritated I was).

“Who’s in charge here?” I shouted above the zoo-like atmosphere.

This guy with a way-too-tight t-shirt that revealed way too much of his Schwarzenegger physique, sauntered over, towered above me (I’m 6’5”), and said:


Followed by, “Is there a problem?”

Don’t get me started.

I wanted to tell him that his taste for music could be likened to what I imagine happens just prior to a feeding frenzy at the zoo.  Lions, bears and elephants – beasts, big, all of them – all tuned to a different demand to be fed first, all loud, all obnoxious.

I thought of sharing with this big fellow the anthropomorphism from Simon and Garfunkel’s 1967 single release “At the Zoo” (now that was good music): “elephants are kindly but they’re dumb.”

But I didn’t.

Had I though, then I would have added Big Bird and his smaller friends - ravens, crows, jays and magpies, supposedly among the most intelligent birds but also found in the category of “Mimicking Birds” (another rock group) all capable of copying, and at that moment all actually singing along - much like the friends Big Guy had invited to his party – with the sounds of all the other critters at the zoo.

A cacophony in other words.

In fact did you know that the budgerigar has a vocabulary of near 2,000 words?  Don’t get him started.  Even worse is should he escape.  “Wild cockatoos in Australia have been reported to have learned human speech from ex-captive birds that have integrated into the flock.”

And we thought we had trouble with our secrets – despite our privacy settings - being made public on Facebook.

What kind of man monitors menageries?

Meaningfully I mean?

Jeffrey P. Bonner does.  While Bonner makes no reference to evangelicalism, substitute ‘church’ everywhere you read ‘zoo’ and ‘people’ everywhere you read ‘animals’ and Bonner could just as well have been in the business of preaching to the congregation as opposed to animal conservation.

Bonner is the president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo.  He believes “that zoos are not transforming their mission quickly enough from entertainment to conservation.”

"I want people to see this beautiful creature and ask, 'how could we have let this happen?’”  says Bonner.  No, he is not referencing the unborn (54 million aborted now) but rather what – in his realm of expertise – is becoming increasingly unknown: the polar bear.

Given recent developments in our country with regards “gendercide” however, Bonner’s is a good question.

“I want people to see this beautiful creature and ask, ‘How could we have let this

Dr. Steven L. Monfort is another champion of the species (animals), with ecclesiastical overtones for those of us who are likewise called to be champions (of people).  “We as a society have to decide if it is going to be ethically and morally appropriate to simply display animals for entertainment purposes.”  Dr. Monfort is the director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, part of the National Zoo in Washington. ‘In my opinion, that model is broken.’

“Dr. Monfort wants zoos to raise more money for the conservation of animals in the wild and to make that effort as important as erecting fancier accommodations for their captive collections.”

“In the wild”?  But aren’t zoos about us?  Our entertainment?  Me?

When Jesus said “Feed my sheep” in John 21, he was not referencing the zoo’s sheep suggests Brandon Hatmaker in his book “Barefoot Church”.  Subtitled "Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture”, Hatmaker, like Dr. Monfort, is not
into fancier zoos for the entertainment of the zoo-attenders.  In fact, “Barefoot Church” is “not about attractional seeker-sensitive, culturally relevant, or other models.  It is not a church growth strategy or new style of church.  It’s about serving the least.”

Interesting that zoo keepers – some of them - are no longer keepers of the zoo so much as saviors of the otherwise extinct with the primary strategy of setting them free.  Ditto the need in the church today – not bigger and fancier facilities but less emphasis on the facility at all.

Do we really need another Bible study for those in our “captive collection” who already know enough to choke a horse?  Are padded-whatevers really the priority of our people or should rather they be set free to re-enter the wild, repopulating after their kind - actually doing, rather than absorbing, ministry?

Is this preached from the pulpit of the place of worship where you attend?  “Less emphasis should be placed on animals that are popular attractions but are doing fine in the wild,” Dr. Monfort said, adding that they should be replaced with animals in desperate need of rescuing.

Desperate need of rescuing. 

It’s all happening at the zoo.

Would that it was happening at the church too.

Before we lose more of what’s becoming extinct.

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