This is the story of three men and a chicken. All four are in somewhat similar circumstances and, it appears, only the chicken understands it. Just to be fair, the chicken is probably the best suited to clearly grasp the nature of their dilemma and she’ll be the one who will help the others understand. The chicken’s name is Ginger. The names of the other three should probably best be pseudonyms to protect their identity. Out of respect to the three men, and deference to their stations in life, we shall name them Larry, Curly and Moe with appropriate apologies to others of the same name who are iconic figures in American history. Ginger does not mind us using her real name as she has been quite vocal about what she sees as a trap to which all too many have succumbed. Particularly now, the trap looms ever larger.
In the movie, Chicken Run, Mel Gibson plays the part of a lone-range rooster accidentally fallen into a large chicken farm whose grounds and the plot are purposely reminiscent of The Great Escape staring a dozen plus iconic actors including Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson. In Chicken Run, Ginger is voiced by English actress Julia Sawalha.
The numerous escape attempts of the chickens are continually thwarted by the hostile farmer and his wife, the primary nemesis who desires to profit by turning all the chickens into pot pies rather than egg producers. When frustration reaches its peak, one chicken proposes that the one thing they haven’t tried is not trying to escape. Ginger responds, ‘so laying eggs all your life and when you can’t lay anymore being plucked, tucked and roasted is good enough for you?’ She tries to explain to them that the fences which keep them incarcerated until their demise is not the wire surrounding the farm but the fences holding them in are in their minds. They are captive of their own inability to see anything beyond their circumstance.
Obviously, Larry, Curly and Moe are not sitting out their lives in a chicken farm, having their egg production tracked each day awaiting their turn for the frying pan and they don’t need worry about being stuffed into a chicken pot pie. What is on their horizon? When we understand their lot in life, the options of a fryer or a pot pie might be more positive. At least from a human perspective.
Larry has had a good life. He is blessed with a forbearing wife, two grown and well-adjusted children, a home that is warm in the winter and cool enough in the summer with enough food on the table to satisfy his daily needs. It is not certain which way things happened, either he hit 70 or 70 hit him. By the decade that was his sixties, medical issues and complications made him barely able to move, having difficulty breathing and more physical maladies the result of his own lifelong bad habits. Then came the dementia. A body that barely works anyway and now a mind that won’t allow him to remember what he did the hour before. The things he enjoyed the most, cars particularly, classics and unique ones were a passion. Now, he probably couldn’t tell you a Ford F-350 Diesel from a Prius. His fences are high, and he is about as trapped as one can be on this mortal plain.
Moe is… well, if there is a sadder case than Larry, it’s Moe. A young man, just in his forties, is truly surrounded by fences. Tall, steel, razor wire, and electrified with cameras, alarm systems and an abundance of armed guards always within reach. He is where he is because of his own bad choices. Another word for bad choices is crimes and still another, sin. One can certainly argue the physical abuse Larry put his body through with his predilection to cigars, cigarettes… nicotine of all sorts can be sin when it is purposely, knowingly inflicting damage to the body which, for a Christian is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, the residing place of the third person of the Trinity. There remains, however, in human terms a definite line between such sins and those which bring a person before a trial judge and to have themselves remanded to custody for, in Moe’s case, 15 years. Moe can most readily adapt himself to Ginger’s philosophy of fences and restrictions. Although locked up physically, Moe is free to learn, to think, communicate, to grow as a person. Larry has lost that, minus some small glimpses of reality which appear for a moment or two and then disappear into that fog which seems to envelope every waking minute. Although he has had his setbacks, Moe has done well at seeking to grow, to learn and although he has lost every relationship which meant anything to him outside those fences, he has found ways to build on his relationship with Christ.
And then there is Curly. Curly had an adult life that could best be described as turbulent. If anyone is a victim of their own bad choices and moments of brainless action it’s him. He has a heart of gold, callused over time to the point it is brittle, if not broken. Curly is a guy who is incredibly bright and well-liked, admired by some professionally, despised by those who saw his skills as a threat to their own plans. Devoted to serving his community, wherever he was residing, he stood in harm’s way many times to make a difference, often for people who couldn’t care less. But there he stood. Time and despair seemed to walk together with him. Eventually his only real connection to anything was through his wife who was, at best, reclusive and numb to emotion, mostly due to her own long and difficult journey. Fate dealt their hands almost simultaneously, both experiencing debilitating strokes leading them to share a room in a nursing home. There was to be no retrieval for her of any life outside long-term palliative care though Curly could have worked through difficult rehab and gained a modicum of functionality. If he did, though, it would mean leaving her side; so, he refused. Soon enough, death took her but Curly’s non-compliance with therapy left him bed-ridden and his fences were in place. A mind that works, a body that doesn’t. Curly would tell you he would make the same choice again and so, now, minus any unforeseen physical issue, he passes each year, now into his mid-seventies, waiting for his turn to slip the surly bonds of earth. His fence is partially self-built but the height of it depends on how he chooses to use, or not use, each new day with which he is gifted.
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth when everything else in this world is stripped away, three things remain, faith, hope, and love.[i]
Larry is so blessed to still have those who love him surrounding him. He, long ago declared his faith in Christ and laid there the foundation for his hope. I have no doubt where Larry will be when he passes from this earth to the eternity beyond. There, his health will be whole, his mind will be free, and his salty skepticism will be put away in the amazing and wondrous presence of the Savior he loves. They story of Larry reminds me that we never know when suddenly there will be fences encircling us. Thankfully, Larry was prepared long before the fences went up, so it is clear where his hope lies. A good reminder for all of us to not go into even the next day of our lives unprepared for the eternity that is absolutely 100 percent certain to come.
Moe has one thing that so many of us outside his type of fences do not have. Moe has a deep, life-changing, totally inspiring understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. He has found ways to break the shackles that chained him, long before he ever wore his first set of handcuffs. Those shackles of sin and despair are swallowed up by the grace Moe sees as real every day of his life. He has had countless opportunities to do what Peter admonished the believers in the first century and still for followers of Christ today to do. He wrote, “be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”[ii] Moe can only begin to anticipate what kind of fences will try to encircle him when his time for release finally comes, but he can carry with him the strength he has gained while growing strong in the Lord during his time behind the current fences he faces. Eventually, Moe will have the joy of meeting in heaven all those to whom he made a difference by sharing his reason for hope. I expect the line will be a long one.
Finally, Curly. In the movie, The Great Escape, one Scottish officer named Ives, a small man they lovingly called, Piglet, also nick-named the Mole, went wire-happy. He was on the brink of a breakdown clearly before news came of a huge setback in the escape plan as the Nazi’s found their primary escape tunnel. Unable to bear it, Piglet, played by Angus Lennie, ran straight for the wire fence and began to climb; the armed guards did what everyone knew they would and Piglet ended his time as a prisoner of war the only way he knew how. The opposite of becoming wire happy is to resign yourself to your circumstance and lay down your cards, choosing to fold rather than to play at all. This is perhaps the saddest of the three. There are so many things which could be part of Curly’s days. Though bed fast, he has the ability to read and write, to share stories, to send greetings, to take to heart the condition of others much worse off than he in the nursing home and send notes and cards and, more importantly, be a prayer warrior for them. But resigned to watching the hours go by through the flickering of a TV screen, lost in the vast emptiness of a near non-existence, that truly reflects the thinking of the hen named Bunty, voiced by Imelda Staunton, who pointed out that they hadn’t tried not trying to escape. (Bunty is pictured in the Chicken Run picture, wearing the blue bead necklace with her hand in the air. You didn’t know chickens have hands? You have much to learn from this movie!)
Our prayers continue to be with Curly that a fire will reignite and he and those around him will be warmed by its glow.
That brings us back around to Ginger. Shortly after her fences speech, she confidently walked out of the coop and then, when alone began to cry. It was then, at her lowest point with the loss of support of friends, the sadness of trying to shoulder the whole responsibility for getting all the chickens to freedom that help came and hope was reignited. Ginger then made a common mistake. She placed all her hope in another person, or in this case, another chicken – a rooster. Humans, just like Rocky the Rooster, voiced by Mel Gibson, will disappoint us, betray us even. There is only One with whom we can place our hope and that is Jesus Christ. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”[iii] In Him is true hope for today, tomorrow and for eternity. He’s not a magic genie, you rub the lamp and get your three wishes. He said there will be hard times but those are the times when you can sense His presence the best. Focus your eyes on what He wants for you and you will never be disappointed. Eventually Ginger and her entire bevy of chickens, with Rocky and Fowler, an old rooster, military veteran – poultry division –voiced by Benjamin Withrow were able to succeed, but the group had to become inspired again, recommit to the plan. It was in the mud, the mess of despair where a glimmer of hope was shining.
Do you know a Larry, a Moe or a Curly? Maybe you know a Ginger who tries to carry all the load herself. What can you do, right now, today, to encourage them? You have the option of reading this and to say, Yep, I should do something, then go on about your day, oblivious to the Larry, Moe, Curly and Gingers all around you. It isn’t your job to fix all of them; but you can encourage the ones with whom you are familiar. King Solomon, the wisest man ever born wrote:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.[iv]
The last line, a deviation from the two’s of the verse seems oddly placed. However, two friends, working together and following Christ’s plan for their lives, is a cord of three strands. Such a cord is strong enough to carry you through.
The chickens under Ginger’s care were unable to focus on anything but their trapped circumstances. They needed to stop looking around at the fences and start looking up to the hope that was within reach. Be an encourager for the stooges God brings across your path, and I say that with the greatest admiration for Larry Fein, Moe and Curly Howard.
May God richly bless you as you reach out to those around you trapped behind a fence.
[i] 1 Corinthians 13:13
[ii] 1 Peter 3:15
[iii] Hebrews 13:5
[iv] Ecclesiastes 4:9-12