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Out Our Way: Cow sense in faith and politics - 1 Cor. 13:1


Last updated 1/14/2022 at 7:45am

Out our way, besides the big round ups for branding and shipping, Charlie and I gathered the herds twice yearly to change pastures. Up on the Tiger Ridge, the reservoir was low and the grass cropped short, so come the end of fall we moved the herd to winter pasture down below. First we would gather the herd together, and then Charlie would head up front and ride "point" while I went to the back, found the "Good Old Boys Club" hangout, gathered the bulls and rode "drag." 

Now as it happened, we had one bull who was something of a loud mouth. As I was pushing him and the others behind the main herd, he came across the bones of an old cow that had died years before. His mom? A favorite friend from growing up? I have no idea - but he just stopped and started bellowing. It took me quite some time to force him to move on - and in the meantime the other bulls and the main herd just ignored him and kept going. When I finally got him to move and dodged a bluff charge or two, Doc and I had to trot - no way I could get that guy to the canter - to catch up, with him bellowing the whole way. But again, aside from me, no one else cared. You see, the herd trusted the matriarch ... an older cow that led the way for the others to follow. She knew the trail and over the years the whole herd knew her. She didn't need to bawl or paw the ground - she just went forward with Charlie and everyone else followed.

I thought about her and that bawling bull the other day when I saw a cartoon of two old cowboys watching a herd saying, "That's the difference between animals and humans. No way do cows pick the dumbest member of the herd as their leader."  

Between the matriarch cow and the noisy bull, these cattle didn't even have to think twice. Being loud, aggressive, and showy doesn't impress cattle. Knowing what you are doing and where you are going does. That's a good lesson for us humans to consider, especially in these times of division and turmoil. Paul noted that some early Church leaders, like some politicians, were like that bull. All noise and bluster, but not necessarily knowledgable or helpful. A bull is strong and dangerous - but that doesn't make him smart or wise. A cow may seem more docile and easy going - unless you get between her and her calf - but that doesn't make her ignorant or foolish. Cattle are smart enough to know the difference, but clearly given the number of people who get conned, scammed and fooled by "snake oil" preachers and elected officials every day, a lot of human beings don't quite have the same "cow sense" of a yearling calf. 

The herd followed the matriarch because she had shown herself to be the real deal in the pasture day after day. They had seen her in their midst - they had seen her care for her calves and also for the rest of the herd. In short, they had come to know her and who she really was. They saw first hand that she had cow sense and could be trusted. She led from the front and by example and they followed.

The bull, on the other hand, was aloof. He only came in with the herd during mating season and then went off with his buddies the rest of the time. He might have fathered calves, but he didn't care for them. He only cared for himself. Oh, he was impressive and you sure noticed him when he came around, but that didn't mean he was really as important as he thought he was. He was that same species as the rest of the herd but he was not really one of them. So when it came time for the herd to move, all his bellowing and stomping and snorting was ignored. And that was good because for all his bravado and posturing, he didn't have a clue where the good pasture was or where to find water. If they had followed him, they would have died of starvation and thirst. Fortunately, cows are smarter than that. 

Sadly, many humans are not. Paul saw how easily some loud preachers enthralled the naive with their loud and spectacular bellowing despite not having a clue about the Gospel. For although they might quote scripture and talk about Jesus, they did not obey the Word or follow the Lord. Their focus was on themselves, not their neighbor and thus not the Kingdom. They were, like our bull, a "noisy gong" and nothing more.

We still see and hear of such in the modern Church and in politics. For all the talk about caring, justice, and truth we experience bias, corruption and hypocrisy. "Do as I say, not as I do!"

As the Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels put it, "We accuse the other side of doing the very things we ourselves do!" In the Church, in Congress, in the Council, etc., etc., etc. Paul tells us to look first at what they do before we listen to what they say. They may talk about how much they care about others, but where are the actual examples of it? The "bull" is loud and can push the herd for a while, but he can never lead it. The "matriarch" leads by example, not force. Maybe we all could use a little more cow sense.  

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John 


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]


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