Remember Daisy, the dead donkey

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

In journalism you’ve heard it said, you don’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good story.

Forgive me if I’ve told you it before, but this is one I’d like to believe. It concerns an ageing Irish couple who were interviewed on the RTE Gay Byrne show some years ago. They had been married for over 60 years and Byrne was investigating the secret of their long lasting union.

‘Well,’ said the old boy gazing thoughtfully heaven ward, and this was his story...

The families of William James and Sarah Jane were poor Irish crofters and like many in their time when they married, a honeymoon was out of the question.

So after the ceremony they had a reception of sorts in the local hostelry, and off they trotted serenely into the sunset in the borrowed donkey and cart that was their wedding limo toward the bridal bed in his little whitewashed cottage.

However, after a couple of miles the tired old donkey stopped in his tracks. William James jumped off the cart, kicked the stubborn animal firmly in the rump and roared, ‘Donkey! That’s once!’ Then he climbed aboard again and the donkey inched grudgingly forward. But a half mile down the road the cart ground to a halt and this time Daisy the donkey steadfastly refused to budge.

Well, William James flew into such a rage. He bounded off the cart, pulled a .45 revolver from his coat pocket and dispatched the unfortunate beast to his great stable in the sky. Now it was Sarah Jane’s turn to lose her cool. ‘You brute! You wicked cruel monster!’ she yelled, pounding William James with tiny clenched fists. ‘How could you be so heartless?!’

He looked at her square in the eye and said, ‘Wife! ‘That’s once!’

Now it could be said that their long marriage bond was held together for six decades by William James’ implied threat. For all those years Sarah Jane was dutiful and submissive, he was hard working and provided as well as he could for the family’s material needs, but the relationship was based on fear and control. She never forgot the awful sight of the donkey’s bloodied head and his words, ‘Wife! That’s once!’

The question is, what sort of relationship do we have with our Father? Is it one marked by love and trust, or are we driven by fear of rejection to try harder, pray more, go to church more often and read the Bible cover to cover every year? And what role does religion play in developing and maintaining that relationship? Well, think about this one. The editor of Decision, perhaps the world’s most widely-read Christian magazine, wrote this: “God records everything you have ever said or done, from your cradle to your grave. They will stand through time and will condemn you before God in eternity. What will God’s TV camera show about you?”

That is his theology, but then he adds this: “If you confess your sins, God will forgive you and wash away your sins.” How can they be washed away and yet ‘stand through time to condemn?’

The only way that major contradiction can be explained is the preacher’s desire to control through fear. Here’s what the Bible has to say about the subject, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ (Psalm 103:12).

Now, you can measure how far it is from North to South, but you can’t measure the distance from East to West, and that’s far enough for me.