The preface to my first self-published book: Tiger Food (To Preach or Not to Preach).
"Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy for those who feel.”, So said Horace Walpole. When I first came across this quote I wasn't sure that I understood it. So I asked Mr. Walpole, “And what sir is life for those who do both, those of us who think and feel?” Sometime between the point in which he answered me, with silence of course, and Ben Harper's 'Welcome to the Cruel World' oozed from the speakers of my stereo, I begin to write. TigerFood! is the result. I consider its publication a tremendous personal victory. You see I am no writer. In fact, writing is something that I never had much interest in. I have no formal training and generally speaking, outside of the required writing assignments in high school, I just did not do it.
Then came my meeting with the long deceased Mr. Walpole. At the time, I was thinking about my very own life long dilemma,(whether I would enter into the ministry or not), and here is this guy telling me that I should be amused by this pain-staking life decision. Well, I just couldn't imagine what could have been funny about this. I mean, what if the decision I had made was the wrong one? What if all of the people who had told me that this was my destiny were somehow right? Then, just after the second verse of Mr. Harper's “Welcome” began, the strangest thing happened. I looked around me at the dozen or so reference books on the floor. Next to them were five or six different versions of the Bible, along with about ten other books on topics like faith and the responsibilities of leadership. I noticed these things while I was reaching for the phone to call my mother, an evangelist, to ask her a question about some obscure biblical passage and it was at that moment that I realized that this had been going on for years and I was still no closer to answering this one very personal question: To preach or not to preach? Then out of nowhere it happened, I began to laugh, and I couldn't stop laughing. There I was, after years of contemplation, many of which were spent in agony over my so called “denial of the call”, and I was now laughing about it. It felt wonderful! For the first time in years I felt a certain sense of peace.
I can't necessarily explain how or why it came about, but I can tell you that I consciously remember, in a general sense, a feeling of extreme melancholy sort of covering my life when I was still very young. I think that the people in my public life would find that surprising. I would imagine that even those closest to me would say that, in general, I am a fairly up beat and happy person. This feeling, as I understood it then and even now, fell far short of a sadness for myself, but more of a sadness for the world in general. I found that this 'feeling' kept me in a sort of never ending kind of fog in which I was constantly surveying the world, critiquing it, always wanting in someway to transcend it.
This 'condition', as tragic as is was, according to Mr. Walpole, created for me a love affair with the spiritual. Although just how I defined spiritual would often change shape, I was constantly searching for what we may call the truth. This search gave rise to a curiosity that fueled my involvement in the Baptist church ,where I was a member from an early age. As the adults around me began to see my interest, I found myself involved more and more in church activities, and offices. I was about twelve or thirteen when I became fully aware of what the adults were saying when they would tell me that “I had a calling on my life.” By the time I was seventeen, not only was I the superintendent of the Sunday school, at my beloved Antioch Baptist Church, but I was now feeling real pressure to enter into the ministry. Pressure from those around me, pressure from myself, and most of all, I believed that this pressure was also coming directly from God himself!
A great deal of the the book is autobiographical. This was done for two reasons. The first was so that this pressure could be explained from my own perspective at various stages of my development. The second reason was that I wanted to try to establish a personal connection with the reader so that an honest dialog could begin, not necessarily with the author, but between the reader and his or her 'self'.
So the initial plan then for the book, if there was one, was for it to in fact be an autobiography. I simply wanted to tell my story. A story that I thought was all to common in the church in general, but that the idea that people could be 'pushed' into the ministry, was particularly prevelent in the black church. I was going to do it in hopes that it would help someone facing the same situation that I had found myself in. I realized as the book started to come together however; that it had morphed into something much more than that. Something that I had never expected . It became, what was for me, a ticket to “salvation”.
Not long after I began writing what was to become TigerFood!, I was talking to a relative about the book and trying to explain what it was that I was try to acomplish by writing it. I imagine that this relative must have gotten frustrated with my rambling on about it because she stopped me and asked if I could say in one sentence what it was that I was trying to get across. After a moment I responded that my goal was “To re-introduce the reader to God.” “Good luck with that.” was the response I got. It was 2001, TigerFood! would not find its way to print for another ten years. And it would probably have been just another discarded manuscript had it not been for a dear friend of mine. A woman so shy that to mention her name here would cause her great embarrassment. She is originally from India and we often have great conversations about our experiences and on occasion I seek her out for advice.
There came a time, during the writing of the book, that I woke up in the early morning hours to pour over the unfinished manuscript. As I studied the pages none of it seemed to make sense to me. It was as if I didn’t even recognized some of my own words. I decided that I should take a break and I called my friend. In no time I was feeling better about what it was that I was attempting to do. In large part it was do to my friend and her telling me this story that she had heard growing up in India. It was the story of a pregnant tigress, hungry and on the hunt, who happens upon a small flock of sheep. Sensing and end to her hunger she pounces on the flock with such force that not only does she bring about the birth of her cub, but also her own death.
Of course the sheep all scatter. Upon returning to the usual grazing area however, they find this little tiger clinging to it's dead mother. I guess at the this point it was the parental instinct of the sheep that took over because the sheep then take the little tiger in as one of there own. So now this little tiger grows up thinking it's a sheep. It eats grass and learns to make little sheep noises and grows up to be a pretty pitiful looking tiger. One day when the little tiger is a teenager the flock is attacked by a large male tiger. Once again all the sheep scatter. But the little tiger, he just stands there and before he knows it, he is face to face with the large male tiger.
When the larger tiger comes across the smaller one he is shocked to see him there. “Are you living here with these..these..sheep?” He asked. The little tiger just dropped his head and began to make little sheep noises. The larger tiger then stood up on his hind legs and smacked the little one right across the face.
“You are a tiger! You are not a sheep!” he shouted. Still the little tiger just dropped his head and began to nibble on the grass and make little sheep noises. All of a sudden the larger tiger grabs the smaller one up by the neck and dashes off toward a nearby pond. Once at the waters edge, the larger tiger puts the small one down, forcing him to look at his reflection in the water.
In India they have this idea that our minds are always so busy with thoughts that it is like the surface of a pond that's being blown by the wind. So that what you see in the water are changing images that come and go. It is underneath those images, where the water is still, that the true thing lives, the real you..
So the little tiger is getting this message as he ponders his reflection in the still water. The big tiger then leans over the little ones shoulder, so now their reflections are together, side by side. “See you have got a face like mine. You are not a sheep, you are a tiger like me. Be like me!” I have come to think this message to be the same one that Jesus proclaimed. “You're more than what you think you are, OK, you don't believe it, follow my example and be like me!
The larger tiger then picks the little one up once more and this time carries him for miles until they come to a clearing, and then to a cave where there are the remains of a freshly killed gazelle. He sat the little one down and commanded him to open his mouth. After tearing a large piece of the bloody carcass he shoves it down the little ones throat and watches as he gags on it. But this is the little tigers proper food so even as he gags, its getting into his system and to his true tiger nature. And it was at that moment that the little tiger sat back on his hind legs and let out a huge tiger roar! His very first one! “What do we do now?” the little tiger asks. “Now?” the large tiger said as he rose to his feet. “Now comes the fun part. Now we hunt!”
Of course the moral or idea to this story is that we are all living here as sheep, unaware of our true tiger nature. I love this story because I think it presents a universal truth: We behave as we are taught to behave. We tend to exist in a way that has been passed down to us from those that say they love us. There is often little reason to disagree with it. After all they were right when they told us not to touch the hot stove. They were also seemingly right when they said that “birds of a feather flock together” or “two wrongs don't make a right”, or what ever. But every once in a while something or someone crosses our path and we are forced to look at ourselves again. We are then face to face with the larger tiger! It couldn't have been a better time for me to hear that story from my friend! I was encouraged so much that I changed the title to the current one. The story asked the very questions that I believe that those of us who “think and feel” during our quest for a relationship with the divine, have been asking with more frequency in recent times: Who am I(we)and How shall I(we) live?
That's what TigerFood! Is about. Uncovering the real you. In reading the book I would like the reader to consider the story of Adam and Eve and how they were kicked out of Garden of Eden. We are taught that God commanded Adam not to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying that if he did, he would surely die. The story goes on to say that Adam disobeyed the lord and ate from the tree anyway. Typically, our loved ones would explain this to us by saying that Adam intentionally chose what was evil. So we are to believe then that Adam was motivated by his sinful nature. Obviously this could not be true. Adam didn't know what good and evil were yet, he would have to eat from the tree to find that out. So it seems strange to say that he was tempted by evil if he didn't even know what evil was.
I would like the reader to try and understand Adam's transgression, which I think should be viewed metaphorically, in a different way. Not only did Adam not know what evil was, but there is no indication that he understood what death was either. So when Adam is told not to eat from this tree, he is also given some insight into the possibility that he could, if he wanted, become a free being by eating from the tree anyway. This threat of death,(whatever death was), made Adam conscious of the fact that he could become the kind of person who doesn't do what God tells him to do. When Adam ate from the tree he did not choose what was evil, instead he made a choice, that is to say that he took a chance on death, curious, I suppose, to know what it might be like. This choice was both attractive and at the same time repulsive to him. It pulled at his being, all the while scaring him to death, literally according to the story.
With TigerFood!, I seen an opportunity to go back to the garden, to have the opportunity to make the choice on my own, and with it's publication, I now offer that same choice to you. An opportunity to consider what it is that you are: tiger or sheep. If I were going to be the preacher that my loved ones had proclaimed that I would be, then I would have had to evoke that old sense of sin that is essential to Christianity. The one that is taken for granted in the story. The idea that you are bad, not because you want to be, or you choose to be, but just because you are, period! You sin because you can not help but to sin. I have never been able to reconcile myself with this idea. The way in which this myth has been presented to us Adam, and subsequently man, never had a chance. If it wasn't that tree, then another. If not the rule about what not to eat, then one of the other ones that were sure to come.
Adam would have eventually sinned against God, to such a degree that a savior would have to come. If we are to take anything from the myth then we must go back to its origin and make the choice for ourselves. We have to be tempted. We have to be willing to go farther than our teachings, or 'our God' have taken us. If we are able to do this, we free ourselves. We get the same victory as the little tiger in the story. This offer of freedom to one who seeks a relationship with the divine is enticing and scary all at the same time. It is up to the individual to stand there, just as the little tiger did, and face the larger tiger, not because we do not fear him, but simply because tigers do not run.
P. Crowin Hendrix