A few years back I heard a seminary professor say: “If the horse you are riding dies, get off.”
He then listed a number of alternatives we try instead of facing the fact that our horse is dead and we should get off. For example, we buy a new saddle, we get a bigger whip, we switch riders, we appoint a committee to study dead horses, we visit other places where they seem to be riding dead horses more effectively, or we sit around and complain about the poor status of dead horses these days.
Although his remarks were amusing, they might strike a chord in those of us who have ever ridden a dead horse. A dead horse might be a pet project, an idea, or even a job. Most of us associate the Hoover Company with vacuum cleaners. But when I visited their small but fascinating museum in North Canton, Ohio, I learned that the company originally made horses’ harnesses and bridle reins in the early Twentieth Century. The owners, however, were astute enough to see what the automobile was going to do to their business. They were also aware of a new growing industry: carpeting. So they completely switched gears and eventually began to produce some of the first vacuum cleaners. (To this day the word “hoover” in England is synonymous with “vacuum cleaner,” so in that country one “hoovers the living room.”)
What other dead horses might we be riding? Recently our main daily newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, cut home delivery down to four days a week. It is publishing their complete newspaper on-line seven days a week. I’m wondering, is a daily home-delivered printed newspaper becoming a dead horse—that I’m refusing to get off? A similar thing happened to my classical music station which I listened to regularly. It switched from my beloved classical music to all news—at least during the day. Is a classical music station on the radio becoming a dead horse?
On a deeper level, maybe we have longed to return to the church of the past when Mass was in Latin, priests had all the answers, and nuns and lay people knew their place. Or another major dead horse might be our image of God. Perhaps it is an image that has been shaken by circumstances in our personal life or in the world. Maybe it’s an image that no longer consoles us or challenges us to grow. Our tendency might be to keep riding this image of God because it has served us well in the past. The thought of getting off at this stage in our life might be terrifying. But at times like these, it’s good to remember that the one who might be destroying our image of God is actually God!
Bernard Lee, SM, has said: “God is always beyond God, the iconoclast par excellence, who over and over breaks out of the forms and symbols of our making.” Do we trust the real God enough to get of all of our dead horses–even if one of them is our very image of God?
Have you ever ridden a dead horse? If you’re still riding it, why do you stay on? If you got off, what helped you to get off?