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Less Than A Peaceable Kingdom

"Less Than A Peaceable Kingdom" by David O. Bales
"Prayer For Righteous Government" by David O. Bales

* * * * * * * *

Less Than A Peaceable Kingdom
by David O. Bales
Isaiah 11:1-10

Lanny had wanted to work at Peaceable Kingdom since her parents took her there when she was eleven. The street side of the zoo’s main building reproduced a giant portion of one of Edward Hick’s paintings of “The Peaceable Kingdom.” The sign was heaped with round, furry animals like a special welcome for her. The zoo then became the site of her birthday party every year. When she 15 she heard a snooty acquaintance behind her say, “Isn’t she a bit old for such things?” Lanny had little difficulty shrugging off attempts to shame her and a month before she graduated from high school she applied to work at the zoo that had granted her joy and aimed her toward her future profession. She was going to be a veterinarian. After two years as a steady employee she was promised a summer job as she went off to college.

Three summers later, Lanny was now ashamed of Peaceable Kingdom in a way she’d never imagined. She and her boyfriend had grabbed the first warmth of summer to spend the day at the beach. It was a long drive but they enjoyed every minute of the sun after a cold, wet spring. They drove back in the dark. Lanny jerked to her right and pointed back to a field they passed, “What’s that on the right?”

“Didn’t look,” Mitchell said. He was using his energy to fight off sleep and he was distracted by sunburn on his bald spot that he’d forgotten to slather with sunscreen.

“Just caught a glimpse of it, but looked like a billboard with Peaceable Kingdom’s sign.”

Next day at work she found that Peaceable Kingdom had been sold. First thing she said when she arrived home to her parents’ house after work: “How can you sell wild animals, and why didn’t they tell us instead of waiting a month after the fact?”

“I thought it might be coming,” her father said. “Heard a rumor downtown; but, didn’t want to bother you. Might not’ve been true.”

“Aaah!” she screamed, then jerking her hands into her stomach, she ran to her room. She shook off her green coveralls and threw them at her closet door. When she came to the dinner table her mother was ready to comfort her, “They didn’t say anything about your job, did they?”

“No,” she said with a surprised look. “I didn’t consider that.”

“Don’t think you’ve got a worry,” her father said. “All together you’ve worked there longer than most anybody.”

“They’re turning it into a big business.”

“Well,” her father said, “if it doesn’t crank out a profit, it can’t continue. Everything’s got to make a profit. That’s what they pay you with.”

“I know. I know,” Lanny said, waving her hand in front of her, “but that billboard I saw last night? They’re going to line the interstate for a hundred miles in every direction. ‘Peaceable Kingdom, Peaceable Kingdom.’ Who’s going to believe that it’s not really just about profit when they plaster the countryside like the sacrilege of ‘Wall Drug’ signs strung across South Dakota? It’s like they’re exploiting the animals.”

Her father pulled his lips to the side, “Vets advertise now. Nothing new. When I was a kid no professionals advertised, just the Yellow Pages. Now every kind of dentist and doctor. Other day I heard about an ad for a proctologist—.”

“Trevor!” Her mother said.

He laughed and Lanny chuckled despite her rage. “It’s like they’re somehow abusing the animals. And,” she put a hand on her chest, “I’m part of it. That implicates me.”

Two weeks later Lanny came home to announce at dinner, “The new company’s putting a lot of money into Peaceable Kingdom. Not just the expense of those ugly billboards.”

“Great,” her mother said. “That otter pond is pretty shabby.”

Her father said, “And the lemurs—.”

“Not money in that direction,” Lanny said. “They’re going for an elephant.”

Her parents were stunned. After a few seconds her father said, “Where they going to put an elephant? They’re fit to burst now.”

“Ruby walked through the office and the new manager in conference with ‘his deputies’ said they’ll dig up that new parking lot.”

“That dinky spot?” her mother said. “That’s hardly large enough for a dozen cars. That’s no space for such a beast. Isn’t there a law or some kind of regulation about space needed for animals?”

“Don’t know,” Lanny said. “Haven’t had a course in veterinary law yet.” She stared into her dinner plate and said, “I’m going to hand in my two week notice tomorrow.”

Her father stretched back with a gasp. Her mother leaned forward, “Honey, just six more weeks, then back to college. You need that money.”

Lanny shook her head, “Can’t do that.”

Her father smiled and tried to sound positive. “You can hold on for six weeks out there. I know you can. You’re tough.”

Lanny put her fork on her plate with a clang, “I’m going to quit. I can’t take part in this.”

“Honey,” her mother said, “vets face things like this the all the time—healing animals but dealing with people. There’s nothing perfect. No job—.”

“No perfect family,” her father said with a laugh.


“Hush, Trevor,” her mother said, but her father had to finish his laughing. Then he said, “Tell you what: you’re the one who’s working there; but, if you quit, we’re the ones who’ll be tossing in the extra money you need for your senior year. So, since we’re involved in this too, do us this favor: Wait a week. Talk to Mitchell and Ruby about it. Think and pray about it. See if you can adjust to living in this world that isn’t perfect. We all have to do it somehow, and it’s a matter,” he pitched his voice higher, “of how are you going to live in a less than peaceable world?”

Preaching point: Both the human and the animal worlds portray creation in need of renewal.

* * *

Prayer For Righteous Government
by David O. Bales
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Josh parked his Department of Transportation dump truck in the row of others for the night. He didn’t look at Chas in the passenger’s seat, nor did Chas turn toward him. They got out and walked separately to the shop to punch out for the day. Inside the shop half a dozen men waited at 4:55 PM to punch out. They all, quite obviously, greeted Chas and didn’t look in Josh’s direction.

As had become his habit in the last three months, Josh waited while the others punched out before he grabbed his time card from the rack. At least today it was here. Twice in the last week he’d found it on the floor tracked on by muddy boots. He pulled it out and pressed it into the clock.

He’d been ostracized for three months. No matter how maddening it was for his foreman to see him every day, the foreman knew the union’s lawyer was ready to leap to his defense if Josh raised an eyebrow. Josh’s job was safe … relatively. Seven years yet to early retirement. Could he endure it?

At his car he checked the tires. Once he’d found them flattened. He was angered and hurt by such things. These had been his friends, yet they refused now to look him in the eye and turned their backs if he spoke to them about anything other than official tasks. The union’s lawyer said that in the past such irritations were the prelude to violence; but those methods had been dead for half a century—he hoped.

If Josh had realized how far the money trail stretched, would he have reported the diminished quality of the asphalt? He thought he did what was right, although he hadn’t guessed that the scheme even lined the governor’s pockets. Now the consequences of his letter to the state’s Department of Justice dogged his every step. At work it felt like buzzards were circling him. Outside of work it felt like gravity had doubled.

He didn’t tell Lois because he didn’t want to worry her. Consequently, his own worrying increased perilously. He’d planned to inform her after his deposition; but, when nothing came of it, he still lagged, as he put it to himself, “in reporting to the other half of his marriage.” The union’s lawyer told him, “Thoroughly hushed at all levels. Flushed right down the toilet. Been this way in living memory. Always has been and expect it always will be. Every administration appoints its own and they make sure everyone down the line is dribbled enough dollars to keep them cooperating. Expecting any administration in this state to be honest is like planning to teach first grade on Mars.”

The next morning at breakfast Josh was looking at the newspaper’s front section. He wasn’t reading, just fingering the edges of the front page. Lois commented on a couple articles she read in the downstate section, to which he grunted a response. Then she became insistent. She held a cinnamon-raisin bagel and he noticed that her fingernails were bitten to the quick, a habit she’d broken 15 years before.

“A two inch article on the back page says the Office of the Attorney General announced an investigation dismissed in the Department of Transportation Southern District.” She stared at him. He didn’t respond, but looked back at his newspaper and grunted. She persisted, “‘No reliable leads’ it says. Know anything about that?”

He turned his head slightly toward her, “Yeah, but I don’t think anything will come of it.”

She leaned nearer, “It’s our district,” and left it hanging like a question and a challenge.

He coughed and spoke quietly, “Nobody talks about it,” hoping that his near-honesty would end the discussion. He feared she’d ask him point blank if he were involved, and so he folded the paper as calmly as possible but caught his foot on the table leg as he stood. She said nothing further, but touched her fingers lightly to her lips like she wanted to ask more.  

He left the house quickly, but he realized what had happened to him. The false faces of his fellow workers had now caused his false face to his wife. Others weren’t speaking to him and he wasn’t speaking to Lois, and about this most important matter! He reviewed the massive kickback scheme of switched invoices and subcontractors with subs to subs, bribed inspectors, tanker trucks pulling off the interstate after the scales to pump into private tanks before delivering to the state depot. Shorting the mix one tenth of one percent yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He’d spent a lifetime driving truck, yet in the driveway he fumbled with the car’s shift, as though he were driving a clunker dragged from the state’s mothballed relics. He tried to steady himself, didn’t want to risk driving while he was so bothered by Lois’s reaction. He banged the dashboard with his hand and shouted, “Are we living in Russia? Tentacles of corruption winding around everybody?” He pressed his fists to his temples. Lois must be picking up on his emotions. He could endure about anything except how he was affecting Lois.

He’d tried to bull through the situation, but he’d failed again. And because he’d put off telling her, each day that passed made it harder to try. His car remained stationary and he looked out of the window as though seeing all at once how bad government was ruining human relationships top to bottom throughout the state. He argued with himself about what to do; but, rotten government seemed to mark all possible directions with a sign: “Dead End.”

Preaching point: The need for righteousness in government.


StoryShare, December 8, 2019, issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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