One of my son’s favourite places to go is Riverdale Farm, a petting zoo of sorts that is about a ten minute walk from where we live. He regularly runs about our place hollering, “See goat! See sheep! See horse!” I like Riverdale Farm too, it’s a great way to go from city to rural life without having to leave my neighbourhood. When you’re on the sprawling property that houses large swampy ponds rich with wildlife you don’t feel as though you’re in a big city. It’s amazing to think that only a few metres away is the Don Valley Parkway and its incessantly whirring traffic.
Jack , my son, loves the donkey named Dusty. For the most part ole Dusty (well, not that old, he’s only nine) stands around doing nothing. Nevertheless, Jack sits on the top of the wooden fence pointing his finger at the beast of burden and yells, “Dohn-kee” over and over. Dusty is an Abyssinian Donkey, an Ethiopian breed that is distinguished by a large black cross that spans its shoulders and spine. This morning, while we were at the farm, the farmhands (what else to call them?) were moving Dusty and his horse friends to another part of the farm. One of the workers stopped in front of a crowd of us to kindly tell us a little about the donkey. It seems that there is a Christian legend that involves the Abyssinian Donkey. So it goes: the Abyssinian apparently received the black cross on its back because it is the breed that Jesus chose to ride for his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday.
What was funny about the story was not so much the details of the legend–which to be honest, smacks a little of the Shroud of Turin fantasy–but the lack of comfort the Riverdale farmhand expressed when talking about Christianity. He didn’t want to refer to the marking on the donkey’s back as a cross in case he offended someone. He danced around the crucifix description, calling it a “t” that “you-know-who” rode on. He and the crowd chuckled when he sheepishly confessed that such politically correct back-flips were necessary because he works for “the city.” In a loud voice I replied: “It’s all a little irrelevant isn’t it, as the cross was an instrument of the State!” I in turn got a few more chuckles from the crowd.
The farmhand then went on to say that it would be easier to talk about a zebra, because its distinguishing marks are stripes. What could be politically or religiously offensive about stripes? My response (of course)? “Isaiah 53 says, ‘by His stripes we are healed!'” No chuckles from the crowd this time. Jack and I went on our merry way.