- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

The other day, my daughter returned home from her speech class with Prince George’s County schools with a strange green button pinned onto her jumper.

“Oh, come let us adore ME,” it said.

I stared at it, then called her teacher.

“Oh, they were funny holiday buttons,” she said.

I was upset, but I lacked the words to explain why. I thought awhile. I know self-esteem is important for kids, but isn’t “adoring” oneself taking it a bit far? And what of the legitimate inbred desire that humans have for worship? Is the best the public schools can point to is oneself?

The sentiment was a mockery of a famous hymn summoning all to worship Christ. Any humor in it escaped me.

Isn’t it, I thought, bad enough to endure the “winter packet” sent home by the school with its “winter holidays” wishes - on a week just before Hanukkah and Christmas were to start - without getting this bizarre twist in the form of a button pinned onto your child’s clothing? Fortunately, my daughter was too little to make much sense of it, but what if an older child had received one and decided that yes, all those hymns aren’t to be taken seriously?

Ideas have power, you know.

When I was 9, an aunt gave me Pamela L. Travers‘ “The Fox at the Manger,” a beautiful book printed in Britain that never got much circulation here. Miss Travers is the same writer who wrote the Mary Poppins books.

The book is a classic I’ve read and reread for more than 40 years. It’s a fabulous story of the night of the Nativity, when Jesus has been born and he, Joseph and Mary are fast asleep.

Suddenly, a fox sneaks through the stable door. The animals clustered about the manger begin berating him for his thieving ways and propensity for stealing eggs and chickens. They demand to know what his gift will be for the Christ Child, as he has little to offer, they say, compared with them.

He tells them he is giving Jesus the gift of cunning. The animals are aghast, but the Christ Child sits up and thanks the fox.

“It is good,” the Child says, “because it is not half a thing. It is whole. Who else among you has given me as much?”

Such a gift that will surely end in the animal’s death, he explains, for no wild creature can live long without its cunning. Cows, donkeys and other animals, He said, had given worthy but replaceable gifts: a manger, wool, a dove’s lullaby and a donkey’s back.

But, “The fox has given me all he had,” the Child continues. “Without his cunning, how will he find food or escape the snare? How will he live now, alone in the woods? His cunning is his strength; his cunning is his life. It is the only thing he has, and he has given it away.”

What follows is an amazing dialogue between the Child and the fox as to how this gift of cunning will buy Jesus the precious time He will need to present His message to the world. The barnyard animals cluster about the fox, welcoming him at last.

At the end, a swan is seen heading toward the manger. A legend has it that before she dies, a swan sings once - her first song and her last. Christ, she feels, was worthy of her swan song.

That story taught me, a fourth-grader, more about true - and costly - worship than anything else in my memory. Here was true adoration. I only wish our schools could impart that.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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