Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Beyond the Plush Toy

Beyond the Plush Toy

I’m 67 years old and I still have a stuffed animal on my bed, this cool red soft Monterey Bay Aquarium plush octopus. 

As a guide at the Aquarium, every week I see little kids lovingly holding plush toy sea otters, penguins, orcas, bought that day or brought in as a fellow visitor.   I bet they hold these toys as they go to sleep.  Do stuffed animals help us connect more deeply to God’s diverse creation?

The Aquarium teaches us guides to encourage folks to relate to “iconic animals.”
“charismatic animals,” otters, penguins, white sharks, orcas, octopus, animals we seem to have a special deep connection with, we can love, respect, fear, wonder about, work to conserve.

I’ve been studying St. Francis and will be on retreat in Assisi later this month.  He surely loved animals, preached to the birds, negotiated with a wolf, hosted the first live animal nativity scene.   We call him the saint of ecology, and he remarkably called all living beings his brothers and sisters. 

But I know for sure he did not own a single plush toy stuffed animal. 

The fabulous Franciscan Richard Rohr offers an online class about Francis (I highly recommend) called “Beyond the Bird Bath.”  Francis calls us to live a life of faith that’s more than a warm fuzzy soft of birdbath faith.  The first Francis birdbath only first appeared in the gardens of privileged Connecticut homes and the pages of Architectural Digest in the 1950’s.  We love this guy, let’s sculpt him and keep him in our garden with the birds.

Francis’ ministry and his community are as much about poverty, freedom from things and trust in God, as about ecology.  His message was simplicity.  Not plush toys or birdbaths.   

The most iconic and charismatic creature I know – that would be Jesus.  Also Francis, Clare.  They did not live plush lives.

I love my plush octopus, but I know that God calls me to be real and to honor all creation in its realness.  Octopus actually aren’t soft and cuddly, otters, penguins are not soft plush toys, but struggling wild creatures, sharp teeth, sharp claws.   They work hard just to stay alive and get enough to eat.  My plush octopus makes me happy.  But it also teaches me about real animals, that all animals hunger every day and need homes. Francis reminds me that real life is on the edge, a little hungry, more rough than soft.

I’ll keep my plush octopus, but I will try, like Jesus and Francis, to be wild and real. And to trust in God.

I’ve been writing for the past few weeks about Francis as I prepare to go on retreat in Assisi for two weeks to study him and his colleague Clare.  I’ll be back writing my weekly blogs in November. Please check out to consider a visit to our Pacific Grove ministry connecting faith issues and ocean concerns.  Love God, and love animals, both the live ones and the plush ones.