Once upon a time, there was a scorpion who needed to cross the river. As you may know, scorpions aren't really much at swimming. And so the scorpion caught the attention of a nearby frog: "Hello! Hello, Froggy."
Right away, the frog was suspicious. "What do you want?"
"Oh. Well, I was just wondering... Would you give me a ride across the river?"
"No," the frog replied.
"But Froggy, I do so need to cross this river." The scorpion spoke very sweetly. "Please, won't you help me? Please?"
"No," the frog answered. "You will sting me."
"Don't be silly," chided the scorpion. "We'll be out in the middle of a river! If I were to sting you, we'd both drown. As a matter of survival, I simply can't sting you. I just can't."
The frog lifted a webbed hand to its amble chin. The scorpion did have a point. I mean, they would both drown.... "Well, okay," said the frog.
The scorpion crawled right onto the frogs back and the two of them set out across the river. They hadn't gone very far at all when, suddenly, the scorpion raised its tail and stung the frog. As the frog felt itself succumb to the poison, it protested, "But now we'll both drown!"
"I know," the scorpion sighed. "But I can't help my nature. That's just who I am."
* * *
One hazy Saturday afternoon in August, Skip Orion went for a walk. He walked and walked and walked. Finally, he was hot and tired and thirsty.
Deciding it was time for some refreshment, Skip spotted a nearby street vendor. The man wore a green apron and stood beside a gleaming silver pushcart. Hanging from the side of the cart was a sign that read: "Delicious Hot Dogs. Ice Cold Pepsi."
"Yeah, that's the ticket," said Skip. And he walked up to the pushcart.
"What'll it be, sir?" asked the man in the green apron.
"I want a Pepsi," said Skip.
The man in the green apron produced a can of Pepsi. Skip grabbed the can. He took a long drink. But then he looked at the can in disgust. "Hey!" Skip complained. "What is this?"
"What do you mean 'What is this?'" asked the street vendor. "It's your Pepsi."
Holding the offensive can in two fingers, Skip shook his head. "No. Your sign says (and I quote): 'Ice Cold Pepsi.' This may be Pepsi, but it sure ain't Ice Cold Pepsi. I mean, this is like Luke Warm Pepsi."
"Luke warm?" Asked the man in the green apron.
"Yeah," Skip answered. "Maybe you should change your sign. Maybe it should read 'Pepsi served at Room Temperature.' Get me a marker. I'll change your sign for you."
"I'm not changing my sign!" bellowed the man in the green apron.
"So change your prices then," said Skip. "I'll give you 50 cents for the rest of this."
"The sign says One Dollar," growled the man in the green apron.
"The sign says Ice Cold," protested Skip. At this point, Skip knew he couldn't lose. Either he'd get the whole can for 50 cents, or else he'd return the half-empty can and leave with his thirst quenched for free.
As it turned out, the street vendor stubbornly refused to lower his price. And so Skip returned the half-empty can and left with his thirst satisfied and his wallet unopened.
* * *
As he walked back towards his apartment, Skip noticed how many of the parked cars had been left with their windows rolled down. Apparently, the owners were trying to keep things cool. But to Skip, these opened windows had the look of opportunity.
Sure enough: through one open window, Skip saw the glossy white bag of a local department store. Casually, Skip glanced up and down the street. When he was sure no one was watching, he reached in through the car window and he grabbed the bag. Skip kept moving until he reached the next intersection. After turning the corner onto a different street, Skip finally stopped to see what was inside.
He frowned with disappointment. It was just an orange envelope -- the kind you get from a photoshop. Someone had picked up a freshly developed roll of film and stuffed the pictures into this bag.
Out of curiosity, Skip opened the envelope. There were pictures of a young woman in her wedding gown. There were pictures of a young man in his tuxedo. The pictures told the story of their wedding. They walked down the aisle. They looked into one another's eyes. They ate cake with their fingers. They danced the first dance.
Looking into the radiant, hopeful faces captured on that film, Skip said, "Don't worry kids. You'll still have the memories." And then he dumped the bag -- pictures, negatives and all — into a nearby trash can.
* * *
A few minute later, Skip stood outside the door to his own apartment.
He found his keys and he let himself in.
To his great shock, someone was already sitting there on his sofa. She wore a green apron over her white wedding dress.
"Who are you?" Skip demanded.
"I'm God," answered the woman.
"Yeah, right," answered Skip. "And I'm the Easter Bunny. Now, get out of my apartment, before I call the cops and have you hauled off to jail."
"You're not the Easter Bunny," said the woman calmly.
"Get out," Skip repeated.
"You're not the Easter Bunny," repeated the woman. "You are Skip Orion. Or, at least you are a shadow of Skip Orion."
"What are you talking about?" asked Skip.
"This is your day of visitation, Skippy," said the woman. "And I'm afraid the news is not good. You are a liar. You're a thief. You are cruel and you have no friends because you care about no one but yourself."
"So?" Skip shrugged. "What do you want me to do about it? That's who I am. Love it or leave it. I mean, God made this way."
"I did not make you that way," protested the strange visitor. "You have done all of this entirely on your own."
Skip threw his hands in the air. "I'm not having this conversation," he said. "Look, I'm calling the police. You can just sit there and play God until they arrive."
"I'm not playing," said the woman. "I'm very serious."
Skip picked up the phone and held it to his ear as he dialed 911.
"Fine," he said. "If you're God, then do something Godly. I'm calling the police."
Just then, the operator answered the phone: "911, what is the nature of your emergency?"
Skip reported, "I have a crazy woman in my apartment. She broke in and..." Before Skip could finish his sentence, the operator interrupted. "That's no crazy woman, sir. That is God Almighty."
From her position on the sofa, God asked "How's that?"
"How's what?" Skip cried. feeling very irritable.
"How's that for something Godly?"
Through the receiver still pressed against his ear, the operator said, "I think it's very clever. Admit it Skip, you're dealing with God here."
Skip hung up the phone. "What do you want with me?" he asked.
"I want to introduce you to someone," God replied. And then, through the bedroom door, someone stepped out into the living room. As Skip stared at this new intruder, it was like staring into a mirror. The two men were identical.
"Skip," said God, "I'd like for you to meet the real Skip. This is who I made you to be."
"How are you?" asked the new Skip, extending his hand.
The old Skip did not accept the gesture. Instead, he buried his face in his hands. "Why are you doing this to me?" he protested weakly.
"I thought we covered this already," answered God. "I want you to know who you were meant to be. I want you to know who you can become. I want you to see reality in the hope that you yourself might become real.
"Look," God commanded. Skip found himself peeking through his fingers. "Behold who you were meant to be."
As Skip looked into his own eyes, he saw a version of himself that terrified him. He saw compassion and responsibility. He saw sacrifice and mercy. It was like looking down from the top of the high dive. It was the other side of something. But it was as close as a heartbeat.
"But that's not me," said Skip.
"It is you," answered God. "It is the you inside of you. Like the sculpture still inside a solid block of granite, this is the you inside of you."
God rose up and placed her arms around Skip, encircling him with her love. Inside that embrace, Skip's body went stiff. He felt himself resisting... something.
But the love of God seeped past all of his defenses. Skip felt the resistance melt away. He felt the venom of his selfishness drain away. And into the empty place left behind came an outpouring of love.
God's love poured into him like water. It brought life-giving water to the parched and broken places within him. It brought life to the thirsty and lonely places within him. It watered the seeds of something new.
* * *
The Christian message confronts us with a duality of self. There is a tension between our old self and our new self. There is a tension between who we are and who we are meant to become.
And the way across that tension is the Spirit of Christ.
Like that ill-fated encounter between the frog and the scorpion, Christ waits for us at the shore. We climb on as who we are. But who we are changes as we make that journey.
With the frog and the scorpion, it is poison that has the last word. It is death and it is the status quo. But in Christ, the story ends with life. Christ absorbs the sting and continues to carry us until we arrive at a new destination -- until we become a new creation.