Wood Tick: Wisdom for the General Assembly

illustration by Barry Falls / Heart Agency

Ahhhhh! Wood tick!

The scream sent the three of us for separate parts of the travel trailer, stripping off jeans and shirts as we scampered to do body searches and shake out our clothes. The trailer was rockin’ and rollin’ as the three of us were soon jumping on one leg trying to extricate ourselves from tight sweaty jeans. By the time I had managed to strip off my jeans and t-shirt, the shower was already running. One of the girls had beaten me. I got relegated to shake out clothes and to stand last in the shower line. Chelsea and Linda got the task of fine combing Bud the Lab. In the end, we found over a dozen of the eight-legged little beasts on us, three embedded in flesh, and still more slinking around the trailer days after our initial episode. And all this from just a half-hour walk on the trail around Kiche Manitou Lake in southern Manitoba’s Spruce Woods Provincial Park.

I hate wood ticks, and that was what we found in our clothes and mining into our bodies that day in June. Thankfully none of the fiends that we found in us were the blacklegged tick or deer tick that is noted for spreading Lyme disease, a dreadfully persistent ailment to which I lost a dear friend a while back. He suffered with symptoms for years before diagnosis, by which time it had caused him several complications that contributed to his death. Soon after we got home from Manitoba, one morning Bud showed up paralyzed in his hind end. In going over his body looking for signs of any kind of trauma, perhaps an impact with a car, we found an engorged wood tick that we had somehow missed. Two days after the veterinarian extricated the engorged tick, the disease it had caused abated and Bud was up and running on all four cylinders again. But it just goes to show you; a run in with even a common wood tick can be a serious thing.

Ticks make their living by sucking blood out of you. But that is not the problem. The problem is that in doing what comes naturally for ticks, they can also introduce all kinds of secondary infections. Some of the more common include: Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It’s the secondary infections that you really have to watch for. The tick is a pain in the butt, but it is what it is. It gets under your skin, administers a painless bite and sometimes silently takes its blood meal. However, if in the process a secondary infection is introduced, and if it is not treated, it can be extremely serious. The problem with ticks is they are often vectors of serious diseases.

Lately, the tick has become a metaphor for me in critically thinking about my life in the body of Christ, the church. Like most, I consider my life in the church in terms of the positives I bring to it. I hope that is mostly what I do, bring positive influences into the body of Christ. I have never, to my knowledge, deliberately attempted to do otherwise. I have always tried to be a vehicle for building people up, restoring people and relationships, making the church a better place. I have always tried to keep it clear in my head that the church is the body of Christ, not a mere institution in which I can ply for power or auger for authority or strive for status.

However, if I think critically for minute, there are times, in spite of my best intentions, where I have become a vehicle for secondary disease, where I have been a vector for serious infection, where I have been wood tick-like. Sometimes I have forgotten that cynicism is not a spiritual gift and have allowed my cynicism towards the church or towards others in the church to infect others. Sometimes I have forgotten that criticism, when not offered with care and constructive intent, can not only slay an individual but get a spirit going amongst my siblings in Christ that tears at the very fabric of the tapestry of many different threads that make the church a rich place of unity with diversity. At times when I start to become wood tick-like, I need the encouragement of Paul: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Perhaps the biggest challenge for me in terms of the wood tick thing is in the company of other minister types, and most especially in the courts of the church. I don’t know what it is, but I have to confess the courts of the church seem to bring out the worst in me. Here cynicism just seems to be able to latch hold of me and use me like a vector. Here criticism can tempt me so easily to become a destructive vehicle. Here power and influence and status seem to hang like apples for the plucking. Here I so quickly lose sight of the fact that its not just what I bring to the church, its what I bring into it, into its life, that matters. Here, especially at places like General Assembly, John Calvin’s words ring so loud and true: “Thus, whatever the pious man can do, he is bound to do for his brethren, not consulting his own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification of the Church. Let this, then, be our method of showing goodwill and kindness, considering that, in regard to everything which God has bestowed upon us, and by which we can aid our neighbour, we are his stewards, and are bound to give account of our stewardship; moreover, that the only right mode of administration is that which is regulated by love. In this way, we shall not only unite the study of our neighbour’s advantage with a regard to our own, but make the latter subordinate to the former.” (Institutes Of The Christian Religion.)

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About David Webber

Rev. David Webber, now retired, was the founding missionary of the Cariboo house church ministry in British Columbia. He has written four books.