Riding Fence

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Cattle are not the brightest lights in the barnyard chandelier. 
As Winnie the Pooh might describe them, they are creatures “of little brain.” But in one regard they are absolutely brilliant – the idiot savants of all livestock, as one cattle owner describes them.
If there’s a weak place or hole of any kind in a fence or enclosure, they will find it and exploit it. 
And every other cow or bull is sure to follow.
It’s what they do.
The result is that these huge creatures walk into a world where they are singularly defenseless and ill-equipped to meet their own needs.  And it might take days to round them up.
Cattle owners must therefore be committed to “riding fence.” 
Traditionally, for cowboys, that means sitting atop a horse for hours on end, with saddlebags full of hammers and staples, monitoring the condition of every foot of fencing.  On the biggest ranches out west that can mean miles and miles of barbed wire.  It’s a long and lonely job.
Riding fence might also provide an excuse to get away from circumstances and people one would rather not face.  That seems to be the significance of these words from Desperado, the hit song by the Eagles:
Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses
You’ve been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Technology is gradually ushering in changes.  These days, riding fence is more likely to be accomplished by remote control drones than on horseback.
But the task remains the same.  You find the weak places and fix them.  It’s a mission of love: protecting creatures who don’t know how to take care of themselves.
Human beings are spiritual idiot savants.  We are brilliantly gifted at figuring out how to screw up our own lives.
This is not an issue of intelligence.  People with high IQs and advanced degrees and worlds of experience – men and women we presume should know better – have a wonderful knack for finding escape clauses in God’s commandments and loopholes in the creeds of common sense.
It’s what we do.
We walk away from the security of community – “coloring outside the lines” is how we like to put it – and end up having to be rescued from circumstances that once looked so promising when we were standing on the other side of the fence.
Sometimes people chafe at the restrictions on human behavior that are part and parcel of spiritual life.
Think of it this way: That’s just God riding fence. 
His goal is to ensure that at day’s end we’re all thriving in the right pasture.
And even learning how to help others realize that God’s “boundaries” are actually some of his most significant gifts of grace.