Tarred and Feathered

Bucket of Tar            Feathers

Colossians 3: 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

I don’t know if you ever played with tar. I did, and it was great fun until I went home and faced the wrath of my mother for getting the stuff all over me. The street that ran beside our house consisted of gravel in a bed of tar, which had to be replaced every year. And sure enough, the workers left little pools of tar when they had finished. Inspired by Joel Chandler Harris’s story of Br’er Fox’s attempt to catch Br’er Rabbit with a figure made of tar and turpentine, I tried to make a tar baby out of the leftover tar. Now The story didn’t have instructions about how to make one, and there wasn’t that much of it, so my tar baby ended up being about two inches tall. And it kept falling over. I finally gave up and went home to face the wrath of mom. My diminutive figure might have caught an ant or grasshopper, but not a full-grown rabbit, especially a talking one.

I only recently learned that not all tar comes from naturally occurring tar pits, like those at La Brea in Los Angeles, which I thought were the coolest thing going. I wanted to go there and see them for myself, but, years later, we drove by the site, and I wasn’t too impressed. It looked like a big hole filled with—you guessed it—tar. I don’t know what I was expecting.

Only last week, a crossword clue read, “Tar is made from a distillate of this substance.” I figured the four-letter word could only be “coal,” filled it in and sat back to think for a moment. Who knew? I majored in English, not chemistry. Certainly I didn’t know this, but it only made sense that there weren’t enough tar pits to go around to fix all the gravel roads and lure small unsuspecting boys into ruining their clothes. Not that I needed that much luring.

Since then, I’ve given up on tar and found Play Dough is a lot easier to work with and a whole lot cleaner, but I got to thinking about the spiritual implications of tar and also of feathers, strangely enough. You’ve probably heard of people being tarred and feathered, and sometimes the results were deadly. The King and the Dauphin, two scoundrels ridden out of town on rails in Huckleberry Finn, were tarred and feathered. Huck, with his natural human sympathy, feels sorry for them although they were rascals. As he observes what has happened to them, he says, “Human beings CAN be awful cruel to one another.”

It seems to me that we are all covered with the tar of sin, and we can’t remove it no matter what we do. But God took it off with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And he gave us feathers in the form of wings so that we could fly and sing the praises of the Creator. Thanks be to God for the grace and mercy that washes us clean and sets us free to fly. Amen.

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