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February 29: Telling Trickster Stories

Used with permission by author. Source:

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a story to teach them.

I come from a long line of story tellers.

I had to go to college to find out this was an art form. In my family, we always called it swappin’ lies. But that doesn’t mean our stories were not true. A good story teller may stray from the facts, but always tells the truth.

Some of my favorites are the trickster stories. Every culture uses tricksters to tell the truth. The third chapter of Genesis tells how the serpent tricked Adam and Eve to fall from grace. The patriarch Jacob is a trickster. He tricks his brother into giving up his birthright. He tricks his father into giving a blessing. He accumulates a fortune through his trickiness. Then he has to come home and pay the price for all those tricks. Jacob is so tricky that he finally wrestles God and wins the name Israel.

Many of Jesus’ stories teach about tricksters. They guy who was going to tear down his barn to build a bigger one tricked himself out of a blessing. The widow who demanded justice trapped the unrighteous judge into giving her a blessing. The unmerciful servant who abused a fellow servant was way to sneaky for his own good.

In the garden, before Pontius Pilate, and on the cross, the trickster Satan tried to destroy the Son of God. At the resurrection, Christ became the ultimate trickster as he outsmarted death!

Native Americans love trickster stories.

In the southeast, the trickster is often a rabbit. In the southwest he is a coyote. In the northwest he is a raven. In the northeast they call him Glooscap.

Tricksters are like Wile E. Coyote: too smart for their own good. All their best laid plans blow up in their faces.

Tricksters are like Barney Fife: low on wisdom but full of bluff and bluster. They try to be something they are not, but they only fool themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. Tricksters are very powerful. They can do wonderful things. They are often involved in creation. Sometimes they provide great blessings—but it usually happens by accident. The Creator seems to enjoy catching them as they fall, and using their silliness to provide something good.

So why do people of all ages and cultures love trickster stories?

Maybe it’s because we all have a little bit of Wile E. Coyote in our souls. I want to think that someday I will be a gentle soul like Fred Rogers, slipping on his cardigan and welcoming children to his neighborhood. To be honest, I may be more like Barney Fife, telling everyone they need to just nip it in the bud. Nip it, nip it, nip it!

Tricksters invite us to laugh at ourselves.

They remind us that our best laid plans go awry more often than not. Tricksters always think they can plan for the future and control what will happen next.

Wise people—persons of faith—know that is God’s job.

Things go so much better when we admit that our lives are out of control, and we need a higher power to restore us to sanity. Bluff and bluster might be enough to fool other tricksters, but when we come face to face with the Creator we need honesty and humility.

So how is it going for you?

Are you in control of your own life? Are you the manager of your own destiny? Have your plans all blown up in your face before—but this time it’s a sure thing?

Maybe it’s time to put down all the Acme blueprints you have drawn up for yourself. Maybe it’s time to confess that you cannot manage your life. You cannot control your world. You need God to save you from your own cleverness.

Native people use sacred stories to help get their souls back in balance. Jesus did the same thing. Take a little time to read some of those stories. You just might find that the Creator is talking about you.

O God, I am oft times too clever by half. Forgive me for trying to take your seat. I need you to run my life. And when my soul gets too proud and tricky, Lord, nip it in the bud.

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