Valuing Totem Poles

To the casual Northwest observer, nothing appears more iconic than the odd assortment of stacked animal images that makes up the totem pole. Painstakingly hand-carved, competing for altitude with power poles and cell towers, the Native American totem pole bears witness to a value chain not usually understood.

These typically hand-hewn wooden monoliths are often a visual reminder of personal or community history.  Also, they make values visible. We do this in our modern, every day conversation, flippantly offering, “As strong as a bear,” “wise as an owl,” “sly as a fox,” or “as bizarre as Lady Gaga” (okay, so the last one’s original… any disagreement?). These familiar images remind us of less transparent — yet desired –  qualities.

It got me thinking.

What if I cut down the massive cedar standing sentinel over our home, notching our own values into its fragrant bark? What legacy would I instill for both my family and future generations? Crowded by the competitive values of strength, smarts and speed, would the less dominant traits of love, mercy or reconciliation make it into the wood? What about compassion or grace, would they make the cut?

As I thought about this, I realized that we parents can’t pass on these more lasting qualities without being very deliberate.  Sometimes I exert the energy to chisel what I want my family to value, and sometimes I leave it up to the environment to do it for me.

Take the value of compassion. Numerous times in secular and sacred writ, this character trait has motivated people to serve and save others, often at great cost and sacrifice. How would you carve that one?

Grace is that kick-start value that breaks through the dullness of one’s self-loathing, recrimination or dysfunction, granting love and favor without the expectation of a return. Experiencing it from God is transformational, offering it to someone else is revolutionary. What image would you make to epitomize that one?

In future days and weeks ahead, this particular space is reserved for parents and their families seeking to penetrate their world with lasting transformative values. We’ll do this primarily through a journey of stories of those on the journey with us. Ordinary folks like you and I, who intentionally set out to honor God and love the world and the inspirational adventures that came as a result.

As compassionate as a “_________.”

Personally, I hope we see your family’s images carved on the pole for this one.


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