Muleskinner

Cover Photo:  Wikipedia (Pack Mule)

“Well I’m a lady mule skinner
From down old Tennessee way
Hey hey, I come from Tennessee
I can make any mule listen
Or I won’t accept your pay
Hey hey I won’t take your pay…”  (Composed: 1930)  “Blue Yodel No. 8” (Mule Skinner Blues) Recorded by:  Dolly Parton (1971)  Composer:  Jimmie Rodgers
Odd title, isn’t it?
There’s two solid favorites in my life, animals and the American old west.  An old western movie, or television show, has both.  Of course, before the industrial revolution,  back in the 1800’s, animals were a vital part of life.  Without a horse, donkey, or mule, you had to walk.
Mule Spotted
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Spotted Mule)
Often in an old western novel, or up on the screen, you might come across a person who is called a “Muleskinner”.  The first few times I heard of it I thought it was just a derogatory term for some back-woods liquored-up buffoon without a lick of horse sense.  (You can tell I’m well versed in old-western jargon.)  Usually in description, either in print or film, the “Muleskinner” seems to always wear buckskin coats or pants with the fringes hanging loosely from the edges.  Right away, with a title like, “Muleskinner”, you wonder if the hide adorning such a character is from a mule he skinned out on the prairie somewhere.  To me, that’s a person I wouldn’t want to belly-up to a saloon while jawin’ in a dusty, God-forsaken wet-whistle of a town.  (Ah, there I go again.)
The mule is a beautiful creation.  Actually, the mule is a hybrid of a horse and donkey.  Brilliant minds bred them, for the first time, in what is now known as Turkey prior to 3,000 BC.  Ancient Egyptian history chronicles the mule as a working animal.  King David and King Solomon owned and bred mules in biblical texts.  And it’s no wonder.
Mule Packing
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule as beast of burden.)
By definition, the mule is a “beast of burden”.  It can be packed with a household of goods that a horse couldn’t come close to carrying.  The mule doesn’t eat as much as a horse.  A mule is stronger than a horse, yet slower than a horse.  The mule has much stronger  hooves for rocky trails.  And a mule’s skin is not as sensitive as horse hide.  Its hide can take weather elements better, as well as, desert sun, and yokes.  Many farmers traded in plow horses for mules.  It’s been recorded that long-haul stage coaches, which traveled over harsh terrain, often utilized mules because of their outstanding physical endurance.  Their life-span is also greater than a horse.  They can live up to 50 years.  Yoked teams of some 20 mules were used to haul heavy loads, or train-wagons across rugged country.  In the early days of the locks of the Erie Canal, mules were used on the banks to tow boats.
Mule Team
Photo:  Wikipedia  (Mule teams for multiple hitched wagons.)
What an animal.  By the way, the driver of the mule-team in the photo above is…a muleskinner.  No, he doesn’t take a large hunting knife and skin the hide off a mule.
The truth of the origin of the nickname, “Muleskinner” is not pleasant.  Because the skin of a mule is not as sensitive as a horse, many drivers of the mules, with reigns in hand, often whipped the reigns on the mule’s back too harshly.  Many times the end result was the leather reigns, or whips, would cut the mule’s skin in the process of lengthy hauls.  Thus, the nickname, “Muleskinner” was birthed.  It’s sad, and brutal, but true.  I will assume here there were also animal-loving drivers who cared well for the mules they drove and left them unmarked after the yokes and harnesses came off.
No doubt we have all had times in life when we felt whipped, bloodied, and beaten during our path forward.  For whatever reason, being burdened-down with the heaviness of life and life’s masters.
Maybe I’m not describing you, but maybe you know of someone fitting this description.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve not seen for many years, then suddenly your roads cross and you find yourself astonished, or almost speechless.  Your old friend, co-worker, or loved one looked weather-beaten, appearing to be 20, or 30 years older than they are.  You immediately want to ask them what happened in life’s journey which lorded over them.  Maybe you got up this morning, gazed at the stranger in the bathroom mirror while asking yourself, “Why do I look so worn-out lately?”  You’re reading someone like that.
There were wealthier people in the times of Jesus who would’ve owned a mule, or a few.  As Jesus was speaking at one time, I picture a perfectly equaled team of mules going by, yoked up pulling a large wagon piled with a full load of items, including a millstone for grinding grain.  I imagine the well-dressed man of means whipping the backs of his beasts of burden to the point of splitting the hides with each lash of leather.  And just then, Jesus would say…
“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  – Jesus – Matthew 11:28-30  (Berean Literal Bible)
So many of the world’s religions are wrapped in “Do this”, “Do that”, “Recite this”, Recite that”, Walk on your knees here and there”, “Pay this, or pay that”, “Suffer for heaven’s reservation”, “Earn your glory”, “Kiss this stone”, “Pray this many times or lose favor”, etc, etc.  Jesus knew about these legalistic demands to GAIN spiritual status and treasures of eternity from a god with a whip who is so distant.  Can’t you just see a religion founder, or leader sitting on the driver’s bench, whipping his yoked-up subjects shouting,
“Here, let’s burden you with this, or with that.  Let’s strap on this unnecessary load upon you because past generations dictated it so.” 
Now, read again what Jesus said, but slower this time.
He left His divine throne to spend 33 years here, living among us, teaching us God’s true heart toward us mules.  His “easy yoke” offer still holds true with the promise of a light load for however many years you have left on this rocky road.  He earned it for you.
When yoked-up with The Everlasting, the burden is lighter with fuel for the race.
 “Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted.  But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5  (Berean Study Bible)

Upon This Rock

Photo:  Sierra Club, iStockphoto/MikeNorton – Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

“I’m gettin’ married in the morning.  Ding-dong the bells are gonna chime.  We’ll have a whopper, pull out the stopper.  Get me to the church on time.”  Composers:  Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “Get Me To The Church on Time” from “My Fair Lady”

Have you ever been somewhere, a geographical location, in your life where you have bad memories attached to that location?  Have you ever had something horrific occur either to you, or witnessed something horrific, so much so that whenever you drive by that location your hair stands up on your neck?  Most of us have.  In the swarm of the rage, locale seems to be what sticks to the memory.  In most cases, just the street, the structure, the building, or the name of such, can cause flashbacks of darker days, hurtful moments.  In fact, often times, that street, structure or building is avoided, even if it takes a few turns out of the way of traveling from point A to point B.

Church Exterior

(The church photo above is not the church building mentioned below.)

Recently, I got a phone call concerning an old family friend’s passing.  I wanted to attend his memorial service, regardless of when or where it might be.  Waiting each day after his death, and keeping my eyes on obituary notifications, I finally learned where the service would take place.  It wasn’t a surprise to me where the tribute would be held when I read of the location.  He had been serving as an usher in Sunday morning church services not far from where I live.  It happened to be at a church building where I attended in my teenage years.

It had been 40 years since I worshiped there.  Frankly, when I did leave that congregation at the time, I ran and ran hard.  Many others did the same.  Unfortunately, because of the twisting of what Jesus taught, there are several former parishioners that never darkened the doors of another church again.  In fact, as for me, never in my wildest dreams did I ever construct a scenario that would drag my feet across the threshold of the front door of that place.  There is much to tell here, but I will spare you the gory details.  Just know, even as a teen, I knew the scent of harmful and secretive inner-church politics, dominated by a corrupt dictator of a pastor. Extreme unjustified hyper-judgmental teaching ruled the day every time the doors were opened.  It would be a mistake to not include the fact that I was a victim of some of the false teaching which fueled the attitudes of parishioners delivered by the man in the corner church office.  This species of spiritual abuse stunts spiritual growth, amputates joy and plants painful shaming as the end result.  Unlawful, unbiblical teaching can and will shadow the listener for years to come.  The shaping from false biblical thought is like a child working with wet putty, resulting in distorted shapes.  It’s the same reason the warnings against this practice in biblical passages are so stark, hard and ominous.

At that time in my life I was not a true student of the scriptures.  I was ignorant of the textual evidence to support what my spirit already knew.  Later, many years later, I became more studious with biblical text.  Then, and only then, did the realization wrap me in the confidence that God had placed the unrest inside of me back in the day.  When teaching is contrary to scripture, the consistent Bible student knows the difference.  After all, God does not suffer from multiple personality disorders.

When Bible readers take the time to truly study what has been written down for us, then we know the ways of the great I AM often comes across as humorous.  Yes, God has and shares His sense of humor.    The day of the funeral, I re-discovered this truth once again.

Driving into the parking lot, I began to show familiar signs of stress and anxiety.  I had donned a sports jacket which hid the sweat soaking through my shirt.  Seriously, walking through those doors was a true test of my endurance.  Immediately, I began to see the extensive remodeling of the building which obviously had taken place over the decades.  There was a drastic color change, new pews, reconstructed stage, etc.  Right away, just the fact the building looked like a different place gave me some relief from how I was feeling.

Church Interior

(Photo not from the location.)

Truly, the greatest aid toward my sore, bruised heart, was the actual congregation.  Long-gone was the “old guard” who had been shaped by the now retired, misguided pastor.  I had also learned that the corruption hurt the congregation to the point of reduction of parishioners. (Once 500-600 attendees strong.) Apparently, due to a modern-day exodus, all were victims, to some degree, of a power-hungry clergyman who ruled over the unsuspecting flock.  In the end, there was no one there to remind me of the way things once were under the roof of the facility.  All of those years there was no need for the angst and bitterness I harbored.  If you find false teaching in a place, move on until you find where a correct biblical doctrine is taught.  God certainly has His ways.

Church Congregation

Photo:  ramsey-and-district.ccan.co.uk

Walking away from the memorial service for my departed friend, I was struck by a deeply-seeded biblical truth.  The classical Greek, the original language of the New Testament, spells it out:  “Ekklesia” (ek-Klay-See’-ah).  In Hebrew it is very close to the word, “Adat” (uh-DOT’ or uh-DOTH’).  It is the the word Jesus used to describe HIS “church.”  It is NOT a building, even though we might say the wedding is “at the church,” or turn left “at the church in red brick.”  “Ekklesia” means an assembly, or a gathering of people.  In short, we might say, congregation.  Sure, the building had been updated, painted, remodeled, but also, the local “ekklesia” who assembled at the address, had been changed.  He will do what He will with His ekklesia.

His ekklesia was to be built on ROCK, not shifting sand.  What foundation could manage shifting sand?

As a serious believer in the teachings of Jesus, my job is to be sure the attitude of my heart is remodeled, painted and updated.  He came to make all things new.  Therefore, I should follow in His newness, adding fuel for the race.

“…upon this rock I will build My chucrch (ekklesian); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” -Jesus.  From Matthew 16:18b (NAS)