“If you don’t get rid of the little foxes,” he said emphatically at the platform that Saturday morning, “the vineyard can’t produce wine because the foxes have eaten the vines.”

I’m not a church service-attendee and I’m not about to make excuses to appease those who think I’ve transgressed some kind of rule. I’m not professing either to having found a religion. But I’ve made an exception with Pastor Tendai Timori who heads the Sabbath program of the Jakarta Central Church at Pacific Place. It is a heart-warming – and I say this not out politeness – and enlightening to listen to him tell a story, talk to the listeners, and, inadvertently, make you probe into your life and sort out the tangles.

“Can you imagine God wanting to kill someone in a hotel?” he asked the bewildered assemblage of men and women, old and young. “Why would he want to kill someone? He did want to kill Moses because Moses didn’t follow Him.” He paused and looked at the crowd pointedly. Meanwhile, flummoxed at what I heard, I listened intently. He certainly had piqued my interest; I wanted to see how far he was going to go with his sermon. I’ve listened to some pastors who simply quoted passages from the Bible and hurled them at listeners with abandon in the past. I expect they live up to the title of pastors – people who profess to know the words of the God deeply. I expect, as a comparative literature major, extrapolations from the passages and synchronicity to the real goings-on in the world, not blind parroting, but none live up to my expectations.

However, Pastor Timori seemed to be bucking the trend. He proceeded to juxtapose the story of Moses and his stubborn refusal to heed God’s order of having his son circumcised, and the story of the little foxes. Moses ignoring the Lord’s edict had turned into a bad habit. From the outset, Moses knew that male circumcision was a covenant with his God and non-compliance was a serious transgression. He repeatedly flouted the edict, turning it into one gigantic bad habit. He had strayed from the path of goodness until his wife Zippora straightened him out by performing the circumcision herself. His small act of not following the word was undermining the pathway of rectitude in a big way. Now consider the little foxes that surreptitiously crept into the vineyard and nibbled on the grapes. It may seem harmless at first but, similarly, letting the foxes roam the vineyards speaks volumes of the lack of righteousness of the owner or caretaker. Nibbled grapes would mean no harvest leading to no wine production – you get the picture.

I looked at Pastor Timori. He wasn’t pontificating, but merely sharing an insight he gleaned from his favourite literature and this had me going through my experiences of little foxes in my life. My parents broke my would-be-bad-habits when I was little. Among them was answering back at elders, which at that time, I thought was my right. Another bad habit they broke was not listening carefully to what they said. My mother, in particular, would have me give my full attention to her and have me recite verbatim what she said as proof that I listened. Not reading was another bad habit they put an end to it. I could only imagine if those bad habits were not nipped in the bud! But, as always, enlightenment came later

As a teacher, I take it as my duty to break the bad habits of my students. Most of my students have the bad habit of “reading a little” of the assigned text. Reading is fundamental in my class and any student, who doesn’t read the assigned text in full, faces the consequence of scoring zero in the quiz.  Another bad habit they have is forgetting – they’re automatically sent out of the classroom until they remember to bring whatever they forgot to bring such as the assignment, textbook, workbook, dictionary etc.

Now, the question zipping through my mind is whether parents do anything to shoo away the little foxes hounding their children or do they ignore them. The bad habits I break cannot be totally broken if they are indulged at home. Echoing Pastor Tendai’s words, a bad habit left to fester goes further away from the path of rectitude. Little foxes have their own paths to trek so I wave them away from my path and my students’.


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