A brown trout lesson in healing hate with hugs

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, July 21, 2016

Rich Mercer loves fishing for brown trout so much he even closes his emails with an ASCII text image of one.
ASCII art by Rich Mercer

One of our coffee companions responded to my June 30 column on imagination with something imaginative of his own: an image of a brown trout that inspired me to imagine a more caring world in which hate is healed with hugs.

Retired Calgary geologist Rich Mercer loves fishing, especially for brown trout. He even closes all his emails with an ASCII character image of one he created out of backslashes, parentheses and a few other computer keyboard symbols.

When I asked him about his brown trout art, he explained that one of his favourite pastimes has been to catch and release large brown trout in his favourite brown trout streams, such as Fallen Timber. “I have always viewed the brown trout as a very worthy quarry for a fly fisherman,” he says. Thus, he honours this “very worthy quarry” with his signature symbol.

His words got me thinking of the importance of the fish symbol in another very worthy context: as a historic affirmation of faith and hope among the earliest Christians when they were experiencing severe persecution. We see that use of the fish symbol often these days on bumper stickers and posters.

It’s based on the Greek word for “fish,” ichthus, which was adopted as an acronym for Iesous Christos Theou (H)uios Soter, “Jesus Christ God’s Son (is) Saviour.” It reminded those early believers that, no matter how hard the times, they were following the one who fed the multitude with just a few fish, called his followers to be “fishers of men,” and made one other intriguing reference to fish:

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks, “Is there anyone among you who, … if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” (Matthew 7:9-10)

When I thought about that example of fish, I saw a world being torn apart by hatred and revenge right before our eyes. And I thought of how we can serve nutritious fish instead of venomous snakes, reconciliation instead of retaliation, hugs instead of hate.

One of the best examples I’ve encountered of that hope-inspiring attitude was brought to my attention by Stoney Nakoda Elder Tina Fox. (See my June 1, 2005 column.)

Tina was attending a conference in Africa where she heard horrific stories of torture, murder and rape by the survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But what particularly astounded her were reports by widows of those killed in the Hutu and Tutsi conflicts.

“After the conflicts died down,” she said, “women got together and the only action they felt they could take was to cook meals and take them to the prison where the killers of their husbands were jailed – to feed them!” They were joyful in doing this, she added. “This is what forgiveness did for them.”

This kind of caring is reflected in the latest blog essay by Cochrane authenticity author, David Irvine. Using the metaphor of light instead of fish, he quotes the motto of The Christophers: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

(By the way, his next book, Caring Is Everything, will be off the press this October. It’s a must-read!)

How beautifully this attitude was expressed following the recent murder of seven Dallas police officers assigned to a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Some of the marchers immediately reached out to stunned officers with hugs of healing.

Yes, they served a brown trout of forgiveness and compassion instead of a serpent of hate and revenge. Thanks, Rich, for hooking me on this important lesson.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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