It’s not often I ponder a career change, but the prospect beckoned irresistibly.

Mr. Phillip Keller is an actual, real-live shepherd. Yes, that is still a profession. And reading his book on the technology and philosophy of shepherding primed my desire to join the ranks. I’m sure today’s shepherds pursue their duties with GPS-equipped ATVs and cell phones, but even today, no substitute stands for a shepherd’s rod and staff.  

The Tools of the Trade 

“Each shepherd boy takes special pride in the selection of a rod and staff exactly suited to his own size and strength,” Keller said

The rod works more or less as a club, and the shepherd learns to throw it with amazing speed and accuracy. 

“If a sheep is approaching poisonous weeds or getting too close to danger, the club goes whistling through the air to send the wayward animal scurrying back to the bunch,” Keller explained. “The shepherd also uses his rod to drive off predators like coyotes, wolves, cougars or stray dogs.”  

If the rod is literally a blunt instrument, the more familiar staff is a far more nuanced instrument. In classical geek terms, the shepherd uses the rod as a blaster and the staff as a lightsaber. 

“(A staff) is shaped, smoothed and cut to best suit his own personal use,” Keller said. “The shepherd leans on his staff for support and strength. It becomes to him a most precious comfort and help in his duties.”

You can tell Mr. Keller is a real, professional shepherd because eventually he brings up an important subject. 

The Staff and Sheep Management

“The shepherd does not use the stick to beat the beast,” he reassures. “Rather, the tip of the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal’s side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go. Thus the sheep is reassured of its proper path.” 

This passage drew me in. I started seriously considering looking into work as a shepherd. The big, major league shepherding is in Australia, but I’m a northern hemisphere kinda guy, so I pretty much narrowed it down to Ireland or Colorado. 

I itched to feel the heft, the weight, yes, the comfort of that rod in my hand. It would play the perfect companion to the staff I would hold in my other hand. I felt ready to find myself some sheep! I would lay those woolly rascals down in green pastures and lead them beside some still waters. 

Within minutes, though, reality began setting in. Even with the latest technology, a shepherd’s life is not easy. 

A Day at the Office

You round up all the flock for shearing. Sometimes, out in the field, you live on cheese or yogurt made from sheep’s milk, or you drink raw sheep’s milk. In the spring, you take lambs out for slaughter. And when a sheep gets so old it can’t follow the herd, you have mutton stew. 

Yeah, I pondered, being a shepherd is rough, all right. But then, you know what? It’s pure joy compared to life as a sheep. And Psalm 23 makes it clear ― we are the ones with rods thrown at us and feeling nudged all day with staffs.

I shall not want … green pastures … still waters … right paths. … It all sounds good to me! But none of that stuff will happen until we take to heart those very first words. 

“The Lord is My Shepherd.” 

Probably the most advanced weapon I’ve ever mastered is a Frisbee. In my hands, a rod and staff might as well be a zip-gun and a switchblade. 

The good news is that the comfort never really came from the rod and the staff anyway, but from the Good Shepherd. 

“Hey, sheep. Throw that rod and staff aside,” Jesus says. “Let a real Shepherd take care of you. I am your Shepherd, you shall not want. I will make you lie down in green pastures; I will lead you beside still waters. My rod and my staff will comfort you. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in My house, forever.”

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