Typically, people say and do weird stuff because they think weird stuff. And I’ve heard and seen some seriously weird stuff over my years working with humans. One of those disturbing cases of tortured logic involved a guy who cited The Eight Cow Wife as the basis for his marital expectations and subsequent disappointments. Stay with me, this one takes some interesting turns. The story begins with my question to a sullen husband in marital counseling. After several vague complaints against his wife for not keeping up her end of the marriage, I asked, “What exactly is this unspoken marital obligation she has failed to uphold?” He seemed happy for the opportunity to make his case and divulged that as a teenager he had read a Reader’s Digest article about a Pacific islander named Johnny Lingo. It seems this young man with an awesome name had paid an unusually high bride price to purchase a wife. The story goes that Johnny Lingo offered an unheard of eight cows for the hand of the unremarkable Sarita when he could have made the deal for a single cow. Everyone thought Sarita’s dad had gotten the best of young Johnny but the clever up-and-coming businessman had voluntarily offered the excessive amount. His unprecedented act instantly made him a regional icon. Years after our hero took his plain, downtrodden bride home, a journalist heard the tale of the eight cow bride and went to investigate. The writer found Johnny living happily with the now beautiful and confident Sarita. Johnny explained that he loved Sarita but knew she felt worthless and unloved in her home village. Turns out the wacky high bride price became the foundation for her transformation into a magnificent and accomplished wife. In the end, Johnny explained his magnanimous gesture on behalf of Sarita was based in his devotion to her but also in his desire for an amazing eight cow wife. The unhappy husband in my office explained that the eight cow payment was an ongoing reminder of her value in Johnny’s eyes and it was also a measure she gratefully lived up to. He had applied Johnny’s story to his situation and was chagrined with his wife’s response to him redeeming her from a sad and abusive family situation. He believed she had defrauded him by failing to majestically blossom out of gratitude for taking her away from her misery. Ultimately, in his assessment, she still owed him a proper eight cow wife. My response? “I hope you are joking. Please, tell me you’re just kidding.” Sadly, he wasn’t.
In all fairness, I don’t blame Johnny’s story for seducing people with an appealing yet unrealistic message of human transformation. The fault with any misapplication of parables from Reader’s Digest or God’s Word lies with our own self-serving predispositions. Consider the following goofy thinking that can lead us down the road to equally goofy conclusions of eight cow entitlement:
- The first fractured meaning in Johnny’s story is the idea that our acts of kindness or generosity or cows will transform someone…anyone. I’m not saying our good deeds don’t have impact. They can and do. I am saying that our virtuous actions will not radically reinvent another human being. Sorry. Sometimes in premarital counseling I have to point out this fallacy. “I believe I can change him/her” has a long history of failure. For every exquisite Sarita in the world, there are a bazillion cases of what-you-see-is-what-you-get-and-will-continue-to-get. Sadly, humans don’t do personality makeovers very well. And certainly not as the result of a one-time splurge of bovine extravagance.
- Getting an eight cow response is not why we treat people with humility, respect and lovingkindness. We treat people with eight cow deference because it is right to do so. Philippians 2:5-8 says: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though He was God,He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” None of our efforts come close to that standard, so please don’t expect fawning appreciation for simply being thoughtful.
- Realistically, our own behavior is the most controllable aspect of any storyline. In the real world, nobody can bend someone else’s life narrative like a party clown making a balloon dog. Fortunately, we have the ability to shape who we are in the story. If Sarita had remained depressed and withdrawn, would Johnny have continued his epic benevolence? Maybe. He had the power to be someone who cherished and revered his wife even if she never morphed into a magnificent Polynesian goddess. Too often we lament or rage against how people in our lives aren’t acting right rather than intentionally deciding how and who we want to be within the situation. By faith and by the Spirit, exhibiting a biblical Christ-likeness is absolutely within our grasp. Go ahead and take the grasp rather than trying to manipulate someone else to.
If you want to read the original version of The Eight Cow Wife by Patricia McGerr, just click on the link below. It’s still an entertaining read but not necessarily a prophecy ensuring similar results. I will close this Fortnight by saying that if I ever seek a career in professional wrestling, I will definitely choose the name Johnny Lingo as my alias. Either that or Nubber Barrakus. Both are good.
Hey…make this an eight cow fortnight, okay? In as much as it depends on you…