August 21, 2016 – The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss – Week 4 – Horton Hears a Who

Luke 10:25-37, Matthew 25:40


Today we are discussing the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who! as part of our sermon series, The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by James Kemp. We meet Horton the elephant, a surprisingly normal looking creature in the Dr. Seuss world, who has an extraordinary ability to hear even the tiniest of sounds.  When Horton heard a cry for help, he responded.

Horton appears as a God-like figure in this story.  God cares for all creatures, humankind as well as the earth and all living things.  At times perhaps we turn a deaf ear to the needs of others because we simply cannot hear them – or we choose not to. After all, we have enough to deal with.  Our guide shares a story of a boy who was being interviewed for a movie theater position as an usher.

The manager asked him, “Son, what would you do if we had a crowded theater and a fire broke out?”  The boy thought for a minute and then replied, “Well, you don’t have to worry about me. You don’t have to worry about me at all. If its a crowded theater and a fire breaks out, I would get out safely.”[1]


There are so many needy folks that perhaps we simply no longer hear their cries for help – they are drowned out into one big din that only God can hear.  It is easy to become calloused – only worrying about getting ourselves out of a crowded theater instead of caring for others.

Throughout many of Dr. Seuss’ stories, we find a message of inclusiveness that is summed up in the famous quote from the story this week: “A person is a person, no matter how small.”  However, we find an interesting history concerning the author. Theodore Seuss Geisel was not always the tolerant, inclusive figure portrayed in his stories.

Before he was a children’s author he was a political cartoonist and his work was “breathtakingly racist.[2] Between 1940 – 48 he was the chief editorial cartoonist for the New York newspaper PM and created over 400 cartoons that reflected the national sentiment of the times. Post Pearl Harbor, Americans hated and feared all people of Japanese heritage (From sermon by Rev. VanVliet, 8/2/15.)  “In wartime cartoons like those drawn by Dr. Seuss, the Japanese people were deprived of their individual identities. They were instead assigned a collective, stereotyped identity that reflected the fear and hatred many Americans directed against the Japanese … They were guilty by ethnicity.” (Chyao)[3] I could not even consider showing any of his cartoons because of their extreme racism. Dr. Seuss’ cartoons unfortunately helped gain popular support for policies such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.” (Chyao) It is one of the sorriest facts of 20th century American history that more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, of whom 62% were American citizens, were unconstitutionally incarcerated.(Wiki)

After the war Theodore Geisel visited Japan, “talked with the people, saw the horrendous aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima…{and began] to rethink his anti-Japanese vehemence.” (Crow) Horton Hears A Who is considered to be an apology for his role in creating hate-filled propaganda. “The book’s hopeful, inclusive refrain – “A person is a person no matter how small” — is about as far away as you can get from his ignoble words about the Japanese a decade earlier. He even dedicated the book to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan.” (Crow) [Excerpt from VanVliet’s sermon]

Dr. Seuss had a change of heart. There is no record of a “come to Jesus” moment for Seuss, but he showed an incredible transformation that certainly rings true for an encounter with Almighty God.  He became a voice for those being persecuted. He became the one who stood up for what was right, not necessarily what was popular.  Do we?  When those around us are making racial slurs or hateful comments concerning others, do we speak up or keep quiet?  When we find someone holding up a cardboard sign asking for help do we sit in a seat of judgment or do we give him/her a blessing bag?  Do we share the inclusive message of Jesus Christ, the ultimate barrier-breaker, or do we go along with the exclusive opinion of others?

Our lovable Horton went through great trials to help save the Whos down in Whoville.  He faced ridicule, fear, torment – yet he stuck to his principle: “A person is a person, no matter how small.” In other words, we are all worthy. We are all given a seat at the table. We are all valued by God, who hears the cries of those in need.

In the story, Horton hears a cry for help from a speck of dust which carries an entire civilization on it. Horton places the speck on a clover and vows to take care of the Whos living in Whoville.  Horton is so attentive to his new friends, other creatures in his jungle home begin to criticize and ridicule him.  The other animals, such as a sour kangaroo and her little joey, cannot hear the Whos and just assume Horton is a fool.“I think you’re a fool!” laughed the sour kangaroo,” as she plunged into the cool, pool, of Nool, seeking her own pleasure and ignoring the needs of the Whos on the speck. The news quickly spread throughout the jungle that ‘Horton was out of his head.’

Horton faced fear when the jungle monkeys managed to snatch the clover with the Whoville speck and gave it to a bird who dropped it into a large field of clover.  Horton feared his friends were lost forever and put himself to the test by searching tirelessly until he finally found the speck.  He again faced fear but also torment when the other animals put Horton in a cage and were ready to boil the speck in oil. Horton had to convince the Whoville citizens to make as much noise as possible to get the other animals to hear them before it was too late.  With the help of the smallest Who of all, they made enough noise to be heard, which saved their entire world from destruction.

We too may face ridicule, fear, and torment as a result of our belief in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul noted it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:10: “We are fools for Christ….” We may find ourselves considered as fools because we do no participate in office gossip. We may be seen as outsiders and be excluded from certain activities because participants want to engage in questionable behavior. I find it interesting the looks on people’s faces when they find out that I am a pastor. You can see folks sort of backtracking their last statements to see if there was anything off-color in their last diatribe! I hope we are so on fire for God that others will be curious as to what we have that they don’t – a joy that exceeds our trials; a peace that exists in chaos, a love for God and for others that can only be from God for we ourselves are not capable of truly hearing the cries of the needy without a heart for God.

Faith and action – like the Good Samaritan in our gospel lesson, we are challenged to share kindness with others even when it may not be convenient or popular.  Jesus reminds us that whenever we share kindness to the least of these, we are reflecting the love of God.  The Samaritans were seen as nobody – lower than scum.  They were despised and excluded, yet Jesus uses the example of a Good Samaritan who acted on behalf of someone who was dying, when the religious leaders of the day simply turned a blind eye.  We are not called to look down our nose at others but to help the needy. We are not called to screen recipients to make sure they are not scammers – we are called to do good anyway.  We are not called to walk away hoping someone else will act.  We are called to love God and love our neighbors without exceptions, exclusions, or conditions.

Our friend Horton has some big, sensitive ears. He heard the call for help when no one else was listening. I pray we will do the same. The author Dr. Seuss had a change of heart.  I pray we too will experience a change of heart and will see the world in a way that has us responding to those in need and seeking ways to share the good news.  Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Amen.

[1] Kemp, James W. The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, Judson Press, Valley Forge, PA, 2004.

[2] Jonathan Crow, Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japanese Cartoons During WWII, Then Atones with Horton Hears a Who!, Open Culture, Aug 20, 2014

[3]Amy Chyao, In Horton Hears a Who, the Dr. Seuss You Never Knew! Harvard Political Review, July 22, 2015.

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