Sunday, August 9, 2009

God with Fur On

John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

On Friday, the day I had been dreading finally came. When Ruckus (my dog) cried out for a minute or more in a painful spasm, I knew the cancer had spread to his bones and that it was time to keep my promise to my faithful friend not to let him suffer. When I called the vet, I discovered they were closing in 20 minutes. There was no time to think or to call anyone to go with me; we just went. And then it was done.

Of course for me, as for so many others, our pets are our family and losing them hurts like few other things. I have a Ruckus-sized hole in my heart. And it wasn’t just me. Gatsby (pictured here) knew something was wrong and even now continues to look for the dog. They were buddies. So while normally I exile Gatsby to the sun room at night so he doesn’t paw my face at 2 am, I let him have the run of the house on Friday night. As I got into bed, he jumped up with me and stayed close while I read and did my evening devotions. I shut off the light to sleep and about 20 minutes later he jumped down and went out of the room to go investigate the dark.

I tossed and turned, my heart aching for Ruckus. Finally I just burst into large hulking sobs. In an instant, Gatsby was back, running from wherever he had been and jumping back up on the bed. He curled up close and stayed there until my sobbing subsided and I again settled down. Then he jumped back off the bed and went about his business.

There’s a chapter in my new book about our relationship with animals and the importance of the human-animal bond. God often comes to us in other people—God with skin on. But there are many times when God is wearing fur rather than skin. For many people, the only experience they’ve ever had of unconditional love is from a beloved pet. To discount that, as unfortunately many do, is to take away the only bridge some people have to experiencing God’s love. Sometimes it is the fog that comes on little cat feet; sometimes it is God.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Two Wolves

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In the last few days of 2008, media of all types and all ideologies spent time looking back over the year. Everybody had their top ten lists and the re-hashing of both the presidential campaigns and the economic meltdown. After watching one such recitation I heard one news pundit say to another, “Personally, I have never seen a year filled with such huge yet equal amounts of both hope and fear. It’s like they’re battling and we don’t know which one will win.”

When I heard that, it reminded me of an old story, usually attributed to Native American sources, about two wolves. You may well have heard it before. The general story goes that a tribal elder is speaking to a young boy. “My son, there are two wolves who are fighting within every person’s heart: love and hate. You can hear them snarling if you lie very still and when one isn’t looking the other will pounce. It is a great and terrible battle and the outcome will determine who you become.” The young boy’s eyes grow wide as he asks, “But which wolf will win?” The old man answers, “The one you feed.”

I doubt that story ever actually happened, but it is a “true” story nonetheless. And the same truth is reflected in Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he reminds a church facing persecution to focus on the positive—to feed the good wolf, if you will. Remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison, facing execution. The circumstances for both Paul and the church in Philippi are dire. The bad wolves are circling in both cases. But, even so, Paul encourages the church to think on the good, in order to give life to what is honorable, just, and pure even in the midst of great turmoil and evil.

I think the news pundit was exactly right about our contemporary situation. Hope and fear circle each other like two wolves seeking dominance. Right now they are of equal strength and stamina. It will be up to us to decide which wolf to feed and that, in turn, will decide the battle. I think Paul would tell us to feed the hope. The hope wolf may still sustain some wounds in the fight, but if hope goes in better fed and cared for, it will win in the long run.

What Paul advocates is not easy, especially when you are in dire circumstances, but I think Paul gained his strength from exactly that sort of practice. Remember this was the guy that early on in his ministry was found singing hymns in his dungeon cell. He learned to feed the good wolf and it became strong enough to guard against despair, even when starting his own execution in the face.

Welcome to 2009. Hope and fear are on the prowl, looking for food to sustain them in battle. Which one will you feed?

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