Tag Archives: Dogs

Liking dogs or like a dog: Advent invites us to get real

Not to be too insulting, but we remind me of a dog I recently saw on the way back from Home Depot (I was replacing the faulty tree stand that caused my tree to tumble). It was a very nice-looking dog. But it was running around in the street causing a traffic jam. As I waited for the dog to figure out what it wanted to do, its master ran up. The master looked flustered and afraid. I watched him try to catch his self-destructive pet, which clearly liked him, but which kept playing, and managing to keep out of his reach and keep clogging traffic.

The scene became a dog parable

Is there a connection here between us and this dog? — us running around, figuring out what to do, sometimes playfully, usually self-destructively, and God coming to us in Jesus and wondering how to connect before we get run over? I think so.

The whole scene is like Psalm 107 (and so are we):

They rebelled against God’s sayings,
The Most High’s counsel they despised.
And he brought their heart low in troubles.
They stumbled with none to help.
And they cried out to the Lord from their straits,
From their distress He rescued them.
He brought them out from the dark and death’s shadow
And their bonds He sundered.
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness
And His wonders to humankind.
Psalm 107:11-15

I suppose if I had run into the dog with my van, it might have cried out to its “Lord” from its “straits” and then would have been rescued. But it was still playing when his master caught up to him. I am not sure the dog ever figured out that it might have died. I think we might be in similar denial.

I’m thinking about this because yesterday I felt a bit like a dog master who had just found my pet playing chicken with sedans on Washington Ave.  It is Advent, so I was trying to work with the call to live with the reality of the incarnation, which means: We don’t need to keep organizing our lives according to what amounts to dog-logic. We see our master, who is with us, for who he really is; it is time to stop playing in the middle of the traffic as if that is normal. OK, enough with the dog thing for a minute. The incarnation means that instead of normalizing my craziness or avoiding my problems and suffering, I can welcome a new reality. I can even enter into my depression, failure, illness, betrayal, doubt, and death like Jesus entered into them, and go through it all like Jesus went through it all.

Actually, dogs are better at being themselves than humans

I have been a little hard on dogs, haven’t I? Actually, they know a lot about being themselves, even in the midst of traffic, don’t they? A dog is good at being a dog. I am the being who has to consider how to become fully myself. Advent is a discipline of becoming fully human, even though I already am a human – at least prospectively. We actually have a tougher time than dogs when it comes to being ourselves because we know we are knowing about things. As a result, we create elaborate psychological defense systems to protect us from the horrible reality in which we live. We are so afraid of reality that we think we might die if we allowed it to be real!

Psalm 107 makes our rejection of being real with God appropriately personal, I think. We have “rebelled against what God says” it accuses. In the case of Israel, there was an actual written law that “said” things so “what God says” was hard to miss. So God “brought our hearts low in troubles.” People regularly get mad at God for supposedly doing mean things to them like “bringing them low.” But I often point out that it is not so much that God is finding ways to punish us, He is the Creator, our Father, the author of reality — have a little feeling about what that is like for God! The Lord doesn’t need to punish us; just being God gives us something to run away from. We “stumble with no one to help,” like a dog in traffic, because we were designed to relate to God and we don’t relate.

But light is coming into the dark

All these doses of reality have been leading up to those last two lines of the stanza:

He brought them out from the dark and death’s shadow
And their bonds He sundered.
Let them acclaim to the Lord His kindness
And His wonders to humankind.

We may feel locked up, especially in the mental and physical security zones we make for ourselves. But we have a future. Even though I am a very difficult creature to figure out, God’s kindness has a way of opening up my eyes to take in the wonderful reality in which I live, and even more, the reality into which I am called as Jesus brings it near.

Advent welcomes the Lord to come into our world during the darkest days of the year. I never like that darkness, but I do like remembering how the Lord is reaching into my dark reality with light and love. I still do a little dog-and-master dance with God, sometimes. But mostly I long to experience the wonders of the new reality into which I am invited when Jesus shows up looking for me.

Kick a Sleeping Dog For Jesus

Chaucer wrote:

“It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.” Troylus and Crisedye (1374)

By the time the saying got to Dickens it was,

“Let sleeping dogs lie.” David Copperfield (1849)

By the time it got to Pennsylvania in 2010 it was something of a way of life.

“Whatever you do, don’t cause a conflict. Organize your life around avoiding anything that might even smell like you causing trouble.”

This attitude kind of messes up the redemption project, don’t you think? — since being connected to Jesus (even if you don’t say anything about it!) will be something that causes conflict — at least for SOME imagined person.

So some Christians I know are even more determined to be as unobtrusive as possible, lest they “turn someone off,” or more likely just violate the family credo, “Let sleeping dogs lie” –- “Never risk a bite…It is mean to kick…You can’t tell if that dog is nice or mean so just don’t have a relationship at all and call that being nice to dogs.”

But this brings me to the other dog proverb that comes from the super-short Greek fable:

“There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either.” — Lucian (2nd Century)

This saying has been popular ever since. About the same time, a version came up in the colorful, but wisely rejected, Gospel of Thomas, attributing the thought to Jesus: “Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat.” It’s kind of similar to Matthew 23.13: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; you do not enter yourselves, nor will you let others enter.”

If you are a Jesus-follower committed to letting sleeping dogs lie, you are like a dog in the manger.

You have the spiritual food people need to eat, but you are so committed to not forcing it down their throats that you let them starve. In essence, you won’t even eat it yourself, because it might cause you problems if it really became part of your metabolism and made you like Jesus, dusting it up with Pharisees!

If you are following all this dog metaphor, I hope you are getting that we’d all be better off if we kicked a sleeping dog for Jesus (in a Jesus-like way, of course). Most of the people we know are not peacefully sleeping, they are in a spiritual coma and they need to be awakened. Worse, they have very likely taken an overdose of nonsense and if we don’t get them awake and keep them awake, they might die.

sleeping dogOf course, the same dire circumstance awaits believers who don’t get involved with the dogs (as Jesus even seemed reluctant to do!). We could end up being sleeping dogs in the manger! Sometimes I think that is exactly what we are like. It is not that we are trying to keep people away from our spiritual food. We’re like well-fed dogs bedded down in our little nests, oblivious to the world. Or if we are not well-fed and bedded, we are at least nested – likely to have this week go by and not one sleeping dog kicked, including ourselves.

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