The sermon for week June 12, 2016
That Dumb DogThat Dumb Dog or My little mirror that reflects the best and worst of my conflicted and emerging personality.
2 Sam 11:26-12:10
I am a proud owner of a male, Northwest Ohio brown dog.
We don’t know his full story. Who his parents were, where he came from, what his background is. Things you like to know about people before inviting them to live in your house. We picked him up from a friend. Kate was at a friend's birthday dinner and someone said, “Anyone need a dog? We found this great dog but we can’t keep him because our homeowners association only allows two.”
She told the story of how this dog is just wonderful and housetrained and so good with the kids. She told the story of how her husband found him off Yankee Road. He passed this dog three days in a row and on the fourth day, he picked him up. This dog, with burrs and brambles in his fur, walked right up to him and hopped in the car.
They put up fliers and scanned the dog for a micro-chip, but no micro-chip was found, and no one came forward.
On March 11, 2013, this dog came to visit us and never left. We named him “Bear” because he lived in the woods.
We think he’s a mix of Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. This mix has given him two conflicting sides of his personality: one of play and one of protection. He is friendly and well-mannered. A model of canine hospitality. That is, when you’re in the house. If you’re ringing the doorbell or pulling up in the driveway, he sounds like he wants to rip your face off. As soon as we open the door he’s all “Hey! I’m so happy you’re here!” and does this welcome dance where it’s not just his tail that wags, but his full body that wags.
I wish I knew his story. There are times when this play and protection thing short-circuit his brain. When Kate and I hug, or tickle each other, or play fight, he growls and gets really close as if he’s saying, “Excuse me miss, is this man bothering you?” I used to get really annoyed at this. I used to say, “You dumb dog!”
When the kids and I play, we romp around the house. We bought the house because you can run in circles around and around the downstairs. Bear joins in and chases the kids and me. Yet when I tackle them or we rough-house, his brain short-circuits and no one is sure if he’s playing or protecting. And I say, “You dumb dog!”
Our last dog, Sonny, was a rescue greyhound. They aren’t real dogs, they are like a hybrid of a cat and a dog. They are known as the 65 MPH couch potato. Sonny would spend about 2 hours awake per day and the rest was sleeping. He took his retirement seriously from the track. He would only seek us out to let us know he needed out or fed and watered or just to check in and get a scratch. He was really chill. Yet Bear, in contrast, is always underfoot. He is nose-to-hip, following us around every room. Kate more than me. Bear is really Kate’s dog, if he has a choice between following me or her, he rightly chooses her. Yet Bear is always on patrol, always checking in.
I wish I could say that it was a near-instant bond between Bear and me. He is so unlike Sonny. He is like an actual dog, that chases things, kills small mammals, rolls in smelly things, shedding hair everywhere. He was always up in my business. It took me awhile to bond to this dumb dog.
It wasn’t until a good friend came to visit and said, “This dog fits you really well. Reminds me a lot of you, Luke.”
Wait, what?! No. I’m the greyhound. Short hair, big nose, chill attitude, sorta aloof. This dog is sort of annoying.
Then it hit me. I follow Kate around nose-to-hip. I am sexist toward men: I approach all male and female couples thinking, “is this man bothering you, miss?” I talk a tough game but in the moment I’m often goofy and playful and doing a full-body welcome wag of excitement. This dog is a little mirror of my personality.
Pets often are, aren’t they? And people like my friend can also act as mirrors. They can point out how we are and how we act. Good relationships, founded in trust, help us discover who we really are.
The Prophet Nathan does this to King David in today’s scripture. Nathan acts as a mirror to David’s personality. David saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheeba and he used his power and influence to have an affair with her. Some scholars use the word rape. To top it off, he had her husband placed on the front line of battles. He effectively had Uriah killed. Then Nathan shows up and tells a story of a rich man using a poor man’s lamb to feed a guest. David gets really mad and states, “Good God! The man who has done this deserves to die!”
To which Nathan replies, “YOU ARE THAT MAN!”
To David’s credit, he owns it. He says, “Yes, I have done this.” The story gets stranger from there. I want to focus on what was read, and what Nathan does.
How do we become the Prophet Nathan? To tell a story to power and have power say, "WHAT?! That's crazy! People like that should totally up and die!" and we say, "You are that person." To which they reply, "Yeah. I see that. I own that."
My dog has made me own these parts of myself. The things I get annoyed at in my dog are the very things I often do. Bark before I know who is at my door. I misjudge people a lot and make angry noises when odds are, I’ll welcome them when they are in my house.
Recently, I went for a run in the morning, and Bear was on his bed. After my run, I walked into the house and Kate said, “Bear peed in his bed.” That has never happened. I took him to the vet, where they found a mass on his spleen. They took it out hours later. The biopsy showed that Bear has hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels, and it can occur in any area of the body. He has 2 to 6 months to live. This type of cancer occurs most in Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, so I guess he gets it honest.
Our time is short. Best get to loving Bear as much as possible. Instead of being mad that we only got three years of life together, I am trying to be happy that this is my dog. That dumb dog tricked me into realizing things about myself and realizing that he’s been the unexpected best thing. A great dog. A smart dog. A family dog. The universe conspired to get us together, and my family has been the better for it.
That dumb dog has shown me that this is the same with most of my relationships. I get used to seeing you, and it’s weird how we often take one another for granted. This feeling is what inspired the confession poem. This is the feeling that I was woken up to due to that dumb dog. That I like seeing you around! I don’t know how much time either of us have left, but I’m grateful to God that we can spend it together. This church has been the unexpected best thing for me and my family. That I love it and all the people here and I love getting to know your story.
Yet it also causes me to wonder why are we so quick to take one another for granted? Why are we so callous toward one another? To use and abuse others like David did? What will it take to wake us up to the fact that we’re doing things like this in our lives whether actively or through our inaction and silence?
When will we wake up and see that we take racism, homophobia, and sexism for granted? That we’re OK with war and sending brave, servant minded men and women to dangerous places and then cutting combat pay, medical benefits, and not providing VA funding? When will we wake up and say STOP IT! And start the hard work of righting these wrongs? How do I make the world a better place for my children?
I’m haunted by these questions.
The answers are all around us. They are sitting beside us. They are panting and wagging their tails, rubbing up against your leg and purring, calling from their bird cage when you come home. God is speaking through all of our relationships! God is speaking through our pets and our family and friends.
I feel that God has called me to inclusion. That God has been working on the long process of transforming my heart of stone to one of love alone. God has been calling me out in countless ways much like how Nathan did to David. A big part of my call to ministry is listening to stories not my own. To learn of the joys and concerns others carry with them. It’s a big reason I love books and movies so much. Stories are empathy machines. We see ourselves and identify with a character so strongly, we are somehow transformed by the experience, bigger for it. More able to see others and love them where they are.
May we be brave enough to tell our stories. Not just the good parts, but the painful ones as well. May we be brave enough to listen to stories not our own. Maybe you have a friend who is voting for “that other political candidate” whomever he or she may be. How about just asking why and just listening and then saying, “Thanks for telling me that.” You don’t have to agree. You’re after understanding not conversion.
Or maybe… just maybe this story inspires you to hug a loved one a little tighter today. To listen to someone a little longer. To give a pet an extra treat or two today. If that happens… then my story has already started its magic of transforming your heart to one of love alone. And the world is a little bit better because of it all because of