Thursday, August 25, 2011

An inside dog…

One reason Tab and I recently moved was to find a fenced-in yard for Fawkes the Dog. As working puppy parents, we leave Fawkes kenneled for long stretches quite often. And if you’ve met her, you know she’s not a terribly low-key canine. When allowed, Fawkes will run and play and jump all over you until she’s exhausted. So if we don’t walk or take her to the dog park, come human bedtime she’s still rearing to go, forcing the Sand Man to wait impatiently. But if she had a backyard to run around in- we schemed- it’d be great for her, for us and courteous to said Sand Man.

Fast-forward to Fawkes’ first encounter with this new backyard. She, OMG, loved it!!! So much to sniff, so far to run; doggie heaven it appeared to her. To us, it appeared, mission accomplished. The next day, however, she ran a little less. The next day, less still. Ditto the next, until she didn’t want to be left outside anymore. She preferred to be near us indoors, as she’d been accustomed. An inside dog she’s been so far. Does that mean an inside dog she’ll remain?

Mind you, from the moment she encountered the new backyard, life’s been chaotic. We’ve shuttled back and forth from the old to new place; spent nights packing, painting, cleaning, unpacking; our patterns ended, all was strange and different. And it’ll be awhile before things return to a new normal. So I assume Fawkes has responded to these upset rhythms by going with what she knows. She’s decided that sleeping inside, staring out windows is much safer, much less anxious than venturing outdoors. After all, Mom and Dad have barely been around to ease her into the new backyard. And until then, well, do what’s familiar.

How do you teach an inside dog to make a home outside? I’m sure dog trainers have opinions on that subject. If you apply that question metaphorically to churches, I know church gurus have ideas galore! And sometimes, their strategies work.

I had soda this week with an outreach pastor at a nearby evangelical church. Good guy, strong faith, abiding commitment to Christian Unity. One thing we talked about was how different churches have different gifts. Our Catholic and Orthodox siblings, whatever their drawbacks, understand spectacle, mystery and splendor unlike any other. Mainline churches like ours, however stolid we can be, have long proved adept at putting faith into action for the betterment of society. Evangelicals, for their part, while often rigid and uncritically closed in their understandings of God, nevertheless have been outside much more than we, bringing people in, and have gotten very good at it. Their passion for helping people learn to know and receive God’s grace is a gift we’d do well to learn from.

Something my evangelical colleague mentioned that inspired me was his recent work at a trailer park in Corcoran. It’s an economically depressed place, apparently. Residents are viewed by broader society as outcast failures, if people take the time to view them at all. A place of real need, it seems, i.e. a place Jesus would care about a lot. So this guy decided, years ago, to get involved, even if at first he was hesitant to step out. First, he organized a VBS. That established relationships, which kept growing. Now, they’re bringing folk to church and are even dreaming about building a community center for the park’s residents. Might even move in himself. He described those efforts as a blending of gifts- combining the old mainline concern for social justice and blessing the poor with the evangelical fervor for building relationships and witnessing to folk about Jesus. As that happened, I reflected, he wasn’t an inside dog anymore. He’s waaay outside- his church’s walls, the safe confines of his wealthy, respectable Christian community, outside his comfort zone- but as he said, “I’ve learned so much about just how BIG God truly is. And it’s awesome!” Amen.

The Big Dog, who lives inside our hearts also, is nevertheless outside all boundaries and limits we erect. Barking at us to come join Her/Him, tail wagging mightily.

Grace and Peace,
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