Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Puppy love

I love my dog. I also happen to think that Charlie loves me back. As a matter of fact, I get all kinds of grief from my children who question who I love more, them or the dog. Of course, I think the answer to that is obvious.

Some folks will tell you that dogs don’t experience emotions like people do or even have feelings, but I have to disagree. Many of us saw the viral video of the woman from Murrysville and her dog. Her dog hadn’t seen her in two years, and it passed out from excitement when the two were reunited. There are also studies being conducted in Atlanta, GA where scientists are researching dogs’ brains, in an attempt to correlate brain activity and dog emotion. So far, their studies have found that the response is similar in dog and human brains when they see the one they “love.” The signals even originate from the same place in dogs as they do in humans.

So, what does it mean that a dog could be experiencing emotions similar to a human?

Does that mean that dogs are the same as people? I have many friends who claim that pets can be better companions. Some folks even profess to prefer animals to people.

As tempting as it is to equate our animal friends to people, we know that it’s not the same as our human relationships. Sure, animal relationships can seem nicer. Isn’t that because our animal friends can’t actually “speak” their minds, though? They can’t use words to express how we have hurt them, emotionally or physically. They can’t question our motives or our loyalties. They can’t tell us when we have ignored them or made them feel left out. Sure they can act out, but it really doesn’t carry the same weight as when another person, especially one you love, expresses these things to you.

Being in a relationship means getting the bad with the good. It means being accountable for our words and actions. It means our motives and loyalties will sometimes be called into question. That can be some messy stuff. I think C. S. Lewis makes a great point about relationships and love.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Trying to keep things neat and tidy leads to the danger of a lonely and miserable life. We have to be willing to get dirty to enjoy the treasures of heaven.

Let’s not keep our hearts locked up from our animals OR one another. It is a great risk, but certainly a risk worth taking!

Christy Cabaniss - Pastoral Minister

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Learning new tricks

One of the great things about dogs is that they want to please their masters. Charlie is absolutely interested in pleasing me. Sometimes I wonder though, the source of his motivation.

Charlie knows quite a few tricks. He can sit, shake hands, and speak. He can also roll over and play dead. He is learning how to “dance,” too. Some of these tricks he knew when we adopted him. Others he has had to learn, through much trial and error. Every time he correctly performs his tricks, he gets a treat. His performance is greatly influenced by the treat. The more he likes a particular reward, the more vehement and rigorous the tricks are. For instance, he has tiny dog biscuits. While he does like those treats, they pale in comparison to, say, a bit of meat. When offered the biscuit, his tricks lack enthusiasm and require several prompts. But, when a bit of meat is offered, the tricks come one after the other and with exuberance without even being prompted!

Sometimes, service to the church seems a little like tricks for treats. One performs tasks in hopes of a reward.

Maybe service pads a resume, or application. Perhaps it is the ego boost when others compliment us. In some cases, it could be the flawless impression that service makes on others in the community. Sometimes we even think the benefit is getting on God’s “good” side.

These are all SELF-serving attitudes that aren’t much different than Charlie’s. But, we are much smarter than dogs, and we have a greater capacity for emotional development and growth.

Ministry is exactly the opposite of self service. It literally means to attend to the needs of someone else. In the Church, ministry means even more than that. It means doing the work of God. Ministry is literally the work we are doing to attend to the needs of the people of God.

This work has many forms, as do the workers. One of God’s many blessings is that we can find the gifts He has given us and match them to the needs of our communities. We don’t all do the same work, and we don’t all do it in the same way. It takes many gifts for the many needs.

That’s quite a bit different than doing tricks to achieve treats. The service of ministry is not a chore to earn us some kind of reward; it is an honor and a privilege to serve the members of our community. A glance from a different angle helps us to see that a little better. We love one another, and we love God. Therefore, we gladly come forward and say, “Here I am, Lord.”

Charlie loves his treats, and so he performs his tricks. He is a good dog, but we are people, and we can do better than that!

Christy Cabaniss - Parish Minister