Thursday, October 30, 2014

He's Not Perfect

Baxter has his moments when his shadow side shows. He gets stubborn. He can scratch or bite, usually not intentionally. He leaves paw prints on the floor of the kitchen or the windshield of the car. He drags litter trapped in his paws onto the bathroom floor, and he leaves tuffs of hair around after a vigorous scratch. By human standards cats aren’t perfect, but these imperfections don’t get in the way of our valuing and loving them. In fact, in a strange way, they make them more lovable. If Baxter were always neat and cute and unflawed by my standards, he would also be a less interesting and engaging companion. He would be so predictable as to be boring. One thing Baxter isn’t is boring to have around.

The same holds true for us humans. Our imperfections mark our character as unique and intriguing. The quirks we have, the foibles we follow, the bad habits we develop, even sometimes the sins we commit show us for who we are. We may not always like this side we see in ourselves and others, but it is part of what makes us lovable, nonetheless.

These imperfections show that we are still growing, still on the way to becoming the persons God made us to be. We don’t have it all together and sewed tight. There are loose threads and untucked shirts to take care of before our final appointment with God. In addition, our imperfections remind us that we need each other. People who think they are perfect take care of whatever is needed themselves. They have no faults, but they try to correct those they recognize in others. Consequently, they actually have no genuine relationships in their lives, because everything and everyone relates to and through them. Only their standards count, and everyone else must either measure up or be dismissed. It’s a very clean and neat world, but a very solitary and sterile one. No one matters except the perfect standard bearer.

Jesus presents such a different picture. Those that matter most to Him are the ones who miss the mark, who are condemned by others as sinners, unclean or blasphemers. It is precisely these imperfections which are the opening for Jesus to introduce them and those who will hear to the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is not a haven for the lost and forsaken where they discover the gifts of God’s love and mercy, and offer thanks to Him for these gifts. This makes all the difference in their lives, and once they realize it, they begin to cooperate with this grace to do God’s work and become different persons. Perfectionism is disguised egoism, and there is no place for God when we fill up our lives with ourselves - our ambitions and expectations,  our needs and wants, our standards. God expects us to accept His grace, serve others’ needs, and strive for the standards of the Kingdom where all life is respected and those in the most vulnerable conditions of life are seen as blessed.

Perfect pets don’t exist. Perfect people don’t either. Only God is perfect, and He accepts us as we are and shows us a better way. If we follow this way, we will have many lovable companions to share life’s journey and a homecoming at our final destination in God’s Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Loud noises, sudden movements, flashes of light, all these scare Baxter. When he gets frightened he usually runs to what he thinks is a safe place. Under the bed is his favorite spot, but if that’s not available, he may run into a closet, under a chair or into a guest room. When he is frightened, he hides. He gets out of sight and keeps silent until he thinks the threat has passed. He tries to  disappear thinking that he is safe if no one knows he is around. Somehow, Baxter has concluded that the sights and sounds that frighten him have targeted him. They are out to get him personally, and his only recourse is to run away and hide.

We get frightened as well. In today’s world, reasons to fear seem to fill the news. Shootings in our neighborhoods; Ebola in our hospitals; violence in schools, movie theaters, and malls; tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes; the list goes on and on. They are all threats to our safety and well being, and like Baxter, we want to run and hide from them. We want to find a place where we can’t be touched by these menaces, where we can feel secure and where we can count on people to protect us rather than attack us. We become suspicious of strangers and become reluctant to travel to a strange place or engage in new activities. We wonder whom can we trust and what are the signs of sinister forces around us.

Fear can paralyze us. It keeps us from engaging with each other in open conversations, in playful humor, or in trying new ventures. We revert to the tried and true from the past, and avoid risking our comfort and security in anything new - new people, new ideas, new places, new activities. We play it safe like Baxter by finding a dark, warm, concealed spot to hide, not under the bed, but in our own mind, in our circle of friends, in our habits and routines. Fear shrinks our lives.

In the Gospel, when Jairus approaches Jesus to heal his daughter and while on the way there, some people announce that his daughter has died, Jesus says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” He says the same to us today. Believe that God is with us despite the terrible things that happen in our world. Believe that the power of goodness which comes from God is greater than any destructive forces we may face. Believe that we can harness this goodness if we come out of our hiding and join together as a community bound in grace to work for God’s Kingdom on earth.

That means we can’t give up. We must tame our imaginations to deal with the threats we face and not allow them to determine our outlook and actions. We need to think about what is possible and work to make it a reality. Not every attempt will give us what we are looking for, but every step will teach us how to live in faith by stepping out of our fear to help others. That is what Jesus did. He refused to listen to the cynics and naysayers, and kept on His course to bring healing and new life. Because of His faith in His Father, Jairus’ daughter lived again and others came to believe.

Faith blots out fear. Instead of hiding, we come forward in the light of Christ to witness to others that God is alive, well and active in our world. We need to show people how this is the case, and keep at it until healing, hope and new beginnings become common place among us. In the trembling, shivering, nervous world we are in today, what a difference this kind of witness would make. The courage of the saint is contagious. Look at Mother Theresa, John Paul II, John XXIII, Martin Luther King, Elizabeth Seton, or Isaac Jogues. Their lives inspired others to move ahead.

So, Baxter, come out from under the bed. What you think may harm you won’t. God is with us. Get going to follow His lead.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Understanding Splashing

When Baxter drinks from his water dish he makes a mess. He doesn't politely lap up a portion until he is satisfied. He first has to paw the water to make it move. Of course, this action splashes it all over the floor, leaving puddles to mop. For the longest time, I thought Baxter did this to be ornery. It was his way to get back at me for having him neutered or limiting his food intake. However, just recently, I read that cats do this for another reason.

They are farsighted, and consequently, they cannot see where the surface of the standing water in a bowl begins. They don’t like to get their noses wet by misjudging the water level, so to avoid this discomfort, they paw at it. Cats can better see the moving surface, and so have a wet tongue but a dry nose. I gained a new respect for Baxter’s intelligence and a better understanding of his ways by this simple bit of information. I also solved the problem of the wet floor. I just place a pie plate under Baxter’s bowl to catch the splash, and the wave action is contained. Because we understand each other better, we can live together with less aggravation and harsh judgments levied against each other.

The same holds true for human beings. We sometimes come to conclusions about each other without really knowing what is going on. We assume the worst and act accordingly. We think people won’t, when maybe they can’t or were never asked. We impute motives on others’ actions which may have nothing to do with the real reasons. We can lay on others our way of thinking when actually they see things totally differently and act with that interest in mind. Actions can hold different meanings from different viewpoints and backgrounds. And we may feed misconceptions about each other. One person tells another, “Look at him or her, doing thus and so, for such and such a reason.” We help each other be misinformed so that we can misjudge each other and dismiss those who aren't like us for our own reasons.

What if God acted that way? We would all be out in the cold, relying upon our “friends” to watch our backs, but worried that they might abandon us when the popular word about us changes its stripes. Our lives would be splashing back and forth led by the most recent rumor someone concocted about us. We would soon feel lost and wonder if there is any recourse to the truth about ourselves.

But God is faithful and true. While others may jump to conclusions, God knows our hearts, minds and spirits. He knows that our motives are usually mixed for what we do, but He takes the best in the mix and builds upon it. He encourages us to do good for others and ourselves. He gives us the benefit of the doubt when the path we have taken is unsure. He sends others who have our best interest in mind to offer advice and guide us. We see all of this in the way Jesus treated others.

He wants to know a person’s story from his or her perspective. He looks to help others drink of God’s goodness rather than punish them for spilling some water. He tells them to go forward with their lives, learning from their mistakes, accepting forgiveness and offering others what he gave them. Jesus is short on judgment and long on understanding another person’s viewpoint.

So go ahead, Baxter, splash all you like. It won’t harm anything, and it will keep your nose dry. Good advice for all of us.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Facing Our Vulnerabilities

About a week ago, Baxter got sick. I came home and discovered that he hadn’t eaten his dinner. None of it. He was lying on my bed, half asleep. I asked him if he were sick, and after a few words of cat speak, I concluded he was. When I petted him I got very little of the purring engine I usually hear. Instead, he sort of softly squealed and closed his eyes, wanting to resume his sleep. After a while, he awoke and ate a little, but it wasn’t five minutes before he brought it up. A little later he had another bout of vomiting minus any food. I was getting worried. Was this something serious?

I know animals can turn seriously ill on a dime, and Baxter has a good number of years under his belt, which makes him even more vulnerable. I decided to keep him from eating anything for a time to see how he would be. I learned from the vet that sometimes cats’ stomachs need to quiet down before they can start up again. Then I had to bring back the food slowly and see if the episode would pass. It did. In twenty-four hours, Baxter was his old self again. I was relieved.

It is scary when we think about how vulnerable we are in today’s world. One microscopic “bug” can travel throughout the whole world in this jet age, spreading illness and disease among many populations before anyone notices. We travel long distances in close quarters. We are so used to managing our health that we panic when we think it is unmanageable. We deceive ourselves into believing that epidemics are episodes from the past, until we realize that they are just bigger and more bizarre than in former times. We control bubonic plague, leprosy, tuberculosis and polio, but then Ebola arises with a deadly force. Our jet set life style carries with it a free ride for contagion which can spread within 72 hours nearly everywhere on this earth. What can we do to escape this threat? How do we feel safe again?

We can face our vulnerabilities and accept what they say about us humans. We so often avoid our weakness and fragility that we begin to think they aren’t part of us. We are tough gogetters able to take on any challenge. We hate to admit our limitations and accept our frailty. We would rather hide these in our resolve to do it ourselves rather than ask for help, in our working alone rather than with others, in our stubborn independence which puts ourselves and others in greater jeopardy to harm. But these are simply delaying
tactics. Finally, we will all have to face our strength slipping away, our minds clouding over, and our need for others to take care of us. How do we handle the inevitable decline? Cats’ instincts take over, and they give into their weakness quickly. We are different. We accept our human condition gradually and often reluctantly. We may fight it at first, but our faith offers guidance here.

The cross of Christ can help us face our vulnerabilities and their consequences. As Jesus embraced His frailty in the face of the destructive powers of sin and death, He was broken, weakened and finally taken by others to a place to die. But He was not defeated. He continued to reach out to others—the women, His Mother, the Beloved Disciple, the good thief. He addressed His situation with respect for Himself and others—“It is finished.” “Father, forgive them.” He passed on His life—He gave up His Spirit; “Truly, this was the Son of God.”. When He is most vulnerable, weak and stricken, Jesus teaches us the most about the human condition we share before God. He teaches us how to face it, embrace it and love it by finally handing it over to our loving Father and trusting that He, not us, will save it.

We resist losing what we love and cherish whether it is our loved ones, the dignity of our work, the identity we have forged through loving relationships, or even a beloved pet. But fighting to hold onto these and other parts of our passing life when they are ending prevents us from appreciating the gift they are to us and releasing them with a grateful heart. In the end, all the good of our lives is held in God. Pray to be able to hand our lives over to Him as Jesus did to the Father, and see our vulnerabilities as the last call from God to live by faith.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Baxter and I have known each other for many years. I got him as a four month old kitten, and we have been together ever since. After all those years, we begin to assume things about each other. We know our daily routines, our personal quirks, and our signals for feeling happy, down or upset. Good friends and family rub off on each other, and many aspects of how we live together become second nature in the relationships.

While this familiarity is a good thing to make people feel comfortable and close to each other, it does have a down side. The other day, Baxter surprised me. When I was home for lunch, he jumped on my chair at the table as soon as I got up to clear the dishes. When I returned for a final morsel, he wasn’t about to move off of my chair. So I got another one for myself and moved the one he confiscated next to me. I think he was playing this game in hopes of getting something to eat off my plate. Since he was persistent about sitting next to me and since I was persistent about not feeding him any of my food, we were at a stalemate. Weakening, I decided to place one piece of kibble on the edge of the table for him. To my surprise, he didn’t gobble it up then and there.

Instead, Baxter took it in his paw and placed the morsel in his mouth, like a child placing a piece of candy in its mouth with its tiny hand. I thought I knew everything about this cat’s ways, but he surprised me with this new antic.

Sometimes we do this to each other, and God does this to us. We think we know everything about another person, their habits, their likes and dislikes, their manner and style, and then they surprise us. They do or say something we never expected. They disclose a side of themselves we have never seen. They have a trick up their sleeve we never saw coming. These surprises may startle us at first, but on second thought, they will hopefully excite and encourage us. There is always something new to learn about another person. There is more to this familiar face than I first thought. Surprises keep our relationships interesting and lively. If we pigeonhole others and keep them confined to our comfortable routines, we will never grow in our relationship with them. Each encounter is the same—the same topics, the same interactions, the same routines. Our life together becomes gray with nothing standing out to look forward to, to cherish in our memories, to hope for again.

Our God is a God of surprises to challenge and enrich our lives. Moses and the prophets didn’t expect to do and say what they did. But they responded to God’s unexpected call in their lives and were instruments of His salvation. No one expected the Messiah they got in Jesus, but His death and resurrection proved to be the salvation of the world. We don’t know what lies in store for us from God or from His messengers in our lives. We discover unknown talents and abilities when new opportunities arise for us to respond. They surprise us, but they also broaden and deepen how God is working with us through our lives.

Picking up a piece of kibble in his paw made me look at Baxter in a whole new light. There is more to the guy than a lazy, old cat. He is more ingenious and spunky than I thought. God sees this side in us as well. Let Him surprise you, and you may discover good and exciting things about yourself and others you never knew were there.