Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Dog's Share

I think I have mentioned once or twice that Charlie is pretty spoiled. I mean that in the best way possible, of course!

Charlie has a toy box full of different kinds of dog toys. His food bin is filled with his favorite kibble, and his (very large) cookie jar is jam packed with a wide assortment of treats.

Charlie’s life with us is a far cry from that of a homeless stray digging in trash cans in search of food. His belly is always full, he is kept warm and safe indoors, and has a nice cozy place to sleep. Yet, because of his dogginess, he will never understand that he will have this comfortable life until the end of his days. He is always protective of what he has.

His defensive side is the most obvious when it comes to rawhide. When Charlie has a rawhide chew, he is downright nasty. He growls, barks, and will even lunge at anyone he thinks is trying to take it. Even me!

Usually, his behavior gets so bad that I have to take the rawhide from him and basically put him in timeout until he settles down.

We tend to be a bit too much like Charlie, don’t we?

We get very possessive of our things: our money, house, car, even the people in our lives. Those belong to US, and they aren’t for anyone else! I earned “fill in the blank” and it’s mine!

What we don’t realize is that God is always ready to give us more. We don’t trust that when we let go of what we have, God is always ready to bless us even more.

We are in an extraordinary jubilee year of mercy! Mercy is kindness, goodness, or forgiveness shown when it is within one’s power to punish or harm the other. Pope Francis is calling us all to recognize that our God is a god of mercy. He infinitely blesses us when we do not deserve it.

I think that before we can be merciful towards others, before we can reach out to them, we have to acknowledge our own failures and how both God and others have been merciful to us.

If you find that others have not been merciful to you, then I would like to share a thought. When I was growing up one lesson from my dad that I have carried with me is this: when someone has treated you poorly you have two choices. The first is that you can take that pain and treat others the same way so that every person can feel the hurt you have felt. Or, you can say, “No.” No one will ever feel that way again as long as I have anything to do with it.

The thing is, no matter what harm any other person has caused you, God is always seeking to love and heal you. God is always merciful.

Pope Francis also wants to remind us that Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy. Nowhere is that more evident than on the cross. Broken, beaten, and naked, Jesus asks the Father to forgive us.

What we need to realize is that God always wants to forgive us. God is always merciful and loving. We just have to open our hearts to that mercy and forgiveness. The choice is always ours to make.

Opening our hearts to God’s mercy and forgiveness allows us to share that mercy and forgiveness with others. When we are able to accept the love of God, we are able to be loving toward others. Then, we find that there is more love than we could imagine to share! When we focus on how we are blessed, we find more blessings. When we realize what abundance we have, we are able to share that with others!

We aren’t dogs. We can learn to share and know that God will continue to provide for us. There is more than enough for all to have their fill when God is at the center. We would do well to choose mercy.

Right Charlie?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pretty Boy

Charlie is an easy dog to love. He is not very big, but not an ankle-biter. His fur is always so soft. And Charlie has a sweet face.

It doesn’t hurt that Charlie has such a friendly demeanor, either. Even when people are afraid of dogs in general, they typically like Charlie. He is somehow sensitive to their nervousness and takes a gentle approach. Ultimately, Charlie is after a person’s heart so he can get some doggy attention.

Unfortunately, not all dogs share Charlie’s lovable traits. It’s why we have so many animals in shelters.

Not very many people can find it in their hearts to love scruffy dogs. It’s hard to cuddle the dog with wiry hair or a skin condition. It isn’t fun to have the untrained and insecure pet in your home, either.

I am always in awe of those individuals who can find it in their hearts to love what seem to be the unlovable pets. Yet, somehow they do.  We often seem more able to love those odd and unusual pets then one another though, don’t we? I suppose it is because we can see the helplessness of animals better than we can understand the failings of one another. Yet, is it really so different?

It seems that we are able to quickly form judgments of others based on their outward appearance or affiliation.

We isolate ourselves from others based on their color, religion, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, the list goes on and on.

Why do we do that? Why do we find ways of rejecting others rather than accepting them? Why do we find all the ways to not love one another in stead of loving them?

I think that it comes from our fallen nature. It is our automatic response to not love the other because we think we are unlovable ourselves.

We forget that God has forgiven us. We forget that He gave His only Son to prove to us how much He loves us. We ignore His Word and instead turn inward.

What we fail to realize when we judge others is that we cause them to judge themselves. Unless I treat the other with dignity and respect, how can they know that they have dignity and value? Unless I behave in a loving way toward my neighbor, how can they know that they are loved?

This past week we celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. A man that called us all to put down those prejudices and peacefully work together. Since 1996, the day has become known as the Martin Luther King Day of Service. A day for Americans to honor Dr. King and to make a difference for others by serving in the communities. Dr. King stood up for equal rights and even gave his life because he believed in what Jesus taught, that we are all children of God.

Jesus called us to a very difficult task, to love one another. Loving others is so difficult because of the many ways we differ, but what if we didn’t see that as a curse, but instead as a blessing?

I believe that is what Jesus is calling us to. To see what we each have to offer one another. Instead of seeing the other as lacking something we have, we could see what they have that we lack. We could see loving each other as making the valleys high and the mountains low. We could see loving our neighbor as preparing the way for the Lord.

We aren’t all pretty on the outside. Truly, none of us is perfect. What we can recognize is that we are all made in the image of God, and so, we all have something to offer.

In order for others to realize their potential, we need to call it forth from them, not condemn them.

Perhaps, in loving our neighbor and those that are different from us, we could catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Right, Charlie?

-Christy Cabaniss

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Finding the Right Spot

Baxter is particular about where he lies down and how he positions himself there. There are certain places he has staked out as his own for years the old chair I wanted to discard before he claimed it, the TV table covered with his special blanket, the mattress that was his since he was a kitten, and, of course, my bed covered with another special blanket for his warmth and comfort. (Linus has nothing on Baxter!) Once standing on one of these personal territories, Baxter then has to find the right spot.

He circles the area a couple of times, plops down, wiggles a body contoured groove into the surface, then settles in for either a full-fledged nap or a regal posture, where he presides over his domain with head erect, paws straight out front, and eyes set on staring into space. Royal lions framing a throne have nothing on Baxter in his mind. In one of these special places, Baxter feels at home. He fits. He belongs.

We humans have the same proclivities, don’t we? Who doesn’t have their favorite chair? Who doesn’t prefer to sleep in their own bed? Who doesn’t like to get home and settle back into the familiar routine after a time away? We carve out a place for ourselves in this world, each in our own way, and we find comfort and security there. Like Baxter, over the years we create spaces where we fit and belong.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Jesus assures His disciples that they fit and belong in God’s Kingdom, if they are faithful in their discipleship. There isn’t only one personality type or life style, one physical appearance or social setting, one occupation or economic class where His followers belong. True disciples are of all types and walks of life, in many different circumstances with different cultural customs and heritages. These distinctions make for a rich picture of the humanity God assumed when the Word became flesh in Jesus.

We don’t have to lose our uniqueness to become part of God’s household. We just have to join it to the common roots Jesus has shown us as children of God and fellow followers of the Gospel. In this way, we learn to respect each other’s differences while recognizing our oneness in Christ. Such is the communion of saints we claim as our faith community. No one is a clone of another, but each belongs to the other to be complete.

Baxter helps to make whatever house I live in a home, but I have to give him his space for him to feel at home. We all need the same thing from each other and for each other.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hugging the Heat

Baxter doesn’t often change his routine, but as the cold of winter comes to play, he does adjust. He spends a lot of time in front of the heat vent when the temperature turns down. He lies against the grill where the heated air spills out into the room. His fur gets almost hot at times, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He finds the warmth soothing, and he will spend hours soaking it into his body. Once in place, he will not budge from his cozy spot on the floor. Even when the warm air stops flowing for a while, he stays in place, waiting for the next round of comforting therapy to take the chill out of his bones. Warm climates appeal to Baxter.

The same holds for most of us. When we enter a situation where we are welcomed and people express concern and interest in us, we warm to what is going on there. We want to get involved with the people and the tasks they are engaging. We feel a part of the group and want to contribute to whatever its purpose might be. We enjoy participating in a shared task in these circumstances. Even if it involves work and effort, we have fun doing it because we can rely upon each other to help in the effort.

We forget ourselves when we feel comfortable with each other, and this selflessness generates warmth in our relationships. Under these conditions, we always get more than we give, because we feel that we belong and are invested in the mission of the organization. It’s amazing what people can do when they set the right kind of environment for each other.

How do our churches measure up to this picture? Are they communities where people feel they belong, and everyone can contribute to the various efforts that advance the mission of God’s Kingdom in our world? Do we welcome others into our life and worship, or are we suspicious of newcomers, demanding that they do it our way or no way? Do we each see ourselves as contributing to a common cause, or as competing for the best in show? A jealous, possessive, hyper-critical, rigid and unbending environment where each person wants to stand out is a cold place. Everyone is afraid of making a mistake. Gossip thrives; back-biting wounds; and no one wants to take any initiative for fear of being put down. It’s a wintry landscape, even in July!

God’s love brings warmth and light to any human situation. We need to draw close to this love whenever we set about doing His work in our world. We should not get so lost in the task at hand that we lose the people with whom we share the task or for whom we are doing it. “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” (Mt 16:26) Only by constantly reminding ourselves that it’s God’s work we want to do and His work is always one of love and service will we stay on task. The vents to God’s love are prayer, fellowship, worship and ministry, but these are useless if they don’t offer warm, personal regard to everyone engaged in them.

So no matter what we are doing, hug the heat, the heat of God’s love, and show how it is working among us and creating a warm atmosphere for our efforts to bear His fruit. There is no better ad campaign for church membership. Baxter isn’t the only one attracted to the warmth.