Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Doing Tricks

Charlie is quite a showman! Since he has come into our care, his bright intellect has led me to teach him many tricks. His doggie tricks started when we first adopted him and he already knew the command, “Sit.” From there, we taught him to lay down. He also learned to “Speak,” on command.

Once we had these basics down, it was on to more complicated tricks. Charlie now can either speak, a loud bark, or whisper, a series of doggie groans that sound like mumbling. He can also play dead when shot with a pointed finger, and roll over.

The most recent addition to his repertoire is to “wave” good-bye. This is where I ask for a paw to shake, but never offer my own hand so that it appears he is waving.

Why do I make my dog do these silly circus tricks? Is it an effort to exert my own authority? Well, yes. In dog mentality, there is a hierarchy and in forcing my dog to do tricks for treats, I enforce my alpha status.

Of course, I never catch Charlie rolling over or waving good-bye of his own accord, he only does these things when a treat is promised. He will, however, start doing some tricks without prompting if the treat jar is mentioned.

It seems that we humans might have this same idea when it comes to God. There are some who preach a “Gospel of Good Fortune.” That is, if we follow all the rules, and do things just like God wants us to, we will be healthy and wealthy in this life. Some folks also think that if they follow all the practices and maintain superficial standards they are all set. It isn’t really that simple, though is it?

Life isn’t just about externals. A quick way to show what I’m talking about is to look at raising children. There aren’t really a set of rules to follow to ensure one has successful children. Each child is an individual, and their particular needs and personality demand different things from their parents in the way of both punishment and reward. Even when your kids move out and have good jobs, it doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily been a good parent.

The same is true in the workforce. Just because you are on time everyday and put in exactly 40 hours, you don’t automatically achieve raises or promotions. It also doesn’t signify you are doing good or conscientious work.

Perhaps the main difference between our secular practices and our religious ones is that our Christian practice is supposed to lead us closer to God. Let me clarify this.

When I go to Mass on Sunday, it isn’t really supposed to be so that I don’t go to hell when I die or because my mom told me to. I go to Mass on Sunday to re-orient my life. I go to place God above myself as the one who deserves worship. I also go to recognize that I am not the only one on this journey. I go to share in the relationship with my brothers and sisters and to encounter Jesus. There are a million other reasons, but I think you catch my drift.

All the practices of being a Christian aren’t for their own sake, they are supposed to help us. In previous generations, folks did things because they were told to, and while that isn’t bad in and of itself, it can leave out some of the most engaging reasons why we would practice our faith.

God isn’t some rulemiser judge watching to see if we have punched our coupon card. He is a loving and gentle companion who seeks us out so we can grow and be better than we were yesterday.

Charlie does some really great tricks, but since he’s just a dog, he only does it for the physical reward. We aren’t dogs. We engage in our faith because it helps us to grow in love of God and one another.

There aren’t any tricks about that. Right, Charlie?

- Christy Cabaniss: Parish Minister

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Jumping Around

My dog has some really ridiculous behaviors. In his defense, I think that most of them are a result of genetics and instinct. Let me explain…

I think that Charlie might be a new breed of dog, only recognized by the AKC in 2003, called a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. This dog is the smallest in the retriever family and looks like a miniature golden retriever with white markings. The breed was developed to help duck hunters. In the wild, a fox will play at the waters edge in order to entice a duck to come closer, which the silly ducks do! The dog was bred to simulate fox behavior so hunters would have an advantage and then send the dog to retrieve it. This frolicking behavior is actually part of the breed standard and a dog must pass a field test exhibiting it to be considered an actual Nova Scotia Duck Toller.

Charlie exhibits this EXACT behavior! When he thinks he is on the hunt he leaps around our yard like a Tigger. Tail is flashing back and forth and all four paws literally leap from spot to spot.

He never catches anything when he acts like that, though, because rodents are scared away by his breed standard behavior. It is hilarious to watch from a human perspective, though.

I wonder if we don’t scare folks away with our leaping and jumping about when it comes to God? Let me explain.

Sometimes we think that there needs to be some big huge movement to signal that God is involved in what we are doing. We think we need to proclaim Christmas greetings and God’s blessing upon all those we meet. We think we need to offer explanation for our good treatment of others: that it is for the kingdom of God.

We also think that people need to come to us in droves. The way we can tell if our programs are successful is if oodles of people are in attendance.

We also fall into this all or nothing trap with our treatment of others, but in an opposite sense. We talk a good game about justice, peace, and love toward one another in the plural, but we renege when it comes to a single person. When faced with a particular individual all our judgement and anxiety take over and we aren’t just, or peaceful, or loving toward them.

I suppose that it is the intimacy and vulnerability of facing a single person that brings out the worst in us. But, this is ultimately where the rubber hits the road with our faith.

Being a Christian isn’t really converting huge numbers of people, it’s about individual relationships.

If we look to the bible for guidance, we will see that God operates on the small scale more often than on a large one. While in the Gospels Jesus did preach to the crowds, and they did follow him about, you only hear about the real conversions on a one on one basis.

Think of who brought you into the church. Whether a cradle Catholic, a convert, or some other state, you learned about God from someone. We can almost always point to an individual (or a few individuals) who set an example, shared their faith, and who loved us.

Practicing Christianity involves a listening ear and a loving heart. That means forgiving others, for ALL their failures. It also means realizing that we too have flaws, and need to ask for forgiveness.

Just like Charlie we have a natural tendency to jump around and make a big fuss when we are after something. Unlike Charlie, we have a mind and can reason, so we don’t have to be bound to our instincts. Learning to love others on a one on one basis is hard and takes practice. It’s part of our faith tradition to understand discipline and virtue, though.

St. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ!”

(No jumping required!)

Right, Charlie?

~Christy Cabaniss
Parish Minister

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A friend in need

I get many compliments on what a great dog Charlie is often. It is true, for the most part he is a really good dog. But, why do other people tell me that? It doesn’t hurt that he is really quite handsome. Something about his butterscotch color with the white accents is just pleasing to the eye. His fur is also exceptionally soft, so petting him is really a pleasure. He isn’t too big either. At just 40 lbs., he isn’t an ankle biter, and he isn’t imposing. Ultimately though, his calm demeanor and friendliness toward people is what wins them over, I think.

Charlie is always interested in making new friends, but he doesn’t forget about the ones he already has, either. One of the great things about dogs is that they really sense their owners attitudes. From what I have heard, cats do much the same. If their owner is sick, the pet will stay right by their side. The same is true when the owner is sad. Somehow pets just seem to have a sixth sense about what is going on with their people.

I remember when I lost a really close friend. The news came in that morning, and I could not stop crying. I was devastated. Charlie didn’t know what to do. He just knew his mistress was upset. So, he did the best thing a dog can do. He sat in my lap and let me cry into his fur until I didn’t have any tears left.

When people in our life are having a hard time or aregrieving, it’s hard to know what to do. We are in such an immediate gratification culture that it’s hard to process problems that just take time.

We want answers when there is a problem, and we want them NOW. We ask our friends or maybe our parents, and sometimes, we even ask Google. How can I solve this problem that I am having?

It can be even more difficult to be the person called upon to have the answer! You rack your brain, give similar experience stories, or tell of what others have done in the same situation.

Whether we have a problem, or are trying to help with the problem having the right answer always seems to be the key. If you are able to come up with it, somehow you are the hero.

But, maybe that isn’t what’s always necessary.

I spend my fair share of time in our bereavement groups we have every spring and fall. There are two very particular things that I have noticed about these groups. The first is that there are no answers when you have lost a loved one. The second is, that when a person is suffering a loss the thing they need most is a friend who will listen without judgement, or answers.

Death and dying aren’t things we talk about much in our culture. It’s taboo and that’s because it’s scary. Who wants to think about their loved ones dying? But, the disservice we do to ourselves by not talking about it is that we aren’t prepared when death comes.

I don’t mean prepared for loss. Nothing can ever prepare you for that. I mean knowing  that grief is a journey through uncharted wilderness and that it takes time. I mean knowing that being sad when you lose a loved one is normal. I also mean that we need to learn to be prepared to be that listening ear for others when they are suffering. We get caught up in having the answers and finding a solution. Mostly you’ll find that a person in pain just wants you to sit and listen. Listen to how much that person meant to them and what they are going through. They need to know you are there.

God is there for us too, but part of our Christian understanding is knowing that God reaches out to us through others. We can be the face of Christ to one another by listening and offering comfort to those in pain.

That little dog of mine has been there to hear my cries and dry my tears. The world would be a better place if we could learn to do the same for one another. Right, Charlie?

-Christy Cabaniss