Dogs, Generation Hug, Gospel


PitBullHannahBoneShe looked a lot like this good girl, though her brown parts were darker, and she was thinner, and she shivered the way Sam does when I take him into a new and overwhelming situation.

It's new, letting dogs come with their owners into the soup kitchen. The other dogs I've seen are tiny, except for one rather oversized pug who still counts as small. I wondered what the exact rules were, and as I crossed the crowded dining room to bring milk to another diner, I went toward them, because for me, all dogs are irresistible, wherever I meet them. "Hello, lovely," I thought, but we never got a chance to meet properly, the dog and I. Only our eyes met, and then things began to happen.

I saw a staff member come over and ask her owner something.

"She's a service dog," he said.

While he talked to the staff member, he accidentally took off her slip lead as he fumbled with her and a backpack, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I was right next to them, and I wondered how this anxious dog would respond.

She went into a "down" and stayed put.

"I need to see her papers," said the staff member. 

"I know my rights," said her owner, a young guy with stitches in his chin.

Soon this escalated into a call to the police, a few minutes of high tension, a physical encounter I couldn't quite see, the dramatic spill of a bottle of red gatorade, various angry words spoken and the departure of the brown and white dog with her person. 

I have to admit my first thought in all that happened was for the dog. She was a good girl. In the midst of being challenged, her owner was opening his backpack to get her dinner out, a bag of Beneful.

Beneful One of my youth group members asked the question that really mattered, when we checked in to see how everyone was, to explain the underlying issues (the patron was intoxicated, and it probably wasn't the best strategy to use the dog to get him to leave; he put his hand near a police officer's face, and that's when things got worse). She asked what I want to know, too. "If you don't have anywhere else to get your dinner, what would you do with your dog?"

I'm glad I was able to say, because I heard the police officer say it, "The dog was not the issue."

Because she wasn't.

At the soup kitchen, the rules allow the person working the door to deny entry to people who are clearly high or drunk. But I know from many years of volunteering, and from discussions when I served on the board, that you or I might judge differently who is too out of it to come in, and who might just be better off sitting down to dinner. You or I might judge differently just what it means to be "beneful" on any given night.

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40, NRSV)

I wonder if I will see them again. The soup kitchen is just a few blocks from Downtown High School, and I drive through the area often. I think I'm going to get a bag of Beneful and put it in the car, just in case.

Gospel, Matthew

Oh, that Peter

(Transfiguration Sunday A, Matthew 17:1-9)

I don't do a lot of instant messaging, but there are a few friends I keep up with via Google Chat. Recently the "smiley" feature has been improved, and I suddenly saw myself looking at a "blockhead" smiley in response to something I typed that was not so smart, but well-meant.

And as I read this gospel lesson, I want to send Peter one of those smiling blockheads. There he is, up on the mystical mountain with his friends and his teacher, and they are in the middle of an amazing spiritual experience, a manifestation of Elijah and Moses, the transfiguring of Jesus who is suddenly shining like the sun and dressed in "dazzling white."

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4, NRSV)

O-kay, then. No matter how I read this story, no matter the gospel, this is the idea that grabs me. In the midst of all this spooky revelation, and there is more to come, Peter is trying to concretize it.

How human! How Peter-like! How bloody literal-minded!!!

And yet who can blame him for wanting to stay where heavenly lightning seems to be striking?

A moment later he will be cowering on the ground with his friends after hearing the voice of God:

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. (Matthew 17:5-6)

Well, who wouldn't be? We want a revelation from God, right up until we get one, usually. We're on the edge of something marvelous, we have a sense that THE TRUTH WILL BE REVEALED, and then we get more than we could have imagined, more than we are prepared to take, to hear, to see, to metabolize.

And so I picture them with knees of jelly, those disciples, as they were coming down the mountain, stomachs astir, minds trying desperately to grasp the details that we know someone held onto, because this story became part of our tradition. If I had been among them, I'm sure I would have been thinking, "Wait until I tell Sally! She'll help me understand what happened!" Just telling her will help, I would think.

But that is not to be, and this is one of the points of this story that scholars perhaps prefer to discuss, because it's less mystical:

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about
      the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
(Matthew 17:9)

Tell no one. Tell no one. Poor Peter, ready to develop the mountaintop with retreat homes for long-lost prophets! Tell no one.

So he came down the mountain, and he told no one, not right away. And when he got his right mind back again, when the Resurrection had taken place and the fear of Good Friday was behind him, he built a church.

Epiphany 3A, Gospel, Matthew

Immediately they left–

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Immediately, they left—

After a nightmare about moving, it's on my mind how difficult it is to leave a place, usually. My parents have been gone for 10 and almost 15 years, but I still dream from time to time about having to sort out their household, and in every dream I am on a deadline.

James and John, immediately they left, and followed him.

Last night I dreamed I was with my first husband and younger versions of our children, and we had to leave the place we were living, and we had to be out by a certain time which was only minutes away, and there were still so many things to pack, the task felt similar to Cinderella's assignment to sort trough the lentils. What did we really need? and how would we carry it all? and where were we going?

What did we really need? When you are moving, there is more to it, usually, than what you need. There are things you want as well, and in my dreams there are often sentimental items that need special packing materials. Do I need those things? Or the feelings that go along with them? Probably not, but the thought of being cut off from them, the fear of it, generally plays an important part in those dreams.

How would we carry it all? In last night's dream, there was no truck or van. We seemed to be leaving with only what we could carry. In that case, there was no doubt, we could not bring it all with us. Toys and small objects and clothes not on our backs would be left behind as surely as large pieces of furniture. I wondered what would happen to them, considered the position of the landlord, or whatever person might come in behind us, left with the mess of our lives, unpacked and unsorted.

Zebedee stood in the boat, alone, with the half-mended nets.

Where were we going? It wasn't clear in the dream, and it wasn't clear to James and John, either. Did one of them feel the impulse more strongly and the other follow him more than Jesus? Had they had it with Dear Old Dad, and were they looking for an opportune moment to flee? Or did they truly feel the same calling in the same moment with identical intensity?

We don't know. We only know they left. Immediately.

If you are like me, you fear their choice and envy it at the same time. Most of us stay behind in the unsorted rooms, at least on the physical plane, but the inner journey is open to us. Taking it may not necessitate abandoning the family business or leaving your mother's collection of painted china behind, but it might. You just don't know. And perhaps that is the scariest part of all.

Except for this part. You might be Zebedee. And I can't imagine a lonelier guy in the whole world then Zebedee when James and John "immediately left."  "Left" and "flee" easily mis-type, in the early morning, as "felt" and "feel." How do you feel if you put yourself in Zebedee's place? In the text, even the boat gets priority.