Why I Think Jesus Is A Black Lab

Miss Kay

Art by Miss Kay (click on pic to see more)

Let the howling begin about comparing our Lord and Savior to a dog!

If you are not completely offended already, read on and I’ll explain myself….

Throughout my life, there have been many dogs and other animals. They served purposes and had jobs. We even ate some of them (except for the dogs and cats). Mostly, they co-existed with us on our farm in New Hampshire.

It wasn’t until a particular dog came into my life that the spark ignited for me, but not at first. She seemed like just another one in the line. It wasn’t until I began to see the world through her eyes and experience my own existence in relation to hers that I understood who she was.

I think this happens for most people when they establish a filter that gives the world a particular meaning. Some people call that filter Jesus, others Buddha, etc. Me, I call it Murphy.

Sixteen years in the company of the most spiritually complete being I’ve ever met created for me a way of seeing the world that allowed me to understand divinity.

But what about other breeds, you may ask? Other people may not relate to the black lab that way.

I completely agree and that’s why I would tell them that it’s not about the breed or the color or the gender. It’s about the spark.

Human beings will fight all day and night about those things. They’ll say Jesus was white or black or gay or straight, etc., and all the while they will completely be missing the point. The point of Jesus’ humanness was not his biology. It was his spirit.

For myself, I have found that divine spirit in myself through the biology of a dog. And I happen to relate most strongly to the black lab because that is the image attached to the spark for me.

HappyLab

Art by Karol Fenner

Murphy cared not one whit about what breed you were, how big or small, male or female. She just wanted to know you and she wanted you to know her. She never needed to be the center of attention and would have shared anything that was hers with someone else and gladly accept anything you had to share with her. She also had no problem correcting those who were out of line, but only enough to teach them how to stay centered. Most importantly, she showed us that fighting amongst ourselves never accomplished anything. She knew that rolling over and exposing your vulnerability was sometimes the best thing to do.

Still, more than a year after she’s been gone, people look at our new dogs and ask, “Is that Murphy?” Rather than reply that she is no longer with us, I guess the best response would be to ask them, “Do you see The Murph in her?”

It has been noted that DOG is the reflected image of GOD. I’m not much good at math but I think that somehow works into the equation A + B = C (the holy trinity?) which means that Jesus must have been a dog. And my dog just happens to be a black lab.

This Christmas season, gather all your dogs near, no matter what breed they are. The spark lives in every one of them.

(Next post: “The Father, The Son, and The Holy Goats”)

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A Pinprick of Light in the Darkness

Imagine that you have only ever lived in a big dark room.

You are vaguely aware of others around you and you have learned to tread carefully so that you don’t intrude on each other’s space.

Then one day something breaks the darkness; a tiny, almost indiscernible spot that does little more than make itself known and inspire curiosity.

And then another appears. You realize that you actually have the ability to see it and that there is something beyond the darkness. You feel a shift in the energy of the room, a combination of excitement and fear.

As more spots appear, the energy grows more intense. The awareness that there is something beyond the darkness makes your head feel like it might explode because suddenly you are not just fumbling around in your own surroundings. There is something more.

Eventually, more spots let in enough light that they begin to illuminate what is around you and you see the others in your midst for the first time. Some are peering through the tiny holes, hoping to catch more of a glimpse of the blinding light while others cower in the corners, terrified.

You are conflicted. The level of comfort you have achieved in the darkness has been violated. Part of you is angry because you know that you will have to change. The light will only continue to grow and hiding in the darkness will no longer be an option.

This is awakening. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is the coalescence of many tiny pinpricks of light arranging themselves to show you what you need to see. Not seeing is as simple as closing your eyes but those around you who have allowed themselves to experience what is beyond the dark room will not rest until you open them, at which point the light will be blinding rather than subtly illuminating.

Each day, if you open your eyes a little more and take in one more tiny spot of light to see what lies in its beam, the world reveals itself in all its wonder. Darkness turns to gray and gradually your landscape is flooded with color.

But as you sit there in the darkness contemplating the light and all that might be required of you to live in it, it’s easy to refuse because you are not guaranteed that it will be any better than where you are now.

Will you take the chance to open your eyes?

To Take or To Receive? That Is The Question….

Anybody who thinks being Christian is easy has no idea what it means to be a Christian.

I’d describe myself as Christian-ish. I’ve found it impossible to completely separate myself from my upbringing despite my efforts, though these days I gag a little on the title “Christian”. It’s become a bumper sticker or an Internet meme: “Honk if you love Jesus”, or, “Let’s see how many people on Facebook believe in God”. Really??

There I go, judging again. See? It’s not easy.

Here’s the thing. People seem to think that following the Bible word for word is what it means to be Christian; follow the rules and learn the techniques and ye a Christian shall be. But I see the journey more the way Picasso described art: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Christianity itself is an art and the whole point of art is to be able to represent in the simplest possible manner that which is incredibly complex. It was never meant to be a list of rules that we kept building on until we could say we’re an expert at the rules. It was meant to be the chipping away of an edifice so that eventually we become the barest essence of ourselves. Nothingness representing everythingness. Painting like a child. Lines on a paper with a bunch of scribbling in the background.

But maybe that’s just my take on it and that’s the complexity of Christianity. Jesus wanted each of us to get out of the box, step out of the boat, leave our comfort zones. He wasn’t saying “do exactly as I do or you will go the Hell”. Nope, he wanted us to stop being fearful of damnation so that we could experience our own divinity. He wanted us to find the child artist within.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I’ll use a strong word to describe how I feel when people (Christians) cheap out on Jesus and post things on the Internet that disparage those they see as faulty: liars, cheaters, stealers, fornicators, as though pointing a finger at them somehow grants the poster immunity. I hate seeing that stuff. I mean, who among us has never lied, cheated, stolen, or participated in relations we might have regretted later? Did we not experience our own journey of redemption?

The truth is, maybe we didn’t or just haven’t yet. Maybe we are still so stuck in our own self-condemnation that we can do little but shame others in order to bring them down to our level. That, to me, is the definition of Hell (I don’t really believe in Hell, but other people do, so I’m reframing it for their purposes) and as far from the point of Christianity as I can imagine.

One of the biggies on the list of Hell-memes I don’t like is the disparaging of the poor. Granted, we all know someone who has taken advantage of the system for their own gain. I once stole a roll of dimes off the desk of my friend’s father when I was in elementary school. I felt so guilty, I gave dimes to all my friends so they could buy Kool-pops at lunch time but that did little to assuage my guilt. I may have made a friend or two for a moment, but it was a short-term high, yet by committing that crime my own conscience was driven toward redemption and though I can’t say that was the last petty crime I committed in my youth nor the last time I justified my behavior by saying I was doing it for the greater good, it was something that taught me about the nature of being human and it allowed me to recognize and forgive that humanness in others.

Thus develops the healthy cycle of give and take. Or perhaps a better word than take is receive. How many of us are good at receiving? How many of us have been taught that to receive is to take? Maybe my stealing of those dimes was a manifestation of my feeling unworthy to ask, that I might receive. And so I took. We see that word a lot lately. “A nation of takers”, was uttered by one of our politicians in trying to justify cutting “entitlement” spending. Americans are moochers, he implied. We’re not following “the rules”. We’re not behaving like a Christian nation. But have we not all given for the sake of others that we might receive when our own time of need comes?

Who is watching when we offer our time to help someone in need or when we spare a dime to brighten someone’s day? We’ve developed organizations that keep track of our volunteer work so that the organization can receive credit from Caesar for their good works. We’ve created a system of accounting so that every bit of our giving is recognized. But is that what Jesus wanted us to do? Did he want us to go out and give in such a way as to be recognized by men? Even he understood that Caesar was ultimately responsible for the common good, for the upkeep of society, but it was in the quiet times, in the giving for the sake of giving, that he wanted us to just shut up and do it. It was none of Caesar’s business.

Christianity is hard because we want to be seen being Christian. We want to be recognized as virtuous and holy but that never really works, does it? The brighter the light from outside that shines on us, the longer the shadow it casts. Pretty soon, the shadow is bigger than we are. If the light is not glowing from within, it is not the light of divinity.

It’s become too easy for others to beat up on Christians. Too many are just asking for it so I find it hard to step in when a rumble starts and it makes me wonder if Jesus would have wanted to beat up a few of them too. But I can’t speak for him, and really, neither can anyone else.

What Does It Mean To Be Homosexual?

Aside from the obvious, what does it mean and why does it matter?

The more I spend time with fellow “homos”, the more I realize we have nothing — and everything — in common. As with any other group of people, we have had vastly different experiences. Some have made it smoothly from Point A to Point B, feeling no need to explore further, and others are still meandering somewhere around the mid-alphabet area, thinking that the goal is Z and they’ll get there eventually.

And that pretty well describes humanity as a whole. We are safe or we are adventurous. We find comfort in security or we risk it all to find out what else is out there.

If I were to hazard a guess about the evolution of human sexuality, it would be to propose that our obsession with “sex” is entering obsolescence. We have elevated the process by which life is perpetuated to some sort of mythic means of “seeing God”, “moving the world”, the ultimate goal of human experience, when really, it just feels good. Let’s not be grandiose and give it any more vital import than that.

Yet, we’re still trying to control each other over what has essentially become a recreational past time. We base lifelong relationships on whether or not we are sexually compatible and far too often, we find out — too late — that we are not. So what do we do? We go off and find someone else who might be. And someone else, and someone else, and someone else….

We all do it. Gay, straight — we too often miss the essence of the person because of how the body parts fit. We try so hard to wedge ourselves into some preconceived mold that we completely lose touch with who we are and who we are meant to be. For as long as sexuality is the most important part of the relationship, we’ll never find the person who is the perfect one to share our life with.

But as religion would have it, our wonderfully expressive, creative selves must be crammed into a tiny box of acceptable behavior. Please forgive the irony of that statement but maybe it’s entirely apropos. We have reduced the whole of human experience into a weak, submissive woman at the hands of an angry, powerfully endowed God.

Maybe homosexuality exists to bring balance to that energy. Maybe homosexuality understands that this dynamic cannot continue if humanity is to ultimately survive and evolve. And maybe, that’s exactly what was intended and we continue to keep it from happening because we don’t want to further anger Big Daddy, when maybe what Big Daddy needs is an intervention from his family.

What homosexuality is not, at least from what I’ve seen, is an obsession with sex. It is about a balance of power in relationships. It is about learning to embrace both the masculine and the feminine in each of us. It is about encouraging ALL couples, gay and straight, to find the place of cooperation that appreciates the strong and the vulnerable parts of each other and learns to love them equally.

A great relationship does not just raise healthy, happy children. It raises happy, healthy adults. We need to learn to trust each other to know how to get from Point A to Point B in the most effective way possible. And if it’s your inclination to make it all the way to Point Z, then may you find that perfect companion to help you get there.

My Father’s Gift

When my dad died more than 20 years ago, I was asked if I wanted anything of his. He didn’t have much in the way of material possessions. I responded, “Yes. I’d like his Boy Scout stuff.”

Today, in anticipation of a vote about whether to allow openly gay young men to join the Scouts, I pulled out the box containing Dad’s “personal effects” and laid them out on the floor.

How strange, to see his life as a mere pile of symbols. Meaningless individually, perhaps, but as a group, a life story.

Dad4 My father was born on August 28, 1923, the first of six children. Skinny and quiet, he played the role of big brother and helped his mom with his brothers and sisters while his father was busy working in sales with a burgeoning oil company.

He joined the Boy Scouts, as so many boys his age did back then, and it helped him gain confidence and develop self-discipline. By the time he was 18, he had earned his Eagle Scout badge, his greatest achievement to that point.

As I looked through the pile of his things, I found other mememtos he had kept. In addition to the badge was his sash containing recognition of all the work he had done to achieve it.

sash

A small cross given to him by his parents bears the inscription, Jesus Christ is Lord. Though his parents followed the Methodist tradition, they were not terribly religious. My grandmother tended more toward Spiritualism. The cross was merely symbolic.

A belt buckle made in England must have been part of his Army uniform when just a year after he completed his Eagle Scout requirements he joined the WWII effort and was sent to Germany. His dog tags, also bearing his mother’s name and address, are attached to a chain with a Belgian coin and a medal of protection.

There is also a tiny Rotary pin from his honorary position in their organization and a stamp with his signature that he perhaps had used to sign official documents of baptism, marriage, and death for those whose services he’d performed.

The most important piece, though, is a simple gold band that represented what would truly be his greatest achievements as husband and father.

But even though my father’s life followed a pretty typical trajectory for men of his era, Dad was not a follower and I think his time with the Boy Scouts of America taught him the kind of leadership he would eventually espouse when, rather than creating expectations that anyone follow his path, he taught others how to find the best in themselves so that they could serve their communities, families, and country to the best of their ability.

badgeI’ll never forget when one of my childhood friends, a boy in whom my dad saw much of himself, a shy and awkward guy who had suffered much derision, asked my father to be the one to present the Eagle Scout award to him in his own ceremony. Short of having been able to pin it on one of his own sons, I think that was one of Dad’s proudest moments.

I don’t know what the BSA is like now. The world has changed drastically since my dad was a Scout; even since my friend was. Challenges abound in helping young boys stay a course that will teach them the values they need to be responsible, upstanding men. The idea of turning any of them away makes no sense to me.

If my father were alive today, he would be calling on the courage and character the BSA helped him develop by encouraging inclusion of all who wish to follow the example set by so many who have benefitted from the organization. It is time to teach young men to value each other in ways that go beyond the inspiration of their hormones. If the BSA is allowed to teach disrespect for anyone, then I suspect the material collection of character that represents my father’s life was all for naught. This is not what his life’s work was about.

Here’s hoping that a new day is dawning in the evolution of character in this country.

Letting Go of a Preacher’s Wife

On October 22, 1966, my mother’s life ended.

At just forty years old, aggressive melanoma had invaded her body and within a year she was gone, leaving behind a husband and five children, one of whom was only eleven months old.

Jean

Jean Anderson Fenner, 1926-1966

She also left behind a life riddled with the scars created by pervasive mental illness. Periodic episodes of bipolar psychosis (at the time diagnosed as schizophrenia), required that this dynamic, socially energetic minister’s wife spend time in a sanitarium until her mood stabilized.

Fortunately, there was a congregation of some of the most supportive people in the world who stood by our family and helped shepherd us through these crises, people who showed up each Sunday to learn how to love others in the very way they were doing with us. You might think my dad had set this up as a test to see if they were ready. They passed with flying colors.

In a letter to this congregation, my dad, a proud, strong man who lived to help others, poured out the details of that difficult period:

My Dear Friends,

There is so much that I want to say to you, but suddenly, if you can believe it, I find myself struggling for words. We have confided in each other so much over the years. I have shared many of my innermost thoughts with you and have laid my soul bare for your understanding on many an occasion. Now, memories and events are flooding in on me so fast and furiously that I find it difficult to give expression to my present feelings. Bear with me if you will as I try to say what fills all my thoughts today.

Last night, at about eight o’clock, my Jean died. Death came like a welcome breath of fresh air, blowing away all the months of unbelievable pain and agony that she had suffered. At last she is at rest, freed of the frightful struggle through which she went so uncomplainingly and with courage and faith such as I have never seen before.

Jean was the most remarkable person I have ever known and to know her was to love her. She had a warmth and a capacity for understanding which was rare. Her insights into people and events were always a source of wonder to me. People were drawn to her as to a magnet. During her prolonged illness so many people came to see her to offer their help and concern and went away knowing that she had done for them far more than they ever could for her. She had a capacity for concern that often put people off balance. She had a fantastic memory for recalling people’s needs and problems, all about their families and their aspirations.

Despite her frequent illnesses over the years, she was the strong rock for her children and an inexhaustible source of wisdom to them. She loved them so much and it was heartbreaking to see her looking at them from her bed, knowing that she would not be here to see them to adulthood. But she gave them something that twice her forty years might not have been able to accomplish. She gave them a portion of that amazing courage which welled up inside her and showed through that smile which was hers until the end.

A year ago she was given only three to six months to live, but she had a job to finish and so she stayed on to see it through. Her new and beautiful home was a shining dream that had to be realized. She planned it all and watched it take shape. I can see her now, in great pain, struggling with her walker or her wheelchair to get to the builder’s office or the paint store to see to it that all would be done right for her family. And then, when it was ready, we moved in and she asked to have her bed put in the dining room where she could be in the center of things as a good mother should be. After that she let go a little and gradually she slipped downhill.

She was so grateful to all of those who remembered her with visits or with a card or letter. It meant so much to her to know that she was not forgotten. She cannot thank you, but I can, from the bottom of my heart.

I am much relieved now, for I know that she no longer hurts, that the long hard fight is over. I would not call her back even for a moment, even though I am experiencing such a great sense of emptiness and loneliness. She is free. We last spoke together on Saturday afternoon. We repeated the funny little litany that we had used for so long. As I put my hand on her burning forehead above the oxygen mask, I said, as I had said countless times before, “You’re awfully sweet.” Gasping and slowly she replied, “You’re awfully sweeter.” And perhaps I am, because I shared seventeen years of her life.

Faithfully,
Ray Fenner

Religion will take its share of ridicule when it steps beyond its bounds, but believing that this example is what was intended by the commandment that we love one another, I take comfort that the majority of those who endeavor to follow in the footsteps of Jesus know that this is what He was talking about.

4 Quotes That Prove I’m An Insensitive Heathen

I think my dad would be proud of me.

I ticked off some high and mighty Christians last week.

Feeling frisky and not a little irritated by the insistence of some in the majority religion in our country that we bow down and honor their traditions, I let fly with a few juicy remarks on Facebook:

First there was:

“My little pal asked, “What’s Good Friday?” so I asked him, “What do you think it is?” He replied, “Any Friday when there’s no school?” and I said, “Right”.”

And then there was:

“In honor of the events of yore celebrated by the upcoming holiday that purportedly saved us all from our sins, I will attempt something equally miraculous this weekend by completing my taxes, thus saving myself from prison.”

Followed by (and this one really stung ’em):

“As of about noon on Easter Sunday it will be April Fool’s Day somewhere in the world which is actually pretty appropriate if you think about it because to some people the whole resurrection story is like the greatest April Fool’s prank EV-ER!”

Finally, when enough people had private-messaged me to express their displeasure, I offered a mea culpa:

“Easter is arguably the most important time of year for Christians. It has stood for more than 2000 years (give or take) as the seminal event in the establishment of a way of viewing the world and our role in it. I respect and honor those who seek a deeper understanding of its meaning. 

When I make light of some of this extremely diverse religion’s underpinnings, it is with intent to remind Christians of how non-Christians see them and reflects the kind of Christianity I grew up with — the sort that doesn’t take itself too seriously lest it wander into that dark place that has for centuries justified itself in committing gross abuses of power. Even today, many of us continue to be squeezed in its mighty fist rather than caressed by its loving hand.

To you for whom this day holds great significance, I wish you peace on your journey and hope that you will continue to live your lives in the spirit of Jesus’ love and grace.”

Yup, I pushed the proverbial envelope (BTW, in which verse is the proverbial envelope mentioned?), but in the end, I don’t feel all that bad about it. Dear old Dad had no problem taking people down a notch or two when they became too sanctimonious for their britches. If there was anything that really rankled him, it was people who hid behind kitschy phrases to prove their piety. He was a master of the parable and most often accomplished his religious rebukes through sly humor. A little caustic at times, biting, but ultimately effective.

I’m not one to judge, but if Christianity is to survive and grow in a way that  brings people in rather than chasing them away, it’s going to have to get better at camouflaging itself in such a way that people don’t see it as a blinding beacon emanating from the control tower of a mega-church, but rather, as a tiny night-light in the darkness, helping to keep people from stubbing their toes unnecessarily.

So, I guess my point in all of this is to remind people to just BE the light that others want to gravitate toward; don’t shine it in their eyes if you don’t want them to freak out and run away.