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.

Sin and Sensibility

IMG_4502Every Sunday morning, a middle-aged man and his father would take their usual seat in one of the front pews of our small town New Hampshire church. They lived on the square in one of the oldest houses in our little village of about 3,000 people and belonged to one of the original families in town.

As with many others I knew when I was growing up, I didn’t think much about them at the time. They were fixtures, part of the framework of my existence with their constant, quiet presence. It wasn’t until years later when I first watched Ken Burns’ series “The Civil War” that I began to put pieces together.

These two men were descendants of the young soldier around whose writings much of the documentary was based and it was through the extensive and careful archiving of their family history that we were able to see the experience of our country’s great struggle through the eyes of a patriotic and courageous young man. These ancestors of a fellow whose letters had given shape and depth to an important piece of our history sat next to each other each Sunday listening raptly to the sermon, gleaning wisdom as carefully as they had with the lore of their own family.

Recently, my mother added a piece to the puzzle that allowed me to reframe their role. It seems the son, who worked as a librarian and archivist at a small local liberal arts college, was gay. I’m not sure what that explains exactly, other than that it allows me to connect dots I hadn’t considered before and examine what it would have been like to be a gay man in the ’70s in a small New England town.

In those days, there was really no talk about homosexuals though I’m sure there were many others in our town. But they were also hidden, simply living their lives and participating in our community. Back then, other than the occasional speculative whisper, there was no acknowledgement of gay people, let alone the idea of marriage. I wonder now what would have happened if this man had made an issue about who he was. I wonder how those trusted people of my youth would have reacted.

When I look through the lens of hindsight, remembering my own life there as a hidden gay person, the fear of being ostracized by my community drove my energies in other directions as I sought to perfect aspects of myself that would be above disparagement. The last thing on my mind was committing “sin” against my community by engaging in relationship with someone of the same sex. Perhaps, like this man, I wanted to prove my worth by being devoted to my neighbors through my presence and contributions among them.

Today, all these years and changes in perception later, rather than thinking of homosexuality as a sinI choose to reframe it as a sensibility. If we are all made in the image of God, then we are all creators, though some of us don’t necessarily fit the traditional definition as creators of other human beings. A great many of us are artists and performers whose creations take the form of reframing history and showing a new vision for the world.

In my updated vision for what would have happened had my dad lived a longer life, I see that church crowd standing high on the hillside where Dad had married many couples before under the wide open sky of what he once described as “God’s Greatest Cathedral”, using the powers vested in him to wed that devoted young man to the love of his life that, together, without shame, they might continue to create new visions of our past to help reshape the future.

Of Purple Fur, Stryker Frames, and Changing Paradigms

sure11-e1263490212475A fluffy white dog I walked this morning had two patches of bright purple in the fur just above her ears. I’d never seen that before and immediately my brain started flipping through the files of why it might be there. Some sort of new flea medicine? Markers for holes drilled in her skull to drain fluid or to put her in traction on a Stryker frame?

Going through the possibilities made me think of the scene in “Mrs. Doubtfire” I caught last night where her identity is revealed and Sally Field’s face goes through a litany of expressions as her brain tries to process a thousand flashbacks at once, struggling to make sense of what she is seeing. Ultimately, the emotion that overwhelms her is anger.

This led me to think about the process people must have gone through when they were told that the world was not flat but spherical. Nothing they could see, nothing they’d ever been told, supported this new idea. Those who insisted there was nothing to be afraid of were branded heathens and heretics. Anger must have been the only way to protect themselves from the confusion of feeling like they had to defend something that had never really been important to think about but was now suddenly crucial to their very way of life.

This is what the idea of marriage equality looks like to me. Something that was a given, a societal expectation that people took part in because in most cases it was easier to be married than not, suddenly looks completely different to them because they are being asked to look at long held views in another way. Their very safety feels threatened, not physically, but emotionally. What they have been told to believe is being challenged, which is frightening and on some level humiliating, and the fear manifests itself in anger and rejection of the perceived threat.

How we see things will always change. There’s no stopping it, no matter how hard we try not to look. The earth has been proved to be round, marriage equality will come to pass, and it turns out that the purple patches on the dog’s head were just feather clips that happen to mimic the texture of the fur. No purple dye or holes in the skull after all.

Sally Field eventually comes around to embrace a part of her husband she had become blind to, and someone in a Stryker frame who has been staring at the ceiling can count on the fact that eventually they’ll be flipped over and have to spend time examining the floor. If we don’t voluntarily change our perspective when new evidence is revealed, it will be changed for us. That’s the nature of progress.

Time does indeed heal, but not before a thousand different emotions play out in our minds, and where the examination of the meaning of love is concerned, patience is not only a virtue but a necessity.

We’ll get there……..