January 4th, 2009 by Sonja

We’ve had a special guest visiting here at the LightHouse the past few weeks.  She has been a very good guest and has made no intrusions in our routines.  She hasn’t asked anything particularly difficult of us.  She’s very bright and inquisitive and, importantly, gets along well with Sam and Monty.  Her name is Sally and we are really loving her.

Sally and me - Christmas day

We’re taking care of her for a friend while he visits his parents until early next week.  She’s going to leave a hole in our hearts when she’s gone back home.

Sally being cuteIt has been amusing watching all the pets get used to one another.  Sam has had the worst time of it.  You see he has no concept of his actual size and does not understand why she gets to *be* a lap dog and he does not.  After all, to his pea-sized brain, he’s earned it.  She’s done nothing but waltz in here, jump onto the sofa and look cute.  What’s up with that?

We had a really funny moment on Christmas morning.  Both Sally and Sam had been given rawhide bones to chew on as a special treat.  Sam took to his right away and went through about half of it before losing interest in it because he wanted to go outside for a while.  Sally then took over.  Well, not exactly.  She came to the bone.  Sniffed it.  Realized it was too big for her and promptly decided to stand guard over it.  None of which the humans were aware of.  We did know, however, that Sam had left the bone in the midst of the walkway from the door at the back deck to the eating area in the kitchen.  Pretty soon, Monty (the cat) came in through the door and nonchalantly made his way toward the eating area.  He was on a mission to his food dish in the laundry room.  He was also unaware of the bone.  As most of us know, rawhide bones are beneath the notice of any self-respecting cat.  Sally had not received that memo.  Everyone in the room was startled by the sudden eruption of snarling, barking and growling that Monty received as he attempted to walk past the (non-existent to him) bone.  No one was more surprised than the cat.  Sally was very pleased with herself and promptly came to me, wagging her tail and smiling, proud of a guard job well done.

Monty spent an hour in the livingroom wondering just what had happened to him.

It was hilarious to watch.  And there was absolutely nothing we could have done to change it.  There was no explaining to any of the animals how they didn’t need to worry about each other.  It’s just been something they have to learn.

I’ve been thinking about that incident quite a bit lately.  It was funny to be sure.  Remembering the look on Monty’s face has elicited a laugh on more than one occasion.  But I’ve also been wondering about it a lot too.  I’ve been thinking about all the times that we humans do the same thing that Sally did.  How many times do we do that?  Do we lash out, snarl, bark and growl to protect something that was never being threatened in the first place?  We think someone walking by our *stuff* is out to get it so we lash out at them, but the reality is they’re on their way to the food bowl in the other room.  Then we’re pretty happy with how well we’ve protected our *stuff* (whatever that stuff might be) so we turn to our communities with our metaphorical tails wagging and we go to them seeking approval.  But for no earthly reason we just sent someone into the livingroom wondering what the h*ll happened and why.

I guess doing that makes us human.

Then I look at Sam and his insatiable desire to be noticed, loved on and sit on my lap.  This would not be a bad thing except for the fact that Sam weighs almost 90 pounds and has a lot of fur.  A lot.  He’s a golden retriever.  They are known for many wonderful qualities … being a lap dog is not one of them.  Poor Sam.  He just cannot reconcile how Sally gets to waltz through the door and onto our laps.  She gets to sit there, cuddle up and sleep.  He has to take his daily 10 hour nap on the floor.  And wonders why he’s been a bad dog.  Or what Sally has done to merit such undeserved favor.

You’d think from Sam’s attitude and behavior this week that no one has noticed him since Sally came to town.  That he never gets fed, loved, petted or anything.  However, just the reverse has been true.  We’ve spent more time with him in an effort to overcome his feelings of inadequacy.  And we’ve played with both dogs together.  Now that is an interesting sight … playing with a 90 pound dog and a 25 pound dog together.  But they get along famously and do well side by side.

How often do we do that?  We humans do this all the time.  We carve out little kingdoms for ourselves … tiny areas of carpet and declare them ours.  Then someone else waltzes in and does it better.  Hops up and gets all the applause.  I remember the first time I recognized it in myself.  I’d learned how to cook and bake when I was quite young and by the time I was a teen made all the desserts in my family.  Then my younger brother came along and learned how to bake bread from scratch.  At first, I was so jealous and annoyed with his ability that I could not even enjoy his bread.  It only took two or three batches and I overcame that tendency.  I mean … who can withstand freshly baked bread!!  And he has the knack for it.  I’ve never been able to quite get it with the yeast.  So … I do a lot of other things well (like cake :-) ), but bread has escaped me.  Big deal.

What about in church?  How many times are there people who have a place they’ve made for themselves and believe it to be “God ordained” … then a Sally waltzes in, hops up on the sofa and they’re left sleeping on the floor.    How can that be?  Their place, their kingdom … it was God ordained, no one else can have it.  Certainly not that Sally-come-lately.  She must have some nefarious purpose.  He must be up to something evil.  Whoever they are, that Sally-come-lately, they are out to get Sam.  They want to knock Sam off his standing in his community.  That’s what they’re up to … make him/her lose their status, standing or favor.

Here’s the thing … Sam was never wired to hop up on the sofa and he doesn’t see that she does sleep on the floor sometimes.  He also doesn’t see that Sally adores him.  Or that the whole family doesn’t care that he can’t get on the sofa (in fact, we prefer that he doesn’t).  We love Sam for being Sam and there are things he can do that Sally cannot (like run and catch a ball).  We love Sally for her traits.  And despite the fact that Monty wakes us up in the middle of the night more consistently than our children ever did, we love him too. I think it has something to do with his really loud purr.  But we never expect Monty to act like Sam, or Sam to act like Monty or Sally to act like any of them.  We respond to each of them individually and love them each individually.

Admittedly, Sam and Sally and Monty are pets and rather simple to parse out.  A church is made up of people; a much more complex behavioral system and far more difficult to work our way through. I think, though, the principles are the same.  Sam and Sally and Monty can be symbolic of both individuals and groups within a larger group.  Some are lap dogs, others are retrievers, and still others are cats.  Some people are oblivious to that bone  and/or area of carpet you’re so zealously guarding.  When you growl, snarl and bark at them, they are going to retreat in horror and wonder what the h*ll happened.  Sometimes it will take them years to nurse their wounds … especially if you add a parfait of deceit, gossip, emotional bullying, and condemnation to their head as they leave.  Some people are wondering why it looks so easy for the Sally-come-lately and others don’t know she was once an abandoned dog with problems of her own.

The thing is the church, however you want to define that sacred space or community of faith, is supposed to be different.  Jesus gave us a beautiful description of what we’re supposed to look like in the book of John.  He said, “… you’ll be known by your love.”  Further on in his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul gave us a description of love that has withstood the test of time:

 1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (italics are mine for emphasis)

I think this is a description of God’s economy.  The economy we were created to enjoy.  The one in which there is enough for everyone.  Enough love, enough money, enough time … enough.  That economy where greed, and pride and envy do not rip and tear at us every day.  Unfortunately, the economy we live in is limited and finite, rather than infinite.  We forget that we have access to the infinite, especially to the infinite love that God has made available to us.  And church, that sacred space, that community of faith becomes just like any other group of humans.  Mean.  Nasty.  Brutish.  And short.  To (mis)quote Thomas Hobbes.  We lose our grip on the Divine and hang on to the corporeal plane with our fingernails.

We bark and snarl and snap at people who are oblivious to our rawhide bones or other preciously guarded objects.  We are jealous of others’ talents or abilities as they waltz through the door and seemingly into the spotlight.  We cause wounds on the souls of others that may take a lifetime to heal in response to them just being.  This is not the church that Jesus called us to.  This is not love.  This is humans being human rather than humans in constant contact with the Divine.

As I face 2009 and am now nearly two years away from my CLB, I’ve come to realize a number of things.

I am unforgiven.  When I left my CLB, the most hurtful thing that was said and done was to tell me that I could not be forgiven for obliviously walking past the rawhide bone.  I tried apologizing, but since I didn’t know what I’d done (and, um, walking through the room isn’t wrong in the first place), my apology was not very well done.  And, you guessed it, I walked through the room again, so I was deemed unrepentant as well.

It has taken me nearly two years, the help of some wonderful friends and a really good counselor, but I’m finally at the place where I’m strong enough to say that being unforgiven is not my problem.  My state of condemnation is not my doing and it’s not my undoing.  It is not my responsibility.   Eventually, I will also be free from the guilt and harm that came with it.

Doing these things, participating in these things, having these feelings … those things do not make one evil.  Those are all human qualities.  However, when one wallows in them and fails to allow Jesus to pull them out of that muck; preaching one thing on Sunday morning (for instance, a passage from James about only thinking the best of each other) then using your position as leader in the church during the following week to spread lies, slander and gossip … in the church this is known as evil behavior, in the secular world it is known as bullying behavior.  Using your position as leader to triangulate and create divisions … that is evil.  Using your position to attempt to create division within my 19+ year marriage by telling my husband in meetings, “I know this is going to be hard for you to hear, but you don’t really know her …” bullying, evil behavior.

For nearly two years now I believed there was some grain of truth to the lies and the slander.  They did untold damage to me, to my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my children, they wounded my husband and my children as well.  They wounded my best friends and my relationships with them.  It is doubtful that our family will ever darken the door of a church again.  The wounds have caused my children to turn their backs on their budding faith; they no longer want anything to do with the things of God, nor want Him spoken of in their presence.  The poison is bitter.  But I’ve come to the place where I know that initially I did nothing wrong.  I did not respond well to attack and I am gravely sorry for my part in defending myself.  But walking through the room on my way to the food dish is nothing to be sorry for, nor is being able to jump up on the sofa when others are not.

I have to say that I am glad 2008 is over.  It was not nearly as bad or hopeless as 2007, but it came close.  I’m looking forward to 2009.  I’m looking forward because I’m ready now to turn around and look ahead.  I’m ready now to let this all go; it is finished.  Will I continue to grieve?  You bet.  But I think the worst is over now.  I’m slowly (re)learning what it’s like to be in communitas again.  Really be in community with people who listen.  It’s an amazing experience and a true gift from my Papa who continues to love me.

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