Thursday, February 9, 2017

More Musings From the Mutt

by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Published in the December 2016 issue of the 
Carolina Compass Faith supplement to the 

     In last month's Carolina Compass I recalled the twelve year relationship that I had with my late Black-Lab/Beagle mix, Sabrina, who died in October, discussed the adoption of Bee, my Black-Lab/Pit Bull mix who had previously been abused, and noted how her period of our getting used to each other had progressed up until that point. While I don't intend to produce a monthly journal of how things are progressing, Bee succeeded in providing another teachable moment since my last entry.
     It wasn't long after I brought Bee home that I noticed that she needed to be put on a leash to be moved upstairs and downstairs even within my house; furthermore, when letting her out in the yard I would have to go out, put her on the leash, and bring her back into the house on the leash (when she decided to hide out in some shrubbery that included some thorns late one night I ended up donning my gore-tex parka and heavy gloves and diving into the shrubbery to retrieve her). I suspect that this behavior is less a result of her abuse than her extended stay at the SPCA for the healing of her burn and other health issues – they lead animals to various points in their facility on leashes and I believe she became institutionalized. Curiously, she's mellowed a bit and will now go upstairs unleashed but has to be led back downstairs.
     With the cooler weather I've taken to taking her to ride along with me on Fridays as I go to visit my patients – I wouldn't want to leave her in the car in warm weather but on cool days that's not an issue. It seems to assist in our bonding and gets her out of the house. She doesn't stay under my feet at home but at my office she invariably stays close to me if I go to the copier or likewise move about. A couple of weeks ago I was driving with her making visits when I heard an unusual chewing noise and upon further investigation noticed that she'd chewed through the leather leash that I had bought before getting her. To the pet store we went that evening to procure a new, nylon, leash. Shortly after that, confident that I had acted as a wise and responsible master, I took her for a walk around the neighborhood; something startled her and she got out of the leather collar that I'd purchased in preparation for her adoption and run down the street taking cover under a neighbor's pickup truck. There I was, lying on the ground in the dark beside the truck when the neighbor and his wife returned home – prompting him to wonder what the strange man was doing to his truck. Fortunately they were both understanding and helpful in loaning me some dog treats to prod her out. At the suggestion of some friends I purchased a Martingale collar, which has a much more secure fit, and that's no longer an issue.
     By now you may be thinking, “Well, that's nice, but this is in the faith section so where's the faith application?” Simply put, it occurred to me that Bee's tenuous relationships with her collars and leashes are not unlike the errors that people fall into regarding God's Law.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
     making wise the simple;
 the precepts of the Lord are right,
     rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
     enlightening the eyes;
  the fear of the Lord is clean,
     enduring forever;
the rules[ of the Lord are true,
     and righteous altogether.
  More to be desired are they than gold,
     even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. – Psalm 19 7-10 (ESV)

God's Law is good – indeed perfect – given to us so that we might know how to live but we in our sinful nature rebel against it and resist it. At times it may feel constraining, as Bee's leash might, but the licentiousness that passes for freedom often comes at our detriment. She may have felt free when she wiggled out of her collar and was able to run down the street as she wished but she could've easily been hit (thankfully the traffic was light where I was walking her). As my friend the Rev'd Dr. Mark Ross, Professor of Theology at Erskine TheologicalSeminary, has noted, you cannot cut across the grain of the sovereign creator of the universe without getting cosmic splinters. While a locomotive may be limited by the tracks on which it runs it only works properly on those tracks.
     At the same time, there are misuses of God's Law. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law perfectly and as a Southerner, who enjoys barbecue and shrimp, I am thankful that He did. Legalism can hinder us from enjoying the liberty that we have in Christ. I look forward to the day that Bee realizes that she can wander throughout my house at will but right now she's limiting herself. We also misuse God's Law when we turn to it, and to our own efforts, rather than relying on God's Grace: “ For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9 [ESV]). We must never loose sight of the fact that we don't earn our salvation and right relationship with God by being good enough, rather it is all of grace.
     Bee will, I trust, come to terms with her leash when being on it is in her best interests while feeling free to roam about her home when she may do so. Likewise, I hope that we as Christians embrace God's Law not out of drudgery or bargaining Him but our of gratitude for the grace and mercy He has shown us through Christ Jesus.

     The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr. is an Anglican priest who currently serves as Chaplain for a local hospice. He may be contacted at drew.collins [at] gmail.com 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sweet Bee and Sanctification

by Charles A. Collins, Jr.
Published in the December 2016 issue of the 
Carolina Compass Faith supplement to the 
Charleston Mercury

On July 22, 2204, a black lab-mix (probably with beagle) of around 18-months to two years old (the SPCA said two years but her veterinarian, looking at her teeth [like horses, the most reliable way to age dogs] said 18 months) named Sabrina entered my home and my life. She was a great dog and saw me though good times and bad, triumphs and loss (to include the death of my mother) and I was blessed to have her in my life. Sadly, on October 20, after a brief period of having a reduced appetite, she died suddenly – while I was prepared to have her put down when I loaded her into my car to go to the vet that morning her peaceful death enroute precluded me from having to make that painful decision. While she had lived a good and remarkably healthy life until her very last days, she was a member of the family (and as a childless bachelor it could be argued that she was my immediate family) and the sorrow was profound.
Friends and some family (particularly my Dad) suggested immediately getting another dog. I had to wait a brief while to mourn Sabrina's loss but I had glanced at the Doc Williams SPCA website to see what dogs were available and had noticed another black lab-mix named Bee (that my paternal grandmother was named Beatrice and known to many as “Bea” [granted, a different spelling, but the dog doesn't know] didn't hurt). I stopped by their office not to look at dogs but to thank them for the happiness that Sabrina had brought into my life (it occurred to me that they see the front end of adoptions but not the final outcome) and hadn't planned to look at dogs but they had them in runs right beside the parking lot – brilliant marketing in my opinion. I asked which one was Bee and they pointed me to a dog that, while having a good deal of black lab in her also unmistakably had some pit bull in her as well – I have described her as looking like someone cut the head off of a pit bull and stuck it on a lab's body. I also noticed a hairless scar running down her back where someone had burned her, most likely by pouring lye onto her. The thought of the abuse that that dog had endured pulled at my heartstrings.
I didn't adopt her that day but on a Saturday, November 5, after cleaning out the dog crate and buying a new leash, lead, and bowls (those things being kind of individual items) I went to the SPCA and reasoned that if Bee had been adopted that would mean that God didn't want me to have her. Well, she was there, albeit a bit skittish. The staff thought that she had been abused by a man and had noted that while she was tentative around both men and women she was moreso with men but that she had warmed to staff of both sexes. After talking to them and being observed by them to try to read how she'd interact with me the fee was paid, the paperwork was completed, and I brought her home.
It's been a learning experience for us both and it has occurred to me that the process has been similar in many ways to the sanctification – the putting off of our old selves and the putting on of our new selves in Christ (Colossians 3:9, 10) – which is a lifelong process for us as Christians. It is hard for me to get into the mind of someone who would abuse a dog but I'm pretty sure that whomever the person was that hurt Bee didn't just wake up one day and decide to pour lye or whatever burned her back onto her. That scar is obvious, but I'm sure that she has other, invisible and non-physical wounds. So it is with my own sinfulness – “there is no health in us [and me]” as the Prayer of Confession from Morning and Evening Prayer in the historic Book of Common Prayer reads. While the external may be a model of respectability, “...the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b ESV).
As we have gotten to know one another the building of trust has been crucial. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5 ESV) At first she was tentative in trusting me. At the suggestion of the SPCA staff I give her dog treats frequently while working, watching television, or reading and she has begun to trust me but that's still a work in progress (they estimated that it may take a month and in some ways things have happened quicker than I hoped – Bee sleeps on my bed and unlike Sabrina, who preferred to curl up at my feet, she prefers to curl up near my shoulder). One day, hopefully, she'll gaze upon me with a look of uninhibited trust. In much the same way, I need to learn to trust in God – the big difference being that He will never fail me.
Sometimes she is stubborn – I've joked that I've figured out what the “bull” in “pit bull” means: bull headed. Likewise I am far too frequently stubborn and resistant to where God is leading me. Again, the difference being that His leadership and His love, unlike mine, are perfect.
I'm enjoying building a relationship with Bee. She has a genuinely sweet countenance (I've yet to hear her growl or even bark and most of the time is responsive to my leading) and I often call her “Sweet Bee.” I hope that as we grow closer I grow ever closer to God as I am conformed to His image and renewed by His grace.

The Rev'd Charles A. Collins, Jr., is an Anglican priest who serves as a chaplain for a local hospice. He may be contacted at drew.collins [at] gmail.com