Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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