Did Jesus Have a Dog?

I first wrote this reflection in the beginning of December- I had been thinking a lot about dogs lately, probably because our old boy, Okie, was showing signs of his age and I had prepared myself for the worst when we finally took him to the vet. It was after that visit when, miracle of miracles we were told he would be with us awhile longer- only arthritis, that pesky aging of the joints that comes with years of use. After that appointment I penned the following, feeling relief that soon turned to disappointment and grief. It was a misdiagnosis, not arthritis after all, but rather a degenerative neurological disease that German Shepherds are particularly prone to. We said good bye to Okie a week later, setting him free to run in eternal green pastures.

Amelia, Okie, and Auden

But it got me thinking about dogs. More specifically, it set me to wondering if Jesus had a dog. This is a question posed once- or perhaps more than once- by beloved professor and pastor Heather Murray Elkins. I remember she concluded in a sermon once that, yes, of course, Jesus must have had a dog- but I can’t remember how she arrived at that conclusion.

So I’ll do my own musing.

I’d like to think that Jesus had a dog. Even though there are no mentions of a canine companion in any of the four canonical gospels, I think Jesus was the kind of person who must have had a dog.

Surely there was at least one dog in the stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps a big, woolly sheepdog who accompanied the shepherds, whose very presence brought added warmth and comfort that night. Or maybe a smaller herding dog, like Fyfe or Pink or Finch, who sat alert with ears perked and head cocked, taking in the sights and smells while waiting with barely contained energy for their next command. Yes, I think there must have been a dog in Bethlehem.

The nativity scene in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City. Beside Mary is a dog.
Finch, an Old Scotch Collie and natural nanny dog

Surely there was a dog who trotted alongside him as he walked the shores of Galilee. Who nosed the nets of fishermen, licking salt brined bits of bait from outstretched fingers. Who never strayed too far, yet had the freedom to roam, a sharp whistle bringing them back to the Master’s side. Maybe it was the dog that helped James and John let down their guard to follow the stranger that said, “Follow me.” You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their dog- yes, I think there must have been a dog by the sea.

Surely there was a dog among the lost, the last, and the least. A dog among the crowds of those who pressed against one another to get to the Healer, each one needing or wanting something only he could give. Maybe there was a dog like Maui, a young street dog who was terrified of the world, except when shown love by one person. Perhaps Jesus knelt down and simply held out his hand, waiting as he first shied away snarling, but then relaxed upon seeing there was nothing to be afraid of, finally dropping the tough facade to come forward for a pat on the head.

Maui, brought to the United States from the streets of Guatemala

Or maybe Jesus had an old dog, a dog with lumps and bumps who had been left behind. If the Good Shepherd would go in search of a wayward lamb then surely he would also carry an arthritic dog across his shoulders to bring him Home. A dog like Okie, who wants nothing more than to lay at your feet and be given crumbs from the table. Yes, there must have been a dog among the least, the last, and the lost.

“Old Man Okie”

Surely there was a dog who kept watch, a sentinel, as Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray. A dog like A.C., who quietly guarded the ones he loved, there with a gentle lick when needed, a formidable force of nature. Loyal, steadfast, and true.

A.C. keeping watch over Auden and Amelia

This, then, is the problem, the bone to chew on.

Because if Jesus had a dog we couldn’t have had the passion. If Jesus had a dog he would not have been alone in the garden. No need to command A.C. to stay awake, watch, and pray as he the disciples. The dog would have sat guard all night, eyes unblinking, until morning came.

A.C. and Amelia

There’s no way Jesus could have been taken, not if he had a dog like Davi, who would have thrown his body between the soldiers and his Master, teeth bared in the torchlight, hackles bristling, ready to lay down his life for his friend. Knowing he had to die, Jesus couldn’t have had a dog- you can’t explain crucifixion and resurrection to a dog who would wait outside Herod’s gate, and at the foot of the cross, and outside the tomb for as long as it took for the Master to return.

Davi, a Brazilian mastiff

Jesus couldn’t do that to a dog.

So he must have contented himself to give pets and belly rubs to other people’s dogs before heading out on the road.

I don’t think Jesus had a dog- but I’m sure he loved them.

Three Blankets

This post was originally written and published on Facebook in December 2017. Since then my little toddlers have grown into 5 year old kindergartners, and we are now washing and folding new blankets in preparation for their long-awaited sister.

December 2017, Belvidere, NJ

Today is the longest, darkest night of the year. For some this day will go, unmarked, a day like any other day. Others will be celebrating the winter solstice. Many Christians will gather tonight for a special service, a Blue Christmas service, a time to acknowledge that the holidays are not always joyful for everyone. A time to remember our loved ones who will not be seated at our Christmas feasts. A time to find hope in the midst of darkness.

I don’t have any fancy prayers or poems to share tonight- only a story. A story of a blanket. Or rather, three.

Trigger warning: pregnancy loss mentioned

Back in the summer of 2012 I had an early miscarriage. In the darkness of my grief I needed a sign, a symbol, that could give me hope. I bought a pack of muslin swaddling blankets, blue and white, and tucked them away except for when I needed to touch them to hold onto hope for a pregnancy with a different outcome. I became pregnant with twin girls, two bright lights in my life and the world. But the blankets I had bought were blue, and besides, we had been showered with an abundance of blankets when the girls were born, many carefully crafted by the hands of loved ones. And so the three blankets went unused, for the time being at least.

The first was used when our beloved cat, Vinny died unexpectedly. We wrapped him gently in a swaddling cloth and buried him in the yard of a dear friend.

The second was used to cushion precious, fragile items when we moved from one parsonage to another.

The third and final blanket has finally found its purpose.

Outside my husband’s church is a nativity scene. Baby Jesus came early this year, and as I walked my daughters to school they became very worried about poor Baby Jesus, sleeping all night out in the bitter cold. At first they wanted to bring him in, but I explained he had to stay where he was, so that people could see him. How would we keep the baby warm? “I have an idea!” my one daughter said, and she stomped up our steps on her sturdy toddler legs, on a mission. She emerged with a blanket in her hand, a blue and white blanket that had been tucked away in the back of a closet. Then, ever so gently, she tucked it around Baby Jesus before kissing him good night.

Countless people have remarked on how sweet it is, to see Baby Jesus tucked into the manger, a blanket to keep him warm. For me, it is beyond “sweet”- it is a holy mystery. For the blanket my daughter chose was the one I bought after I lost my first baby, who should have been born on Easter. Now it is laid lovingly on the Baby Jesus, who came so that we might have hope, and peace, and joy… and life.

An Autumn Sabbath Day

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

It’s a Wednesday in early November, and I am declaring today as my sabbath. I have to confess that I’m really bad at taking sabbath time, although I’m really good at encouraging other people to do it. It may seem un-Sabbath-like to create a to-list (after all, aren’t we supposed to rest on the Sabbath!?) but writing helps me to set my intentions, and hold myself accountable so that this un-scheduled time at home today doesn’t get filled with frivolous tasks and a trip to Target.

On this Sabbath day, I will:

-light a candle and diffuse my favorite essential oils to help center myself

-enjoy a shower rather than rushing through it

-finally roast the squash that was given to me by a church member, giving thanks for the harvest and her generosity in sharing

-go outside and rake the leaves- or just go outside

-fold laundry (because it never ends) but do so with a spirit of care and gratitude for the clothes themselves and the people/bodies that wear them

-maybe do the bulletin. Or not. Because this is, after all, a Sabbath day.

I hope your day is filled with moments of intention and blessings. ❤

Horror in the Hen House

“Chickens rarely die of old age.”

I’ve said this countless times, usually to the youth that has volunteered to watch my flock while I’m out of town visiting family or attending a conference. Their eyes always grow wide at the possibility that a predator will sneak into the coop while under their watch- I say it to preemptively let them off the hook, just in case something happens. It’s not your fault, these things happen, it’s the circle of life… chickens rarely die of old age.

I whispered these words to myself this morning, sometime between 4 and 5am as the sounds of frantic birds and a wild animal woke me from sleep. I admit, with only a little shame, that I did not race down the stairs as I usually do at the sound of a disturbance. It was clear it was already too late, so I laid there, listening, reminding myself of the circle of life.

I was certain we had lost them all, so you can imagine my surprise when my husband shared that we still had three hens unscathed. How do we keep them safe? With no clear sign of entry, how can we make sure our remaining three make it through another night? This is how I will spend the rest of my day: checking the perimeter, reinforcing weak spots, fixing the sliding door to the coop so that they can be securely locked away at night.

Yesterday in church I preached about the parable of the wedding banquet, about our need to break down barriers that have been constructed to keep others out. About our need to extend an invitation to those who have been outcast, to welcome them around the table in order to bring forth the kingdom of heaven. Now I wonder if I should have taken a cue from Saint Francis and preached instead to the animals. Perhaps I should have reminded them of Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom, where “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, NRSV) Where chickens can live safely beside fox, raccoon, and fisher cat.

Peaches

Auden, age 5, enjoying a peach

I’m not sure where I read it- if it was Barbara Brown Taylor or Anne Lamott, Nadia Bolz Weber or Heather Murray Elkins- but I read once that grace is like a ripe reach. That it is so sweet, so freely given, there is nothing we can do to earn it but take a big bite and relish in its juicy goodness. I’m not a huge fan of peaches myself so the image was always a little lost me, yet it has stuck with me over the years. Grace is like a peach.

On a Saturday in August I was running errands with my daughters in tow. As the afternoon dragged on our energy and patience began to wane. The library was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back; torn away from the tablets and promise of the playground too soon, my daughters melted into puddles of tears. Only two more stops, I promised, trying to sound cheerful as I wrestled them into their carseats.

I thought our next stop would cheer them up, a trip to Farmer Tom’s produce stand. With list in hand they carried the basket which we quickly filled with corn, tomatoes and zucchini. Look at the peaches! one of them exclaimed. We want peaches, we want peaches! How can you say no when your children want to eat fruit? Only one each, I told them. Which quickly turned into two- one for each hand. They were happy— until it was time to check out and they saw the packaged snacks for sale, strategically placed by the register. Pirate Booty, gummies, and granola bars were snatched up by little hands and dumped on the counter as quickly as I put them back, my admonishments to stop, not today, put it back falling on stubborn, hangry ears. You’re getting peaches! I finally snapped, apologizing to the young woman who took me card before hustling my offspring to the van. There were tears, and squabbles, and refusals to get into their seats until I finally lost my cool. As we drove to our final stop, through sniffles, one of my daughters asked for a peach.

I wanted to tell her that peaches aren’t car food. I wanted to tell her that they’re messy, and sticky, and would drip all over her. But one look at her tear-stained face softened my frustrated heart. Just one, I said softly, passing them each a fuzzy piece of fruit.

Then…

silence.

No more crying, or sniffles, or protestations.

No requests for songs, or questioning when we got to go home.

Only the sound of their teeth breaking the skin, sinking into the ripe flesh of the fruit, juices flowing.

Every now and then a hum of pleasure as they relished the goodness of this gift they had been given.

When we finally returned home they showed the pits proudly to their father, then asked for another. We sat in the side yard as they enjoyed their peaches, the stress of the afternoon set aside. They munched on their peaches, juice dripping down their chins and onto their dresses.

A taste of grace.

Spring has sprung

Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce… Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
Isaiah 29:5, 7

Auden and Amelia spent the afternoon coloring outside, under the flowering tree

There’s a powerful line in the musical Hamilton that says:

“Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
-Lin Manuel Miranda

This isn’t completely original to LMM- there is a similar iteration found in the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and I believe it’s roots are in an old proverb. It also echoes this passage in Isaiah, where God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to bring a word of hope to the Israelites who find themselves exiled, strangers in a strange land. As a pastor married to a pastor serving in an itinerant system- meaning we go where the bishop sends us- I easily connect with this passage from Isaiah.

I’ve already lived in plenty of parsonages. For those outside the church-world, a parsonage is a house owned by a church where the pastor and their family resides. Living in a parsonage isn’t always easy (that’s a post for another day!) but it does have its perks!

We have lived in four different parsonages over the last 10 years- in fact, my daughters, who are currently five, lived in three different houses by the time they were four years old. That’s a lot of packing, saying good-bye, moving, and setting up a house in a new community. One of my favorite parts of parsonage living is the first spring living in there- it’s always full of surprises! In my denomination (United Methodist) we usually receive word that we’re being moved in the winter, which means our first visit to our new home is when everything is dark, and bleak, and dead. It’s doesn’t make for great first impressions. When we move at the end of June most of the spring flowers have already bloomed and shriveled up. So it isn’t until the following spring when we finally get to see what the gardens will give us.

What a gift they’ve given us this season!

Vibrant, magenta hued azaleas. Lily of the valley. Beautiful clusters of lilacs. Hostas bigger than a tire. A flowering tree (I have no idea what kind it is, only that it’s extremely hardy. I’ve been told it’s been cut down to a stump multiple times only for it to grow back bigger than ever). And of course, the odd Easter lily and hyacinth, leftover from Easters past.

Ever since we moved last summer I’ve been dreaming of my own gardens. While I enjoy flower gardens, it’s edible gardens that I really love. After battling with a bed of ivy for three seasons, I finally gave up on turning that patch of tilled earth into a vegetable garden and made a raised bed. Between an existing raised bed, plants in containers, and the new raised bed we made we should have a hearty haul of vegetables come mid- to late summer.

We’ve already planted corn and sunflower seeds, which desperately need to be transplanted. The pre-existing raised bed is now an herb garden, with basil, oregano, parsley, dill and nasturtium (an edible flower) seeds planted. Four different varieties of tomatoes are in pots, as is a blueberry plant. Soon we will plant peas, string beans, eggplant, cucumber, and squash.

Putting down roots in a new community isn’t always easy- but it’s bound to be an adventure! I can’t wait to see the fruits of our labor as this new season passes.

Psalm 51 Prayer

Note: I wrote this prayer for evening worship at the Academy for Spiritual Formation through The Upper Room.
Psalm Prayer: Psalm 51 (theme, confession)

O God- my God,

I confess that there are some things I cannot do.
I confess that I make mistakes- daily. Sometimes I’ve made a dozen before breakfast.
I confess that I don’t always know what you want from me,
or what my community wants, or my family wants, or my church wants.
I confess that the one thing you desire from me is often the hardest thing to give.
If you wanted the first fruits of the harvest I would plant you garden.
If you wanted a fatted calf burned upon an altar I would build a barn, and buy muck boots, and learn how to care for and then kill a cow.
If you wanted my money I would gladly write a check.
But none of this would please you, God, and I confess
that sometimes it seems impossible to give you
the one thing you want:
my heart.
Help me to give it to you gladly.
Even when it is crushed from the cruelty of the world.
Even when it is bruised, but still beating.
I wish I could scrub it clean myself, but I can’t.
Only you, my God, can make it whole.
Please tend, mend, and cleanse my heart,
and then give me the courage to offer it to you
again
and again
and again.
Amen.