Years ago, I answered one of those “free dog to a good home” ads.
Ministers have good homes, I thought. Besides, I figured, if there’s a chance dogs really do go to heaven, living with a chaplain ought to increase the odds.
When I arranged to meet the dog, I was asked to bring my family — presumably to audition for the part of a “good home.”
I didn’t expect my kids would be a problem, but my wife? Mucho problemo. She was no pet fan.
I may not be blessed with the gift of discernment, but I’m a quick study. The people who gave me concern were failing the audition.
First, I saw that this schnauzer hated kids — especially my little knee-biters. Schnauzers hate quirky toddler movements and usually seek their hind end as the kid tries to climb dad’s leg.
The other revelation came to me as I watched my wife, hands on her hips, jab the dog with her knee every time “Pepper” jumped up to give “mamma” kisses. No real epiphany there, but maybe, just maybe, my wife didn’t want a dog.
As for myself, Pepper loved me and, as I watched her snarl and bite at the toy I brought, I couldn’t blame her for disliking my family. I understood how she felt and could recall at least three people for whom I, too, experienced immediate dislike.
My first encounter came when I was teamed with a college student leading worship services in a local church. The college student was a man of deep faith, but when I learned he was the offspring of a ruinous rendezvous between his pastor father and church secretary, I had a hard time disconnecting the young man from the sins of the father.
Years later, when I left parish work to begin a one-year chaplain internship at a state university hospital, I had a second unpleasant encounter. It happened on the day the interns met to share faith journeys.
After I shared my horrific headlong fall forward into faith in which I left a well-paying church for this internship, the woman next to me cleared her throat to speak.
Nothing in the world prepared me for her self-definition as a “Catholic lesbian.” Leaving the security of a salaried position for this internship was feeling like the biggest mistake of my ministry.
Nevertheless, I did graduate from the training and was hired by a Texas hospital, where I immediately felt repulsion for yet a third person. It was in the doctor’s lounge that I extended a very reluctant hand to greet a doctor who regularly performed abortions.
I guess I figured systematically excluding these undesirables from my life put me in good company with the disciples who followed Jesus. Or did it?
Following Jesus on a pilgrimage to Galilee, his disciples hesitated as Jesus suggested a shortcut through an undesirable territory called Samaria. The Samaritans were undesirable as they differed with the Jews over where God could be worshipped.
While the disciples objected to the shortcut, they bravely offered their company to protect Jesus. They protected him right up to the time they deserted him looking for a fish taco. I’d have been right at home with these brothers.
Left alone to find water, Jesus encountered a woman at a well and made his thirst known to her. Spewing sarcasm, the woman challenged Jesus’ motives for confessing his needs to a woman — especially a Samaritan woman, five times divorced with a live-in boyfriend.
Jesus brushed aside her sarcasm and won the woman over by persistently demonstrating his vulnerability and willingness to be involved in her well-being.
Discarding her shame like a robe on fire, the woman raced into town, proclaiming she had met a man who was willing to express his care for her despite what she had done with her life — thus proving the real miracle was not that Jesus sought the outcast, but that the outcast sought him.
Like the biblical world, our modern world is full of people who worship God in different ways, and recent events give us impulsive justification to despise different customs, lifestyles and religions. This impulse is best squelched by the Christian as he heeds the advice of the Love Chapter recorded by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. “If I have not love, I become a clanging cymbal.”
Eventually, with some God-given grace, I managed to squelch my repulsion for these three people. Good thing, too.
The offspring of the errant pastor introduced me to some awesome worship that year. The lesbian introduced me to AIDS ministry and its countless victims.
As for the abortion doctor, he posted a flier in his office offering my services to all his patients. And unlike the protesters outside his home, he actually invited me into his home where I was allowed to share my faith.
We got the dog, but not until I agreed to the owner’s senile stipulation that if marooned on a desert island, I would share my last morsel with Pepper before going on to doggie heaven.
As for my wife, she likes the dog OK. I don’t suppose she would deny it food and water, but she says she’ll boycott this column if it’s about the dog — thereby proving the Scripture that says a prophet isn’t always welcome in his own home.