Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Doggie Dichotomies Part 1

Shannon and I's first "home" together was a small loft apartment in a renovated attic of an old home on a downtown street in Toccoa, GA. It was maybe 400 square feet total and had a steep set of stairs that went two stories straight-up. Real estate agents would have called our loft "cozy with lots of character". . .

We only lived there two months but it was the source of many of our early animal anecdotes (which will be told in full in the forthcoming marriage memoirs entitled "There's a Kangaroo in the Kitchen: What Happens When an Animal-Liker Marries an Animal-Lover" Be looking for this book in early 2015.) The loft was also home to my first dog, Caleb.

My family was not an animal family. . .we only had experience flushing goldfish and the one harrowing account with Snowball the Demon Bunny (see also: Kangaroo, 2015). But my wife is Crocodile Hunter, Jack Hannah, Beastmaster, Horsewhisperer, and Jane Goodall combined. . .so we adopted a stray black border collie puppy with blue eyes and one white sock who we named Caleb.

He was a smart puppy but still a puppy. We taught him some cool tricks like speak and how to hold a biscuit on his nose and then catch it. . .but again, he was still a puppy. He would burrow under the wooden fence and run amok. He would dig up the post holding his leash line and run amok. We left him alone one time in the loft and he chewed amok. Wild and unbridled, Caleb was a free puppy.

There was another dog in my life those first two months as well, a dog that wasn't like Caleb at all. The neighboring yard to ours was home to a Doberman Pincer named Buddy. Now, I had never been a "dog" guy my whole life and I especially wasn't a "Doberman-Pit Bull-German Shepherd-Rottweiler" kind of guy. I wanted nothing to do with Buddy.

I could, however, observe Buddy from a safe distance high up in my loft. He was the stereotypical lean Doberman, a coiled spring of energy and muscle, with ears and head held perfectly at attention. But Buddy also had OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or at least that's what I diagnosed him with as an Amateur Animal Psychologist. From our 3rd story vantage point I could see all of the neighbor's yard and in the midst of the green of the lawn there were numerous trails of brown where the grass had been worn away by his ceaseless pacing.

Buddy had an obsession and it was squirrels (Yes, not unlike our friend from the movie UP, though Buddy predates Dug by over a decade). There were massive oaks in his yard that were home to a monkey-like menagerie of squirrels who Buddy would endlessly track. He would trot back and forth on his worn circuit, head scanning the canopy, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fuzzy-tailed vermin that he may lecture them with his stentorian bark. . .

He never left the paths. Ever. His food and water bowl were placed on the paths. He dropped his little brown surprises right off the path. He had worn a path right by the fence so he could at least jog by when we came home to see if we were trouble (or harboring any squirrels?). We never got more than a cursory glance before his nose was pointed again to the skies. . .

One of the things I'm struck by more and more as I continue to minister in churches is there is an obsession with dichotomies, or systems that set up two things against each other. Or in another way: the Either-Or mentality. It's either this way or that way! There can be no Both-And--it has to be Either-Or! The mentality lends itself to a combative environment, where each side fears they are in error or danger if they allow any of the "other" to creep into their thinking or their practice. . .

These false dichotomies pop up in a multitude of settings in our churches and create fear, division and bickering  . . .but one in particular I want to explore in the next blog is the battle set up between the Buddy Way, stick to your paths and keep your eyes on what really matters (squirrels) and the Caleb way, there are no boundaries, do as you wish and live free.

2 dogs. 2 very different approaches to life. Buddy and Caleb could've learned a thing or two from one another and perhaps found a healthier level of existence for each of them. . .

. . .to be continued.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Holiday Values Part 6

Is your tree droopy?

What's that? You already took down your tree and all the trimmings? Impressive. You probably bake every morning too, don't you?

Our tree who stood at attention presiding over the festivities, guarding presents and filling the air with a soft pine scent is now drooping with a holiday hangover. If we don't take it down soon on our own, I believe it will start shedding ornaments on to the floor in protest and turn itself into the first ever Weeping Pine tree. . .

Yes, friends, the Holidays are over. . .and my infant daughter made a powerful point about it this past week. . .

Baby Addi is only 16 months old but she is going full-force into that exploratory stage of knowing what she wants, wanting to touch and hold everything, experimenting with her first words, and generally being a curious little monkey (a monkey that sometimes seems to have drank a gallon of Red Bull).

She has really embraced books and us reading them to her. . .or more often: her sitting on our laps and flipping pages as we try to read them to her.

Good night moo-
Good nigh--
OK, I'll just hold you as you turn the pages.

There was one book this Christmas she really fell in love with: the one that told the Christmas Story. . .except she wasn't interested in the story very much. She was just interested in flipping to the huge centerfold picture of Baby Jesus in the manger. She LOVED that picture. It was all she cared about in the book.

She would lug the book around the house held open to that page with her two pudgy hands, showing Baby Jesus to family members, plopping it up on our ottoman to look at it again, or holding Baby Jesus up to her face and giving him kisses. Yes, it was every bit as adorable as you're picturing.

Matt, I see your point! From the lips of babes we again learn about God! It's all about Baby Jesus and giving Him kisses, nothing else really matters. . .

True, a pretty good lesson. . .but that's not where this story ends. . .

Baby Addi was walking down the hall smooching away on Baby Jesus when my wife told her it was time to change her diaper. Addi doesn't mind getting her diaper changed unless there's something else she wants to do. . .and I guess kissing Baby Jesus was it, because she got mad.

And in her anger she threw Baby Jesus (and the Angels, the Shepherds, the donkey, the camel, and at least 2 of the wise individuals) down the hall in protest and began to scream and cry.

From the lips of babes indeed. . .

The holidays are over. . .and for a few weeks each year (maybe days or hours for you) we all get to kiss Baby Jesus a bit. . .we get to crack open the book of our daily lives right to the really good part and just linger there, soaking it all in, amazed at the goodness of God and life.

But trees come down and lights are put away. . .stockings aren't hung with care but rather boxed with nostalgic regret. . .scales are stepped on to and work schedules are resumed. . .neglected chores return in force and classes are back with a vengeance.

Waves of "diaper changes" come our way and we like infant Addi holding our precious book go from celebratory joy and devotion to distraught anger that our reverie has been interrupted. . .and Baby Jesus goes skidding down the hallway in protest.

I want to live a life where I can kiss Baby Jesus when I don't get my way. . .especially when I don't get my way. I want to remember that Immanuel may get a spotlight on the calendar each year but the true light and true message of God With Us can manifest just as wonderfully each day of the 365. I want to live the reality more consistently that the things I think so often are "in the way" are actually "the way".

If you haven't packed your Nativity scene(s) away yet, might I suggest keeping little Baby Jesus out this year? Or maybe printing off a copy of the Baby Jesus page in a favorite Christmas Story book? Then put Baby Jesus somewhere He can be seen every day. . .and maybe pray a prayer like this:
Father God,
May I see the wondrous beauty and humble grace of Baby Jesus today in my life. May I find Him especially in the moments when I'm most tempted to throw a tantrum because I did not get my way.

Peace on earth to you my friends.

Matt O.

P.S. If the only Nativity scene you have is a big light up plastic one, you have 3 options: Find a Nativity book as suggested and copy a page, find the last remaining discount sale in your town on Christmas items and purchase a more manageable set, or bring the lit-up Baby Jesus into your home and give Him a permanent place. Why not? However, if you choose Option #3, might I suggest additionally bringing in the coolest looking Wise Man and give him a spot in your home for the year. Then when faced with family drama or decisions you could ask him questions at supper or use him as the bad guy when disciplining your children. . ."Well, I was going to let you off the hook for it, but the Wise Man says it would be best for the development of your character to take out the trash the next 6 months. Sorry, son, it's hard to argue with wisdom."

P.P.S  Ok, maybe even funnier would be to bring Mary in the house and plug her in for the year. Then you could ask her "Mary, did you know?" questions all year.
"Mary did you know that I got a C on my Algebra test today?"
"Mary did you know I was thinking about shaving my goatee?"
"Mary did you know that I worked all day on this pot roast and no one said anything encouraging about it?"

P.P.P.S. If any you bring the light-up plastic characters into your home for daily interaction, please send me a pic and any memorable quotes or anecdotes that occur. Thank you very much.