Thanksgiving: Novemeber 15, 2017
Grady and I went out to get the Sunday paper and encountered a friendly dog without tags gamboling along despite a pronounced limp. He happily followed us into the back yard where he and Grady commenced the proper sniffing rituals. The Black, as Jack immediately christened him (we’d watched the classic National Velvet the night before) has been with us ever since, though I continue to insist that he cannot live with us permanently.
I mean it. We have an appointment at the Humane Society on Friday morning.
Grady, himself, came from the Humane Society 20 months ago. When I walked in to see the 30 or so adult dogs, he was the only one not barking. When I walked him around outside, he didn’t yank my arm out of its socket. When I sat on the bench, he was willing to be handled into a sit; and then he leaned on my leg.
I brought Grady home.
He was shy and nervous around Mark. He was unnerved by the children’s energy and unpredictability. He had some scars. The end of his tail bled from a condition ironically called Happy Tail. Emma kept trying to touch his eyes…
Blackie is happy in the house once he’s inside. He has yet to cross any threshold voluntarily. He’s very cautious. He explores just the immediate area. He’s excited about Mark. He’s over-excited by the children’s energy and unpredictability. He mostly uses just three legs. Grady keeps trying to come between us…
This seems like the perfect object lesson on welcoming.
In my blog preview I said: I'm thinking about how we hold in tension welcoming the newcomer, the convert, and their new ideas while remaining faithful to the sacredness that drew them to us in the first place.
Whether that's a religious community, a political party, a neighborhood or a family--we must seek to be both faithful and open. How do we do that?
Any group that welcomes new recruits into its static, unchanging structure is a group that is destined to fail. If new people don’t feel that they can offer their gifts, their unique God given gifts, to the new community, then what’s the point of joining?
There’s the perverse attitude of non-joiners, exemplified by Groucho Marx who famously quipped: I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
But generally, if a person decides to join a group, that group should expect to be changed. It’s called growth for more than one reason.
The staff meeting devotion yesterday was offered by the Director of Membership and Evangelism. If there was ever a person perfectly suited to this position at this church, it is David Stubbs. He told us about the folks joining this Sunday, and I loved that he told us what the church was gaining with these members. He listed the skills, the occupations, the connections. But he ended with this: “What do we gain? More hands and feet to be the body of Christ.”
The congregation gains more people to help fulfill its mission: to be and to make Disciples of Christ.
Here I digress, but how great is that for a mission statement? I wish my home church’s mission statement was as succinct and catchy.
We have a great vision statement. I love our vision statement. We have a great values statement. We state seven admirable and duly lofty value statements. I whole-heartedly approve. And our mission statement is a solid statement with grounded wisdom.
But it’s not catchy. If we boiled it down we could claim a great tag line: “to offer a clear and distinct witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ”. That’s pretty good! Maybe I’ll suggest it.
So our new members. We gain new hands and feet for Christ.
But what if those new hands want to reach out to people who don’t think like us? What if the feet want to walk places that frighten us? What if the new folks make us change?
Grady has been polite to Blackie, but not welcoming. It’s fine if Blackie’s on the porch. But Grady horns in if someone goes outside to pet him. It’s fun to run around with Blackie outside. For a little while. It’s mostly okay if Blackie is inside. But Blackie understands his boundaries.
Jack, who is heartbroken and angry that I won’t let us keep The Black, is also upset with Grady for not being more accepting. Especially since Grady, too, was a rescued stray.
I told Jack that he should understand Grady’s position, because isn’t that exactly how Jack felt when Emma was born? Didn’t he feel worried about being displaced? Didn’t he resent having to share attention? And he said, “Yeah, but you didn’t let me give Emma away.”
That’s the hard part about family. Some of us are blood relations, and we really can’t give each other away. A tip of the hat, here, to everyone headed into extended-family Thanksgiving celebrations next week.
But a lot of us are adopted family, and the church rightly understood is everyone’s adopted home. As Rachel Held Evans so nicely put it: a healthy church should “look less like a country club and more like a recovery group.” Are we allowed to give each other away?
Emma and I took Blackie to our vet on Monday morning to see whether he was microchipped. I was so happy to learn that he was! And neutered! But the owner will return neither calls nor emails. I tracked the emails, so I know he’s read them. The Black has been abandoned.
He’s living with us until Friday. We can’t keep him. I will do everything possible to ensure that he goes to a safe place. A place that will care for him and, ideally, find him a true forever home. But while he’s with us, he’s changing us. It’s inevitable.
We pulled out more dog bowls and new toys. He sleeps in Grady’s crate. (Grady and Jack are both perfectly content to share Jack’s bed temporarily.) He’s still crossing no thresholds, so I haul him out of the crate each morning and carry him outside. We’re all adapting. He’s bringing out our best empathy and our worst territorialism. We can’t have things as comfortable as they were AND welcome this new creature.
I’m struggling with my role here. I totally could rehabilitate this dog. I could train him and incorporate him into our family. He would change us, and we would change him.
But at what cost?
What would I give up? Do I sacrifice my work? My writing? Jack’s schoolwork? Emma’s socialization? Church commitments? Mark’s writing? Time with my father? Time with Mark’s mom? Trips to visit family or friends? Grady’s playtime? What gives? There’s no slack right now.
Sometimes we must accept the reality of the reality. There’s no slack.
We share what we have. We offer the light we have. That’s okay. Churches and other communities can be homes, but we can also be way-stations. Monasteries are more experienced in understanding hospitality as temporary, sustaining, bridging.
We try to offer direction. We offer the grace we can. We welcome, we shelter, we strengthen you for your next journey.
Sometimes you stay with us. Sometimes you move on. Everywhere there is God’s grace.
As a family we seek to be and to make Disciples of Christ. As a family we seek to offer a clear and distinct witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We welcome all God’s creatures. We do the best we can. We give ourselves grace.
Thanks be to God.