Dogs Nipping at Your Heels?

Summers in rural Missouri held one fun diversion: lookout towers.

These are now relics of a past, pre-satellite, era. It was when rangers would sit 150 feet up, scanning for forest fires. It was also when country kids would stair-step those 150 feet to get a bird’s view of the Ozark Mountains.

For me, though, there was a problem. Between our home and the tower, there was a farm on which two German shepherds lived. For reasons known only to the mysteries of the canine brain, whenever they’d see me riding my trusty one-speed Schwinn, they saw T-bone a la carte. They’d streak toward me with laser precision.

To this day I remember the sound of their clicking teeth just missing my heels as I frantically pumped the pedals. Talk about motivation.

In retrospect, it seems a bit dumb to have risked injury. What would have happened had I fallen? Common sense dictates that the pleasure of the lookout tower wasn’t worth the sharpness of dog bicuspids.

But I didn’t think much about the risk. It was something I really wanted to do, so I did it, regardless. Possibility of pain came with the territory.

Standing Up for Convictions Is Seldom Painless

I recalled this youthful memory after talking with a friend recently.

She has been considering running for elected office. Her Christian convictions have nudged her to confront social issues that are dear to her. She wants to make a difference.

In her early explorations of the feasibility of a campaign, she received a warning from a political insider. “Just remember. If you choose to run, just about a week before the election, there’ll be a mailing attacking you. It will accuse you of all sorts of things, none of which will be true. It’s just the way politics works.”

That certainly explains those colorful flyers we all receive prior to voting-Tuesdays. Mailings from opposing sides attack candidates with lines that could have been penned by tabloid writers or Russian social media trolls. They are nothing but “truth” bent to serve motives.

Isn’t it a shame that in our country, when you feel called to try and improve things, you open yourself to hurtful, vicious attacks? The dogs will be set loose, and the sound of clicking teeth will draw nearer each day.  

When you think about it, dogs are turned loose in other arenas as well. Churches, schools, businesses, civic organizations. When someone has the conviction to challenge the status quo, especially on behalf of hurting or disadvantaged people or groups, walls are often erected rather than doors opened. If you persist, the people atop the walls grow testy. Release the hounds.

Why the Dogs?

Why is there such ferocity when someone is simply trying to do good, as they see it?

Perhaps the better question is, “What do the dog owners fear losing?”

Security? There is a lot of comfort in maintaining the status quo. It makes everything predictable, especially if it provides privilege and power.

Fantasy? It’s nice living with the illusion of a black and white world, where everything is clear-cut. But those challenging the status quo challenge that fantasy. Truth lies in multiple shades of color, not grayscale.

Status and perks? It’s nice to be recognized as having it all together. It’s even nicer to benefit from it. Titles, favors, privileges, money, influence.

I’m not sure about a literal Satan, but I’m 100% sure about the power of evil. It manifests itself when people, vested in tradition and insulated by corporate dogma, fear loss. No wonder politicians and leaders do whatever it takes to hold office. No wonder church officials bend biblical mandates. And no wonder a younger generation turns its back on institutions, including religion.

Jesus = Commitment, Regardless

One of the things I love about Jesus is that he wasn’t afraid of the dogs. He was quite aware of the reality of evil dogging good. Enemies start nipping early on in all four Gospels until, in the end, they sink their teeth into him.

Regardless, his goal was worth the pain. I might have risked the possibility of the hounds because I enjoyed the ethereal view. Jesus took on the dogs because he was compelled by his mission. The hallmarks of God’s kingdom, justice and mercy, move forward in spite of the danger.

Similarly, if we follow him, we have to risk the teeth marks.

He makes this clear in the introduction to his foundational  sermon.

“Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, CEB)

“Happy,” to me, feels like a bit of a stretch. It seems to convey a party setting, free from constraints.

Maybe better words are “lucky” or “fortunate.”

When you have a passion for justice and mercy, willing to get your hands soiled in the dirty minutiae of politics, in city hall or fellowship hall: you have an opportunity to see life from a broader, richer perspective. You’re lucky because now life has that panoramic view of the Ozark Mountains, seen from 150 feet.

What can be luckier than the chance to feel enriched by knowing you’re doing the right thing for the right reason? Courage and clarity follow conviction.

Or having the luck to make new friendships with like-minded, like-hearted people who share that zeal for Jesus’ righteousness? The fog of human distinctions dissipates when folks bind together around a kingdom cause.

Or being so fortunate as to meet those people for whom you’re advocating, and discovering that they open you up to the fullness of the Gospel? The more diversity around the banquet table, the more diverse the entrees on that table.

This is the inheritance Jesus called the “kingdom of heaven.” It’s what we experience when we brave the clicking teeth at our heels.

One of the challenges of discipleship is living with that sound. Sometimes, I confess, it’s easier to tone down the Gospel call for mercy and justice, so the dogs can back off a bit.

But the peace Jesus offers isn’t a respite from the cranky canines. It’s peace in the midst of them.

May God grant us courage and perseverance to let the dogs bark and bite if they must.

Our brothers and sisters always carry Bandaids.

2 thoughts on “Dogs Nipping at Your Heels?”

  1. “But the peace Jesus offers isn’t a respite from the cranky canines. It’s peace in the midst of them.”

    That’s the peace I experience amidst all the rancor generated against those of us who hold to the traditional interpretation of scripture following the General Conference. And we understand it’s not over yet – pass the Bandaids!

  2. When I joined the (then) Missouri West Conference in 1974 the conference voted by a modest majority to affirm that “homosexuality is not compatible with Christian faith” and to prohibit the ordination of “practicing homosexuals”. Forty five years later the UMC is still high-centered on this issue. In the meantime U.S. membership has declined at a rate of 1 million members lost every 10 years. It looks like there will be a completely minority free, member free UMC in less than 70 years even if a split is avoided.

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