I can imagine Caleb and Buddy having a dialogue through the wooden fence that separated them: Buddy with nose in the air distractedly commenting to the frisky ball of energy the follies of living like a puppy and Caleb with paws and head bouncing around like he's watching a three-sided tennis match excitedly firing questions at Buddy one after the other about digging, freedom, and cars.
I mentioned in Part 1 how in our church life and practice there's a tendency to create dichotomies or Either-Or scenarios, it's either this way or it's that way.. . .some of the more familiar ones are Traditional vs. Non-Traditional, Hymns vs. Choruses, Our Denomination vs. Their Denomination, Young vs. Old, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Our Baptism vs. Your Baptism, Our Holy Spirit vs. Your Holy Spirit, Our Version of the Bible vs. Your version of the Bible, and so on and so forth (I could go on a looooooong time here. . .)
But today I want to write about Buddy and Caleb and their respective styles of experiencing the canine life and in doing so, examine a tension I see in churches everywhere I go, to varying degrees, that I believe springs from the Either-Or mentality and can be seen running as a common thread in the dichotomies listed above. . .
Familiar vs. Unfamiliar
I could've expressed it in other terms perhaps but I think the words "familiar" and "unfamiliar" are closest to the mark. . .
Buddy learned one way of being a dog. He had his familiar paths and his familiar habits. Life was about order and staying true to his paths and mission of defending the world from the evils of squirrels. To him, he discovered the only way to be a dog and he would not deter from it. . .I mean, why would you when you had found the Essence of Dogness?
Caleb, conversely, felt that Dogness meant experiencing everything you could see or smell at 100 miles per hour. Dirt? Dig in it. Fence? Dig under it. Human? Jump on it. Smells interesting? Put your nose all up in it. Road? Run into it! Cat? Chase it! Neighbor's garden? Pee on it!
Caleb is the puppy who was going to get stung all over by bees or scratched on the snout by a cat or even tragically, the one hit by a car (thankfully he never did). Chances were high he was going to force us to have to apologize for his antics (we did.) He had no filter and no wisdom. . .nothing was truly familiar to him yet so it was all a big adventure. . .and he was opening himself up to great harm.
Buddy on the other hand was pretty secure from such dangers due to his forging and sticking to his paths-- his wonderful worn, familiar paths. He knew his trees, his boundaries, his squirrels.
Do one of these dogs truly have the right way to be?
Should we emulate Buddy or Caleb as we live as Christians in this fallen world?
Is the familiar right? Not necessarily.
Is the unfamiliar right? Not necessarily.
Is the familiar wrong? Not necessarily.
Is the unfamiliar wrong? Not necessarily.
That is what we'll be picking through during the rest of this series of posts. . .but I will tip part of my hand a bit. . .
To all you Buddy type church people: We need you. We need your wisdom and warnings; we need to appreciate your boundaries and see the amazing foliage on your trees. Calebs, many of us do come to harm because we have no caution and no discernment. Also, these Buddies have found great joy in chasing squirrels and because we are one family, we need to share that joy with them and cherish it though it may not be as personally meaningful to us--yet we will find a new, deep, and rich joy if we learn to understand why the Buddies love their familiar paths and squirrels so much. . .
But also to you Buddy folks. . .
There is more to being a dog than just staying on the same eighty yards of dirt-worn paths and ceaselessly chasing the same squirrels. There are great dangers beyond those familiar fences and comforting roads you've carved--but there great wonders and unfamiliar blessings too. We will tease all of this out more in coming days, but I leave you Buddies with a heartfelt warning, found in one of my favorite stories:
In the winter of his ninth year, the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was walking across a snow covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As they reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed to his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow, and then to young Frank’s own tracks, which crisscrossed and meandered all over the field. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle stated with a scowl. “And see how my own tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.”
Years later, the famous architect relayed how that single experience had so affected his outlook on life. “I determined right then,” he said, “not to miss most things in life…as my uncle had.”