Christian Witness and Projectile Vomiting

The sophisticated elegance of Plato’s reflections on the dualism of body and soul and the resulting view of the immortality of soul continue to make a powerful impact on Christian theology.  However, Plato thinks on a much higher level than I do.  I just try to keep body and soul together.

For example, some years ago while visiting my son Jonathan in Ethiopia, my soul watched with detached bemusement as my body reacted with delayed violence to food poisoning one day and with immediate violence to food rejection a few days later.  By this personal effect my missionary son was powerfully reminded of the social wretchedness I had once caused at his elementary school.

Our family had just moved to Pittsburgh in 1978 and on the first day of school Jonathan wandered into his new classroom and took a vacant seat.  Unfortunately, he had chosen a desk on what became the “girls’ side” which is a boy-trauma not easily cured.  To compound this nearly fatal injury, the teacher discovered that our family had spent the summer of 1969 in Ethiopia where Jonathan had taken his first step.  So, in an effort to broaden the horizons of the students, my wife and I were invited to give a presentation to the fifth grade.

From this point on the story belongs to Jonathan:  “My parents showed up at my school wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes, and I realized that sitting on the “girls’ side” of the room was merely a flesh wound.  Things could, and were going to, get a lot worse.  Mom and Dad set up a slide projector and proceeded to show us the rich history, fertile farmland, interesting people and wild animals of Ethiopia accompanied by African music.  However, it is impossible to describe Ethiopia fully without some attention to the tremendous needs one sees on a daily basis.  for every student in my classroom, it was an education in itself to see pictures of people suffering from poverty, hunger, and a host of horrible diseases like polio and elephantiasis.

“As a result of a particularly graphic picture of a leper my grandfather was taking care of, one of my classmates (later the star running back on our high school football team) heaved his breakfast producing a chunky waterfall of vomit, which, plopping on the floor was immediately accompanied by the frantic metallic scraping of nearby desks scooting out of range.

“The slide show was stopped, the custodian was called, and that mysterious, noxious chemical was sprinkled around that somehow is able to smell twice as strong and twice as bad as the vomit alone.  I don’t know why janitors do this since it put us kids right on the edge.  Perhaps it is because there is nothing like a classroom of queasy 11-year-olds to guarantee janitorial job security.

“Anyway, with the acrid smell lingering in our mouths and nostrils and an uneasiness in our bellies, the slide show resumed.  My newly sensitized father attempted to skip quickly over any of the too-realistic, remaining slides.  Upon observing one, he would shout “Whoa,” thereby forcing us to sit up and fully absorb the picture as he frantically stabbed the advance button.  For some time thereafter, I was known as “the new kid whose parents made David barf.”  Fortunately, it was a cumbersome nickname not easily shouted across a playground so it didn’t stick.

“That vomiting incident 20 years ago first seared the pain of Africa into my heart and started me on the road back to Ethiopia where we have lived for the last two years.  I believe that our Lord is not pleased when his Presbyterians scoot their desks away from the world’s pain.  Terribly embarrassed at the time, I am now extremely grateful for that lesson.  

In addition, I now realize that my parents were years ahead of their time, being pioneers in the field of multimedia.  Their slide show incorporated not only unforgettable sights and sounds but also smells.”

Riding Away on an Old Nag

      Like everybody’s else and even more than Hamlet’s, our “time is out of joint.  O cursed spite” (I. 5. 187).  However, for me, a lone time to read, write, and think has always been a regularly-sought condition.  “Alone, alone, all, all alone,/ Alone on a wide wide sea!/ And never a saint took pity on/ My soul in agony.”  Nevertheless

                    When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

                    I summon up remembrance of things past,

                    I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

                    And with old woes new wail my dear times waste.  Sonnet 30

         Remembrance of things past is a strange and wondrous gift, which sometimes includes vivid memories of events in which we did not actually participate.  Family stories can be told so often that we become convinced that we were present for them.  Contrariwise, there are things past–a long time past–that we cannot forget.

      To my surprise (and bemused disquiet), I find a promise made to myself in 1954 continues to nag me.  Not being one of their majors, I only enrolled in college literature courses for which I knew I would enjoy studying in the company of one expert and a bunch of neophytes, like me.  This led to a whilom brush-by of Edmund Spenser’s THE FAERIE QUEENE on the way to a fine semester with Willy Shakespeare.

     Sadly, for my little piece of mind, the professor offered the snarky remarky that almost nobody ever read beyond Books One and Two of the FAERIE QUEENE.  Right then I promised myself I would not remain in the “Almost  Nobody” category.  I have latterly learned that the bloodshot ayes who affirm a complete reading of the FQ, known as “The Heroes of the Faerie Queene” are second only to “The Conquerors of Arcadia” in the elitism of their status and the paucity of their numbers.

     Eftsoons, having failed so often over the last seven decades to redeem my promise and slinking away “with ruffled rayments, and fayre blubbered face,” I recognized that I would need disciplinary help.  And, indeed, I have one friend who bravely agreed to join me and the Redcrosse Knight, “pricking on the plaine,/ Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde.”

     Memory is a funny thing and helpfully malleable.  I had remembered that the structure of THE  FAERIE QUEENE made its reading a pane in the buttress.  I had not remembered that it is, one of if not also, the longest poem in the English language, likely to detonate a bomb in Gilead. Anyone who really wants to read the Spenserian stanza’s   eight iambic pentameter lines with the final alexandrine might better turn to CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE, the Byronic knight  who claims: 

                           I have not loved the world, nor the world me;

                           I have not flatter”d its rank breath, nor bow’d

                           To its idolatries a patient knee, 

                           Nor coin’d my cheek to smiles, nor cried aloud

                           In worship of an echo[.]  

        I had sort of remembered I had sort of promised in 1954 to read ALL of the FQ, but on more careful scrutinization of my memory, I realized that I could only have promised to read the first four books.  Since the parts of THE FAERIE QUEENE that are not completely unreadable are incredibly dull, it seems a perfect project for this covi-tidian time when

                             The race of life becomes a hopeless flight    

                             To those that walk in darkness:  on the sea, 

                             The boldest steer but where their ports invite, 

                             But there are wanderers o’er Eternity

                             Whose bark drives on and on, and anchored n’er shall be.

Ardor vs. Order

As a lifelong student of muliebrity, I have learned that Earth has few intellectual delights to compare with the satisfaction of embarrassing the woman you love.  Although I. Kant say it out loud, an axiom of both pure and practical reason holds that a woman will never get angry at you if you are trying to express your devotion to her.

As a young pastor, I started a war on flowers in the church sanctuary because I thought the money spent on flowers should be given to the poor.  A saintly woman reminded me with considerable firmness that beauty was part of God’s creation, and I had no right to deny the expression of someone’s gift for flower arranging, especially in the house of God.  I quickly called off my war of the roses.  Some time later and after only a few years of marriage, I realized that my very own lady actually preferred flowers on her birthday rather than the two football tickets I had been giving her.

Now you need to fast-forward with me through 40 years to the time when Margaret came back from a two-day conference in Chicago.  On her return, I was standing at the bottom of a ramp at Greater Pittsburgh Airport holding above my head a large sign which read “Welcome Home, Margaret” and a huge presentation bouquet of cut flowers.  I knew I looked absolutely ridiculous, and I fervently hoped no one in the large crowd recognized me.  I could tell they were wondering who in the world that besotted old geezer was meeting.

When Margaret came bounding out of the plane and saw me and the sign and the flowers and hundreds of people grinning up at her, she blushed a fiery red and took an instinctive step back toward the plane.  However, in a split second she realized that in that tiny move she had perfectly identified herself for everybody in the concourse.  As she walked on down the ramp, I thought, “Oh boy, I have really messed up now,” but she took the flowers, with the grace only women can manage, and said, “That was nice.  Message received.  I may keep you around a while longer.”

Flowers to your wife or a contribution to a worthy charity?  The fact is we Presbyterians are better at “order” than we are at “ardor.”  We find it easier to express careful, economic accountability than wild, heartfelt devotion.  However, I suspect there are times, even for Calvinists traveling through life, when we had rather receive a buss on the cheek than a check on the bus.  Still, the anointing at Bethany is especially hard for us to interpret.

The event is reported by all four Gospels (Mark 14, Matthew 26, Luke 7, John 12) with a bewildering variety of details.  For example, Mark and Matthew say the ointment was poured on Jesus’ head; Luke and John say the ointment was poured on Jesus’ feet.  Still, on the surface at least, the major point seems to be that Jesus receives a lavish gift which is the equivalent of a full year’s wages.  When this acceptance is challenged by the disciples, led (in John) by Judas, to the effect that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus defends the action by going on the attack.

Predictably, this passage made John Calvin quite uncomfortable.  He declares that the anointing appears very much a matter of luxury and unnecessary indulgence, and insists that while some particular, and even silly, acts may please the great God, they should not properly be taken as an example to follow, but represent a clear exception to normal Christian behavior.  I get the distinct impression that if Jesus Christ himself had not given his approval to the anointing at Bethany, then John Calvin, and maybe most Presbyterians, would join Judas in condemning it.

The proper use of money is, I believe, the single most difficult issue confronting the ordinary Christian in America.  Jesus talked a lot about money, including the statement that where your money is there your heart is also (Matthew 6:21).  I took that statement very seriously.  Therefore, when I was a pastor I always preached four (!) stewardship sermons in November.  These sermons wonderfully unified each of the congregations I served.  They made everybody mad.  When I was a child I assumed “We were taking up a collection for the church.”  By the time I became a pastor I knew “We were making an offering to Almighty God.”

Still I have often wondered if the money I spent on that poster board and those flowers was proper stewardship.  Clearly, Christian obedience requires careful use of the resources which God has entrusted to our care.  We must avoid the self-indulgent luxuriousness that destroys character and denies our responsibility to and for God’s world.

At the same time I believe that the anointing at Bethany is a reminder to overly cautious people that it is also appropriate to express our love and devotion to God and to each other with beautiful things.  After all, none other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her/  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Precious Blood

Blood everywhere!

            So The DaVinci Code argues in exciting and so Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ demonstrates in excruciating detail.  In the hot flash of a mini-pause, the issue of blood becomes a fascinating subject.  The Israelites regarded blood with holy awe because they understood blood to be the life of the flesh.  Under the old covenant, the offering of blood was central to the sacrificial system.  The shed blood of animals made atonement for sins by divine appointment. To offer blood was to offer life – a mystery so great that the chosen people were strictly prohibited from drinking blood.  Hebrew life was never a bowl of gravies.

            When I was growing up on the buckle of the Bible belt, you were often asked if you had been washed in the blood of the lamb.  Today my dentist does not want to be touched by blood, much less washed.  He dons goggles for his eyes, a mask for his face, and rubber gloves for his hands.  Dante envisions the horror of violent men immersed to their eyelashes in a boiling river of blood with fierce centaurs patrolling the banks (Canto 12).  Only a few years ago, people did not worry much about blood.  In my football days, facemask penalties were never called, chiefly because football helmets did not have facemasks.  Getting hit in the face was a common occurrence.  I remember sadly the night I was kicked in the face, accompanied by an impressive gush of blood.  To my disgust, I stopped bleeding before I got to the sidelines, thereby losing all hope of impressing our gorgeous cheerleaders with how tough I was.  As you would expect, they continued their long term practice of ignoring me completely.

            Since human beings are creatures of flesh and blood (Galatians 1:16), we live happily as long as both components are healthy.  Early in life, one is mostly evaluated by the flesh, which is why some of us wear tight skirts.  In those days, good looks is better than good blood.  Later in life, one is mostly evaluated by the blood.  Good blood is better than good looks.

            The Bible never stops bleeding because it is a bloody book.  “The blood of Christ” is a phrase used more frequently than either “the death of Christ” or “the cross of Christ.”  For example, we are told there is no life in us unless we drink the blood of the Son of Man (John 6:53).  “In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

            The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.  Concerning the issue of blood, there is a considerable flow among us.  On our left side, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church when asked, “What do you make of the biblical phrase, ‘the blood of Christ’?” answered, “As little as possible.”  The right side makes as much as possible, singing with gusto:  “There is a fountain filled with blood/ Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;/ And sinners plunged beneath that flood/ Lose all their guilty stains [.]”  Whichever hand you wash, the smell of blood continues to rise from the pages of the Bible and all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten that fact.

            Hebrews declares, “Apart from the shedding of blood there is NO forgiveness of sins” (9:22).  Eusebius claims God alone knows who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but I knew a twinkle-eyed lady who insisted that the Greek style is so elegant that Hebrews could only have been written by a woman – probably Priscilla.  If so, Priscilla points out that the earthly high priest enters the Holy of Holies every year with blood NOT his own (9:25) but Christ entered once for all AND with his own blood (9:12).  Since the Biblical connection among blood, sin, atonement, sacrifice, and covenant is so bloody obvious, no one with any theological sophistication can possibly avoid some kind of bloody conclusion.  In the middle of his famous, twenty page plus paragraph (in The Bear), America’s greatest novelist (William Faulkner, of course) observed the profound truth that the human race learns nothing except through suffering and remembers nothing except when underlined in blood.

            Putting aside for the moment my “too, too solid flesh,” the next time our presbytery conducts a theological examination, I plan to ask the candidate to explain the meaning of the “precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-9).  According to my diagnosis, the health of the Presbyterian Church (USA) requires of our leadership a more accurate theological blood test.  Otherwise, it will be too late for this part of the body of Christ to benefit from a transfusion.  A bloodless church possesses only esprit de corpse.

On the Beret

Pulpit nominating committees need a lot more help than they are getting.  For example, when I left my first pastorate, the pulpit nominating committee met and quickly agreed that whatever else, they did not want another minister who wore a beret and made pastoral calls riding a bicycle.  They thought these practices were not only eccentric but weird when, in fact, one was thrifty and the other was theological.

A bicycle uses very little gasoline, thus conserving the precious fossil fuel of the Earth.  Secondly, those who travel to work by bicycle live entirely by God’s grace, disdaining public approbation.  Can you imagine an insurance salesman approaching your house (and your billfold) on a bicycle?

A beret is seldom stolen because you can hide it in your pocket.  Moreover, anyone with the panache to wear a beret already has a couple and does not need yours.  In addition, the beret has historical and theological significance.  The Basque beret comes from the ancestral lands of the indomitable Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, mother of King Henry IV, who said “Paris is worth a Mass,” and the leader of the French Calvinists who wrote the Gallican Confession, which I hope American Presbyterians will add to their Book of Confessions.

Have you ever seen a picture of John Calvin without his beret?  Of course not — although I assume even Calvin removed his beret to eat dinner.  At least he would be required to do so if he sat across from my wife.  A beret keeps the theological brain warm and functioning properly.

There are many ways to make a public statement.  For example, men and women who smoke cigars have a certain aura about them and they sit alone a lot.  Bankers seldom go to work in flannel shirts and blue jeans.  I must admit that I feel an immense surge of confidence when I see a physician with a ferocious Mexican bandito mustache.  Here is a man truly capable of waging an heroic struggle for your life.  Naturally, female doctors must be evaluated in other terms.  Likewise, with the beret, ministers make a corporate statement of individual competence.

I would be absolutely furious to discover the preacher to whom I listen for the Word of God was not a thorough student of the Bible in the original languages, and the best classical and contemporary commentaries on it.  In the second place, I would be extremely angry to find that my preacher had not read carefully every word of Plato’s Dialogues, Calvin’s Institutes and Immanuel Kant’s essay, “What Is Enlightenment” and his book Religion Within Limits or Reason Alone (learning from Plato, appreciating Calvin, disagreeing with Kant).  I would be thoroughly disgusted to learn that my preacher was not a continuing reader of Chaucer (the poet of people), Milton (the poet of space) and especially Shakespeare (the poet of time).  Whatever else he or she might study, in my judgment, without a comfortable mastery and lifelong commitment to these classic texts, one is unfit for ministry.  The first provides inspiration, the second learning, the third eloquence.  While not absolutely essential, I also prefer ministers who read detective stories because they have an acceptable outlet for their murderous impulses.

Not many pulpit nominating committees are able to discuss these great works in detail (that’s why they hire ministers), but they can look for the beret.  Now in itself the beret is not a demonstration of theological competence, but only an indication of it.  I grant that a few competent ministers do not wear berets and a few incompetent do.  But, in general, the beret-wearing minister can be trusted to have read, marked and inwardly digested the great books mentioned above.  And I think pulpit nominating committees should be aware of that fact.

A Porpoise Driven Life

Obligatory summer visits to my wide-spread family required a road trip from Pittsburgh to Nashville to Albuquerque to Denver to Milwaukee.  This duty was rendered pleasant by minor league baseball games all across the country.  In my secret heart, I still believe if I had not gone to the seminary I might have gone to the baseball hall of fame.  Some Presbyterians enjoy the games played at the General Assembly, but I found my faith restored in Memphis where their Redbirds wear real baseball socks instead of those ridiculous long pants affected by most players in these benighted days.  Doubtless the ubiquitous white tennis shoe will soon become an acceptable accessory for the black pulpit robe and Geneva tabs will hang from the frayed collars of flannel work shirts.  Happily, in Memphis, a great tradition continues with the famous Peabody Hotel marching ducks.  They acted with Tom Cruise in the 1993 movie, The Firm.  The ducks were the ones with serene expressions on their faces. These ducks always quack me up.  Even better, in Albuquerque when the opposing Sky Sox pitcher lost his no-hitter in the ninth inning, the hometown Isotopes fans stood and cheered him all the way into the dugout.  That’s the way life is supposed to be.  According to the Bible, the great God worked the big inning and will get the save even for those who die on base.

When we downsized, Margaret and I retained visiting rights to all the things residing with our children that once belonged to us.  I enjoyed getting reacquainted with Fish Do the Strangest Things, a favorite book read over and over to her father and now to his daughter.  A two-year-old blue-eyed blonde who inquires with a happy smile, “Grandad, would you like to read to Rebecca?” is completely irresistible.

My lifetime award fish story does not involve a fish at all.  Years ago, our other son was receiving a generally favorable evaluation at his first grade parent-teacher conference until Mrs. Johnson urged us to deal with his stubborn attitude.   By way of illustration she cited a lesson on the ocean where she pointed out porpoises are among the fish that live there.  With some indignation, Mrs. Johnson reported our son raised his hand to insist that porpoises are mammals not fish.  I watched my wife’s eyes widen in surprise and she blurted out, “But they ARE mammals.”  Mrs. Johnson quickly changed the subject, but it was obvious she thought she had discovered the source from whence our son inherited his stubbornness.

The old concept of “invincible ignorance” is both a sorrow and a comfort.  Mrs. Johnson was so certain she was correct it would not naturally occur to her to revisit her conviction.  Over the last 55 years, I have occasionally wondered if Mrs. Johnson ever learned that porpoises really are mammals and if she ever remembered the little boy who first pointed out that fact to her.  Apparently, the theologian Francis Gomarus (1563-1644) lectured holding a dagger in his hand with the promise of driving it into his heart if he ever misquoted the Scripture.  If I made that promise, class attendance would never be an issue.

Surely one of life’s cruelest ironies is how easily we can be both right and wrong at the same time.  Our son was quite right in his scientific classification of porpoises as mammals, but he was entirely wrong in his personal classification of Mrs. Johnson as someone who wanted to learn that truth.  The overriding truth was that no competent ichthyologist would be attending first grade that year, but Mrs. Johnson would be in class every day.  Thomas Aquinas following Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics VI.5) makes a distinction between knowing the truth (sapientia) and applying the truth (prudentia).  According to Dante’s heavenly pageant, the three theological virtues dance at the right wheel of the Christ chariot and the four cardinal virtues, led by Prudence, dance in a flame of purple robes at the left wheel (Purgatorio, Canto 29).  Seeing past, present, and future with her three eyes means that Prudence uses lots of mascara.  More importantly, as an intellectual virtue, prudence requires more experience and maturity than a first grader can possibly possess.

I assume all Christians accept Our Lord’s claim to be the Truth (John 14:6) but his being the truth and our telling the truth are not the same.  It is hard for us to steer around Pilot’s question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  Men, like snakes in the grass, have been lying to women since shortly after the Adam bum exploded in the Garden of Eden.  And women, determined not to rush into the encircling arms of the first acceptable-looking face, have been devising ever more complicated strategies to test masculine integrity and sincerity.

Doubtless we must deal with Immanuel Kant’s still reigning dogmas and categorical imperatives, but accepting the cant of Kant, I can’t.  Truth is often difficult to discern, more difficult to apply, and sometimes impossible to accept.  Every still-married man knows that when his wife asks, “How do I look?”  The right answer is never, “Terrible!”  Truth is, she is asking for reassurance not accuracy. 

Prudence is usually invoked to guide the putative truth-teller, but a truth-receiver can also require protection from objective truth.  This insight is one of the enduring contributions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s section in his Ethics entitled “What is Meant by ‘Telling the Truth’.”  For me, the puzzle is the Apostle Paul’s claim that the Cretan prophet who said “Cretans are always liars” is telling the truth (Titus 1:12).  If an always lying Cretan ever told the truth, he could not be always lying.  I suspect a careless scribe wrote “Cretan” when he meant to write “Cretin.”  Therefore, I am preparing a sermon with the title, “Cretan or Cretin?”  I like the etymological fact that Cretin means Christian.  In the meantime, let me assure you that you can trust me.  I would never lie to you.  And, by the way, you look very nice.

On Barking Dogmas

Fundamentalist and Modernist; Liberal and Conservative.  

Sadly, these clumsy assignations are still made by Presbyterians.  I regret to say that I am myself victimized by this distinction, and I regret even more that I perpetuate its use.  The Apostle Paul discusses the broader problem of “we” and “they” (or to be more objective — “us” and “them”) in Philippians 1:15-18, coming to the remarkable conclusion that we should rejoice because Christ is being proclaimed, whether by “them” in pretense or by “us” in truth.

I have always admired those strong and bold souls who claim and proclaim right out loud before God and everybody that they are conservative or liberal.  My teacher, the late James I. McCord, once told us truth-seekers to inform our presbyteries we were “progressive conservatives” and leave it at that. 

Still, I have now been around the block enough times to recognize that some distinctions are not going away.  For example, men are from Mars — women are from Venus.  I liked it much better when intelligent people wanted to know whether you were Platonic or Aristotelian.  The demise of that distinction is a considerable loss to me since I spent an immense amount of time and effort figuring out which I was — only to discover that now nobody cares. 

In compensation, I am delighted with the sardonically satisfying conviction that American anti-intellectualism has reached its absolute zenith in my lifetime.  According to James B. Twichell, a deep “fault line of human personality” separates Coke and Pepsi drinkers (Lead Us Into Temptation:  The Triumph of American Materialism, pp. 141-142).  This means identity issues no longer require a time-consuming study of classical philosophy because the deepest loyalties of the human personality can be understood once you get a clear view of what the hand holds when the elbow bends.

If true, the Presbyterian Church could learn all it needs to know about “Unity and Diversity” from studying my family, since we are one family with two cola preferences.  In our harmonious household, Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola hang out together in the same ice chest.  Additionally, it is correct to say that both keep their cool very well.  Moreover, each retains its own effervescent nature, but that is lost almost immediately when either blows its top. 

I lament over the distinction between liberal and conservative, delight in the distinction between Venus and Mars, long for the distinction between Platonist and Aristotelian, and pour scorn on the distinction between Pepsi and Coke. 

However, to my mind, a far more universal and serious human divide occurs between dog lovers and cat persons.  I should confess that some of my best friends are cat-persons, a fact which demonstrates, as nothing else could, my warm and compassionate nature. 

My wife, known to her children as “the germ lady,” regarded both domestic animals with a fine impartiality.  They are all dirty.  Therefore, I recognized before we were married that this deeply held conviction on her part would foreclose my American Deep South custom of dealing with cold winter nights by throwing another hound dog on the bed.  Moreover, the practice of having a small dog between the sheets to keep the feet warm was to be discontinued without discussion.  This being just one of the sacrifices men are expected to make for beautiful, if finicky, women. 

Obviously people get tremendously attached to their animal companions.  As a pastor I made many calls on child and adult parishioners grieving the death of their pet.  In fact, one of my favorite elders confessed that he could handle the death of his beloved wife because he knew she was going to heaven and he hoped to join her there.  But he admitted with tears in his eyes that he was really worried about his beloved dog. 

I told him about Rudyard Kipling’s charming vision of heaven with “Four-feet trotting behind.”  Kipling imagined his dog, “Flushing the cherubs everywhere/And skidding as she ran/ She refuged under Peter’s Chair/ And waited for her man.”  Then I called his attention to the “peaceable kingdom” passage in Isaiah 11:6f. and the “longing creation” of Romans 8:19.  In addition, I was prepared to evaluate Karl Barth’s curious little essay on the proper theological attitude of mankind to beastkind and plantkind (Church Dogmatics III.4.55 ET, p. 348ff.) as well as some long thoughts on Barth’s polymathic dialaogue partner, Albert Schweitzer, doctor of (1) theology, (2) music and (3) medicine. 

Thus, some years later, I listened with great sympathy to my tennis buddy who for financial reasons was moving from his big house into student accommodations and could not find anyone to keep his animal during his two remaining years of seminary.  To the grief of his family, he was going to put their dog down.  Being a born-free country boy I could not imagine a tied-up city dog who could not run to you full speed when you whistled.  Nevertheless, the silver-tongued dog lover convinced the germ lady that it was our Christian duty to care for an obviously Presbyterian dog of a Presbyterian pastor-to-be. 

As graduation approached I realized with considerable sadness that I was about to lose my frequent tennis partner and my regular dog at the same time.  One of them had gone walking with me every day and we had enjoyed the air together through sun and snow, rain and wind.  On the day of departure our friends pulled up in front of our house.  Their car was tightly packed, except for the back seat where our common dog was to ride away.  It was all predestined, of course. 

What I learned from this experience is that no good deed goes unpunished.  I expected at least some expression of gratitude for my life-saving contribution.  However, as the car drove away and I called out an emotionally choked “farewell” — that damn dog was looking straight ahead and never turned around to acknowledge his old companion.  I almost became a cat person.