Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Bone to Pick with Scripture

By her mere presence, sleeping at my feet as I write this, our dog Hobbes reminds me to lighten up after my last post’s earnest struggling with the Book of Revelation. For me, she truly is one of those “thin places” of Celtic spirituality through which I glimpse heaven on earth.

And I repeatedly witness that she does the same for others. When she rides in the car with me while out running errands, she often elicits a smile from those we pass. For a moment they transcend their stress and preoccupations and the traffic and enter a place of joy, good humor, and tenderness, like a child glad to be given a new stuffed animal. At first I think they are smiling at me, and then I realize it’s my passenger of the canine persuasion sitting attentively in the front seat.  I don’t mind basking in the overflow of goodwill she generates.

A neighbor along our route home after walking in Grant Park has two bumper stickers on his truck: “I BELIEVE IN DOG,” says one, and “DOG IS MY CO-PILOT” says the other. And it’s true, I do believe in Hobbes, and she is definitely my anamchara, or soul friend, also from Celtic Christianity. She’s a very good listener, puts up with my singing, and is always looking out for me.  In turn, I take pleasure in her snoring, her big round eyes (alternately wistful, pitiful, or ecstatic, working her wiles), her sloppy wet ear kisses, and her nosing the doorknob when it’s time to go out.

That’s why I was shocked, toward the end of  Revelation, to discover it said of the New Jerusalem come down from heaven, that “Others must stay outside: dogs, fortune tellers, and the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, and everyone of false speech and false life” (22:15). And there was no footnote explaining the reference to dogs in the New Jerusalem Bible I was reading!

I immediately thought of what I remember as an old Twilight Zone episode, a story that not long ago found new life on the internet, about a man who refuses to enter heaven’s gate without his dog, only to find the true heaven’s gate further down the road and that the gate he resisted entering was, in fact, “the other place.” The true heaven welcomed man and dog.

In her early life, when I was out of town, Hobbes’s favorite dog sitters were both transgender. One was a Muslim, and I had to be careful scheduling around the holy month of Ramadan, when he could not be around a dog during daylight hours. Religion sometimes considers dogs “unclean,” and I wondered if that were the origin of the taboo in Revelation.

So I checked the Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version. It, too, listed “dogs” as unwelcome in the New Jerusalem, but this time a footnote clarifies it meant, “impure, lascivious persons,” though it also references Philippians 3:2, where dogs referred to those who insisted on circumcision—in other words, those who were religious purists, the fundamentalists of their time.

Hobbes’s companion, Calvin, who passed on in San Francisco when I served a church there as an interim pastor, wrote “On Dogs in Scripture” in his book Unleashed: The Wit and Wisdom of Calvin the Dog. Calvin noted that dogs were “not positively portrayed in the scriptures of various religions,” but “associated with depravity, paganism, heresy, enemies, and the lowest of the low.” Then he pointed out, “Jesus said not to give us what’s holy, but agreed, at least, that we had a right to eat the crumbs that fall from our master’s table.” He continued:

This last reference must serve as the can-opener [Canine for hermeneutic, or method of interpretation] to reveal God’s intentions with regard to dogs. Canine prejudice abounded when most religious canons were written. Surely this admittedly fleeting reference to our right to whatever falls from our masters’ tables gives dogs new status in scriptural dogma. Only those who don’t like us would use the other scriptures against us. And, reading scriptures as a whole, it’s clear that God is usually on the side of the underdog, and there’s nothing more ‘under’ than us dogs! (60-61).

Calvin sat in the back seat of the car when Hobbes joined our family. But he took a back seat to no one when it came to biblical interpretation.

For more excerpts from Calvin’s book, click here.

Other posts about Hobbes or Calvin:

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Photos and words Copyright © 2013 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes.  

1 comment:

  1. A delightful reflection! Of course, the whole concept that the list of "those who must stay outside" does not take into account that they are precisely those with whom Jesus most frequently spent his time - bringing them "inside" the all-embracing healing love of God. Just after I read your blog on e-mail, I went to the Animal Rescue Site for my "daily click". And this was the "rescue story" posted this morning:

    My best friend, Sarena

    I met my beloved furry friend, Sarena, on September 17, 2007. I rescued her from PAWS in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, and she rescued me right back. Sarena is a Katrina mutt; she was on the streets for over a year after the storm. PAWS "captured" her in January of 2007 along with her two 12 week old puppies. Her body still shows signs from what she endured including a BB lodged in her leg, a gnarled tongue from eating out of cans, scars on her face and missing teeth. To describe the love I have for Sarena or to capture in words how she has changed my life is impossible. The universe guided me down to the Gulf Coast as a volunteer post-Katrina, and later as a resident and teacher in New Orleans so that I could find her. We met during a dark period of my life, and she guided me towards light and hope by teaching me unconditional love and true friendship. She, too, had her demons, and suffered severe separation anxiety. We had to move into a studio apartment so that I could afford her doggie day care, and also build her trust that I would never leave her as her previous owners had. Just before my husband and I got married, he presented Sarena with her own ring that she wears on her collar. He knows that she is my first love, and a commitment to me is one to her, as well. I tell her every day that she is the love of my life, that I love her with all of my heart and soul and that she is my best friend that ever was and ever will be. I could never thank Sarena enough for choosing me to be her mom and friend.

    Dana Bonsell
    Rockville, MD