DOG WALKS OUT ON CHURCH SERMON
Was he making a Malthusian statement?
On Sunday, October 18th, 2009, my yellow Labrador Retriever, “Barney”, turned his back on Jesus and took four steps toward Eternal Damnation. For it was on that day in my small island community that the United Church of Canada opened its doors to dogs so that they could receive a blessing on what they designated as “St. Francis of Assisi Day”.
St. Francis, as you probably know, was an early pioneer of “Green Living”, a man who gave up all his wealth to the poor, dedicating his life the virtues of simplicity and the love of all of God’s creatures, including our beloved pets. He lived simply so that others could simply live, and thus was obviously not a favourite of the financial planning industry.
The minister, “Mimi”, made note of the fact that the letters in the word “dog” were the same as the letters for the word for our Lord “God”. (For dyslexic Christian dog-lovers, a kind of Holy Duality I suppose). This, she maintained, was no accident, for dogs were sent here to be our divine role-models. Their unconditional love for us showcased the unconditional love that we should give to our Holy Father. Her dearly departed dog, a beautiful young Dutch Sheppard named “Sarah”, treated her daughter like a god, and it was this example of uninhibited love and loyalty that strengthened their faith. Sarah had served a purpose in her brief life, and that was as a teacher.
Mimi then read biblical passages in memory of St. Francis, and then called my lab forward for a blessing. (This was perhaps disappointing for Barney, for as a lab he might have preferred baptism.)Until this point Barney had been lying passively at my feet in the front row, just ten feet from the minister. All were impressed by his decorum and his quiet veneration of the sacred venue, a small church almost a century old with an inviting stain glass window that allowed the mid-morning sun to highlight the glistening dark lacquered wainscoting and pews, and a spotless bright blue carpet that Barney didn’t dare stain.
When he was beckoned Barney perked his ears and fixed his gaze on her outstretched hand, believing that it might hold a communion wafer, until he apparently realized that this minister was affiliated to the wrong Christian denomination and that wafers were not on offer. So he remained stationary and skeptical, no doubt in the hope that she might sweeten the pot of friendship with something more substantial than a mere blessing. Eventually I had to stand up and remand him to her custody by leash. He then dutifully sat down beside her as she laid her hand upon him and gave him the Lord’s blessing, followed by the Lord’s prayer, which was recited by all those present, saving the dogs that is.
It was at this moment that I thought that Barney was amenable to moral instruction, but as the sermon began, he rolled over and ignored her. It had been my forlorn hope that his homosexual fantasies might be cured by prayer and bible study, but it soon became apparent that the prospect of redemption was not a sufficient incentive to dissuade him from following his wicked course. Finally, he grew restive and broke from my grasp, running down the aisle in hot pursuit of a (male) black poodle, “Inka”. When I separated them, he made for the door and flopped down in front of it, obviously positioned for the earliest exit. He was content to remain in his default position—that of a semi-comatose Sphinx---until the minister began talking about what Christ demanded of us in response to the world’s problems.
Her theme was that instead of blaming institutions, we should, by our personal conduct, lead by example, and thereby inspire others to follow our path. If we love the environment, we should re-cycle, consume less and strive to live as St. Francis did----simply. It was a message fully in concert with the culture and religion of the island, a syncretistic blend of mushy New Age feel-goodism, soft green environmentalism, Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism, with David Suzuki and the Delai Lama as god-heads forming a duet of denial. In short, the very antithesis of my ethical orientation.
It was when Mimi spoke of the global food crisis and how sharing our bounty and our love would address it, that Barney whined to be let out. He couldn’t take it anymore either. Unlike the humans present, he knew that he was a pack animal, and that as such, when you are presented with a feeding opportunity, you wolf it down and then subsequently share it as vomit with the pack. Teenagers display this instinct on occasion too, I have observed, with their ritual of fast food followed by strong drink.
It seems that Barney had silently absorbed my “lifeboat ethics” and knew instinctively that when there is not enough to go around, its family first, and that reducing his paw-print would not compensate for the ever expanding number of paws. It was at that moment that I had an epiphany: it was in his gesture of defiance that Barney was acting as my teacher, showing the way. He turned his back on Jesus, and pulled me like a sled dog back to toward The Gospel of St. Garrett of Hardin, and together we walked for hours in the forest where shafts of sunlight pierced through tall conifers to fall on maples of golden leaves which illuminated our passage. Heathens both, it seemed upon reflection fitting that in the same fashion as my late brother Al, my ashes will one day be scattered on Barney’s grave, to symbolize the fact that our respective species have exactly the same cosmological significance.
On that point, both Darwin and St. Francis would be in probable agreement.
Quadra Island, BC