"Dog" is "God" Spelled Backwards

They warned me about California before I left Texas. They told me all the crazy things you hear about these people out here are true. And at first I thought they might be right, when I encountered “laughter therapy” on the beach, and a bearded man in a furniture store wearing a sun dress. He was also wearing sandals, and his toenails were painted black. His beard was rather gray. And the strangest thing of all . . . no one else in the store gave the man a second look.

There was other weirdness everywhere, but after a couple of months I got used to it. Then came church last Sunday.

I sat in a pew about halfway down on the right. The pastor was speaking up front, making the usual weekly announcements about church activities, when a woman in the pew behind me started whispering. It sounded like she was trying to calm her baby. “There, there,” she whispered. When she continued talking during a prayer, I turned around to look. On the pew beside her, peering from her massive purse, was a brown and white Chihuahua.

Immediately, I faced forward again. I felt embarrassed, as if I’d accidentally witnessed someone doing something intimate, or shameful. Then I felt a growing sense of outrage. It was shameful to bring a dog into that holy place! But before my outrage had a chance to grow to action, I heard the woman speaking to a person sitting next to her.

“Excuse me please, I see my family up front. I need to go sit with them.”

She rose while all the rest of us were seated, and as the pastor spoke up front she passed along the crowded pew behind me, whispering, “Excuse me. Excuse me,” and she walked up the church aisle with her little dog in her arms. Then the woman repeated the process in reverse, entering another pew, whispering her excuses, until at last she reached the place where she wanted to be, and sat down again.

Suddenly I was not outraged anymore.

The woman’s utter lack of awareness of her inappropriate behavior had reminded me of a movie I saw recently, The Year of the Dog. (Spoiler alert!) It's about a woman whose deepest relationship is with her pet beagle. When the beagle dies, the woman is shattered. She copes by becoming involved in animal rescue work, ends up with about 50 dogs running amuck in her house, loses her job when she forges corporate checks to animal rights groups, and loses her family’s trust when she destroys her sister-in-law’s expensive fur coats and traumatizes her little niece by taking her to an animal processing center. Through it all, there is a nice young man in the background, and one hopes she will eventually transfer her affections to him, but he is not interested in anything but dogs. In the end, she rides off on a bus filled with other animal activists, intent on making the world a better place for animals, and utterly alone in the crowd. This was supposed to be a comedy, believe it or not. I almost cried.

So there I was in real life—or as close to real life as one can get in Southern California—and this woman walked the aisle in the middle of a worship service with a Chihuahua in her arms, and I remembered the character from The Year of the Dog, and suddenly I realized the woman had no idea there was anything wrong with bringing her little pet to a worship service because her dog was her best friend . . . perhaps her only friend. I almost cried.

“Dogs are man’s best friend.” I tried to imagine how shallow life would be if that were really true. Don’t get me wrong; I think dogs are one of God’s very best ideas. But a dog’s love is bread and water compared to the lavish banquet Jesus offers.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:10-12)

I understood that woman perfectly. She had brought her imitation Jesus in her arms, just as I had so often brought mine in my heart. We were much the same: both of us settling for far too little. Puppy love is not enough, just as love of money, sex, career, or even family is not enough. Only God’s love is enough, because only “God is love.”

Call me just another crazy Californian, but I hope the woman comes back to church again this Sunday, and I hope she brings her dog. At least she’s being honest about how lonely she really is, which is more than most of us can say. Na├»ve honesty like that gives God something He can work with. It means there’s real hope for that poor woman. And as far as I’m concerned, it means she, and her dog, have come to the right place.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 8:06 AM  

4 comments:

Kay said... January 11, 2008 at 9:17 AM  

My first thought was that she obviously doesn't know much about what is acceptable in church. Meaning she is probably new to the whole thing. As you said, there is no better place for her to be, even if she has to bring her silly little dog.

Nicole said... January 11, 2008 at 9:58 AM  

Thank you for your honesty. We always first look at the outside, don't we? That inside is where God is willing to work.

Dayle James Arceneaux said... January 12, 2008 at 1:16 PM  

I think the psychology is easy.

Every person I know has let me down or will let me down. My dogs never have and never will. Dogs are the embodiment of unconditional love sans Jesus of course. For example, I know my dogs would die for me. They even seem to know when I'm ill and they do little "extras".

In other words, it's a lot easier to trust a dog than a human. And if someone has given up on humans they will go as far as humanizing the dog.

So, I think your perception is correct about her loneliness, but I don't think she is necessarily using her puppy love to try to fill the God-shaped hole in her soul. I think it is to fill the human-shaped hole in her heart. Two shall become one.

Kay said... January 21, 2008 at 9:15 AM  

I posted a review preview today.

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