My Other Dog Is Going to Pets for Vets

We have been providing a temporary home for a dog rescue group since last May.

Last week, after a disappointing meeting with a potential permanent family for him, we got another call from Pets for Vets.

They’re interested in taking Yogi, giving him a couple months 1-on-1 training and sending him out to a combat vet.

Here’s the idea:

(PTSD Trigger warning – video contains intense combat-related material.)

Suits him.

We’ve never had a dog as loving and licking.

As soon as they figure out which of their vets is the best match, it looks like he’ll be off to his new life.

Happy ending.

My Dog Bit the Insurance Agent

In New York, when your dog bites someone, you get a call from the county health office.

They get your vet’s information. They ask you if your dog is showing any signs of having rabies. They ask you to fax them your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate.

Then they tell you that you have to keep your dog alive and in quarantine for 10 days. Then they send you a certified letter informing you that if you do not keep your dog in quarantine for 10 days, they will take your dog and keep it in quarantine at your expense.

Quarantine means you have to keep the dog in your house at all times. When you have guests in the house, you have to keep your dog in a pen. And, if you let your dog out to go pee or poop, your dog must be on a leash and the person on the other end of the leash must be at least 21 years old.

After 10 days they call you again. They ask you if your dog is still alive. They ask you if your dog is showing any signs of rabies. Then they let you know whether you can keep your dog alive or if you have to put the dog down.

In our case, the dog bit the insurance agent. He’d come to the door to take measurements of the house for a new policy. Brooke answered the door. He bolted out past her and bit the guy in the leg, above the knee.

He’s been trained not to go through an outside door without permission. For 6 years, he’d go nose to the door and bark at people, but until last week he’d never bolted out. I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he had a stroke.

The 10-day quarantine was awful. His behavior got worse.

He’s not rabid. If he were rabid, he’d be dead by now. But I caught him getting into the kitchen trash, something else he hasn’t done since his first week in our house. Any time someone walks past the house, he goes nuts. Sometimes he goes nuts barking at nothing.

We had a consultation with the vet about his behavior. She’s keeping him for a week for observation. Then, maybe we’ll try anti-anxiety drugs and tranquilizers. We’ll still have to pen him up every time someone comes to the door before we open it.

Since he’s been gone at the vet’s, the house has been quiet. It’s been wonderful.

I wish I could say I missed him more. But I don’t. I’m not looking forward to life with a psychotic dog.

Maybe, if he gets some good drugs and calms down things will be better.

The Problem with Excessive Righteousness

This morning I’m filling in at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George, NY. (The assigned text for the morning began at Matthew 5:21.) Here’s the sermon:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:20

When I first this in preparation for this morning, the first thing I thought was, “Jesus sure sounds cranky in these verses.”

So I read it again, and I realized, Jesus isn’t just being cranky here. He’s using a line of reasoning called reductio ad absurdum. Thats a fancy way of saying Jesus is showing us how absurd and misleading the Pharisees’ way of getting to heaven is if you follow it to its extreme.

Following the rules is important, Jesus says. They’ll keep you from getting killed. When you’re driving, stay right of the double yellow. But they won’t get you into heaven. They won’t even make you a better person.

But the Pharisees and scribes said to get to heaven you had to follow the rules. Not just some, but all the rules. And they had rules for everything. First, they extracted 613 rules from the Law of Moses. Then they made up thousands more rules for how to properly follow the original 613.

If you want to get to heaven by following rules, Jesus says, you’ll have to follow more rules better than they do.

I don’t know about you. Maybe you’re good at following lots of rules. I’m not.

I can’t remember to take my shoes off by the door before I walk into the house.

I often can’t remember all the rules. Especially not all at once. I have trouble walking and chewing gum.

Where does the salad fork go in relation to the dinner fork and the dessert fork? Someone told me once. I can never remember.

I know I’m supposed to wash my hands after handling raw chicken. I know I’m always supposed to come to a complete, full stop at every stop sign. I try to remember. I’m sure I’ve messed up a time or two.

Be honest. How many people in this room have never ever, in your whole life even once, exceeded the speed limit? I’ve only known one person who I’d believe if she told me she’d never been speeding. Then last summer she accidentally ran her car into the side of the post office. Hit the gas pedal instead of the break. Her driving record now includes destroying federal property.

Being righteous the way the Pharisees said you have to is hard. If you think you can be more righteous than them, good luck.

Say you’re a tailor. You have to put your needle down a half-hour before sunset. Otherwise, you might accidentally take a stitch after that last ray disappeared on the horizon. Caught you red-handed working on the Sabbath. Guilty.

Some groups still try it the Pharisees’ way today.

You can’t carry things on the Sabbath. That’s pretty basic.

But what’s the difference between wearing and carrying. A woman’s hair clip, for instance. Is it something you wear or something you carry in your hair. If carried, then it’s a burden and forbidden on the Sabbath.

According to their rules, a woman (I’m not sure about men) can go out in the back yard of her house wearing a wig. That’s wearing. But not in public. That’s carrying. Actually, it would be concealing and carrying. That might be a felony, too. Not sure. Depends on which state and if you have a permit.

Say you’re watching the big game on Sunday afternoon and you want to get a snack from the fridge. If you’re going to be righteous like the Pharisees, you have to disconnect the refrigerator light before you open the door. You’d have to have already unscrewed the bulb before sundown Saturday night. Why? Because if the light were to come on, you’d be violating the injunction against “kindling” on the Sabbath.

You don’t light fires in your refrigerator, of course. But light bulbs get hot. Rules are rules, and it counts as the same thing.

Letting warm air into the refrigerator is also a problem. That causes the compressor to activate. The compressor would “spark,” also a Sabbath violation.

Now that you know this you’re probably worried about how you’ll get your beer and cheese dip this afternoon. I can see it on your faces. Last night you should have replaced the fridge thermostat with a timer to run the compressor motor at set intervals. (I hope you thought to do that last night.) That way your work on Saturday is what lit the spark, not your opening the door this afternoon.

If you’re a nurse or doctor and you must apply an antiseptic to the skin on the Sabbath, be sure to use a nonabsorbent nylon swab. Please don’t use cotton. Cotton could absorb the medication and you’d be guilty of dying cloth.

By now, I hope you’ve realized that following more rules than these people is impossible.

It’s not just Pharisees and their descendants that have rules.

Not too long ago, a whole generation was driven from the church by rules about hair length and hem length. Rules about segregation. Rules about abortion. Rules about sexual purity. Some of that wrangling over rules continues to this day.

People say they’re just doing what’s right. People say they have good intentions with all these rules. They may even believe it. But it kinda comes across as being about the rules. Even worse, it comes across that they’re making up rules and saying they’re God’s rules.

I’ve had people tell me that religion is about God’s rules. Some people say that the word religion is derived from some form of the latin regula (meaning rules, where we get our word ruler).

Some churches – not this church, of course – but some churches use the Bible as a rulebook the way scouts use the scout handbook.

My friend Allen was a scout leader for a long time. Every year, he took his troop to camp Wannacallmymommie.

For these trips, every boy in the troop had to bring a small chest to keep under his cabin bunk. Every boy’s chest had be kept locked, and the key on a string, and the string tied around his wrist.

One year, a new scout master came along. The new guy, full of boy scout idealism wanted to go by the book.

“Wait a minute,” the new scout master said. “We shouldn’t be using these locks. We shouldn’t have any locks at camp. The book says ‘A scout is trustworthy.’”

“Yes,” Allan said. “And the locks keep them that way.”

As well-intentioned as the rulebook is, the problem with using rules as the basis for community life is that people have trouble following them.

Religion derived from regula may sound good. But it’s simply not true. Our word religion doesn’t come from regula at all. It comes from religio, made up of two parts. Re, meaning “again.” And ligio meaning “connection,” from which we get our words ligature (“a tie or connection”) and ligament (“a sinew connecting two parts of the body”) and link.

Religion isn’t about following rules. Religion is about getting reconnected. Getting reconnected with God. Getting re-linked with other people.

Jesus says, Sure, you can go the rules route if you want to. Here’s what it’ll take.

You put your needles down a half hour before sunset. You disconnect the refrigerator light before you open the door. You don’t wear your hair clip or your wig in public on Sunday.

Did you know there are rules about how if you spend the evening with the Victoria’s Secret catalog you have to make a special offering in church the next week? I have yet to see anyone run their annual stewardship campaign on that, but there you have it.

You can go that route if you want to, Jesus says. But to make it work, you’re going to have to do it better than they do.

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says.

That’s the problem with excessive righteousness. We can make all the rules we want. We can spend our life arguing about hair length and hem length. We can blow our top over whether using marihuana without actually inhaling really qualifies as taking a drag. We can do that.

Jesus says we’d be better off working on yur relationships and getting ourselves reconnected. Strong relationship is the key tied around your wrist when adherence to the rulebook fails.

For every one of the laws Jesus sites in this passage, Jesus proposes that we think about the relationship involved instead.

“Take murder, for instance,” Jesus says. Let’s get the biggies out of the way first.

“I’m fine,” someone actually told me once. “I haven’t murdered anyone this week.”

But what leads to a premeditated murder? First some disagreement you’re angry about. Then exchanging of insults and injuries of all kinds. Then writing the other person off as an idiot. By now you’ve dehumanized your enemy. Then you kill him.

If you’re going to play the Pharisees’ game, you’re liable for everything that leads up to murder, even if it never quite gets there.

Just praying about it doesn’t magically take our problems away. Jesus says you have to go be reconciled – there it is again, reconciled, reconnected – to your brother or sister. Until you do that what you put in the offering plate, “it don’t mean a thing.”

It’s about relationships. The quality of community connections.

Adultery. This isn’t about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

There was then, and there is now, a lot of arguing about who can be legally married and whether and under what conditions you can get a divorce. Someone came to me at my office in Glens Falls once to ask if I could tell him, “according to the Bible,” if there’s a way to ditch his wife so he could marry his girlfriend.

Jesus says you’d better think about your self-image as some kind of stand-up guy. Cause it’s about your relationships.

Oath taking. This isn’t about whether you should or shouldn’t put your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth in court.

It’s about whether you’re true to your word.

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees and scribes, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

You can try getting to heaven by following all the rules. Good luck with that. My guess is you’ll be pretty miserable and miserable to be around.

Or you reconnect with your family and community. You can be reconciled to your neighbor. You can honor your relationships.

Most of the time, Jesus says, you don’t need a rulebook to do the right thing.

“A Short Conference Call” Is an Oxymoron

I have yet to be on a short conference call.

I’ve been on quite a few conference calls where ahead of time organizers said, “It’s just going to be a short conference call.” I’ve never been on a call that’s gone much less than an hour.

I couple of times, after being on a short conference call for more than half an hour, I’ve just hung up.

The other day I was on a conference call. It was going on 45 minutes. Someone came to the door. The dog started barking.

After that, other people on the call started sending me links to this video:

Yeah. I was that guy whose dog started barking.

I confess, I’ve also been the guy who shows up at the end, having said nothing the whole time. And the guy who quits to go get a beer half way through. I’ve resolved not to bother with conference calls where I’m either of those guys.

Most, maybe all, conference calls should be 10 minutes long, with the following agenda:

  • Hey everybody, here’s what you need to know.
  • Are there any other issues anybody needs the rest of us to think about?
  • Thank you for your time. Goodbye.

I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I know it’s not going to happen.

But I can daydream.

Worst Valentine’s Day Ever

When I was in 4th grade I had a crush on Lisa Battista.

I was a shy kid. I had no idea how to tell her. So I didn’t.

For Valentines Day, though, I got her one of those big sappy cards.

Everyone was supposed to give everyone else in the class a Valentine. Those little clip-out cards you get in packs of 24 with Disney characters on them, and a place inside to tape a lollypop. Something like that. It was a requirement. Everyone had to give everyone in the class a Valentine. They were supposed to be generic.

But I got Lisa Battista a big heart-shaped Valentines card from the Hallmark rack at Kresge’s.

I was a nervous wreck at Valentine exchange time. Everyone was up walking around the classroom distributing Valentines all at once. I dropped the card on her desk as nonchalantly as I could while she was across the room passing out her cards.

But before she got back to her desk, someone else in the class noticed the larger than usual card on her desk and opened it for her.

I don’t remember his name. Scott something, maybe. Maybe that’s why to this day I don’t easily trust people named Scott.

All I remember is the little bastard started yelling at the top of his voice, “Lisa Battista got a huge ‘I Love You’ card, and it’s from Caspar Green! Hey everybody, Caspar Green’s in love with Lisa Battista!”

All of a sudden the whole class was in an uproar about, “Caspar and Lisa sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” I was mortified. I’m guessing Lisa was mortified, too.

I don’t think she ever got to see the card. The teacher confiscated it. It was causing a disturbance in the classroom. In some classrooms order and conformity to the rules is more important than love, I guess. Even on Valentine’s Day.

The teasing was relentless for several weeks. I was sorry I’d gotten the card, even though the crush on Lisa hadn’t gone away. I was awkward and shy to begin with. After that, I was completely unable to approach girls. It was a curse that lasted through High School and into college.

Lisa never mentioned it ever. By the time we got to Jr. High I’d lost track of her. I wonder if she remembers it. I kinda hope not. Or if she does, that it wasn’t the same traumatic event for her that it was for me.

I never mentioned it again either. Not to anyone. Ever. Until now.

Since that 4th grade Valentine’s Day, I’ve come to understand that Valentine’s Days are like that. They’re either gloriously romantic or epic disasters. It’s a day that can only rival Mother’s Day for simultaneous schmaltz and peril.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day. And beware!

7 Ideas for Blog Posts

This post is #2.

They’re all things that have been on my mind lately, or things that happened in the last few days, or came up in the course of conversation this afternoon.

If I write them, I’ll update this post with the links.

If you write them, please send me a pingback or link to your version in the comments.

  1. How I Used the Word Screwed at a Church Meeting
  2. 7 Random Ideas for Blog Posts
  3. Why there aren’t many conversions like in the Book of Acts any more.
  4. My Dog Bit the Insurance Agent
  5. “A Short Conference Call” Is an Oxymoron
  6. My Other Dog is Going to Be a Therapy Dog for Vets
  7. Remembering Is Hard (Forgetting Is Easy)

Two Months of Daily Blogging

Today’s post is the 63rd post since restarting this blog exactly two months ago.

In the second month, I tried a few new things:

In this second month, I started getting a little bit of traffic. Not a lot. I’m seeing 9 page views per day on average. For a blog that I’ve intentionally not publicized at all, this is fine.

Of the traffic I’ve been getting, two or three page views each day come from Google searches. Most of those searches are people who come looking for the picture of Uncle Sam Jesus. Another few come from family members who’ve found the blog. Since the Daily Prompt and writing challenge posts, I’ve had a few readers from the WordPress blog network.

Along with some page views this month, the blog has garnered it’s first few comments. That meant addressing the custom template’s comment display functionality.

More important than the traffic and comment numbers, though, I’ve kept my commitment to post something every day.

To the few people who do read this, thanks for reading and for your support. Especially, thanks to those who took time to comment.

Here’s to starting month #3!

Sunday Epidemic

One afternoon a few years ago, in a fit of boredom, I came across the Project Name Generator.

You go there. You click the button. It generates a crazy random name. You click the button again. It generates another random name. You can click the button as many times as you like. It saves the names in a list for you.

You might want to try it sometime, if you’re bored.

I was clicking the button. A lot of the names were amusing.

Then I clicked the button, and the name Sunday Epidemic came up.

Random. But at that moment it captured what I was feeling about Pastoral ministry. It was making me sick. The church was sick. And not just my particular church, but the whole church project. My experience of Sunday was (and still is) the experiencing of an epidemic. Instead of being a place of healing, it had become a place for spreading disease.

I registered the domain name.

At the time, I was already blogging anonymously at PastorOnTheEdge.com. I didn’t know what I would ever do with Sunday Epidemic. All I knew was that the name felt real.

A year later I “retired” from ministry. I continued blogging for a while, no longer anonymously, at Pastor on the Edge. I did almost a year of blogging at ScarletLetterBible.com. It took that year to detox.

Then I stopped. I wasn’t a pastor any more, and I wasn’t on the edge any more.

Last summer I got around again to Sunday Epidemic. I thought it might be about church, since that’s where it started. After a couple weeks of messing around with it, I realized I couldn’t do it. I’d spent too much effort detoxing to go there again.

Two months ago I deleted everything from that first attempt, and started the blog over from scratch. Sunday Epidemic isn’t about church, or even Sunday. I still go to church most Sundays. I sometimes get invitations to be a guest preacher somewhere.

It’s still sick. The difference is now I can let myself be amused by it. Last Sunday, during the choral introit, someone belched the belch heard round the world. (You didn’t hear it?) The bell choir decided that the William Tell Overture was more appropriate than any other sacred music they could find. The Ladies’ Valentine-for-shut-ins lady took 10 minutes during the announcements to tell us how to sign up for something on a clip board she was passing around. The sermon was co-opted at the last minute by a 15 minute auditor’s report.

Now and then I’ll write about church stuff, if it’s what’s on my mind. Once in a while I’ll post a sermon. I’ll announce where I’ll be speaking. But Sunday Epidemic isn’t about church. It’s about one person’s life after church detox. Whatever that turns out to be.

Remind Me Not to Slouch

I’ve always been a sloucher.

From my teenage years, people who had my best interest in mind would say, “Stand up straight. Don’t slouch.” I never did. It wasn’t rebellion. It was just laziness. Apathy. At times my slouching was an accurate representation of my constant mood. Slouched, low energy.

Plenty of times I’ve seen what happens to people who slouch. They can’t stand up straight. They have permanently curved spines and their heads protrude forward on their necks, jutting out in front, always looking down.

Lately, I’ve started getting chronically sore upper back and neck. I can tell. That permanent slouch is starting to ossify.

So, I’m paying more attention to my posture. It’s not quite too late. But soon it will be.

It’s taking a concentrated effort to remember after all these years. “Stand up straight,” I tell myself. And I do. And I feel the vertebrae cracking as I pull my head back up and straighten out my spine. Muscles in my back I haven’t used in years are tired by the middle of the day. I’m hoping that as I start to exercise them more, they’ll get used to being used again and stop hurting so much. Until that happens, an afternoon Aleve helps.

Breaking the habit of looking at my feet when I’m walking is more difficult than you’d think, too. I constantly have to tell myself, “Look up.”

So, if you see me slouching, you have my permission to remind me: “Stand up straight.”

And, if you’re a sloucher, take it from me. It’s easier to fix earlier than later.

Upcoming Sunday Epidemic Events

On Sunday, February 16 and Sunday, February 23 I’ll be the guest preacher at the Caldwell Presbyterian Church, 71 Montcalm Street, in Lake George, NY.

Their services start at 10 am.

I’d be glad to meet with friends for lunch in Lake George afterwards on either Sunday before heading back north. You can drop a message in the comments here if you’d like to arrange something in advance.

On Sunday, March 2 I’ll be the guest preacher at Whiteface Community United Methodist Church, on the corner of Haselton Road and Route 86 in Wilmington, NY.