The Dogs of Rage

By Jose Rocha from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jose Rocha from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Each morning in the darkness, a very large dog and a mid-sized backup dog stare me awake for their trip to the doggy park.    One of us grabs coffee and the rest pile into the car.

I jog the perimeter of the park and do mild attempts with a twenty-five pound kettlebell.  The dogs do dog things prancing in the morning mist lit by a lone street lamp.

Soon two headlights creep up the gravel road along side the park putting the dogs into high alert.  The dogs of rage have arrived.  Nothing is said.  The hour has come.

The dogs of rage burst into the small, secluded puppy area, a mere chain link fence away.  They are kept in isolation.  They cannot socialize.  They give off an aura that incites confrontation and outburst of emotion.

The dogs on both sides of the fence thrust into attack running up and down along side the barrier, mouths foaming spewing a thick volley of doggy trash talk.  It is a battle yet a game.  It is a struggle for dominance fueled by anger of the deepest innermost rage to accomplish a seemingly sublime goal that in the end is insignificant and offers no benefit to the world about them.  Kind of like football, come to think of it.

We let it play out and I thought about a man who always seemed to be contentious and on the attack.  I saw him harshly confront a young lady over an innocent side comment she made the week before reducing her to tears.  When I asked about this man people rolled their eyes and said he was just this way.  A thoughtful brother told me that there was a part of this man that the Lord was working on that has merit and beauty.

I don’t know what made the man the way he is.  But I did see him once break down and weep at the thought that he was reading the very words of Jesus.  And another time I saw his generous spirit helping someone in need.

The dogs reached their cardiovascular limits.  They lost interest in the fight and breathed heavily in the morning air.  The big dog and the mid-sized backup dog followed me as we jogged down the hill to do another lap around the perimeter.

I’ve thought of the many times over the years where my mind fell into a bad place resulting in an abusive burst of angry rage hurting those about me and shaming myself.  I thought I would be beyond this after all these years.  I’ve explored various helps from physiological to psychological to spiritual and certainly have found some help in self-management, identifying triggers, trusting God’s benevolence, and realizing the broken pathways in my thinking.

Nevertheless, when Jesus freed the demoniac, the demons fled into the pigs and tumbled over the side of the cliff with a sense of finality.  I think my demons still hide in the bushes waiting for an opportune time when I have my guard down.

I chatted with the owners of the dogs of rage, two sweet women.  They rescued these two black dogs from abusive situations.  The trauma was so bad that they will never be normal dogs.  The insecurity and harsh reactiveness is, at least for now, hard wired.  Yet each morning, the women look beyond the obvious exterior and see the beauty in two of God’s creatures.

That Sunday as we brought our broken and contradictory selves to the communion table, I heard this:

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch his treasure

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Witnessing For Jesus

tractI’ve never been very good at witnessing.  I’ve never very much liked it.

I was raised in a family where I was taught to interpret conflict or confrontation as something wrong with me (I’ve never quite gotten over that pathology) so putting myself in the position where cherished beliefs collide was not my idea of a good time.

When my brother witnessed to me, sharing a four-easy-steps gospel tract and I became a Christian, I would go into his room and read all the books he had on what Christians were supposed to do.  There were many things that appealed to me – reading and learning the Bible, prayer, loving others, confessing sin, and letting the Holy Spirit guide my life, for instance.    However, it was this insistence that I need to  engage in the practice of going up to people I don’t know and tell them what the’re not interested in hearing that caused me to take a deep breath, suck it up, and be willing to take up my cross.

I tried.  I really did.  When I joined the One True Church, I had lots of opportunities.  We would go out every Friday night to talk to people on the local ocean pier.  We would go into parks and knock on doors in neighborhoods, Bible in hand, ready to share promises and lead inquirers to Jesus.

But the most opportune of all was our college ministry.  The campus, after all, was a whole mission field of impressionable minds at life’s crossroads.  We would pray earnestly for revival to bring our University campus to Christ.  We had a Bible study, a prayer meeting, discipleship groups, and (you guessed it) times of witnessing.  I would spend hours at the book table armed with tracts hoping to be a part of Jesus’ Great Commission with very little fruit to show for it.

The problem is, I’m kind of the Charlie Brown of witnessing, the one no one really takes seriously.  My witnessing would be similar to his It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown trick-or-treat experience:

Brother:  I ran into these high school kids hanging out and I talked with them and three of them received Christ!  Praise the Lord!

Sister:  There was this obnoxious woman at the gym and I prayed for the love of Christ and after sharing with her, she became a Christian and is now going to church with me!  Praise the Lord!

Me:  I got a rock.

Brother:  I’ve been sharing with my boss and he got really interested in the Bible and is coming to the Bible Study.  Praise the Lord!

Sister:  I shared with the girl at McDonald’s and she got so convicted that at her break she came out and talked with me and wants to know more about Jesus.  Praise the Lord!

Me:  I got a rock.

I don’t know why some people encounter the work of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes and convicting the heart while I only get looks of incomprehension of incredulity.   I don’t think I was speaking Yiddish but perhaps I was just not as self-aware as I thought I was.

To some, witnessing isn’t quite as big of a deal.  They believe that God choose those who are going to be Christians an eternity ago and its just a matter of getting out the draft notices.  I suppose the postal service would suffice for this.

Others, on the other hand,  feel that if someone dies without knowledge of Christ to face an eternity of harrowing judgment, it really comes down to being my fault for not doing a better job of witnessing, persuading, and otherwise getting the word out.  I really like to believe that the God who crafted the intricacies of the atom as well as the expanse of interstellar space is not resting the central supply chain of His salvation message on my dubious skills of proclamation.

Jesus said some sow and others reap.  I’m still trying to figure out how to get the garden shed door open.

The Importance of Being Macho

vanI knew a macho guy and he drove a macho van.

I met Macho Guy when I was going to Surfer Dude High School where we both pretended that we were on the soccer team but spent most of the time sitting on the bench.   We sat in the back of chemistry class worrying that we needed to secure a girl friend before the following year to take to grad night otherwise, well, we just could not imagine.

Macho Guy had a macho blue Ford camper van.  This was back in the days when high school students didn’t tend to own cars.  Several times he suggested I should join him with his other older macho friends on a camping trip down to the south county beach where they did macho things such as fishing and drinking beer and climbing on rocks around the tide pools.

It got to the point, in our little circle of friends, that all we had to do was sit on a bench as if a rock, rest one fist on one leg, the other arm on the other leg tilting that shoulder slightly forward, and then saying with a chiseled, serious face, “Let me ask you something, babe,” and we all burst out laughing.  We knew we were making fun of Macho Guy.

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what made it so funny.  There is nothing wrong with being manly and macho.  There is nothing wrong with doing manly and macho things.  There is nothing wrong with taking steps to look manly and macho.

Yet with Macho Guy, something just didn’t fit well.  Perhaps the hilarity was in his overcompensation.

By senior year, we both had girl friends and decided to drive together with our dates to grad night in Macho Guy’s macho blue Ford camper van.   It started at Macho Guy’s house where his ultra-permissive yet demanding mom insisted we begin the night with a toast of champagne.   His father, who always struck me as passive and emotionally withdrawn, quietly responded to her orders.  The three of us declined but Macho Guy drank on our behalf.

We got into the macho blue Ford camper van and we were off.  We headed for a port where we would get on a boat that would take us to a little resort island two hours off the coast for a dance and dinner.  The macho blue Ford camper van rattled away as we made our way up the freeway into the next county.

Arriving at the port did not go smoothly for Macho Guy.   When he parked, he did not simply bump the cement parking stop at the end of the parking space.  He did not merely come in so hard so as to lift a tire up upon this cement divider.  When Macho Guy pulled into the parking space with his macho blue Ford camper van, he drove completely over the cement stop with all four tires.

This is when we first suspected that there was something amiss with Macho Guy.

A bit shaken and cautious, we got on board and the boat churned towards the island.  Since this was an official school function, someone smuggled beer on board.  We told Macho Guy that it wasn’t a good idea for him to drink but he protested vehemently that he had been on boats all of his life and had drank on several occasions so he knew what he was doing.

Later at the pavilion in the transition between the dance and late night dinner, I went to the restroom to freshen up.  I washed, straightened, and combed the hair.  As I was leaving, upon a glance, I made the observation that the guy lying on the floor wrapped around the toilet bowl happened to have the exact same jacket that Macho Guy was wearing.  I marveled at the coincidence and headed towards the bathroom exit until reality hit.

In the early morning hours, we all rode the boat back to the port as the sun was just breaking over the horizon.  I watched the sunrise with my girl friend not realizing that we would all grow up and go our separate ways.  In the background, Macho Guy was protesting to his now ex-girl friend,  “Give me a break!  This was just one mistake!  One mistake!  Can’t you forgive a guy?”  But it was too late; she was looking to break up anyway and now had the reason.

After graduation, he had a stint in the military and a couple of marriages and then I lost touch.  The last time we talked he had just gotten engaged again and was going on and on about the secret of life was to be happy and that he was happy and he wanted to know if I was happy.  It still  just didn’t feel real.

There are those in life who from a young age have a firm sense of self, know who they are and what they are called to do, and go on to achieve definitive things.  These, frankly, are the few.

There are others who after a time of immaturity, let go of idealized images of themselves, make peace with their strengths and weaknesses, and spend their present moments accepting life on life’s terms, doing honest work, engaging in relationships, and providing for others.

And still there may be others projecting something they were never meant to be while desperately trying to find the road.