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

Disaster In The Desert

desert-safari-dubaiBack in my early Christian days, Bible teachers would see the journey of Israel in the books of Exodus and Numbers as an analogy of the Christian walk.  The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament reveled.

God brought His people out of the tyranny of Egypt by blood and by power.  This correlates with Christ bringing  us out of the penalty and power of sin.

Israel was then to make a couple of days journey until they cross the Jordan in to the Promised land.  In like manner, we Christians move towards Christian maturity – assimilating and appreciate the fruit of redemption – serenity, inner peace, joy and love for neighbor – as well as disposing the enemies of our soul – resentment, bitterness, lust and the like.

In this desert analogy, it was supposed to be a short journey of trust and obedience from redemption to maturity but it turned out to be a forty year dead end where they all died in the desert.  What happened?

Israel rebelled at least seven times in this short desert walk but the one that truly arrested their development was the refusal to go into the land when God told them to.  God instructed them to send over spies to survey the land – presumably to figure out the best point of entry and other strategies.  It was never intended to be a collaborative group discussion as to whether or not they were to obey the very purpose for which they were brought out of Egypt.

In the end, the people of God rejected the will of God.  How can this be?  How does the unthinkable become the unquestioned?  How does the very sin no one would think of committing become the very thing that popular opinion lays hold of as the only option?  How does rebellion become accepted?

Here are the three steps they took:

  1. Legitimate Problem

The giants in the land were a clear problem.  I don’t want to trivialize this.  People face huge problems in their life that I cannot even imagine.  There are forces and obstacles much bigger than us over which we have little control.

Admittedly, some of my problems are not big problems at all but issues common to everyone which my mind tends to  make larger than life.

  1. Panic and Catastrophe

While the problems are real, the catastrophe isn’t.  “We are all going to die,” said Israel.  “We are as grasshoppers in their sight.”

When I move to panic and fear, I can’t make discerning decisions or put things into perspective.   Such a state of mind makes it least likely that I will do the right thing and not make things worse.

Telling myself scary stories and believing will set me up for disaster.  Israel began to buy into the narrative that God  had abandoned them.  Worse yet, God was capricious – bringing them out to the desert to suffer and die.

  1. Irrational Thought

Dwelling in fear and calamity only leads to irrational thought.  How else would you explain this common embracing of the idea that the days in bondage were good?  This is the mind of an addict who truly wants to believe that their substance or behavior that had devastated their life will now solve all of their problems – even though it has never worked in the past.  Let’s go back to sin – to the shame, secrets, and guilt.  Let’s go back to the demeaning behavior that put us at odds with ourselves and those we love.

The end of this path is disaster in the desert.

If I am to look into my heart, recognize this tendency towards unbelief, and want to do something different, what do I do?  What is it that gave Caleb the emotional energy to make choices in the right direction?  Here are suggestions:

  1. Acceptance

M. Scott Peck opens his famous 1980’s pop culture book The Road Less Traveled with the immemorial opening, “Life is difficult.”  He goes on to say that as soon as we accept the fact that life is difficult, it ceases to be quite so difficult.

I do not have a right to a problem free life in spite of my sense of entitlement.  Problems are real, sometimes insurmountable, and I legitimately have a sense of powerlessness over them.  I cannot control  the actions of others nor most circumstances in my life.  Choosing to live life on life’s terms is the first step.

  1. Choosing To Trust

Though I am powerless, I am not helpless.  God is greater than me.  “So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.” says Israel’s poet.  This is where I had to make a choice against the legitimate feelings within, get on my knees and commit to God my trust in the specific area of fear and repulsion.

I do it specifically.  Whether it is personal problems or social unrest – too much to do or fear of where society  may be heading – in all things I acknowledge that God is bigger than me and no matter which way things turn, I trust that God has my best interests at heart.

  1. Taking Action

Simply trusting in my head is not enough.  Over forty years later when Israel entered the land as they were supposed to, the Jordan river did not yield until the priests actually set their foot in it.

Trust is substantiated through action not by simply having the right beliefs in our head.  In a particular situation where I was stuck spiritually, it was only when I began to pay attention to suggestions by some spiritual mentors and taking action that my life began that deliverance from the impediment began to take place.

If I am fraught with fear that I have too much to do, I commit to God my trust, look at my list and choose one item to begin working on.

If I am confronted with a person I need to learn to love.  I trust that God can change my heart to love this person.  However, it is when I make steps to reach out to this person and make amends for my part in the relationship breach that healing takes place and love is born in the heart.

When I accept my problems as they are, commit to trust God that no matter what, He has my best interest at heart, and then take appropriate action – these are tools from slipping into the irrational decision that going back to Egypt is the better way.