From the Desk of Rev. Jeff

Dear St. Paul’s,

Last night, my cat bolted out the back door when I opened it. What was a relaxing end to the evening researching for my forum this fall turned into a stressful and painful night. Fortunately, he was curious enough about the smells of bushes in the back yard that I was able to pick him up. Unfortunately, instead of his usual look of resignation to being held, his fur stood up, he started yowling and hissing, and by the time I got him back in the house, my recent purchase of hydrogen peroxide turned out to be a Godsend, as my hands now look like I was in a battle.

As soon as he was back in the house, he recognized me again and it was as if nothing had happened. However, I had to clean wounds and overcome the urge to retaliate for the unnecessary cuts all over my body from his momentary panic. Still, the little guy is luckily very cute, and the anger melted away to irritated affection, and all is mostly well.

There’s something to think about here. Too often, people have felt the brunt of my claws when trying to help me on the way to where I am meant to be. Then I get there and wonder why they are frustrated with me. Ever been there? Ever been the helper in that situation?  The assumption that we always know what’s best for ourselves, no matter what our outside world might be trying to tell us, isn’t always true.

I have found, however, that when I give my outside world long enough to show me why I’m being picked up and moved, I have a better sense of knowing when to lean my head back and be carried, and also when to break out the claws and teeth and do everything in my power to break free.

Should we make our own decisions for ourselves? Absolutely! Do those who love and care for us have perspectives that might improve how we make those decisions? Also Absolutely! That’s the messy beauty of relationships: definitive absolute answers never quite do the trick; it’s a give and take that respects our autonomy and our relatedness to each other.

That’s the tricky balance we’re asked to strike in our lives: interdependency. If we respect that balance, we can avoid a lot of pain, suffering, and injury, unlike with a cat. If we try to force one another into what we think is best for the other without taking into account their needs, we earn the scratches and cuts that result from that pressure. If we only do what others want for us without thinking about our own needs, we can also be trapped in situations that imprison us. We have to be willing to name our needs.

In a nutshell, my cat was a jerk because he didn’t recognize me in unfamiliar surroundings. He hurt me when I was trying to keep him safe. It’s frustrating to be attacked for doing the thing I knew was necessary for his life. As we continue to be thrust into unfamiliar places as individuals, church, society, and species, it’s an easy temptation to lash out at anything that feels like it’s impinging on what we think is best for us. Unlike the cat, though, we are able to take better stock of what is going on in our surroundings and reflect on what is the best course of action, even if that course seems like a danger to us.

What are we being led to in this unfamiliar landscape by the One who loves us? How do we work together to take care of each other without clawing, scratching, biting, and running from our neighbors and those who love us? What courage do we need to overcome our valid, if misplaced, fears that lead to the violence in our world that prevents us for being safe and loved? Hopefully, we can continue to pay attention to our surroundings to see where God is leading, rather than trying to solely control our world to conform to our assumptions of what must be.

Rev. Jeffrey A. Dodge