Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“On Our Journey”
My dog, Hanu, is two and a half years old now. He arrived at my home in early December 2008. The time has gone by quickly. We have been through a lot together. He has had his share of health challenges.
He is on medication right now for allergies to help relieve his itching. On two occasions I have had to induce vomiting with a dose of hydrogen peroxide after he swallowed some rotting fish that was attached to a fishing line he found one day while we were out walking at Kahului harbor. More recently he managed to chew and swallow half a tennis ball at home while I was in another room.
We walk twice each day – rain or shine – every day for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. It has been quite a journey.
I have learned a lot about dogs over the last two and a half years but I have also learned a lot about myself. Hanu responds well to praise. In a sense that should not surprise any of us. We know our children respond in the same way whenever we offer them words of encouragement.
If I express any displeasure over his behavior his ears usually flop down and he stares at me with eyes that seem to automatically droop. One day he did something that upset me. I don’t even remember what he did. I was so overcome by my own frustration and anger that I have no memory of what prompted me to hit him.
Yep! I hit my dog across his snout and I yelled at him.
He turned and scampered off into the bedroom to settle down in his crate. I turned and followed him and stood before the crate. I bent over and reached in to grab him saying in a loud voice, “Come here!”
Before I could grab his collar he sat back on his hind legs. He snarled – his lips raised up on both sides of his mouth revealing his teeth - and then he snapped at my hand with his jaws wide open.
I pulled my hand away and found myself saying, “I know.” I stepped back. “This is your safe place and I have no business trying to hurt you.”
I walked away. I knew the moment I thought of hitting him that it was wrong. I knew the moment I raised my hand that it was wrong.
I knew when I hit him that it was wrong. I knew when I followed him into the bedroom that it was wrong. I knew when I reached to grab him that it was wrong.
I knew it was all wrong but I did it anyway.
Hanu stayed in his crate. About five minutes later I returned and quietly apologized – to my dog.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “You must think I’m a really big . . . ” I let the “a” word drop as he looked at me acknowledging what we both knew to be true – that I was wrong to hit him.
In that moment the words that comes to us from the reading of The Letter of Paul to the Romans rang true for me. The Apostle Paul confesses: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15b) That was my confession.
Now I know there are those who would say, “He’s a dog, Kahu, just a dog. I wouldn’t worry about it. He’ll get over it.”
It is true that he is just a dog. But what if he was a child or grandparent or a neighbor, friend or a stranger.
As selfish as it may sound, I was more worried about myself, about what I saw I was capable of thinking and doing – and it bothered me. The Rev. Shawnthea Monroe is the Senior Minister at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Monroe likens the passage from Romans to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“Hi, my name is Paul, and I am a sinner.”
To which Paul responds, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, page 306)
Paul’s disclosure comes as a shock to some of us. After all we think of Paul as having achieved a degree of moral perfection. But his own shortcomings are a relief for others of us. We see in his flaws and failures that he is like the rest of us.
Monroe points out that the model of Alcoholics Anonymous’ meetings is simple – to admit one is powerless in the face of one’s addictions; to surrender oneself to a higher power; to confess one’s mistakes and find welcome and support in the company of others. Life, Monroe observes, is lived one day at a time. That is the journey we are all on.
goes on to say, “In some ways, AA does church better than the church does,
especially when it comes to Christian humility.” (Op. cit., page
208) The power in our reading comes from Paul’s reassuring words: “
. . . that doing the right thing apart from God’s grace is a losing battle. It
is not that we are simply weak or lazy or not trying hard enough. There
are forces at work in us with which we cannot contend.” (Ibid.)
The power in our reading also comes from Paul’s reassurance that we are not alone in our failure to resist temptation and the power of sin. Everyone is faced with the same struggle.
How are we to manage? Paul does not simply point to our weaknesses, he names the source of our strength. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25)
It is Jesus who reminds us that we are not alone on our journey through life. “Come to me,” he said, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I made a choice the day I struck Hanu. It was a mistake.
Will I ever raise my hand against him again?
not going to do that today. Tomorrow, I might, as wrong as it may
be, but not today.
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