Southern Messenger

"The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders - they are atheists, socialists, communists, red Republicans, Jacobins, on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is a battleground - Christianity and atheism are the combatants and the progress of humanity is at stake." Rev. James Henley Thornwell

Location: Occupied South Carolina

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Significant Difference

'If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man." Mark Twain

Friday, March 24, 2006

Meet Frank

Meet Frank. One would say he is too much. He’s too rambunctious, too spontaneous, too forward, too focused, too everything but disciplined. When I exit the house in the morning he meets me at the door, usually at a run. Then he trots alongside me, stares at me, panting, and licking my hand. By now I usually say something like “get away from me, stupid,” or something else. I make a half-hearted effort to swat him away, knowing beforehand that it will not do any good. He escorts me to the barn. He does not just walk along beside me; he walks just to my front right, turned as he bounces along so that he can stare at me while he walks. He pants as he walks, not from physical exertion but from something inside him that we human tend to call “affection,” or “devotion.” I accept that. If I stop just for a second to scratch him behind his ears, he relaxes. That is until the others move in. The other dogs that is. Then he pushes forward in a “me first” drive or “I was here first attitude. He is not aggressive toward the other dogs. He just pushes in making sure I know that that he “loves” me more that the others. If I kneel, I need to assume the solid kneeling shooting position. If it’s not steady he will just roll me over. I don’t usually stop anymore. I just go on to the barn, raise the door, crank my motorcycle and back out. He does not interfere with this work. As I circle the yard and head for the road he runs beside me. On the highway as I speed up so does he. At full gallop he looks very much like a charging buffalo, except he begins barking as he reaches his peak. A few of the other dogs, namely Dudley and Nell, also attend the sending off ceremony but none surpass Frank in speed or enthusiasm. I can see him in the mirror fading back. He then turns and goes back to the house to await my arrival.

With his “Here I am! Here I am!” attitude, I suppose Frank would do better if he were an only dog. We have accumulated six. My wife or I did not plan it that way, but we’re a little weak on this point. If a dog comes to us hungry, we feed him. Once we’ve fed him, that sort of establishes ownership or responsibility. We can’t seem to help it. We live in the country on twenty-five acres and it’s not too much of a problem. We don’t like his sloppy hand kisses but we’ve come to grips with a lot of abnormality in our lives and Frank’s behavior (or lack of it) doesn’t really seem to be the number one problem just yet.

Sometimes I come outside, and just sometimes, Frank is the only dog at the door. If I stop and take time to show him a little attention he sits almost quietly. Sometimes he’ll carefully lay his head against me and look up and I’ll scratch and pet along his neck below his muzzle and he’ll close his eyes. Sometimes he’ll begin a little soft grunting with his eyes closed like he’s reached some state of doggy peace and I find myself briefly tuning in to that peace. Times like that are special and rare because when another dog begins to walk up, Frank changes gears as if he’s saying “here comes ______ but just ignore him, no, really ignore him…PLEASE IGNORE HIM!” and as the distance closes between dog #2 and us his demeanor elevates to obnoxious once more.

When I come home in the evening, downshifting to the driveway, he evidently hears me because he is the first one to meet me at the road and escorts me trotting, twisting, wagging, barking, to the barn. I lift the door, push Hurricane Victoria into her berth and begin the gauntlet to the house. Wagging, twisting, staring, panting, and hand slobbering.

My son is a sheriff’s deputy and when the animal control officer was out sick did a little double duty. One evening he took me over to the “holding cell” to show me the accommodations made for the unfortunate pooches who were getting ready to cross over the doggy river. It was a rectangular concrete pad, circled on four sides with chain link, sub-divided inside into chain-link cells on the end of which was a plywood shelter. It was Friday. On Saturday the dogs are taken down to Aiken where the unadoptable ones (most) are given a shot to the heart. My son visited one set of executions. He said that correctly done it puts them down rather quickly. Sometimes in the rush, the executioner misses the heart and it takes a little more time for death to come.

While he was hosing down, cleaning out the dishes, scooping out a little dog food, I met Frank. I walked up to his cage. He came up to the gate and jumped up, with both front feet on the gate, so that his eyes were a little closer to mine. I pushed a few fingers, as much of my hand as I possibly could, through the chain link and he laid his head against my hand and stood really still with his head against my hand. That was it.

We busted Frank out that night. He rode home with us in the cab of the truck. His exuberant behavior got old really quick. My son who did not seem to have much of my affection for dogs, spoke disgustedly of him and threatened periodically to shoot him (or worse). A few months (maybe a year, I don’t really remember) later my wife called animal control about a stray wild dog. When he arrived the stray was gone. He said, “Well is there anything else I can do for you?” She said, how about taking that yellow dog over there.

I came home that day and Frank was gone. We had both expressed our displeasure with him and his rowdy ways and I didn’t say anything when she told me what had transpired. For a couple of days I could not get used to walking solo to and from the barn and I kept thinking about the passage of time. I knew Saturday was coming and Frank would be taking the long trip. Saturday came and went.

On Monday I came home from work and pulled in next to the house. I don’t see too well (and probably ought not to be on a motorcycle) so when I pulled in next to the house it seemed odd to see a yellow dog laying out beneath the pecan tree closest to the house. I started walking toward him and in surprise said, “Frank?” He left the tree and came up to me laying his head against my leg with his tail wagging, a little subdued but the same old Frank.

My son, bless his lying little heart, had called ahead, (prior to Saturday) went down to Aiken and paid, yes PAID, his bail and got him out. I laughed, relieved a little, and told my son, “now that’s one saved dog!”

He has long since gotten back into his old rowdy obnoxiously affectionate, hand slobbering ways, but as my wife often reminds me he only behaves that way toward me. Not anyone else. “He knows better than to act that way with me!” she says with great assurance that she has the relationship exactly where she wants it.

But if Frank could talk, I think it would go something like this: “Hey! Let me tell you about my master! He saved my life! Really he saved my life! He’s a great guy! Really! He loves me! I know he does! He stops sometimes and scratches me just below my chin and it is so heavenly! He actually takes time to notice me! He feeds me the neatest stuff! And did I tell you he saved my life! I was once almost dead – I could see the dark side before me – and he saved me! Just when I thought all hope was lost there he was! He saved my life! I really love him! Really!...” He would talk your ears off – really.

I love dogs. Always have. I have come to see a spiritual aspect in man’s relationship with dogs. Adam’s sin created a great gulf between us and God’s creation. Deer flee as we walk through the woods. Squirrels scurry and birds scatter as we get near. I don’t like it that way but I understand. Humans are tainted. We’re rotten, and God’s creation flees the rot. But God loved us enough to leave us dogs and horses, and I think He teaches us big lessons though these relationships if we’ll just take the time and listen.

As a part of my Bible study this week I read the story of Hezekiah, a good king who though slated for death, was given a reprieve by God. The story is told in Isaiah XXXVIII & XXXIX. God spoke to Hezekiah and said, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not liue.” Isaiah XXXVIII. 1

Hezekiah’s plea to the Lord is immediate: “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in trueth, and with a perfect heart, and haue done that which is good in thy sight: and Hezekiah wept sore.” v. 3

God heard his plea, allotted to the king fifteen more years of life and even gave him a sign: “Behold, I will bring againe the shadow of the degrees which is gone downe in the Sunne-diall of Ahaz ten degrees backward: so the Sunne returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone downe.” v. 8

In Chapter XXXIX, we learn that “Merodach Baladan the sonne of Baladan king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for hee had heard that he had bene sicke, and was recouered.” v. 1

When the emissaries of Babylon came to visit, Hezekiah took them on a tour “…and shewed them the house of his precious things, the siluer, and the golde, and the spices, and the precious oyntment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” v. 2.

When Isaiah came to Hezekiah afterward, he asked, “What have they seen in thine house?” v. 4. The king replied in truth and Isaiah explained to him how badly he had messed up and how disappointed the Lord was and that “the dayes come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers haue laide vp in store, vntill this day, shalbe carried to Babylon: nothing shalbe left, saith the Lord.” v. 6

When Hezekiah had the chance of a lifetime to witness to these pagan leaders of the goodness of God, why, we wonder, did the king not first, foremost, and enthusiastically say, “I was as good as dead, going down for the count, could see the scepter of death hovering over my bed, and my Lord saved my life!...Really!” Frank would have.

How does this apply to us? What lesson can we learn from Frank and Hezekiah?

Well…every last one of us was dead. Born in sin in a sinful world patrolled by Satan and his angels (Iob II.2) Lost in the dark, with devils all around, without a chance and God loved us. He lifted us up and saved us. We have life eternal in Heaven with him because he answered our prayers and saved us. Why then when friends, neighbors, and disinterested parties of various sorts visit our humble abodes do we show them our new camera and the cool pictures it takes, or our latest woodworking project, or the new detailing job on our car’s engine compartment, or whatever gizmo is the distraction of the day. Why do we not say something more like, “Hey! Let me tell you about my master! He saved my life! Really he saved my life! He’s a great guy! Really! He loves me! I know he does! He stops sometimes and scratches me just below my chin and it is so heavenly! He actually takes time to notice me! He feeds me the neatest stuff! And did I tell you he saved my life! I was once almost dead – I could see the dark side before me – and he saved me! Just when I thought all hope was lost there he was! He saved my life! I really love him! Really!...” Frank would. Are we stupider and less grateful than him?