Friday, July 09, 2010

a dog named cowboy

That title with the nouns transposed would make for a pretty decent western novel. The setting for this entry could have been from a western--Arid and desert-like, with rough-finished, open air buildings into which Cowboy regularly wandered. Even the company he kept would fit well in a western--Joel would make a great cowboy: slit-eyed tough guy with black boots. But Cowboy is a dog--Joel's dog--and Joel is the director of Dayspring Ministries Training. We were at the Dayspring complex in Dr. Arroyo for a short-term mission trip which Joel lead, and Cowboy's favorite past-time was patrolling the dining area for scraps of food. He was having issues that affected his equilibrium, causing him to, at time, careen into the common area making him that much cooler (Cowboy es chida, but Cowboy has dysentery).

I tried to connect with Cowboy. Most people on our short-term mission trip tried, but most didn't succeed. My best effort was a food offering. It seemed like a sure bet given Cowboy's love affair with food scrap. He flatly declined. To say I was offended when he rejected the piece of banana I proffered may be an overstatement, but I can't deny I was a little perturbed. I'm not saying I was consumed with it. It wasn't even really a prominent distraction--just a very low-level buzz in my head. But, seriously, giving any emotional energy to a dog because he didn't immediately gobble up the food offered has got to be indicative of some sort of issue. Issues, as it turns out. I've never heard a donkey speak (although the freakin' donkeys there seemed to scream at the top of their lungs constantly), but I can say that God dealt with me through that dog.

Sometimes I understand God's dealing pretty linearly. He reveals lesson A, builds on that to B, etc. Many times, though, He deals with me in a way that unravels backward to the core in one flash. The core isn't the first thing I observe, but it's primary to the story. The core for my experience with Cowboy was pride. Shocker. Here I was, an important person in my own estimation, condescending to offer him some of my food, and he would deny it? Look at where he is, and where I come from. He's making me look less than cool. He should know that in addition to all of my many other talents, I moonlight as the Beastmaster. No dice, and "no, thanks" to the banana. Worse yet, he didn't even wait to see what else I would offer. He brushed me off (ME) as insignificant! I (obviously) deserve better than that. Now, I've searched myself. I can't find any overt prejudice or elitism, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's what it was to some extent. Sure, I can observe that prejudice in other people (how do *these* people survive without carpet, etc.), and if it were an active voice in the proclamation of my depravity it wouldn't be the loudest, but SERIOUSLY? There it is, though. Cowboy should take my food because look at where he is and how much better off I am. Pride rears its ugly head. Not only that, but he should really consider that I'm tall, good-looking, and an humble servant of God. *vomit* He's not cooperating with my facade. *vomit* Lesson number one: I am prideful enough to be insulted by a dog with dysentery.

Yeah, maybe your moments of lucidity follow actual crises rather than imagined offenses by a dog, but nonetheless, Cowboy caused me to pay attention. I started watching how he treated everyone and my minuscule indignation grew ever so slightly (first layer of the ball of thread that later unraveled). Not only did the dog not treat me as significant, he didn't treat me or anyone else in our group as a person. Dozens of groups go through that complex every year, and to Cowboy, I was just one piece of walking scenery. Sure, he'd accept a food scrap from the talking shrubs, or maybe even a belly rub, but they weren't actual people. I can't adequately describe watching the difference in his behavior between the short-term groups (the walking scenery) and his family. When *his* people walked in the room, everything changed. Nothing else mattered. The groups going through were just a temporary and insignificant distraction. Cowboy became a figurehead of another battlefront. The one where my pride was offended because I was wrongly sensitive to being the cause of the monotony of daily ministry. "I don't want to be a burden" can be one of the most prideful things uttered. You know what I'm talking about. About the 40th time that ______ does/says _______ and as a pastor/missionary/______ you have to participate in what God's doing for them even though you've lead expeditions around that mountain umpteem times, you show less than the overwhelming joy of service; so, to allow some else to serve you is of pride. Cowboy was looking through me as a non-person to what was important to him, and the growing indignation widened its scope to the insecurity that driving me to get ice cream wasn't what these missionaries had signed up for and they were bothered about it. *vomit* Thankfully, God always provides a way of escape from temptation. Invariably, that way is lined with enough glass to scrape off all the stinking flesh. The way for me back into a right spirit was the realization of how often had I looked *through* people rather than *at* them. How often had I not had God's perspective about a person in process when I'm in process myself? I looked through them to what I thought was important (people that gave me stuff, resources, pleasure, name it). I looked through them because they didn't provide identity or status or advancement. I should have rather stood secure in who God says that I am and where He told me to be and been an instrument He could use in their process. Lesson number two: I am probably one of the worst at looking through people because a) I'm insecure and b) my treasure is in the wrong place.

At this point of the epiphany, the carnality ball is unraveling with alarming speed and the conviction is working overtime. God may have dealt with my lack of concern and insecurity through Cowboy's lack of consideration, but He really worked me over using Cowboy's response to Joel. Joel was the source of supply, the center of identity, the cause of joy for Cowboy. Whatever else was going on, if Joel moved, Cowboy moved. If Joel spoke, Cowboy listened. Cowboy's first and last thought was for Joel. Cowboy didn't care at all what I though of him or even what I might offer him if Joel was there because Joel was his everything. Lesson 3 (yeah, this one was a short punch right to the gut): While looking through others to selfish ends is wrong (Cowboy and I are both guilty, but hey...Cowboy's a dog), because God is my source, supply, and joy from which none other can detract (Cowboy got this right and I struggle daily), I need consult nothing and no one else connected to my joy, and subsequently, I have the foundation and strength to recognize the moment and the people in that moment as the mission for which and to which I can give myself wholeheartedly (no real dog analogy here, but by this point I had enough of a head of steam for God to finish the pruning) without trying to manage peoples opinions or perceptions, and (further) I can joyfully accept God's provision through those He puts in my life.

Turns out Cowboy just really doesn't like bananas.

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