We got Christmas Ann in mid- December. She was part golden retriever and our son loved her. He named her for the holiday and his grandma. By January we had shortened her name to Chrissy. She was a dog meant to be loved. She loved cuddles and Christmas trees.
Letting pre-school aged children name dogs meant that our next dog was named Wrinkles (Shar-pei) and the rat terrier with a spot on her back was called Spot. All of these dogs are gone now but they were well-loved dogs. I love dogs! I love most dogs.
Juno, the only dog I really don’t care for. She was cute when she was little but now Juno makes me appreciate the calm, patient, caring dogs of our past. Juno has the attitude I often associate with cats.
Controversy was exposed on June 2, 2019 when our pastor revealed a secret. The congregation responded with an audible gasp. He followed the news with an image. What he projected on the screen is still burned in my brain. I’m left full of questions and thoughts about faith, leadership and what Jesus loves.
In the week following this news, I stirred the pot. I don’t even cook but somehow, I had a spoon (more like an immersion blender) in every pot of people I could find. I couldn’t let it go and it seemed the desire of my heart was to suck everyone into the controversy.
At the same time, I’ve recognized the presence of God (and perhaps drugs-i.e. Benadryl) in shaping my attitude and perspective. God’s divine timing has also amazed me once again as I’ve been more fully immersed in joy of Gods’ creation. I’ve learned several valuable lessons about unconditional love, focus, time management and embracing diversity. Because I’ve actively invited so many into this controversy, I felt it especially important to share what I’ve learned in a public way. Today’s blogpost is intended to serve as an apology to all those I’ve hurt by making assumptions, judging, gossiping, and possibly bullying you about your love of cats.
At this point, I will insert a small disclaimer. Because my view has shifted, I’ve started spending more time in the presence of cat lovers so I’ve had to increase my allergy medicine intake. The pink pills do have a warning on the label so it could be that my new found knowledge/perspective shift is drug enhanced. Before I begin with the valuable lessons I’ve learned there are a few things you should know about me.
I live in Oregon. Oregon is divided into two parts-Portland and the rest of the state. Pioneers decided on the name for the city with a flip of a coin. It was a toss up between Portland and Boston. Because there’s also a Portland, Maine, I’ve heard that the west coast Portland is known for the basketball team and the city slogan. Had the Portland Trailblazers beat Goldenstate Warriors they would have played the Raptors in the 2019 playoffs. We were just four games away from making it happen. Ripcity is a term developed by an enthusiastic basketball announcer and is often used when something amazing happens on the court or off. The other bumper sticker you might see frequently in our area is the “Keep Portland Weird” slogan.
With incredible accuracy and with only slight exaggeration, Portlandia has captured the essence of our weirdness especially when it comes to pets. I’ve included a link to a short clip that illustrates this point. I’ve seen first hand evidence of this as local school children have asked for donations of organic, gluten-free, non GMO dog food for local dog shelters.
Even my own mom has fallen victim to hungry pets. At intersections around Oregon, individuals stand with signs that read Hungry-Anything Helps. I’ve read articles that panhandling with pets is especially lucrative. http://money.com/money/4110400/panhandler-dog-cat-pets/. My mother is an incredibly generous person. As other drivers slowed to hand cash to a man on the corner, Mom saw the “Hungry” sign but her eyes were drawn to the dog curled up at the man’s feet. She went back to the store and got that dog some food. My mom lives east of the Cascade range so it’s important here that I point out that when it comes to gun control, music genres, national news preference and politics, many people in the rest of the state hold very different opinions than proudly weird Portlanders. When it comes to animals however, Oregonians are united in their love for dogs.
I have to stop myself right here because I’m not really sure if Oregonian’s love their dogs or if they love their pets. Was the food drive for the shelter aimed at dogs or did I just assume that dogs were in need. How long have I been so narrow-minded?
The founding pastor of our church frequently referenced his loyal pooch “ Jackson-the World’s Greatest Dog” during his sermons. The mission of our church is to love like Jesus loved, learn the way of Jesus and live on the mission of Jesus. We are a Jesus church first and foremost. Because dogs have been so frequently and consistently referenced over the years I may have erroneously formed the belief that Jesus loves dogs more than other animals. I didn’t realize it this bias until June 2, when our current pastor shared that he’d added a cat to his family. As he displayed the image of the feline, he shared that he loves his daughter, his daughter loves cats so as a loving father, he provided.
The picture coupled with the statement about wanting to please his child triggered a long forgotten memory. My dad is a loving father as well. In the summer of 1972 my brother and I found kittens on his friend’s farm, and my loving father let us bring them home. Our eyes swelled shut, our arms broke out in hives and we learned what it feels like when a barn kitten, not wanting to be cuddled, climbs up your chest, neck then face to escape your love. The kittens were returned to the farm because my loving father was also allergic and our trusty dog (in the 70s called a mutt but now would be referred to as a mixed breed) was wildly jealous of our affections. Now, as I struggled with my newly exposed bias, I may have wished that our pastor would discover the error of his ways and return his daughter’s cat as well. It’s been nearly six months with no news that the cat has gone to live on a farm in the country.
In the days that followed our pastor’s announcement, it seemed that I’d gone from living in the land of dog lovers to suddenly realizing cats were all around. I passed a neighbor walking her dog. She stopped and called for someone to catch up and I realized she was talking to her cat. An off-leash cat strolls along with the family everyday. The birds in the trees in my backyard make beautiful music in the morning and when I looked out to see them, I noticed a cat sitting atop my fence watching them as well. I see cats in the windows of homes I drive past and notice the cat food section of the grocery store is just as large as the dog food section. Cats are everywhere but they’d been invisible until our pastor shared his news (or maybe, he let the cat out of the bag).
Naturally, I dealt with my cognitive dissonance in the ways I’ve always dealt with uncertainty. When I’m struggling with a new idea, I’ll often look for research to support my claim. If I’m struggling with an idea SOMETIMES my intent is to show someone else I’m right and I’ll stop when I find info to support my argument. If I’m grappling with something so that I can grow, I’ll try to be especially mindful of how my bias shapes my search. Again, Jesus (and Benadryl) was further revealing my bias as I proceeded.
Divine intervention is the only thing that I can attribute to the shift that occurred during the weeks that followed the controversial sermon. My bias has been revealed time and time again.
For an icebreaker at a gathering of friends, I asked everyone to state a claim by using this as our sentence stem. “DOGS or CATS? I like ______ more because _________.” I introduced the ice breaker by sharing how shocked I was by our pastor’s news. I modeled by sharing that I like dogs more because they are always so excited to see you when you get home. I took notes as people shared and I concluded the activity by saying that clearly, we had more dog lovers in the group than cat lovers. I was honestly a little surprised that so many people reported that they had a dog and a cat. As I thought about this later, I felt compelled to review my notes and saw that of the 20 people present, 10 people said they liked dogs more but of the 10, four said they really liked both. Initially I heard this as they loved dogs MORE and I proudly posted to our social media group page that HALF the group clearly liked dogs more. I used this as evidence that we could love our friends even if they held different views.
As people commented an interesting trend emerged. Analysis of social media posts revealed that half of those remaining may like cats more than they led me to believe. Look at my words there! LED me to believe implies that I think they might have tried to to give me the message I wanted to hear. Instead, I heard what I wanted to hear based on my bias.
Over the past six months, I’ve continued to recognize my bias and in doing so, have grown and changed in many ways and while I’m in no way done learning in this area, I wanted to share now some of the highlights.
Lesson #1 Jesus created cats and dogs.
If I go back to the story of creation, it says He created them (animals) and God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:25).
The text does not say that God created dogs and dogs were good and yet I’ve always made the assumption that this is true. In the absence of specificity, I’ve created my own. From my white, female, Oregonian, married to a man, living above the poverty-line, in a house with my name on the mortgage, in a with a body with all my teeth and original joints still functioning, covered by health insurance perspective, I made the assumption about which creatures were loved or not UNTIL my pastor had called it out.
I believe that God created all creatures and all people.I believe that God loves all creatures and all people. It took me 50+ years to realize that all creatures includes cats ONLY because cats were specifically noted. This has me thinking about people in my life. I’ve always assumed that I am inclusive in my thinking. When it comes to all people, who have I left out? If I’ve NOT been inclusive in my thinking for 5 decades, how long will it take to change?
Lesson #2 Curiosity MAY NOT have killed the cat.
In the past, anytime I saw a missing cat poster, I always assumed coyotes killed the cat. I’d make assumptions about the owners thinking that they didn’t love cats enough to keep them safe from the predators all around. Since the June 2 mind-shift, I realize that cats, alive and well, seem to be everywhere. I’ve started noticing cats. I see that they go about living all around me yet it’s been my own lack of attention that’s made them invisible to me. What other things have been invisible because of unexamined bias?
Jesus provided the perfect example for bringing attention to the invisible. Over and over, his interactions with the oppressed and marginalized showed that he loved ALL people. As I look now at the subheadings in my Bible, I note that gender, nationality, ethnicity, occupation, and physical attributes are included. This has me thinking that IF the Bible specifically points out how Jesus intentionally sought out people who would have been considered on the fringe of society at that time and included them in His story, it’s important that I do the same.
My house is on a very steep hill but my driveway is flat. When I have gatherings in my home, some friends can only attend if they can park in the driveway as they are physically unable to navigate the steep hill. If I put a cone out, it serves as a reminder to save the space for those who need it, The simple reminder makes my home more inclusive. People coming to my home would never intentionally park in a spot that might exclude others but it’s easy to forget what you don’t see.
Lesson #3 Old dogs can learn new tricks!
Though I’ve spent over a half century thinking that Jesus loved dogs more than cats, I realize that I was wrong. I am able to learn new things. With new information I’m then called to make sure that my actions are aligned with my beliefs.
I realize the only way that I will continue this growth trajectory is to make sure that I’m putting myself into places where others have different views and experiences AND I listen carefully to understand. As evidenced by my informal survey, I hear what I want to hear if I’m not careful. If I listen to what is said, what is not said, and examine my understanding of it through the lens of my background and bias, I’m better able to grow. For me, this means that growth happens in community.
This realization comes during a season of life when I’m perfectly situated to be alone for longer periods of time. For most of my life, my time has been dictated by the needs of those around me. As my kids don’t need me as much and my work life has become more self-directed, I find it easier isolate myself. I am an introvert. Those who know me might find this hard to believe. Nearly my whole life has been spent in a school so I’ve always been around people. When I was born, my parents taught and lived in a rural school. By my third week of life, I was in the classroom. As I grew up, summers were spent helping my mom as she taught summer school. I started working as an instructional assistant when I was 15 and had my own classroom when I was 21. I’ve always been surround by students.
Many teachers know that, though we are in the public eye all the time, we can have very little actual time alone with adults. In the classroom, we are on a mission to make sure that kids are equipped with all of the knowledge and skills possible in the short time we have with them. The intensity of my days left me exhausted. For many years, I spent my evenings with my husband and kids. I have a teacher’s voice so I think some mistake my volume or my seeming to be at ease as I speak in front of groups or coordinate events. While I don’t mind doing those things, my energy comes from time alone or with just my close family. Because I’m an introvert, it’s easier for me to get together with others if there is a project or purpose so doing community means spending time with others as we work for a common good. In the past few months, community projects have included helping others move, assisting with home repairs and doing a clothing drive. I find that when I am working with others toward a common goal, I am better able to learn their story and pick up new skills I’m amazed by the gifts and talents of those around me.
Year of Living Abundantly-Since I saw my doctor 15 days ago and decided live more abundantly, I’ve been thinking a lot about bias and how naming it matters. So many of my unhealthy habits have formed as a result of taking the path of least resistance. The minutes that make up my day combine to make up the weeks and years of my life. My thought life matters! I can learn new things!
Fifteen days ago I declares that it was the eve of the first day of my year of living ABUNDANTLY. I decided that self-care in the upcoming year would include daily movement, fuel that nourishes, and quiet time to reflect on my journey. While reduced blood pressure and body mass index could be indicators for success, I also decided to count the number of nature parks I explore, spinach salads I enjoy and beverages high in antioxidants I consume. I decided to also track how many walks I take with my German Shepherd granddog and how many sandcastles I build with cute kids. Later I also decided to track things I’m grateful for.
While my updates for my success indicators for abundant living are below, tonight I’m also thinking about bias and I’m hopeful about what I’ll learn in my year of living abundantly. I’m certain that the best is yet to come!
Success Indicator Updates
Body Mass Index: My weight is down today!
Blood Pressure: My blood pressure is down today!
Healthy Fuel: I ate spinach, blueberries, yams, carrots and celery today.
Not so Healthy Fuel: I enjoyed two slices of lemon meringue pie.
Quiet Time:I had no quiet time today. I feel over stimulated and exhausted.
Nature Parks Explored: I did not spend time in nature today.
Beverage High in Antioxidants: There was. a coffee shortage in my home today.
Walking with My Grand Dog: I didn’t get to spent time with my granddog today. I think he misses me.
Sand Castles with Cute Kids: Though I didn’t get to build sand castles with kids, I got to spend time with six year olds as they designed and built bridges to keep gingerbread people from getting wet. The future of our nation is in school today. I have great hope for what is yet to come.
I’m grateful for friends and family.
I’m grateful for fresh organic produce sold at nearby stores.
I’m grateful for Christmas jazz.
I’m grateful for creative kids.
I’m grateful for passionate pastors.