Life with Dogs.

Two things happened back to back this week that have left me feeling unusually contemplative.  The first is that my dog Charlie was in a car accident.  She seems to be healing well, nothing was broken and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of permanent damage, but it made my heart stop.  I called the dogs in and one came but the other didn’t.  The neighbor dogs were all wining and jumping at their fences which was so strange, because normally they bark at me.  I saw a truck pulled over off the side of the road and a man holding what at first looked like a black garbage bag.  Then my heart dropped out of my body because I realized it was my dog.  I ran over and waved him down, and he handed me the dog and said, “it’s bleeding.”

All I could think was that she HAD to be okay, there was not a universe in which she was allowed to leave us so soon after joining our family.  My daughter adores her and uses her as a pillow and a napkin and a blanket and her silent partner in crimes.  She’s not even two yet, she doesn’t know about things dying.  And she’s way too young to know.  I saw that Charlie was bleeding, from behind one ear.  Her hair was matted there, and she wasn’t even looking at me.  I took her inside, wrapped her in a couple of towels, and set her down on the couch while I tried to figure out what to do.  Her brother, Sparkle, started flipping out, alternating between licking her face and asking to play and yipping at me and pulling on pants to try to get me to do something.  Of course I had no idea what to do.  By that point, it had only been a few minutes, Charlie was already starting to make a little sound and move around.  I felt like we had all just barely missed a huge tragedy.  What if I hadn’t seen the man get out of the truck?  What if I’d waited a few more minutes to call in the dogs?  What if, what if, what if.

But “what if” didn’t happen.  Charlie is going to be fine.

The next day, Neil Gaiman’s dog died.  All I can think is that it’s this huge thing, to lose a pet.  Our pets are in a very real way a part of ourselves.  They give us back a part of ourselves that we don’t have to acknowledge if we live without them.  There is a part of man that was made to be in the wilderness, to tend to wild things.  When we invite wild things into our homes we bring that part of ourselves back to life.  There’s also a tenderness they teach us that nothing else can.  Sometimes we don’t realize what our mood is, when we are angry or sad, but our dogs know.  They’ll play with us when we’re playful and when we are angry they will give us that lookthe ears flat on the skull, head butting against our shins look, the look that says, this is painful, please don’t be this way.”

Dogs also make you be responsible.  If you don’t pick up your jammies, they claim them.  If you leave out the legos they eat them.  If you don’t clean up the lunch, they appropriate it.

I wouldn’t want to have to live without them.  I’m glad I don’t have to yet, but I know that my daughter will probably still be too young to have her driver’s license when Charlie does die, and that breaks my heart.

But, still, I think that even if she did understand death right now she would gladly bear the pain of it later to have her pillow, her blanket, her conspirator, her closest friend to stay at her side now.  And I wouldn’t give up Charlie now to spare that pain later, either.  That pain is the price we have to pay for keeping our whole selves alive.


It’s okay.

Baby and Charlie

There are no blue birds.

To introduce the need for critical thinking and the scientific method, my Psychology professor stood up and proudly proclaimed that there are no blue birds. Of course this was answered by the laughter of the classroom.  But my Professor smiled with grim determination and reiterated his point, asking if anyone could prove that blue birds exist.  Show him a picture of a blue bird?  Clearly it was doctored.  Explain to him about the millions of eye witness accounts of blue birds?  He equates it to mass hysteria, much like leads to belief in the existence of the Abominable Snowman or like creatures. Ask him to go outside and see the blue birds in the flower garden?  He simply states that such an action would be pointless, as surely the birds are not truly blue- for there are no blue birds.

Once the class started to get really irritated with him, he launched into a long speech on how science is not about explaining what you percieve to be true, but studying all available facts and seeing if you can be disproven.  Proving that there are no blue birds requires searching for evidence of their existence- evidence that is overwhelming- thus immediately disarming you of the need to prove you are right.  Clearly, you are wrong.  And while my professor’s example was a ridiculous one, meant to grab our attention and not chosen for it’s applicability, the concept holds water.

And I find that as childish as my professor’s argument was (clearly!) that truly intelligent people show the same niaveness and ignorance of their facts in their own arguments.  Often.  A few examples:

  • There is no God.  Christians suffer from mass hysteria.  Any anecdotal evidence to the contrary is coincidental, baked, or insignificant.
  • All gay people were sexually abused or otherwise traumatized.  Any that don’t remember abuse are hiding from the truth.  Others who don’t remember abuse and aren’t deluding themselves are only gay to be fashionable, or out of rebellion, or because they are weak willed and were forced into it.
  • All gay people had parents who were distant or ineffective or not devoted enough to God.  Any who claim otherwise were probably abused or something.
  • If a woman works outside of the home it will cause irreparable damage to her children.
  • A child has to have a father figure to be well adjusted.  For that reason, a woman has to remain married to the father of her children, no matter how he treats her, as long as said father is not abusing the children.
  • Gay people are not capable of raising well adjusted children.

And I could list this stuff forever, really I could.  There’s no limit to the amount of false, indefensible assumptions that people make.  And most of them carry some grain of truth, just enough truth that a person can grip onto them like a pit-bull and never ever let go.  Some of what people argue as evidence of God in their life surely is anecdotal coincidence.  Certainly some gay people were abused, or had poor parents, or were just “trying it on” and grew out of it- but the existence of those stereotypes doesn’t mean that there aren’t real, valid experiences that fall outside of those boundaries.  And while some children may have suffered being raised by single parents, there are other children that may have suffered more due to a parent staying in a relationship to avoid the possible damage caused by leaving.

All one must do is open onesself to the possibility of being wrong, and one discovers a whole new world.  A new breadth of experience and possibility.  A world in which one is challenged, one fights to know the truth.  And sometimes we discover that we are right, that when we engage in an honest debate all the challenges to our ideals are silenced.  Sometimes we discover that we are wrong- and isn’t that okay?

Tomorrow I’ll write more about my own journey of questioning my faith, but for tonight I’d like to leave you all with a question:

Can you intelligently defend your beliefs?  Or if someone holds up the metaphorical blue bird, do you stubbornly say “surely that bird isn’t blue.”?

The Family is a Higher Calling

So.  I have been accused of being a bad feminist. I’ve been accused of being stereotypically biased against women.

I think I’ve failed to be clear enough.  My problem with Sarah Palin is that she is a full time working mother who has a full time working husband- and they’ve both been clear that neither career will be postponed.  My irritation with Sarah Palin does not have to extend to Obama, because Michelle has made it clear that she will be a mother first, and everything else can wait.  She doesn’t go out on the campaign trail full time.  Eighty percent of the time the kids sleep in their own beds, and wake up to mommy having breakfast waiting for them.  If this were the situation that Sarah Palin’s family would be experiencing- only with daddy putting out breakfast, I would shrug and say that I hope that he knows how to change a diaper and is going to help his daughter transition into motherhood.  My dad was a stay-at-home dad for part of my childhood- I think that either parent can fit that bill.

The point is that if you choose to have a family, you are choosing for one or both parents to put their own careers on hold in order to raise said family.  Children need a consistent parental figure for the first three years of their lives- the most important three years of their lives.  Teenagers need a parent who knows where they are, what they are doing, and with whom.  They need accountability and a firm hand.  (Note, however, that even really great parents can raise kids that do stupid things, as stupid things are a part of finding individuality that every child has to do- some things more stupid than others.)

I have a problem with any parent that will take a child onto the national stage and then desert them.  I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman.  If Sarah wants to pursue her career and her husband puts his on hold, kudos to them.  If Michelle puts hers on hold for Barack’s sake, kudos to her.  The question simply becomes, “if one of you has a calling to the national stage- who is called to the family?”

Because, honestly, the family is a higher calling.  There is no better thing that someone can do than to raise well-adjusted kids who can take care of themselves and raise good kids in turn.  Our country depends on generations of well-adjusted kids far more than anything else.  Nationalized health care won’t do anyone any good if most of the population are sociopaths.

My Anabaptist Heritage

My grandparents on one side were Amish up until they were in their mid thirties, my grandparents on the other side were Mennonite. My mother owns family histories detailing the stories of my heritage. My ancestors were among the first people to settle Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The interesting thing to me is how they ended up there. The Anabaptist movement was radical, and the early Anabaptists were persecuted far worse than any other protestant movement. Their beliefs, while possibly seeming slightly secular now, were absolutely groundbreaking at the time. Belief that you should tithe only from your income, not your net worth. Belief that in order for the Church to be holy it must have no involvement in the state. Belief that professed faith is not as important as “living” faith seen through acts of charity and simple living… These beliefs threatened not only the superiority of Catholic dogma but the status of the Catholic church… it took away Catholicism’s place of power as well as it’s ability to absolve sin through professions of faith.

No wonder the Catholic church lobbied for (and eventually won) the right to kill Anabaptists without trial. The Anabaptists were burnt at the stake if they refused to denounce their faith but beheaded if they did, because it was simply too risky to leave them breathing. So my ancestors made their way to Pennsylvania and Illinois, because in the states there was Freedom of Religion and they could be free from persecution. Near my old home town in Ohio there is a Mennonite and Amish Heritage center called Behalt. In it there is a cyclorama depicting the Anabaptist history, from the 1500’s to the 1800’s. It starts out with Menno Simon’s revelations of faith and goes through brutal murders. It shows one Anabaptist man who stopped to save the man that was sent to murder him when that man started to drown. Amazing stories of faith in the midst of the worst kind of persecution- persecution by men who are your brother in faith.

Because of this history- the history of both the tradition I was raised in and my own blood lines- I find it offensive when people claim that Christians aren’t “as bad” as people of other faiths. Certainly in the 1900’s Christianity wasn’t cruelly subjugating women or putting their own people to death, but have we forgotten the Victorian era? When women died in childbirth by the droves because they were forced to labor on their backs, and then could not be buried in church graveyards because they were “unclean” for having died “in sin”? That is only one of many sins against women by the church. Let’s not forget the cruel persecution of the forefathers of ALL protestant faiths. Let’s not forget that the church has been spread at the point of a sword and by the barrel of a gun many, many times. This bloody history follows us even into America, even into what I consider to be recent history, because our great country hasn’t been around all that long.

For Christians who would condemn other faiths for the actions of a minority- lets remember what the majority of our forefathers were like. All faith is hard won in tears, sweat and blood- Christianity no less than the others. When researching this post to be sure I didn’t misspeak, I saw this line:

The early Anabaptists faced persecution far worse than the early church found at the hands of Rome.

My blood runs cold.

There is a book that every good Mennonite school looks through in their history class. It is a book of Illuminations called the Martyrs’ Mirror or the Bloody Theater. It follows the martyrdom of the Church starting in Jerusalem and going until about 1680 AD, when it was published. I can remember looking at the illustrations in horror, hardly believing that this was done by the Catholic church. It’s no wonder that so many Mennonites carry a deep-seated resentment towards Catholicism. (For those who are curious, the illuminations can be seen here)

My point with this post is twofold. The first is to share with you my heritage. For those who feel I’ve been unfair to the Mennonite and Amish traditions- understand that I am not speaking of something that is unknown to me. I grew up inside the borders of an Amish settlement. I see Amish people at my family reunions. My grandmother has Amish brothers and sisters. My mother speaks Pennsylvania dutch. The church I currently attend is affiliated with the Mennonite Central Committee. These people are not strangers to me.

My second goal is to remind us that we must be careful with our own hearts and with our own churches. A faith is only as good as the people in it. Like a car with a leaky hose- the hose is not equal to the entirety of the car, but the car is only as dependable as it’s hoses. Extremism, fanatacism and cruelty are not outside our reach. We must keep our faith in check, we must temper it with love.