Category Archives: Animals

Dog Diplomacy

Eli and JL

Elijah and Jean Luc say, “Here we are. Send us!”

The Dallas zoo has sent in a black lab puppy to calm their two new eight week old cheetahs. The zoo’s creative means of comforting the newcomers got me to thinking about the untapped potential of dog diplomacy.

We already know dogs sniff out drugs, improvised explosive devices, and cancer. They find injured and lost people in disasters. They comfort the sick, the dying, and the grieving. They listen to little kids learning to read. They round up criminals, protect property, and their companions. They help the blind see, the deaf hear, and the disabled accomplish many tasks. They dive into water and retrieve whatever we tell them to bring back. They lower our blood pressure, make us laugh, and love us unconditionally.

So here is a proposal for the US response to our intractable problems and never ending crises: form a Labrador Diplomatic Corps.

Just imagine what parachuting pups might do for the state of world peace? These guys do eat a lot. So the LDC would need to be followed by a shipload of chow. My plan would still be cheaper and way more fun than any of the other options I’ve seen put on the table.

I say put a few pups on that table. Let em run around between the legs of world leaders and chew on their shoes. Let the pups fall asleep in their laps and wake up and kiss their faces. Let the doggies run off with all those piles of papers, attaché cases, and hand held devices. Let them rip and tear all that diplomatic gear and fussy protocol into tiny bits and then pee on them.

I think the whole world might breathe a vast sigh of relief.

Lab Diplomatic Corps demonstrating team work.

Labrador Diplomatic Corps demonstrating team work.


Young member of Lab Diplomatic Corps preparing for training with nervous baby cheetahs. Once he has mastered this diplomatic task, this pup will graduate to lying down with lions.

Exploring Solitude: Becoming Real

Here is what I want you to do:
find a quiet secluded place so you won’t be tempted
to role play before God.

Just be there
as simply and honestly as you can manage.

The focus will shift from you
to God,
and you will begin to sense his grace.
                                                 Matthew 6:6 MSG

Nobody is watching. Go ahead. Be yourself. Relax. You walked off the stage of your life performance and the audience has all gone home. Feel the weight of that armor, the heavy guard you wear night and day about your shoulders and neck? You won’t need it now. Lay it down.

Oh. Wait a minute. It appears that not all of that audience has gone home. A few hitched a ride into the hermitage in your mind. Take that broom in the corner and chase them out. As long as you do not invite them to sit down, and then start feeding them milk and cookies they will leave. Their harping and commenting will begin to sound sillier and sillier to you in the context of your wilderness.
Go ahead. You can’t hurt the furniture here. Put your feet up and settle into that delicious and utterly joyful place of being yourself, your true self.

A wonderfully freeing aspect of solitude is that nobody cares what you look like. Nobody is there to comment upon, critique, approve, or disapprove of your actions, attitudes, words, mannerisms, personality preferences, and quirks. No one has expectations of you or needs they want you to meet. No one is going to call or drop by unannounced.

Go ahead. Remove that hot stuffy mask.

We have a public face we present to the world. In some cases it is brittle, artificial, and controlled. We put on the mask of a happy person, a competent person, a funny person. But a mask is a limited snap shot of the person we really are, which may include being happy, competent, and funny, but who we really are also has depth, texture, responsiveness, and spontaneity, which masks cannot communicate.

When the face we present to the world is the same nuanced face within us, people call us authentic and real. What we show on the outside has integrity with what is in the inside. The phoniness, pretension, and the effort of maintaining a façade are gone.

I loved taking people out to the hermitage. I would show them around the grounds and cabin, give them some orientation, and, leaving them alone for a few days, drive back to town. Then later, they arrived at my doorstep to drop off the trash, the empty water bottles, and return the key. When I opened door, I was amazed at the differences in the guests. The tension and stress were gone, and an ease and lightness filled their movements. And their faces, soft and smooth like a child’s, wore a refreshing, unguarded openness and simple presence to the moment.

After I spent a long period in solitude, a friend reported that I looked like the Velveteen Rabbit. “Worn and soft. Well loved, and real,” she said.
There is nothing like solitude for peeling off the layers of pretense and inviting a soul into deeper authenticity.

In the days of silence and company kept only with crows, meadowlarks, and the possum, who comes looking for food under the moon, one becomes aware of the vast amount of energy and time, which may be spent on building facades and presenting a particular face to the world. The hours of calculation and strategizing to strike the right note in a speech, the stress filled preparation and rehearsals to achieve a certain affect. We have all been encouraged to become marketers and publicists for our careers, our work places, and even our very lives.

Here relationships degenerate into a potential sale, or a possible connection to a step up the ladder. Social media invites us to fashion our lives on a global stage, where our preferences are watched and matched to product ads which pop up before us.

In contrast to the world of hype nothing is for sale in the wilderness. Further, in the wilderness your stuff and your “brand” start to become embarrassing — all that lipstick in your purse, the three jars of face cream, the books you lined up on the book shelf, those clothes you shopped for.

The wilderness around you takes on a depth, beauty, and fascination that cannot compare to that iPad you just had to have or that “outside the box, edgy high concept” project you have been working on. The world beyond your wilderness begins to  seem artificial, crass, and out of sync with a deeper more profound rhythm.

Oh course, it makes sense that the natural world would inspire you to drop off what is unnatural and false in yourself – those postures and attitudes you take; that pride that you use to hide your vulnerability and need.

Besides, you are not going to fool that turkey vulture soaring over the pasture. He may be pecking at your bones one day and won’t give a damn about what kind of car you drove. The lake, teeming with turtles, bullfrogs, fish, and dragonflies is unimpressed with your credentials.

Yet a few creatures may be curious about your presence. There is nothing you have they desire. All they can offer you is their own mysterious being.
The cows, snuffling at the window, wake you at dawn. A large black angus is peering into the cabin. Her face is framed by the window and the chintz curtains.
You go out barefoot in your pajamas to shoo the cows back into their pasture. There are several mamas with their young ones. You stand still gazing at each other. You watch their massive ribs expand as they breathe, their dark eyes, and pink tongues. They watch you, seeing how your feet are getting damp in the dew, considering your breath, your two legs, and your white silk pajamas.

Your being interpenetrates with their being. A conversation and exchange occurs beyond words. Atoms shift, energy moves, recedes, and gathers in the spreading light. Then they turn, their hooves sinking into the damp earth, swishing their tails, and go back through the broken fence.

Nobody in the wilderness cares what you did last week. Or what you didn’t do. One of the calves looks back at you, slowly chewing grass, hanging out both sides of his mouth.

You feel you need to get right down on your knees in your pajamas and repent of something you do not have the words for.

Oh my God, forgive me for not seeing,” you pray.

Solitude Practice

  • Do you find yourself caught up in playing a role or meeting others expectations and needs unnecessarily?
  • What is it you let go of, when you let down your guard?
  • How does being alone in nature help you be yourself?
  • In what way might the wilderness call you to repentance, or seeing in a new way?

Next post in this series: Exploring Solitude:
So What Do You Do Out There All Day Long?

Midsummer Tragedies

In the midst of life we are in death.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Book of Common Prayer, Burial Service

He carried the news gently in his mouth. I took the gift from between his soft lips and mourned. The black retriever had scooped the lifeless, winged thing from under the bird feeder. 

The night before I stood on the glider and peered into the nest, hidden in the leaves. Two naked heads with open beaks peeped softly.

We discovered the nest, while trimming the trumpet vine, which covers the trellis around the patio. We put down our clippers and traded gardening for bird watching. For the past three weeks we delighted in the cardinal couple and their chirps and whistles. They took turns guarding and sitting on the nest and often perched on the trellis or on the glider under the vine.

What had happened? Mom and Dad had vanished and the other fledgling as well. The nest was vacant. The air was empty. Gone was purdy, purdy, purdy; chip, chip, chip; and the what-cheer, wheet, wheet, wheet, songs and calls.

We glowed under the blessing of their nearness. I wanted to see the youngsters learn to fly. Did a blackbird, blue jay, or that bold squirrel, who kept coming up close to the patio cause the tragedy?

I was going to write a blog about the fruitfulness of summer. Instead I buried the bird in the garden next to the zinnias and wondered where the cardinals had flown and how they were doing. I hope they begin again in a safer place than my backyard has proved to be.

It has been a tough week. A seventeen year boy was killed in a car accident. A family gathered to remove life support from their beloved. A woman, whose organs have begun to shut down, makes a last journey home to be with family. Twenty seven people die in an Afghan hospital when a bomb explodes. In Minot, North Dakota, the Souris River rises to snatch its prey – over 4000 homes flooded, eleven thousand residents have evacuated.

You know. You know. In the midst of life we are in the midst of death. A squirrel carrying off a bird is in the way of things. And so hearts, breaking from love and loss, are in that same way of things – life ending, people and things we love being destroyed, wearing out, wasting away.

So I say look while you can. Pour out the precious oil of your loving attention on what is before you. Allow yourself to be anointed ahead of time for the deaths you will witness and mourn, including your own. Hold your dear life close with open arms. You can always trim that trumpet vine later.

Legends of Elijah, the Tishbite, Prophet Dog

The Early Years

Wake, O wake, and sleep no longer,
For he who calls you is no stranger.

Elijah was up bright and early, alert and expectant. He barked sharply before the door of his mistress. She, however, failed to rouse from her slumber. So the little prophet chewed away his frustration at the zipper on the cover of his bed until it fell open the whole length. Poking in his snout, he bit off a hunk of the white foam inside. He diced it up into nice small pieces and strewed the bits across the kitchen floor. Then he barked a while.  His mistress stretched, yawned, turned over, and went back to sleep. Elijah bit off another hunk. By the time the sleeper awoke, an inch of foamfall covered the entire kitchen floor.

Imagine Elijah’s astonishment, when shooed outside, to find the whole backyard and as far as he could see, covered in white stuff like the foam in his bed. Only this was better. He could wet his throat with it and roll in it and leave his tracks. By chewing up his bed he had not only made his mistress awake, but changed the world! His heart swelled with the power of the Spirit within him.

This would be the first of many miracles in the prophet dog’s career.

Later, on that great day, he would tell Seal, the cat, “What you do inside in the kitchen has the power to change the world!” The feline, however, having been around the block a time or two, told him to save his preaching for the ravens. In one of her nine lives the old cat was Queen Jezebel’s kitty. Seal made it a policy to never worship anything.

She did vaguely remember cuddling up to the Goddess Asherah, but she hadn’t seen her for a long time, and how the stinky dog could ruin a perfectly good napping spot was beyond her.

Inquiring minds may want to read I Kings: 16-17

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