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The Zen of Dog Poop

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My daughter and son-in-law moved back into our place while they start a new business. They brought with them two dogs, which brings our household total to four canine quadrupeds. I know what you’re thinking: “Who scoops all that poop in the back yard?” Well, the same guy who types these pearls of wisdom, that’s who. Most likely I was assigned the job of household pooper scooper because of my uncanny ability to relate to the fell beasts in our home, and that occasionally includes the dogs. Some call me the misfit dog whisperer, though I’m not entirely sure who is the misfit. In any case, I have come to embrace the scooping of dog poop as a transcendental path to wisdom.

How, you might ask, does scooping dog poop lead to wisdom? Well, one has to humble oneself to scoop dog poop. You won’t catch a narcissist scooping dog poop. But first let me say that selecting the proper tools is crucial to successful poop scooping. A simple shovel will not do, for ergonomic reasons, when scooping volume poop. A shovel requires the scooper to repeatedly bend his or her back when scooping. It’s better to go to one of those warehouse pet stores and buy an official scooper and pan with long handles so you don’t have to bend over repeatedly while scooping. You also need a pair of old shoes that you detest because, trust me, no matter how careful or persnickety you are, you WILL step in poop . . . a lot. This, or course, teaches us to not hold on to material possessions, which isn’t all that difficult once they’ve been baptized in dog pooh.

Need more examples of the mystical benefits of scooping poop? Scooping poop requires the dulling of one’s senses to a certain degree, especially the sense of smell. When you dull one sense, others senses come alive with greater intensity. When I scoop poop, I become more keenly aware of the breeze on my skin, the chirping of birds in the yard, and the looks of my dogs (who watch from a safe distance) that seem to inquire: “Why do we call you Master when clearly your status in this home is not what you’d have us believe?” Ignoring their condescending expressions, I encourage myself with the thought that I have become a master at spotting petrified dog poop amidst a sea of like-colored decorative bark. Occasionally I am rewarded for my efforts by a dog poop that reveals the diversity in diet that our canine friends enjoy, often unbeknownst to us. Yep, just yesterday I found two poops containing large chunks of Cindy’s chartreuse flip flops. This gave me an epiphany—we humans, like the dogs, consume both good and evil throughout our lives, but only the good can nourish us. Or it might just mean that Cindy has poor taste in flip flops.

But let’s return to the topic of humility. The most important life-lesson I’ve learned from scooping dog poop has to do with male pride. If a guy has to scoop dog poop, it keeps his feet firmly planted on solid ground. Dog poop does not suffer pride in a man. If a man can’t bring himself to enter the domain of his own dogs to scoop the poop, well, he may be headed for the proverbial fall that follows pride. Perhaps presidents, and members of Congress, and captains of industry, and even some high priests in the clergy should all be required to own a dog and scoop the pooh. We’d likely have less crap going on in the world. (I crack me up sometimes.)

Scooping dog pooh in volume requires such concentration that one does not have room in the cranium to worry about life’s cares and woes while transferring poop from the yard to the waste bin. In other words, scooping poop enables the mind to zone out for a while. Scooping poop also buys a guy a lot of chore cred at home. When my wife berates me for neglecting to load the dish washer or failing to take out the trash, I need only remind her, in a gentle tone, who it is that scoops the poop, and the berating comes to an abrupt end. Of course I still have to load the dishwasher and take out the trash. I’m not THAT dimwitted.

Fearing the God of Love

The Bible repeatedly mentions the fear of the Lord as a good thing for us to feel. For example, Proverbs 9:10 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

We often think of fear, especially irrational fear, as bad or unhealthy. So why does the Bible tell us to fear the Lord when we know the Lord is pure love? Why should we fear someone we love and who loves us back? After all, I don’t fear my wife (unless I slip up and criticize her driving).

The word fear in the verse above is translated from the original language as: terror, awesome or terrifying thing, respect, reverence. Except for the word awesome, these are not words you hear much in Christendom these days. But if we explore God in the Bible, the world around us, and observe his hand in the human race and in our personal life, a picture begins to form in our mind that reveals the otherness of God. He is not like us. The raw power of nature is minuscule compared to the power God wields. He doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t exist like us. Sure there are some similarities between us and God, but there are more differences.

I don’t believe that God likes to see us cowering before him as if he were some cruel tyrant or oppressor. Christ makes God approachable for us. Christ is an awesome (couldn’t help myself) advocate, but our problem is a dangerous proclivity to forget our place. A crucial step on the path to wisdom comes when we realize there is a moral God who cares how we live. That epiphany should rightly cause some anxiety. Of course we shouldn’t go through life expecting God to smite us any moment. On the other hand, we shouldn’t go through life feeling immune from God’s loving efforts to purge sin from our lives, even in unpleasant ways.

Here’s the point: The otherness of God is so foreign to us that a natural and appropriate reaction is a wholesome unsettling fear; a reverence for the sacred. It’s the awareness that I can’t draw another breath unless he is OK with it. He knit me together in the everlasting womb and he can take me apart as if I never was. My plans will never supersede his plans. He is amused by some of my plans that I think so important. His eyes pierce darkness and see all the thoughts of his people. He is a refining fire that makes us better people. If I commit to serve him, there is no telling where it will lead. He tests us to build our endurance. Any good that flows into my life spills from his cup . . . and he spills a lot of good into our lives. His purity unsettles us because we don’t have a paradigm in our mind that can hold it. What is perfect purity? It is something we today have never experienced in nature.

Don’t get me wrong, I embrace the God-of-love we celebrate in the modern church. Experiencing God’s love is transformational and healing. It feels good and is unlike any love we experience in nature . . . with the possible exception of the love a parent feels for his or her child. And yet experiencing God in ways that can elicit fear is uncomfortable, but ultimately just as transformational and positive. The fear of the Lord comes with seeking as much of God’s characteristics as possible. The fear of the Lord is fulfilling and also keeps us out of trouble. Even if we just explore the depths of God’s love, the deeper we go the more our unworthiness is evident; and yet his love is always more than enough to demolish our feelings of inadequacy. We think God sees our darkest and most secret stains—the shame we tell no one—and he will withhold his love. But he does not withhold his love. He pours it on even more. Who can understand that without a feeling of sobering reverence? The fear of the Lord and love of the Lord do not cancel each other out.

Cane

Last Saturday I rushed my wife to the emergency room. We thought something was wrong with her heart, but thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious. They ran some lab tests while we waited in a little room in the bowels of the ER. As the minutes slowly passed, I noticed that the ER was filling up. It got so full that they were placing patients on gurneys in the hallway. One elderly woman caught my attention. She was an elegant lady with pure white hair. She was dressed in navy blue slacks with a cream colored blouse. She looked regal except for the ugly diagonal gash across the bridge of her nose and a purple lump above her right eye. I suspected she had fallen. I was right. A nurse eventually stopped by and asked her some medical questions. One question and response caught my attention.

“Do you use a cane to get around?” the nurse asked.
“No, and I do not intend to,” said the elderly woman. “This is the first time I have fallen. I was getting out of the car and I just got in too much hurry.”

This won’t be the last time she falls, I thought to myself. You see, falling is one of the biggest hazards for the elderly. The young can trip and fall, flail around, and bounce back with nary a scratch or bruise. Not so with the brittle elderly. Simple falls can be life-threatening for older folk. My aunt fell and broke her hip. The pain and after-effects of surgery killed her. Aging diminishes our sense of balance and this increases the likelihood of falling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I admire the generation that came before me. They had a grit and toughness that subsequent generations lack. Unfortunately, a byproduct of that toughness is pride. Now the way I see it, wisdom is way more valuable than toughness or pride, even if it’s just the wisdom to use a cane to help us keep our balance. Lately, I think of my Bible somewhat like a cane. But what is the Bible, really? It has been called a manual for living, a moral code, a love letter from God, a history document, a map to salvation and many other things.

Many people who love the Bible might abhor the notion that the Bible is a crutch, which is exactly what a cane is. I wonder . . . does the use of a cane imply weakness? Perhaps to some! To me it reveals the heart of a person willing to examine their life and embrace the reality of needing assistance. Pride obscures our ability to see ourselves as we really are—weak, frail, unbalanced. Like that old saying: pride goes before a fall.

So I’m okay with it, with using my Bible like a cane. The world can mock me, call me weak-minded. Fine! At least I’m willing to face the truth about my spiritual handicap, and the Bible is the perfect prosthesis to help keep my balance . . . and Lord knows I’m unbalanced (joking, sort of). The Bible doesn’t answer all my questions. Nevertheless, it protects me from the big hazards, but only if I use it.