Jul 4th, Listening to Your Life: Finding God in Unexpected Places. Pets and Community.
Jul 4th, Listening to Your Life: Finding God in Unexpected Places. Pets and Community.
Friends, we have been listening to our lives and noticing where we find God in unexpected places, and I admit this 4th of July, I cheated a little because I think one of the places I, I most expect to encounter God or love or or a holy encounter is when I’m around buddy or other dogs and pets. And I think we know kind of innately that these guys connect us somehow to the unconditional love that keeps our world spinning, that connects us to the truest and best parts of ourselves, that connect us to God and connect us to each other.
So my inspiration as we were coming into Fourth of July weekend was to talk about, you know, unfortunately, we’re not having a parade this year. And now that we have this incredible heat wave, I think that makes a lot of sense. But we wanted to highlight the ways that we encounter God and love through the lens of these amazing creatures. And I know that Buddy has taught me so much about having just an automatic response to people that is loving.
He doesn’t even hesitate. Sometimes that comes with a little side of slobber. But it’s his whole deal. It’s it’s his whole thing is responding to people with love so much so that sometimes we do voices for him and we’ll say that he loves you already or that his advice to people is just loves, just loves. It’s not that hard. And so I want to talk about unconditional love today, because, of course, that is central to the message of God and Jesus and so many other faith traditions around the world.
It is central to who we are as human beings. One of the ways we’ve been able to show our most vulnerable neighbors unconditional love this week, which is the whole work of the church, which is the whole work of the community in which we’re doing in collaboration with so many amazing people and organizations, is by opening our doors as a cooling station on the weekends, recruiting volunteers to help at the cooling station at Shepherd’s House during the week and then and then at the church here, receiving supplies, incredibly generous donations of water and Gatorade and ice and sunscreen and aloe vera, all these things so that we can send those into the field with the service providers and community members who are checking on our houses, neighbors and making sure they have what they need to to navigate this heat crisis.
But the best part, one of the best parts about inviting friends into our church for refuge has been having dogs like Buddy and another big dog named Bubbles on site where it’s no secret to you, but he has very little training of any kind, certainly not as a therapy dog in any kind of official capacity, but he knows what to do. People come through the door and he knows what to do. He greets them with all of his love and energy and tail wags and horrible breath and slobber on their arms to welcome them and say you’re there’s no questions about you.
You belong here. We love you. Come on in. And we’ve been able to offer refuge to neighbors who have their dogs with them. I mean, if you can imagine not being able to take care of your beloved pet and get them out of the heat. It’s so been so, so important to provide space for these folks to get some relief. That’s our our two legged neighbors are people that we care about so much and also the beloved creatures that that keep us going in so many ways and remind us that we are loved and cared for.
I I had a chance recently to have dinner with some friends. And the you know, the ice breaker question came up. If you could have any superpower, what superpower would you want? And of course, the youth pastor in me is like, this is my question. I have asked hundreds, if not thousands of students this question over the last 15 years of ministry. And so I’m always ready and I’m really proud of my response. So I always say, you know, flying is cool, being invisible is cool.
There’s no wrong answer. But truly, if I could have a superpower, I would love it if I could communicate with anyone, if I could speak their language and understand what they’re saying to me just just right away. No matter where I go, no matter who they are, no matter what language they speak, maybe even if I could understand, buddy, I don’t know what would happen. But but that’s always been the dream answer to that question for me.
And as we went around the table, there were other great answers. But we came to one of my friends and he said, if I could have any superpower, it would be healing. If I could if I could simply make pain, go away for people any kind. Pain, all the pain, if I can make the pain go away. That would be the best superpower in the whole world. And I was like, Oh. That’s my new answer.
Speaking of languages would be super cool, but that’s my new answer, to have the ability to see the pain around us, to see the pain in our neighbors, to see the pain in our friends and family, to see the pain in our society, in our broken systems, and to be able to heal that pain and to bring wholeness to broken to broken places. I don’t think there’s much that’s closer to the heart of God than that, and I don’t think there’s I don’t think there’s a better way I’ve found to express what it means to walk in the way of Jesus and to embody the way of love than.
To heal where there is pain and so as as we honor our beloved friends with maybe too much fur and too much heat this week in all of their in all of their drooling and in all of their just wonderful, simple, beloved, this, I am being reminded over and over and over what it means to to let my muscle memory of encountering someone be a muscle memory of love to start with love to lead, lead all of my interactions with love.
And and the amazing thing that we have seen this week is that that’s in all of us. I have seen incredible outpouring of love from our community, from you for making this possible, for opening up our space in an emergency to our neighbors who need it most. I have I have helped wheel in more cases of water than I can count because of the generosity of our community. The generosity of people like you and many of you who are watching have been here and and helped and supported this effort.
We together have made it possible to get resources as far as lupine and sisters and Redmann and Prineville and and here in Bend, just making sure to get everybody what they need to survive this heat. And I think that is the work of the church, and that is the way that I want to honor the Fourth of July, the the way that I want to acknowledge this celebration of freedom that is complicated on many levels, but that we are free to be people of love, that we are free to be people of generosity, that we are free to be people who care for one another with no questions asked, with no qualifications.
When people come in at a cooling shelter, at a low barrier shelter, the only thing we ask them is their name. And they can tell us whatever they want. I had a gentleman come in who who simply wanted to be called thank you, which is just an amazing thing in and of itself. We can do a different segment on that, but just that. Have you wanted his identity to be around him, his gratitude, which is just the most humbling thing ever.
But for people to be able to come as they are, to know that they are loved, to be called beloved and to belong and to be given safety and relief and healing from their pain, even if it’s just for a moment, that is the work of love that is ours to do. And that is the kind of love that we learn from being around these guys, whether their first impulse is love. May our first impulse be to love not just when it’s an emergency, not just when we can hand out a bottle of water or a bottle of Gatorade, but as we keep investing in our communities and we keep trying to build systems of justice into the fabric of who we are, that we would let love lead us love of our neighbors so that, you know, the dream would be that in in a matter of years, we wouldn’t we wouldn’t have to have emergency cooling stations because our neighbors would already have a safe, stable, cool or warm depending on the weather place to be.
And that’s the dream. That’s what we’re working towards, that that love can happen in the public sphere, that we can make it happen together through our generosity, through our awareness and and by advocating with all of our hearts for for solutions to the hardest problems. We can do this together. We can we can let our impulse, our very first instinct be to love. And we can we can listen to those places where there is pain and seek to heal.
And so, friends, I invite you into that freedom, freedom to love, freedom to let your first impulse be invitation and kindness and belonging and the unconditional love that we see all around us. And today, maybe we especially honor in the presence of our beloved pets. All my love and thank you for your generosity and love.
Part of my everyday life is walking my dog. Chance, Chance. I must admit, Chance is my spiritual teacher. As we walk the river trail this week, you know, I decided to withhold to pay attention to see the walk itself as a spiritual practice and to be open to what chance. And this walk might be able to teach me about myself, about God, about life. Do you remember the David Letterman show? He always had top ten list.
So here are my top ten spiritual lessons I learned from my dog chants on the river trail. No one nature heals. I actually didn’t think I had time to walk the river that day because I was I was busy. Chance looked at me with those eyes that said, come on, you need to get out of your office. Let’s go outside. Sometimes you just need to leave your anxious thoughts. You’re relentless to do list behind and find a dirt trail in the steady rhythms of a river.
You know, the best time to breathe fresh air and to find dirt under your feet is when you’re convinced you don’t have time. Number two, when we got to the river, I was in a hurry walking fast, thinking about all the things I needed to do. After the walk, Chance had other plans. A chance. Chance wanted to sniff every tree, every plant, every human being. Chance reminded me that that life is now. Life is to be lived now, right where you are.
Notice what’s right in front of you. Explore the curious. Sniff every inch of it. Number three chance reminded me that that the goal is not to get from A to B as fast as you can. You know, sometimes the goal is just simply to slow down, be awake, be mindful of the stop. And delight in the duck whose head is under the water and whose butt is in the air. Number four in life, according to chance, strangers don’t exist.
There’s no such thing as a stranger. Every single person you encounter, no matter who they are, deserves a wake of the tale. And number five, chance reminded me of the wisdom, the wisdom of assuming the best in people chance has this way of being able to say with his eyes, why wouldn’t you want to pet me? I’m so darn lovable. I know I can turn your frown into a smile. Chance assumes the best in people and reminds me to assume the best in people.
No. Six Chance taught me that day that if you smile at a stranger, nine out of 10 people actually smile back and the world needs more smiles. It does help if your tongue is hanging out and your tail is wagging. Number seven. I also learned from chance on the walk that, you know, every now and then you just you just got to jump in and risk getting wet. It might be cold, but you might just surprise yourself with joy.
The only risk, it seems, is to not risk at all. And number eight, who knew a stick could bring so much joy? It’s the simple things and number nine, as Chance and I walked side by side on the trail, I realized there’s something beautiful, something really beautiful about companionship where words aren’t needed. Don’t be in such a hurry to fill the void with words or or noise, save or silence. Just just be there for someone.
And number 10, finally, go ahead and roll in the grass. Don’t worry what other people are thinking. Silliness. I call them the dog Zumiez. Silliness is good for the soul.