y family shares our home with, among other animals, an overweight, middle-aged Labrador retriever named Lulu. Lulu is a true Lab. She sheds two dogs worth of hair every day. She makes unladylike noises and odors. Even wearing an attention-getting collar, she strains at the leash. We can never turn our backs on her if there is food in the same room.
But even as I type, she is lying next to me, occasionally glancing at me adoringly, just to make sure I’m still here. Nothing and nobody can love with the exuberance of a Labrador retriever. Her love is up close and personal, completely uninhibited. And even though she is an ungraceful lug of a dog, we love her back.
When Lulu first came to our house, however, things were not so rosy. Like most Lab puppies, she chewed. Books and shoes we might have lived with. We could learn to put them away. Lulu, though, did not stop with shoes. Lulu ate a couch and snacked on the leather recliner.
She knew it was wrong. She always slunk apologetically to our feet when we returned home, thus alerting us that something was amiss. She knew her chewing was wrong, but she just couldn’t help it.
We had to do something to help her stop. We tried putting her in the fenced back yard, only to return to find her lying in the middle of the road waiting for us.
Finally we got a dog crate and the problem was immediately solved. Our relationship with Lulu improved dramatically. Lulu even came to love the crate and, viewing it as her den, often napped in it.
Flash forward several years to this past November when we decided to try an experiment. We went for a short errand without putting the dog in the crate. We returned home, we walked around the house and found that nothing had been chewed. Then we realized that Lulu was nowhere to be found. She had not welcomed us at the door.
We went to the back room and, sure enough, there she was, wagging her tail and waiting for us to open the door of her already open crate and let her out.
As Christians, we are much like Lulu. We’re not very graceful or ladylike, we like to strain at our leashes, and we hide ourselves in our crate.
Jesus came to us to open the door of our prison, to free us from the law of sin and death, and give us the run of the house. We are no longer servants but instead we are friends.
But we refuse to exercise our freedom. We concern ourselves more with obedience to rules and regulations than with going into the world to love each and every neighbor. We look out at our neighbors from inside our crates, wagging our tails and hoping they will come into the cage with us so we can love them properly.
We cling to our crate of rules and laws so much that non-Christians look at us and don’t see a people set free, but a people in bondage. Worse still, we forget that while we keep ourselves inside our crate, Christ is out among the poor and oppressed, proclaiming release to the captives, and loving "sinners and tax collectors" in an up close and personal way.
Coming out of the crate is indeed a risk. We’re scared we’ll return to our old ways and start chewing the furniture again. Being a Christian is a risky proposition.
The question we must face is whether it is better to stay in our crate and avoid evil or to take hold of our freedom, go out and do good. The crate may be comforting, it keeps us out of trouble, but it also keeps us from welcoming Christ wherever we find him. Come out of the crate and love like crazy. Show the world what Christians are really like. We may be ungraceful lugs, but nothing and nobody can love like a Christian set free.
I would avoid the face licking though.
Fr. Birch Rambo is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.