This is about theologian Marcus Borg and my dog. I’ve been reading Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, in which Borg writes about two different paradigms of Christianity: the earlier and emerging paradigms. The earlier paradigm, he writes, is a traditional understanding of Christianity, strong still in evangelical churches. It promotes faith primarily as belief: belief that the Bible is literally inspired by God, that Jesus died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, and that we can find our way into heaven if we just believe the right things. It’s not the kind of language we usually hear at Saint Andrew.
The emerging paradigm promotes a broader understanding of faith. Faith is not simply a belief that certain events happened as described, but as a broader way of seeing reality. It is not mere belief, but is trust in God, faithfulness to God, and loving humanity. It doesn’t abandon the idea of belief, but affirms the centrality of God, Jesus, and the Bible.
Which brings us to my dog Clifford. Recently I was keeping the dog of a friend who is traveling. Clifford is a vocal and excitable beagle, while my friend’s dog is an older and more docile lab. Around midnight, I let them into the back yard to do what dogs do. The lab soon wandered back, but Clifford was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t come when called – not necessarily unusual – but I couldn’t hear him, and the more time passed, the more I was sure something was wrong.
The possible ways out of the yard looked secure, but then I remembered the gate in the fence to a neighbor’s yard, and I discovered it standing open. The bungee cord that normally held it shut was frayed and lying on the ground. My worries rose immediately. It was late and dark. No one was around. Clifford is not used to being out among cars, and he may not be the brightest dog in the world.
My first instinct was to shut the gate, but then I thought, no, leave it. Dogs have a good sense of direction, and he might come back the same way he left.
I drove slowly around the neighborhood, but saw no sign of Clifford. I walked the neighborhood in places I thought he might have gone, but still I saw no sign of him. At about 1:30 am, I heard a howling in the distance. It had to be Clifford, but I couldn’t locate the sound. I walked toward where I thought it was, but found nothing. Finally I gave up and came inside to fret and hope that someone would find him and take him to where his chip could be read. Maybe the next day my phone would ring with good news.
Then, just before 3 am, I heard a scratch at the back door. I opened the door and he walked in, no worse for wear, though clearly tired.
Maybe this is how faith works, as Borg describes it. I left the gate open in hope and trust that he could find his way back. I thought I might get a call the next day from someone who had him. And although I don’t always know what to do with the concept of prayer, I said a little prayer of hope and trust for his protection. He did come back, and I still trust that even if he hadn’t, someone would have helped him find his way back. I don’t really know, of course, how or why he came back. Maybe it was just a dog being a dog. But faith says that that maybe, by some understanding, God had something to do with it.
Creator God, help us to live the precarious moments in our lives in faithfulness, trust, and love.