By Pastor John Johnson

March 8: Do Cat Owners Make Better Christians? (Second in Lenten Series: "Being alone, together, with Jesus"

Gloating is probably not a good thing for a preacher to do, but just to show the cat-owners among you what you are missing, I want to give you a quick peek at Patricia’s and my two dogs, Stanley and Oliver, who are as funny in their own way as their namesakes, Laurel and Hardy — if anyone remembers Laurel and Hardy.

Mind you, especially with the challenges of training Oliver, whom we have had for just less than a year, I have wondered at times whether, when Stanley dies, I would really want to have any dogs, but Patricia responds, “But they create so much love in our home,” and she is right. Not only are they playful and smart, they can tell time: they will come to me when it is 4:30 in the afternoon and time for their dinner, and later, for their evening treat, just as though they were wearing wrist — well, “paw” — watches, and Oliver lets us know when it is time for us all to head for the bedroom for the night.

At least in my experience, dogs are like a gift from God to their owners, whereas, as I once preached some years back, “I don’t know why God created cats. Cats serve no useful social function. You cannot herd cats.”

But, well, the veneration of Abraham by Jews and Christians and Muslims has caused me to pause a bit; cats might indirectly serve a purpose.

“Why?” you might ask? Well, it goes to this fundamental difference between dogs and cats. For Oliver and Stanley, their fundamental approach to their owners seems to be, “How do I please you?” For cats, as we all know, their fundamental approach to their owners seems to be, “How are you going to please me?” And to restate my bias toward dogs and against cats, the son of Dewey and Sandra Hartman, snow-birds from Montana, sent me this: [photo]

In other words, the fundamental obligation of a dog owner is to reward his or her dogs for what the dogs do to please their owners; the fundamental obligation of a cat owner seems to be to do whatever the cat wants him or her to do!

But while I suppose there is something Christian in offering treatment to a dog that shows gratitude for the pleasure that the dog puts into one’s life, a cat owner’s behavior is. . . well, let’s consider the great patriarch, Abraham, for a minute, when we first meet him in the Book of Genesis.

As we read: And Yahweh said to Abram "Go from your land and from your kindred and from the house of your father to the land which I will show to you.” And, Abram went as Yahweh told him, which the final editor of Genesis makes sure we understand by giving us a few verses later, And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness,  an idea that Paul reenforces in his letter to the Christians in Rome, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Abraham, the model of faith in and obedience to God, as most dramatically manifested in the troublesome story of Abraham and Isaac, but, at any rate, Abraham, who models for us that faith is lived out through obedience to God’s commands.

And whereas it is the dog who obeys the dog’s owner’s commands, it is the cat owner who obeys the cat’s commands, it is the cat owner who, whether forced to do so by the cat or doing so voluntarily, is obedient, which is why I raise the question: “Do cat owners make better Christians,” that is, does obeying a cat’s demands condition one better to obey God’s commands?

Unless you have a sense of humor — and anyone who has been through a service or two with me and returned must have a sense of humor, — you may be bewildered, but I am simply having fun trying to make a point: the Christian does at least seek to obey what he or she hears as God’s commands; simply receiving and accepting gifts from God — which in a sense is what we dog owners do — is not being a Christian, for by itself, receiving from God hardly shows gratitude for what God through Jesus has done for us.

Humor. I am not sure how closely related the words “humor” and “humility” might be, though asking the question introduces a third word, “hubris,” which, I am fond of saying, is the fundamental human sin — thinking ourselves equal to God, while humility is its antonym, has a completely opposite meaning and connotation to hubris. Cats, with their, “What can you do for me?” attitude, display hubris, they certainly do not display humility. But that means that to be an owner of a cat, one has no choice but to show humility — “yes, your lordship,” “yes, your ladyship,” — no choice but to show humility to his or her cat. Cat owners accept that their role is to be servants of their cats.

So, we have two more reasons to think maybe cat owners are better prepared to behave in a Christian way: humility, even if with respect to their cats, and servanthood, again, even if with respect to their cats, their obnoxious cats.

I am forced to admit it: Cat owners are better prepared to behave in a Christian way than are dog owners. And is behaving in a Christian way not something to which we all aspire, even if we so often fall short? 

And behaving in a Christian way is not always that easy. Obedient? There are some 700 — seven hundred — laws in The Torah, the part of the Old Testament called, “The Law.” Thank goodness Jesus and Paul — Paul, whose letters reached a greater number of early Christians than did what we read in the Gospels — thank goodness Jesus and Paul made it clear for us what is really sought by those laws: the way in which to live out two, just two, essential commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got” — my fair simplification of the Shema found in Deuteronomy, — and, “Love your neighbor as you yourself have been loved by God,” again, my fair translation and interpretation from the Hebrew of what is meant by “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Wait, John; you are like a broken record, you repeat those commandments almost every week, and beside, what do ‘dogs’ and ‘cats’ have to do with anything?”

Well, let me turn again to cat owners, not to cats. Let’s face it: cats are not intrinsically lovable, right? (okay, okay), yet there are indeed cat owners who love their cats. Well, we humans are frequently not very lovable, yet God loves us! That to me is the very first message we find in the Bible about God’s relation to us humans God created!

So at least some cat owners have a leg up on the rest of us in being able to do what God as Jesus did and does: love someone — or something, cats are not people, — love someone despite his or her or its — despite our, ahem, “un-lovability.”

So, for all you cat owners, a tip o’ the hat: you know more than I about being obedient, about being humble, about being a servant — and about loving the often unlovable. Good! Those are excellent Christian behaviors.

Which forces me into a touch of humility. As a dog owner, I am spoiled, spoiled, and I do not fully appreciate it. It’s not that I am ungenerous, Patricia will vouch that I take really good care of our dogs, but they are only mildly bossy, and so I am not learning obedience; I am trying to teach it. And while they do depend on me to feed them, they look to me as much to serve me as for me to serve them, and they look up at me, they do not make me feel humility.

And yet, they provide a wonderful example of how I should behave, for they always show a happiness, joy, to see me and gratitude for what I do for them — certainly attitudes that I as a Christian should show toward God, — and they give to me a tiny glimpse of something that God alone give us, and that is an awareness of unconditional love — not that dogs know what love actually is, — an awareness of unconditional love and acceptance in that even when I am impatient or angry, they want to lick me or be petted by me. To steal from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, they are patient — not in the sense of not wanting to be fed, — but patient in tolerating the inconsistencies in my moods toward them; they are patient and kind toward me, always.

Which I guess is one reason I come back to the inescapable and incontrovertible conclusion that dogs are to be preferred to cats, yet I do  have to say something positive about cat owners: they are obedient, humble, and willing to be servants; they are good role models for me as one who aspires to be more Christian.

Hmm. Maybe we dog and cat owners ultimately need each other for a full appreciation of what God wants of us, and, equally importantly, for full appreciation of what God has done for us.

There may not otherwise be any social purpose for cats — but they do train owners who provide a good example for us other Christians. Of course, we dog owners do receive some sense of God’s unconditional love from our pets — but that love calls for something in response: obedience, humility, servanthood, things cat owners already know. Let’s all of us, with or without pets, join the cat owners, and let all of us walk the road together of seeking to be obedient and humble servants of our Lord and Savior, in whose name we pray.

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