What my cat has taught me about connection and people

As many of you may know, I have a cat. She is the cutest kitten in the world (in my high opinion) and I love her very much, even when she gets vicious in her playful-kitty mode late at night (she thinks that biting our faces as we try to fall asleep is a very fun game…)

IMG_1169Now when I really stop to think about the purpose of a pet, the purpose of Evee–that’s my cat’s name in case you were wondering, I can’t really express what that purpose is. Is it to have a little companion all to yourself? Is it to own something? It is for protection? Is it for friendship? To stay busy? To teach kids how to be responsible? To practice love?

What is the purpose of a pet?

In Genesis Chapter 1, God creates the Earth, then, along with a bunch of other stuff, he creates animals….

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God makes a specification between wild animals, livestock, and creatures that move along the ground. Wild animals are untamed, they are not the kind of things you would probably be able to train very well… they aren’t domesticated. Livestock is usually used for food or clothing (cows, pigs, sheet, and so on). But now what about these creatures that move along the ground? Are they tamable? Are they domestic? What category would say a Golden Retriever or a Calico fall under?

One thing is for sure though, God created them so that humans, men and women, would rule all other living things. So is the purpose of owning a pet simply to have dominion over them?

To be honest, I like having Evee because she fulfills a part of me that is designed for nurturing, a part of me that desires connection and to take care of another living being.

That being said, I have come to recognize how dangerous this can be.

1.) My innate design as a woman is to nurture, but the primary purpose of that is to nurture children, not pets. Granted, I don’t have children of my own, but I do have 90 some students that come in and out of my classroom that need a heck of a lot of nurturing on a daily basis.

2.) If I am fulfilled by connection with a cat, it can take away my desire to connect with other people. In other words: I can start to turn to playing with and loving on my cat instead of playing with and loving on the neighbor kids across the street who really need some love and attention.

3.) There are many people, in not just the world, but in my own neighborhood that need a lot of taking care of. There are a lot of poor, sick, homeless, needy, uneducated, undernourished, hungry, and impoverished people living all around me. They truly need taking care of, and if I’m already feeling good about myself because I fed my cat and cleaned her litter box this morning, then will I be as apt to feed and clean the homeless man outside of the post office on my way to work?

Now I’m not saying that I want to get rid of little miss Evee. You all already know I love that cat to death! What I am saying is this: we need to be careful about where we place our caring, loving, and nurturing attention.

Yes, kittens and puppies are cute; it’s pretty easy to love them to pieces and give them treats, and pet them, and show them a ton of affection and attention. But as Jesus said in Matthew 10: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Many times we walk by a homeless person on the side of the road and avoid making eye contact. Many times we see dirty, sloppily-dressed kids and turn our nose up. Often we see people starving for attention and categorize them as annoying; we walk away and say we won’t pay them any mind. But when a stray kitten winds up on your porch, we bring her inside, dry her off, cuddle her, and give her some food and drink. When our puppy makes a mess in the mud, we wash him off and get him nice and even spend big bucks on a nice grooming. And when our pet wants our attention, meows, barks, or squawks, we pet them, give them treats, and play with them.

Why is it so easy for us to connect with our pets, but it’s so hard to connect with people who really need it the most?

Isaiah 58 gives us clear instructions about how we are to connect with one another as people:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injusticeand untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed freeand break every yoke?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them,and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Then your light will break forth like the dawn,and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Now these are “if-then” statements people. It’s a cause and effect that God is explaining. IF we end injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and welcome other people into our own homes, THEN we will be healed, be righteous, see God’s glory, and the Lord will answer us when we cry out for help or guidance.

Now I know this seems kind of silly, analyzing why we have pets and if they detract from our love of people, but it’s only because I take the scriptures very seriously, and it doesn’t seem to have much in there about loving little cute fuzzy animals, who are, frankly, pretty easy to love. Rather, the scriptures have a lot in there about loving people who are hard to love.

I see a lot of people, including myself, who care very much for their pets, and I don’t think that’s bad at all. But there are a disproportionate amount of people who are also inviting the homeless into their house, feeding people who need some nourishment, giving away clothing off their own backs to kids who need it, or helping others get out of the cruel cycle of prejudice, poverty, or oppression.

Jesus says that people are worth more than sparrows, implying that people are worth more than cats, dogs, and guinea pigs as well (I don’t think he was strictly talking about only birds). So if that’s true, then I need to be caring for and loving people more than I care for and love Evee. If that’s true, I need to be getting my need for connection fulfilled through other people, not my kitten.

When I see a kitten meowing out in the rain, I think “awwwwe poor little kitty-cat!” and I immediately want to adopt the creature and dry it off and feed it.

When I see a homeless man out on the street corner with a cardboard sign getting drenched in the rain, why don’t I have a similar reaction? Why don’t I immediately want to take care of this poor human being, dry him off, give him some warm clothes, and feed him?

Which does your heart go out to? The man or the dog?

For this week’s Monday Musings, I really want your feedback.

What do you think? Do you have a similar experience with your pet or am I just a weird animal lover who needs to get priorities straight? Have you ever had these kinds of contemplations before?

“I hate the world!”

How many of you are like Linus over there and totally hate someone? Okay, maybe not hate, but how many of you “severely dislike” someone in your life? It could be a co-worker, a classmate, your boss…a member of your family…

Chances are, there will be some people in your life that you won’t really like. It’s natural right? We’re all so different and sometimes those differences just get in the way….

Okay, another question: How many of you hate all people as a whole?

… Unless you’re a moody teenager or an endangered species, you probably answered “no” to this question. I mean, how can we make a generalization like that?

All people? Well, I’m a person, so no way!”

People often times love humanity and are despicable towards individual human beings. It’s easy to love everyone as a whole because it’s a generalized notion of who people are as a species or a community. It’s a whole lot harder to love our neighbors as individuals, especially if we know them really well.

But the Bible tells us that we must hate the world and love our neighbor. We are supposed to have  great contempt for humanity as a whole, but great love for the individuals who enter into our lives.

Some may object, saying “But God loved the world didn’t he? He sent it only son here!”.

Well, that’s true… which it why it’s difficult to understand why we are called to hate the world that God loves so dearly.

A look at two passages of the Apostle John reveals this intrinsic tension.  On the one hand, as the former argument references, John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).  On the other hand, he tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him” (1 John 2:15).

The issue is clear. We are in the world, a world that God loves, and a world in which we have a purpose.  And yet we are not of this world (we were created by something divine, not the the mundane earth), and we should guard against falling in love with this world.

The New Testament often uses the word “world” (“kosmon” in Greek) to refer to culture, or the results of human activity and creativity.  Obviously these different uses also have different connotations:

1.) The first is neutral or maybe even a positive one:  World is seen as the created order, including the actual physical earth (Matthew 24:21), the people living on it (Matthew 4:8; John 12:19), human life (1 Timothy 6:7), and the target of the disciples’ mission (Matthew 5:14).  Though sin entered into this world by the Fall, it and its inhabitants are seen as God’s beautiful creation.

2.) The second usage has a negative connotation.  World consists of human things controlled by Satan, in open rebellion against God.  The earth and its inhabitants are seen as involved in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces due to sin (Ephesians 6:12).  In this battle, the sinful world didn’t recognize Jesus as God when He came to this earth (John 1:10), so it, as a whole, is an evil place due to its imperfections.

Are things clearing up a little?

Now there are a few typical responses that occur when Christians read passages like those that I just referenced.

First response: opposition and separation.  

The history of Christianity is filled with examples of this response.  Early Christians rejected Greco-Roman culture, declaring it idolatrous and corrupt.  The monastic movement of the Middle Ages pushed for complete withdrawal from the world.  Many Protestant sectarian movements–the Brethren, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, and also the Millerites –also embraced this approach.

Those who choose this route, I am confident, do so with a sincere belief that they are living out the Word of God.  Their sincerity should be respected.

However, the Bible does not mandate a complete withdrawal and isolation from the world. We are created to be social beings, and it is within a society or a culture that we live, work, worship, and witness.  At most those who break away from the world simply develop a different culture or subculture.  More importantly, this response implies that sin is caused by the world, whereas the Bible teaches that sin begins within the mind.

Second response: assimilation.  

This position assumes that culture is basically good.

Stressing peace and love, cooperation and communication, this approach allows the gospel to be interpreted, understood, and embraced in a multitude of ways.  In the process, the essence of the gospel becomes compromised and suddenly we get Christ as the “great moral teacher” rather than the Lord of life and sole Savior of the world.  Thus, Christianity becomes an all-embracing humanitarianism;  there is blurred distinction between the realms of God and Satan, propped by a moralistic humanism which poses a case for universal salvation…. and we all should know that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

But how do we understand culture, community, and our commitment of faith? Where do we draw the line between the demands of society and the kingdom of God?

In order to engage critically with our surrounding world, we must balance four biblical approaches to it:

1. Separation from anything openly contrary to God’s revealed will.

2. Affirmation of everything that is compatible with God’s revelation and original plan for humanity.

3. Transformation of individual human beings to become unified with God’s principles.

4. Contribution to the surrounding culture through elements that benefit humanity and enhance life.

And in order to see the world this way, we must seek our wisdom from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word so we may allow God to guide us in our choices rather than let our own selfishness lead our worldly conquests.

Doing God’s will where we are

In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus frees a man from an evil spirit. Afterwards, the man wanted to follow him,  but Jesus told his new follower to return home–to his own culture–and share the good news with his family and friends.

Here is the key to a Christian understanding of culture: Be a follower of Jesus where you are. No matter the situation, no matter the people you are surrounded with (who you might dislike). We are called to love those individuals, even if we hate the torn-apart world that surrounds us and effects us.

As Reinhold Niebuhran American theologian and commentator on public affairs, noted: As Christians we “… are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded (us).”

 

How do you, as a follower of Christ, live in this world and survive in today’s sinful culture? Or am I way off? Is our culture not evil at all?