What's Tony Thinking

Week’s End, September 9


People of the Dog. Turns out Christians are way more likely to own dogs than cats, according to an article in Christianity Today. We have had both, along with a gerbil or two, and at one time, rats (in a cage). At this point, we have neither. Unless you count “grand-dogs and cats,” which are like grandchildren in that you can enjoy them in short doses and return them. Three quarters of Christians who own pets have a dog, while fewer than half (43%) own a cat.

And this means what? Well, in my experience, dogs think you are God, attending to your every movement with devotion, sometimes way too much devotion as in case of one of our Golden Retrievers who jumped to her feet and starting salivating on me whenever I twitched. Cats, on the other hand, think they are God. Despite their devotion, dogs tend to require a lot of you, perhaps teaching us that being God, or thinking we are, is not a great idea.

So Which Is It? On Wednesday the headline at one of the publications about church life to which I subscribe read, “Giving Is Up and People Are Back.” The next day’s headline, in the same publication, read, “America Is Experiencing a Great De-Churching.” So, which is it? Are churches back, or coming back, after the pandemic? Or are they empty, their buildings morphing into brew-pubs and condos?

“Both,” is my hunch, depending on where and how you look. Whatever grand narrative one favors — “terminal decline,” or “church rebound” or another — tends to shape perceptions, and not just with regard to this topic. Personally, I am a little weary of this broad trend reporting on church decline.

Enough grumpiness? Possibly trying to compensate for a number of fairly dark pieces he has written recently about our native land, David Brooks column this week heralds an “America Revival” already underway. Predications had been that China would overtake us economically, while our rust belt kept on rusting. But, no, manufacturing and investment is America are going strong, while China is languishing at the hands of its authoritarian government.

Still, this “revival” is only about the economy. So Brooks curbs his enthusiasm in his final paragraph as follows: “American politics is dysfunctional, and our social fabric is in tatters, but somehow our economy is among the strongest in the world. Our economic competitors stumble and fall; we stumble, and somehow bounce back.”

Biden Worries. I expressed my own in a post earlier this week. But Brooks, see above, credits Bidenomics with the turn around. He acknowledges worries about Biden’s age and vigor, but says with results like these he’d vote for a person who’s a 100 years old. Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan says that it’s time for Biden to exit the stage.

Forgiveness Can Be Fun. Here’s a story I loved from a sermon titled “The Cell of Little Ease,” posted at Mockingbird by James Munroe.

“I want to close with a picture of what it’s like to get out of the cell of little ease. A young man named Kenneth Godfrey, a real person, was eighteen years old when his father died. His father had owned a gas station in a small town, and over the years he had allowed people to buy gas on credit. After he died, Kenneth and his mom tried to run the station on their own.

“One day, Kenneth found a large file in a back room of the station. It was a file that listed all of the debts that the customers of his father had built up over the years. Since his dad had died, the customers had ignored what they owed. Kenneth and his mom tried to collect the debts, but to no avail. And after a year of getting nowhere, they decided to sell the gas station. But they kept that file of debts.

“One Sunday afternoon some time later, Kenneth’s mom got out that file and made an announcement. “Son, there’s something that’s eating at me about these debts, and I’ve decided to do something about it.” Kenneth thought, “Well, thank goodness. We’re finally going to get a lawyer.” He said to his mother, “What are you going to do?” She said, “I’m going to forgive them.” Kenneth said, “How are you going to do that?” “Follow me,” she said, “and I’ll show you.”

“They went out into the back yard. The mother gathered some sticks and made a fire in an old cookout grill. Then she opened up the file and took out one of the slips of paper. She read it out loud – “George Sullivan, $25.” She tore the paper in half, and she said, “George, wherever you are, you old goat – I forgive you.” And she threw the paper into the fire.

“She looked at her son, and she said, “Kenneth, do you want to try it?” He said, “I don’t think I can.” She said, “I don’t think you have a choice. We need to get free.”

“The mother continued ripping and burning the debts, while Kenneth stood there in silence. Finally, he reached slowly into the file and pulled out a debt. He read in a quiet voice, “Douglas Miner, $65.” Then he tore it up and threw it in the fire. He took out another one and glanced over at his mother. She was smiling at him. He started to smile. And then they were both laughing out loud.

“It took Kenneth and his mother two hours to empty the file. By the time they were done, the oak door of their cell of little ease had swung open, and they had walked into the land of forgiveness and mercy, the land that is also known as the Kingdom of God, where their own IOU’s had been burned up a long time ago on the cross by a loving God.”

Hope you have a lovely weekend and take a walk in the land of forgiveness and mercy.


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