Milkbones, Fences, and New Friends

800px-Wood_fence_close_up

I am a dog lover.  Always have been.  Always will be.

It’s a plain and simple fact about me that most people learn within seconds of meeting me. Put me in the vicinity of anything cute and fuzzy, and I’m in heaven.  Put me in the vicinity of a dog, and I’m in seventh heaven.

My neighbors have a privacy fence around their backyard–and on the other side of that fence is their pet dog–still just a puppy despite it’s large build.  Like all puppies, he watches and wants to play when someone happens by.  I have often heard his playful bark and turned to see a brow eye peering at me from one of the gaps between the boards.

And, of course, I have watched him grow from a little baby into the playful large puppy that he is now.  I peek through the gaps to see if he is out and about.  And if he is there, I reach up over the fence and drop a doggie treat into the yard for him.

This has become our routine.  When he hears me open my back door (the door I use most often), he gives a bark, to let me know that he in out and hoping for a treat.  When I pull into my driveway, he greets me with a bark.  As I walk down through my yard, I can see the shadow of him, on his side of the fence, walking beside me.  He waits patiently as I slip into the back door to retrieve a dog biscuit and paws at the fence when I approach it.

We have forged a strange friendship.  He knows my voice, and I recognize his bark.  We have only seen each other through the gaps in the fence.  I have never petted him, he has never sniffed my hand.  And yet, we know each other in our own unique way.

Now, here’s the thing about that dog:  He doesn’t need the treats I give him.  The family with which he lives feeds him well and showers him with love.  They give him all the attention he needs.  He has a good life–the sort of life a dog should have.  He’s got a big yard to safely play in, people who care about him, and all the basic needs for survival at his disposal.

The treats I drop over the fence began as a peace offering.  My dog rushes out the back door and right up to the fence in an effort, I am convinced, to irritate the neighbor dog.  So I began doling out the treats to let the other dog know that my dog was a good sight–not an invasion of his territory but a harbinger of good things to come.

As time went on, though, I began handing out the treats as a way of establishing myself as a friend.  And now… well, now, I give the treats just because of the happiness it seems to bring to both the mystery dog behind the fence and me.

So what does this strange ritual I’ve established with the neighbor dog have to do with my Eastertide theme of living out loud?

Imagine how much good we could do in this world if we were to approach each other in the same gentle, loving way with which most of us approach a new puppy?

Many in the church world toss around the current catch-phrase “radical hospitality” in describing how we, as the body of Christ, should be responding to the people who come to our churches or whom we encounter in the community.

Radical hospitality is something we offer not because we are asked for it, but because we want to share our happiness and joy with others.  We share with others not because they can give us anything in return, or offer us anything in exchange… we offer it because we are so grateful for what we have that we want to share it forward with others.

That dog on the other side of the fence can’t give me anything in exchange for the gifts I drop in his yard… and yet, what I get is better than anything I could ask for.  In that second I know the dog is happy, and I am happy that he is happy… and we just share in that moment of joy together.

In the end, isn’t that what radical hospitality is?  Taking our happiness and sharing it with another for no other reason than to impart joy?  And isn’t the greatest gift we can receive be the satisfaction of sharing a moment of happiness with others?

With dogs, it is easy.  A Milkbone tossed over the fence makes a person Rover’s best friend.  With humans it might be a little more difficult.  Or… then again… maybe it’s not.  After all, how hard is it to really share a moment with someone?

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