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In Memory of a Dhogg

My kids are headed our way from NY for the holiday, but had the sadness of the death of their beloved dog, Mara. Mara had lived a good, long life, and like any family pet, had the run of the house. When our oldest granddaughter was born in Seattle five years ago, I was given the couch as my sleeping quarters, and she slept next to me on the floor, licking my hand regularly through the night, which, if not a regular experience, is a bit of a start for a sleeping person. Burglar or beloved, a licked hand is terrifying.

Mara D Dhogg, late of upstate New York.

Mara D Dhogg, late of upstate New York.

Eventually over those happy days we became friends and I would return the greeting in my sleep with a perfunctory half dozen strokes. These creatures who live with us accompany us in life, become part of the furniture of our homes. We miss them when they are gone.

It was time, as that time always comes, and Mara had no regrets. I reminded my daughter that marah could be taken as the Hebrew word for “bitter,” but Mara seemed remarkably sanguine toward the discomforts and outrageous fortunes of human beings and their ways. And she had it good–her own facebook page as Mara D Dhogg, the run of the house, better medical care than any except Read the rest of this entry

Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Hannah in her prime

While we were away for Thanksgiving with our two daughters who live in New York, our middle daughter, Erin, called with the drastic news that her 13 1/2 year old white lab, whom she named Hannah Marie Furr-Yeager (any other dogs with hyphenated names?), passed away from kidney failure.  Her husband just called her, , “Good Girl”.   She got Hannah as a pup when Erin was 19 years old.  Erin wrote on facebook,

“She was the “mascot” of our entire group of friends in our 20’s. She has been with me through college, roommates, first job, first love, heart break, job loss, first home, success, failure, marriage and all of life’s “in betweens”. .. Always there….always letting me know she was present. She was always waiting on us just to call her so she could be there. She got so much joy just from being with us.”

I have found myself quite moved by the depth of love my daughter has for Hannah, and for the intensity of grief that has followed.  It caused me to ask the old question, “Do dogs go to heaven?”  This is not a question I have spent time on before, and I must say, it indicates a deep deficiency in my theology.  As I read about this online I came upon a variety of opinions, one on a website that also had articles like, “Is Smoking Cigarettes A Sin?” ” What Do Christians Believe About Dinosaurs?” and “Does The Bible say What the Devil Looks Like?”  Not too promising, if you ask me.

I don’t intend to belabor the subject except to reflect that perhaps, “Do dogs go to heaven?” is the wrong question.  The right question is, “Does God the Creator love the creation?”  The answer is unequivocal.  God is not simply redeeming a handful of lifeboat survivors but is renewing creation itself (Romans 8 treats this in extended fashion).  The power of life that creates what we call “heaven” is in fact resurrection, the power of God to raise life from death and “re-create” creation.  So, it seems to me, that if heaven is not “a place way out there” separate from creation but is, instead, God’s merciful and loving Providence, then it is not impossible at all to imagine that God, who remembers all things, is able to bring all those joyful complexities of creation to new life.  The Bible talks about the end of “tooth and claw” nature, where Lion and Lamb lie together and the child plays safely near the adder.

These visionary imaginations of the prophets remind us to be respectful and humble about what the Creator can or will do at the end of all things.  God’s love and greatness are vast.  The answer to my question, “Does God love the creation?” is “Of course.”  Trust in the love of your Creator.

Arthur Hunnicutt

I love the old story on “The Twilight Zone,” called “The Hunt,” about an old man and his beloved hound who drown during a coon hunt and wind up on a road where they must choose heaven or hell.  The old man was played by Arthur Hunnicutt, the crusty Arkansas native who often played outdoorsy types.  The screenplay was written by Earl Hamner, later the creator of “The Waltons” series.  Ultimately, it is his dog Rip who helps him make the right choice.  My favorite line:  The angel says, “You see Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”

For those of us who live so detached from nature, feeding from its bounty but unaware of the connection, it is a good reminder to us of our own creaturehood.  We are not so different from our pets and not so lofty in our uniqueness that we can act as though we are not sharing creaturehood with them.

Hannah Marie was a wonderful pet.  I told Erin, “I have buried a lot of humans who weren’t loved as much in life, missed so much in death or commemorated so deeply by her survivors, as Hannah.”  And I might add, “They hadn’t done nearly as much to offer loyalty, devotion and comfort to those in their life.”  I’d side with those who think dogs will be there, myself.   Given the way we treat one another, I’d think it would be the dogs who should be asking the question about us.  Given a choice of hanging out with Hannah or a lot of humans I’ve met through the years, it’s no contest who would be more fit for eternal happiness without a major overhaul.

Gary Reviews “The Tree of Life,” a film by Terrence Malik

Gary Furr Reviews

“The Tree of Life,” a film by Terrence Malik

 I, as did Rabbi David Wolpe[i], was immediately zoned in to the opening scenes of Terrence Malik’s movie, “The Tree of Life” when the haunting quotation appeared from In Job 38: 4 and 7, where God asks Job “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together?”   I leaned over to my daughter Katie, who came to see the film and said, “Uh, oh.”

Every good seminary graduate watching this movie, and especially those of us who saw, “The Thin Red Line,” know what’s probably coming—mystery and unexplained mystical reflection.  This movie is an exercise in disappointing usual movie expectations.  An impelling story of a very average family in Waco, Texas (where, I believe, Malik grew up and I myself lived for seven years in grad school) is haunted by a tragedy that is never fully resolved, and never completely explained.   It dissolves into mystical reflection.

The tone of “Tree of Life” often reminded me of “2001, A Space Odyssey,” which from the time I originally saw it until now I have no clue about what it means.  Therein the similarities end, however.  “Tree of Life,” is superior to “2001.”  And the Job reference set me up to receive it.

Perhaps, I reflected later, the lack of biblical competency in our current time accounts for the difficulties expressed by the viewers sitting around us in the theater as they were leaving:  “Huh?”  “You mean we paid $7.50 for that?”  “I didn’t think that nature scene would EVER end.”  “I hate movies like that.”  And some just looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

The book of Job ends similarly.  Job finally gets his day in God’s court and God never breathes a word of his wager with Satan, his faith in Job or the purpose of life.  He backs Job into submission with a long rehearsal of creation, full of wonders in the sky, mysteries in the earth and giant monsters that send shivers down the human spine.  “If you were there for all of these things,” God says to Job, “I will tell you how it all fits together.  Otherwise, trust me.”  And Job does.  What else can he do?

This is a movie that left me unsatisfied at first.  I wanted all the storylines of part B, the microcosm story of the family in Waco, resolved and explained, and it is not.  I realized as I continued to reflect on it that this was a good thing.  The movie was like actual life—with prayers and sinful thoughts interwoven, bad people (Brad Pitt’s father character) also capable of beauty and tenderness.  The movie is a stream of collective consciousness ride that carries the viewer in and out of cosmic, primeval and intimate thoughts of the most ordinary and extraordinary sorts.  It soars at times, especially visually.  The long interlude about the universe, creation and evolution of the world is one of the most brilliant film sequences I have ever seen–I don’t know how else to describe it.  And you won’t enjoy it unless you quit worrying about the smaller storyline of the people in Waco.

I think a lot of people will not like this movie.  Not because they are not smart people or anything that condescending, but because they don’t go to movies for these kinds of experiences.  For some people movies are simply for fun, and that’s completely okay.  I go to predictable romantic comedies for the same reason.  This is more like every time I have stood by the south rim of the Grand Canyon and looked without speaking, or walked into the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.  Anything you say at those moments feels inadequate.

Malik’s visionary exploration (and I have avoided saying much more about the story in Waco so that I will not spoil it) is stunning.  It’s a movie that perplexed me, but then I have kept thinking about it, always a sign of a great film for me.  If you know the book of Job well, particularly those final chapters, I think it will make more sense to you—that things don’t, can’t, won’t make “sense” as we insist they do, but some instinct in us says, “They will and they do.”

The small story of the little family is well-acted– a frustrated musician-inventor husband played by Pitt, who turns another in a catelog of great performances; Sean Penn as grownup son Jack, whose inner struggles as a child are a significant part of the story; Jessica Chastain as Pitt’s graceful, loving wife, who is the embodiment of grace and faith counterpoised against Pitt’s character with his more brutal “nature” view of life.

You may not like it.  You may choose to wait and watch it on cable or UVerse, which would be a mistake unless you have a home theater screen, because the nature images in this film are IMAX material.  The cinematography is that good.  If you just want to be entertained, save your bucks and see something else.  No one should think badly of you.  But if you want to walk into a cathedral and sit down for a while and listen to the universe, you may find this film worth your while.  And when you walk out, it will walk with you.

[i] Rabbi David Wolpe, “The Religious Meaning of Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’”   I waited to read Wolpe’s review until I had already read my own, so I would not be influenced by his interpretation.