Is God a cat?

If you are not a dog/god fan read this from my friend Celia's feline:

Is God a Cat?

One of the oddest things about humans is the way they anthropomorphise their God. If you listen to them talking about God (any main religion god) you get a picture of a sort of super human - almost always male, a person, a father, a director, sometimes even new employer. My thoughts were prompted from sitting on Celia's desk reading the blog of Ruth Gledhill of the Times. It is as if humans can't imagine a God that isn't human. I say what if She was a Cat. If God was a Cat, things would be different. For one thing, She'd make it clear that some of the human activities had got to stop - trapping and killing cats, shooting cats with air guns, kicking cats, etc. Instead churches would open their doors not just to church mice but to church cats. They'd take collections and go and buy cat food for strays. And all the starving little strays that scrounge a living in busy towns would know there was a sanctuary for them - a dry sheltered place with lots of room and cat food given out free. There'd be less church ritual (what's the point of if?), less standing up and kneeling, less human music (though some caterwauling would be lovely at midnight mass), and more practical charity. Humans would be allowed in to serve others (cats) and, if they persisted with their 'services" (which aren't really anything of the kind in practical terms) we could sit on their warm laps for the duration. Some churches already have their resident felines. At the Tower of London chapel there is Teufel, a black tom who is known for enjoying weddings. He often sits down for a nap on the bride's train. Rupert was assistant organist at St Lawrence, Ludlow. And Lucky is a convent cat. She joins in as the nuns sing Alma Redemptoris Mater. As humans no longer go to church, perhaps we could take over.

Of course, it is pretty bad news for mice if She is a Cat.
And even worse news for us, if God was a Mouse.



Entering the Theological Dog-House

If you want to judge a religion firstly judge how many constraints it puts upon God, then judge the religion by its mercy. The untameable God who pushes us beyond our boundaries has always and continues to prod and shove us towards the exercise of mercy and compassion.

Jesus was a reforming Jew who rebelled against love being turned into legalism. His ministry was one of constant and unbridled compassion. Nowadays it seems that many Christian fundamentalists are trying their hardest to turn love back into legalism!

Every religion needs to examine its beliefs to see whether they encourage adherents to be more or less merciful, more or less tolerant, and more or less compassionate. This is the touchstone of faith: does your church make you kinder? Does your church make the world a kinder place? And if it doesn’t my advice is to ditch your church and go looking for God.

Kindness and compassion led St Francis of Assisi well beyond his comfort zone. There is a story told of Francis
[1] and a savage wolf. The citizens of Gubbio were wary and frightened to venture beyond the city walls. Francis, both compelled by and trusting in God, went out alone to meet this wolf. The brute appeared. Francis made the sign of the cross and spoke, calling the beast “Brother Wolf” and telling him off for all the suffering he had caused. The wolf, having made ready to pounce, became very quiet, and in the end lay at Francis's feet. The tradition records that “[the wolf from then on] lived in the city ...and was fed by the people ...and never a dog barked at him, and the citizens grieved... at his death from old age.”

Let us note that, firstly, Francis was pushed by God to confront his fears. He ventured out, beyond where it was safe. Beware of the God. Secondly, Francis engaged with the wolf that others both feared and excluded. Risky behaviour. Thirdly, he brokered a deal that was of mutual benefit to both the wolf and the townsfolk, and built a lasting connection between them.

There was another solution available to the citizens of Gubbio: hire a hunter to kill the wolf. Time and again this has been what humans have done. Rather than befriend our fears we have killed that which has threatened us. It has led to the depletion and extinction of many animal species. It has led to many wars and generations fed by hatred. The story of the Wolf of Gubbio, on the other hand, invites us into building relationships of trust and mutuality with those we fear.

There are similar Francis stories around poverty and sickness – like when he hugged a leper; and around enemies and Islam – like when he visited the Sultan of Babylon. Each of these stories is about Francis being pushed by God beyond the limits of safety to embrace humans or animals others were frightened of and wished to exclude or destroy.

Our actions towards animals, or towards those who are labelled as deviant or different, or towards those with little status or power, or towards those of other religions or none… is the measure of our faith. This is not an easy or comfortable faith. Frequently you will find yourself consigned to the theological dog house. By siding with outsiders you become an outsider yourself. Ask Francis. Ask Jesus. Ask God.

[1]Almedingen, E.M. Francis of Assisi: A portrait, The Brodley Head: London, 1967.


Beware Of The God

“Beware of the God” reads the bright red sign outside our church. The kennel beneath it and the subscript advertising the upcoming animal service give the sign its context. Adults and children smile as they pass by.

Our detractors also love it. “Ah,” said one chap last week grinning at the thought, “at last, a theological health warning outside St Matthew’s.” He thinks visitors should be wary of the God within.

I agree with him. The God we worship here is not safe, and will not make you safe.

There is a deep Hebraic truth that God cannot be contained or tamed by our desires to have an orderly, secure, and predictable life. What Christianity often does to God is what Governor Reagan of California in the 1970s tried to do to the Redwoods, namely make them into lounge furniture. That which is wild, wonderful, and free is an affront to our worst managerial instincts. It needs to be cut down, domesticated, and made into something comfortable to sit on and sip our coffee.

Proponents of Christianity throughout the ages have tried to keep God under control by creating fences out of the Bible, the Creeds, synods, clergy, hymns, and liturgies. Yet, we need to be aware of who and what we are dealing with. For God continually breaks out of our constructs and language - popping up in others’ holy texts, speaking through social and political outcasts, refusing to favour any one race, religion, or sexual orientation, and generally being a darn nuisance to those who like decency and order. Be aware, this God is not safe.

If you want to judge a religion firstly judge how many constraints, collars, leashes, and fences it puts around God.

p.s. check out Deborah's site in the land of Oz www.bewareofthegod.com


What do you see?

"There was once a holy man in India who lived in prayerful state – so much so that everyone thought he was nuts. One day, having begged for food in the village, he sat by the roadside and began to eat, when a dog came up and looked at him hungrily. The holy man then began to feed the dog; he himself would take a morsel, and then give a morsel to the dog as though he and dog were old friends. This was an extraordinary sight in this part of India at the time. People with nothing didn't share their food with dogs! Soon a crowd gathered to watch.

One of the men in the crowd jeered at the holy man. He said to the others, "What can you expect from someone so insane that he is not able to distinguish between a human being and a dog?"

The holy man replied, "Why do you laugh? Do you not see Jesus seated with Jesus? Jesus is being fed and Jesus is doing the feeding. So why do you laugh, oh Jesus?"

This is a story about vision, about what you see. One could see just an old man foolishly giving what he cannot afford to give to a dog. This way of seeing invites one to either deride or reprove the old man. On the other hand, one could see that God or Jesus is in everyone – the man, the dog, the spectators, and even you. This way of seeing invites one to treat every living creature as holy and worthy of respect and dignity.