Never call a Rescue Dog a Rescue Dog

April 14, 2013

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

The text today is not really about dogs although dogs are mentioned. It is actually a story about a woman asserting herself. She wants healing, she is denied it. She goes the second step, saying that even dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table. The text is about assertion and about power, and this woman wins her case by saying that she is at least as good as a dog. Rarely do we hear such a good message about how to compete and how to win, how to keep on keeping on. As Dwight Eisenhower put it so famously, it is not about the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in a dog. This woman has fight. She may be small, she may be sick, but she tells Jesus, she is not a dog. She wins the day by having right relationship to herself.

Back to dogs, the sidebar in the text. I was in a bagel shop in Brooklyn, during a rain storm and thus had the time to completely review and analyze the contents of the notices. Over half were about dogs. Dog walkers, dog outfits, vegetarian and organic diets for your dog, and dog services. The dog services particularly intrigued me. For a mere 45.00 a week you could get a class in basic manners for small dogs. Or dog agility. After you and your dog took the course in basic manners, and then agility, you could go to the third level, teaching your dogs tricks. Is the woman in our text as good as a rescue dog or as good as a Brooklyn dog? In other words, what kind of dog is she comparing herself to? She is comparing herself to the dogs that take classes in agility, not to the mutts. She is in need but not needy.

Never call a rescue dog a rescue dog. Why? Because it hurts their feelings. Because labeling is not right relationship. Sue Harwig, perhaps our oldest member, now confined to a bed, is not much interested in talking about the news or the food or the ice cream people bring her. But bring up her dog, Nipper, her dog from the 1940s and she gets animated. I am similar to her. Let me tell you about my most emotional experience in Washington Square park. A man came to the church and said, “Are you Donna Schaper?” I said yes. Are you the Donna Schaper who used to live in Amherst, Massachusetts. I said yes. Did you sell me a dog named Prince? I did. I actually charged him $450. for Prince who was the prize of my golden retriever’s litter. We raised goldens in those days and Prince was the finest dog I had ever seen. I wanted to keep him so bad but really couldn’t afford to have a third golden running around the place, in either time or money. So we sold Prince to these two guys. Never heard from them again or him. From time to time I thought of how I should have kept Prince. The man who got Prince had been walking him for 16 years in the Washington Square Park dog run and Prince had just died. He had seen my name on the Judson sign. Imagine that Prince had been across the street from me and I hadn’t seen him in maturity. Dogs may be doggy, the way the woman referred to them as even those dogs who get crumbs. But dogs are also some how important to people, possibly a lot more important than they should be. The reason is dogs have right relationship: they love us the way we also love ourselves and the way God loves us, which is unconditionally.

And this is what I want to tell you about our friend from Matthew. She was more important to herself than she should have been, given her condition and her need. You could call her an anti-hero. She is not a fighter in either of Eisenhower’s terms. Wellness is not about fight so much as it is about self-respect. Had she not respected herself, she wouldn’t have been able to fight. She fought because of the way she valued herself.

When you have self-respect, you don’t even have to win. You don’t even have to get a crumb. You are already where you want to be. And if Jesus, or the authorities, or the world, or the system won’t even get you a crumb, you are still fine. There is a pre-existing wellness that is missing in many humans, women and men, that needs addressing. It is the source of our challenge to those who dole out crumbs. It is something that Jesus both gives us and sees in us. Her healing is in what I want to describe as a mutual recognition. Jesus sees that she values herself, she sees that Jesus values her. She values herself independent of his valuation of her. She begins saved and goes on to be healed. She begins well and goes on to be healed. This is different than heroism or hard work or fighting. It is being human and knowing you are human and that you are a Prince. It is knowing that someone, perhaps far away, who sold you off, still loves you. This knowing that you are known and knowing that you are loved is the foundation of the fight in us. With it, we always win. Without it, we have already lost.

A new spate of books is out on the age-old subject of neurasthenia, or anxiety, or depression. In each of these, we see people who are pre-respect for themselves. They need other people to respect them before they can respect themselves. They are unlike the woman who demands at least the crumbs from the master’s table. They don’ know that they matter. And thus they don’t know how to fight.

Our meditation quote is from Ann Cvetkovich CVET KO VICH a professor of women’s studies at the University of Texas in Austin. The book is DEPRESSION: A PUBLIC FEELING. Here she argues that depression in Americans, the richest people the world has ever known, is now pandemic. She calls the malady by a new name, political depression or left melancholy.
She means a fear that we don’t deserve anything good anyway. Why? Because of the conditions we put on knowing we are loved. I can be loved if I succeed and not if I don’t. There is no common ground under us, like the ground under the woman who challenged Jesus on behalf of the dogs. Ann spoke recently at a conference called, “Depression: What is it good for?” Our sick woman in the Matthew Text clearly had a kind of problem. She also had a kind of fight. But under each she had self-respect. The missing ingredient for many of us is an unconditional self-respect that engages a fight and insists on crumbs because we think we deserve them. Her book joins a spate of others. No, I haven’t read all of them, not even close. Let me just name a few of the titles to show you what I think our friend today did not have. She was sick and in need, vulnerable and vexed by her vulnerability. But she was not depressed. Here are the titles: A HISTORY OF NEURASTHENIA; AMERICAN NERVOUSNESS; ITS CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES, HOW EVERYONE BECAME DEPRESSED; THE RISE AND FALL OF THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, ANGST; ORIGINS OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION; AMERICA THE ANXIOUS; HOW EVERYONE BECAME DEPRESSED; BEFORE PROZAC; ONE NATION UNDER STRESS; THE TROUBLE WITH STRESS AS AN IDEA; STRESSISM; AND DEPRESSION; A PUBLIC FEELING. These each interest me today because our text is about wellness. What is wellness? It is self-respect, the refusal to blame yourself combined with the refusal to take the systems or the worlds no to you as an answer. You don’t have to be heroic or even to win. You may instead think of yourself as at least as good as a dog.

My title today tries to name the point: never call a rescue dog a rescue dog.
Why? Because it hurts the rescue dogs’ feelings. You know what a rescue dog is right? It is a dog that has been thrown away, tossed into the rubbish heap at even the ASPCA. Many of us have been thrown away by abuse or by corruption or by internalizing the awful competition of the stolen land narrative. That narrative says the only way we got this great country was by stealing it, and we have to keep stealing from each other to get anywhere. Think test scores and you’ll get it. We really don’t think we deserve to be rescued and a whole culture exists to reinforce that point. Are you worthy to be rescued, it asks? Well, yes you are. Yes, I am. Yes, we are. We are worthy to be rescued. And we know it. And Jesus knows it the land without conditions too.

In their new book, TOP DOG: THE SCIENCE OF WINNING AND LOSING, Po Bronson and Ashley Merron, do research on how people win and how people lose. In TOP DOG, the research tells us something similar to the behavior of our friend from Matthew. Those who compete and win are characterized by three things. One is that they have a positive view of stress. They don’t think of it as something to be avoided so much as something to be engaged. The top runners and top physicists and top artists like stress. The couch potato does not. Who benefits when stress is considered a negative? Those in power, that is who.

The second thing about winners, according to TOP DOG, is that they value heroism but don’t value just the hero. The stars on any team elevate the whole team. If they don’t elevate the whole team, the team goes down. So teams win, in the same sense that movements win. Finally, winners refuse worry. They don’t have time for it. They aren’t interested in it. Warriors are not worriers. Like our woman in Matthew, you have a feeling they can walk away from one lost game without walking away from their self-respect.

My favorite thing about our friend from Matthew is the way she knew she was a Prince and didn’t miss the fact that there was a lot of possibility for right relationship right there in her own front yard. Amen.


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