Inspiration of A Dog’s Religion

When it came to writing the book “A Dog’s Religion,” I thought about my subject for three or four months before I started to even make notes. The inspiration for the book came when I was attending a church in Warren Ohio.

Often I would choose a church with a theology I disagreed with because I found that I emotionally interacted with the material more. In the end I seem to get more out of the service. In this particular case, the pastor was talking about having a relationship with God. This was a subject that got my attention. He went on to talk about the “lost souls” and how it was Christ’s commission for us to make disciples so that others might be saved as well. I’m curious when people talk about being “saved” because I’m never quite sure what they mean. Saved from death? Saved from eternal punishment? Saved from their sins?

Of all the questions posed above, I’m most intrigued by being saved from sin – in a certain sense anyway. The fact is we cannot undo what we’ve done. Our actions in this world are indelibly traced into our history and there is no disconnect. It’s mortifying to think of some of the things we’ve done, and I’m sure most of us would love to erase moments in time when we’ve made a decision that hurt someone badly.

But I’m not sure this is what the pastor was concerned with when he talked about saving souls. He wasn’t talking about self-forgiveness as a result of believing in God’s forgiveness. He went on to make the congregation think of the faces of people they work with, their friends, their relatives, and how these people were in eternal danger as a result of their failure to acknowledge Christ as their savior. He even made the comment that other religions were not efficacious enough for salvation because believing in Christ was the key.

While I was listening to him describe the urgency we must adopt in order to accomplish this task, I started to look at the faces of the congregation around me. Were they buying this? Sure, some people stared ahead with glassy eyes, already thinking about the football game or what they were going to have for lunch. Others were nodding with a certain fierceness in their eyes. And then others, at least in the moment, looked rather ill or saddened as they sat there considering the fate of many of their loved ones.

Instantly, I formed this connection. The pastor said that the greatest joy in life was to have a relationship with God. However, if you do not form a relationship with God in your lifetime you are not only deprived now, but deprived for all eternity as well. As far as I was concerned, there had to be a way to create a circumstance that illustrated the cruel and unsympathetic nature of this type of thinking. The ability to believe in God, and even better, have a relationship with God, is a very special gift for the individual, and not all of us are “chosen” to receive this gift without a great amount of struggle (or at all for that matter). So if people lack that sense of spiritual connection and go about their lives with a void, it seems to diminish the “miracle” of that gift by simultaneously making it the vehicle by which people are eternally separated from God as well.

Kierkegaard wrote thousands of pages on this subject, and in the end I’m not sure if he believed in God or not. But he’s a great example of a man who wanted to. He “chose” to try to the best of his ability. If having a relationship with God is so fundamental to a meaningful life, the commission should be to share with people how you’ve been spiritually enriched by finding this connection so that they can make the choice to try to develop this in their own lives (and then pass it on themselves).

So “A Dog’s Religion” was born from a situation where I decided that even one person holding an exclusive view of salvation was too many as far as I was concerned. Instead, I decided to write a book that would leave the impression that God will make every individual’s struggle worthwhile when all is said and done.

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On Joy – How It Can Sneak Up On You

After reading C.S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy” again I felt inspired to write. Since I was fortunate enough to get a snapshot of his world while visiting Oxford, I’ve thought about his experience of “Joy” in spiritual terms and how, coincidentally, years after he wrote this book, a woman named Joy appeared in his life. If you watch the movie “Shadowlands,” you can get a glimpse of how a man’s carefully constructed fortress can crumble into ruins when a strong woman enters the picture and how a garden of emotion can grow in its place.

The three elements I noticed about Lewis’ definition of “Joy” is that it involves an intense experience of feeling that can be traced back to childhood; that the feeling is bitter sweet; and that the feeling is accompanied by a deep sense of Other (an overall sense of connection).

What’s strange is that I experienced this feeling of “Joy” while standing by the pond where Lewis used to sit and smoke his pipe. I recognized the feeling because I used to get it sometimes as a child while walking to school with a friend. We’d gaze at Penetang Bay from the top of the Sandpit and I’d often procrastinate with stone throwing and such so that I could saturate myself with the moment—enough that I could recall it if I happened to get into trouble that day. At Lewis’ pond, I felt a twinge of that old sense of awe for the first time in what has seemed like ages.

It made me recall the last time “joy” truly sneaked up on me. I went an hour or so north with a girl I had been dating, and she introduced me to a very beautiful location that I would never have known existed otherwise. There were streams of water gushing out of big slabs of Canadian shield, a quaint wooden bridge where you could look out over a lake, and a quiet, little waterfall. It would have been quite a scene to soak in by myself and I knew it, but the sense of sharing that time with her made me appreciate it all the more. I remember that bitter sweet of it all and how it evoked those warm childhood feelings. It was very special to me because we knew the moment had to end, the sense of connection in the relationship was destined to end, and even that sense of God behind the whole experience had to end as well.

I think the consolation behind Lewis’ so called “Joy” is that it’s unpredictability and rarity make it special enough that when we do experience it, we remember it. And yet, as Lewis said, “Joy” is “only valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.”

Therefore, the one element I did not mention is perhaps the most important, the impression the experience of “Joy” leaves on the heart. As Lewis point out from his own experience, this impression of “Joy” sticks around so that we don’t really have to pursue it over and over again—although it will certainly appear—but rather, so that we can spend our lives trying to deepen that connection to its source.