Earlier this year, I took my two boys to Harrogate Theatre to see Dick and Dom (from CBBC). Inevitably, perhaps, I was volunteered to go up on stage to play some daft game. Of course, the whole point of these games is that the parent is (a) hapless, and (b) ridiculed in front of several hundred people, especially his or her own children. Fortunately I have plenty of practice at both of these things.
However, one thing I did chicken out of was saying that I was training to be a vicar, at least in part because I hadn’t really thought it through as a scenario, and I figured that the conversation probably wouldn’t have gone the way I would have wanted it to. Note to theological colleges – be sure to cover how to handle an interview with stars of kids’ TV, while wearing boxing gloves and dribbling baked beans!!
But the occasion has stuck with me. As a complete digression; one of the things I’m fascinated by is why some people seem utterly comfortable and natural on TV (or stage, or at the front of a room), while others seem very awkward and unnatural. You see it on any sort of panel programme, and it’s especially interesting to contrast Pointless with Pointless Celebrities, say. I (theoretically at least) could have bounced up onto stage, larger than life, and bantered with Dick and Dom as if I was an equal part of of the show – but I actually think that would have been a bit weird, as well as making me a “pro-active self-starter” (as we used to refer to this kind of attitude at one of my old jobs).
Anyway, back to Dick and Dom, here’s how the conversation might have played out:
Dick: And what do you do?
Me: I’m a computer programmer, and a part-time vicar.
Dick: Wow, that’s amazing – Please, tell us all the good news about Jesus, and how we can give our lives to Him today.
Now I admit that this is a fairly unlikely scenario, so my back-up scenario was as follows:
Dick: Wow – but where’s your dog collar?
Me: Not with me today – but we can soon fix that, if you’ve got a bit of card?
James quickly fashions a dog collar using origami jujitsu, does up his top collar, and inserts it, to the amusement and amazement of the theatre audience.
Dick: Well, that’s worth a round of applause – but why do you wear one at all?
Me: It’s mainly so I don’t run off when I’m taken for a walk, and also so that people don’t think I’m a stray.
Cue extended hilarity from the audience, and Dick and Dom cancelling the rest of the show because they couldn’t follow that.
Such is my inner world – do pray for me.
But there is actually something potentially quite profound in my imagined glib response. After enjoying my own witty repartee in the privacy of my head, it struck me that one could phrase this another way.
The dog collar helps me stay safe, from wandering too far from the path; and it shows everyone I am owned, loved, and cared for by someone.
Suddenly there is something else, and much deeper going on here. And it’s something which applies to all who would call themselves follows of Jesus (not just the
nut edge cases who are ordained). The well loved Psalm 23 talks of being led, and being kept on the right path: “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” Proverbs speaks of those who walk in wisdom “Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.” In a slightly different, but related, vein, in John’s gospel Jesus asserts: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Please understand, I’m not saying that life is automatically a bed of roses as soon as we become Christians – if anything the opposite. But it is, perhaps, a little bit like the difference between being a stray roaming the streets, living off scraps, with nowhere to call home; and being known and loved, having a home, and being fed.
As Christians, we are all living witnesses of what it means to be owned and loved by someone – and unlike with our real canine friends, there is an open invitation for others to be adopted and have this ownership and love for themselves. Maybe part of the point of the dog collar is to keep this invitation on the cards? Sticking with our four legged friends, there is perhaps something about a voluntary submission to a master as well. The bible repeatedly uses the language of doulos (which means slave) to describe the Christian life, and even Jesus himself is described as a servant. Of course, slavery doesn’t have many positive connotations these days, but maybe couching this in terms of a dog being a “slave” to his or her master can redeem the language a little? Utter faithfulness, devotion, happiness, security (and at this point you realise that it’s a while since I have owned a dog!!) I don’t claim any of this to be particularly novel, and you must forgive my continued reflections on “The Collar”.
As with any analogy or metaphor, it has its limits, and the Bible far prefers to talk about us as children of God rather than pets!! And lest we forget, a dog lead is really about limitation and control, which is more or less the opposite of the point I’m trying to make.
In any case – Richard and Dominic, if you happen to be reading this, and want me to demonstrate my dog collar origami next time you do a show in Harrogate, you know how to reach me…