Dog training (or why the story of the prodigal son gets it wrong)

When your dog jumps on you to get your attention, you're supposed to knee him in the chest or turn your back on him. The theory is that if you do that consistently enough, the dog will learn to quietly wait until you are ready to pay attention. 

If you push your dog away or turn your back on him long enough and consistently enough, he'll get the hint and wait over there.  While he's waiting, he's looking at you, longing for you, but he's leaving you alone. 

I have trained every dog like that. It has never worked.

While the dog may stop jumping or pawing or rubbing his head against us or begging or pointing, not even one dog has ever gone Way Over There and waited patiently. Instead my dog follows me around. He's there, right behind me, when I turn my back on him. He's next to the stove when I'm cooking. He's standing on his hind legs looking into the tub when I'm taking a bath. He's trying to write this blog post. He's lying as close to the stitched-up elevated reconstructed foot as he can. 

I can push my dog away or turn my back on him all I want. I can pretend he's not there. But when I stop kidding myself, there he is. 

The story of the prodigal son depicts the loving father waiting at home while the son goes far away, pisses away his money, has random and dangerous sex, breaks hearts, drinks far too much, shoots up--whatever the reader counts as debauchery.  The whole time the father is at home with the faithful son, waiting for the unfaithful one to come back. When the prodigal son drags himself out of the gutter, swallows his pride, and travels the long distance back, the father runs out to him and welcomes him home.

The problem with this story, or at least the traditional reading of it, is that the father remains Way Over There Back At Home. The son pushes the father away and turns his back on him, pretends he's not there. And in the story, the father waits patiently, looking for the kid, longing for him, but leaving him alone. 

But God's not like that.

@@When you think God is waiting over there, or has stopped pushing on you, or you think you've walked so far away. you're kidding yourself. @@

The father is right next to the son the whole time--when he leaves home, pisses away his money, has random and dangerous sex--whether the kid acknowledges him or not. I don't know why Jesus told the story this way, but it's clear that He was never very far from his father, so maybe he just took for granted that we all know that God isn't All The Way Over There, ever. The son may feel as though he's left the father far behind. The emotional and spiritual journey home may be so hard and so painful as to feel like it's really long. But it's not.

God is right there all the time.

God is right there when you're watching porn.

God is right there when you're shooting up.

God is right there when the weight of depression is so bad you are stuck in the car in the driveway and cannot open the door to get out.

God is right there when you're throwing up your lunch. Again.

God is right there when you're considering adultery.

God is right there when all you really want is to be held for hours and hours. And hours. By your best friend. Or, really, almost anyone.

God is right there when you scream at your kid and watch her little face crumple up in horror and grief.

God is right there when your lover's punch makes contact with your cheekbone. 

God is right there when you leave the church, and there when you declare self-righteously that God isn't there.

God is right there when you are so angry and so broken and so hurt that if you saw God standing in front of you you'd probably throttle him with your bare hands and happily watch him gasp for breath.

God is right there in all of it. All of it. Every single crappy moment of it.

Even when you push God away and turn your back, hoping to train God into waiting patiently over there for when you want or need him again, when you forgive him again, God is right there. In it. In the anger. In the hurt. In the self-injury. In the loneliness. In the desperation. In the denial. In the pretending that anything can be just physical. God is in it.

@@God isn't waiting at home with the faithful ones. God is right there in the muck with you.@@

God is a lot more like my dog than like that distant-but-benignly-loving father in the story.

I've worked with and owned a lot of dogs. The biggest thing I've learned is this: they train me, not the other way around. Mainly they train me not to trip over them when I make a sudden turn toward them without realizing they're hanging out right next to me. Still.