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Life in Community

Do All Dogs Really Bite?

September 28, 2019 by

Standing in line at the bank with my dog, I noticed that the lady behind me was agitated. Finally she let it out, “Do they allow dogs in here?”

“Yes,” I replied. “They even give them treats.”

Not impressed, she went on, “What are you going to do when he bites me?”

“He won’t,” I replied.

The dog at my side was Sammy, our small Shiba Inu, who would probably welcome a burglar as a chance for more stroking. “This dog never bites.”

man and dog in front of a Bruderhof house in New York CityAuthor with Sammy

“That’s what you people all say,” she shot back. “All dogs should stay home where they belong. Are you now going to tell me that there is a difference in types of dogs? Dogs that bite and dogs that don’t?”

“Yes,” I replied, “exactly right.” She shook her head and looked cross. But we weren’t finished.

What is it with the wholesale generalization of groups these days? It’s so convenient. “Conservatives think like this.” “Immigrants want the same thing.” “Gays are all that way.” “All dogs bite.”

Some of this generalization, at least, seems to make sense. Isn’t it good to have clear lines in life? Bad guys should go to prison. Generous people should get awards. But even while writing this, I can see the pain and injustice that such thinking causes. Society does too, and as a backlash, turns and speaks for tearing down all barriers and walls and welcoming everything – at times vehemently, even violently.

A friend invited my family to see the remake of The Lion King a few weeks ago. We joined him in belting out “Hakuna Matata,” turning a few heads in the movie theater. But moments before this joyful anthem there was a scene that made me reflect on real life. The villain Scar, triumphant after murdering his brother and stealing the throne, had made a speech announcing that hyenas were going to be welcome in the lush Pride Lands henceforth. I understood the lionesses’ protests. We had just seen enough of these animals to know that they operated in darkness, trash talked, stole more than their share of meat, and worst of all – laughed about it all. Bad hombres.

When Scar welcomes the hyenas in, the pride has to accept them as they are, without judgment. It’s a slimy kind of inclusivity that welcomes in the bad. As predicted, the hyenas arrive, and in short order the lush Pride Lands look like a burnt dump – until (spoiler alert) Simba and company drive them back out.

Back at the bank the woman behind me was now in conversation with another person. I heard her saying “That’s not the way we would deal with something like that in the South. We would have a double barrel shotgun and a good dog.”

I couldn’t resist interrupting, “I suppose you don’t mean a dog like this?” Sammy had just put both paws up to the counter to receive the treat he knew was coming. “What a cutey” someone behind her schmoozed.

“No, not like him!” she answered. We looked at each other and laughed. Her strong position caved at the thought of this gentle fuzzball as an attack dog.

We know that there is good and evil in the world, and we want to steer clear of the wrong – but we also don’t want to exclude anybody. How can we do both?

These recent experiences, at the bank and at the movies, illustrated the two sides of this issue for me. One position opens the door unquestioningly, and thus welcomes in the evil. The other unfairly excludes an entire group because a few are bad. Which is right? And is there another way?

Jesus knew this quandary better than anyone else, and he also provides the best answer for it. In step-by-step instructions he prescribes an approach that is lovingly simple, but at the same time, leaves no loophole:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:15–18)

These words make no sense if we don’t understand that sin is a reality, and that it’s not allowed among his followers here on earth. Those who drop their sins are allowed to stay like it never happened. Those who won’t have got to take their sins away with them.

As followers of Jesus, let us strive for separation from sin and humbly remember the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that the line between good and evil does not run between people, it runs through every human heart.


About the author

Tim, a member of the Bruderhof, an intentional Christian community

Tim Maendel

Tim Maendel lives at the Bruderhof house in Harlem, NY where he and his wife are house parents to a number of college...

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  • Atta Boy Tim wise words.

  • Being able to come here has been a blessing to me and my family.

    Gregory H. Smith
  • GREAT article Tim. You won her over with your calm and peaceful and humorous ways. Congrats!