Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 2009

Parallels Between Dog Training and Church Life

A bit more than a week ago, I had a last minute opportunity to attend a dog training seminar in Iowa. Yes, many of you know I do have a dog (Jas), who has, as I fondly say, “issues.” But I wasn’t going there as a dog owner. I was wearing my executive presbyter hat as I sat in the seminar. One thing I have learned the more I work with Jas, is that there is a lot of cross-learning to be had in moving back and forth between the dog world and the human world, especially since some of the science that backs positive reinforcement training with dogs comes from the human world.

The basics of the seminar was on building a positive relationship with your dog, which pays off in a mutually beneficial relationship. Contrary to what some might think, it isn’t really about getting a dog to do what you want. It is more about creating an environment where the dog wants to work with you, where preserving, and better yet, increasing, the dog’s joy becomes one of your primary goals. When that happens, your joy also grows, and the whole relationship reaches a new level.

What would that look like for us if in our relationships with each other, our goal was to create an environment where positive interactions were the norm? Or where our goal was to increase each others’ joy as we work together? If those were our goals, then I believe it would have an impact on how we are when we worship, work, and play together. It would certainly deepen our relationships, enrich our work and worship. I also believe it would have an impact on how effective we are when we work together, because when our goal is to encourage and lift up those around us, we help each other move into a positive frame of mind where we can put others’ needs above our own and put aside our own agendas for the sake of the group and the task. When we do that together, at least for myself, I find that my own needs are met in ways I never anticipated, and I have the added joy of knowing together we can do so much more than I could ever do alone.

I also find that when I am with people who regularly lift me up and seek my joy when I’m in a bad mood, that my mood quickly changes to one of joy and possibility. Their positive reinforcement of me changes me for the better, and I am then able to have a more positive effect on those around me, which ultimately is the life God calls each and every one of us to.

Finally, when we lift each other up it will also have an immediate impact on those who are not part of our community, as they see us relate in healthy, positive ways. We sometimes forget that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to people connecting with the church is how they see us treat each other. When we do well, it moves even those who hate us to admire us. Even the emperor Julian, in 362, who was staunchly anti-Christian, wrote a letter complaining that pagans needed to equal the virtues of Christians, as he watched how they cared for each other and anyone else in need.

When we treat each other well, with respect and with joy, when we seek to build each other up, when we are sensitive to each other’s burdens and seek to help them carry them, when we truly love each other and want the best for each other, well, there is no better witness to the world of the life God created us all to have, and no better life for us to enjoy.

More nuts and bolts from the seminar in my next post…

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