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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Straight Poop From A City Dog


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It’s impossible to keep a dog in the city without developing an interest in poop. In the country, it’s not so much of a problem. You can take the dog out to do its business, and nobody cares where it goes as long as it stays off the lawn and out of the garden. But in the city it’s another matter. Even where there is no city ordinance requiring the proper disposal of dog waste, you will find yourself carefully cleaning up after your dog.

When we first got Ladybug, I enjoyed taking her for walks. It gave me a reason to get out and explore the neighborhood. Lately, however, I find myself thinking more and more about poop on these walks. I carry little blue bags with me to pick up her poop and I watch her with morbid interest whenever she pauses or starts to squat. Is it poop or only pee? If it’s poop, I pick it up with a baggie over my hand, turn the baggie inside out, and tie it off. Then I start looking for a garbage can.

I don’t know why, but I just don’t relish the thought of carrying around a little blue bag of poop while I’m out walking the dog. It somehow seems to lessen the spirituality of the activity. After I pick up the poop, all I can think of is where to get rid of it. After doing this for weeks, I now have a detailed and accurate map of all the garbage cans in the neighborhood. This is a knowledge I would rather not have had.

One time I put a little blue bag of poop into a garbage can just as the homeowner drove up and parked. I started walking away, but she called after me, “Excuse me? Did you just put your dog’s poop in my garbage can?”

“Yes, I did,” I promptly acknowledged.

“You have to take it out,” she said. “We don’t want dog poop in our garbage.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, embarrassed. As I rummaged in her garbage can for the offending poop, I was inwardly wondering what kind of person cares about what goes into their garbage. Was she worried that my dog’s poop would contaminate her other garbage?

So now, in addition to knowing where all my neighbors’ garbage cans are, I now also know (and presumably must keep track of) which ones are off limits.

So walking the dog has become something of an ordeal for me. I’m constantly watching for Ladybug’s “poop posture,” a sure sign that she’s about to go. I watch to make sure she doesn’t take too active an interest in other dogs’ poop, and as I walk I’m always thinking ahead to shortest route to the next garbage can. I’ve also gotten to where I prefer the alleys to the streets and parks. Why? Because the alleys have more garbage cans. Moreover, if I run out of bags, which has happened occasionally, I feel more justified in letting the poop lie where it falls in an alley. This feeling is confirmed by the amount of poop I find there from other dogs.

Walking the dog is no longer the pleasure it once was. I am preoccupied with poop and pee and garbage the whole time, and I can hardly wait to get back home. I used to find something uplifting in seeing the world through Ladybug’s eyes. Her mind is so foreign, so alien. She takes a murderous interest in squirrels. When she encounters a passing school bus, she quivers with fear and indignation and shouts dog curses at it. She trails the scent of nocturnal beasts—mostly feral cats and sewer-dwelling raccoons—that wander the streets just before dawn. But mostly she hunts for places to pee and poop, marking her territory or sending cryptic messages to other dogs whose owners also take them out for walks. This is not an activity with which I choose to empathize.


Thoughts on Science and Religion


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I’ve always had an interest in science. Even as a very young child, I can remember puzzling over day and night. How does the sun get back to the east to rise? What are the stars? I remember imagining that the night sky was really a huge inverted colander. The sun would make its way back to the east outside the colander, and we would see the sun’s light coming through the holes. My interest in science arose from what I took to be a universal desire to understand the world in which we live. I understood science to be a systematic inquiry into the world for the purpose of understanding it.

One of the things I’ve learned as a parent is that characteristics I thought were universal were merely personal. None of my children has the least interest in science. I do not know why. The desire to understand is so much a part of my very being that I cannot grasp being without it. One of my sons recently told me he hated science. I asked why.

“It’s boring,” he said.

Boring?! How can science be boring?

“It has nothing to do with life,” he continued.

My son is a bright fellow. He knows full well that the technology he enjoys so much comes directly from science. But, as he pointed out, he doesn’t need to know how a computer works—or an iPod or a smartphone—to use it. None of my children have much curiosity about how things work. It is enough for them to know that they do work. Perhaps most people think the same way. I do not know.

As for me, I am always curious about how things work. I also have tremendous faith in my own capacity to understand how things work.

I wrote a while ago about the difference between scientific thinking and magical thinking. When I wrote it, I was sure that most people can tell the difference between magic and science. Now I am not so sure. Without a curiosity about how things work, why should anyone seek evidence for or against their own thinking? What difference is there in the thinking of most people between belief in electricity, gravity, or the nuclear strong force and belief in fairies, gnomes, or sprites? For those with a purely instrumentalist view of knowledge, the question is not, “Is it true?” but, “Does it work?”

I have to admit, I am more interested in truth than in utility. Not that the truth and utility are necessarily opposed. But they are not the same thing. One can easily imagine investigating the utility of a concept without coming close to discovering its truth. It is also possible, I suppose, to investigate the truth of a concept without discovering its utility. Nevertheless, I believe that the significant advances that have been made in technology result from scientists earnestly seeking the truth about the universe we live in. Technology takes the discoveries of science and makes them useful, but there is no enterprise that takes the usefulness of things and makes them true. So science is preeminent.

Many people who unthinkingly use technology every day criticize science as if its objectives were fundamentally flawed. Among evangelical Christians, for example, it is common to disparage biological evolution as if biologists were motivated solely by a desire to discredit God. Certainly there are some scientists so motivated. However, the desire to discredit God is not fundamental to science; it is fundamental to rebellious man. Biologists are motivated by a desire to understand living things. Out of that desire, mixed with countless hours of observation, experimentation, testing of hypotheses, and all the other activities of science, a consensus has emerged among scientists that all life on earth is descended from the same source, that all living things are connected by heredity. This consensus is not wishful thinking. It is not dishonest or unscientific as some Christians have claimed. It is good science, supported by a wealth of evidence from disciplines as diverse as geology, genetics, paleontology, and biology.

Science is a human enterprise for understanding the world we live in. Understanding is always about truth; you cannot understand something without believing what you understand to be true. (You can, of course, believe something to be true without understanding it, but the reverse is not true.) It is not the only enterprise for understanding the world. Religion also makes truth-claims about the world and also provides a way of thinking about the world and understanding it. But religion concerns itself with spiritual reality, while science concerns itself with physical reality. There are some who deny spiritual reality, as if the capacity to understand were not itself a spiritual reality. Human ideals, philosophy, ethics, love, justice, faith—these all belong to the spiritual world. To deny that world is to deny what makes  us human.


Should Christians Be Committed?


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The online version of Discipleship Journal has this thought-provoking article by Bob Butler. I highly recommend it.

I’m not sure commitment is always about maintaining control. For example, I would describe my relationship to my wife as committed; I would not say I am surrendered to her. Nevertheless, I don’t consider myself to be retaining some kind of control. Butler is certainly right, though, about the nature of American Christianity.