March 14, 2023

From the Rector…

As a puppy, Banshee (aka Church Dog) was one of the most stubborn, hard-headed dogs I have ever met.  She is part Catahoula and part Blue Tick Hound. Hounds are notoriously stubborn, and Catahoula’s believe they control the world. The Catahoula breed was introduced to America by Ponce de Leon who brought them as war dogs (think the opening scene of Gladiator when Russell Crowe’s character’s dog traverses the field of battle.) Now they are cattle dogs—three of them can easily herd fifty head of cattle—and are often called Louisiana Cattle Dogs.

As a puppy and throughout much of her younger years, Banshee felt the world ought to be run according to her demands. She would boss around the other dogs at the house—leading to many a disgruntled Basset Hound. She also attempted to boss Steve and me around which went over as well as a lead balloon.  I had grown up believing a newspaper and a good swat was the way to correct a dog’s behavior. Somehow, I got that all twisted up with punishment and on one particular sunny afternoon in the front yard, Banshee did something bad and, as I didn’t have a newspaper handy, I spanked her with my hand. Her feelings were hurt, and she stopped whatever she was doing, and I broke a blood vessel in the middle of my finger on my right hand. It swelled up and hurt like the dickens. I couldn’t bend it or write for a week. Banshee may have been acting inappropriately, but my resorting to violence had dire consequences for me not her.

I’ve never hit Banshee or any other dog since—other than the occasional swat to get their attention. I’ve learned better methods such as what we fondly call the “double tap”—two fingers and two sharp jabs into the hip or shoulder—or the empty water bottle full of pennies. Both techniques seem to do a much better job of getting a dog’s attention and correcting behavior. I’ve also learned that it is pointless to punish a dog—at least a dog like Banshee. She knows what she did wrong, and she’d do it again if given the same circumstances—a thing she has proved repeatedly. Punishment and violent retribution like spanking have left both her and me in discord. It didn’t make our relationship better, it only served to put a barrier between the two of us—which neither of us wanted.

Its taken years, and lots of mistakes, but Banshee has taught me about the kind of person I want to be—especially in terms of leadership and authority. I don’t want to have to be right—to be in charge of the yard so to speak. I would much rather empower others to find their joy and contribute to the overall good as a way of not only participating in leadership with me, but also growing in their own levels of satisfaction and confidence. You can’t do that by telling people what to do or going after them when they aren’t doing the things you wanted or in the way you wanted them done. Instead, it is up to you to find the path toward an inclusive, loving relationship that builds up, not tears down or punishes. 

The day I popped Banshee on the nose with my hand made me realize a tendency toward violence that I didn’t understand I possessed. It may seem inconsequential but sometimes it is the little things that trigger our awareness of what might be most transformative in our lives. That day taught me that in trying to control others, especially through force, I was not only hurting them; I was also hurting myself.  Since then, I have discovered that whenever I try to control the circumstances of the world around me—even by some means other than force—I often fail. The true measure of my worth, at least for me, is the ability to adapt and discover new ways of approaching things and appreciating the contributions of others—whether I benefit from them or not and even if I disagree with them. 

Banshee has brought me much joy and a little heartache in the years since that fateful day. She has been quick to pick a fight over the years, especially when her authority has come under question—beating her only taught her more violence. Loving her has given her a much sweeter and gentler nature in her old age—and we all benefit from that. She can still be stubborn and hard-headed but instead of a spanking, I’ve learned to redirect with a firm, yet gentle hand that communicates my love and appreciation for her, especially when she is acting like a Catahoula.

Light and Life,