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The Doghouse at the White House

“The Doghouse at the White House” by Frank Ramirez
“Call Me By My Name” by John Sumwalt

The Doghouse at the White House
by Frank Ramirez
Mark 7:24-37

He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28)

When there’s a change in the White House, one of the safest, and most interesting, topics to discuss, one which can get at least some bipartisan support, is who’s going to be the next White House dog?

Or cat. There are dog people, there are cat people, and there are, to be honest, those who want nothing to do with a pet. We’re all different and there’s nothing wrong with us, no matter where we stand in the pet department, but for many people, White House pets humanize someone we may not agree with.

John Adams, the second president but the first occupant of the White House, had three dogs, Juno, Mark, and Satan. His son, John Quincy Adams, is supposed to have had silkworms, which his wife used to spin their silk, along with a pet alligator, although some contest this story!

James Madison had a parrot named Polly who outlived both him and his wife Dolley.

Tragically, Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido was assassinated only a few months after his owner’s death, when a drunk knifed him. Many dogs were named Fido after Lincoln’s dog.

Theodore Roosevelt kept several dogs, as well as a veritable menagerie including horses, guinea pigs, lizards, rabbits, a black bear (eventually sent to the Bronz Zoo), a garter snake, a macaw, a badger, a pig, a rabbit named Peter Rabbit, a barn owl, a rooster, to name but a few.

With the advent of modern media presidential dogs began to draw more coverage. Herbert Hoover took advantage of this interest and highlighted his dogs to get favorable coverage during election campaign.  

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier Fala was accidently left behind on a trip to the Aleutian Islands in 1944, and was subsequently retrieved by a rescue boat, his political opponents criticized him for allegedly spending millions of tax dollars on the effort. Roosevelt replied that “…you can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog.” Some claim this helped his re-election.

In 1952, vice-presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon was nearly dropped from Eisenhower’s presidential ticket because of revelations about a slush fund maintained by his friends for Nixon’s use. Nixon responded with a nationally televised speech in which he denied there was any such fund but did admit “there is one thing that I did get as a gift that I’m not going to get back.” That was a gift to his children, a black and white cocker spaniel they named “Checkers.” The positive response to the idea of a dog given his daughters possibly saved his political career.

The Clinton household included both a cat named Socks and a dog named Buddy who did not get along, prompting President Clinton to say later, “I did better with the Palestinians and the Israelis than I’ve done with Socks and Buddy.”

George W. Bush had three dogs, one of which was an English Springer Spaniel named Spot Fletcher. Spotty was part of a litter belonging to Millie, a dog owned by his father, George. H. W. Bush, making him the first dog to live in the White House under two different administrations!

Different cultures have different attitudes towards pets. In The Book of Tobit, one of the books of Apocrypha, the hero Tobias sets out on a journey to call in a loan owed to his father who has gone blind. Spoiler alert! He will return with both a bride and a cure for his father’s blindness. But the key point here is that he sets out on the journey with a young man — who he does not recognize as an angel — and a faithful dog. Well, sort of. In the version that was read by Greek-speaking Jews there is a dog. In the versions that circulated among Aramaic-speaking Jews living closer to Jerusalem, there is no dog. That’s because in many of the nations in ancient times, as well as Jews who had become acculturated to the Greek speaking world, dogs were acceptable as pets and companions. But in the Palestinian region, including Galilee and Jerusalem, dogs were considered scavengers, diseased ridden animals that were despised by the local population. And that continued through the time of Jesus. So, when Jesus, in today’s story, compared the children of a Gentile woman as dogs, it was not a compliment. Yet the Syro-Phoenician woman, who begged Jesus to heal her daughter, might well have fed scraps to dogs who were part of the household. In this biblical story, two cultures come head-to-head, and it’s interesting to see the outcome.

* * *

Call Me By My Name
by John Sumwalt
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse;
the cautious will keep far from them.
Train children in the right way,
and when old, they will not stray.
(vv. 1, 5-6)

Back home they call me Johnny. Whenever I am around the neighbors where I grew up on the farm, or my old high school wrestling teammates, the use of that familiar diminutive touches something that warms my heart. Dale Carnegie got it right, “…a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Every good salesperson knows this. Even though you know it is coming you cannot help but be affected when the car dealer or the real-estate agent puts a hand on your shoulder, smiles and says your name.

Names are about relationships, family, friends, home, what we all long for. The theme song at the beginning of the TV show, “Cheers,” may have had as much to do with its success as the comedy: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came.”

Hearing your name and the way it is spoken makes a difference. It opens a door to the heart. Our youngest granddaughter started calling me Peeka when she was just a little past two. I couldn’t figure out why until my daughter said, “You know Dad,” as she covered her eyes with both hands and then opened them and said, “Peek-a-boo!” It was the game I played with Faye every time we were together, and she loved it, so I became “Peeka.” It melts my heart to hear her say her special name for me.

Whenever I visited my mother in the nursing home in her latter days, as she crept closer to one hundred, she would take my hand, look at me for a while as if trying to establish which one of her four offspring I was, and then she would laugh and say, “Why Johnnnn!” She spoke to me like that in a dream just before she died, and I expect that is the way she will greet me in heaven.

I memorized the resurrection story from John's Gospel one Sunday so that I could tell it instead of reading it. I worked on the inflection of each word and phrase. When I came to the scene outside of the tomb where Mary faces Jesus, but does not recognize him, I got stuck. How would Jesus have said Mary's name? What does it sound like when someone who loves you says your name?

Mary, in her grief, could not see clearly, something many of us have experienced at a time of tragic loss.  Her mind could not register that Jesus was alive until she heard him speak her name: "Mary." And in one shocking moment of recognition Mary knew Jesus was alive. What was it about the way Jesus said her name?

I repeated Mary's name over and over again. "Mary..., Mary..., Mary...." I said my wife's name, the names of our children, the names of my grandparents, the way I had heard Grandma say Grandpa's name shortly after his death.

"James," Grandma called him, "the boy I fell in love with." Everybody else called him Archie. And there was something about the way she said his name, the way you say the name of someone you love deeply. I believe that is the way Jesus says each one of our names. And it is the way followers of Jesus learn to say the names of the people Jesus loves, every person in creation alive or dead, even those who call us hurtful names.

Saying everyone’s name in a loving way is not easy, especially those we call enemy and those we are tempted to hate. Therefore, we need the church, the communion of sinners who together, through worship, Bible study and prayer can rise above the temptations that no individual can resist alone.

Saying certain names with love has become a challenge in recent years as more and more transgender people are asking to be called by a new name that reflects their identity. This is more than just a fad. It is not a new trend. It cannot be understood as a birth defect unless you believe that the Creator makes mistakes. And acknowledging this is not about being politically correct, though numerous politicians and TV preachers are using the issue to make political hay.

Transgender people have been among us in every age. Zachary Pullin writes in “Native People's Magazine” that, "Numerous terms in tribal languages identified third genders in their cultures that encompassed both masculine and feminine..." "In early Native American society, those who identified as “two spirited” were respected as spiritual leaders within the tribe. They dressed in both men’s and women’s clothing, and they often served special two spirit roles such as storytellers, counselors, and healers," according to Samantha Mesa-Miles of “Indian Country Today”. She adds:  "Two Spirit traditions were threatened, though, when Europeans colonized the Americas. The notion of a third, fluid, male-and-female gender conflicted with the colonizers’ heterosexual views, and in 1879, the U.S. government removed thousands of two spirited” people from their tribes. They were sent to live in an Indian boarding school."

"In what is now Texas, the Spanish Cabeza de Vaca reported men who dressed and lived like women. Even Russian traders in the sub-arctic region documented gender diversity among native communities in what is today Alaska. Despite Russian efforts to suppress third genders, the Chugach and Koniag celebrated those they called ‘two persons in one’ and considered them lucky. Linguistic registries show that indigenous peoples approached gender as a fluid affair before conquest and assimilation." (Indigenous Sexualities: Resisting Conquest and Translation Manuela L. Picq and Josi Tikuna)

I remember when one of the athletic heroes of my young adulthood, Bruce Jenner, appeared on the cover of “Vanity Fair” in June of 2015 under his new name, Caitlyn Jenner. Suddenly this man’s man and Olympic decathlon gold medal winner, whose image and name appeared on the covers of magazines, billboards and Wheaties boxes, was claiming to be a woman – and asking to be called by a woman’s name. I wanted to resist along with most other manly men in America. I still do. And then I remember Jesus saying Mary’s name and I think, “How would Jesus say Caitlyn’s name?”


StoryShare, September 5, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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