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The foo dog

A Buddhist idol presents a 'doubtful' issue at home

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

My son who does landscaping for the rich if not famous dragged home a reddish clay foo dog that a client apparently no longer needed to guard his house from evil spirits. For those of you who are not Buddhists, or who use electronic burglar alarms to perform this function, a foo dog looks like a cross between a pit bull and a lion, with a squarish mouth baring menacing teeth and gums. It reminded me of the terrifying composite beast in Revelation 9. There is something especially disturbing about composite beasts.

This came at a bad time for me, as I have been in a purging mood since the day I made a ritual of rededicating my house to the Lord. I was convicted by years of family life that made a mockery of the wooden kitchen key holder that reads, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Any other time, I would have looked at the thing my son left on the front porch and said, "Hmm, more kitsch."

I realize that reasonable people can disagree about this- "to the pure all things are pure" (Titus 1:15), and "we know that 'an idol has no real existence'" (1 Corinthians 8:4). So I didn't want to be hasty. Besides, it must be indicative that Buddhism is in as much trouble as some brands of Christianity if it has been reduced to a lawn ornament. How threatening could it be?

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Still, all things being equal, I would rather not this snarling gargoyle be the first impression I leave with the mailman and my unsaved neighbors. Was it not for this very reason that I vetoed "Artemis" as my daughter's choice for the new dog's name five years ago, because I did not want to be heard calling a Greek goddess into the house for her heartworm pill?

It's more than that. I have been making excuses all my life for allowing borderline things. I am inspired by young Evan Thomas of the 1904 Welsh Revival whose four-point message from God included: "Get rid of everything doubtful in your life." Even if the statue misses the higher threshold criterion of "immoral," it certainly qualifies for "doubtful." Don't tell me it's not "doubtful" when foo dogs guard the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Some "entertain angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2). Some fellowship with demons unawares (1 Corinthians 10:20). What do we know of the inner workings of the spirit world, after all? Moses said of Israel's fetish for imported religious knickknacks that "they sacrificed to demons" (Deuteronomy 32:17).

So I confronted my son and said, "Look, I don't want it on the porch." He said, "OK, I'll take it up to my room tonight." Then I heard my lily-livered self say, "OK," which is the kind of compromise that caused Saul to lose the kingship, if I recall. Three days passed, which takes us up to Sunday morning, and the thing was still sitting there snarling at me defiantly. When I got back from church, I knew what I had to do-put it in the garage.

I had picked it up once before and it was surprisingly heavy. This time I took hold of it by its thick tail, which attaches at both ends, rather like a mug handle. I took a step or two toward the front steps, and the thing disintegrated in my hand, like so much beach sand. I watched it, as if in slow motion, crumbling into a hundred pieces on my steps, trundling onto the sidewalk. My neighbor two doors down heard the crash and called out, "You all right?" "Yeah," I said. "I broke something." (A few seconds later) "It needed breaking."

God evidently didn't want it in the garage.

My son came home and had a few things to say about me destroying his property. I told him that it was God, not me. I had him sit down and I read from 1 Samuel 5, where one night the Philistine statue of Dagon, alone in its temple except for the captured Ark of the Covenant, was found toppled and dismembered in the morning when the Philistines went to check on it. One just never knows what goes on between the holy and unholy realms, out on the porch, when we're not looking.
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Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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