I recently read Where The Red Fern Grows out loud to my son. If you’ve never read this before, I’m about to spoil the hell out of this book published in 1961. Ready?

The dogs die.

Okay, with that out of the way, I want to talk about why I nearly couldn’t finish this book, 512BxGDb9JYL._SX338_BO1204203200_which is generally considered a classic of children’s literature. Two chapters in, Billy is expounding on how he has “puppy fever” and wants a dog or dogs more than anything. He wants hunting hounds, which his family cannot afford to buy, given their cash-strapped status on a farm in the Ozarks. One day, Billy is reflecting on how his mother read to them from the Bible and he remembers her reading “God helps those who help themselves”.

I looked up and told my son, she did not read that to him from the Bible because it’s not in there. Nevertheless, there is a theme of Divine intervention throughout the book regarding Billy’s hard work to earn the money for dogs, the dogs’ own preternatural skills, and some of the “miracles” that occur when he’s with them. Each time, God comes up in the book, I twitched.

Following the climatic end, when Billy is grieving his dogs, his parents are trying to explain that “everything happens for a reason”. His father posits that the family had been planning to leave the farm and move into town. They were going to leave Billy behind so that he could remain with his dogs. Perhaps God allowed the dogs today because God doesn’t want families to be divided.

It actually says that in the book.

That it is possible that the dogs died, horribly, because God didn’t want to see the family members separated.

fork-eat-metal-fork-dine-39565What the actual fork?

I stopped reading right there, skipping over that part, and telling my son that God has no interest in killing pets. That’s not how God works.

Accepting that there is mystery in the Divine and that I am not fully privy to that mystery, I still refuse to believe that God would kill beloved pets, in a violent way, so that a family would move from their farm all together. I will not believe in that kind of God.

Furthermore, perpetuating that kind of “everything happens for a reason” bullshit is also against my religious beliefs. The reason the dogs died, respectively, is 1) attack by a mountain lion and 2) refusal to eat because of complicated grief. That’s why they died, not because God killed them through a perverse sense that the family unit of people is the most important.

This has set my course for 2019. I refuse to allow lies to be told about God and God’s purposes. Again, I realize that God’s ways can be and are mysterious, but according to John- when we have seen the Son, we have seen the Holy Parent (John 1). My extrapolation is that I can at least understand God’s ways by way of how Jesus acted. There are no stories of Jesus smiting puppies for the sake of family unity.

When we allow the false “religion” of everything happens for a reason to pervade our habits, our conversations, our communities, and our literature, we are giving ourselves a free pass to how we are called to be correctives and agents of change in the world.

The reason people of color suffer is that people are racist.

The reason women are silenced is that oppressive patriarchy is a thing.

The reason children are in cages on the United States border is that we allow it to be acceptable.

The reason that horrible working conditions exist is that most of us are too tired and busy to do research for fair trade everything that we need.

The reason that cancer, wildfires, tsunamis, and extinction exist is a combination of poor stewardship of creation by people and the combined work of the forces that oppose God.

In 2019, I will not stand bytMZQDu8MQ5y7OvUinIwkMQ and listen to “Everything happens for a reason”. Yes, there are times when the shit storm can produce compost that provides strength and nourishment. However, I will be truthful about that. The initial death, the pain, the rot, the decomposition was not the original intention for whatever it was that happened. Suffering is not an end in itself. And I firmly renounce that kind of thinking.

God does not kill dogs, especially beloved dogs.

God does not want to see people suffer.

God has provided enough for all people.

God can, does, and will make all things new.

This is the truth. This is what I believe. This is the shaping philosophy of my 2019.

Please join me.

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA)  in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.

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6 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: Here is the Reason

  1. Right on!! So true, so right, so much of what I believe. As a chaplain, I would hear patients and/or families ask, “what did I do to deserve [this punishment from God]?” My unspoken (of course) analogy was, “what if when I leave work, I step in front of a bus?” Did God will that? No. It was my own fault. Buses vs humans not good. Or when someone says she asked God for a parking space and lo…it appeared. My theology says God, the great unknown, the mystery, does not want people to die a painful death, does not punish people by putting them in the way of buses, and does not care one bit about parking spaces. It is hard enough to even try to follow Jesus’ teachings much less worry about the divine. I read that book long ago and cried about the dogs, but I was too young to grasp what you have quoted, which is dreadful and misleading and cruel. Thank you for enlightening your readers.


  2. Thank you for this, and I wish you strength in your resolve to stick with God of – love, goodness, challenge – as discovered in Jesus. I pray I will have the strength to do likewise.


  3. Thanks for this. My other response to “everything happens…blah blah” is that yea, cause people do stupid things.” That’s usually in my head.


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