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What a Cat Guru Taught Me About Discipleship

Jeffrey Bruno
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Or, how to make discussions about sin a little easier.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” is the great jumbo shrimp, government intelligence paradox to the secular ear.  I think the reason so many discussions about sex, abortion, politics, alien abductions, and the like end up in flames is because the notion of sin as the object of hate, and not the sinner, is so poorly understood. But truth be told, many times, it’s also poorly practiced.

We watch a lot of pet shows around here.  It’s not enough that we live in a zoo —  the kids insist on surrounding themselves with animals even in their entertainment choices.  One of our favorites is the inelegant, if aptly named, “My Cat from Hell”.  The host, Jackson Galaxy, looks like a caricature of every hipster on the planet.  He’s bald, ironically bespectacled, and wears retro bowling shirts that do nothing to hide his full-arm tattoos.  His briefcase is a guitar case, and his company car a pink Cadillac.   It would be easy to write off this man whose job title is “cat behaviorist” and who refers to humans as “cat guardians” as a whackadoodle, but if you watch him closely, you begin to see some amazing things.

The show is formulaic: cat owners (or guardians) are in the possession of a cat that is spectacularly horrible: biting, clawing, spraying, speaking in tongues, pretty much the full spectrum of unacceptable feline behavior.  The human makes an impassioned plea to Galaxy, insisting if he can’t help them, the cat is going to be “rehomed” (a polite term for “kicked to the curb”).  Galaxy shows up in his classic car, sets his guitar case down on the coffee table, and listens to the humans detail their woes.

While he listens to the people, there is not a trace of annoyance in his eyes.  Even though after watching a couple episodes, you, the viewer already know exactly what he’s going to say (“clean the litter box more often” and “play with your cat” and “give your cat something to climb on, and he’ll leave your curtains alone”), there is never a trace of exasperation in Galaxy’s eyes.  The recommendations may always be the same, but he realizes each situation, each person’s story, is different and valuable.  Despite years and years of experience working with cats, Galaxy never talks down to the pet owners, or makes light of their struggles.  You get the sense that the laser-like focus on positive human-feline relations is genuine.

There is a generosity of spirit that Galaxy possesses that is truly interesting to watch.  Even when faced with humans who engage in behaviors truly repugnant to him (using shock collars on cats and keeping unaltered animals in an apartment to breed litter after litter of unwanted kittens were two notable examples), there is such an attempt to view the person in a positive light.  “I know this is coming from a place of frustration, and I want to help remove those frustrations”, he said in response to the couple using a shock collar on their cat.  From there, he’s able to have frank discussions with the owners, telling them in no uncertain terms that spaying and neutering will be done, and shock collars will not be used, and the lines of communication don’t break down as a result.

It’s here that you realize you’re watching a secular lesson in hating the sin but loving the sinner.  This hipster “Cat Daddy” is modeling something truly Christ-like in his actions, and there is so much we can learn from it. While people will be quick to point out, and rightfully so, that there is infinite difference between right relations between human and cat and right relations between human and God, it would be a mistake to discount Galaxy’s example, which boils down to some simple tactics:
 

1. Listen to people.  Actually listen to their stories, and not the stories you think they have.  Even if you know the solution to their problems lies in a relationship with Christ, it doesn’t mean you can bypass this step.  Listen to people with your whole heart.

2. Be generous and brief when looking for reasons for people’s behavior.  So often we become obsessed with finding the “why” of people’s choices — perhaps out of some notion that if we find out why they did something, we can figure out how to stop them from doing it again. This false sense of control often tricks us into wasting time and energy going down rabbit holes that ultimately end nowhere.  Assume the best of people, and go on to the next point, which is:

3. Always remember what the end goal is.  Jackson Galaxy’s whole mission is to help humans and cats live harmoniously with each other.  Anything that falls outside the scope of that goal is extraneous.  For us, as disciples of Christ, our goal is just as simple: to give glory to God and win souls for heaven.  With every person we come across, we have an opportunity to glorify God through the encounter.  And since we’re not a one man show like Galaxy, but rather a universal Church, we know that we’re not only planting seeds or harvesting fruit — we’re also nurturing dormant seeds that have been planted in another time and another place.

Obviously, this isn’t some magic cure-all that, if put it into practice, will cause the world to happily and universally accept correction and turn from sin.  People still don’t like to be told when they are doing things that harm their relationship with God.  But, taking these lessons from a cat guy to heart, we can ensure that when we have conversations about hating sin, we’re doing so in a way that clearly shows our love for the sinner.

Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.

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