Faith & Doubt / Family / Montana / Relationships

Dog bones & relationships

Montana dogs choose to chew skulls, not bones (Hinsdale, Montana) Photo credit: Helen Holter

Montana dogs choose to chew skulls, not bones (Hinsdale, Montana)
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Dog bones and Thanksgiving – what’s the connection?

Back in Montana a while ago, I thought of Eugene Peterson as I drove along Flathead Lake near Kalispell, where he and his wife live.  I don’t personally know him – just read his books, once chatted with him, and shook his hand.  He translated the Bible, you know.  But I don’t know…  I just  thought maybe I’d spot Eugene out splitting wood or throwing his dog a bone.  He’s a pastor, poet, theologian, and woodsman writing of such ordinary holy stuff of our lives in his books – 30 so far.   A favorite is Eat This Book, where Peterson fixates on a metaphor of solid, meaty, marrow-filled relationships akin to dogs gnawing on solid, marrow-filled bones.

They’re satisfying.

Homestead neighborhood (Near Hinsdale, Montana, Sept 2011)

The ‘hood – my family’s homestead neighborhood. (Near Hinsdale, Montana, Sept 2011)
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Legacy of Connection

I come from cowboys and Norwegian homesteaders in northeastern Montana. From Eugene Peterson and from these ordinary people – my extraordinary relatives – I’ve learned the solidity of relationships, and the powerful need and desire ofus’ and ‘we’ in their Montana community of 200, simply to survive that harsh physical environment.

They and their homestead houses aren’t the focus of their existence, as for so many urban dwellers.  There’s something bigger than themselves: it is the LAND, and they are servants to it.

This reality extends to a metaphor for my relatives and me that we are part of something so much bigger, even in our losses, disappointments, and failures: whether it’s wheat crops gone bad, drowned toddlers in irrigation ditches, or marriages cut loose by divorce.  Through it all we hold tight to our relationships: with the land, with one another, with God.

My Facebook friends: many real, many virtual

My Facebook friends: many real, many virtual.

  But I’m perplexed.

I’m back living in Seattle, a place I’ve loved just forever.  Yet this local culture and work demand virtual relationships that seem like vapor, hugely consuming my time and energy tending to them.

Yes, I’m talking Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg, Tumblr, text-messaging, old-fashioned email, smartphone voicemails, and on and on.  I love that technology and social media platforms allow me to be in touch with so many friends and folks world-wide, yet oddly it’s magnified my craving for in-the-flesh, face-to-face relationships.

Vapor Relationships

Sometimes I feel I’m breathing in and eating the steam from food cooking, rather than eating the food itself.  It’s a disconnect: virtual, vapor relationships pale in comparison to the solidity of relationships, face to face:  like mine in Montana, in faith, and in other realms.

I crave human relationships that are solid, not so wispy and virtual…

How can I keep human relationships grounded – solid in this culture of wispy, virtual relationships and – like dogs in Montana – chew on marrow-filled satisfying skulls instead of illusionary stingy scraps?

On this Thanksgiving Day especially, may the meat of our relationships with our own flesh-blood-and-bone families, relatives, and friends fill us fully, tangibly… with the satisfaction of cow skulls, not dog bones.Signature_80

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Recommended: Eugene Peterson bio; “Eat This Book.”