I’m originally from southern Indiana – right across the river from Louisville, KY, home of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. I grew up loving horses and Louisville is a great place to be to see horses. One of the saddest things to me though was always the fact that if a horse was injured – especially a broken leg or other leg injury – they were traditionally just put down. I asked a horse trainer one time why that was he explained that healing a horses leg is a really tricky thing and can take tons of money and time and there is no guarantee it will even work… “Plus,” he said – “a bullet is way cheaper than years of pasturing.” Yikes. Glad I’m not a horse.
Of course now things are somewhat better for horses. Hundreds of organizations – like this one – have sprung up that offer to take no longer useful horses and care for them or adopt them out to families who will provide them a home… even if they are injured, lame or just old.
Two of our closest friends have a horse named Edward… I know it’s not a typical horse name – but this is no typical horse! I think the last count I heard, he is like 44 years old – which is like 308 in dog years! (no – I have no idea why you would calculate a horses age in dog years)… but this means that this horse was probably born when Lyndon B. Johnson was still president and telephones still had dials. Now I will tell you right now – that Edward is not a horse that is fulfilling any typical horse like duties. You can’t ride him … because he’d probably break. He can’t keep the grass short… because he is missing most of his teeth (which by the way causes one of the most hilarious pictures you have ever seen in that his tongue is constantly hanging out). As far as purpose for a horse goes – from any practical standpoint Edward isn’t doing anything good for his very loving owners… He costs money – lots of money – to care for him, feed him, house him and he does nothing in return for it. Now that I think about it… he’s like a 800 pound cat!
So some old horses are getting lucky nowadays … second chances at a long life filled with love regardless of their past and regardless of their worth. It’s weird how many times people aren’t so lucky. I wish I was talking only about non-Christians but Christians have a terrible history of not spending the time to mend our wounded or give the broken a second chance. Someone makes a mistake, especially if it’s one of the THE BIG ONES and there is a bunch of people lined up, ready to pull their triggers – ESPECIALLY on fellow Christ Followers – because they should know better! Right?
I read an article recently about a big church on the west coast that has a separate member website for its congregants. On this website they post things church members need to know – like events, classes, etc. – and also, surprisingly, reprimands for members who have stepped out of line. One of the accounts I read was a woman who was going through marital difficulties. She and her husband were contemplating separating. The husband wanted to reconcile so they went to counseling with one of the church pastors and the pastor gave them a list of things they must do. Most of them – the wife was willing to cooperate with – but a few she was not… like the fact that she was instructed to quit her job and quit seeing her therapist just to name two. In response to her refusal, she was kicked out of the church and then a letter was posted on the church members’ website that instructed all other members of the church to cut off contact with her as punishment for her and to avoid being drug down by her sin. Talk about shooting your horses.
Now listen… of course it is appropriate to tell someone where sin you see sin has crept in and is deceiving them (but remember – do it gently and privately?!?!)… it’s also very appropriate for pastors to counsel families and I hope when they do that they speak truth to them even when that truth is hard to say. But that’s not what I am talking about…
We tend to be really hard on people – especially our own. Sometimes it is one mistake and you’re out. It’s just easier I guess to excommunicate and move on. But what if we didn’t do that. What if we came together and acknowledged that we are all far from perfect and sins in the closet are just as messy as sins exposed… sometimes even messier.
I point to who Jesus spent his time with… Matthew 10:9-13 is one of my favorites… But think about someone even closer to him. John 6:70-71 Jesus acknowledges that he knew Judas was going to betray him long before he did it and yet he continued to walk with him, eat with him, call him friend… If anyone had reason to seek justice and have a horse shot – Jesus had more than enough reason for sure! This was the guy who was going to hand Jesus over to the authorities for crucifixion after all …
So where are you? Do you find yourself seeking justice more than extending compassion? If someone wrongs you – are they dead to you? Forgotten? If you were a horse owner… would you shoot your horses or care for them long after it made sense to do so? I’m hoping you find a way to develop compassion beyond reason just like our good friends who own Edward the toothless, potentially immortal Highlander-equine … put your guns away and love for the sake of loving and care for the broken and forgive because you are forgiven!
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – this place is different.