Showing Our Bellies

dog-on-its-backI like dogs.

Yes, I like other animals, too… unless, of course, they are equipped with spikes or stingers or other types of self-protection devices.

But dogs are right there at the top of my Animal Affection List.

I like dogs because they are loyal, playful, loving, and (mostly) intelligent.

Mostly though I like dogs because of their communication skills. And if you have owned a dog, you know what I mean.

First, they communicate with their ears; drooping ears mean one thing, perked, alert ears mean something else. Ears back? Watch out!

They also communicate with their eyes. They communicate with their tails: wagging, dragging, or in-between all send different kinds of signals.

Yes, you are correct to point out that the messages a dog sends generally fall under one of four headings: FOOD, PLAY, ELIMINATION, or ANGER. But that’s completely beside the point.

Dogs are also quick to size a person up and tell them what they think of them. They communicate their assessments through body language. They will either sit attentively and wait to be petted if they like you, or crouch and slink suspiciously away if they don’t.

There is one posture in the dog vocabulary, however, that is pretty extraordinary. And you will see it only if and when the dog decides they trust you completely.

That is the “roll over on my back and show you my belly” posture.

Most people rarely see this posture because it puts the dog in a totally defenseless position in relation to the other. Exposing its belly to person or animal is a dangerous thing for a dog to do… because the dog’s belly is the least protected, most vulnerable part of its body.

But if they feel you have earned it, the dog is willing to open up, trust you, and become vulnerable to you and show you his belly.

All of which raises this relevant question: why does it seem to be so incredibly difficult for two-legged animals like you and me to open up and become vulnerable with one another?

Well, it is dangerous for one thing. If I open myself up to you… show you where I am tender and vulnerable and most easily injured… there is a chance you would use that information against me. You might turn out to be a lot less kind and gentle than I judged you to be at first.

It also might be awkward. Here I am, opening my heart and soul to you, pouring out my innermost doubts, fears, joys, and sorrows and the whole time you thought we were just going to hang out a little and shoot some hoops.

“Too soon, dude,” you say.

But then we have to step back and remember: love is about vulnerability. Love is about going first without any guarantees. Love is about showing your most tender, most injurable side to another as a way of saying, “This is because I trust you.”

Love is about knowing full well you might be making a mistake… you might be opening yourself up for injury… but going ahead and becoming voluntarily vulnerable anyway.

That is why it is so hard to own a pet or to fall in love with another person. AND it is why it is so hard to follow Jesus… the champion of love… seriously. Jesus is in fact the one who said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, NRSV).

And when you stop and think about it, “…laying down one’s life…” for your friends is a whole lot scarier than “showing one’s belly” to them.

Certainly an important part of love is the mystical, celebrated stirring of the heart. But we need to remember that love does not come to its ultimate fulfillment without concrete ACTION. As John the Evangelist said, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:17, NRSV).

And as we know from the story of Jesus, in the clash between love and power, love and hate, love and darkness: LOVE WINS.

Every. Single. Time.

Today let us each seek out the places where loving action is needed and go forth with boldness and vulnerability.

1 Response to “Showing Our Bellies”

  1. February 1, 2017 at 4:46 am

    I liked this–and so did my dog Charlie!

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