This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Madison, Max and angels unaware

This is the story of how Cockatiel Max and Shih Tzu Madison enhanced the well-being of the church. My oversight caused it, but I later wondered if a larger oversight was also in play.

For months Manuel, as I’ll call him, and I had been trying to coordinate our schedules. Finally, calendars said hallelujah. When I told my wife, Joan, she thought, “Great, but what about the animals?”

Oh my goodness, I’d forgotten. The animals and I live an interesting life. For various reasons, including where Joan’s mother is and because Joan travels constantly providing behavioral health consulting wherever she’s called, we actually live in two states. Also in the mix are Max and Madison. Six years ago we decided to test whether they’d flourish as commuter animals.

They did. So now they know the routines and are eager to hit the road whenever it’s time to shift states. I had scheduled the meeting with Manuel. But I’d forgotten commuters Cockatiel and Shih Tzu. At first, all looked fine. The weather was supposed to be cloudy and cool, and they’d be OK in the car. Then the forecast shifted: sunny and 80s. A death trap.

What to do? I wouldn’t return for weeks; trying for a petsitter made no sense. I emailed Manuel. Any picnic areas nearby? Could he stand a picnic with my animals if I brought food? He was flexible and understanding and gracious indeed. Absolutely!

At the appointed hour, Manuel told me where to park. There it was, a welcoming picnic table. I placed Max’s cage by the edge of the picnic area and tied Madison’s leash to a table leg.

Manuel broke into a wide grin. “I believe this is historic!”

Our broader context was also historic amid daily shifts in how individuals, congregations, conferences and organizations linked to it are relating to our denomination.

Our agenda was simple: What might we learn from each other’s journeys? It was a good meeting. It was sometimes heart­rending as we learned of so much pain in so many places. It was sometimes inspiring as we pondered initiatives for hearing the Spirit within or beyond what is unraveling.

But this isn’t finally about that. It’s about how different it felt to sit in the sun and breezes with Max busily eating food in his cage and Madison exploring or dozing beside us. It didn’t feel like one more heavy meeting, heavy though the topics often were. It felt like a skylight had appeared in the ceiling of the sky and let in the universe. It felt like extra light and sweetness were shining on our picnic.

Time to go. Manuel networked a bit with Max and Madison before returning to his office and whatever cares awaited there. I put Max in his back seat spot and Madison in her dog bed beside me. We headed out this route and that one, and finally on to the interstate with sunroof open, light streaming, wind ruffling.

Max preened before sticking his head under a wing and blissfully napping. Madison turned around and around to smooth out her bed for the 6,000th time, then with nose on paws, fell into what seemed an unusually relaxed sleep.

I think Max and Madison liked their picnic with Manuel and maybe being angels we entertained unaware.

Michael A. King is dean, Eastern Mennonite Seminary; publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC; blogger and editor, Kings­view & Co.

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