Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Misplaced Bible Verses

I’ve a different sort of category of favorite Bible verses: those which, at some point, I forgot or didn’t know their location. Now these passages stand out in memory because I had to search for them. We have to discover for the first time even the most well-known Bible verses, after all. I’ve several of these underlined or yellowed in my old Bible.

So the angel swung his sickle on the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:19).

I searched for that one when teaching a class on Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I remembered the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” but not the location of the original scripture.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, used this verse to encourage Christian unity among doctrinal differences.

When he left there, he met Jehonadab son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, “Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?” Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. Jehu took him up with him into the chariot (2 Kings 10:15).

Wonderful words. “Do you love God and neighbor as I do? If so, let us love one another, even though we disagree.”

Here are several other scriptures that, at some point, I searched for, or “misplaced”:

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

I could’ve checked the household items for sale at the local Christian bookstore for that one. You can purchase Joshua 24:15 plaques for your front door.

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

That’s another verse featured on Christian products!

Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, ‘Let me go over’, the men of Gilead would say to him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ When he said, ‘No’, they said to him, ‘Then say Shibboleth’, and he said, ‘Sibboleth’, for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time (Judges 12:5-6).

That’s the source for the term “shibboleth,” although the word itself just means “stream.”

Some other passages:

And if he finds [the lost sheep], truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:13-14).

I have escaped by the skin of my teeth (Job 19:20).

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Prov. 16:18)

Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray (Prov. 22:16: the familiar RSV translation is Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it).

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (James 5:16b, although I prefer the King James, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.)

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22).

Is there no balm in Gilead? (Jer. 8:22)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Prov. 3:5-6).

The years of our life are threescore and ten (Psalm 90:10).

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (Eccl. 11:1).

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow (Gal. 6:7).

He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126:6).

Darn it, now I’ll have that hymn stuck in my head all day! It’s a religious “earworm.”

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "Hitherto the LORD has helped us." (1 Samuel 7:12).

That’s another scriptural reference for a hymn, “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing,” and this one inspired the hymn, “Almost Persuaded.”

Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” (Acts 26:28).

Other scriptures:

God helps those who help themselves.

Wrong! I’m being lighthearted again. That saying has been attributed to Aesop, and also to Benjamin Franklin. I’ve known at least one person, though, who thought it came from the Bible.
I’m ambivalent about that saying. My own career has often benefited when I was adaptable, did my best, treated people rightly, and kept my professional skills updated. I work hard, solve my own problems, and have been praised for adding value to organizations. And yet … the Bible does not teach competency and self-reliance. Throughout the Bible, God constantly helps people who cannot help themselves; he takes the side of the sinful and the helpless. Proverbs 28:26a actually says, “He who trusts in his own mind [himself] is a fool.”

As long as I’m thinking about non-scriptures, I recall another popular saying, “Build it and they will come,” which is from the movie Field of Dreams (actually “build it and he will come”). But I’ve heard the phrase quoted in the context of church building programs. It occurs to me that, someday, people may think the phrase comes from Nehemiah, a Bible book also often cited for building programs because of its theme of the rebuilding of the Temple. You’ve been warned!

While I’m still on the subject of movies …

I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful punishments. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance on them (Ez. 25:17).

I looked up this verse after seeing the movie Pulp Fiction. One of the hit-men (Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson) quotes an elaborated version of the verse when he kills people. What happens to him is what preachers hope for: a Bible verse opens up for him, causes him to recognize his own evil, and inspires him to change his life. His partner, on the other hand, refuses to see the possibility of grace in a random-seeming event, and his refusal costs him his life.

Those who trouble their households will inherit wind (Prov. 11:29a).

That’s the reference for the well-known play and movie about the Scopes “monkey trial.”

Here’s one more movie reference. The warden in The Shawshank Redemption has a picture in his office that reads, “His judgment cometh, and that right soon.” I dug a little bit, and unless I’m mistaken, this is a version of an Apocrypha text, Sirach 21:5, The prayer of the poor goes from their lips to the ears of God, and his judgment comes speedily. Of course, the warden in that movie cares nothing of the poor or God.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life with Critters

Two weeks ago yesterday, we adopted a new buddy, a tortoise-shell, five-year-old female kitty named Taz. She disappeared for several hours before we realized she was hiding up the chimney. After I closed the flue, however, she settled in and cuddles with us as if she’d lived here forever. Her mostly-black face--her nose and even her whiskers are black--with big bright eyes reminds me of the mostly-faceless Marvin the Martian, nemesis of Bugs Bunny and proud of his illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator.

In addition to opening a new chapter in our family life, it has helped us enormously to have a new kitty as we continue to reminisce about Oddball, our 14-year-old tabby who passed away on June 8. But we've also talked again our little part-Siamese cat Domino, who died in 2005. Taz is less squatty than Oddball (“squatty cat, squatty cat, it’s not your fault”) and more lanky like Domino; in fact, I’ve slipped and called her “Dommo” several times, betraying the fondness we still have for that kitty who’s been gone five years.

As a kid, I had a series of household pets: a horned toad, a salamander, a hamster, at least one gold fish, all eventually buried in the backyard. We had outdoor cats at different times, but we lived on a busy street ... enough said. We could’ve had our own small cemetery, like that of Natalie Portman’s character in the movie Garden State.

Our two main pets were a sad old cocker spaniel, Lady (1954-1967), who lived in the backyard and, in wintertime, the garage; and a dachshund named Baron (1968-1979). When she died, Lady was just old and tired; we buried her at my grandmother’s farm near Brownstown, IL. Baron had a bad heart, presumably from eating too many skins from Dad’s tasty fried chicken. Baron is buried in the backyard, though my parents eventually lost track of the exact spot.

I remember Baron and think: what a pain in the @%# dog! Cute but high maintenance. True to his breed, he barked at everything he noticed outside our picture widow. He’d nearly have a stroke if someone came to the door. He also had psychological problems with urination. He’d only pee in our backyard, so when we took him on vacations in our camper (cheap Dad never would’ve considered boarding him), he’d never “go” until he was so full of pee that he messed somewhere inappropriate, like the floor of the camper or the seat of the pickup.

During her last few months Oddball also peed in inappropriate places, but that was okay because we knew she was sick and we wanted to pamper her as much as we could.

Pets don't figure in the Bible, but that would've been fun. Would Paul have enjoyed a breed of dog which traveled easily? Would Peter's mother-in-law have been a crazy cat lady? What would Jesus adopt?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sancta Civitas

I’ve been listening to the new Naxos recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sancta Civitas, an oratorio performed by David Hill and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestral and The Bach Choir. Sancta Civitas is a good dramatic piece for blasting in the car. A lot of RVW, however, is wonderful for car-listening because of the extremes of quiet peace and fortissimo. Playing LPs or CDs of his pieces at home, I'm constantly lunging for the volume control.

A few months ago, I read an essay by the American actor David Hyde Pierce, discussing his love of music. He mentioned an LP live recording of (I believe) a Mozart piece which featured a spectacular wrong note. Pierce remarked that he anticipated the wrong note in other recordings but, of course, it wasn’t there.

I thought of that as I listened to this CD. In the David Willcocks recording, to which I've listened for years, the choir comes in a little too suddenly at the baritone‘s “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude”. I wonder if this was a place where the tape was edited. In the new recording, the choir comes in more gently and naturally---but I still wait for that little jolt.

The whole oratorio, however, is a “jolt.“ Sancta Civitas is based on apocalyptic biblical texts and is faithful to their strangeness and promise. The piece opens with the baritone narrator and the chorus depicting a vision of heaven and the divine righteousness. Next, the war between Heaven and Earth ends with Babylon’s destruction. A beautiful section promising the new heaven and earth (the music is reminiscent of RVW's Job and Pastoral Symphony, written during the same time period) is followed by a crescendo of praise for God and his holiness. Finally the tenor (his only appearance) sings the promise of the morning star, and the chorus withdraws. The whole piece is less than 30 minutes long.

In RVW’s Pilgrim’s Progress, when the vision of divinity appears, it welcomes the Pilgrim after his long journey. One can feel the joy of God's mercy. Sancta Civitas sets to music the “flip side” of divinity, the mysterium tremendum. When angels appear, people don’t feel comforted by their sweet presence; people cower, as the shepherds did in Luke's gospel. RVW writes the choral sections in a way that their building and fading do seem like transcendent reality “opening” into finite reality.

As admirers of this piece know, the epigraph of Sancta Civitas comes from the Phaedo rather than the Bible: “A man of sense will not insist that things are exactly as I have described them. But I think he will believe that something of the kind is true of the soul and her habitations, seeing that she is shown to be immortal, and that it is worthwhile to stake everything on this belief. The venture is a fair one and he must charm his doubts with spells like these.” Michael Kennedy calls this RVW’s most personal choral work, drawing inspiration both from the 20th century and Tudor musical idioms and articulating a kind of (paradoxically) agnostic faith, that is, a faith expressed in an aesthetic but not creedal way. Other commentators including Kennedy note the time period of Sancta Civitas from the terrible years following World War I. Knowing its provenance gives both the alarming mysticism and the hopefulness of Sancta Civitas some context:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first earth and the first heaven were passed away: and there was no more sea. And I saw the holy city coming down from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, having the glory of God…

And I saw a pure river of the water of life, and on either side of the river was there the tree of life; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations….

Friday, June 25, 2010

Loving the Psalms

At my previous campus, the Gideons visited on a day in September. One day I chatted with one fellow as he and his buddy distributed little green Bibles containing the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I had a cup of coffee in hand and we joked that they could witness better if I’d buy them some coffee, too.

I don’t like the thought of abbreviated Bibles, but on the other hand, if you’d distribute any other 2000-page book to a passerby and say, “You should read this, it will help you,” he or she would probably say, “Um, yeah, right.” Or, the 2000-page book would be cheerfully accepted and placed unread upon the shelves. The “little green Bibles,” as I call them, concede to the reading habits of many of us: we love the New Testament and the Psalms. (For my reading habits, I need larger print, but that’s another issue …)

Many of us do, indeed, turn frequently to the psalms. Think of times of your life when you needed the psalms: 77 or 143 for confidence, 23 and 121 for peace, 150 for joy. Read Psalm 3 or 46 when you’re afraid, 38 when you feel tempted, 109 when you need vindication, 34 when you have sorrow, and 142 when you’re overwhelmed. Psalm 25 (one of my “yellow” scriptures) is a good all-around prayer. Psalm 19 and 104 are wonderful praises for the natural world. Psalm 88 is for someone close to death, 130 for someone deeply burdened, 90 for someone in “existential” anxiety, 40 for a person thankful for deliverance, and … many more! Recently a friend quoted Psalm 55:6 for her father’s obituary notice. Psalm 51 is a classic of bitter regret for sin:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you. (vss. 10-13)

I wouldn’t want to say that you haven’t really experienced the amazing peace of forgiveness if you haven’t first felt in your heart the awful ache of sin—the sin that has hurt people, made a mess of things, and even made you afraid for your eternal destiny. I won’t want to make such an equation. Nor would I, for obvious reasons, recommend sin as a prelude for a relationship to God (Romans 6:1-2). But Psalm 51 is a wonderful assurance when you’ve stumbled. (Sometimes we stumble publicly, as did David, sometimes our failures are comparatively private but our consciences dog us.) What the psalm may lacks, though, is a very strong assurance of God’s forgiveness, which, after all, hard to see if you’re troubled.

Psalm 73, a poem about doubts and struggles rather than a moral sin, provides that needed assurance.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast towards you.
Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand…
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (vss. 21-23, 26).

That “nevertheless” might be one of the best single words in the Bible. It's the Gospel. The word affirms God’s continual presence regardless of our human feelings (in this case, bitterness about the apparent unfairness of life). After all, our feelings are not always a suitable barometer for our relationship with God, and in fact, the psalmist perceived himself in a spiritually difficult place (vss. 2-3). 1 John similarly affirms in a lovely way, "And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (3:19-20). We have confidence because God’s initiative and care are greater than we can dream.

The psalms also remind us of personal associations: the people and places of our lives. Number 100: I think of a church where I served as a student pastor in Connecticut. I remember the interior—so typical of turn of the century Romanesque churches—and the wide fellowship hall where folks gathered.

Psalm 23 … I walked home way too late one night. I was fourteen or fifteen. The road’s darkness exacerbated my anxieties of being in trouble. A streetlight caused the old Illinois Central railroad sign to cast a long, creepy X-shaped shadow along my path. Not the “shadow of death,” but I did pray the twenty-third psalm, memorized in Sunday school a few years before.

The same psalm … A don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss it country lane near Brownstown, Illinois, leads along the wooded banks of small Sand Run creek. When my family owned that property, I loved walking back there, sometimes barefoot. I loved the “still waters” of the winding creek and did, indeed, feel that God restored my sense of well-being.

Psalm 45: song for a royal wedding. I took two college classes with an excellent writing teacher, Elva McAllaster, who significantly inspired my career. I found her grave recently in Greenville, Illinois, and saw “Ps. 45:1” carved by her life dates. Later, I found the verse, which seemed perfect:

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
My tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Psalm 8: that song reminds of several beautiful places where the stars on clear nights were gorgeous. Over time, I came to prefer Psalm 104 for its greater specificity, the beauty of nature which God preserves and guides. But Psalm 8 captures the awe in fewer verses. Psalm 50?

I will accept no bull from your house (verse 9: RSV).

I’m being lighthearted now, but the verse reminds me of a time, at my divinity school, when a graduate assistant wrote that verse on a student’s wordy paper.

All the psalms but 90 contain words of praise, and even 90 does not fall into total despair, since the psalm remains a prayer to God. How the psalms reflect our own experiences: trouble and panic followed by relief, sickness followed by health, doubts followed by faith, lack of understanding followed by clarity. The psalms range among joy, despair, panic, childlike thankfulness, noble emotions, and revenge. What might happen if our church prayers, or even our private prayers, were as forthright as these? Martin Luther once wrote, “Where does one find finer words of joy… where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness … everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake."(1) John Calvin wrote, “the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”(2)

1. Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament (Philadelphia: Muhlenburg Press, 1960); Volume 35, pages 255-256.

2. Commentary on the Book of Psalms, by John Calvin (Eerdmans, 1949), I, page xxxvii. I first used both this quotation and note 2 in my article “The Psalms: An Overview,” Adult Bible Studies, June-July-August 1996 (Nashville: Cokesbury), pages 5-8 (quotes are from on page 5)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Journey of Old Bibles

An experiment to see what (at least part of) one's life story would look like if organized around favorite Bible passages.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The First of God's Works

An old friend could be very needy. He was a dear friend, but whenever he needed affirmation and validation, he was tenacious and even invaded my “personal space.” Sometimes he even disturbed me in the night.

Why did I put up with this? Well … my friend was a cat. Domino was a little Humane Society adoptee—adopted, in fact, on 9/11/01. He was an older, black and white cat, part Siamese and very vocal. He was supposedly eight when we adopted him but I suspect he was older; as our vet says, a cat’s age is difficult to determine unless you know the date of birth. We all loved each other for four years before he contracted some illness, lost his appetite, and had to be put down. His cremated ashes have an honored place on our bookshelves.

My earlier description of him was true but playful. Our other cat, Oddball, just passed away (see my last post), and now her ashes have an honored place next to Domino's. Our new cat, Taz, is settling in, comfortable in the TV room, and she's slowly exploring the rest of the house. Needless to say, a pet is a real friend, though different from a human friend who can give advice. We receive unconditional love from a pet that we would never expect from a human. We might even disdain someone who showed a similar affection, for they’d seem to be needy and thoughtless. Perhaps that’s one reason we love our pets; the relationship is comparatively uncomplicated, yet very deep. I can’t overestimate the role this little animal has played in our family’s well-being, especially my daughter’s, whose pet Oddball has been through her childhood and teenage years. (I don’t mean to leave out dogs and other kinds of pets. Several of our neighbors walk their dogs.) If we’re Bible readers (and even if we’re not), we’d be self-centered if we failed not only to acknowledge our important people for our overall well being, but also our animals.

A few years ago I became curious about which animals are mentioned in the Bible. (Find a Bible topic that interests you. What does the Bible say about angels and “guardian angels”? What kinds of trees are mentioned in the Bible? How do musical instruments figure in the Bible? Go crazy: check out topics like the cities of refuge and the role of the Levites! A good topical Bible or Bible dictionary are essential even for very basic study.) So I took down my old Bible dictionary (King James Version), which, in a brief article, lists several animals, including apes, asses, badgers, bats, bears, “Behemoth” (which could possibly be hippos or elephants), boars, camels, cattle, deer, foxes, gazelle, goats, hares (Lev. 11:4, 6, Deut. 14:7), hart and hind, horses, hyenas, ibex, jackals, lambs and sheep, leopards, “Leviathan” (Job. 3:8, 41:1), lion, mice, moles, swine, weasels, whales, and wolves. The Bible also lists sponges, corals, mollusks, fish, amphibians, reptiles, asp, chameleon, cockatrice (Isa. 11:8, 59:5, Jer. 8:17), geckos (Lev. 11:30), lizards, serpents, tortoises, and vipers. Actually the KJV translation includes dragons—Psalm 74:13, Ezekiel 32:2, and in Revelation—and unicorns (Job 39:9-12). No cats, but the text mentions lions, a different genus but the same family.

Have you noticed that a lot of the Bible happens outdoors? Notice the travels of the patriarchs and their families; the people in the wilderness; the armies on the move, the ministries of Jesus. In one poignant Old Testament scene, Ezra commanded the people to repent of their sin, and the large multitude agreed—as soon as they could go inside from the heavy rain (Ezra 10:9-15). We know little about the place where Jesus lived (Mark 2:1, John 1:38-39); if he wasn’t visiting someone else’s home, he was outside somewhere, turning his observations of outdoor events into eternal teachings.

Once you notice the “outdoor” sections of the Bible, imagine the sounds in the background of the text: the sounds of wind blowing, the rustling of leaves, the crunch of stones as people walk, the lapping water of the waters, and the sounds of animals. We read the Bible for teachings that pertain to our spiritual and moral lives, but what about the outdoor world that lies so close behind the words of God? Read Psalm 8, 19, 14, and 136, all wonderful affirmations of God’s providential care of the natural world.

I turn in my old Bible to Job:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being (12:7-10).

The animals are wiser about God than Job’s friends, who try to be so theologically astute!

Look at Behemoth, which I made as I made you, says the Lord to Job, He is the first of the great acts of God (Job. 40:15a, 19a). At some point in my life, I wrote in the margin, Humans and animals equal. In God’s speech to Job chapters 38-41, God tells Job that, bad as Job’s problems are, the cosmos is far greater. Humans belong within a larger world of the animal kingdom.

I’ve had friends who point out that animals cannot accept Christ. I’d rather say that we don’t know what awareness of God animals may have, or how animals “duly and daily” serve God, as the poet Christopher Smart puts it. Nor do I know if the poet Schiller is right when he writes, in his Beethoven-set poem An die Freude, “even the worm [that is, the lowest of creatures] feels the joy of living” (Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben). But I do know several things from the Bible:

· that Paul assures us that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21)

· that when a bull gave up its life as an offering, the person offering the animal lay his hand upon the animal’s head prior to the sacrifice, connoting a connection between the person and the animal serving him (Lev. 1:3-5).

· that God is concerned about the well-being of animals (the background, for instance, of the cryptic “kosher” law of Ex. 36:29)

· that Jesus promises God’s tenderness for even the lowly birds (Matt. 6:26)

· that Jesus identified with an animal, a sacrificial lamb.

God’s providential care is not just about us human beings: what God’s doing for us, what we should be doing, where we fail, and so on. As God reminded Job in those powerful chapters 38-41, God’s activity covers far more than we can fathom.

That gives us confidence. We know we have a Lord and Savior who doesn’t mind a bit that we’re needy, demanding, and come to him at all hours.

he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:3b-4)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Our kitty cat Oddball passed away Tuesday, June 8. She’d been diagnosed with kidney failure in early April. The doctor recommended daily subcutaneous fluid injections to prolong her life for a few months, so I learned quickly how to stick a needle in a cat. (That job took two people; my wife Beth, and later daughter Emily held kitty, while I did the deed.)

The injections worked very well for several weeks. Our first goal was to prolong Oddball’s life long enough for daughter Emily to return home from college and spend time with her. The major obstacle to that goal, other than her condition itself, was the fact that Oddball had lost a hind leg to cancer in 2005. The handicap had never hampered her--other than preventing her from jumping high, for instance, onto the kitchen counter--but now we feared that, if she lost too much strength, she’d not be able to walk. We really didn’t want to have to put her down, but the loss of the use of her back leg would’ve been the last straw.

It never came to that, fortunately. Oddball stayed pretty strong until the end of May. During her last week she became weak and, for some reason, spent most of the day in the master bathroom, so we brought her food and water in there. She liked lounging in her carrier, so I put that in the bathroom in case she’d like to rest there. Tuesday afternoon I went in to check on her. She shifted hard inside the carrier, so I sat down and stroked her fur. She took three big breaths, and that was all. Emily had cuddled her that morning before going to work, and my wife Beth had just checked on her just a few minutes before I did that afternoon, so we all felt glad that we’d cared for her up till the end and that she died at home.

Oddball was actually our daughter’s cat. Twelve years ago this month, seven-year-old Emily attended a Humane Society camp in Kentucky, where we lived at the time. She announced to us that we really loved this little two-year-old female tabby, already named Oddball. A few days later, we adopted her. In 2000, we moved to Ohio. The vet told us that cats “basically hibernate” during road trips--but this promise became a family joke, because Oddball was squirmy and restless for the two seven hour trip. We lived in Ohio for nine years, then we moved to St. Louis, so we had another road trip with an anxious cat. She did well, however, at the Red Roof Inn where we stopped at the halfway point.

Oddball was not usually anxious. In fact, she had a sweet, calm, and patient personality that vets and vet staff often commented on. She was also a pretty little cat, with a pleasant, oval face. She had a white spot on her stomach, which migrated slightly east but remained when her leg and hip were removed. “She’s the sweetest cat!” people always said. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d say she had achieved enlightenment and peace in a previous life. Her major “relapse” was when we got a second cat, Domino, in 2001. Oddball had come from a household with other cats, so we naively assumed she’d enjoy a buddy. Wrong! She resented the interloper and never really warmed up to him. He became ill in 2005 and we had to put him down, so Oddball returned to being the top cat.

Of course, with any pet that you’ve had for a long time, your mind fills with anecdotes. With cats, you think of a litany of hiding places, times when kitty disappeared so thoroughly you wondered if you had a cat at all, and examples of odd behavior (as in one of these pictures, where Oddball liked to lick soapduds from Emily's bathtub). You also think of the thousands of conversations, jokes, and words of encouragement (“Such a pretty cat, aww, yeah!”) you had over the years with a creature who, presumably, doesn’t understand English (except for recognizing and ignoring some commands). One of Oddballs starring roles was when Emily and a friend did a video for a middle school history class, and Oddball played a puma which attacked a group of Western settlers.

This past Saturday we adopted a new buddy, a tortoise-shell, five-year-old female kitty named Taz. She disappeared for several hours before we realized she was hiding up the chimney. After I closed the flue, however, she settled in and cuddles with us as if she’d lived here forever. In addition to opening a new chapter in our family life, it has helped us enormously to have a new kitty as we continue to reminisce about Oddball and compare the traits of these unique little creatures.