Dog sledding has always fascinated me. My own call of the wild has often involved visions of mushing a dog team through the frozen wilderness. Recently, I lived that dream. I spent two days with Troy Lydiate learning to be a musher for Session 2 of a new video series by Apologetics Canada called BRANDED: A Series on Identity. Our goal with dogsledding was to use the experience as a metaphor to teach what it means to have a communal identity.
Jesus often taught with metaphors found in everyday life. From illustrations found in shepherding, fishing, and construction, to name just a few, Jesus gave simple but profound theological insights from the everyday. Following Jesus’ example, we discussed insights into a communal identity found in dogsledding.
Sled dogs are built for running and, like anyone doing what they love, they are happiest on the trail. A sled dog team can joyfully run up to 145 km in 24 hrs, while pulling 85 pounds of weight – per dog! Not only are they strong, these dogs also have special circulation so that their paws do not get cold. Their fur keeps them so well insulated that their favourite temperature to run in is minus 20 degrees Celsius. Ironically, the greatest strength of a sled dog is also its greatest weakness.
Sled dogs enjoy running together so much that they lose sight of each other. Without a musher overseeing the team, the sled dogs will run to their own peril. Because of this, to lead a dog team, you must be willing to never let go of the sled, no matter the cost. This is referred to as the musher’s motto. You never let go for your safety and, particularly, for the safety of the dogs. Sled dogs only know one speed – full throttle! They run as fast as they can uphill, downhill, and around corners. Without a musher, they will just run – forgetting they are tethered to each other until they become entangled, crash, and are lost.
After spending 20 years in ministry, I can confidently say that people are not so different. People can become so consumed in their own interests that they lose sight of the community they are running with. Although we love relationships, we often love ourselves more. Without God leading us, we will crash and, to our peril, be completely lost. You could say that Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd, but also the Good Musher. He will never let go. God is committed to the journey of life with us, but are we committed to the journey with one another?
In the gospel of Matthew, Chapters 5 through 7, Jesus preached what I call the identity sermon. In Matthew 6, Jesus challenges the religious leaders who have lost sight of the community, for what could be called the 1st Century equivalent of virtue signalling. They had made community all about them. Specifically, Jesus called out those who were giving, praying and fasting primarily to be noticed by others. They cared more about how people perceived them, than God. It wasn’t about community but the self. They had made their faith all about them.
In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches that we should give, pray, and fast with our focus on God. He also gives a famous example of how to pray, called the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve often heard people talk about God being our Father and how the Aramaic word, abba, is a term of intimacy like the English word, daddy. Yet, ironically, we miss the very first word of the prayer – Our. This is a communal prayer, as a family, united by “Our Father.” Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have both a personal relationship with God and a communal relationship with God.
As Jesus leads, he teaches us to take our focus off our self and to put it on God and people. That’s the beauty and challenge of praying for one another: it reminds us that we are running together in community with God and each other. It’s not surprising that Jesus’ prayer includes forgiveness for those times that we have lost sight of the big picture, become entangled, and crashed. Our communal identity is one that is committed to reconciliation. As the Good Musher, God will never let go, no matter the cost – even if that cost is the cross. On the other hand, we can and often do, let go of God and each other. We can forget that we are tethered to one another and that we need each other. United in Christ, we are the Church built on an identity – one that is founded in community and committed to the journey of life together.
You can download Branded: A Series on Identity at: apologeticscanada.com/branded