When walking a Great Dane one hears a very a typical range of remarks. Upon hearing them I frequently think of something my mom was fond saying: “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that!” There’s Letterman-like top ten list that any owner of a Great Dane knows well; “What kind of dog is that?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much does he eat..?” High on the list are the equestrian quips: “It’s a horse!” “Where’s his saddle?” My Great Dane, Lola, often elicits questions about pedigree: “He’s not all Great Dane, is he?” “Is he a purebred?” I answer such questions in the affirmative with a subtle but important correction: “Yes, she is.”
Lola is indeed a purebred Great Dane but her modeled coloring, called Merle, apparently makes some people question her authenticity. The website for the American Kennel Club describes six acceptable colors for Danes and Merle is not among them. Merle’s can be registered as purebreds with the AKC (which Lola is) but they aren’t considered to be “show stock.” To this day the club’s website describes Merles as ‘less desirable;’ some breeders used to euthanize merle colored Danes at birth because they were (and still are) less valuable.
Sometimes we talk about pedigree in the church. Less often than was true in the past there was a time when lifelong members of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. would introduce themselves as purebreds, as it were. I’m a “cradle Episcopalian,” they’d say – Episcopalian by birth!
As for my denominational coloring I’m a mutt, a mongrel, a mixed breed; Roman Catholic by baptism but Episcopalian by ordination – not a purebred! In fact, two of the three clerics at St. Alban’s are mutts.
If people are like dogs this could be a good thing. Mixed breeds are less susceptible to genetic faults and tend to be more even-tempered. Despite one’s relative perspective regarding my or my colleague Deborah’s dispositions (or our colleague Matthew’s pedigree as a cradle Episcopalian!) I hope it’s fair to say that we are lucky that being a purebred isn’t a necessary prerequisite for membership in the church. It’s also a good thing that we don’t greet newcomers by asking them if they are purebreds or wondering aloud, because of the way they look, if they are all or just part Episcopalian. I like it when people describe the Episcopal Church as having a big tent; our diversity enriches us.
Those of us who are mongrels in the church are in good company. Saul, the ill-tempered Pharisee from Tarsus, became St. Paul the Apostle and the champion mutt of the church. And, being all-inclusive, where would we be without those purebreds who despite their authentic lineage challenge us to accept new colors? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners… he’s a glutton and a drunkard!”
I often end my evenings by taking Lola to the Cathedral Close. I’ve never, ever, seen her like a place as much. She runs and romps and I swear I can see a smile on her face (I think she actually considers the Close to be “her” yard). Sometimes I wonder what it is about the Close that she loves so much. Why does she feel so at home there? The only answer I can conjure is that she is at home there – she’s in a place that doesn’t question her pedigree but celebrates who she is and loves her just as she is.