You may have happened upon this column, hopefully enjoyed it, and perhaps wondered about the title — Raccoon Theology. So, I figure every now and then I should explain my philosophy, which I hope will be clear after you read this column today.

The Gospels show God—wrapped in human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth — interested in our everyday experiences; our hopes and dreams, our disappointments. It’s down-to-earth theology, like my raccoon experience. Read on — and maybe you’ll meet the Stranger of Galilee in some form today.

I met one of my oddest friends on a foliage trip to New England years ago. We came across a shop where the artist created wonderfully carved animals in human poses. I was quite taken by a carved raccoon, standing with one hand in his overalls’ pocket and the other holding up a sign which could be changed to say whatever you wished. I liked the little guy and bought him. Now he stands patiently at the front door with a sign welcoming visitors.

Not long after he became our doorkeeper, it was close to dusk one day when I got home. “I’m glad you got home before dark,” said my wife. “Come look — somebody’s eating our house!” She took me outside, and we could see that something — or somebody — had indeed been eating the bottom row of roof shingles. I couldn’t believe it, but there it was — our roof was being eaten away!

It’s funny how a sight like holes eaten in your roof can sharpen your memory. We remembered the pitty-pat of tiny feet on the roof over our bedroom. What about a raccoon? But if we haven’t seen any raccoons in the years we have lived in this house, would this be raccoons? And then the thought crept in: you don’t suppose my little overalls-wearing, sign totin’ raccoon friend is cavorting around after hours ... or is he?

Maybe we’re being invaded by a gang of his friends. Nah; this is an orderly world where wooden raccoons don’t become real ones ... or do they? After all, C. S. Lewis has a wonderful essay in which he says that the essence of Christianity is that we Christians are toy soldiers, and there is a rumor going around that someday we’re going to come alive.

It was all-out war. I borrowed “catch ‘em alive” traps from a church member and proceeded on the assumption that I was after squirrels, cats, possums or some other terrifying beast. Careful examination of various bait options revealed that sardines smelled bad enough to do the job. Mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for the night when we heard the sound of tiny feet on the roof. A dash to the window with flashlight in hand revealed a bare trap.

Another half-hour brought the sound of a sardine tin rattling against the wire cage (hollering for more, I reckoned as I jumped out of bed). Again the flashlight, and this time the yard floodlights were also turned on — “stand still, we’ve got you covered, you varmint!” And would you believe it; there he was, the cookie monster of our roof, glaring balefully at me from beyond his mask. Ringed tail and Lone Ranger mask, sans overalls, there he stood — a first cousin of my sign-totin’ wooden raccoon friend.

What to do with this nocturnal roof-hopping, shingle-eating bandit? Kill him? Give him to someone who will turn him into stew? Or take him several miles away and turn him loose?

Without really thinking it through, I responded: “For the sake of the raccoon on the front porch, I’m going to turn him loose!” And then it hit me. It may be raccoon theology, but it has the ring of Gospel truth: “Because of that one — let this one go free.” And so I carried that little bandit several miles away and let him go . . .

For the sake of the one who died on the cross, there is the possibility of all us sinners going free. But unlike my masked friend, it takes repentance on our part.

Earl Davis’ column “Raccoon Theology” appears biweekly in The Blowing Rocket. Dr. Davis is an artist, earldavisfineart.com, and has an exhibit presently at the Seby Jones Regional Cancer Center. He is also pastor of the Middle Fork Baptist Church Blowing Rock, streaming on Facebook and YouTube, and can be contacted at earlcdavis@bellsouth.net

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