Me: "Not a house rat. It's too skinny. And look at the coarse hair. This one's wild."

We savor the word wild....

Garrett, my thirteen-year-old: "There's no blood. Haggis must have got him and snapped his neck."

Elliot, my fifteen-year-old: "Yeah, Filly usually chews the heads off. You can hear it at night if your door's open." (Filly is our American shorthair cat, a beautiful, natural-born hunter, but one whose tougher nature is unemployable for noble means.)

Abby, my eleven-year-old, with her hands still over her eyes, provides a two-tiered alibi for our other cat. "Hobbes slept in my room last night. Besides, she's a weenie. I love her, but it's true. She can't kill anything." (Somehow, in Hobbes's puny brain, wires are crossed. Instead of bringing us vermin, she delivers leaves, twigs, rubber frogs, and at her best, crunchy dragonflies.)

Hardwired Courage

A dog's courage can be a real pain. For example, we have to sneak into our own backyard, soundlessly, or else Haggis bursts forth, on Secret-Service-level alert, sniffing every molecule of air for any whiff of evil and, often, barking on a rampage from border to border, warding off imaginary foes. Though he's doing his job with bravado and gusto, sometimes we wish he'd take a chill pill.

Sometimes a boy's burgeoning courage can be a real pain as well. I have coached boys for nearly fifteen years. I've written before about the times when it's tempting to kill their manly fire—to squash it, to "break its neck" in order to sidestep disruption and achieve the highly popular state of "compliant comfort." We neuter them early nowadays.

Once I inherited a courageous player from a fellow coach who didn't want him, who didn't see what his born leadership could do, could become. This was the age-old ruse of painting the courageous one as the black sheep.

"He's a dangerous player," the coach told other coaches. But what he and most of our culture consider dangerous, people of eras less obsessed with status-quo comfort have lauded as spirited and vigorous. Though this player was being labeled a "hothead," I noticed that he had never been thrown out of a game (unlike other "more respectable" players).

This boy who was once slandered and reviled became part of the backbone of my team. His spirit and his will didn't need breaking, but direction. Let me tell you this: He's the kind of young man who someday will have the guts, unlike his cattle-herd peers, to stand up and, like a prophet, say NO! on behalf of the oppressed and the weak. He's the white knight our society pegs wrongly as the black sheep because we've forgotten that it takes inner heat—not a big toothy grin—to do the right thing.

When I say things like this in church, it's usually only the oddballs, sadly, who give an amen. In today's timid culture, our average neighborhood church is largely made up of mild people searching for Bible verses to sanctify mildness. Courage as a liability? It is, in our commonly distorted understanding of why we're here, of how we were made, of what we're charged to do.

*

We were preparing for a 700 Club interview in our home one morning when Haggis somehow slipped out the front door unnoticed. We couldn't find him, and immediately it was hard to keep my mind on anything else. All I could really think about was Haggis, out there by himself. What if he gets hit by a car? What if he's attacked by bigger dogs? ...

That evening, Elliot and I sat on our front porch, weeping.

Elliot: "He's such a friendly dog. What if someone takes advantage of him?"

Me: "I hope he's not hurt."

Elliot, with heat in his eyes: "If someone hurts him, I'll kill 'em!"

*

My evangelical Protestant upbringing has had me well trained in what it thinks an ideal Christian, especially a man, should be. I'm still a regular Pavlov's dog sometimes, and I hate it. Right there, instinctively, like an old biddy with perfectly coiffed blue-gray hair, with shame-dripping lips ready to pounce on any infraction, I almost launched into a tsk, tsk, tsk lecture of disapproval against my son. I would have corrected his strong language, admonished him that "anger will get you nowhere," and dropped any number of blah-blah-blah warnings a Christian man is supposed to pass on to his sons.