Give him a mother who was beaten by her father. She'll do the best she can to attack burgeoning manhood in her boys. She'll look at powerful men with contempt and then use her verbal acumen to castrate young male souls. Thereby she condemns a boy's manhood: When she criticizes his father, the boy will struggle with the belief that he's the fruit of defective seed.

Or give him an overprotective parent who fights all his meaningful battles for him.

Give him coaches and teachers who refuse to push him further than he wants to go, or who don't get a kick out of irrepressible and sometimes irresponsible little-guy energy.

We strain our necks to get a glimpse of dogs that exhibit noble masculinity, whether in the Iditarod or in the backseat of a police car. Conversely, masculine-lite dogs lie on laps and shun uncomfortable weather. They cause no man to offer them his respect. Manly, courageous dogs are determined to pack multiple lifetimes into one, very much like manly men.

This same dogged attribute exists in you as well, and it will emerge and thrive if you will go against wrong-headed spiritual training to nurture and grow it.

Our Unnamed Spiritual Need

What is it about a dog that captures us so? Why, for example, is it usually guys in their twenties and early thirties—often an exceedingly fearful time in a man's life (underreported and under-ministered to)—who feel a deep inner need to get a big dog? Children yearn for them too. I read a few years ago that the number one topic kids look up in the encyclopedia is dogs.

I believe it, but why? What is it that captivates us? What quality, what trait, what x-factor are we trying to get from a creature whose bargain includes biting fleas, insidious ticks, smelly carpets, and outrageous vet bills? Is there an element we're trying to graft into our deficient, trivial, boring lives?

There's something that makes the words of animal rights activist Roger Caras ring true: "If you don't have a dog—at least one—there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life."

Many of us, when we get a dog, think that our objective is somehow to make them semi-human. But have you noticed that there's a part of you that longs to be more like them? "The more I see of men," said Madame Jeanne-Marie Roland, "the more I admire dogs." Me too. Some people think animals will be in heaven, and some don't. But I admit that if there are no dogs in heaven, then there's a part of me that wants to go wherever they're headed!

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When Haggis ran away and got lost, he took with him a trait that I could sense I needed as much as I need air. I couldn't name it then. I can name it now.

This name, this container, answers a riddle that plagued me for a long time. Here's an example. A seminary professor's mind can ponder wisdom, order, and justice. His brain can help him to discern the weightier matters of theology and assist him with understanding sacred text in its original language. His heart can affirm what is valuable and beautiful and stir a desire within him to love God, his wife, his children, and his neighbor. It can inspire him to lift his hands toward heaven as he praises God in corporate worship.

But if he has no animating urge, no motivating courage or gumption compelling him to take the risks that are required to create and establish justice, he becomes a paper lion, a punch line, a cautionary tale. If he has no fire burning in his belly, no tenacity to inflate his chest and lungs, he won't be able to withstand, genuinely and authentically, the turmoil that accompanies the realities of loving people on earth or God in heaven.

What good is such a person who earnestly studies God with his mind, sincerely praises him from his heart, but fails to actualize either his thoughts or his emotions? Where is his fiery faith put into being—which, by the way, is something God expects from us? What if a man does not labor to put feet on the good desires born in his head and heart? Doesn't that make him the noisy gong that the apostle Paul denounces? Isn't he what James would call a talker but not a doer?