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They Ate Each Other Up

by Tim O'Hearn

The Duel
by Eugene Field

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!
   The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
   Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
   (I wasn't there; I simply state
   What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went " Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Me-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
   While the old Dutch clock in the chimney place
   Up with it hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
   (Now mind: I'm only telling you
   What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, "Oh dear! What shall we do!"
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
   Employing every tooth and claw
   In the awfullest way you ever saw-
And oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
   (Don't fancy I exaggerate!
   I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
   But the truth about the cat and pup
   Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
   (The old Dutch clock, it told me so,
   And that is how I came to know.)

I don’t know how familiar Eugene Field was with either the scriptures or churches. He could easily have gotten the inspiration for his famous duel between the gingham dog and the calico cat from any number of congregations. As much as we like to imagine, or hope, otherwise, the majority of church fights and splits are not over doctrine, but are over personalities. One person barks, the other miaows, and soon there is nothing left of either them or the congregation.

When was the last time you heard of a congregation split over immersion? Who argues these day over whether Jesus came in the flesh or not? Has any congregation really been split recently over the question of whether non-Jewish congregants must be circumcised? Instead we see people leave over whether we need a new building, the color of the carpet or walls, or whether the congregation may clap when it is announced that a member received an award. Even in the first century congregations split over preachers. Most people leave in a huff, and take others with them, because they want things the way they want things. (I am not talking of those who leave a congregation because they will be more comfortable elsewhere. I mean those who actually destroy congregations and reputations over insignificant, non-doctrinal matters.)

Paul called this “I want it my way” attitude “the lust of the flesh.” He even summarizes Eugene Field’s “The Duel.” “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Gal 5:15-16)

Let us never eat each other up. Just because you are a dog person and I am a cat person doesn’t mean we can’t be brothers.