Dr. Lillian Daniel: Blamed, Shamed, and Framed

Most grandmothers teach their grandchildren how to make cookies. My grandmother taught me how to make a gin and tonic. That was the easy part. What was hard was getting the gin bottle out from inside the raw chicken, where it was hidden in the fridge. A card carrying eccentric with a devilish sense of humor, seldom without a Pall Mall cigarette in her hand, she was a great fan of an outfit you seldom see anymore: the psychedelic caftan.

My grandmother had a badly behaved dog named Amos, who was known to knock over her neighbor's trash cans in the middle of the night, leaving them to clean up a mess of tin cans and old food. She denied it was her dog, but there were witnesses. The neighbors were relieved when Amos finally passed away. There would be peace in the valley.

But just two days after Amos's death, the neighbors awoke to find trash and garbage everywhere. And then about a week later, the same thing again.

Clearly, this was not Amos. The community, in their smug superiority, had been so quick to judge the eccentric woman with the odd habits, and in turn her eccentric dog.

In those weeks after Amos' death, when they cleaned up their garbage, they began to wander over to her driveway one neighbor at a time, and speak a few awkward words of apology. "We were just certain it was Amos," they said. "I mean, we saw him out there once or twice."

Years later, someone in our family actually spied the creature that was knocking over trashcans, a very rare species of scavenger heretofore unknown in the small Southern town. It was a Pall Mall-smoking, lace bathrobe-wearing grandmother, sneaking out every few months at 3 a.m. to knock over her neighbor's trashcans and avenge the memory of Amos, years after his death.

For she would not be judged. Even though she was wrong, she would make them wrong, too. But of course, none of that made it right.

And it didn't work for her in the end either. I mean, who wants to be out 3 a.m. knocking over garbage? There have to be better things to do with our time.

Jesus once said, "I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."

My hunch is that he sees all of us in our cycles of blame and shame, and waits patiently for us to save each other. There are worse things than garbage-eating dogs. We human beings can inflict more pain than we can imagine, but we also have a much stronger power: to love one another as God has loved us.

[Originally posted 7/13/11 on Huffington Post Religion. Used by permission.]