Gene's in his thirties. He's been to prison once and he's facing a second trip, probably for a longer time. It was five years last time. It will be at least seven, maybe fifteen this time. He has a wife, two kids, a job he lost after he stole from the company, and a batch of remorse he's been stirring up for the last few months. He said he'd lost God along the way.
I was curious and so I asked, "What did you do to lose God?"
He hunched his shoulders for a long minute. "I quit going to church. I stopped reading the bible. I started drinking and then I started using again."
"Okay," I nodded, "but exactly how did you lose God?"
More story followed: thinking he could get along without God, getting angry at God, disappointed, upset, trying to do things on his own, never asking for help. In short, he wasn't doing the religious, pious things he was expected to do so that God would never leave him.
He'd never heard of The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson, but I explained briefly the imagery of the poem, a dog chasing a rabbit. It can be a useful example, except it never convinced me. I told Gene, "When it comes to thinking of God as a dog chasing after me, I think of the dog on the Taco Bell commercials, the chihuahua." Gene gave me a look. "I know," I said, "the yappy little dog that just won't shut up." He swallowed a smirk.
"Sounds to me like you've been thinking about God a lot, that you're kind of disturbed about the whole status of your relationship with God." Gene agreed. "So what makes you think that you've left God in the dust? Don't you hear that yapping at your heels?"
Gene cracked up. I suggested he needed to let God out of the box he'd taped up and marked "Religion." Then maybe spend the next few days discovering how God was already present.
When I saw Gene a week later, I asked how he was doing. "Well, God's not the Taco Bell chihuahua for me," he laughed. "More like a red setter."
Good. No need for that Amber Alert for God.