It started with a joke.

A dog says, "You pet me, you feed me, you love me, you must be God."

A cat says, "You pet me, you feed me, you love me, I must be God."

When evangelist Bob Sjogren (pronounced "show grin") of Richmond, Va., heard the punchline, he had an "Ah-ha!" moment.

"That's it," he says. "That's the American church. There's a tidal wave of me-ism out there."

Or, to put it in pet terms, there's too much catlike self-centeredness and not a lot of doggie glorifying of God.

That's a major thesis of "Cat & Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship With Our Master," (2003, Gabriel Publishing, $12.99) a book which Sjogren wrote with his friend, Gerald Robison.

Since then, they've also created a DVD that churches, like Newark United Methodist Church in Newark, Del., have used in adult education classes.

With autumn being a season when lots of churches draw in new people with new programming, Haig Stubblebine of Newark United believes the dog and cat metaphor stimulates plenty of interest.

"There's a little bit of dog and cat in each of us," says Stubblebine, who recently led an eight-part series on the topic at the church.

The authors agree.

With so many pets in so many homes, people tend to smile at the analogy. Cats tend to be aloof and self-centered. Dogs are warm and have no trouble looking to a higher authority.

But, to the authors, the analogy goes further. Cats are like Christians who always want to feel blessed and feel that life is fair.

But, what if a person's life becomes like Job's in the Bible? He was a good man, but he lost his wealth, possessions, friends and family.

Sjogren wonders how many would remain faithful to God in similar circumstances.

"Every Christian wants to glorify God with a blessed life," he says. "But few of us say, 'Let me glorify God' in whatever suffering comes. We won't give God permission to take everything away."

For many, he says, "our faith is 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. Most church members pray for three minutes a day, most pastors for five minutes.

"When we do, what's on our minds? We want a bigger house, a nicer car, a prettier spouse.

"We want to get from birth to death in an easy way. Well, I've got news for you — that's cat, cat, cat. And it may not be what life has in store."

"So we might want to think about changing this me-ology to a theology that makes room for everything life offers, even when it's tragedy and loss."

It's not that wanting a blessed life is wrong, he says, it's just not a complete view of how God might decide to glorify a life.