Friday, August 18, 2017

Monuments and Statues

It is still unclear to me how we moved from the current cultural discord to the taking down all the Confederate statues. I guess last weekend when I took a sabbatical from the news and the world the argument shifted to these symbols that represented a fairly short period time in the human experiment. And the arguments are compelling on both sides; the statues represent oppression and slavery, and/or they represent our slice of our cultural history. Who decides to take them down? And the argument rages on.

This morning in the midst of my disciplines I was trying to focus on something else, but the prompting to think about this cultural argument kept cropping up and disrupting what I had planned to do. If you have spent time in meditation and reflection you know how annoying this can be. Finally I gave up and simply let my mind wander and wonder about all this.

There was finally a moment of clarity when I decided that all the monuments should come down. Although I had a great grandfather who fought with the confederacy, I realized that I had no allegiance to the statues. My historical family was comprised of people who apparently found it easier (and more fun?) to have a bunch of kids to do the back breaking work of farming. So we owned no slaves. So why should I care about the statues? It was a bit disconcerting to realize how many Confederate memorials there are in north Texas. You know why it surprised me? Because I had never visited a single one.

And while we are at it, lets take down the 10 Commandment monuments as well. They do not represent me. At no time in my life have I lived under the Law. It was written to about 4 million ragtag Hebrew slaves because they couldn't get along with each other, or their leaders, or their god. My tribe claims to have moved beyond these symbols of times gone by. Why should I or any of us find reason to argue over a monument?

But the explanations above do not reflect what I think is important. What is important is that we find a way to coexist in a reasonable and charitable manner. Will the tearing down of these monuments and statues help us find a place of reasonable dialog? Can we best show accommodation by arguing or lending a hand in taking down something that is offensive to someone else? How can we show people we desire relationship with each other over winning and argument?  In my opinion when we value statues over people we have turned them from statues to idols. And the history of my worldview is a constant reminder against that very thing.

The arguments against what I have said above is already exploding in some heads. "But they will just keep taking and taking and taking!!"
Probably. But here is the key; they can't take more than we can give. Think about that. At some point they will be satiated in their anger, and we will still have more to give them.

There is a final issue from my thoughts this morning. We are making history now. What monument or statue can we raise so that the generations behind us can look at them for inspiration, for guidance, for reassurance? What is our legacy? Hatred? Strife? Violence? Vitriol?
Or can it be compassion, accommodation, truth, mercy, tolerance?

Godspeed to the peacemakers, for you will be called Children of God. A God of peace and compassion.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Voice of Reason

Over the weekend I worked alone at our place called The Patch. No radio, no TV, no FB. My phone stayed on so I could talk to my bride and text with our kids and friends. But other than that I was isolated and intentionally alone.

This post began to brew over a year ago with the ambush of the police officers in Dallas. But there have been almost daily events since then that have brought the question to my mind over and over. In this time frame our country seems to have hit a new level of hatred and violence and intolerance. On all sides. People hurt, people killed, all sides hate and loath the other side. Rhetoric is gaining vitriol as never before. And the blame is being spread across the entire culture. It simply does not matter which side you are on, you will have some of the blame splashed across you. It's Trump's fault, no it's BLM fault, no it's Alt-right fault, no, no, no.

And in this moment where are the voices of reason? Where are the men and women of higher calling to point us upward and outward? Where are those who will call us to be our best selves? It seems we had some of those in our history.

JFK "If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can make a world safe for diversity." "

MLK "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

Abraham Lincoln "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer "The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves it children."

And as I look back across this list of men with higher expectations I realize that each died at the hands of those who most fiercely hated. Is it our DNA and destiny that we ignore the voices of reason? Is the voice of reason only heard in the aftermath of the destruction? Will we only listen when all else has failed? When we have shed enough blood on both sides? When we have ignored our noble being to destroy those who disagree?

If there was a guarantee that out of the debris of destruction that man's nobler side would emerge, then I would encourage the final destruction so my grandkids and their kids could live in a world where words like mercy, compassion, integrity, moral strength, helpfulness and honor would be the defining words of the culture. Sadly our history does not point to that sort of redemption. Our history points to a continual spiral towards hate and sectarianism, bloodshed and oppression. The good old days were no more forgiving than the new old days.

Perhaps there is not a national stage in which the voice of reason can be heard. No one is listening. So perhaps the voice of reason is spoken quietly, at bedtime into the ears and the minds of those we are chartered to mature. Maybe somewhere in those still moments of bedtime we can whisper the words of wisdom, be the voice of reason in a world gone mad. Frankly, I see no other venue. Schools are a battle zone, churches are politically co-opted, government can no longer govern because of partisanship. Home is the last moment of sanity. And the true moral disgrace is to fill those young heads full of the same hate and bigotry and violence that our culture seems so fond of. Perhaps the voice of reason that I long for is simply my voice, spoken quietly to the ones who will listen.

Godspeed to you young parents. It is my hope and prayer that you will be a stronger voice of reason than my generation ever was.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wind and Rain

This past weekend my bride headed to Lubbock for a wedding shower, leaving me to my own devices here at the Patch. For months I have been stripping the limbs from the juniper and cedar logs (saving the logs) and building several burn piles. These burn piles burn fast and hot. So I have to wait until everything is soaked from rain and a calm day before I set one ablaze. The lesson here is that levelheaded wives should not leave their husbands at home all weekend with a lighter, a can of kerosene, and a burn pile. The temptation is simply too great.

The pile will burn down to just the stumps in about 9 minutes. Nothing survives within a 40' radius for those first 9 minutes. The BTU's from cedar is off the charts. But after the 9 minutes it down to just the stumps and the root balls of dirt they are attached to. These normally will smolder for days.

But Saturday, at almost dusk another small thunderstorm blew through. If you know anything about Texas summer thunderstorms they are rush in with a high wind, blow horizontal rain for about 30 minutes, light up the sky with numerous lightening strikes which also cause almost a continual roll of thunder. One lightening strike was so bright, with the instant boom that I felt the compression in my chest and wondered if it had hit somewhere in the Patch and I just didn't see it.

Here is what I noticed. As I watched, the stumps that I thought had burned down began to glow a fierce and bright hot red. The wind continued to whip across those burning stumps and even fanned alive flames that had been dormant for most of the day. My incredulity grew as I realized that the rain was having no effect at all on the renewed flames! The wind was creating the fuel needed to burn brighter and brighter in the face of the rain that should have been destroying the fire once and for all. I had never seen this before. Rain always triumphs over the fire, or so I thought. But this fire had the ally of the wind, even though the rain rode on the shoulders of the wind, it could not extinguish the fire.

So my mind began to reorganize the events of the fire and of my life. The flame sometimes lies dormant waiting on the wind to refuel the fire. But the wind also brings rain. I realized that what I expect when the wind freshens and I experience some renewal of the fire within, that the rain will stay away. Not so. I think the rain comes, but is ineffective because the wind carries the very thing needed to renew. And while the wind may cause the stumps to be consumed faster, it seemed like a good trade. To have the fire hot and fresh rather than smoldering and hidden. The stumps were still hot to the touch 2 days later.

There are several analogies to found here and I will let you find your own. It still amazes me when the Creator chooses to show me something from His own hand. He has decided there is still fire here that needs to be bright and hot, at least for a time.

Godspeed to those out there looking to rekindle a smoldering spark. The wind will come, it will bring some rain, but the renewal will be a life, a fire of significance.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Sweet Notes

Today is my Dad's 95th birthday. We had a family reunion/birthday party at the new place on Saturday with little furniture, muddy yard, and cousins (some familiar, some new). There had been the enormous task of getting ready with chairs and reformulation of crowd control due to the rain the day before. It was a moment of intense preparation with everybody kicking in and helping out.
We had at least 65 people with a range of ages from a couple of months to my dad. It was loud and messy and busy. The bathrooms got a workout, the kitchen and living room were filled, there was a steady stream of kids up and down the stairs, in and out the doors. Dad handled it all pretty well. Ambient noise renders his hearing aids worthless, so everything had to be repeated time and again. I'm sure he struggled with the identity of all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids.
In the midst of all a sweet lady from a another life ago sent a note to my son-in-law to pass along to Dad. In the midst of the storm, the cleanup, and the wind down I did not see it until last night. I've attached the note.


I met Nell & Grady Jolly shortly after my husband died (1975). Highland Church of Christ had a bus ministry. Each bus had bus captains and they were on the route where I lived.  Every Saturday morning they would knock-doors. It was on one of these Saturday mornings that I met Nell and Grady.  This meeting changed my life, as well as my entire family’s life.

I remember how sincere and caring they were, but most of all I remember Nell’s smile and kind eyes.  She had a gentleness and strength that is difficult to put into words.

They shared Christ with me and invited me and my children to church.  I declined.  They then asked me if my children could attend.  I was ready to say no, but there was something about their sincerity that changed my mind.  They assured me the bus would pick my children up and bring them back at my front door.  So I decided to let them go.  Nell never gave up on me and never missed an opportunity to share Christ.

Thanksgiving night of that same year, my children spent the night with relatives.  I was alone and had a sort of crying episode. I felt so alone and so forsaken by God. I could not think of anyone to call but then I remembered Nell.  I called the Jolly’s and spoke to Nell.  They came to my home.  I only wanted to talk to Nell.  She came in alone. She comforted me as only a Christian could do and I got through it.

There was something about Nell that I could not explain at that time. I now believe that I saw Gods love for me in her eyes.

There is not a past history of the Church of Christ in my family system, but when I think of the Church and how I am a member I remember Nell.

As a result of Nell and Grady Jolly’s dedication to the cause of Christ and how they allowed Christ to ministry through them, I, my children, and their families are members of the Church and my son is a dedicated elder.

Jacqueline Williams
The note came at a moment in time when I remembered Mom's passing in May 1982 from cancer, and Dad's birthday today, barely a month between. It took me back to the big blue busses. The canvassing on Saturdays. The constant work to corral all the kids from the busses who didn't live on our side of town, or look like us, or think like us. The moment included the intense pride I had/have in my dad and my mom that they were decades ahead of the social involvement it takes to beat racism and the constant criticism they took from church members and neighborhood members.
Dad is a simple guy. And he is not distracted by politics and religion. He and Mom saw something that needed to be done and he recruited help and money and dedicated his time to the mission.
Was all that worth it? See above. You tell me. It is easy to condemn the church in a lot of situations and rightfully so. But when you see a story about someone who saw a need, would not be dissuaded and fulfilled the need. And helped make the "church" change to respond to the need. It makes me proud.
Godspeed to all who simply do the right thing. Who leave a legacy of work, hope, compassion, and lives changed. He is my hero.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Listening to Different Voices

My new habit at the new place is to grab a mug of coffee, slip through the door, and find a porch chair to settle into. Our little island is surrounded by cedars and oaks and hackberrys and elms and makes for secluded and private escape. The sun slowly creeps over the tree line to the east and lights the trees from the very tip top and slowly makes it way down to the ground. It is s peaceful, relaxing moment. Made especially nice because I leave the cell phone in the house and am shut off from the world and the intrusion it causes.

But I am not alone out there. The aviary apparently has a much earlier alarm than I would have guessed. It usually starts with the crows. Their morning conversation is loud and raucous. They jeer and squawk at each other at full volume. Caws are rusty and raspy and incessant.
Pretty soon the mourning doves kick in with their cooing. A subtle and amazing tune that at first earned them their name, but now I tend to think of it as morning note, not a mourning note. But I can see where they earned their name. Cooing through and under the crows loud noise.
Mockingbirds chime in about that time with a repeated three or four note call. Varying very little each time with the same note repeated four or five times at the end. With a little work I can get close to their call. Not sure what I am saying, but they keep coming back to me with the same tune.
And underneath it all is a soft tune I can't quite put my finger on. It is by far the sweetest, but almost lost in the cawing, the cooing, and the calling. And it is not there every morning. Some mornings it is early and chimes right in, other times it is absent. But I find myself listening for it. For some reason that song speaks to me more than the others and it is the rarest and hardest to hear. When it happens it creates a space of peace and calm.

One morning not too long ago it occurred to me that this symphony of bird calls is reflected in my life. The harsh, insistent call of work and demands and pressures caws and squawks and demands my attention. It is never ending, every day, all day. It presses my mind and heart and my soul.
And, as my bride will tell you, there is a small stream of sadness wending it's way through my life. Perhaps I have been wounded or have done the wounding and can't easily escape the scars. It is always there, sort of a mournful sound underlying all the other noise of the daily grind.
Also there, due to some life shift a few years ago is the need to have a repeated song in my life. Disciplines that lend a steadiness that would otherwise swallowed up by the restiveness and the bleakness.

But there is a another song. Not often heard. A song of peace and calm. A song of hope and joy. Straining to hear over the blaring world, the tattered heart, the dulling routine, is the song of tomorrow. When the old book tells us of the voice of God it usually comes in the form of a whisper. Not often heard. But sweetest in note.

My struggle is to be able to hear the best and sweetest song of all. Distraction pulls me away from the art of listening. But maybe if I spend more time on my porch with my coffee and my thoughts the song will get easier to hear. Maybe that is where the life of hope is headed.

Godspeed to everyone who can hear all the songs and realize that each is needed. But I hope that you and me can also hear the sweetest one yet. Above all the others.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A World Away

Last night I had the very special opportunity to eat dinner with four of my greatest treasures, 3 granddaughters and 1 grandson. It was the usual mix of requests for water, the normal turf battles over dining chairs, and the spill zone was larger than usual. Afterwards was the always exciting bath times, reading a book before bed and prayers. Oh, and the agonizingly slow getting pajamas on by a 2-year-old who insisted she could do it herself. Grandaddies drink these moments in like a thirsty plant in the desert.

Another part of my day was spent in a trustees meeting at Global Samaritan Resources where we discussed an event to be held in Abilene on March 25. It was the usual discussion of logistics and money and personnel. But running like a low current under it all was the urgency and passion of these men and women to help others that they did not know, nor would ever meet. But the goal is simple, feed those who are trapped in refugee camps who would rather go home, or as a second resort to go somewhere safe. But trapped and starving in extreme and dangerous situations.

The arguments for and against immigrants has been more than vetted. Even American Christianity can't seem to find any middle ground. Some oppose all immigration for security sake. Others promote full immigration status to all and work out the security later. And there seems to be someone spouting any point in between. In this sense we are a divided nation, and a divided Christian world view. It is not my intent or desire to argue any of these points. Everyone has a found an opinion that works for them and I haven't the skills to persuade otherwise.

But the Christian world view calls for us to help. I think James said that religion that God finds pure and faultless is to look after the orphans and widows. On that we can all agree. So Global Samaritan has found a way to help that does not alter the security of our loved ones.

Global Samaritan Resources acquires and supplies fortified food in boxes. Each holds 216 servings of life-sustaining meals. Or to put it in human terms,  enough food for a family of 6 for a month. A Month. This is the first level of Christian help by Global Samaritan. Instead of saying, "Be fed and filled, I'm praying for you." Global Samaritan is putting food on the plate, sent with prayer and hope.

The second level is genius. Local church kids, local school kids, local grandkids, local kids of all sorts and status are invited to come and decorate the boxes. To send a message around the world to other kids that they are loved and thought of and prayed for. The creativity is unleashed on these boxes by kids for kids. The lesson here is that there is another kid somewhere in the world who cares and loves these refugee kids. Do you see the teaching moment happening?

And the third level is just as vital as all the rest, but far more subtle. Scripture tells us that good overcomes evil, not the other way around. We will never be able to bomb ISIS into understanding our love for them or the world. But we can provide food and hope and prayer for the true victims in all this. The refugee kids did nothing to deserve this except to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if we can provide a moment of compassion it will destroy the world of hate they have come to know. And we do it with a beautifully painted and created box that costs $50 to develop.

As I watched 4 of my 7 grandkids last night eating well, playing with their cousins, and sleeping safe I thought of another 63 year old grandfather. A grandfather who is perhaps watching his grandkids go without another meal, to see them try to sleep with no food, no warmth, no rescue. And the panic rises in me about what I would do and think. What ways could I help with no resources? It is at that moment that a box arrives, colorfully painted with food. And I would praise whatever God brought this salvation to my greatest treasures. Grandaddies everywhere know the gratitude when someone takes a moment and cares. And I would lift a silent Thank You to that other granddaddy who took a moment and few dollars to send a moment of peace.

Godspeed to all the kids who will decorate, the parents and grandparents who will donate, and to a God who fills us with compassion instead of self interest.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Caring for a Memory

Over the past couple of years I have been helping my dad with his finances (checkbook, making sure the bills are paid, advocating for him with the investment people, etc). Dad is still aware, but has experienced an emerging confusion about how to deal with all this. So once a month I go in and visit and balance his check book and ward off the "leaches" that attach themselves to seniors.
His emotional progression has been from being angry at himself about not being able to keep track. The most common phrase, "You don't know what it like to be stupid!" And all my assurances that he is not stupid, but is just entering another phase. He was aware of his lapses in memory and ability discern the changing world and it made him mad. Now he doesn't realize he has asked the same questions over and over in just the last few minutes. So our visits have become an endless conversation loop about the same concerns he seems to be focused on at the moment. The upside is that he no longer gets angry about forgetting, because he doesn't realize he has forgotten.

For those who don't know him or remember him from years ago, it is hard to realize the difference. Until the last few years he was a funny, accommodating, ACTIVE guy, with no deceit in him at all. To my chagrin I have fallen far short of this model. He always had something going and was looking for new things to do. His common directive to me as a kid was, "While you are resting, you need to...." and give me chore to do. I never realized I spent that much time "resting".

My emotional journey through this has been another matter. Over the past few years I have become the one "directing" and he was the one responding. The role shift was painful. There is something in me that still wants to be the good son, to be obedient, to emulate the best aspects of my dad. To have him proud of me. And to be the one who has to shift him away from what he wants to do and be feels is in direct conflict with the "good son" perception.

We are moving he and his wife to an assisted living facility. A move he has made clear he does not want to make. And for the first time in decades we are in direct conflict about the direction of his life. The decisions being made are for the first time for me a direct violation of the obedient son model. And it is painful for me as well as for him.

I have noticed in myself a very gradual slide after each visit towards depression about the decisions I am having to make. And after this last visit, while eating dinner with my bride, I broke down completely. Surprising us both. But it made me wonder why this was so difficult? Everyone goes through this at some point. Part of the answer seemed to be buried somewhere in the knowledge that I was struggling with the two versions of my dad. The version I have known for the first 60 years of my life would never have needed or tolerated this intrusion by me. But the last 2-3 years have shown me another version of my dad. The one I am helping is confused, he is less capable physically. He needed my help. But this is not the dad that I grew up with.

So I am caring for a memory. When he is finally gone, I will not reflect on this current version. My memories will swirl around the funny guy that always found chores for me, the guy who would be moving before my mother or his current wife could finish a request of him, the guy who was always working outside, The guy who believed that God wanted him to do something, the guy who never said anything negative about anyone. The decisions now being made are in honor of the first version, in honor of all he has meant to me. Realizing this has lifted the depression a bit.
So to honor the first version, I care for the current one.

Godspeed to all out there who have gone through this. You have my respect. Growing up is not very much fun.