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When I was five and a half years old, I remember vividly one cold dreary late Fall afternoon, my mother crying in the kitchen. There were numerous grocery bags on the kitchen counters, but she was too distraught to put them away. My father came home early from work that day to console her and put away what I didn’t know at the time, were items for our Thanksgiving dinner. President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas earlier that day.
In the Spring of my tenth year, we lived in a small prairie town in northeast Mississippi. On the night of April 4th, 1968, the news broke that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed just up the road in Memphis. The town was already on edge because the public schools were in the early process of Federally forced integration. Bombs were set off at the courthouse by angry and distressed crowds. Our parents kept calm and assured my two younger brothers and me, everything would be OK, but how could they know?
Later that summer, we visited my mother’s parents in a small town in Iowa. Grandpa Ben owned a small grocery store, and I was his chief helper. I remember being glued to the small black and white TV he had in the store, watching the agonizing events of June 5th, 1968, from Los Angeles as we witnessed the President’s brother, Bobby Kennedy slowly pass away, from another assassin’s bullet.
They say a child’s most formative years are between the ages of four and eleven. For my most formative years, three twentieth-century American icons were gunned down in the prime of their lives. I know that had a life-long impact on me.
So, what can we to do as our nation today is so divided? And those in office seem to fuel that divide for their own personal gain? How do we limit the anger and fear and sadness for our youngest generation; for today’s four to eleven-year-olds? Pray for moderation? Pray for patience? Listen? Learn? Yes, to all those and one more thing. We can vote.
We can vote for candidates who show tolerance and moderation, and patience, and who listen and learn from their successes and failures. Is a candidate telling you what they want to do to make our country better, or are they making a scapegoat of some group of people, blaming them for all our problems? Let’s elect candidates who will solve problems, not ones that just name them and blame them on some ethnic, or political group.
It’s not too late to exercise that right today and bring our country back together, to a center, from the fringes of Left and Right ideologies. Our children, and grandchildren are watching. Will they look back someday and remember a world of angry name-calling, fear-mongering, and divisions? Or will they remember a thoughtful nation, of compassion, generosity and unity? Those memories last a life time. What will they remember you doing? You can start by making a stand today. The polls are open. Go make a difference.
When I first became a father, I thought I had a glimpse of what it must be like to see with the eyes of God. Holding my newborn sons, two years apart, while gazing down on them in my arms gave me the greatest sense of wonder and joy, and peace. And love! While no human experience can match exactly the infinite love that is God, for me parenting was a good start. And then I became a grandparent; now, that gets me miles and miles closer to what God must feel about us, his children!
When I look at my three and five year-old grandsons, whether they are playing quietly on the floor with their Paw Patrol characters, or wholly engaged in “The Incredibles” for the second time on a Friday night, or fighting madly over a piece of candy one stole from the other’s backpack, or sleeping soundly in a nest of blankets on the guest futon for a “pend-the-night” Saturday night at GiGi’s, I see them as pure joy. I see them in what Thomas Merton called, their True-Selves.
The True-Self, is the naked, transparent, vulnerable, joyful, guileless, giving, receiving, loving person God called from eternity, in each one of us, his children. It matters not where, when, how, or under what circumstances one was born. It matters not that the True-Self may not be visible to anyone, or even sometimes to yourself. It’s there. God planted it in you, and no matter what you do, it will always be there. God’s open and eternal invitation to you, is to discover and live your True-Self. When you do that, according to Merton, you will find God.
Do not confuse True-Self with someone’s true colors or that’s who they really are when referring to some less-than-perfect person you may know. After all we all act imperfectly at one time or another. No, one’s True-Self is perfect. God made it, and God doesn’t make mistakes or malfunctioning human spiritual hardware. We each start from perfection, and then God gives us the wheel, and allows us to make our own decisions and choices. That’s where we either stray or stay within our True-Self.
With my grandfather eyes, I most often see my two grandsons as the perfect little souls that God made them to be, their True-Selves, regardless of the occasional fights, slipped naughty word, runny noses, incessant requests for drinks, or snacks, (just as I am sitting down from a previous request) and all the other minor irritations that little ones present. But I don’t mind. I see through the outer crusts of discord, to the internal, infinite beauty that they are.
In myself, I try, …and fail each day to keep that outer crust as thin as possible and let my True-Self be my every day self. But, it ain’t easy!
I pray God has a kind of patience with me that I feel with my grandsons. Only my True-Self can hope, and trust he does.
In the Gospel reading, Mark 10:46-52, Jesus asks the blind man Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
What a powerful question. Can you imagine being in Bartimaeus’ sandals? What would you have Jesus do for you? If you think about that question, and what you would ask for, it says a lot about your personal image of God.
“I would like my youth back.”
“I’d like to win the Powerball. Preferably when it approaches the billion-dollar mark!”
“Bring back a loved one.”
“Take away my pain, my disease, my struggles.”
“Stop the hatred, the wars and shootings, the bombings in the world.”
Blind Bartimaeus said to Jesus, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus does restore his sight. “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”
So, why is it so rare that Jesus answers our prayers, by giving us exactly the things we ask for? After all, he did miraculous healings for numerous people in his three-year ministry. He even raised Lazarus from the dead after three days! And in our day, I suppose some people do have the winning lottery ticket after many prayers. Although that doesn’t always end up the way they intended.
It’s because the physical miracles were the means, not the end for Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come among us to be a side-show miracle worker. Remember, he usually told those healed, and the witnesses not to tell anyone about it. (Imagine keeping those miracles off of Facebook today!)
Jesus’ mission wasn’t to come to heal a select, lucky few and then leave us on our own. God doesn’t heal a select few around our world today, just for them. It’s for a broader message. Those physical miracles get our attention, but God wants to heal us spiritually, for eternity.
God wants us to spiritually see again, spiritually hear again, spiritually walk again in the light of his love. He wants us to live in the full freedom of his infinite love; not to be blind, deaf, and lame, spiritually.
Pain and suffering, chronic illness and despair are great obstacles to seeing and hearing and walking in this truth. But, if you put your faith in a God who is going to take away all of your difficulties first, so you can then enjoy peace in Him, you will most likely be greatly disappointed.
You are giving Jesus the wrong response to his question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
In parts of India and Africa, monkeys can be quite troublesome. They steal crops from farmers, and swoop down and snatch lunches from folks taking noon day breaks in city parks. One method of controlling the pesky critters is to trap them, …and then hopefully transport them to a more suitable environment.
One of the most effective ways of trapping them, is to put pieces of fruits or nuts into gourds, termite mounds, or caged traps. Now the monkey is too smart to fully enter the trap, so the entryway of each of these vessels is designed to barely accommodate the monkey’s empty hand. The monkey reaches in, grabs the goodies but when he tries to remove his hand, clasped to the goods it won’t fit back through the hole or the bars of the trap. This creates quite a dilemma for the monkey: let go, or remain trapped.
How many times in our lives are we faced with the choice of letting go or remaining trapped? Old wounds, grudges, habits, notions, ways of doing things: these can be sources of the clenched fists of our being, holding us back from better versions of ourselves. It’s good to have rock solid values -integrity, honesty, charity, self-discipline, but sometimes we have to take a second look at our daily practices. Maybe there are things we need to let go, in order to set us free.
Check out @Pontifex’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/Pontifex/status/835108269416984577?s=09
With the New Year fast approaching, most of us will be adding new, New Year’s resolutions to our “to-do” lists. We’ll aim to lose weight, eat better, make more money, read more, (maybe books on self-improvement…) watch less TV, be a better friend, spouse, sibling, parent, etc. In other words, in the new year, we will strive to improve ourselves from this current year’s model. It’s a new year. Anything is possible!
So, with that in mind, I’ve made a list, or more accurately, I’ve modified an ancient, yet well-known list.
If you’ve attended any Christian weddings in recent times, you’ll be quite familiar with this text. And I promise, this will not offend any non-Christians, or non-believers. It’s practical advice for anyone.
- I am patient. I am kind.
- I am not jealous. I am not pompous. I am not inflated, rude, nor do I seek my own interests.
- I am not quick-tempered. I do not brood over injury. I do not rejoice over wrongdoing, but I rejoice with the truth.
- I bear all things; I believe all things. I hope in all things. I endure all things. I will never fail.
- When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became an adult, I put aside childish things.
Adapted from 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. Verses 4-7, 11
Happy New Year, to the new you.
My family moved to the Deep South in the summer of 1968 when I was ten years old from “up North,” which even today, includes pretty much everywhere, except the South. My father, climbing the corporate ladder in the go-go sixties had several job opportunities, even one in Venezuela. As I look back, the Deep South and Venezuela weren’t that much different to us, as far as being a foreign land.
I recall arriving in a small town in Northeast Mississippi, with a population of less than 2500, on a bright, suffocating hot summer Saturday afternoon. As a family we had already moved three times -that I remember. My mother, the ever good sport and head family cheerleader instilled in us a great sense of adventure and optimism with each new destination, and I clearly remember with eager anticipation the thought of arriving in the Land of Cotton. My hopes were pretty high after seeing Gone with the Wind at the theater as a primer for Southern living. Imagine my disappointment when we arrived and there were no dirt streets, horse and carriages, or wooden planked sidewalks in front of the stores along Main Street. Most of those had been gone for …four or five years.
The thing I most clearly remember about our early days in Mississippi was the family-like friendliness and hospitality showered upon us Damned Yankees. The saying goes, Yankees come from the North; Damned Yankees come and stay. For almost fifty years, I’ve never left, so that makes me a Damned Yankee for sure.
We initially stayed a few days in a small motel, with a pool, thank God, just off the main dusty highway on the West side of town; it was owned and operated by the mayor –who my mother called several weeks later because of giant roaches inhabiting the rental house we lived in while our new home was being built. Makes sense: got bugs, call the Mayor.
The only full service restaurant in town was located right next to the motel. The restaurant owner was a large, red faced, silver haired, perpetually sweating jolly man. “Y’all” was one of our first foreign words we learned. With three meals a day over the first week at the restaurant, we discovered grits, country ham, red-eye gravy, buttermilk biscuits, greens, jowls, black-eyed peas, catfish and cornbread …and on and on.
We quickly noticed that everyone waved at each other. They raised their finger from the steering wheel –index, not middle, to acknowledge on-coming drivers. “Hey,” was another new word for us. Not “hey! What’s the matter with you?” But, “hey, how y’all doin?” “Hey, y’all come on over for coke.” Not a pop, not a soda. Not even a Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper. Those are all “cokes.” The particular flavor or type of “coke” would be determined once ‘y’all got there… And tea. It was cold and sweet.
When I entered fifth grade in the fall, actually August, which was another foreign custom to us because we had never started school until after Labor Day up North, I was asked by the kids to “say somethin…”
“Okay, ‘peanut butter.’”
“Did y’all hear that? Oh man. Say it agin!”
“You guys sure make a big deal…”
“’You guys’…did you hear that? Man! Say that agin!”
This language exploration in Mississippi was always amusing and done out of a sense of curiosity, among friends. I never felt made fun of. It was never uncomfortable. We were discovering new languages, and cultures together. -Southern Hospitality 101.
But there was also a dark side to this Southern Culture. To ignore it, or claim it was misunderstood or didn’t exist is just preposterous. Because as warm and inviting as whites were to each other and to us, blacks rarely if ever, enjoyed that same kind of embrace from whites, that same kind of inclusion. This white aversion of black people could be manifested in varying levels from a simple lack of respect to downright malicious hatred. I suppose some whites did acknowledge and embrace people of color in those days, in that town; but I suspect those relationships were very few and far between.
It’s cliché to say “The South is complicated.” But it is. How can a people be so generous, loving, giving, forgiving, “Christian,” to some people, but completely opposite to others, simply based on skin color? I don’t know. I do know that parts of the Southern Culture are wonderfully beautiful, -Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Shirley Ann Grau, Georgia O’Keefe, Jack Daniels! And some of it is horribly tragic, terroristic and ugly beyond human understanding.
The one symbol that epitomizes this dichotomy is the Confederate Battle Flag, the stars and bars. It’s like one of those drawings where two people look at it and one person sees a horses’ face, and the other person sees an angel sitting on a cloud. Same drawing, same artist, same paper, same pen, but two clearly different things appearing to two different people. This is why I believe that flag should not be publicly displayed. At best it should be preserved in museums. For those who want to wave it to proclaim Southern Culture, I get that. But, the fight for slavery, the KKK, terrorism against our own citizens, the years of Jim Crow laws, and now the white supremacists who embrace it, simply cannot be separated from the fabric of those red white a blue cross bars. Likewise you cannot fly a Nazi flag in remembrance of a proud Germanic peoples recovering from a humiliating loss of a world war without the haunting images of death camps, torture, and extreme racism.
So, we Southerners –those of us Southern by birth and those of us Southern by choice, need at this time to come up with a new symbol to celebrate our culture of hospitality, of our unique foods and flavors, of our amazing artistic expressions, and of our intense loyalties to friends, family and country. That’s our challenge of the New South in this new millennium: to share this beautiful culture, with everyone. I propose a magnolia blossom, or mockingbird, – a red velvet cake! Jack Daniels on the rocks? Fried catfish. Hushpuppies. Food and drink is something that we southerners of all shades can agree on. So, let’s get together under the shade of an old hickory tree, and toast the passing of one faded symbol, and welcome in something new; something that we can all celebrate, together.
It was a predawn Friday morning and Grant was finishing up a two weeks long sales trip. It was a lengthy time to be away from home, but he was opening up a new territory and he knew that always took extra time and effort. He hurriedly packed up from the backwater, small town, motel room, still drowsy from a short night’s sleep and no coffee, yet. He anxiously hopped in his car and sped away in search of an open convenience store.
After a short search he found a mini-mart open with stout black coffee, probably brewed the night before. He dashed back into his car and under a star filled black sky he found the I-40 entrance and headed home. As he drove through the morning darkness, he thought of the varying degrees of success he had had with his sales presentations and meetings, -the new customers who would become long term partners and loyal clients, the ones who would need more work, and a few who probably wouldn’t buy from him at all. The coffee brought a zen-like clarity to these thoughts. When the coffee buzz subsided he popped in a sales training CD his boss had given him: Achieving Sales Success through Attention to the Details. He had listened to it religiously over the two weeks, and he was almost ninety percent through the program.
As he drove along at 80 miles per hour, unhindered by the empty road, the sun slowly began to rise and illuminate the long, flat treeless interstate landscape. And then, suddenly he saw a massive, shredded truck tire in his lane just ahead. He quickly swerved into the left lane missing the tire remnants. Relieved at not driving into the deep ditch dividing the interstate or hitting another vehicle, he looked into the rear-view mirror to check for traffic, to see what he may have veered into -nothing. That was lucky, he thought.
However, there was an uneasy feeling, …something didn’t seem quite right. He thought for a few minutes about what am I missing here? And then after another five miles he looked again into the rear-view mirror and he noticed what he was missing. The bar across the back seat where he normally hung his clothes and product samples -was empty. As he realized his utter inattention to that detail, he read a passing road sign: Next Exit, 40 Miles.