Letting Go

 

The other morning I was scratching the grey-haired head of Nolan, my wife’s hound dog who found her twelve years ago at the county animal shelter. I  talked to him as we humans like to do and scratched his head and behind his large hound dog ears, and something about the time caused me to remember Fred, a cocker type black dog that I found wounded under the house in which I lived while a sophomore in college. He had been hit by a car and his left back leg was damaged. After coaxing him out from under the house, I took him  to a local veterinarian who repaired the long-ago damaged leg as best as possible. However, for the rest of his life Fred walked with a distinctive limp, but his damaged leg never kept him from living a full, rich, and loving life. As I remember, I kept him for the rest of that school year, and he went home with me for the summer. After those few months living with my younger sister and mother, he decided not to return to the college, but to stay with them and live their way. While he and I shared times together when I came  home on vacations after that, he was now their dog, and when I  left my hometown to begin a career, he remained where he had chosen to be. So, when I thought of him on that recent morning, I  asked my sister to fill in the gaps of his life with them.

“You know,” she said, “after you went back to school, Fred became my dog. Yes, he and mother liked each other, but until I enrolled in Western Carolina, he was mine. But, after I went to college, he and mother formed a special bond because they both were now alone. She worked the second shift then, but they shared each day, and he stayed awake until she got home after her shift in the mill. He would ride with us when she drove me back to Western, and  when he heard the mailman step  onto the porch, he thought it was me coming home for a visit and would run to the front door. But, the most remarkable thing about mother and Fred was his leaving.

“He was not blind, but he could see only shapes. For instance, often he would mistake the white bathtub for the storm-glassed door and wanting out, he  would  walk into it, mistaking the white porcelain for the light of the door. Like us all, he aged, and mother sensed that his life was ending. For three nights she stayed home from work, but eventually had to return to her shift. But each night of that time, when she got home, she would sit on the floor and hold him  in her lap, they loving each other as they had for their years. But, he grew worse, and one morning when she let him out the back door, he would  pause on each step and look back towards her, then step to the next and look back. Finally, out of steps, he looked back one last time to her, hearing her tell him  it was okay,  before he crawled under those steps to die. Later that morning she called the mill refuge department telling the man who answered how there was a dead dog under her back steps. Could he come and remove it?

“You may not understand, brother, but I see mother’s act of letting her beloved Fred go the way he wanted as a courageous and loving act. As she had always done in her life, mother knew that she had done her best with Fred over the years and even now, so she had no regrets. He wanted to go his way, and she let him, no matter her pain with his choice.

“That’s what happened to Fred, and I hope when Nolan’s time comes, he will be given as much grace as was Fred. No dog’s last day should be his worse.”

Teachable Moments

 

A “teachable moment” is of great value for the student(s) and the teacher. A “teachable moment” is never planned for or anticipated, just an offering that may or may not be used by the teacher. An honest teacher or parent or supervisor will admit to having missed some of those golden moments, but also to using them when the opportunity arises. These moments are rare and usually occur in a small setting—with a student or a few students or a class or a club or a team always present themselves after a student has mis-stepped. Perhaps for the one teaching, it is so special because it is an opportunity unplanned or studied for, but of value for the one or ones who receive the golden of the moment.

I was reminded of my experience with “teachable moments” when I read about an occurrence at North Surry High School in Mt. Airy, NC. last week. During an improv performance on White House jobs for about 45 students, a performer made an “inappropriate” comment about President Trump. Mr. James Moore, the teacher present explains what happened next: “We immediately called freeze, which is the signal to stop the improv,” said James Moore, one of the sponsors of the improv club. “When we call freeze, it is our way of avoiding a possibly inappropriate scene. I coach these students about how to be comedic but also engage in appropriate comedy…At no time did I engage in disrespect for the Office of the President. I take the Office of the President very seriously…As a school counselor and sponsor of the club, it is important to me that we use this performance as a teachable moment for all.”

Mr. Moore hears words he does not think appropriate and stops the improv performance. I give him, the educator, the benefit of the doubt, and trust that he explained to his charges why the remark was disrespectful to the office of the  President of the United States and why he yelled “Freeze”. I get that. However, what I don’t get is why a parent (present/not present to hear what was said) would complain to the police? And why would the police get involved? With all that authority, Mr. Moore’s “teachable moment” is thrown out, and the didactic forces of authority take over. Nothing learned here but resentment.

Once again, the chance for teaching a great lesson is removed by forces not in the classroom. I suspect that if Mr. Moore and the other teachers involved with the performance were allowed to do what they  do, they and the students would have had some dialogue, which is what makes a “teachable moment” so special, and reached some agreement concerning what is and what is not appropriate for such an un-rehearsed performance. Not knowing the comment makes forming more of an opinion difficult, if not impossible. But I think  it important to give Mr. Moore all benefit and trust his judgement.

The one iron-clad characteristic of any “teachable moment” is that the opportunity must be taken immediately. To return  to it later, even in the same day or hour, reduces the impact of the lesson. No principal, supervisor, sheriff, or parent can do what all the Mr. Moore’s could do with such a moment. And, if he be allowed to do it, his students will benefit greatly.

Streaked Meat

Streaked Meat

This morning Mary Ann was browning several slices of meat to be added to the crock pot, in which our dinner would cook. The distinctive smell of the cooking meat caused me to recall my mother using streaked meat to flavor some of her food–  the only flavoring she could afford.

If you are not of a certain age and of a geographical area, you will not understand streaked meat. So, I will save you the trouble of Googling it and tell you that it is heavily salted pork of the same cut as bacon but cheaper than bacon. Folks in my era would fry it before eating as done with bacon or use it as a flavoring for a mess (pot) of beans or greens. My mother used it for the latter. She would send one of us to the near-by store with two quarters with instructions to get the largest piece that the money would buy. As a youngster, I always saw the white, greasy looking slab as distasteful and ugly. Sometimes a piece would have a streak of blood red meat on its edge or in the middle, but it had no appeal until Mother used it for her beans.

To flavor any food properly is an art. Any idiot, such as I, can sprinkle or pour a flavoring into a cooking pot. However, to add the best bit of salt, sugar, spice, whatever requires knowledge and experience, and Mother knew how much streaked meat to add to her mess of beans. If she did not use the entire piece, she would save what she did not need or maybe fry a few slices for herself, which was seldom because she was too busy feeding her six children.

The streaked meat may have appeared distasteful to my young palate, but the flavor it gave Mother’s beans was absolute. While I could  never understand how something so ugly and salty and fatty could help a mess of beans taste so wonderful, Mother knew how to use what she could afford to add something to such a basic dish as a mess of beans for her children. The beans now had some charm that appealed to my taste.

Mother never used a crock pot in those difficult days as Mary Ann is doing now. What she had to cook and to cook it in was bare, but she had the will to do with what she had. I think she must have learned that from the story of Exodus and the wandering tribe that learned to live on manna. I don’t know, but I wish I had asked her. But I didn’t, and now all I can do is remember, when I walk into our kitchen and smell browning streaked meat, Mother’s manna for her six children.

June to June

 

In early November of 2019, he told me he had found out in a Google search that his biological mother had died in 2015. An adopted son, he had met his biological mother when he was eighteen—they sat in her car during her lunch hour. Besides one small photograph of her the Christmas before he was born, the lunch hour was all he had, except for what I shared with him. Always interested about her, he kept that desire at bay, but had recently searched her name only to find that she had been dead for almost five years. He told me because I am his biological father, her sweetheart in 1967-’68. He and I now share some common emotions about her death by cancer: 67 is such an early age to die;  its sadness for her mother, siblings, and husband; its finality for the son who will never meet her again.

I last saw her in 1969 at the Pot-of-Gold Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. She had enrolled for graduate school in Washington and called to ask me for some help. She and I had managed to continue our romance for a short time after he was born, but by our meeting, she loved someone else and soon married him. But my memory of that brief time with her at the restaurant is sweet and kind- especially how she laughed telling me a story about one of her first commutes into the city from her house in suburban Maryland. After all, she was a young girl from the rural South and D.C. was a new and large adventure.

“The Song Remembers When” is a fine explanation of how some of us recall past times in our lives. Over the years as I have listened to Trisha Yearwood sing it, I admit  to having had wonderings of her and her life. After all, do you honestly forget someone who you impregnated, wanted to marry, and with whom you shared your senior year of college? I didn’t and at times, as Yearwood sings, “Still I guess some things we buried/Are just bound to rise again/For even if the whole world has forgotten/The song remembers when.”

After my son told me of his biological mother’s death, I went to Google and found Karen’s obituary. I read it all:  the summary of her life, the kind condolences, and I studied the photographs, especially the one showing her during our brief time. I shared it all with Mary Ann, my wife, who understood and supported me, and we both saw that Karen had had a productive life full of friends, family, and professional success.  But finding out of her death ended any hope that her son and she would ever know one another. She had, years ago, made the decision to give him up for adoption and have no other children. She had her reasons. But her decision, so many years later, landed at his feet, forcing him to acknowledge a fact that he did not want to accept. Now, she would never hear his voice, touch his face, share in his life.

He and I talked about her after he told me of her death. We had found out much about her life since his birth, but we wondered if she realized that she was dying of cancer on his birthday? On June 01, 2015 did she remember his birth on June 01, 1968? If she did, I hope the memory of it gave her rest.

Denigrated by Tradition

 

The phrase “Doubting Thomas” is an all-too familiar one used to describe one of The Twelve. It has even evolved to be used to describe a person who is skeptical concerning a fact. To be thus described is a negative comment against one’s judgement or belief. But, this is where I think Biblical tradition has maligned the Disciple Thomas. After all, in John 11:16, he is the Disciple who says to the other Disciples when Jesus is preparing to go to Bethany because of Lazarus’ death, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” [Jesus]. Lazarus lived in Bethany and it was a dangerous place for Jesus. However, in this scene set by John, we see the courage of Thomas, The Twin. There is affirmation in his words, but through mis-teaching and tradition, Thomas is all-too remembered as a doubter.

Through tradition, we have come to teach that there were three wisemen who visited the newborn Jesus because three gifts are mentioned. Tradition teaches through Bible classes that Jesus was a carpenter, but he was the equivalent of a modern-day handyman working with wood and stone, a more plentiful source for building in 1st Century Israel. Every image of The Last Supper is based on a late 15th Century mural by Da Vinci, which is Biblical wrong. And one more example of tradition taking over fact is the symbol for Christianity—the cross. What we show and wear is not historically accurate, but we teach it still.

However, in my recent readings of Genesis, I have been struck by how we have treated Esau. Yes, he traded his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. (By the way, why was his brother cooking, a woman’s job in that society?) And, he was cheated by his mother and twin brother. Yep, to spite his parents, he married two heathen women. Then, his brother the sneak, leaves to be safe from his rage. Gone for twenty years, Jacob returns with his wealth. Frightened still of Esau, he sends his concubines and children out first, then Leah and her children, then Rachel (his favorite) with her children. A nice pecking order in case Esau had plans for vengeance. But, accompanied by four hundred of his best fighters, according to Genesis 33: 4, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” I see no revenge here, but Dr. Vernon J. McGehee writes that Esau possibly tried to bite the neck of his brother, thus killing him. But, during the exchanges between the brothers, Esau refers to Jacob as “my brother” while Jacob uses the distant “My lord.” When Jacob offers many gifts to Esau, the red warrior says in Genesis 33:9, “I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself.”

I am aware of the oft-quoted verses from Malachi and that Esau is the patriarch of Edom, the nation that helped the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem. But, what we know of Esau from the Bible, besides the sad tale of twin brothers in  Genesis, is that he helped Jacob bury their father. What else we know is from non-Biblical sources. So, why the vilification?

Tradition! And that is dangerous. When I worked in a school outside New Orleans, I would often be told, in explaining why some action was followed, “It’s our tradition, Mr. Barbee.” The chaplain would say as an aside to me, “Tradition or examined habit?”

I think we have too many examined habits of belief in our Christianity and we should follow the Bible and use what it gives us, along with accurate histories. If we follow a tradition, we begin to believe it, then we teach it as gospel. Then, when the ones we have wrongly taught learn the truth, they may see us as liars or worse. Teach truth.

 

Six Pastors

 

 

I am glad that Dana Ervin interviewed several “evangelical pastors of six large North Carolina churches” and wrote an article showing their views as Christians of Donald Trump. While I read no new revelations for me in the article, I was disappointed that not one of the pastors agreed to be identified. Words without names are weakened.

However, taking their unidentified words as honest expressions from their pastoral experiences, I shudder to read the  words of the Charlotte pastor who observed that the election of Obama caused a rise in racial tensions and that his congregation ignored Scripture in order to “fit” a political party. As a Christian, I wonder how much hate must be present to make a member of the body of Christ ignore the Bible, especially Matthew 5,6,and 7.

The unknown pastor who tells how Biblical Israel “had been ruled by some evil kings” is singing a tired refrain for Trump’s presence. Sure, Saul and others were not the good leaders any country needs. (To read fully the struggles of Israel with leaders, read the bloody book of Judges.)Does this unknown pastor want us to accept Trump because God has before used other evil leaders to accomplish good? I am not willing to live under the rule of a King Ahab. Another pastor believes that Trump’s election could be God’s mercy. Well, as  a Christian who reads the Gospels, I believe that God’s mercy is better than Trump.

A national evangelical leader and author tells us that “it is important to understand that evangelicals today feel threatened by an increasingly hostile secular world. They see Donald Trump as their bulwark.”  All I can ask that national leader is when have Christians not been threatened by the secular world? Our situation in the world has not changed, and we today are no more threatened by any politician than Paul was by the learned Greeks in the Areopagus. And, we already have a bulwark against the secular world: Jesus Christ our Savior.

All, however, in Ervin’s summary is not grim. At the end of the article, one pastor, who is referred to as “bolder” than the others, is quoted “We’re damaging our witness. We’re causing bigger damage to the Gospel to see who God really is.” While I obviously agree with the words of this pastor, I wonder why Ervin describes him or her, “bolder.” In my view, to speak Truth, as we Christians are told to do, is an honor and privilege. Bold? Naw, but an honest understanding of the problem of Trump and our individual theology.

Regardless of the anonymity of the pastors, their words reveal the existence of several problems still in existence, such as pure dislike or even hate against people or beliefs that are disagreed with. The election of Obama did not demonstrate that we are a racially healed country, but that too many of us still carry Jim Crow attitudes. If not, why would one Charlotte pastor speak the words he or she did. Too much hate is alive because, according to this pastor, supposed Christ followers ignored Scripture for convenience to support what they wanted. Our hate of “the other” is so great that we ignore the words and actions of Trump. When I asked a member of my Sunday School class what he thought of Trump’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, he remarked,

“No one’s perfect.”

For me, Ervin’s article proves that we have become a “stiff-necked people” So bent on our ways, we do not hear and follow God’s. In my reading of the Gospels, I can find no words to support a man such as Trump. Bulwark? Hardly. (read Psalms 56:22) And shame on any “Christian” who believes Trump is anything but a false prophet.

Don’t Worry ‘Bout That

 

We may be past the dry, hot weather that we have endured since early August. At least for a while, our days are not as hot, and our soil has tasted rain. The Gulf storm Nestor, while causing great harm south of us, provided us with much needed rain. Our yard of Iredell County clay on Lake Norman had developed small cracks, but the Nestor rain closed those. While the harm done by the storm in some areas is dreadful, the moisture we received is much celebrated.

When a sibling or I  would whine to our mother about the cold or the wet or the heat or the dry, she would say, “Don’t worry ‘bout that; that’s His business,”  with the calm and assurance that only a person of faith could muster. Too young to fully understand, we would listen and obey until the next bout of disagreeable weather came along. Then the whines came again as only a child can produce.

The recent dry weather caused me to recall her words, and the ones read for Sunday School in James 5:7 in which James the Just tells us, “the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”  I like to think that my mother’s words were a loving translation for her children telling us that like the 1st Century farmer, we had to wait on the early and late rain for our crops. Her words were a comfort to our young souls telling us not to worry, but to carry on and keep faith. Someone larger was in charge.

Another mother, one of brothers in the all-boys’ school where I worked, taught me the same lesson, but in different words. As the Dean of Students, discipline of the students was one of my main responsibilities. As she and I discussed some aspect of my work, she looked at me and said, “Roger, control an illusion.” Ann’s four words changed the way I worked then and forever as an educator.

Yet, we strive for control in our lives not remembering James’ words. Here on Lake Norman many lawns are constantly watered in order to keep them green—after all, Lake water is easy to capture, Even this morning when leaving for church, I saw some sprinklers busily spinning to wet the lawn, after a night of good rain.

However, James the Just—and my mother—offer a better way: know that the seasonal rains will come, and don’t worry about His business. He’s in control.