Hope “for one of the least”

The pandemic, forest fires, and racial unrest seem to be consuming us and affects us in many ways. At times it is as if we live under a constant sky of grey (in the West the sky is grey from the fires) but we do not suffer the clinical disease of Depression; it is just that the situation we now live under is depressing. We suffer “doom and gloom.” A bit of good news and sunshine improves our mood and outlook, and today’s paper brought a bright ray of light.

I have no idea what it must be like to be a well-known professional athlete. I cannot imagine their salaries, fame, and lives: The adoring fans, the gobs of money, the temptations, the hard work, the groveling coaches from middle school through college, and more. While I have no reference for these parts of their live, I know from experience one thing about their lives: The sound of the bottom when one of them hits it. And there are too many documented stories of the sad rise and fall of a boy or girl who is gifted with certain skills in athletics.

When the pandemic first washed over us, I read an article about this man, Mark Cuban, who owned a professional basketball team. While I had never heard of him, I found as many articles as I  could to read about his “reaching out” to all of the workers in his arena to pay them for lost revenue during the pandemic. Now, today, he reaches out again to a human being in need. Mr. Cuban hears that an ex-NBA star is homeless. He arranges to meet him at a gas station in Dallas. Cuban, a wealthy man, does not send someone to pick up the downtrodden basketball player, but drives himself. Yes, he has someone filming the event, but he, Mark Cuban, is there. Involved. And helping to rescue a life that has been shattered because of bipolar disease. Sure, the man could shoot three-pointers all day long, but he suffered from an insidious disease that could only stay masked so long.

Homeless. Standing on the street with a cardboard sign. No relationship with family. Embarrassed by his fall. But another heard of his trouble and worked to meet and bring him in for help. Mark Cuban did that. And his riches do not, in my mind, matter. What Mark Cuban did was an act done “for one of the least”. That is righteous and a ray of sunshine through these cloudy days.

What if Brad P. Were Black?

            A wife calls police telling the 911 operator that her husband is threatening suicide and has guns in his house which is in an upper scale location and is waterfront. Local officers and the SWAT team arrive and successfully defuse the situation with the 6’8” man who wears an imposing beard. A life is saved.

            What if the house had been surrounded by empty lots and boarded up houses and the wife and her husband were Black? Would the life have been saved or treated like those of Taylor, Floyd, and so many more?

Christians for Trump

In order to help several members of my family, most of my neighbors, and many members of the Baptist church I attend in their march to re-elect President Trump, I suggest they form a new group to  help themselves him: Christians for Trump. It is my wish that the 10 listed beliefs will help them reconcile the Four Gospels to President Trump’s actions and words.

  1. As a Christian for Trump member, I trust God to use President Trump “To Make America Great Again” just as He used the sinner King David to create Israel.
  2. As a Christian for Trump member, I disregard President Trump’s sometimes vulgar language, such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, because none of us are perfect.
  3. As a Christian for Trump member, I recognize that the multitude of women who have accused him of assault are celebrity seekers, nothing more than modern-day Jezebels
  4. As a Christian for Trump member, I deny his racism as nothing more than fake news from BLM and other radical left organizations.
  5. As a Christian for Trump member, I work to support President Trump’s words  that “It [the COVID-19] will go away,” and we need not panic even as we bury over 200,000 folks.
  6. As a Christian for Trump member, I trust President Trump and not the CDC or FDA
  7. As a Christian for Trump member, I believe in the Dow, not the jobless rates and fading small businesses on our Main Streets.
  8. As a Christian for Trump member, I  support the practices of ICE and the sub-contractors who build cages for children while ignoring the Sermon on the Mount
  9. As a Christian for Trump member, I  contribute funds to help build the wall to keep rapists, drug dealers,  and other criminals out of America.
  10. As a Christian for Trump member, I support a third term for President Trump because of the unfair media treatment he has received.
  11. Amen!

Grounded by the Tufted Titmouse

Today’s forecast called for rain, so I got out early for my stationary bike ride. Usually my ride offers many walkers on our road and lots of bird calls in the pine trees that dominate Isle of Pines Road. Today it was eerily quiet as I began my ride. No wind; not even a slight breeze moved the pines. No bird calls. Just the hum of my front tire against the resisting wheel of the stationary machine. Then, off across the road it called. Then an answer somewhere in one of  the 39 pine trees in our front yard. The two birds called to each other or answered the other or protected their turf as I warmed up during my ride.

Some months ago a neighbor asked me what the bird call was that we heard emitting from the pine trees. I listened and told her I thought it was the chickadees. However, later that week as I was going to a neighbors, I heard the same sound and then saw the bird sitting on a power line: A tufted titmouse was going hard at it—making some important announcement for all to hear. I marveled at such a strong note coming from such a small bird. Later when in the house, I checked our bird book and the recordings of the tufted titmouse to be certain. It was correct, and I sent the recording to my neighbor: “peter-peter-peter”.

If you are of a certain age, you will remember those gosh-awful, historically mistaken television shows and movies of the western frontier that we dutifully watched and believed. If you recall, many times the attacking tribes would use  bird notes (or other animal sounds) to communicate with each other before attacking the settlers. I remember the sound being a powerful, soft message of pending doom. The call of the tufted titmouse sounds like that powerful whisper from one hidden foe to another. Fortunately, as far as I know, the tufted titmouse does not attack humans, but the floating call and returned answer bring back those memories of television long ago.

In the forest of pines that I ride under, and the ones in neighboring yards, the small, tufted titmouse is impossible to see, but easily heard. The soft, powerful, fast repeated call of peter- peter-peter – seems to bounce from one pine to another then one farther down the road. It is mysterious, yet known and understood, and relaxing in a manner of sorts. This morning with the uncanny calm before the rain, and the walker empty road, the tufted titmouse calls to each other grounded me in the knowledge that no matter what is happening, nature and her ways are here as a salve for rips and tears of the world.

Christians for Trump

The election looms, and to help President Trump win re-election I recommend a new group to  help him. Christians for Trump will place signs, canvass neighborhoods, and be present at polling locations. In order to be a member, each citizen must pay a membership fee of $25, and sign the following pledge:

  1. As a Christian for Trump member, I trust that God will guide both President Trump and our country.
  2. As a Christian for Trump member, I will disregard President Trump’s sometimes vulgar language, such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, because none of us are perfect
  3. As a Christian for Trump member, I will recognize that the multitude of women who have accused him of assault are celebrity seekers, nothing more than modern-day Jezebels
  4. As a Christian for Trump member, I will deny the accusations concerning his racism as fake news from BLM and other radical left organizations
  5. As a Christian for Trump member, I will work to support the belief that President Trump expressed to Woodward: That we are not to panic, and the pandemic will go away
  6. As a Christian for Trump member, I will trust him and not the CDC or FDA
  7. As a Christian for Trump member, I will believe in the Dow, not the jobless rates and fading small businesses
  8. As a Christian for Trump member, I will support the practices of ICE and the sub-contractors who build cages for children
  9. As a Christian for Trump member, I will contribute funds to help build the wall to keep rapists, drug dealers,  and other criminals out of America
  10. As a Christian for Trump member, I  will support a third term for him if  that is what he decides he deserves and is best for America

____________________, signed on this  date, _____________

Deacon Qualifications

The Baptist church I attend is conducting its annual election for deacons, which is a fellowship I belong to. Part of our process is to interview any candidate for election to make certain each one understands and fully appreciates the call of serving as a deacon.  In the interview the qualifications followed by our church are reviewed, and while we stress the Biblical qualifications stated in the New Testament, we may be different in some ways from other Baptist churches; for instance, we allow females to serve as deacons. Although churches and other houses of worship follow different qualifications for being a deacon or elder or whatever a lay servant is called, a list of certain expectations is shared by churches.

Because we are Baptist, we expect any deacon to be a member of our church, of a certain age, married to one spouse or single, a Christ follower, a provider for his or her family, a person willing to serve the community, and more. For  instance, we would not allow a known “winebibber” to be a deacon nor would we allow a contentious person to be a deacon. We want church members who desire fellowship and unity and growth. Any church member who models that behavior, we want in our fellowship of deacons.

I have been busy with these thoughts because of our coming deacon election, but also because of the national election for a president. As I think of the expectations we have for a deacon, I realize that President Trump, if he were a member of  our church, could not be considered for serving in our deacon fellowship. The only qualification he has is he is  not a “winebibber.” But he qualifies in no other way: He takes the name of the Lord in vain, he slanders opponents and reporters he disagrees with, he has over a dozen women who accuse him of assault, his mean spirit is on display in every gathering, he lies, he takes no responsibility for anything, he seems to love only money, and on and on.

I know that he is President of  the United States and not a member of our church. But as we approach this important election I am saddened by the fact that he would not qualify to be considered a deacon in our small church. Should not all leaders of countries identify with some faith, something larger than himself or herself. Larger than us all.

Abner and Coats

When King David sought peace with the  northern kingdom, he asked to meet Abner, the popular leader of the kingdom. The two leaders met and parted in peace. On hearing of this new alliance, King David’s military commander Joab asked to  meet with Abner, whom he viewed as a threat to his  power. Upon seeing Abner walk towards him, Joab stuck out his hand in peace but stabbed him in the stomach, leaving him to bleed to death in the road. When David heard of Abner’s death, he made lamentation and fasted in sorrow, but declared he had nothing to do with his death. So much for Abner trusting King David and his commander.

I thought of  this sordid tale from 2 Samuel when I read Chapter 4 of Rage, Bob Woodward’s new book on the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. Woodward early in his book sets the stage by telling how Trump built his cabinet. One of his earliest recruits is Senator Dan Coats who was talked into joining the Trump group by Mike Pence. 

Every Christ follower should read this chapter of Rage before voting and then ask if  the  Trump/Pence ticket is one any Christ follower can support.

Super Spreaders

According to an article in the Bangor Daily News/AP a wedding reception in early August held at an isolated inn has been traced to more than 175 cases of the virus and at least seven deaths. None of these people attended the reception. Only about 65 close family members and friends were on the illegal guest list for the rustic celebration, but its sad affect has reached beyond the guest list. In fact, the minister who officiated has ten cases of the virus in his home church. And, we continue having spreader events such as motorcycle rallies, political gatherings, and social protests. Now, we have football, too.

We deceive ourselves! This past Saturday, I saw the end of the Norte Dame football game when the players stood, each six feet apart, to sing the school song. Then they all walked or jogged into a tunnel, most touching the good luck sign, before being squeezed into a stairway, now shoulder pad to pad. So much for social distancing.

As we know from recordings of President Trump made by Bob Woodward, this is a virus 5x as deadly as the flu, and it is an airborne one. But we act as if we are, like the Baptist minister who conducted the Millinocket wedding, immune to this deadly and costly pandemic.

We may have some success at a lack of super spreader clusters, such as Duke University now experiences. But I think the airborne virus will eventually conquer us unless we follow science and isolate it, and  that can be done by only one way short of a vaccine. We must bite the hard pill and isolate ourselves to rid us of this scourge.

Paul Mills

            Driving out of the cemetery, my wife and I passed the worker’s truck. Parked a respectable distance from the gravesite we had just left, it was loaded with the equipment and supplies needed for its work:  Shovels, rakes, and folded, green pads that were designed to imitate grass. An attached trailer carried a small backhoe. Soon, after all the friends, family, loved ones, and funeral home employees had left, the workers would drive the truck with its load down the hill to finish the covering of a life. This grave was like all the others in the cemetery, just newer; but also different because it was Paul’s, one of The Greatest Generation.

In 1998 Tom Brokaw published The Greatest Generation, an examination of American’s lives who were born between WW I and WW II. Paul was born in 1926, not many years after the Spanish Flu and WW I, and just in time for the Great Depression. Later, after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and entered WW II.

The Greatest Generation is called that because they endured the hardships of the Great Depression, then a world at war.  But the lessons from the Great Depression and the war are what helped form the character of Americans like Paul. During the Great Depression they learned the value of a strong work ethic, being frugal, and “making do.” During the war they fought, died, sacrificed, and joined forces to defeat an evil so that the world would be a better place. Yet their struggles did not make them bitter or resentful but caring and loving and appreciative of each other and a stable life.  Their fight against the evil threatening the world was just what they had to do.

Paul and Jean were the first people we met at FBC of Mooresville. On our first visit, they welcomed us and on the second visit Jean told us, “We’re so glad you returned.” That was over three years ago, but I still recall their kind words and impeccable manner and dress. However, before many Sundays, they stopped attending church for health reasons, but their imprint had been made on my wife and me.

These were my thoughts yesterday as I listened to the minister, sang the songs, and heard the shared memories of a son-in-law. The small, well-dressed man we knew from Sunday Service had helped establish a local church. He had led a full, vibrant life in his beloved community, and he was loved dearly by his family and friends.  We had met him late in his  life, but as I watched his grandsons tearfully carry his flag-draped casket from the hearse to the grave, I was reminded that while I had met Paul late in his life, I was still fortunate to have known him at all because, even in those waning days, he exhibited courage, loyalty, and sacrifice. His experiences in a depression and war had marked him; however,  the mark was not a stain but a badge of honor. Brokaw used the adjective greatest, and that is fine. However, other adjectives such as magnificent, extraordinary, or grand well-describe Paul and his generation. But the adjective is of no matter because Paul and his are The Great Generation.

I suppose that by the time we had arrived home from the service, the workmen had finished their task and Paul had, as King David wrote, “gone the way of the world.” But he and all his generation-the soldiers, the planters of victory gardens, the ship builders, the children who collected metal for the war cause, and more-are honored by those of us who still value honesty, loyalty, sacrifice, and duty to a just cause. They are not “suckers” or “losers” as some think, but lives lived for a common good. They made our world safer and better. We owe them to continue their work.

Dean, David, Jimmy, and Coach

A local writer shared a story recently about his first year of playing organized football. He writes how miserable his first game as a 7th grader was and that the coach kept him after practice to make him do extra drills as punishment because he failed to successfully block an opponent. As if that were not enough, two teammates who played in the backfield were waiting for him and used their superior physical powers to demonstrate what it felt like when tackled by the opponent he kept missing to block. And finally, at the entrance of the locker room stood two hefty linemen to teach him one more lesson. However, the writer went on to explain how he used those experiences for life lessons on getting along with people and being a team player. I am glad he manages to gauge the experience as he does.

However, I see so much wrong with the tale he shared. In no words does he write of his coach or teammates taking the time to teach him how to correct what he was doing wrong. He was just plummeted for his mistakes in blocking. The coach and players seem to be first-class bullies in my opinion.

When I was a 10th grader (high school was 10-12 grades), I so  wanted to play football. One hot, August practice of 1961 the coach had be line up to catch punts. The  first one that came  to me somehow landed in my arms and as the rumbling herd approached me I threw the ball to a coach. I was then moved to the sideline to watch. Later, as we were all taking showers, a senior named Dale yelled at me in a mocking tone, “There’s I don’t want the ball Barbee.” No soap or water could remove that stinging stain. Somehow I remained on the team only managing to hold blocking dummies during practices.

That winter I joined the wrestling team and was the 13th member of a team of twelve varsity wrestlers. I wrestled some “preliminary” matches and won some but lost many. Twelve wrestlers received varsity letters; I got the experience.

But there was the baseball team in the spring. In tryouts I was in the batter’s box taking my swings to show the coach that I could hit. I  kept trying to hit the ball, but it kept being somewhere my bat was not. Then Jimmy the varsity catcher said, “Don’t try so hard.” What kid would not follow the words of a varsity player, but it was to no avail, and I was cut from the team.

The next year, my 11th grade year, I knew my career as a football player was suspect and after one of the summer scrimmages I was one of a small group cut from the team. But an assistant coach, Bob Mauldin, told me as I was turning in my gear that he needed me on the wrestling team. Because of the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before he had been away on duty, but this year he was back. And he “needed me.”

Winter came and so did wrestling season. But by then I was madly in love with a  girl and at an early practice I told the team captain David that I was quitting the team to get a job for money to woo my new love. Like Coach Mauldin earlier that school year, David talked with me telling me how much the team needed me. Those words again!

The writer’s story last week  brought these memories back. My experience was not, fortunately, like his except for Dale, the older player who ridiculed me instead of helping me. I fear that too many older players are like Dale, but I am so glad that Jimmy the catcher, Coach Mauldin, and David our  team captain were kind. I did not play on the baseball team as I said, but I still hear Jimmy’s words of encouragement, not scorn. Coach Mauldin and David needed me, so I stayed  and as Robert Frost writes, “ And that has made all the difference.”