What About “What About Easter?”

I wrote “What about Easter?” several months ago posting it to a local media blog The Tyler Loop Babble before posting it here. Not long after it went live on the site, probably within minutes if not seconds, I had this mind-rattling thought, Oh, my, what have I done! The thought was disturbing enough, but the accompanying feelings were downright unsettling.

The feelings of vulnerability and exposure surprised me. Those feelings had little if anything to do with the content of the piece, and a whole lot to do with the fact that I said it out loud – well, I wrote it down. I threw my questions, thoughts, and belief journey out into the ether world for all to peruse, analyze, criticize, and judge. Now, I suppose that’s not a really big deal since anyone – aka yours truly – writing editorial and/or opinion content knows that it’s the nature of the beast and comes to expect analysis, criticism, and possible judgment. Thus, the need for a “tough skin,” a steadfast stance on said opinion, and/or solid supporting empirical evidence where applicable and available.

So, what was the vulnerability and exposure about? Hum! Reflecting on that question, the best answer I came up with regarded cultural context. I/We live, work, and play in the East Texas Bible Belt where the faith tenets of traditional and evangelical Christianity abound. Texas as a whole ranking #11 in the 2022 Most Religious States with 64% of adults reporting as religious.

I doubt that my thoughts expressed in “What about Easter?” reflect those of most East Texas religious folks. Or I wonder? Does our fear of vulnerability and exposure when going against the grain of perceived or real public opinion thwart the expression of our genuine thoughts and feelings? Maybe there are more folks with questioning, outside-the-box thoughts and beliefs, but keep them to themselves. Does that fear shroud our genuine selves? If that fear did not exist, how many of us would risk stepping out and going against the grain for the sake of freedom of expression and an authentic life.

I found it interesting that not long after my bout of vulnerability and exposure, a group of friends posed the question, how do we help folks with different, against-the-grain, outside-the-box thoughts and feelings on any issue be able to step up and speak out? I don’t know. However, I do have an opinion on that: As more of us step up, risk the vulnerability and exposure, and respectfully express our against-the-grain thoughts and feelings, others will as well. There is encouragement, motivation, and power in knowing one is not alone.

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What About Easter?

NOTE: I wrote What About Easter? during Easter week some three months ago, but did not post it here. I did post it on a local blog, The Tyler Loop Babble. Why did I not post it here on my personal blog? What About ‘What About Easter?’ coming soon!

It’s Palm Sunday and much of the world is gearing up for Holy Week and various remembrances – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Black Saturday, and the celebratory Easter Sunday morning.

 For those like me, and there are many, who have experienced or are in the midst of a spiritual shift away from the D’s & D’s – the dos and don’ts, the dogma and doctrine – of evangelical or traditional Christianity for that matter, Easter is a conundrum. What do we do with Easter? After decades of hearing, sincerely believing, and even teaching the Jesus story, we question, we doubt, we just can’t buy into the whole story 100% anymore. It’s like a suit of clothes that no longer fits, or maybe, new wine, bulging, ripping at the seams of old wineskins. Still the question – What about Easter? 

I start with Jesus. I believe, at the very least, Jesus was a man of God, called to preach, teach, and live a life exemplifying justice, mercy, and humility. According to Micah 6:8, that is just what the Lord requires of man. Jesus called out the unjust and oppressive practices of the tax collectors, money changers, and civic powers. He lambasted the legalism and ritualistic show and sham of the church hierarchy. He demonstrated care, compassion, dignity, and respect for lepers, children, the ill and infirm, beggars, prostitutes, and all sorts of marginalized folks. He lived humbly as an itinerant preacher with no property of his own and dependent upon the generosity of others for sustenance and shelter.

Jesus consistently and passionately bucked the status quo riling both civic and religious leaders. Feeling a threat to their authority and fearful of a populous revolt given Jesus’s growing influence with the people, they arrested him under trumped up charges, carried out a sham trial, convicted, and crucified him. They killed the man – a good man, a godly man, possibly the anointed son of God. Jesus was crucified because of pride, greed, and fear – the sins of the people of that day and particularly those in authority. Has our manner of sin really changed much over the centuries? They had power, position, wealth, exclusivity, and they wanted to keep it that way. Fearful of losing it all, they killed Jesus, period. Not going to wade into the theological weeds of sacrificial atonement here. That’s good Friday, on to Easter morning!

What happened that long-ago Sunday morning may be the prime example of God’s working in mysterious ways. Not to be flippant, but truly only God knows. I know I don’t know! I believe that’s a good thing, maybe one of a multitude of things that keep me mindful and in awe of the mystery of the Divine and tethered to him/her/it through faith. After all, if one is so certain one knows, there is no need for faith.

Whether one chooses to believe in Jesus’s physical resurrection or not is up to each individual. No need to get caught on the theological sticky wicket of resurrection. These days my takeaway from Easter morning is a renewed spirit. Regardless of what happened to Jesus’s body or whether his disciples encountered him in the flesh, as a ghost, in visions, or hallucinations after his death, we know what they did. They went from being grieved, dejected, and fearful to being excited, energized, bold, and committed in continuing to spread the message and do the work of justice, mercy, and humility that Jesus had begun. I can buy into the disciples having an emotional and/or spiritual experience resulting in a renewed spirit and greater focus and commitment to a cause – been there and done that, maybe you have as well.  No doubt, ultimately, the disciples walked away from Easter morning with some form of spiritual renewal. 

What about Easter? For my part I will remember the life and work of Jesus, grieve his death and the shameful manner in which it occurred at the hands of sinful men, and celebrate the hope of a renewed spirit. A renewed spirit that will lead and sustain in being and doing all that God, by whatever name,  requires – to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. That takes care of the Easter conundrum for me. 

An Antidote for Our Ailments — Dig Deep!

I attended a meeting of our Tyler Public Library Board last Wednesday, June 1st, at Liberty Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a public hearing to discuss and consider a Library Patron Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials. The meeting turned contentious, with hostile comments and threats, verbal and possibly physical as I heard “don’t touch me” several times from an encounter which I did not turn to observe.

Library staff were accused of “handing out pornography to our children” which is blatantly false. The book in question, Blue is the Warmest Color by Jul Maroh, is classified as an adult graphic novel and is shelved on the second floor. All children’s books are shelved on the first floor.

Also, the library does not “hand out” books of any kind. Books are chosen and checked out by individuals exercising freewill and freedom to choose or not to choose — adults, young adults ideally with parental guidance, and children surely, hopefully with parental supervision and limits. I hate that our professional, dedicated library staff are being viciously maligned and caught in the crosshairs of our current cultural and societal chaos that is far more significant and way more insidious than any book – even this one, Blue is the Warmest Color by Jul March

The atmosphere and actions during the meeting were not shining examples of our perceived serene, congenial, and lovely rose and azalea adorned community. I was both appalled and deeply saddened by the display of toxicity and entrenched divisions. Yet, given the current political and social state of our nation, I can’t say that I was surprised. Whether we wish to face it head on or not, Tyler is a microcosm of all that is both ill and good with our nation politically, racially, culturally, and spiritually. Seeking refuge in our bubble of sweet-smelling roses and azaleas while ignoring the growing rot of division and its root causes is a hazardous path destined for debacle.

We are at a pivotal juncture at all levels of our being. Is it not time for us as individuals, a community, and nation to dig deep, take a long, hard look inward – individually and collectively — to discover and address the root causes of our anger, hate, and divisions? Can we the people not call upon our better angels for the courage to dig deep, the boldness of heart to transcend our differences, and the firmness of purpose — “to form a more perfect Union.”

I know, digging deep is hard. I hope we are up for it. I cringe to think of where we might be headed if we are not.

Another School Shooting — What now?

Maybe it’s the faces of hundreds of third, fourth, and fifth-grade students intruding into my mind’s eye? Maybe it’s their voices filled with joy, wonder, laughter, giggles, and delight as well as questions, fears, disappointments, sorrows, and hurts reverberating in my ears? Maybe it’s just them – children being children full of vitality, spontaneity, curiosity, vulnerability, and innocence all the while flexing and testing their limits of influence and control in and over their world? Maybe it’s just my memories – cherished memories – of those children and my experiences with them juxtaposed with the horror of 19 children just like them being senselessly, viciously gunned down that claw and rip into my heart today?

At this moment the lives of these 19 precious children of Uvalde, Texas, feel just as real to me as the hundreds with faces and names whom I experienced and often embraced, literally and figuratively, in my years as a school counselor. My sense of loss and grief is no less real. The loss and grief borne by their parents, family members, and community friends is unfathomable.

Even as I grieve the senseless loss of our children, I can’t escape asking, “How am I, are we, complicit? What have we, as a people, done or failed to do that makes us all complicit in their deaths? Will we once again point our fingers at a single, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed man – not much more than a child himself – and absolve ourselves of any culpability? Will we again, bemoan the abhorrent level of gun availability and lack of gun regulation in our nation railing against our government’s inaction and questionable, if not corrupt, lobbying practices? Will we continue to ensconce ourselves in our polar political ideologies and do nothing, claiming powerlessness?

Or will we garner the moral courage to come together regardless of ideology to stand up and speak out with such fervor as to truly initiate change on behalf of our children’s lives and the common good with both efforts to address our national mental health crisis and our epidemic of gun violence. I can’t help but believe that we, as a people, and a nation, are at a crossroads. I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. After decades of increased gun violence and school shootings, will we finally do something different? Or will we continue to spiral down into greater national insanity? We, the people, hold the answer.

Pull up, Level off!

I lay in bed this morning way too early to be awake, unable to go back to sleep, and taking a nosedive into a shit storm of shame and fear – to use Brene’Brown’s vernacular. Self-talk was descending, once again, into Why did you. . . why didn’t you. . . you should have known. . what’s the point?  During all that, I heard, “Pull up, level off!” We know the scene. The plane is going down and someone in the cockpit yells “pull up, level off.” Disaster is averted, and all ends well. Well, at least the plane lands and all appear physically intact.

Pull up, Level off!

The storm of shame and fear has been ongoing for several days alternating from tornadic intensity to relative calm. I’ve done the work — several years of it in fact many years ago — addressing the obvious anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts as well as the lurking, menacing feelings of shame, fear, anger, not good enough, etc. Yet, in some moments of conflict, personal fallibility, and disappointment, I find myself pommeled by the storm, again. I suspect all of us humans experience some levels of shame and fear from time to time, and I wonder if those of us with a long history of shame, fear, anger – all that stuff we don’t like to acknowledge or talk about – and subsequent mental health issues are more prone to the storms. That’s a hard reality for me.

At any rate, I do know the storm drill, and it does require pulling up and leveling off. Although, I had never thought of it in those terms. Pull up, resist and reverse the downward spiral of self-talk. Level off with some truths of my humanity such as I am human. I am both capable and fallible, I am enough and lacking at times. I am loved and loving. I am courageous and fearful.  I am a both/and. Fly out of the storm. 

For me, flying out is usually a bumpy, doable ride often made easier by sharing with someone I trust who will listen with empathy, compassion, and perhaps shared vulnerability. Heaven help us if we truly are alone in our experiences of the shame, fear, anger storms. Judgement and catastrophizing are not helpful – I’ve already done enough of that myself. Guidance for any next steps may be helpful.

As I said, I have done lots of work gaining insights into my shame, fear, anger, etc. Unfortunately, insights don’t necessarily eliminate the occasional storms. In this current storm I have been drawn to the image of a six-year-old little girl alone outside hiding, crying, trembling, and clinging to the corner of the school building. 

I say image because I experience this memory as if I am above it, watching it unfold. It was in the spring and our first-grade classes were dismissed at noon for Roundup Day – an afternoon for next year’s first graders to come register for school. I did not know what I was supposed to do to get home. The usual routine, walking home with my older sister or Mama picking us up, was not possible. My sister was still in class, and Mama was not there. I became a small speck on the yellow brick wall.

Someone found me and my teacher just hugged me. Surely, she said some things, but the scene I watch is silent. She took me back to the classroom, brought me a lunch tray, and let me show the rising first-graders around when they began to arrive. When Mama came to pick us up, my teacher told her what had happened. Again, from above I watch as Mama gives me a finger jabbing “tongue lashing” right there in the school breezeway in front of my sister, my teacher, and anyone else that was passing by. Mama grabbed my arm and walked-dragged me to the car continuing the scolding, finally with sound, “You should have known. . .” I still have no idea what I should have known.

As the current shame and fear storm has punched the “play” button on this memory, perhaps for the first time ever, I have connected viscerally, with the fear and shame felt as a child so long ago. Even though I lived in the shadows of those feelings for decades, it is painful to imagine the impact of these feelings on that little soul.

Now for the bumpy, but doable, ride flying out of the storm. I am human. I am enough. I make mistakes. I can and will own my mistakes. Mistakes do not define who I am. I am not a mistake.  

PORCH MUSINGS

It’s morning on the bayou. The porch is cool and pleasant even though the temperature is already 79 degrees at 8 A.M. I suspect the “cool” is attributed to the fans. Fans on the bayou in late Spring serve two purposes – cooling and mosquito repellant!

There is, however, a bit of a breeze this morning. I hear it and see it as the leaves rustle, and the otherwise glassy bayou surface occasionally convulses and shutters. The bayou is up, filled with murky water from the recent rains and runoff, and flowing at a good clip. The spring rains came late and lasted longer this year – through May and into June. I spent several hours yesterday mowing. I have enjoyed mowing since I was a kid. For me, repeatedly making the square, focusing on the line between mown and not-mown grass is calming – almost sedating. I must say it is a bit easier now with the riding lawn tractor than it was back then with the simple, little 22-inch push mower. I see images of myself bent at the hip, focused, and determined to move the mower forward. 

On the Porch!

The receding water level has left areas, usually dust dry, soggy and squishy – ideal for getting stuck. I am extra cautious remembering last year when I got “too close,” and the lawn tractor slipped leaving me stranded on the muddy bayou bank. The 4Runner and a long, heavy chain saved the day.

When I first came out this morning the birds were in full flight and voice darting here and there to a cacophony of birdsong – tweets, warbles, chirps, screeches, and caws. Not so much now! Perhaps the wind has stilled their flight and voices – yielding to a higher power. Yielding to a higher power – that seems to be easier here on the bayou while immersed in silence, solitude, and the ordained simple, exhausting tasks of “chopping wood and carrying water,” which is according to Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God, finding God, the Holy, in the ordinary tasks of our days.

I am often drawn to the “monkish” life feeling immense contentment, peace, and joy in silence, solitude, and simple work while observing the awe and wonder of the beauty, complexity, simplicity, and horror of our natural world. I have sometimes felt the “monkish” life” to be a calling. Yet I question – calling or escape? I suppose there is a balance to be had.

Being here on the bayou, this “monkish” life, feels like a return to all that is true and real in life – me, the presence of God, work, and rest. Wow!  Where did that come from? Though drawn to the silence and solitude, I know that even as an introvert I am a social being. I enjoy personal interaction with others just not a whole lot of folks at one time and not all the time. 

In the natural setting of the bayou, it is not difficult to discern, feel, and commune with God – to practice His presence. But out there in the world, it is not as easy. I get caught up in the activity, the business, the people. In practicing the presence of God in the world I seek to experience a greater awareness of God’s presence in people, all people – created in His image – as I live, work, and rest with and among them.

That’s me, and perhaps humankind as well – a paradox, a jumble of contradictory qualities and traits. I suppose living with and within my contradictions while seeking a sustainable, functional balance that allows me to grow and mature into all I am and was created to be is the stuff of life and the spiritual journey. Whether on the bayou or in the world may I live in the realm of all that is true and real for me: me, the presence of God, work, and rest.

These words from Thomas Merton”s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, some of my reading on the porch, seem to be germane to my musings:

Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs. A struggle against alienation. True solitude is deeply aware of the world’s needs. It does not hold the world at arm’s length.

—-Thomas Merton

Something Heavy on the Line! A Fish Tale — Maybe?

When I was growing up our family vacations were spent in the Sabine River Bottom in Panola County near Beckville, Texas. Daddy did a lot of hunting and fishing primarily to put food on the table; however, undoubtedly, he enjoyed the sport as he continued to fish and hunt long after the catch or the kill was needed to feed the family. 

Fishing trips were large extended family affairs with Daddy, Papa Sammie (his dad, my grandfather), and uncles fishing, Mama and the other women mostly cooking, and us kids playing. We built forts with pine straw walls in the woods, ran our cars and trucks over roads bulldozed in the sand with sturdy sticks, and built sandcastles and dug wells in white sandbars just feet from the river’s edge. It was a race to see who would hit water first.

Dad’s trotline hooks

Daddy took his fishing seriously. For something that was supposed to be fun, it appeared to me he was working awfully hard at it. He kept his fishing gear in meticulous order with neat balls of twine filling several five-gallon buckets. Hundreds of hooks of various sizes, some as large as three inches, with their tails of fishing line dangling were arranged by size and hooked over the lip of the buckets. As a kid, I did not actually go fishing with Daddy. My adventures in the boat were limited to the obligatory boat ride which usually came after Mama’s admonishment, “Bubba, you take those kids for a ride before you take the boat out of the water!” It was the rare occasion, and usually after much pleading and whining, that Daddy let me go in the boat with them to “run the lines.” 

When that happened, I was positioned on the middle seat of the fourteen-foot Jon boat. Papa Sammie was in the back running the motor, and Daddy in the front handling the trotlines. My orders, “Be still, be quiet, and don’t touch anything.” Which I did, only occasionally succumbing to the temptation to extend my hand and let the water ripple over my fingers as the boat sped down the river. Well, at least as fast as the little three-horsepower Johnson outboard motor could manage.

I continued to “whine” my way into the boat.  I learned to run the motor literally under Papa Sammie’s hand. He moved me to the back seat with him, put my hand on the throttle, and covered it with his hand. My hand made every twist and turn of the throttle as we maneuvered the curves and bends of the river and made sure Daddy was in the correct position to run the trotlines. I learned to watch Daddy’s head and hands as he nodded or pointed to indicate the location of a trotline, a turn in the river, or a hazard – sunken tree trunk or submerged rock – to avoid. I had to watch him closely as I could not see the front of the boat around him. 

Sometimes when Daddy picked up the trotline to check it, he might say, “Something heavy on the line.”  This was a signal that we might have a big fish somewhere on one of the deeper hooks.  These words were often echoed by the line itself. I could see the line trembling in Daddy’s hand and flickering in the water from the pull and weight of whatever might be on it. “Something heavy on the line,” was spoken with a broad grin. Daddy’s playful bantering would continue as he pulled the line across the bow of the boat checking and rebaiting every hook. “Something heavy on the line! What do you think we’ve got? Bet it’s an old turtle.” Or “This might be the big one! May just be that old blind eel” Blind eel, aka a big stick snagged on the hook. Daddy took his fishing seriously, and he was having fun. I was having fun, and we were enjoying it together.

 Over the years, the “something heavy on the line” varied from an old, water-logged boot, turtles not nearly as big or fierce as the fight they gave the line, and blind eels too numerous to count. And, yes, there were the big fish as well. Mostly Blue and Channel Catfish with the occasional flathead –Appaloosa Catfish – one weighing in at 48 pounds and as long as I was tall. 

Big Cypress Bayou at Dad’s property

I will always remember the last time I went fishing with Dad.  I was visiting him at the River House in the Spring of 2010, his 79th year, and the first anniversary of Mom’s death. Dad had taken an early medical retirement, and in 1986 they acquired property on Big Cypress Bayou just outside of Jefferson, Texas. In 1991 it became their permanent home. Dad had put some trotlines in the Bayou during the spring rains, an annual ritual as he always claimed, and often proved, the fish were biting when the water was rising or falling. The water was now falling. He asked, “You want to go with me? I need to take up some lines before the water gets too low.” My quick response,”Sure!” Even as an adult, I never missed a chance for a boat ride with Dad.”

He fired up the motor — a 25 horsepower Evinrude – and we headed east down the bayou.  The river raced under us. We rounded a couple of natural bends in the river before Dad turned the boat slightly to the right and entered the “government ditch.” To the left I could see the narrow, less navigated path of the old bayou. The “ditch” was dredged in the late 1800’s. It allowed quicker and easier passage for steamboats paddling from Shreveport to Jefferson and back on their trek to and from New Orleans. Just before the ditch merged back into the river, Dad cut the throttle to a near stop and made a sharp right turn into what most folks would think was a brush thicket. We maneuvered our way through a bit of narrow shallows and came out in a small lake area filled with ancient bald cypress trees some with aprons six to eight feet across and moss hanging from branch to water. We were now on the Little Cypress Bayou.

Dad knew the rivers like the back of his hand. He motored through the cypress trees and into the much narrower channel of the bayou. He could find the most remote locations, often far into the flood waters of the river, for his trotlines.  The only problem being that when the water level began to fall those locations were more difficult to reach.  Such was the case today as our passage was hampered by submerged tree trunks and branches. Numerous times Dad shouted above the motor’s roar, “Hang on!” as he throttled up the motor and jumped the obstacle, each time pulling the motor shaft up enough for the propeller to clear. Afterwards grinning and chuckling, “Now wasn’t that fun!” I was again having fun fishing with Daddy.

At the first line I moved to the back of the boat, and Daddy took his seat in the bow.  As he ran and took up the line, I watched him carefully remove any catch (we got a few), pull the slip knot on the hook line removing it from the main line, sling any trash off the line and hook, and then carefully place the hook over the lip of the white plastic five-gallon bucket. Once he reached the far end of the line, he pulled the slip knot that secured it and began rolling it up into a perfectly round ball of twine. This process slowly pulled the boat back to the other end of the line where Dad tugged the slip knot then wrapped and secured the end of the line before placing the ball in the bucket. His ability and agility with the slip knots always amazed me. He never had to struggle with unwanted tangles and knots in the line.  Lots of practice makes perfect!

I was a bit surprised when Dad asked, “Can you take me to the next lines?” I said, “Sure,” started the motor, and with a bit of trepidation, as I had not done this for several years, began to watch his nodding head and hand gestures for directions. All went well! I banked or bumped him only a couple of times as we checked and took up several more lines.

As he grabbed the last line, he cocked his head back at me and grinned. I heard the familiar words, “Something heavy on the line!” I perked up, “Really!” Then there was no doubt. I could see the line go slack and then taut, buzzing at the water’s surface. There was indeed something heavy on the line! We speculated back and forth about what it might be – a big Appaloosa, maybe a pesky turtle, the blind eel was eliminated quickly as there was too much fight in the line. Dad continued his task removing a couple of small catfish and the hooks as he went, often repeating, “Something heavy on the line,” as his efforts to hold the line became more obvious.

I was watching the show with growing anticipation and had gotten my little flip phone out in preparation to get a photo of whatever we had caught. Suddenly the water to my left rolled and boiled as a large gaping, hissing open mouth came up and hit the side of the boat at my elbow. Scared the B’Jesus out of me! I stood up as I jumped to the other side of the boat – by the way, something you should never do in a boat. 

“What was that?” I gasped.

Dad was wide-eyed as he said, “I don’t know, I never saw it coming. Are you okay? Did it get you?”

“I’m okay,” I said, clearly rattled — shaking like a leaf.

It came to the surface again. A huge, no doubt ancient, Alligator Snapping Turtle — It’s pink, fleshy open mouth big enough to fit two large grapefruits. As it went back beneath the churning waters, I caught a glimpse of its black shiny, spiked shell bigger than a hubcap.

Dad speculated that it was still at least two to three hooks down the line from the boat. In my fright I had not gotten a picture. I asked him to try to pull it up again. I took a couple of shots as Dad strained to bring it to the surface. It was heavy — over 100 pounds according to Dad as measured by his efforts to pull it up.

Now what? We quickly decided we did not want the monster in the boat. How was it hooked? Could we get it unhooked without risking life or limb? Was it injured to the point that it would die? That last question was more mine than Dad’s. He hated turtles and often fussed about them “stealing” the bait off his trotlines. He said, “If I had my pistol, I would shoot it.” He would have regardless of their endangered species recognition. Well, maybe not, if I asked him not to. I was glad he did not have his pistol. 

Dad pulled the line in closer and saw that the hook was in the webbing of the turtle’s hind foot thus explaining how it was able to thrash the water and surface so far from the trotline. Given the length of the hook line and the length of the turtle with extended neck and hind leg, the possibility was six to seven feet. Dad made a couple of attempts to remove the hook from the turtle’s foot; however, with the nearer proximity the snapping and thrashing of jaws and razor-sharp claws was daunting and dangerous. As Dad pulled the slip knot on the hook line he said, “We’re letting you go, hook and all, old man.” Watching Dad methodically ball the trotline twine was calming as my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. He took the motor seat, fired up the engine, and said, “We’ve had our thrill for the day. Let’s go to the house.”

Dad with one of his “heavy” catches!

Dad and I reminisced the fun, excitement, and fright of that afternoon many times over the next couple of years. In the years since Dad’s death the expression “Something heavy on the line,” continues to bring fond memories and has taken on new meaning as Dad’s death was surely, “something heavy on the line.” How often in life do we experience “something heavy on the line” – something heavy and hard in our lives. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, unexpected and disturbs our peace. Sometimes we anticipate it, yet still surprised or frightened when it appears. What do we do with it? Where and how has it hooked us? How long do we struggle and wrestle with it? When is it in our best interest to let it go? All questions we must ask and answer when there’s “something heavy on the line.”

Questions and Questioning: The Lord’s Prayer?

I have read, memorized, and recited Matthew 6: 9 – 13, “The Lord’s Prayer” since I was a kid in Vacation Bible School and never questioned its content, context, or origins. I can still recite it, but no longer can I say that I do not have questions.

The questions started a couple of years ago, but until now I have only mulled over, sat on, and questioned my questioning. Since I can’t seem to stop chewing on the questions, I suppose it’s time to spit them out!

The first question surfaced around the phrase “. . . lead us not into temptation. . .” What? If we are asking God to NOT lead us into temptation, are we to logically conclude that God would indeed lead us into temptation?  There is something unsettling about imagining a father, heavenly or otherwise, who would lead his children into temptation.  

That leads to the second and third questions regarding the phrase “Our Father in heaven…” “Our Father. . .” – what about the feminine, our Mother God? Have we forgotten Genesis 11:27 and being told that God created them, male and female, “in his own image?”  I interpret that as God being equally male and female. Remember Deuteronomy 32:18, “you forgot the God who gave you birth” – mothers give birth. What about Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” It seems to me that God is as much feminine as masculine! We’ve missed Her way too long, and in my opinion, we have suffered for it.

Moving on!  What’s with “in heaven”? God isn’t just out there somewhere way over yonder! God is right here among us. Whether I ascend to heaven, make my bed in Sheol, or paddle around in the uttermost parts of the sea, God is present (Psalm 139: 7-10). Christ admonishes the Pharisees to “Behold” — pay attention for this is important — and then informs them that the kingdom of God is in their midst (Luke 17: 21). I would assume then that God is in our midst for surely God inhabits her kingdom.

As I have chewed on these questions, my prayer to my Lord has evolved:

Father God, Mother God,
In the heavens and on earth among us,
Hallowed – holy, sacred, majestic – is your name.
May your kingdom in heaven and on earth be nurtured and flourish 
As we seek to know and do your will.
Give us this day our daily bread,
As we give gratitude and praise for your provision and sustenance.
We ask forgiveness for our sins,
Things done and things not done,
Words spoken and words not spoken.
Through the grace of your forgiveness,
May we forgive those who have sinned against us
Guide us in your will and righteous ways.
Guard us from temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Yes, I know there is a lot of stuff – opinion, interpretation, research – out there regarding “The Lord’s Prayer” and its content, context, and origins. All of which is probably interesting and thought provoking! I’ve read a good bit of it. However, for my purposes in this writing, it is irrelevant. Mine is not a scholarly discourse, I write simply expressing my knowing as I continue my journey as a pilgrim, seeker, heretic.

Guns — A Terrible Thing Happened!

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shooting incident at Starrville Methodist Church.
.ZAK WELLERMAN/TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH

           Pastor Mark McWilliams (no relation to me) was shot and killed in his home church, Starrville Methodist Church, last Sunday morning. Starrville is a small, rural community approximately 15 miles northeast of Tyler in Smith County, TX.

            Upon entering the church and preparing for the morning services, McWilliams, his wife and another church member opened the bathroom door and found a young man hiding and holding the church bank bag. According to authorities, the young man had been the focus of an unsuccessful police pursuit and man hunt the previous night.

            According to the arrest affidavit, upon finding the intruder in the bathroom, McWilliams, who was armed, started telling him to leave and pulled out his handgun. The intruder lunged at McWilliams, and a struggle ensued in which the intruder seized the gun and shot McWilliams. He also shot at Mrs. McWilliams and a third man who was approaching the church after hearing the gunshots. She was not hit, but the third man was shot. The intruder fled the scene in a truck belonging to one of the victims. He was caught later in the day by Harrison County deputies and returned to Smith County where he was treated for a minor injury and booked into the county jail on numerous charges including capital murder.

            When I first heard about the shooting, I was shocked that something of this nature could happen so close to home and in the sleepy little community of Starrville. I began my teaching career 50 years ago in Winona just up the road from Starrville. Many of my students had lived in Starrville. I was saddened by the pastor’s death and the loss for his family, the church family, and the community. I felt sorrow for the intruder, undoubtedly a troubled young man. Yes, a terrible thing happened! 

            As I considered the incident more, my thoughts began to dwell on the gun. If there had been no gun at the scene, there is a very good probability that the pastor would still be alive, the third man would not have been shot, and a young man would not be facing a capital murder charge. Granted, it was not a good situation, the young man had committed a crime for which there would be consequences, but the presence of a gun compounded the danger and contributed to a tragedy for all involved.

            I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past when carrying a gun was an oddity, an exception to the accepted norm. Carrying a gun to church while worshiping the Prince of Peace was never considered a possibility! Today, our society seems to be enamored with guns – concealed carry, open carry, shooting ranges, and long guns slung over shoulders while walking down the street. Yes, such a tragedy!

             I just wonder what might have happened if the pastor had approached this troubled young man as the Prince of Peace, the Christ of turn the other cheek  — in peace, with grace, love, and compassionate confrontation.  Maybe something we all might want to think about as we keep all involved in this terrible thing in our prayers.

We are Breaking or Broke! Why?


UnknownIn my recent reading of My Beloved World, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, I halted at this statement:

Was it so hard to see himself in the other man’s shoes? I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down:  people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view.


61BP89uLAbL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_As an elementary school counselor, I read How Do I Stand in Your Shoes to my third-grade students. I introduced the story by presenting the children with an assortment of shoes and allowing them to speculate on who might wear each shoe and what their life might be like. The room always filled with “Oooh’s” and “Wow’s” when I pulled out my uncle’s size 16 house shoes. The lesson was not about shoes, but about empathy and how we can learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and try to understand and feel how they are feeling in any given circumstance. Sotomayor had her revelation in 1969. I was teaching my third graders in 2001-2010.Unknown-2

      It is 2020, and Sotomayor was correct in her understanding of 51 years ago. Our society seems to be breaking down, if not already broke. Why? We don’t seem to be able to, or refuse to, empathize – to imagine someone else’s point of view and understand their feelings as if they were our own. If we can’t empathize with someone, then we can’t feel or even identify with how they might be feeling.  The “Golden Rule” – we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated – is often asserted as the guide for our actions toward others. But if we can’t put ourselves in the other person’s situation and feel what he/she might be feeling then how can we be expected to discern how we would want to be treated in that situation and act accordingly.

    getty_614212068_370098 Without empathy, we have lost our guide in making just and compassionate choices in our behavior. Without empathy, we become susceptible to indifference, apathy, and lack of concern for others’ well-being. Without empathy, the spark that informs our humanity is snuffed out.  Without empathy the bridges needed to traverse the chasms of race, culture, religion, and nationality for the enhancement of our greater good are absent – simply not there. Our sense of community is based on empathy, and without empathy our communities crumble. Our communities are the foundation of our nation.

      Even a cursory glance at today’s news headlines – our racial and cultural divisions, our divisive political atmosphere, our petty bickering over issues that should not be argued – illustrate how we, as a society and nation, are breaking or broke. Granted, there is the occasional oasis – oasis whose foundation is empathy – imagining the other person’s point of view and understanding how they are feeling. We have seen teenagers organizing food deliveries for seniors, a 12-year old play his trumpet for weary medical workers, nurses volunteering to serve in Covid hotspots, and moms and grandmothers joining peaceful Black Lives Matters protest. 

      This gives me hope! Hope that these and others of us showing empathy, modeling empathy for others, and nurturing empathy in others will be the incubators for more empathy among us all and the glue that holds our beloved world — breaking or broke — back together.

  

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