Back when I was a small boy, (actually I don’t remember exactly how old I was but it was pre-school) my mother was sitting on the street curb in front of 1812 McLendon Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. I know that was the exact address because it was my grandmother’s house and that’s where my mother and I lived.
My mother was sitting on the curb with her best friend, Ruth Pittard. Now my mother was a good looking woman. And that’s not the statement of an adoring son. I can show you pictures. My mother was a good looking woman. And Ruth Pittard? Whew! Strange, even at that age, I was aware that Ruth Pittard was something else. From the perspective of this present time, I’d say Ruth Pittard made male hearts go giddy-up.
So, there’s the picture of things on that particular day back when. Two beautiful women sitting on the street curb in front of my grandmother’s house talking about whatever they were talking about. And behind them, seated on the grass I played with my toy truck.
Playing with a toy truck is fun at the age I was as my mother and Ruth Pittard sat on the street curb talking about whatever they were talking about. But, there are only so many things you can do with a 1940s tin toy truck on the grass in grandmother’s front yard before the boredom stalls the truck. That’s what happened. The tin, toy, truck was stalled by boredom and would not again crank.
I stood. I walked up to my mother and Ruth Pittard. They kept talking. I tried to interrupt. I was dismissed with a suggestion I continue to play with my toy truck. They didn’t seem to understand the concept of the toy truck being stalled.
I went back to the truck. But, hard as I tried, I could not get the truck to restart. Boredom never restarts the energy of stalled effort.
I rose again and walked over to my mother and Ruth Pittard. They were still talking about whatever they were talking about. I interrupted them. That was probably not a good idea. I was told not to interrupt them. I tried to provide a quick crash course on the effects of boredom. The subject was obviously above their comprehension. I was dismissed again. This time I refused.
I informed my mother and Ruth Pittard that if I was not included in whatever they were talking about I would run away from home. Now, my mother, beautiful as she was, could be a bit curt. She turned her head to look over her shoulder at me and suggested that would be okay.
The gauntlet had been thrown. My mother was a stubborn woman. My mother was prone to shoot from the hip. I am my mother’s child. I picked up the gauntlet. I ran away from home.
I ran away from home for about twenty yards. At that point I tripped. I fell. My forehead made contact with the edge of the concrete driveway. The skin on my forehead ruptured. The bone beneath cracked. I screamed.
I don’t remember being picked up and taken into the house. The next thing I remember is standing on the toilet seat as my mother, Ruth Pittard, and my grandmother poured Iodine into the wound. I remember the sting on that liquid. As I write this now I cannot help but wonder if the Iodine was an act of compassion or an act of torture.
To this day, if I wrinkle my brow in just the right way, the scars from the stitches administered at Emory Hospital are visible. When I look in the mirror and see those scars I remember my first attempt to run away from home.
There’s a lesson here: When you run away from your problems you’re going to end up getting hurt.
Back then, when I was growing up, we didn’t have all the many forms of entertainment that are available now. Hard as it is to believe, we didn’t have television. My media entertainment came from my Hopalong Cassidy radio. The only pictures available were those my mind created as the radio drama was broadcast.
We didn’t even have skateboards. We didn’t have in-line skates. We did have roller skates, the kind where you twisted a gear to make them clamp properly onto you shoes. Goodness knows, we didn’t have adequate transportation. We actually had to walk to school if we lived within two miles of the school. (By the way, it was uphill, both ways.)
But we did have bicycles. Every kid in my age group had a bike. I was lucky. I had a Schwinn, a classic. It was red. It had tremendous appeal, what with the space between the bars connecting the seat area to the front steering mechanism being wrapped with an attractive metal plate. The graphics on that coverage were tremendous. My poor brother, seven years younger than I, alas, only had a Huffy Convertible, a children’s bike with rear training wheels and foot steps. Bless his heart.
So, bikes were a status symbol. One washed one’s bike. One checked the tire pressure on one’s bike. When feeling exuberant one purchased plastic streamers that could be fastened to the rubber grips on the steering bar handles that would flutter in the wind.
We went everywhere on those bikes. Back then there was no other way to get to everywhere other than our bikes, unless one wanted to walk, which would be somewhat of a comedown.
So, I had this great bike. I mean, I had a Schwinn. How I got a Schwinn I do not know. Mother and Daddy did not have that much money. But, nevertheless, I had a Schwinn. It looked good.
Back then, humans were very much the same as they are now. Today, if someone is able to purchase a top-of-the-line American made automobile, it won’t be six months until they begin thinking of purchasing a BMW. It was that way with my Schwinn. It was a great bike. It was sleek and red. I loved riding it, but I wanted something more.
My mother didn’t give birth to stupid kids. I knew I was not going to get any bike better than my Schwinn. But, like I say, my mother did not give birth to stupid kids. So …
I sat on the front porch one day looking down at my red, sleek, Schwinn resting on its kick stand in the driveway. Suddenly, I had an idea. If I was never going to get anything better that the Schwinn, I could at least make the Schwinn better.
I headed into the house. The first stop was to the laundry room. I confiscated four of my mother’s clothes pens. Then there was a dash into my parent’s bedroom. I knew my Daddy had a deck of cards in his sock drawer. (Actually, I knew where Mother and Daddy hid everything. But that’s another story.) Quickly, I thumbed through the deck and extracted four aces. Then I dashed outside.
I affixed the four aces, two on each side of the Schwinn's rear wheel. This was accomplished by affixing one end of each card to the fender brace with the closes pens. The other side of the card stuck out in the space between the rear tire spokes. Mounting the bike I headed out the driveway. Sure enough, the spokes stroking the cards produced this sound that, to my young ears, sounded like a powerful machine.
Up and down the street I pedaled, with the roaring sound of activated aces accompanying my journey.
Bobby Garner, my next-door neighbor must have heard the pulsating sound of my card-enhanced Schwinn. He pedaled out of his driveway on his broken down bike. I don’t remember the model of Bobby Garner’s bike. Why would I? It was a piece of trash. It certainly wasn’t a Schwinn. And it certainly wasn't producing a mighty sound as was mine.
He commented on my bike’s addition. I told him "Thanks," and I thought it was neat. And then he said, “Want to race to the end of the street?”
“Want to race to the end of the street?” Bobby Garner was a fool. I was on a Schwinn that was playing card enhanced. “Sure,” I said. And we both took off.
It was an even race for about half the distance to the end of the street. At that point Bobby Garner passed me like I was standing still. I didn’t understand it. I was crushed. I know that at the end of the street, when I got off the bike, it didn’t seem as red as it was at the other end of the street. I bent down and removed the cards and the clothes pens from the bike. It was a lot quieter riding home.
There’s a lesson here: Making a lot of noise is no guarantee you’ll win the race.
It was a hot July day back then. It was a hot July day following the sixth grade. I was cutting the grass. My weekly chore was to cut the grass. Every Saturday I cut the grass, even if it was a hot July day.
Now, dear Reader, understand that on that hot July day following the sixth grade year when I cut the grass, it was much different than cutting the grass in the Twenty-first Century. Back in the last century, when I was cutting the grass on that hot July day following my sixth grade year, the grass was cut with a push mower. It was truly a push mower. I was the motor. I did the pushing. The harder I pushed the faster the blades turned. But, one can only push so fast for so long before one loses one’s breath. Yet, I pushed. I pushed because it was my chore. And when I completed my chore I got thirty-five cents. That was enough money to go to the movies at the Decatur Theater, where for that thirty-five cents I could see a feature movie, a serial movie, where there was a chapter every week, a cartoon, and future attractions promos, plus some candy or popcorn and a soft drink.
On this particular hot July afternoon, my mind was not on the thirty-five cents. My mind was not on how Rocket Man was going to extricate himself from the precarious situation he’d found himself in last week’s chapter of the serial movie. My mind was on more important things. More pressing things. My mind was on love.
Katie Simmons, in my sixth grade class, sat on the row to my left and two seats forward from me. Katie Simmons had blonde curls that cascaded about her head and bounced about with every movement of her body. Katie Simmons was smart. Katie Simmons always made the best grades. Katie Simmons was the most beautiful creature that ever attended Medlock Elementary School. One day, sometime during my sixth grade year, I realized that Katie Simmons was exceptional. And more importantly, though I couldn't articulate it at the time, I was in love with Katie Simmons.
So, on that particular hot day in the middle of July as I cut the grass with that push mower and sweated, I was distracted by visions of bouncing blonde curls, of delicate skin, of flashy smiles that exhibited pearly white teeth, and a laugh that compared only to the laughter of an angel. As my chore ended, I made a big decision.
“Ready to go to the movie?” my Dad asked, as he handed me my thirty-five cents.
“Not today,” I replied. “I think I’m going to go for a bike ride.”
Inside I cleaned up. I brushed my teeth. It was unnecessary as I’d brushed them that morning. But, I’d made up my mind. I took a bath. I pulled out some really sharp clothes, neatly pressed pants with an obvious crease. A shirt, cut in such a way as to accentuate my maleness. Then I left the house.
The first half of the trip to Katie Simmons’ house was easy. It was mostly downhill. I coasted along on my Western Flyer bicycle as I envisioned the many ways I could express my affection, my love, for Katie Simmons.
The second half of the trip to Katie Simmons house was uphill, really uphill. I zig-zagged my bike from one side of the street to the other as I struggled up the hill that led to Katie’s house. I couldn’t fail. I couldn’t afford to get off the bike and push lest Katie see me and find me less than manly. Zig-zagging I struggled along until, finally, I arrived at Katie’s driveway.
I paused, waiting for my panting to subside and the sweat to diminish. One had to appear worthy before Katie Simmons. Finally, ready, I mustered up my courage and approached the front door of the house.
I waited. I tried again.
This time a man came to the door. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“I’m here to see Katie.” I proclaimed with all the confidence a boy in the summer following his sixth grade year could muster.
“Katie?” he asked.
“Katie,” I said, wondering why this man would not know the name of his daughter, the beautiful Katie Simmons.
“Oh, Katie,” he said, “Katie. Yes, she doesn’t live here anymore. We bought their house when they moved to Oklahoma.”
The ride back home seemed much longer than the ride to Katie’s house. And the ride seemed uphill all the way.
When I got home my Dad asked, “Did you have a good ride?”
I didn’t answer. I went to my room. It was a hot day in July following my sixth grade year when Katie Simmons became just a distant memory.
THERE’S A LESSON HERE: It’s never too early to tell someone you love them.
"Clergy cannot preside over the wedding ceremony. Specifically, these bishops say, clergy cannot officiate at the vows, exchange of rings or the declaration and pronouncement of marriage. They cannot sign the certificate of marriage or participate in any way that makes it appear to people present that they are conducting the wedding.
"However, these bishops say, clergy can assist same-gender couples in finding other venues for their weddings; provide pre-marital counseling; attend the ceremony; read Scripture, pray or offer a homily."
So, I cannot appear to be conducting a same-sex wedding. BUT I can provide the pre-marital counseling, be at the ceremony, read the scripture at the ceremony, pray at the ceremony, and offer a homily at the ceremony that is, according to the laws of my church, 'incompatible with Christian teaching.'"
Bear with me, bishops, I'm an old retired parson, living out here in the country, far away from sophisticated theological thinkers. I need a little time to think. I'm more than a little confused.
My best friend is the Reverend Dr. Gary DeMore, pastor of Saint John’s United Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia. Gary and I have been good friends since seminary, back in the last century. We were an interesting pair as we didn’t attend all of the classes. We did attend some, but there were more interesting things to study outside the buildings.
As I said, Gary is my best friend. When I’ve needed help, Gary has always been there. When I woke up from heart surgery, Gary was there. When I was going into surgery for carotid artery surgery Gary was there. When my wife Geri died, Gary was there and Gary and his brother Phil celebrated her service of resurrection. When my wife Lynn (Ms. Parson) died, Gary was there and he and his brother Phil celebrated her service of resurrection, also.
Gary is a plain spoken fellow. Gary tells the truth. I remember sitting in the dean’s office at seminary when the dean was trying to evaluate a new program, called supervised ministry the students had gone through that year. We were sitting in a circle. One after another the students poured effusive praise on the dean about the program. “Oh, Dean, this has been so meaningful to me.” It went on an on. Finally, the dean asked Gary what he thought.
“I’ll pass,” said Gary.
“No, Gary. You can’t pass,” said the Dean. “I want everyone’s input.”
“Okay,” said Gary. “Basically, it was an earthenware pot full of excrement.” (Note that here I have used theologically acceptable words to describe what Gary actually said.)
The above is just to give you a glimpse into why Gary is so dear to me. But there’s one other reason. Since graduating from seminary, Gary and I have had this deal. Whatever I write he can use without giving me credit. And what he writes I can use without giving him credit. We’ve been known to swap sermons. Truth be told, I’ve never failed to give him credit. And I’m sure he’s never used any of my stuff without giving me credit. His folks would have noticed the step down.
I’ve tried over the years to get Gary to write on the internet, to get a blog. He won’t. He should. Here’s a sample of his writing from this past May 3rd issue of his church’s newsletter:
“My dear friend Chris was telling me about a woman who shot up a McDonald’s restaurant ‘somewhere’ because the person who prepared her burger had failed to add the bacon. He had heard the story on the radio, but couldn’t remember the details. He thought they maybe said something about Michigan, but he wasn’t sure.
“So, I naturally went to the Internet to see what I could find out. I typed in ‘McDonald’s shooting,” and discovered that there had been recent shootings at McDonald’s restaurants in Toronto, Chicago, and Houston. I read all three articles, even though none of those cities are in Michigan, but I didn’t find any reference to bacon. Undaunted, I moved on.
“I typed in ‘McDonald’s bacon’ and finally found my story. It happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in February of 2014, and it was in the recent news because the woman who opened fire as gone to trial and has been sentenced for her crime.
“The story unfolds with our hungry citizen ordering a bacon cheeseburger at the drive-thru window of her local McDonald’s. When she received her food, she opened the bag to check her order. One should always to that. Back in the day, when I actually went to McDonald’s and used the drive-thru, I never checked my order. More that once, much to my dismay, I arrived home with someone else’s food. So, the protagonist of our story did well to check her order. Alas, they had failed to put the bacon on her burger, and she asked them to re-do her order. As far as the story goes, she was pleasant enough about that, and sat patiently while her order was redone.
“Regrettably, when they brought her burger to her the second time, they had again failed to add the bacon. That was when she pulled out her gun and fired a shot through the drive-thru window. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I imagine one or two of the employees tried a bit harder their next day at work to fill their orders correctly.
“As the lady stood before the court, the judge asked her if she had anything to say. ‘Well, I’m sorry it happened,’ she said, ‘but it’s over and done with now, and I’m ready to move on.’ The judge thought so, too. He moved her on to the state prison, where she will serve a 3-7 year jail term for ‘discharging’ a weapon at a building.
“Now, I can’t speak for this woman, about what was going on in her head, or about what kind of day she had had the day she opened up on that restaurant. I don’t know anything about her home life, or anything about the people who might have had some influence on her life along the way.
“What I do know, though, is that an unforgiving spirit is an awful thing. An unforgiving spirit had been the genesis of wars, broken homes, and shattered friendships. An unforgiving spirit has splintered churches, divided nations, and left the bodies of the innocents in it wake.
“When I read that article I couldn’t help but think of Peter’s conversation with Jesus regarding forgiveness as recorded in Matthew’s gospel.
“‘Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.’
“That poor lady couldn’t make it all the way to two.”
—- Thanks Gary. I was really busy. I made a vow to once again, regularly post something on this blog. But last night I decided to watch the USA Women win the World Cup. I couldn’t have watched it without you. I'm so glad you're my friend.
So, on Friday the parson headed down to the Quik Trip to purchase some gas, some beverage, and, truth be told, this time, a lottery ticket (It could happen.).
He stood at the pump, filling the tank, when he noticed the red pickup truck directly in front of him, parked near the door of the building. Extending over the tail gate of the truck were two 5’ x 8’ flags. One was the Confederate Battle Flag; the other was another version of the same with the words, “The South will rise again.”
The parson watched, as the dollar numbers continued to roll over on the pump indicator, an African-American young man walking from his vehicle at a nearby pump. He was headed inside the store. Dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt with no sleeves, his biceps bulged. He stopped about twenty feet from the Confederate adorned vehicle and stared. Then he shook his head from side to side and headed inside.
The parson finished pumping the gas. As he was retrieving his receipt from the pump, he saw the young lady exiting the store. She was dressed in a tight t-shirt and shorts with a Confederate flag about two feet in length tied to a belt loop on her right side. She walked up to the red pickup truck with the Confederate flags extended over the tailgate. She turned and faced the store. [“Forgive me father for I have sinned,” the parson silently confessed. He had stopped looking at the Confederate flag hanging from her right belt loop and, instead, fixed his eyes on the substantial amount of butt cheek displayed below her short-shorts, complimenting her Southern heritage.]
Gas nozzle returned to the holder, receipt in hand, the parson got back in the car, drove it into the parking spot adjacent to the protectors of a sinful culture. Exiting the car, he stopped before going into the store. “Interesting flag,” he said. “What regiment did your granddaddy serve in?”
“What?” the young fellow in his mid-twenties asked.
“What regiment did your granddaddy serve in, wait, seeing how young you are it must have been your Great-great-great granddaddy.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, stepping toward the parson. At that point, Charlie Brown, the parson’s faithful canine companion and his girlfriend Penny both stood up in the car seats.
“I’m just asking you what regiment your ancestors served in in the War of Northern Aggression. Mine served in the Georgia Fifth Infantry.”
“Are you making fun of me?” he asked.
“Yes,” the parson said. “I am.”
The wannabe defender of the Confederacy stated at the parson another half minute. Then the parson said, “Tell me, what does that mean?” He pointed to the flag which proclaimed “The South Will Rise Again.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Are you making fun of me?”
“I told you already, I am,” the parson said. “Listen, the South will rise again when the Governor of Georgia pushes extending Medicaid benefits so the poor people of this state, like your cousins, can benefit more from Obamacare. The South will rise again when the legislature of this state raises the minimum wage so people can lift themselves up. And the South will rise again when you and your friends here stop flying these idiotic flags and do some to make the South a better place to live.”
The parson turned and walked in the store to the sound of both Charlie Brown and Penny growling.
Inside that fellow with the t-shirt with the cut-off sleeves was getting some pizza. “Thanks,” said the parson.
“For what?” he asked.
“For not responding to those flags,” the parson responded. “I know it offended you.”
“It did,” he said. “Look, I saw you talking to them. What did you say?”
“Not much,” the parson replied. “Ignorance can be fixed. Stupid is forever.”
Sir Nicholas Winton has died. He was 106 years old.
You’ve never heard of Sir Nicholas Winton? That’s a shame. His was a life we all should aspire to live.
In 1939, while on a two week vacation in Europe, he became concerned with the obvious coming war. He was also concerned with the children who would suffer as a result of the Nazi occupation. He began an effort to get the children out of Czechoslovakia. He took advantage of an obscure British law, along with forging hundreds of documents and blackmailing some officials, to relocate 669 children to the United Kingdom as refugees.
What he did was unknown until 1988 when his wife, prowling around the attic, found documents of his activities along with the name of the children.
Two years ago CBS produced a 60 Minute segment that traced his historic life. He saved 669 children, but they had children and the children had children. Today he died as the father of 15,000 plus children.
Below is the 60 Minute segment. It’s 15 minutes long, but you’ll be better for watching it.
Sunday (this past Sunday) was a big day for the parson. First, his church celebrated a sixteen-year-old young lady, who attends his church, advancing to the National Finals of the High School Rodeo tournament. And, secondly, it was the fiftieth anniversary of the first time the parson stepped into a pulpit as an appointed United Methodist minister.
The parson, as he listened to the congregation sing, reflected back on that day. He’d been appointed to a three church circuit. The smallest of the three churches, of course, had the earlier morning service. Arriving very early, the parson waited in his car for someone else to arrive. He had not yet been given a key. When folks did arrive, the parson sat in the back of the church as Sunday school was conducted. Sunday school concluded and the man in charge said, “Well, our new minister is here. So, we welcome him to come up now and conduct the worship service.”
Full of excitement, carrying his new Bible and his sermon notes in his hand, the parson approached the chancel. He silently commanded himself to be calm. And then, as he started to place his notes and Bible on the pulpit, he saw the brass plate. It read, “Francis Asbury, first bishop of the Methodist Church, preached from this pulpit on April 7, 1805.” The parson smiled as he remembered that was all he could remember of that first Sunday as the parson.
A reception was held in the fellowship hall following the worship. After folks had eaten, and after a lot of stories had been swapped, Jim Swallowford, a pastor from a nearby church, sat down beside the parson. “Tell me, Parson,” he said, “how were you able to get all those churches to love you so much?”
The parson leaned over and quietly replied, “I moved.”
When I was a child, a young child, my great-grandmother seemed to spend most of her life on the sofa in my grandmother’s living room. Often, when I scamper through the room on some mission of childhood fantasy, she’d stop me and order: “Come over here.” She’d point to a spot on the floor directly in front of her. I’d do as instructed. She’d lift my shirt up with her left hand and proceed to stick the end of her right index finger into my navel. At this point she’d proclaim: “See where the Yankees shot you when you were a baby.”
Whenever I tell that story there’s always one of two reactions. One reaction is, “That’s horrible.” The other reaction is, “That’s funny.” Both reactions are right. It was funny; it was horrible. My great-grandmother spent her childhood in rural Georgia where the land was patrolled by an occupying army. It colored her views.
I couldn’t help but think of this as I reflected on the momentous events of this past week.
I grew up as a child of the South where racism was rampant. Segregation was the way it was. And yet, I remember the discussion in a high school history class when President Eisenhower sent the troops into Little Rock. The discussion centered on our feeling that African-Americans not being able to attend our schools was terrible. There we were, kids who didn’t have a driver’s license yet, more grown up than many of our parents and grandparents.
It’s time to grow up. Take the Confederate battle flag down. My great-grandmother died two generations ago.
This past year, in that same high school classroom, where I and my classmates concluded that segregation was wrong, blacks and whites are studying together, playing together, dating each other. The reason they are is the Supreme Court of the United States said discriminatory laws against races was unconstitutional.
One of the candidates for President of the United States said, in reaction to the Supreme Court decision, “An unjust law is no law at all.” He invoked the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. in citing that quote. And Martin Luther King, Jr was quoting Saint Augustine. He’s right. He just failed to acknowledge that it is the Supreme Court that determines which of our laws are just and unjust. If that wasn’t so there would be no black faces in that classroom where I went to school today.
Saying that “an unjust law is no law at all” is not an indictment of the Supreme Court’s decision that the LBGT community cannot be denied the right of marriage, it’s an indictment of the failure of the one speaking failing to grow up. It’s ridiculous. The Supreme Court long ago said that a law that denies a black person to marry a Caucasian is “no law at all.”
Basically, those who are saying the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision bypasses the process of law apparently never sat in a history classroom like the one I sat in during high school. Civil rights are not a matter of voting. Civil rights don’t need a legislative vote. Civil rights are, help me out here, ah, ah, … civil rights are RIGHTS.
One more point. These arguments that the Supreme Court is going to force me to marry someone is the product of an uninformed brain. I am an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church. No one can force me to marry anyone. It’s based one of the principles the people against gay marriage keep pushing, the separation of church and state (unless the Court rules in favor of their desires). I once spent more than a few sessions with a couple, both white and both straight, in pre-marital counseling. There came a point when I told them I wouldn’t agree to perform the marriage service. They were upset, to say the least. They went to another pastor a few blocks down the street. He married them. They divorced six months later.
I’m not a lawyer, but my interpretation of the decision is does not interfere with my duties as a pastor. Instead, it is a decision that says the Clerk of the Probate Court has to issue the license. Truth is, I might refuse to marry them, but the decision will not be based on whether or not they are gay.
I find it amazing that certain people who have a record of demanding the Supreme Court enforce their own theological views stomp their feet and shake their fists and whine when the nation is screaming, “Grow up.”
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