Spewing Liver…

spit out

I realize most of you grew up in tasteful families with genteel manners, where everyone was born knowing which fork to use for dessert and which fork to use for salad.  I grew up in a family that was proud to have forks.

We did have some couth.  Chewing with your mouth open or smacking your food meant you were sent to your room without finishing supper and with no dessert.  “That’s disgusting,” Mamma would say.

At this point, I should inform you that I hate liver.  As far back as I can remember, someone has been encouraging me to eat liver.  I was told, “How do you know you don’t like it unless you try it?”  I’ve never tried self-performed surgery either but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.  It did not matter if the liver came from a chicken or a cow, my parents thought there was some virtue in consuming it.

Mamma finally decided on a fool-proof plan to make me eat liver: she would fry it, like fried steak.  Mamma made the best fried steak south of the Suwanee River.  She would flour it with salt and pepper mixed in, and slide it into an iron skillet of hot Crisco.  Then she would cook rice and homemade milk gravy (this was before cholesterol).  Green beans that had simmered all day with a ham hock and homemade biscuits with butter completed the meal.

I came in from a hard day of running around being a boy.  Being a consummate consumer of Mamma’s fried selections, I knew this was not fried chicken.  I asked Mamma, “What’s for supper?”  She said, without cracking a smile, “Beef!  Now, set the table.”  I neglected to ask which part of the cow would be served, and with mouthwatering, I set the table.

We said the blessings, and used our single forks to spear a piece of crispy brown meat.  I quickly cut a piece, lifted my fork to my mouth, and let my lips capture the prize.

My taste buds registered surprise.  The crispy fried outside was familiar, but beyond that thin layer was a meat of unknown origin. Instead of the sweetness of round steak, there was a bitterness, like burnt motor oil (don’t ask how I know burnt motor oil is bitter). My brain began to frantically search its memory files.  With amazing speed my neurons went back into the cobweb covered taste recollections.  The taste fit the profile of “liver.”

I promise I did not do this intentionally.  It was an involuntary reflex.  My brain sent an emergency message to my lungs, my tongue, my cheeks, and my lips saying, “Expel this heathen substance!”  I spewed the half-eaten chunk of liver out of my mouth, into the atmosphere.  It landed on my brother’s plate.  He yelled my name: “Clay!”  My brain had moved onto other things, like chugging my glass of sweet tea to wash that nasty taste off my taste buds.

There then ensued a great family debate.  My brothers insisted I be banished from the table because I had been caught chewing with my mouth open.  I insisted I was innocent, because: 1) I had not repeatedly chewed, only moving my jaw once; 2) Spewing a deadly substance out one’s mouth is not a violation of Amy Vanderbilt’s Rules of Etiquette, but a survival tactic; and 3) My Mother lied to me.

Mercy prevailed and I filled up on rice and gravy (which was good, even if it derived from liver).

Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will spew you out of my mouth.”

Jesus cannot stand people or churches that are apathetic and disengaged.  To him, they taste like liver.  Jesus can handle opposition.  He loves passion.  He loathes passivity.

When I was an adult, I told a doctor about my aversion to liver.  He said, “I don’t blame you.  Never eat another animal’s poison filter.”

Are passive Jesus followers, passive churches, bags of poison that Jesus will spew out of his mouth?

Or maybe the better question is, “Is Jesus about to spew me out of his mouth?”

The Empty House…

 two story house

No one lived in the old Durrance home place.  The two-story house sat empty most of my childhood and teen-age years.  What had once been home to a family was home to rats and snakes.  The house was a hazard.

The surviving grandson, Juddy, owned the place.  He decided to burn it down (you could do such things in those days).  Mildred, married to a Durrance descendant, asked me to go over with her to see if anything was left in the house worth saving.

The house had been emptied of all furniture years before.  But strewn on the floor were old papers, bills, and books.  It was debris left from decades of a family living and farming and making this house a home.

In an upstairs bedroom I found a Bible.  It laid on top of a pile of papers.  I picked it up and opened to the flyleaf.  Written there was the name “Sam Durrance.”

Sam was a country preacher legend where I come from.  He died before I was born, but I heard the stories.  Once, preaching at Fort Green, he got so excited he ran on the tops of the slat-backed pews from the front of the open-air tabernacle to the back and then ran up the center aisle, never missing a beat (church was more exciting back then).  Not content with just preaching, Sam was a County Commissioner, and a friend of political powers.  He had other colorful traits I won’t mention.

Now, here was his Bible, in an empty house, about to be burned.  If I left the Bible, it would burn up.  I picked the Bible up, gave it to Mildred, and told her if she didn’t want it, I would be honored to have it.  Just then, Juddy drove up.  We showed him our find and asked him if he wanted it (hoping he would say no).  But he said yes, and took the Bible with him.  I never saw it again.

A few days later, Juddy burned the house.  We saw the smoke four miles away at our place.  When we passed by a few days later, we saw still-smoking ruins.  The house was gone, everything good taken out of it.

Jesus told a story about a demon who left a man, trying to find a better place.  After wandering around for a while, he failed to find a new soul that would welcome him.  So, he went back to his old home.  He found the soul clean, but empty.  The demon went out and found seven other spirits eviler than itself, and the eight of them moved into the empty soul.  Jesus finished the story by saying the man was worse off than he was before (Matthew 12:43-45).

Jesus is teaching us that it is not enough to get rid of evil in our lives.  This is why most of us fail in our battle against evil.  We falsely believe if we have enough willpower, we can stop doing wrong.  We succeed for a little while, until evil comes back with a greater force, and wrecks our souls again. We’ve got to fill up our souls with something else, something more powerful than evil.   We must fill our souls with Jesus.

I think about the old Durrance place, empty all those years.  But there was something eternal there, a Bible, God’s word which endures forever.  When the Bible was removed, the only thing really to do with that old wreck of a house was to burn it down.

If Jesus is not occupying your life, evil will move in.  It will shove out everything eternal, until finally, your soul is like an empty house, only fit for snakes and rats and burning.  That’s not what God wants for you.  He wants to give you eternal life and make your soul his home, his beautiful home.

Is your soul empty?  Or full of Jesus?

Temptations…

HorseManureLoad4

My brothers and I were given the chore of cleaning out the horse stalls.  Steve was seventeen, Bobby was fourteen and I was ten.  Over time, the horse stalls fill up with processed horse feed.  My step-father, Lawrence, never one to waste a resource, wanted us to shovel it onto the truck, and then shovel it out into a sandy section of the orange grove to build up the soil.

My brothers made it their mission in life to let me know where I stood in the pecking order.  When they were left in charge, I would have to run around the house three times before I could have one potato chip (I was a lot thinner then).  When the three of us were assigned chores, they tried to arrange things so they did the supervision and I did the labor.  This chore was no different.

The problem, however, with them supervising and me shoveling was that a scrawny ten-year-old boy can’t shovel very much.  They soon realized they would have to work as well.  Much colorful language ensued as we piled the contents of the horse stalls onto the truck.

We all three crammed into the seat (this was before super crew cabs) and drove over to the sandy place in the grove.  A fight ensued about who would drive the truck and who would shovel.  My brothers realized that if I shoveled, we’d be there all afternoon.  That’s when the miracle occurred:  they let me drive.

To those of you aghast at the idea of a ten-year-old driving a truck, I should explain we were all taught to drive early.  In the country, driving a truck or a tractor was an essential skill.  I learned to drive in a 1959 Willys Jeep truck three-speed, when I was five.  No body worried about me running into something.  There were only orange trees and cows.  The trees would stop me and the cows had enough sense to get out of the way.

My brothers climbed in the back with the shovels, giving me strict instructions that I was to ease forward, then stop.  They would shovel out the soil enrichment material and then I would ease forward again.  I put the truck in first gear, let out the clutch slow as I had been taught and eased forward.

After about five minutes, boredom had set in.  A bored ten-year-old mind is a dangerous thing.  I began to remember all the times my brothers made me run around the house for a potato chip.  I remembered them telling me about the monsters that only lived under my bed, because they liked young, tender meat.  I remembered when they told me I was adopted (I’m not and I have the pictures to prove it).  Then temptation came to me.

I can’t say where the idea formed, only that it sprang to life in my conscious.  What would happen if the next time they yelled, “Pull forward,” I popped the clutch and plopped them into the load of processed horse feed?  They would be covered in revenge.

A small voice in my head said, “Love your enemy, do good to those who persecute you.”  Another voice said, “It’s time to get even.”  Can you tell which voice belonged to God and which belonged to Satan?

Steve yelled out, “Pull forward.”  I popped the clutch.  They plopped into the pile of processed horse feed, revenge covering their faces.

I had enough sense not to stick around.  I opened the door of the truck and ran for the house.  I had a good head start but forgot they had the truck.  I looked over my shoulder to see Steve gripping the steering wheel, wiping the processed horse feed out of his eyes, bearing down on me.  Bobby was still floundering in the back of the truck, unable to get his footing.  I zig-zagged around orange trees, trying to shake them.  Steve was grinding gears, making those four cylinders whine.  I reached the house just as the truck skidded to a halt.  Mamma came out to see what all the fuss was about.

I can still see her, looking at one son, panting, out of breath, then looking at her other sons, covered with processed horse feed.  She covered her mouth and tried to look disapproving, but she broke into laughter instead.  She did not punish me.

Steve and Bobby, however, got their revenge a few days later.  This time we were in the grove, pruning trees.  They found a black snake, a harmless little thing.  Then a tempting thought entered their mind.   They waited until my back was turned and threw the snake at me.

I don’t know who was more traumatized, the snake or me.  The snake went one way and I went the other.  The war of the brothers continued most of that summer.

It’s been a long time since I thought about that summer and a long time since I was tempted to get revenge on my brothers.  My mind focused on different things.

Your battles, your wars always continue until you say “no” to temptation, “no” to revenge.  The best way to defeat temptation is to focus your soul elsewhere.  Focus on what God wants for you, not on putting people in their place.

Funny, though.  Suddenly I have this urge to call my brothers and pretend to be an agent of the IRS, telling them they have a tax audit.  Time for me to refocus again.

Peter Meets Jesus on Easter

Jesus laughing

It is just a fragment of a verse: “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34).”  On the day that changed the world, Jesus took time to personally appear to Simon Peter.  Peter, of course, would become the leader of the church, the preacher of the first Christian sermon, and the one who broke the racial barrier by offering the gospel to the Gentiles.  Most scholars agree with the tradition that Peter provided Mark with the stories for his gospel.  Yet there is no detail of this encounter in Mark’s gospel.  Only Luke mentions it.  Why?

Imagine the President calling you personally.  I’d sure post it on Facebook.  I’d probably write a column about what was said.   One thing is for sure; I wouldn’t keep quiet about it.

I can’t help but wonder how this encounter between Jesus and Peter happened.    Maybe Peter was haunted by the events of early Friday morning.  He had vowed he would never deny Jesus, he would never run away, he would never be a coward.  In the span of minutes, he broke all his promises and hid in shame the rest of the day.

Saturday after the crucifixion was a day of rest.  Travel was forbidden.  Peter was house bound with the other disciples, perhaps still in the upper room.  When Sunday dawns, it is time to make plans for the next chapter of life.

All travel plans are put on hold by Mary’s news that the tomb of Jesus is empty.  Peter and John run to the tomb.  John gets there first; Peter arrives and goes in; John follows.  John believes.  Peter still has questions.

Peter and John go back to the other disciples.  No one knows what happened in that meeting.  My hunch is they argued (they were good at that).  John argues Jesus is risen.  He puts together all of Jesus’ teachings, predictions, and the empty tomb, and believes resurrection is the only logical possibility.  Other disciples are saying “No way!”  Some argue to get out of town now; others say let’s wait and see.

I wonder if Peter was off in a corner, for once not the leader.  Maybe part of him hoped it was true.  Maybe part of him was worried it was true.  What do you say to the Risen Lord you denied three times?

Did Peter go for a walk to get out of the house while everyone argued?  Did he slip down back streets where no one was likely to see him and identify him as one of Jesus’ disciples?  Did he find an unmarked trail up the Mount of Olives to be alone?  Did he look down at the city, seeing the Temple Jesus cleansed, the hill where Jesus died and the house of the Chief Priest, where he had denied Jesus?

Maybe it was at this moment that Jesus appeared to Peter.  I can imagine Jesus coming up behind Peter, tapping him on the shoulder, and saying, “Hi Rocky!”  Peter would have nearly jumped out of his skin, hearing that voice he knew so well.

When Peter turned and saw Jesus’ face, what did he see?  I imagine Jesus smiling at him.  Peter might have taken two steps back in shock.  Did Jesus reach out and bear hug Peter?  I can see him doing that.

What did Jesus say?  “I forgive you?”  Did Jesus remember another moment with Peter, when he walked on the water and his fear got the best of him?  When Peter started to sink, Jesus grabbed his hand, and said, “O you of little faith.  Why did you doubt?”  I wonder if Jesus repeated those same words again, with a twinkle in his eye.

We will never know what happened during Jesus’ encounter with Peter.  My hunch is the moment was too sacred for Peter, too holy to ever describe.

Sometimes if you try to describe something amazing, it makes it diminish in your soul.  Telling the story makes it lose size and power.  I think that’s what happened to Peter.  This was the holiest moment of all, to be treasured and never diminished.

Everyone needs that kind of moment with Jesus.  Have you had yours?

The Pile…

garbage pile

Imagine all the evil of the world piled into one place.  What’s in the pile?

There is big evil, of course.  Slavery throughout the centuries.  Genocide.  Wars of conquest and plunder.  Apartheid.  Into the pile goes not just the sins of nations, but the sins of complicit individuals, many of whom would claim, “We were just following orders.”

On the pile goes personal sins.  Lies. Adultery.  Failure to rest.  Dishonoring your father and mother.  Coveting.  Our assumption is these are little sins.  Not in God’s eyes.   They are violations of his values.  On the pile they go.

Crimes are on the pile.  Personal crimes like assault, murder, theft.  Crimes committed by corporations and businesses go on the pile too.  Treating people like machines.  Corporate greed.  Failure to pay a living wage.

A big addition to the pile are the sins of God’s people.  Start all the way back with the people of Israel.  They doubted God in the desert.  Their neighbors’ gods were more attractive, so they failed to be loyal solely to God.  Forward to the church.  The sins of the church are many.  Lusting for power.  Failure to welcome the least of these.  Attaching God’s name to things God wants nothing to do with.

There is evil in the world that doesn’t come from personal choice.  There is the evil of cancer and of AIDS.  There are the unexplained hurricanes and tornados, the earthquakes and floods.  All the unexplainable evil is added to the pile as well.

Then there is what you add to the pile and what I add to the pile.  I bring my assortment of the seven deadly sins: pridegreedlustenvygluttonywrath and sloth.  I shaped each of these sins according to personal preference.  Some control me more than others.  All are present in my life… and in yours.  Compared to the rising mountain of sin, our contribution can seem small.  But comparison is useless.  Add garbage to a pile of garbage and it still stinks.  Add my sin and your sin to the pile of sins and it still stinks.

Jesus followers claim that on Good Friday, Jesus did an extraordinary thing.  He gathered up the towering pile of the sins of the world, past, present and future, and put it on his soul.

Imagine the agony.  His soul, pure, perfect, never warped by double minded thinking, now bearing the pile of sin that stinks up his creation.  We don’t like to think about this big pile of sin Jesus carried.  It’s too ugly.  It stinks.  It overwhelms us.

Only when you force yourself to look at the pile do you realize the magnificence of the cross.  Sins that would crush our souls with their wretchedness are loaded onto Jesus’ soul.  He absorbs the punishment you and I could not carry.  The death we deserved became his.

Before we rush to Easter and its joy, pause and look at the pile.  Now you understand how big a miracle Jesus’ resurrection is.  He took the whole pile of sin and crushed it with grace.  The sins of the nations.  The sins of the criminals.  The sins of God’s people.  The sins of corporations and businesses.  Your sins.  My sins.  Crushed by the power of His grace.

Larry’s Truck…

My brother-in-law, Larry, is a great guy.  A Florida Athletic Hall of Fame High School Soccer Coach, in his 50’s he discovered turkey hunting.  When Larry gets interested in something, intensity is too mild a word to describe his focus.  The ranch has ready-made turkey hunting habitat.  Larry was hooked.  Before long, he was embracing all of ranch life, including having of few cows of his own.

The only problem was, Larry had a “city” truck.  A “city” truck is deceptive.  The advertisements say they ride like a car and carry a load like a truck, but in truth, they do neither well.  “City” trucks don’t clear stumps well and don’t have four-wheel drive.  As a result, “city” trucks get stuck – a lot.

I know this because I’ve had “city” trucks.  A couple of them were compact trucks, which meant they would clear an anthill on a good day.  I took one of my city trucks to the ranch once and got hung up thirty feet past the gate.  Once again, I had to endure the humiliation of calling for help.  Pop, my brother Steve, and our foreman Richard have all had to come and pull me out.

The same thing happened to Larry.  He would go down into the pasture to check his turkey feeders or his cows, and he would hang up or bog down.  He got stuck at one creek-crossing so much, we named it after him: “Larry’s Crossing.”

It must be hard to be a Hall of Famer and have to call people to pull you out.  Finally, Larry had enough.  Not too long ago, he told me he was getting a new truck.

Let me educate the truck illiterate among you.  A good basic truck is a F-150 or a Chevy 1500, 4×4.  That’s what I have.  It will get you where you need to go in the woods.  If you want a little more muscle for pulling, you get a F-250 or a Chevy 2500.  These are working trucks.  My brother Steve drives a F-250 4×4.  A F-350 or Chevy 3500 is a serious truck.  They are built tough and will pull just about anything you’ve got.  The ranch truck is a F-350 and we pull a loaded stock trailer with it.

Larry was tired of having the smallest truck in the family.  So, Larry bought a new 2018, F-350 Diesel 4X4 Super Crew Cab.  Now if any of us got stuck, we’d call Larry.  He and his monster truck would pull us out.

Larry had his truck for two weeks.  He was down at the ranch and a line of thunderstorms was moving through.  There were warnings of hail.  Larry didn’t want his new truck to be hit by hail (I understand – I don’t want any scratches on a new vehicle until I put them there).

The problem was the new truck wouldn’t fit in the garage – too tall.  We haven’t repaired the tin roof at the barn since the hurricane, so the truck wouldn’t be safe there.  My brother Steve suggested Larry park his new truck under a hundred-year-old oak tree.  The oak tree was thick and would block the hail.

Larry parked his truck in the suggested location and went in the house to wait out the storm.  He heard the lighting strike close, but didn’t think anything of it (there are more lighting storms in the Tampa Bay area than anywhere else on earth).  The lights flickered, but they do that when you are the end of the power line.  After a few minutes, Larry heard “pop.”  Then another “pop.”

He went outside to check out the odd sound, and smelled smoke.  In panic, he thought of his beloved new truck.  He rounded the corner of the house to see his brand new, 2018 F-350 Diesel 4×4 Super Crew Cab truck with 700 miles on it, on fire.  Lighting had hit the oak tree and the truck was burning.

The ranch is twelve miles from the fire department in town.  By the time the firefighters got there, Larry’s new truck had burned to the ground.

When I heard the news, I sent Larry a text telling him how sorry I was.  He sent a text back to me, “Thou shalt not covet.  Lesson learned.”

I need to tell Larry coveting is when you want something someone else has because you think it will make you somebody.  Buying a big truck so you don’t get stuck is not coveting.

Maybe a better scripture is “He makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.”  Every bad thing that happens isn’t because God is punishing you.  Bad things do happen to good people.  Lighting strikes the just and the unjust.

What do we do when bad things happen to us?  The best thing I know to do is go to the Father and ask, “What am I supposed to learn?”  Sometimes we learn God is all we need.  Sometimes we learn that stuff really isn’t important.  Sometimes we learn God will carry us through.

Insurance should cover most of the loss.  Larry will get another truck.  I suspect the oak tree will live.  And God will be with Larry and you and me, when rain falls, hail comes, and lighting strikes.  In the end, God is enough.

PS:  It never did hail.

The Night They Tried to Fire the Preacher…

church fights

We moved away from the ranch when my mother married my step-father.  For ten years, I lived in Largo, an exploding suburb of St. Petersburg.  It was at the First Baptist Church of Largo that I made my profession of faith and was baptized.

Because Baptists believe in the priesthood of believers, at that time baptized church members no matter their age could attend church conference and vote.  At eight years old, my vote carried the same weight as my parents.

I was a weird kid; church conference fascinated me.  Normally calm men would get red in the face as they struggled to hold back words.  I think I knew what words they wanted to say; I’d heard them in the cowpens.  Timid women would forget Paul’s injunction to keep silent in church and would stand up to lambast Deacons, Music Directors, and the Preacher’s wife.  If you didn’t have a dog in the fight, a Baptist business meeting in late 60’s was better than anything on television for raw entertainment value.

I must have been about eleven when I sat with Mama at a church conference one Wednesday night.  Pop was there too, which was unusual; that should have been my first clue that something was up.  Roy Attaway, a good friend of my parents went forward to make a motion declaring “no-confidence” in the preacher.  I’d never heard this phrase before.  I wasn’t sure what “no-confidence” meant, but I could tell by Mr. Roy’s tone, he didn’t like the preacher.

I leaned over to ask Mama what “no-confidence” meant and she shushed me.  When Mama shushed, she meant it.  So, I leaned over to my friend Charles Brown and whispered my question to him.  Before he could answer me, Mama grabbed my ear and yanked me back to her side (which is why to this day, my left ear lobe is longer than my right).

People got up and said nice things about the preacher, followed by people who got up and said not so nice things about the preacher.  As best I could follow, some folks were upset that the preacher always insisting on his way, and they didn’t like his way.  I looked at my parents and could tell by their nodding, they were on the side of people who didn’t like the way the Preacher was doing things.

When Baptists get up a head of steam, a church conference can last a long, long time.  The meeting had started at 6:30; it was drawing close to 9:30, way past my bedtime.  Still the entertainment value was high.  The drama was better than “The NBC Mystery Theater” on TV that night.

Someone finally called for the vote.  It was carefully explained by the Preacher (who was the moderator – awkward) that a “yes” vote meant a vote of “no-confidence,” and a “no” vote meant you approved of the preacher (Baptists would later go on to write many parts of the IRS tax code).  My parents raised their hands to vote “yes.”  It was then I realized I could vote too.

I didn’t particularly like the preacher, but I didn’t dislike him either.  To my eleven-year old mind, I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t think he ought to be fired.  It wasn’t like he was caught sniffing glue, or sneaking a peek at a Playboy.  It was just that he and the other grownups didn’t agree.  I understood that.  I didn’t agree with grownups very much either.

My mother reached over and tried to raise my hand for me.  I snatched it away.  When the vote for the “no’s” occurred, I raised my hand.  My mother gave a me look that said, “Wait till we get home, young man.”

As I recall the vote ended up failing by five votes.  On the way home, my mother said, “Why did you vote the same way Charles Brown voted?  Don’t you think I know more than he does?”  I recognized the danger in those questions, and wisely left them unanswered.  Then I spoke the truth, “I voted the way I voted because it seemed right to me.”

I mark that night as the first time I learned some people think church is about winning and losing.  Maybe my parents had a point; maybe the Preacher was a little hard-headed.  Still, I wondered then, and wonder now, why didn’t they just get together and talk about it?  Maybe even pray about it?  Why did it have to come down to winning and losing?

Too many churches make dumb decisions because they think every decision must have winners and losers.  Funny, I don’t remember Jesus talking much about winning and losing in the church.  I remember a lot of stuff about love, and serving, and making sure we follow Jesus.  Maybe if we stuck to that, we’d be a lot better off.

My parents are gone now; the Preacher in question is still alive and is my friend on Facebook; and First Baptist Largo no longer exists.  I myself narrowly escaped a group that wanted to fire me at a church in Kentucky for some reason or other.

Still, I think back to the night they wanted to fire the Preacher.  The biggest lesson I learned? You can be all grown up and still not really do what Jesus wants you to do.

 

We Are Different, We are the Same…

different same

We are different.

We have different skin tones, different facial features.  Northerners sound funny to Southerners; Southerners sound funny to Northerners.  Some have hair, others (like me) have beautiful scalps, free from follicle interference.   Some people like liver; others gag at the smell.

Men and women are different.  Sure, there is basic biology: women have different parts than men.  But our differences are beyond our parts.  Our bodies produce different chemicals at different levels.  Pharmaceutical companies are just waking up to the idea that they need to test some medicines on men and women before prescribing treatments.  We are different at a very basic level.

All women are not alike.  I know women who would much rather be in the garage fixing a car than in the kitchen fixing a casserole.  All men are not alike.  I know men who would rather arrange bouquets than hunt Bambi.  Before we say, “That’s not normal,” we must ask, “What is normal?  And who gets to define normal?  The US Department of Normal?”

Brothers can be different.  My brother collects guns.  I collect books.  Sisters can be different. One of my sisters can cook up a storm; the other sister can calm a storm of preschoolers.

We are different.

Why?  Maybe God knew we needed variety.  Maybe God knew we would never learn to love unless we learned to accept each other’s differences.  Maybe God knew different people would need different gifts to make a difference.

We are the same.

I’ve never meet a human being who didn’t long to connect to another person.  I’ve never meet a human being who didn’t long to be noticed by someone.  I’ve never meet a human being who wasn’t hungry to be understood.

Every child, even a child who is profoundly disabled, is curious.  Put six children with different skin tones in a room, and they explore together.  They learn together.  They discover together.

I’ve never known a human being who missed out on pain.  We hurt.  We grieve.  Even the man who is mute expresses his pain with a silent cry.  Pain is a universal language.

Brothers and sisters can be the same.  My brother and I have the same upper sinuses that cause disgusting sounds when we wake up in the morning.  Since I’m the youngest, it’s frightening to see my future when I see my brother.

We are the same.

Why?  We are the same because we are all made in God’s image.  God said, “Let us make man in our own image, male and female.”  God crafted us all in the same basic design, with just enough difference to keep things interesting.  You bear the image of God; so do I.  So do people in China, North Korea, Iran, England, Costa Rica, Haiti, and California.  There is a sacred imprint on our souls that not even sin washes completely away.

How do you love people different than you?  Find inside that person what is the same as you.  Find the sacred fingerprint of God.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Find the sacred.  Love and do good.

Blind…

blind

 

I got my first pair of contacts in the seventh grade.  They were (and still are) the old-fashioned rigid plastic kind.  The optometrist emphasized to me over and over, “These must be kept clean.”  Have you ever seen a twelve-year-old boy keep anything clean?

After a few months of wearing my contacts (and not following Doctor’s orders), I woke one night with an excruciating pain in both eyes.  It felt like someone had ground up glass and poured it under my eyelids.  I was in agony.  As bad as my eyes felt closed, the pain increased a dozen fold if I opened my eyes.

I toughed it out until six the next morning.  I kept my eyes closed, felt my way down the hall, woke my mom, and told her what was happening.  She made a call to Dr. Sera, a family friend, who agreed to see me as soon as the office opened.

I kept my eyes closed as Mom fixed breakfast and had the strange sensation of trying to find my way to the eggs on my plate without seeing them.  Mom had to lead to me to the car and then out of the car to the Doctor’s office.

Dr. Sera put me in a dark room, pried open my eyes, put some dye in them (which increased the pain!) and told me to relax.  Why do Doctors tell you to relax when they have knowingly just increased the pain?

He examined my eyes with his special lenses and rendered the verdict: I had a corneal abrasion.  Lack of cleaning my contacts caused dirt to accumulate.  The contacts had gouged a trench in both eyes.  I was given some drops and told to keep my eyes shut for the next twenty-four hours.

To be blind means you can’t see (thank you Captain Obvious!).  My brothers tried to trip me as I felt my way to the bathroom. I was the object of lots of jokes at dinner. Mostly, I was bored because I could not watch TV or read.  I couldn’t go where I wanted to go.

People have scratches on their souls.  Sometimes they are wounds from history, or even wounds they absorbed from their parents and grandparents.  The scratches cause blindness.  In our pain, we close our eyes to realities that cause us to think uncomfortable, painful thoughts.  In our blindness, we stumble into prejudice, bigotry, self-righteousness, and self-aggrandizement.  No one is born a racist; there is a wound in the past that scratches a soul and causes blindness.  Our blindness as a culture keeps us from going where we want to go.

What’s sad to me is the number of Jesus followers who stay blind.  This is not what Jesus wants for any of us.  The foretelling of his birth included this line: “Rise and shine, behold your light has come!”  Jesus said, “I have come to give sight to the blind” and “I am the light of the world.”

Part of Jesus’s invitation of grace to you is leave your blindness to your blindness.  Let him heal the wounds of your soul.  Let him set you free from the limits of your past.

I’ll never forget what it felt like after twenty-four hours to open my eyes again.  There was no pain.  To paraphrase a classic 60’s song, “I could see clearly now, the pain had gone.”  I kept my contacts clean from then on.

Isn’t it time for you to let Jesus touch your blindness that you are blind to?  Isn’t it time for you to let his light shine on the wounds of your soul?  Isn’t time for your wounds and your blindness to be healed?

He sees you and sees the you he wants you to be.

When Billy Graham Said “No”…

Integrated crowd at Billy Graham Crusade

 Billy Graham was a son of the segregated South.  He grew up, as did I, with signs declaring “Whites Only” and “No Colored Served Here.”  Division by race was the abnormal accepted thing.  It was understood that black people who showed up at “white” churches would be met at the door and redirected to a church for “their kind.”

Billy Graham became a national figure in 1949 with the Los Angeles crusade.  Invitations to conduct city-wide crusades poured in, including invitations in Southern cities.  During the first Southern city-wide crusades, whites and blacks were seated in different sections, as was the custom.  But the Holy Spirit began to trouble Billy’s heart.

The defining moment came in 1953, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King, before lunch counter sit-ins, before Civil Rights marches.  It happened in Chattanooga, a southern city with deep racial division (what southern city didn’t have deep racial divisions?).

The stadium where the crusade was to held had been divided into white and black sections, as was the custom.  Ropes marked the division.

When Billy Graham came to the stadium prior to the first night of the crusade, he saw the ropes.  This time, he said, “No.”  With holy passion he mounted the steps of the stadium and began to pull down the ropes and the signs.  Local Crusade organizers tried to stop him.  He bluntly told them, “Leave the ropes down or you can have the crusade without me.”  The ropes stayed down.  The gospel was preached.  Whites and blacks came forward together to receive Christ.  Because one man said, “No.”

It is hard now, in 2018, to realize how courageous this act was.  Just three years after Chattanooga, Billy Graham’s pastor, W. A. Criswell, would proclaim to the South Carolina Legislature that “anyone who believes in integration is dead from the neck up.”  Graham quickly made a statement to the press, saying, “My pastor and I have never seen eye-to-eye on the race question.”  What Graham did not say was that a great number of his financial backers expected Graham to support segregation or at least stay silent on race.  But Graham would not budge.  Every crusade would integrated – period.  For more than twenty years, Billy Graham refused to hold a crusade in South Africa, until segregation laws were repealed.

True, Billy Graham did not march with Martin Luther King, Jr.  By his own admission, he became too involved in politics during the Nixon Administration.  He was not perfect, nor did he claim to be.

But for millions of Americans who had been touched by his ministry, a new thought formed: “If Billy Graham says ‘no’ to segregation, maybe I should say ‘no’ too.”

I remember as a child seeing televised crusades.  The camera would pan over the choir and I would see black people singing next to white people.  I had never seen that growing up in rural Florida.  Even in my child’s mind, something said, “This must good, if it’s happening at a Billy Graham crusade.”

Billy Graham has always been my hero.  He preached the gospel.  Millions came to know Jesus.  He used modern media to share Jesus.  He made it okay to have music that sounded contemporary in Christian gathering.  He spoke as the prophet America needed to hear, once saying to a white audience, “We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.”  He was the nation’s pastor, a calming voice of faith when tragedy struck.

And he tore down the ropes.

Thank you, Billy Graham, for saying “No.”