April 21, 2014
by John Magsam
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Easter miracles and other signs

Up from the grave He arose! With a mighty triumph o’re His foes!

- Low in the Grave He Lay – Baptist Hymnal

On Good Friday my daughter was blue.

When we got to her grandparents house that evening, she learned the little cat who had been staying in the barn with her pony had gone missing. My girl had been looking forward to seeing the little cat. She was told in passing by one of her cousins that Stampy, the tiger-striped tabby, hadn’t been seen in quite some time.

My daughter took it hard but tried to keep it to herself. She had become attached to another barn cat over the summer, a white and black fella who had half of a Hitler mustache marking, that earned him the moniker Mustachio. That cat also suddenly went missing and hadn’t been seen in months.

My daughter found Stampy up at the barn during our last visit on a cold, damp Sunday morning and claimed  him for her own. My in-laws other cats, both boys and long survivors, were claimed by the other girl cousins. It seemed only fair as my daughter had two cats of her own at home. Still, my daughter liked the idea of having a cat that was hers living at her Meme’s house.

Stampy was living with Patches after he had been apparently abandoned when a nearby family moved away. My girl snuggled him, and fed him and named him after her favorite YouTuber who does videos about Minecraft.

At my in-laws, an animal going missing is rarely good news. They live in the country where cats, and pretty much any other type of animal they have, can fall prey to all sorts of creatures. It’s simply not that unusual for an animal, even a dog who has been around for years, to simply disappear. There one minute, gone the next.

My daughter was seriously bugged that night as she tried to drift off but she finally managed to get to sleep. When Saturday came around, the girl got up early for a change and decided to go up and see her pony. She was trailed by one of her younger cousins, her sometimes shadow when something fun might be afoot.

I was sitting on the porch looking over the pond, and pretty much in paradise. I had a cup of hot tea, a book and  a beautiful spring morning. Next thing I know the young cousin is running down the road, down from the horse barn, all a twitter.

“He’s there, he’s there,” she cried.

Stampy was back from the dead and the young cousin was trumpeting his return like a modern version of Mary Magdalene.

It’s an Easter miracle, I thought to myself and then went to fish. When my daughter made her way down from the horse barn she was happy and chirpy, excited the little cat was back.

I kept with my theme and asked her if she felt a little like one of the apostles on Easter, finding someone she thought she had lost had returned.

She grinned, knowing I was pulling her leg.

“A little bit but I’m sure that was pretty different,” she said.

Though she did relate how she and Stampy had run to each other and to her it seemed like they were in one of those movie scenes where folks long separated run toward each other and eventually embrace, all in slow motion.

While fishing I contemplated the significance of Stampy’s return. In the words of Mystery Science Theater’s Crow T. Robot after Loupeta, the poor girl in a Mexican Santa Claus movie received her long-awaited doll, “It’s a short-lived miracle with very little consequences.”

Still, my girl was happy. I was happy.

Later that day, as I went into town, who did I see nearby, bounding through some tall grass? Could it be? The black and white cat stopped and looked over his shoulder. There it was, the half-Hitler mustache. A second, well-loved cat, back from the dead.

Another small miracle, but a miracle just the same. I was happy to tell Laynie I had seen Mustachio. She was glad he was alive.

Easter Sunday, sure enough, as we drove out to head  to church, I spotted Mustachio ahead, creeping in a ditch.

“There he is,” I said, like I’d spotted Ahab’s white whale and sped up to get a better look.

“I don’t know,” my wife and daughter chorused. But I was sure. It was him. As we pulled up to the last spot I saw him, he was nowhere to be seen. He was a ghost. But I was sure. I had faith. It was Mustachio. It was a sign.

We motored on and just a few seconds later my daughter chimed from the back seat.

“Look mama, two birds fighting, see them?”

My wife and daughter gazed at the battle as I drove, my eyes on the road.

“It’s two doves and they’re fighting!” the girl exclaimed. “They’re fighting over a branch or something. And on Easter. You’d think they’d be carrying something peacefully.”

Well, I thought, as I pulled onto the highway. Sometimes two doves fighting on Easter are just two doves fighting on Easter.

The soul man story

April 14, 2014 by Greg Moody | 0 comments

67

Looters smashed this store at Linwood and Pingree streets, about six blocks from the epicenter of the chaos, on Sunday, July 23. The shop next door has the word “soul” spray-painted on the windows. Black business owners rushed to mark their shops, hoping to be spared by looters. Despite their efforts, white- and black-owned businesses were damaged. (Detroit News archives)

So many stories repeat themselves throughout history. This one began a long time ago with a man fighting the outrage of having his people oppressed.

The 60s was prime for the Civil Rights Movement. It was the day for Martin Luther King, Jr to shine. It saw the formation of the Black Power movement. It was a time of freedom rides and of university integrations.

Needless to say, it caused  tensions to rise. And one July night in 1967, the tension became too much.

It started when police raided an unlicensed club, known as a blind pig, above a print shop in hopes of turning out a few of the usuals. But instead of a few Saturday revelers, they unexpectedly found 82 blacks celebrating a homecoming for two soldiers recently home from Vietnam. The police decided to detain the whole lot of them.

But they didn’t have enough room to transport everyone and had to call for  extra vehicles. And while they waited, the neighborhood took notice. Soon a large group of spectators were drawn out, angry at the situation.

By the time the last of the arrested were loaded into squad cars, the situation reached a literal breaking point: a bottle was thrown, smashing through the car window. And the police drove away leaving around 200 outraged residents behind.

The crowd’s anger turned to looting and swept throughout the neighborhood. So many people began looting that police were unable to make an arrest until 7 the next morning. By the time it was over, the 1967 Detroit riot became one of the most destructive in U.S. history, leaving 43 dead, over 1,000 injured and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.

Many black business owners spray painted the word “soul” on their windows in hope of being spared by looters. Still, the tactic didn’t spare all black-owned shops.

“All the black businesses, if they write ‘soul’ on their businesses they’re bypassed. And I thought about the night of Passover in the Bible,” said Isaac Hayes in a 2007 documentary titled “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story” by Tremolo Productions. Hayes and his songwriting partner, David Porter, extrapolated it into “I’m a soul brother, I’m a soul man.”

In the book of Exodus, God sends plagues upon the Egyptians until the Pharaoh releases the Israelites from slavery. The tenth plague was the death of the first-born in each family, but the Israelites were told to mark the doorpost of their houses with the blood of a lamb and they would be spared from the spirit of the Lord. Those houses would be “passed over.” Passover is a well-known story to Christians, but for the Jews it is a holiday that begins today.

Hayes and his songwriting partner, David Porter, would ultimately turn his inspiration into the song “Soul Man,” released the same year as the riots. The idea was to create “a story about one’s struggle to rise above his present conditions,” said Hayes about Porter’s idea in Rob Bowman’s 1997 book, “Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records.”

The sentiment can be seen in the lyrics:

“Got what I got the hard way
And I’ll make it better each and every day”

and

“I was brought up on a side street, listen now
I learned how to love before I could eat”

Hayes said “It’s almost a tune kind of like boasting: ‘I’m a soul man.’ It’s a pride thing.” It hit the airwaves when the singing duo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater, known as Sam & Dave, released it on their album “Soul Men.”

From the lazy guitar at the at the beginning, to the time the horns snap the tempo into shape, the song has a way of getting inside of you. It’s difficult to listen to and not have it have you tapping your foot or swaying to the beat.

Sam & Dave were soul men. They cut their teeth singing gospel music in their churches. Dave sang in a gospel group with his older brother, J.T., in Georgia. Sam made a name for himself singing gospel before rising through the ranks on the Florida R&B circuit. The two would meet at a Miami club called the King of Hearts.

The two appeared to be the type of person Hayes had written the song about: men who worked hard to rise above their present conditions. Perhaps it was some of that identification that can be heard in their voices, that carried this song higher than any other they had or would ever sing.

“Soul Man” shot up to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would go on to win a Grammy in 1968. Ultimately it would be voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and ranks as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s easy to see why Sam & Dave were called the Dynamic Duo and why the story of Soul Man still resonates with us today.

April 7, 2014
by John Magsam
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God’s reset button

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. Psalm 62:5

Spring is a busy time.

There’s the yard to get back into shape, there’s spring cleaning to do, there’s that desire to get outside after the long, long, long winter and get back into summer shape.

On top of that, there’s work and family and friends and work. Did I mention work?

The end of April is particularly busy for my family. There’s Easter of course, which many folks find stressful and distracting. For me, it just seems to always be a big hurdle, attitude-wise.

For us, before anything really even starts, it means nearly three hours of travel down to Shan’s folk’s place in central Arkansas for the holiday.

It’s our tradition to go to the Easter service at my wife’s maternal grandmother’s church. It’s always wonderful and afterward we go to her grandmother’s old home for Sunday lunch.

It’s a great way to spend Easter, but it’s equally hard to sacrifice the entire weekend. When we travel down, we pretty much lose both days. We drive Friday night after I get out of work and don’t get back till late Sunday. Zero gets done on the thousand little tasks we all have going in our lives, no progress – zip, nada, nothing. It’s easy to begin to stress about it beforehand, and the result is I get there and my mind isn’t close to right with God.

Usually, I’m strung out from doing our taxes and I’m behind on my yard work and any other chores that need to be done are stacked up too. I’m way too self-focused and distracted right on the cusp of arguably the most important day on the Christian calendar.

So, when I pull into the familiar long driveway that leads to my in-laws’ place, my teeth are usually on edge. My thoughts are far from God and they’re far from kind. I’m often resentful that my weekend is going to be shot. It’s pure selfishness.

But then, after rolling past the pony’s corral and little barn he lives in and my wife and daughter have  yelled their greetings to him out the car’s windows and into the night, we pull over the little bridge Shan’s father made, and park the car, and I hear them.

The frogs are singing, singing, singing. They fill the night with their song made up of squeaky chirps and bass croaks. The night is alive. The world is alive and it makes my petty mood seem, well, petty.

It’s a mental reset button that God pushes in me every spring. You can hear Him in the frogs’ opera. His message is clear: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and listen.

And for the rest of the weekend, I try to be still. I try to listen.

If you’ve ever visited my wife’s family, you know that’s not an easy task. My in-laws home is both the most relaxing place I’ve ever been and the most energetic. Not to mix philosophies here, but it has a real yin and yang thing working.

My in-laws are wonderful people, friendly, kind, open, warm and on Easter weekend there are kids everywhere. They’re all my daughter’s cousins from the college-age ones, to high school, to junior high, middle school, elementary school, to that weird age where kids are like between three and four and they move around the house like the Tasmanian Devil from the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

And it’s loud. It’s joyful loud, and it’s excited loud, and it’s celebratory loud. But it’s still loud. It’s not always the perfect environment for stillness.

But if I play my cards right, I can slip off with my book on late Saturday morning after a wonderful breakfast, usually waffles. I don’t get much reading done but I can spend a long, long time just watching birds, or the trees or the water of the pond.

And eventually, usually after a massive lunch, the pond calls me. And I go and get my fly rod and I start to fish.

That attracts the younger cousins and my daughter, like nobody’s business. Soon, I’m fixing reels that have been gummed up for months, rigging poles, tying on lures or hooks for those who, alas, still fish with bait. Once everyone is fishing, I might get a cast or two in before someone needs something or someone wants a fly casting lesson, or somebody catches a fish that needs to be removed from the hook, or someone nearly sinks a hook into a cousin standing nearby.

In the end, after a few fish have been caught, and the glamour of the pond fades, the cousins wander away to enjoy any number of wonders that can be found on this particular spot of ground. They’re off  driving the Ranger, or a four-wheeler, or playing with a cat or carrying around a chicken or surreptitiously back on a cell phone that’s been banned by mothers.

Then, it’s quiet for a bit and I’ll fish. I’ll watch the fly line settle on the water. It’ll try to smother my innate jerkiness and try to be still.

Some of my favorite moments are when my daughter and I work the water together, in companionable silence.

If she catches a fish, I’ll take it from the hook, show it to her and let it glide back into the water of the pond. She’s a wonderful fisherman, but doesn’t like to touch them. Who am I to judge? She’s otherwise good company.

Eventually though, she’ll leave me.

Off she’ll go to be with the cousin who is just a few weeks her senior, both girls will likely end up playing Minecraft together, sitting amiably side-by-side with their laptops open in one of the big bedrooms upstairs. If they’re lucky, no mom will notice.

I will keep fishing. My wife will bring me a glass of the iced tea that only my mother-in-law can make. She’ll fuss, tell me to put on sunscreen and make sure I’m wearing a hat. We’ll stand there and be still together for a bit.

When the tea glass is empty and I’ve stolen a kiss, I go back to the pond. Back to the rhythm of fly casting and listening for God.

I’ll hear Him in the birds, see Him in the color of a bluegill the size of my hand, feel His love pulse from the buzzing house at my back, sense Him in the air as the sun starts to creep from the sky.

My father-in-law comes out on the porch and sits in one of the comfortable chairs. It’s so dusky-dark I can barely make him out, but I continue to cast.

We share the stillness like I never shared it with my father.  I am ready for Easter.

And the frogs begin to sing.

March 31, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Keeping a secret

jesusSome secrets are easy to keep. Others are nearly impossible.

Over the years I’ve learned the painful secrets are easy to keep. It’s the happy ones that cause all the problems.

I see this in my daughter. She nearly jumps for joy when a friend opens her gift to them. Sometimes she’ll slip me a note and whisper “don’t tell anyone” as I open it to see a grand rainbow and the words “I love you” written large underneath.

My wife and I felt it too, when she was pregnant with our daughter. The joy was too much to bear. We stayed up late nights thinking about what our child would be like. We wished we could share our happiness with everyone, feeling that it would be as infectious to them as it was with ourselves.

But in the Bible there are may times when Jesus does something mind boggling: he says “tell no one.” It’s a phenomenon that’s always struck me as odd.

He cleanses a leper, heals the blind, feeds the four thousand, is transfigured and after each – and many more – he says “tell no one.” But if I can barely keep a secret about a baby, how could the disciples possibly keep a secret about miracles?

It’s like the first rule of Jesus Club: There is no Jesus Club. Perhaps more accurately it should be: there is no “messiah.”

In nearly all of the “tell no one” passages Jesus is called “messiah” or performs some act only the messiah could. It’s as if he doesn’t want the word getting out. In fact, it’s a phenomenon called the Messianic Secret. William Wrede, a German professor and theologian, first brought attention to it in 1901 and much has been hypothesized about it since.

On one hand, it’s difficult to think Jesus was trying to remain secretive. I mean, you don’t raise people from the dead and expect nobody to take notice. But on the other hand you don’t want people so focused on the miracles that the miracles themselves become more important than what Christ fulfills with his crucifixion.

Some believe it was just a convention the author of Mark employed and it carried over into some of the subsequent Gospels. Wrede thought it was to ease tension between early Christians and the nature of Christ’s ministry.

At the end of the day, it’s difficult for me not to think about secrets. The worst Christmas I had was when I accidentally stumbled upon a closet with several of my yet unwrapped presents inside. The secret was out and there was nothing for which to look forward.

The surprise of Christ isn’t fully understood in his life. It isn’t until his death that we discover the type of messiah he actually is, which is probably a much different messiah than many may have been expecting. It’s the type of secret that’s too joyful not to spread.

March 24, 2014
by John Magsam
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That walk long, long ago

forestpathI think about him often.

Sometimes it’s when I smell gun oil, or when I watch my daughter skillfully handle her pony as she leads him along the wooded path above her grandparent’s pond, or when the forest slowly comes to life as the dawn creeps in during the first day of deer season.

Uncle Frank married my aunt Peg – my mom’s sister. He was the most masculine man I’ve ever known. His house had what seemed like endless land around it. It was the abode of big, friendly dogs with names like Laddie and Rags who could do tricks and seemed as wonderful and heroic as any TV canine. Animals who were missed and remembered with headstones made of rocks when they were gone.

There was a mounted deer head on the wall of the living room, but never talk of killing for killings sake. The deer would wear a red nose during Christmas. He wasn’t a nameless trophy. He was part of the family.

Uncle Frank’s basement was dimly lit but too mysterious to avoid. It had barbells and the metal spring contraptions that men used back in the day as exercise equipment, left by my older cousins. Try as I might, I never could budge the weights or make the springs stretch. Boxes of treasures were in every corner. They contained the odd toy soldier, plastic horses, cowboys and a miniature stage-coach with a missing door.

I remember uncle Frank smiling down at me, his eyes shining behind his black-rimmed glasses, looking wide and strong in his white t-shirt as he stood in front of his grill. I was a scrawny, spoiled, kid of six who had a vivacious mom, bookish father and two older sisters who were endlessly patient with me. I was a picky eater but I can still taste the hunks of raw hot dog Uncle Frank would slip to me when nobody was looking. If uncle Frank offered it, it had to be good.

I’m sure I pestered and pestered and pestered my parents, but one day Uncle Frank took me hunting. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. What he did was take me for a long walk in the woods near his home, just the two of us.

Since we were “hunting” I wanted to carry a gun. Likely I whined about that, too. I was that kind of kid.

He handed me an ancient cap-pistol. Not a revolver, cowboy-type, shooting iron, but a sleek metal gun, a stubby 1911 style pistol that you might see on the hip of a soldier on the TV show Combat. One of the grip covers pivoted. You could shift it and put in a roll of caps. It was silver but that might have been because all the paint had worn off years ago after endless hours of play.

I had seen plenty of cap guns. I had a small arsenal of faux weapons that would make many of today’s parents cringe. It never occurred to me to call the weapon offered to me a fake. Uncle Frank handed it to me. It was a gun as far as I was concerned. I stuffed it in my pocket as best I could, feeling very grown up, and followed him into the wilderness.

I trailed him into the shadowy, cool of the woods. It seemed we walked a long way but likely it was a short jaunt. I could see my uncle Frank ahead of me, moving with the surety that comes with decades spent outdoors. I lagged behind, small and more accustomed to watching Ultraman on TV than actual hikes. He never hurried me, but he never coddled me either.

He led me further into the forest. I followed.

I was never concerned he was too far ahead or I was too far behind. Though I loved heroes and stories of adventure, I was easily spooked.  But I was with Uncle Frank – fear never entered the equation.

I don’t think he was a tall man but to me he seemed like a giant as he walked through the high grass in an open field we came across. The grass seemed like a jungle to me but I could see Uncle Frank ahead of me as the sun started to go down, turning the grass golden, as he waded through grass like a man moving into the surf.

I can still see him.

Sometimes I wonder who I’ll see first when I get to the other side.

I figure it could be my mom waiting there, telling me the water for my tea is boiling. Or, maybe my father offering me a ride in one of those big tuna boat-sized cars he favored, the radio tuned to one of his favorite stations, likely Roberta Flack murmuring through the speakers.

Other times, I think I may see my old pal Ed, a friend from my first days in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It’ll be a perfect spring morning and he’ll be in that Japanese armor of his that made him sound like a wind-chime when he walked. He’ll grin, ask me what took me so long, and toss me a duffel bag stuffed with gear and tell me to armour up.

More and more, I think it will be Uncle Frank I see first when I get to Heaven.

He’ll be there, his dark hair gleaming, his glasses sparkling, filling out a white t-shirt that never gets dingy.

If God is good, and He is, Uncle Frank will hand me an old cap pistol. I’ll stuff it in my pocket.

We’ll stroll through cool woods and gleaming fields, side by side.

I’ll tell him about my wife and how Aunt Peg was clearly amazed at how beautiful and charming she was when they first met. Like I might have kidnapped her or something.

I’ll tell him about my daughter, how she’s so capable, and kind. That she loves animals, is a good friend, and a keen shot.

And I’ll tell him thanks for that walk long ago and that I hope I made him proud.

March 17, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Defining a hero

whipWithin the first ten minutes of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark I thought it was one of the most awesome movies I’d ever seen. I left the theater wanting to be Indiana Jones. I mean, who doesn’t like Indy? He’s the quintessential American hero!

I wanted to be in the middle of the action, chasing bad guys, being tough enough to take on the Nazis by myself. It seemed like Indy won everything he went after.

But over time I’ve come to realize Indy didn’t win much. He certainly saved his own neck many times over, but when it came to getting what he was after he wasn’t so lucky. Even in the opening sequence, the idol Indy worked so hard to get is plucked from his grasp by Belloq. Indy’s left empty handed and lucky to escape with his life.

And it doesn’t stop.

Marion’s kidnapped from him. Indy believes she’s been killed. He finds and digs up the Ark of the Covenant only to almost literally hand it to the enemy. Indy gets Marion back again only to have her taken from him a second time. Finally he gets a rocket launcher to deal with the bad guys, but Indy’s bluff is called and he is captured. At the end of the movie where most heroes are saving the day, he’s tied to a post holding his eyes shut.

Indy doesn’t defeat the bad guys. It’s the Ark itself that dispatches them (what kind of hero could one-up God anyway?) The final insult comes when the government takes the Ark from him. I suppose one could argue that Indy finally gets the girl, but the sequels tell us that didn’t last long.

So how can he possibly be a hero? Well, it’s because of the type of obstacles he confronts. He challenged the Nazi army by himself. Indy outwitted his nemesis with scant help. He endured riding a submarine to a secret Nazi island. He faced a whole room full of snakes and lived to tell the story.

At the end of the day he found opportunity every time life handed him hardship.

These days I think Indy’s even more of a hero. Like us, he rarely wins, but he refuses to let life beat him down. We, too, may not get the girl or let our fears get the better of us, but how we deal with our problems is as important as the issues themselves.

Like Indy when they’re opening the Ark, we often hold our eyes shut in difficult times. We simply want our problems to go away and we make it hard to see God. Maybe we ought to find God inside our difficulties instead of assuming that’s the last place he could be. We may not be facing the same kind of obstacles Indy did, but we don’t have to face any of them alone.

March 10, 2014
by John Magsam
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Watching over God’s flock

chickenThere she was, pecking with abandon on the glass, sliding door that leads to our backyard. It was our boss chicken Dot, the diminutive but tough leader of our three-bird flock, doing the poultry version of pounding on a door with a clenched fist.

She had no business being there. It was dark. Our backyard chickens put themselves to bed in their coop as dusk comes on and I go out shortly after nightfall and close their run and lock them up for the night. It’s a ritual. They’re never in the yard this late.

Yet here was the plucky bird, doing her best Lassie impression. I’m convinced she would have barked and looked expectantly toward the old well, — if she was a Collie and, well, we had an old well to fall into.

This stuff always happens when I’m at home by myself. My wife and daughter were out volunteering, taking care of cats at PetSmart, as they do one night a week.

My daughter and my wife are hardcore animal lovers. We have a standard poodle, two cats (both black), two tanks full of fish, and the aforementioned chickens in the back yard.

My daughter talked me into the birds. She insisted they’d be fun, and they are, though I’ve found myself dealing with the silly beasts more than I ever expected.

I’ve always encouraged her love of animals. It’s made her an empathetic and responsible young lady. I’ve always stressed that animals are a gift from God. In fact, they are His creatures; we are here to take care them.

It’s something I’ve harped on about  most living things she’s come across, from worms to horses to elephants. As a result, she’s learned she can help an animal and not want to own it. I only rarely had to explain to her we couldn’t take a wild thing home and never had to tell her not to be cruel to a creature, not even a bug.

And tonight, it appeared her chickens, three of God’s creatures in our care, might be in a jam.

“What’s wrong, Dot? You should be in bed,” I said more to myself than to the chicken as I pulled on my jacket, stuffed a roll of crackers in my pocket and grabbed a flashlight.

I opened the door, stepped outside and encouraged Dot to follow me. She walked after me slowly, trailing my light as I headed back toward their coop and run.

I continued to question the bird as I rounded the corner of the house.

“Where’s Shawnna and Tessa? What’s the matter?” I asked as if I expected an answer. I sensed she was still following, moving slowly like a sleepwalker.

As the coop came into view I saw the rough outline of a large chicken on the egg box on the exterior of the structure.

The shadowy blob was Tessa, our big red chicken. She was trying her best to get into the coop but from outside the fenced run, through a little screened window that provides ventilation. She was bocking to herself, a kind of muttering, like a person might make as they tried to figure out what lock a fist full of strange keys might fit.

Okay, now it was clear, the door to their run had blown shut and they were effectively locked out. If they can’t get in the run, they can’t access the door to the coop where they sleep.

I shined my light on Tessa and then down on the ground. I fished out a cracker and offered it to her. It took a minute of coaxing, but she finally mustered up the gumption to flap down to the ground. Why it didn’t occur to me to lift her off and just carry her, I’ll never know.

She followed me and the light, staggering along a bit like a drunk. I opened the run and tossed in the cracker but the morsel she’d have fought the other birds for in daylight was too much trouble at night. She staggered up the ramp and into her coop. It was easy to imagine the song  “Me and My Shadow” playing in the background.

I ducked inside the run. It’s tall — but you can whack your head on the roof supports if you stand straight up — and stuck my head in the door of the coop. Luckily there was our third chicken Shawnna, her light gray feathers looking silvery in the flashlight beam, already settled in the spot the birds like to sleep. Shawnna and Tessa spoke to each other in subdued chicken voices. Both seemed relieved.

I ducked back out of the run and called for Dot. She was nowhere to be seen.

I shined my light all around the coop and run, circling it in case she had gotten lost in the darkness.

No luck.

She did not come plodding out of the darkness.

I started to backtrack, walking all the way back to the back door of the house without finding her.

I stopped and took a deep breath. She couldn’t have really gone missing in less than a few minutes. She’s a chicken for goodness sake, not a greyhound.

I swept my light into the bushes that run along the side of our house, looking for her, and found nothing.

I called and chatted, “Where’d you go Dot? We have to get you into bed. It’s getting cold and really dark.”
Ziltch — only shadows and snow and branches.

I went back through the bushes again, but this time I shifted my light just a bit higher. There she was, sitting on the windowsill of our bedroom. Her instinct to get up off the ground as the darkness got deeper had taken over. Bleary-eyed, she was still awake but didn’t even twitch when I walked up to her. I reached over and scooped her up in my arms, dropping my flashlight in the process and carefully carried her toward her coop, unconcerned that I was carrying her, a bit like a feathered, tired toddler.

I got her to the run, opened it with my foot and placed Dot in the coop with her fellows. I heard drowsy chicken greetings.

Watching my head yet again, I walked back and retrieved my light, then came back to the coop once more ducked in the run, and shined my light in.

The three chickens were snuggled together, already asleep.

I counted them, “One, two, three.”

Then I did it again for good measure.

“Goodnight girls,” I said, then locked the run. And feeling like a good steward, I followed my light back to the house.

March 3, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Learn to listen

ashwedGrowing up I had no idea why I had an ash cross marked on my forehead for Ash Wednesday. Ashes certainly seemed to indicate something dead, but their precise meaning eluded me. Mostly I thought it was neat because it made the service go by faster since nothing bored me more than a long sermon.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew it indicated the beginning of Lent and that many people talked about giving things up for the next 40 days. More importantly, it meant Easter would arrive soon and with candy, eggs and maybe a gift.

As I grew, I was exposed to different churches that didn’t practice the same traditions. There were people who practiced their faith much differently than I did, but I recalled the words of my pastor: “We believe we’re right, but we also believe [other Christians] are right too.”

A few weeks ago Bill Nye tried to do what was right for the future Kentucky students who’s relationship with science was put in harm’s way by the beliefs of Ken Ham. Nye stated this in a Huff Post Live interview found here. Was this the most productive way to advocate his point? Probably not, but it’s hard to fault his concern.

The debate didn’t change anyone’s mind on the matter and boiled down to Nye stating multiple examples of how science works to help us understand our past and Ham saying “You weren’t there, so how do you know?” For all intents and purposes, Ham might as well have stuck his tongue out and given Nye a raspberry instead.

As a child I believed in Adam and Eve, which is a story I no longer believe is factual. But I do believe in the reason the tale is told and it has become a symbolic, allegorical. Since Jesus spoke in parables, I tend to give other stories the same chance. Still, when I come across someone who does believe Adam and Eve were real I try to listen and understand why they need Adam and Eve to be real and can’t accept them as a symbol.

But there always seem to be people like Ham who don’t want to understand things differently. They act like any kind of compromise is failure and, most frustratingly, refuse to listen to an opposing side. My current pastor calls this “gripping the text tightly” and suggests we ought to “hold the Bible lightly” instead. He has a great blog about it here.

If the Nye/Ham debate has proven anything, it’s show that it’s difficult to hold our tongue and just try to listen. I’ve seen scores of Facebook posts and countless blogs (mostly depicting a mutual repartee highlighting the differences on each side). I think I’d go so far as to claim the simple act of not trying to argue, not trying to shove the mountain of contrary evidence in their face, but rather to listen may be the most respectful act. Will it change them or us? Probably not, but every so often listening to why someone else clutches to a belief tightly yields some remarkable insight.

And I think Christianity is big enough to accommodate many views. Consider the audience of the Old Testament, who would have found evolution incomprehensible and viruses beyond belief. How else could the story of creation been written for both the people then and now? How else could the Bible span not only the ages, but also so many different cultures around the world?

These days I watch my daughter as she believes Lent means Easter is around the corner. To her the most important things will be the egg hunts and candy but at some point will give up her eggs and candy for a different kind of belief. And hopefully that belief will be one that connects her to a larger community, not one that isolates her or makes her a less accepting person. I hope she learns to listen and not turn a deaf ear.

February 24, 2014
by John Magsam
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Leave ‘em laughing

It happens a lot on long trips. As we zoom along eating up the miles my wife likes to ask me sometimes hypothetical, occasionally annoying, usually probing questions.

It’s something that started while we were courting over 15 years ago. It continues in many forms today. Often in an abbreviated format since usually our 12-year-old daughter is  plopped in the back seat, playing Minecraft on her computer. She tends to play with ear buds in, but she’s been known surface at odd times and pick up on our conversation, so discretion is vital.

This weekend, my wife and I were driving for a little getaway for our anniversary, so we were without our child. And despite the fact I was coughing and hacking, felt like my head was stuffed with cotton, and that someone was gleefully sanding my sinus cavities, we played the game. I tried to smile and be witty between wheezes.

Shan asked one that I answered instantly despite my fogginess. She wondered: If you could thank your parents for one trait you gained from them, what would it be?

It was easy — humor.

My mother and father were both funny people. My mother had an expansive, life-of-the-party, everybody’s-best-friend, infectious-laughing personality and my father had a more subtle, witty and analytical disposition. I recall they would have other couples over to the house and they’d have a few highballs and soon the place would be filled with laughter.  I never realized it at the time but I guess they were a pretty fun couple.

I recall them bringing home Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby records in the 1960′s, when some of Flip’s material was a bit controversial. My mom even tried a Redd Foxx album once but declared him too dirty saying he “worked blue” but I didn’t really know what that meant at the time.

The let me watch “Laugh-In” and “The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour.” It was considered a treat to get to stay up late and see Johnathan Winters on the “Joey Bishop Show.” When other kids sang or danced for talent at the Catholic school I attended, I did stand-up comedy routines swiped from my idols.

Later, after my folks divorced,  my mother still never missed a chance to tune in to “All in the Family” or “Sanford and Son” or “M.A.S.H.”

Along with my two sisters, who were both funny in their own right, my parents cultivated an atmosphere where humor was always welcome in our family. Even in the grimmest of circumstances.

My mother would joke that when she died, she wanted a talking tombstone that would have her picture and a button folks could press that would announce, “Wait, wait I have one more thing to say!”

We never did get the talking tombstone, but at my mom’s funeral they had to move her casket up a steep stairway and as I walked along arm in arm with my sisters behind the coffin I heard my sister Nancy say, “I home she’s not sliding in there.”

On the way to the funeral, we were hung up in traffic and my bothers-in-law Ed and John kicked around the idea of doing a quick Chinese fire drill as we waited. No fire drill materialized but when we got to the cemetery, we had to wait because there was another funeral right ahead of us that had managed to lock the keys in the hearse. Yes, my mom was indeed late to her own funeral — rim shot!

To Shan, this sort of stuff is foreign, if not flat-out  irreverent, but it’s how we showed love. We never made a joke at each other’s expense, it was just a way to deal with times both wonderful and horrible. You know, life.  Celebrate with a laugh, face hardship with a laugh,  but for God’s sake laugh.

Thanks mom and dad for the laughter. Your granddaughter is a funny kid. Your daughter-in-law is damn funny too but just a bit too respectful at times to go in for the big laugh. Though Shan couldn’t fathom facing death with a joke, she understands why her in-laws do.

And it is indeed a family thing. My brother-in-law John Donohoe, when he and my sister were going though trials that would have crushed me 10 times over, faced it all with a smile and just kept the funny coming.

During that harrowing time, John would answer the phone: “House of Job. Job speaking.”

February 17, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Why me?

lossMany times in my life things have gone sour and I’ve found myself shaking my head wondering “Why me? Why does this stuff always happen to me?” Fortunately, most of these things are small potatoes. I’ve never lost a spouse or a child. I haven’t been maimed by a drunk driver. I’ve not directly experienced that suffering in my life.

Yet I have friends whose wives were stolen by cancer, who were involved in fatal drunk driving accidents, who have seen their children die. Christians ask the inevitable: “Why me? Why has God done this to me?”

Theodicy is the term describing the attempt to answer why God would allow evil things to happen. It’s a complicated argument that delves into the very nature of good and evil, predestination or free will, of whether God created evil or if man did. It makes a person wonder why God doesn’t stop evil if it’s within His power (or, worse, makes people think God causes evil.) It’s an issue that many great minds have wrestled with, but isn’t one that gives much comfort to those who are suffering.

And that’s where the church comes in, right? Where their friends offer great solace and words of wisdom. With phrases like:

Everything happens for a reason.
(Really? You think God killed my wife for a reason?)

God needed them, or, God needed another angel.
(Because God is so needy that he kills children?)

God only gives you as much as you can handle.
(So God gave my mother terminal cancer because I can handle it? Gee, glad I’m not stronger.)

They are in a better place.
(How do you know? What was wrong with were my son was – with me?)

And I don’t want to turn this into one of those lists of things to say or not say, but I know a lot of people who turned away from God, not necessarily because they feel He poured misery on their lives, but because the people they went to church with made them feel horrible by saying these sorts of things to them.

We all feel obligated to fill our mouths with something when people share their suffering with us, but what comes out can be downright awful. And it’s more awkward when you haven’t faced what they are facing. How hypocritical do I feel trying to give comfort to the person who lost their daughter when mine is standing next to me?

Think of how your words would sound to you if the tables were turned before uttering some meaningless platitude. It’s not a difficult thing to do. Listen to what they have to say. Pray for them. Be the part of God’s family that you’re supposed to be and not the stranger who pushes them further from you with insincere words. Keep in mind James 3: 3-8 where he talks speaks of how the bridle controls the horse, how the small rudder guides the large ship, and so it is that our tongues can stain us.