Be Still and March

IT WAS MONUMENTAL. Can we all agree on that? I would even go so far as to say it was momentous.

I wish we could separate the event from the issues that prompted it for just a minute. Of course that’s not possbile; the matter is too emotionally charged.

As if providentially, my watch just pinged, reminding me it’s time to take a few deep breaths. Seriously. Join me. Deep inhale… Exhale. Six more. My watch now tells me my heartrate is at 61 BPM. That’s down from 318 when I started writing this after spending a few minutes on Facebook.

Why does a love for the First Amendment mean you want the Second stricken and vice versa? I love them both. I am happy we have both, and the others as well. I wouldn’t go as far as I heard one citizen opine: “I think the president should switch them and make the Second Amendment number 1, because without guns we wouldn’t have any other freedoms.” But, he has the freedom to say it.

sam.jpg

For me and for this essay, I just want to celebrate the essence of the "March for Our Lives" for a few minutes and words. The “essence”?

Sometimes the most wonderful outcomes of something like this are things that were unexpected and unintended. I worked with teenagers for more than 30 years, and I have to say that any time you can get them to raise their eyes from their smartphones, open their ears and pay attention, something good can happen. It’s an opportunity to awaken a bit, to march on from apathy, narcissism and naivete´.

When you make a poster, join the march, become a part of the conversation, you begin to form a worldview and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Maybe you take a giant step up Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs from safety and security needs, to belonging needs, to esteem needs, to self-actualization.

I know this from intimate experience of working with hundreds of teens and from my own personal experience.

Similar to the highly charged arguments of the day that fill our common air like so much smog, the causes I marched for and against in my day were equally divisive and misunderstood. I wrote about it in a post a few years back. Here’s a snippet:

The Kent State shootings occurred at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds on unarmed college students on Monday, May 4, 1970, killing four students and wounding nine others.

As a result, student protests were organized across the country. Hundreds of universities cancelled classes and locked down buildings. I was proud to be a part of the event at OBU. But as we sat through the day and overnight on the OBU Oval, wearing black arm bands, discussing the state of our country and world, and wondering whether we could make a difference, it all seemed a little silly and isolated. Maybe we did make some difference though. At least I was different. I wanted to DO something. I still do.

Don't skip this part. Back then, no doubt I had delusions of importance and occasional altruism. The fact is I was pretty self-absorbed; oh, not in a Justin Bieber brand of narcissism kind of way, but in a way that dictates at least this: for all of those who knew me back then, please forgive me. Maybe the Washington Elite was right--maybe I was too stupid to vote at 18. The dean of students who encouraged me not to return to OBU for my sophomore year certainly would agree with that.

My intent here is not to romanticize those days, but if I have, well... After all this was my first Coming-of-Age. It should be a bit romantic, right?


There was a recurring experience in youth ministry that I dreaded and hated. I still do. It is the experience of seeing the passion and enthusiasm of youth crushed or belittled. Let me try to explain with a couple of examples:

Every summer I would return home from summer camp with a group of students recommitted and energized to make a difference. I knew that soon they would be met with an indifference that would suck the wind from their sails. There would be patronization and diminishment and “reality”.

Another example. Numerous times in my years of youth ministry there would be a young woman with a strong sense of calling to leadership in the church. I knew full-well that the predominate attitude among baptists was that the role of women was to be a submissive wife to their husband—not a leader in the church. I hated the moment when they this ugly fact would become real for them.

When you pat an energized young person on the head and dismiss them, you plant a seed of cynicism, hopefully seeds of determination and vision will grow strong and choke those out.

You may see their efforts as being misguided, even dangerous, but I am telling you there is value in the experience for them. And who knows, maybe they will survive, get in line, register to vote and fight for a more acceptable cause someday. 

Look at me: I’m still a rebellious liberal, but I’m a functional liberal. And while I love the First Amendment and the Second, and the rest, I believe there is a higher calling, a higher freedom than any a govenment can legislate. It goes something like this:

Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. --from the Bible, Micah 6:8, sort of.

I could write that on a poster and march around the capital, the courthouse, the church, and the marketplace; if only I wasn’t so tired and cynical. In the meantime...

watchbreath.jpg

SOLD OUT

SOMETIMES IT'S GOOD TO HAVE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD; to be on the inside when the sign on the door says, “Sold Out.” It means you’re in, your place at the table is secure, you have a seat for the show—a show that is worthy of being sold out.

DSC_0949 2.jpg

What it is like to assume there would be room left, a ticket still available? You’ve looked forward to it, you got all dressed up, all psyched up, only to arrive, to come face to face with the “SOLD OUT” sign. You can see the others in the room. They made it. They signed up early. But you’re out: disqualified.

I am sure I’m too stupid to understand something as complex as immigration policy. Add to my stupidity the fact that I don’t  care much about economic theory. I'm intensely skeptical of the statistics regurgitated by ruminants, politicians and pundits regarding increased crime within immigrant populations. Even a hint of attitude of racial superiority makes my old, wrinkly, white flesh crawl.

I have always found anecdotes more persuaisive than analysis. I get that many people love the charts, the graphs, the conclusions drawn from some suspect concept of historical perspective, but I am persuaded when I hear a brilliant, eloquent law student from the Congo tell his story about how he gained access to the USA just days before new, heightened immigration policies, enforcements and theories, while his equally brilliant wife, whom he met in a refugee camp in Malawi, was not so lucky. Her paperwork wasn’t processed until a few days after the changing of the guard. He’s on one side of the door, she on the other.

Don’t try to explain it to me. I’m too stupid to see it all as anything but stupid.

Speaking of “selling out”, can we think about Faustian Bargains* for a moment. In my naive, stupid, liberal mind and soul, that is a threshold too costly to cross, but we do it? Why?! Why does that have to be a part of our human story?

Would you believe me if I said I’m not trying to be political, just human? But, I guess it inevitably has to be about politics. If so, here’s a viewpoint on one thorny issue of the current immigration debate which even I can grasp:

"We should have a better understanding and better relationship than we've ever had. Rather than talking about putting up a fence. Why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?” —Ronald Reagan speaking of Mexico as "our neighbor to the south." Houston, TX, 1980.


*Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact. —from Encyclopædia Britannica

To wrap things up on a lighter note—here’s my favorite rendering of the Faustian bargain.

 O Brother Where Art Thou

O Brother Where Art Thou

A Trojan & A Spartan

Preface: Remember the Trojan War that started when a Trojan prince went to Sparta and abducted their queen? Well, this is kind of like that; except this time the Trojan was a college boy and the Spartan queen was Miss December.

jvsb.jpg

You have to have a union before you can have a reunion. Feel free to quote me on that.

Typically when I think of a reunion, I think of a group of people striving to be thinner, healthier, happier and appear more financially successful than they really are. You know, kind of like in Facebook World. But, as I discovered this weekend, that is not always the case.

Late last week, around the office, people were asking, “Big weekend plans?” You know the routine. My answer for this past weekend: “Why yes, we’re going to my Amazing-Missus’ high school reunion.” Typical reply: “I bet you’re thrilled about that [wink-wink].”

Actually I was looking forward to it. This was not my first gathering with the Bixby High School Class of 1972. This group reunites relatively regularly, and although I’m an outlier of several sorts, I’ve always been welcomed. Of course, why wouldn’t they, I am married to their Miss December (no centerfold involved), according to the 1972 Spartan Yearbook. And I am happy, blessed and humbled to say, that Miss December and I hold the title of being Married The Longest to the Same Person among this cohort.

 How Miss December got out of the house without her mother seeing that dress...?

How Miss December got out of the house without her mother seeing that dress...?

I am a few years older than these youngsters; proud Senior ’69 and only a few years away from being a 69 year-old senior. Not only am I older, but I didn’t even attend their school. Worse yet, I attended their biggest rival—the school just across the river. I was a Jenks Trojan.

If you’ve ever been around an Oklahoma University football fan, you know that if they see someone in a red shirt they will holler, “BOOMER!!” in hopes that the person will respond, “SOONER!!” In that spirit, if a Bixby Spartan hears the word “Jenks”, they reflexively reply, “Jenks Stinks!!”

Although it’s been many years since I attended a Jenks football game, as we gathered for the first of the reunion activities, a tailgate party at a Bixby Spartan football game, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat creepy and disloyal; like I might feel at a Re-elect Trump rally.

But this had nothing to do with old school rivalries or the fact that Bixby beat Jenks in football this year for the first time in 40 years. This was about re-unioning, re-membering, re-calling tales of simpler days; basically re-collecting.

In the last event of the weekend, a few of her classmates picked up guitars and provided a soundtrack of sorts for the reminiscing. And as a bonus, these guys were good, really good. I thought to myself, “I wish I had brought my drums.” One of my favorites of the night was Eric Clapton’s “Old Love”, somehow apropos for such a time as this. 

At one point, in that last event of the weekend, as they were scanning yearbooks of their youth through their bifocals, I thought about standing and admonishing them to remember the words of the Old Testament:

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10

Or, for those who don’t speak King James:

“Don't long for ‘the good old days.’ This is not wise.” —New Living Translation

But surely it can’t hurt to reunite every few years and rekindle, can it? Sitting as an outsider watching the Bixby Class of ’72; NO, the answer is no, it can’t hurt a thing. After 45 years these people weren’t worried about waistlines, bottom lines or goal lines. They were just humans being human for a few hours.

As my Amazing-Missus said her good-byes and we left the reunion, I thought of this Beatles song, and her, and me, and Spartans Class of ’72, and the Trojans Class of ’69:

"In My Life"

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

In my life I love you more

 

Maybe Good Is Better Than Best

“Father Knows Best” is not an empirical reality, it was a TV show in the late 50s and early 60s. Apparently though, the idea that Father Knows Best acquired the status of a cultural norm that has caused men for years to make long road trips without consulting a map, to attempt to assemble stuff without looking at the directions, and to wreak household havoc by attempting various plumbing and electrical repairs.

Father_Knows_Best_cast_1954.jpg

Speaking as a father I can say with a morsel of confidence that in those times when I did Know Best, it was by probably by sheer accident. Let me say early in this little essay: thank you to the spouses and children who are kind enough to let Fathers believe that We Know Best, and for forgiving us when we can’t admit that we don’t always Know Best.

There are many areas where I would like to Know Best. Family vacations were one such category. To plan a good vacation was to know what would be fun for all, to demonstrate your command of geography and wider culture, and to create lasting memories (hopefully good ones). I would plan our annual odyssey with Griswoldian fervor and ambition. 

Ellen: You set standards that no family activity can live up to. 
Clark: When have I ever done that? 
Ellen: Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays... 
Clark: Goodnight Ellen
Ellen: Vacations, graduations...

If I’m not Clark Griswold, I’m Don Quixote; approaching life like a knight in shining armor. When asked about his quest, Don replied:

It is the mission of each true knight...
His duty... nay, his privilege!
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!
This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!
And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!

That’s all I’m asking for.

Knowing that I won’t always Know Best, I would like to at least know what is good. This is more than just a grading scale as in Good, Better, Best. See if this makes sense: I may not know what’s Best for my children, but I do think, by now, that I know what’s good for them, theoretically. I want the Best for them, but more importantly, I want them to know what’s good. Kind of like I want them to know what’s pretty, but even more I want them to know what’s beautiful. I want them to know honesty, but even more I want them to know truth. Am I making any sense at all?

Sure it’s good to regard the best, the pretty, the honest, but what if you could know deeply the good, the true and the beautiful?

One of my favorite parts of scripture are those verses in the creation story that say, “and God saw that it was good.” Except for that one time that He said “this isn’t good.” He was speaking of man’s relational status. He said it is not good for man to be alone. And at that point it was obvious that we are created to be connected to others. That’s a good thing; and true and beautiful. In fact, it may be the best thing.