Friday, December 25, 2009

Wise Man's Diet

The wise old man was the only customer in the burger joint Christmas Eve until my wife and I arrived after Christmas Communion. He was having a great big burger with a large container of fries with what appeared to be a milkshake. He waved politely as we walked through the empty and most redundant maze to place our order to the impatient staff, who really didn’t want to be there. I waved back and called out, “May we join you?” His reply was a sweeping gesture, indicating the chairs at his table.
When we arrived at the wise old man’s table with our spicy chicken sandwiches and soft drinks in hand, he was very quiet. I discerned that he was waiting for us to say the blessing before he talked. So I prayed, “Father, thank you for this food. And, while we are here in the midst of all this bounty, keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.” He repeated the Amen and took a hearty bite from his burger.
As he chewed, I observed aloud, “Man, you look fit as a fiddle. How do you eat the way you do and stay so trim?”
“Well Dan. . .And Jacque,” he replied meditatively, “about the only time we seem to run into each other is on a holiday of some sort. I eat well during Christmas, on my birthday and when I’m on vacation. In fact, I have made up a little ditty about my diet that you may find useful if you are really interested. From the looks of you, you should be interested. Not you, ma’am, I mean Dan.”
“We’d love to hear your ditty,” Jacque said, ever interested in dietary data.
“Eat nothing fried and nothing sweet. Never have too much to eat. You may cheat without hesitation on your birthday, Christmas or vacation.”
“But, you are a Southerner, aren’t you?” I queried.
“Yes, dyed in the wool.”
“Well, then, how can you live without fried food?”
“I just look forward to vacation, Christmas and my birthday. I always have fried catfish, fried okra, fried potatoes, fried hushpuppies and fried pies on my birthday. When I’m on vacation, I go to buffets and pig out aplenty, large quantities of fried chicken, cobbler, potatoes, you know the drill. Christmas is my main time for sweets. My mother used to make divinity every Christmas, so I try to find that delicacy. She used to put a pecan half on every piece and that’s the way I like it today. I’m also very fond of pecan pie, and I usually eat a whole one either on my birthday or Christmas day.”
Jacque said, “We have a fresh batch of homemade cinnamon rolls at our house and some pumpkin pie. Would you like to come have dessert at our house, since it’s Christmas Eve?”
“Thank you kindly, ma’am, but my bus leaves in half an hour. I’m fixing to go visit a lady friend in Plano. I think we are fixing to have turkey and all the fixings.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Three Score and Ten

My daughter, Alicia Tatum, collaborated (a better word would be conspired) with Cindy Evans of the De Queen Bee newspaper staff last week to wish me a happy 70th birthday by placing boyhood pictures of me in the masthead of this column. I was certainly surprised to see that mischievous grin there instead of the wan, bald-headed caricature that ordinarily appears and more accurately depicts yours truly. But I deeply appreciated the gesture and all the other good wishes that have come my way.
For example, last week at the school where I am currently employed, I was in my office at mid-morning and my administrative assistant came in acting quite alarmed and exclaimed, “Dr. Ford, there is a big problem in the gym and they need you in there right now!”
I hastened to the site, expecting to see some athlete gone ballistic or some coach in a catatonic state over rules violations. Instead, I walked in trepidatiously to find the whole gleeful student body, along with faculty and staff, standing to sing happy birthday to me.
I didn’t quite know how to respond, so I sang back to them in an improvised melody, “♫ Thank you very much, thank you very much, thank you very muu-uuu-ch; thank you very much, thank you very much, thank you VERY much ♫.” I had the whole group join in after they learned the simple melody. We actually sounded pretty good.
When that was over, they all sat there looking at me, standing at mid-court. They were obviously expecting something more. The expression “deer in the headlights” comes to mind. So I entertained awhile with a little one-man skit (The “you must pay the rent” skit) and a magic coin trick, you know, the one where you “accidentally” drop it and pretend to pick it up but slide it under your shoe, so when you open your hand and it’s gone, people gasp. When I got through goofing off (and enjoying it a lot), the athletic director gave me a card on which the faculty had written very nice things about our time together.
Then I discovered that there was a birthday cake and other goodies in the faculty lounge. I felt appreciated and thought, there must be something special about three-score-and-ten.
There is. One of my daughters solicited stories about me from family and friends and expertly compiled the results, complete with photographs, into a professional quality book. My other daughter and her family, of course, contributed heartfelt entries to the book, in addition to manipulating the What Dan Says masthead as I mentioned at the outset. What’s more, she had birthday greetings read to me on the birthday portion the Country Breakfast Show.
So, turning 70 has been a special birthday in multiple ways. What I have liked most about it is the impression so many have that I have both enlightened and entertained them through the years. I just thought of a great epitaph: Here lies a story-teller who told no lies. I thought about adding: He loved cheeseburgers with fries, but decided against it, even though the rhyme is great.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Go and do Likewise

To understand the Good Samaritan story Jesus told, we have to go back some 700 years before Jesus’ time to the Assyrians. When these treacherous people vanquished a country, they took the best and brightest with them as captives and left the old and feeble behind (Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar learned a lot from the Assyrians). Those left in Samaria were Hebrews, but, in their decimated state, they intermarried with other nationalities and even abandoned certain facets of their Jewish tradition. For example, they didn’t think it was so important to worship in Jerusalem, but had their own worship center. Similarly, they ignored the prophetic and poetry books, and retained only the Torah.
Over time the Jews of the Holy Land began to look down upon the Samaritans as an inferior group of people. They didn’t consider them a part of their religion at all and they were very socially biased against them. So, it was truly bold and surprising for Jesus to make the hero of one of his parables a despised Samaritan.
You remember the framework of the story, I’m sure. A lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do to have eternal life. As was his custom, Jesus answered the question with another question: “What do you think, how do you read the scriptures on this issue?” The lawyer replied, “Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, that’s right, and started to go on about his business.
But the lawyer was not satisfied. He asked, “But, who is my neighbor.”
That’s when Jesus told this totally amazing story. A man was walking through the ghetto on the road to Jericho when a gang came out, stabbed and beat him, and stole everything he had, including his clothing. He was left bleeding and dying. A priest came by, looked at the hurting man, and hurried on (maybe to a meeting on how to clean up the Jericho road.) Next, a Levite came by, looked at the bleeding victim, and went on by on the other side of the road, perhaps going to choir practice. Next, a despised Samaritan came by. He stopped, poured oil and wine into the man’s wounds, dressed them and placed him on his own donkey. He took him to an inn and paid for lodging, promising more on his return trip if needed. Then Jesus asked the lawyer who the neighbor was in that story, the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan. The lawyer apparently couldn’t even say the word “Samaritan” so he said, the one that did right.
Jesus simply replied, “Go and do likewise.”
So, with all of our flaws, and no matter what others may think of us, Christians are expected to go the extra mile in helping the hurting. Pouring in the oil and wine signifies offering the Holy Spirit and the blood of Jesus to anyone bleeding and dying (whether literally or figuratively). Putting someone on our own donkey signifies inconveniencing ourselves to help those in need. Paying someone’s bill at a hotel signifies providing shelter and protection for those who have lost the means to provide these things for themselves. Real good Samaritans don’t care about what others think; they care only about fulfilling what they know the Lord requires.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Am, the Ultimate Authority

Moses was working for Jethro as a shepherd while he was in hiding for killing an Egyptian. It was good training for the job God was about to assign him from the burning bush. I can see him there with his shepherd’s staff.
Maybe a little lamb had fallen off a cliff down to a ledge and I see Moses reaching down with the shepherd’s staff to lift the little animal up. I see him holding the lamb close to his bosom, whispering comfort into the little fuzzy ear before returning it to the flock. Or, perhaps a bossy ewe didn’t want to stay with the flock and wandered off to a little green patch of her choosing. I see Moses going over to the ewe and goosing her with his staff to urge her back into the fold.
I can also imagine Moses using the staff as a weapon against predators, lifting the stick high in the air and striking with blows that meant business. Late in the day, in my mind’s eye, I see Moses leaning on the staff as if it were a crutch, humming softly as he calms the flock, settling them in for the night. Then he sees it.
The burning bush. He thought he was alone on God’s mountain. Who could have started that fire? He watched it burn but not burn up. He felt the steady warmth even from a great distance. Looking around for the person who might have lit the bush, he crept stealthily towards it. Then the voice came: “Take off your shoes, you are on holy ground.”
Moses’ immediate compliance brought on a conversation with the presence in the bush. God wanted him to shepherd people, not sheep. He tried to argue his way out of returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh demanding the release of the Hebrews he had left behind, but, how can you argue with a burning bush?
He really needed to know with whom he was talking. When he asked the name or, better stated, the authority he could cite as the one who sent him, the voice replied, “I AM. TELL THEM I AM SENT YOU.” Moses did and the rest is history. He was a good shepherd to his people for many years.
I remember in Greek mythology that when the Cyclops asked Odysseus his name, the cunning hero said, “Nobody, my name is Nobody.” So, after Odysseus and his men stuck a hot poker in the Cyclops’s one and only eye and his fierce brothers asked him who did it, he replied, “Nobody did it. Nobody put my eye out.”
There is power in names. Adam’s first job was to name the animals and, thereby, have dominion over them. If you know my name, you have power over me to some degree. If you do something in my name, that means I have given you authority to do it. If you stop in the name of the law, you stop because you realize the authority the law holds over you. I AM is the ultimate authority and nobody is a nobody to Him.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Spot, Fuzzy and I enjoy walking down by Lake De Queen. If you look at that lake from way up in the air, it looks like a figure eight that has been mashed down from above. Both parts of the eight have become diamonds, balancing on the dam on the south end. The dogs and I walk on the north-east facet of the lower diamond, on an old road that is most often flooded in places, so there is not much motorized traffic. We were down there during the Thanksgiving break and, lo and behold, there was the wise old man, sitting on a five-gallon bucket, fishing with a cane pole.
Regular readers of this column are acquainted with the uncanny fact that the wise old man shows up every holiday somewhere, whether it be Texarkana, Westerville, Ohio, West Palm Beach, Florida or here closer to home. His comments are always droll and somewhat quirky, but, I have come to understand, there is method in his madness.
“Hello, sir, what are you doing down here?”
“That has to be a pretty dumb question, Dan. Where did you get your Ph. D.?”
“No, I can see that you are fishing, but what brings you to Lake De Queen?”
“Fishing,” he replied with a wry grin.
He pulled in a nice bluegill and arranged it on a stringer with six or seven other bream. He reached into a coffee can and fetched a nice red wiggler and re-baited, while Spot and Fuzzy watched with respectful interest.
I thought I would try another ploy, “How have you been?”
“I feel great. Old age has not brought me the preoccupation with aches and pains I hear so much about from the elderly I visit. Rather, it has brought me peace and contentment.”
“What’s your secret?”
“Now, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”
“No sir, but I’m reaching the point in life when I crave advice for aging gracefully.”
“Now, Dan, that sentence contains the answer to your query. You used the word ‘gracefully’. You realize, I’m sure, that grace means you have a free gift that sustains you and keeps you fully living, eternally alive right now, a free gift that you did nothing to earn and can never deserve.”
“Yes, you are talking about salvation, sir, I’m asking about avoiding aches and pains.”
“Oh, I mistakenly thought you were asking me about abundant life. The kind that is full of fulfillment, peace, enjoyment, love, kindness, patience and much much joy.”
“You mean, sir, that the fruit of the Spirit keeps you from aches and pains?”
“In a sense, I am. Remember St. Paul saying that whatever state he was in, he had learned to be content?”
“Contentment with the life you have been given, walking in forgiveness, both giving it away and receiving it, makes the aches and pains of no consequence. The important thing is reciprocation. Just like, when I dangle a worm in the water, a nice fish reciprocates by biting it--when we forgive, God reciprocates by forgiving us. When we love, we get love in return. This deep knowledge about reciprocation brings contentment, that is, as long as we walk in forgiveness and love. Do you mind if I give your dogs a treat?”
“Not at all, sir.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a hunk of jerky. He bit off a couple of nice sized hunks and gave them to the dogs. They reciprocated by an extravagant display of friendship.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Hi Fi's

I recently read Ronnie Hardcastle’s commentary about Mike Meinert’s death in the El Dorado News Times with dual emotions: deep sadness and great joy. Sadness because of the loss of a wonderful and talented childhood friend—joy because of the memories of the Dixie Land Band, the Hi Fis, that came in like a flood. The guys in that band were a mainstay to my youth and each one was richly talented, admirable, unique and full of life. As Ronnie wrote, Mike was our leader and we never heard him belittle or bully anyone—it was against his principles and his personality. He also had a deep sense of fairness and compassion for all.
I played bass fiddle in the group and sometimes transported the band to our out-of-town gigs in my 1946 Dodge. Mike loved that gangster-style automobile and always wanted to drive it. I would lodge the bass with the neck protruding into the front seat and we would pack ourselves around it like sardines. One night when Mike was driving at peak speed back from a gig in Smackover, about 60 miles-per-hour, the Dodge threw a rod. Mike was so remorseful, feeling the full responsibility for the event. I told him over and over that the engine was about to blow anyway and would have done so no matter who was behind the wheel, but he was not satisfied until he arranged to have the car towed to my house and offered to pay for the repairs. He and our guitar player, Joe B. Lawler, did tow the old car to my house, but it was beyond repair. When I dropped the oil pan, there were pieces of cam shaft and cylinder wall in there. We got to our gigs in other ways from then on.
Years later, Mike came to see me in the dorm at Southern State College when we were both enrolled there. Jacque and I lived in an apartment in back of McCrary hall at Southern State College. We were dorm parents. When Mike and I talked, our conversation was full of the quiet laughter of reminiscence and I’ll never forget his effervescent good will. He told my wife about the demise of the old Dodge as if it had happened yesterday. It was as if we were related because of the musical connection.
One of my best memories of the group is the night we all discovered that we sounded pretty good. We had practiced a lot both individually and as a group and on our third or fourth gig, I believe it was at the TAC house in El Dorado, everything fell into place. Our rendition of “When My Baby Walks Down the Street” sounded so cool that people stopped dancing and gathered around the bandstand. Then, when we played Clyde McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” even the chaperones paid attention and joined the applause. I discovered that night that it is far better to be proud of your group than of yourself.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pink Shoes

Curtis was more than an older brother. He was a father surrogate, since our father died when I was in Mother’s womb and he was only five. From the beginning of my life, I looked up to him, admired him, wanted his approval and tried to be like him, with certain variations that suited my nature. So, when he was killed as co-pilot of a B-47 when we were both in the Air Force, I truly lost a father, brother, mentor and friend.
Mother married a carpenter when I was six and Curtis was 11. Mother told him she would marry him if he would quit drinking and build her a house. He built her two houses but could never commit to perpetual sobriety. So, like most childhoods, ours was rough at times. I accepted and loved Pop like a father, but Curtis, not so much. After all, he had known his real father. Curtis and Pop had some serious run-ins through those early years.
The first house Pop built had a small basement room, and when Curtis reached the point of wanting to avoid the fray, he converted that room into a nice bachelor’s pad. I helped him work on it and enjoyed the project immensely. Pink and gray were THE colors of the time, and Curtis chose those colors for the brick walls and concrete floor.
I was helping him paint the walls pink, wearing my Pat Boone style white bucks that Mother had bought me for band. All marching bands in those days required white shoes as part of the uniform. I splashed a little pink paint on one of the shoes and, when I tried to wipe it off, it spread out. Impulsively, I painted both shoes pink, while Curtis fell backwards onto the cot laughing hysterically.
When Mother came home from work it wasn’t funny: “Daniel Gordon Ford, what do you mean ruining those band shoes. I worked my fingers to the bone to be able to buy those and you have ruined them. If you think I am going to buy you another pair of white bucks, you are mistaken, sir. You will either earn the money yourself or get out of the band. And, if you ever leave this property wearing those ridiculous things, you will be in worse trouble than you have ever been in, do you hear me?”
I heard her, but I wore them to my Western Union messenger job one Saturday anyway, thinking I wouldn’t have to be out much, since Saturdays were usually slow. But, I got sent to the top floor of the Lion Oil building and Uncle Herbert saw me and looked at my shoes. I’m not sure he was the one that told Mother he saw me downtown in the garish footwear, but someone did. Her anger was ice, not fire, and that’s the worst kind. It took awhile to thaw. She warmed a bit after I threw those pink shoes into the trash and bought some new white bucks with my own money.
When I think of my late brother, I see pink, and hear him laughing through my sadness.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The House on Morning Star Road

The group I ran with as a kid loved to go camping. We looked for any excuse to go out to the salt flats, down to the river, back in the woods or to an old abandoned house we found out on Morning Star Road.
I went camping with the Boy Scouts, too, but that was not as much fun as the spontaneous camping trips with my friends. Maybe those Scout trips were too structured and supervised, I don’t know. We weren’t interested in the liberties someone gave us, we were interested in the liberties we took and we took quite a lot.
Camping with the Scouts, I had to pack my stuff just right, pitch the tent where I was told, wait for the adult in attendance to start the fire and cook. Camping with my friends was different. We would wad newspaper around a few eggs and put them in jars to keep them from breaking, confiscate a wad of bacon from the refrigerator, get a loaf of bread, grab a sleeping bag or some quilts and off we would go.
We ate when we were hungry and slept when we were out of giggles or mischief. Some of us slept. I don’t remember ever going to sleep on our camping trips. I do remember that my eyes felt like sandpaper most of the time we were on a venture.
That old house on Morning Star Road was a find! It had a functional fireplace and one huge room. The porch, or what was left of it, was treacherous and the rusty tin roof had just enough tin left to be called a roof. The old place and the yard to boot had fallen into disrepair. Vines knitted the chimney and wrens had nested in various places under the meager tin. But we loved it.
We set up our lanterns in the middle of the great room, started a fire in the fireplace, roasted whatever meat we could come up with and laughed the night away with jokes and stories. Things that weren’t even funny got guffaws. It didn’t take much to be a comedian with that crowd. Even spontaneous nonsense jokes were well accepted and no one ever said, “I don’t get it,” because that wasn’t the point. What place does logic have in humor anyway? It was incongruity we were after and there was plenty of that.
We wanted to keep the old house a secret from fellows outside our group. But we were under adult pressure to take a known juvenile delinquent with us on a camping trip, so we took him. But we blindfolded him for the whole trip out Morning Star Road. When we took the blindfold off inside the old house, he said, “How far out the Morning Star Road are we, about eight miles?” He was exactly right. I asked him how he knew where he was and he said, “I heard that vacuum whistle.” I have no idea what he meant by that. I had never heard a whistle out there. Anyway, that was our last trip to the location.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Multiple Approaches to Teaching

There is more than one way to skin a cat. I will accept that truism, even though I have only seen one cat skinned by my teenager neighbor Dickie when I was about seven. It was a gruesome sight, the way he opened up and examined that road-kill kitty, but the experience was educational for all the neighborhood kids. I never saw another cat skinned, but that experience sufficed.
When I was working at the college in Hope in the late 1990s, the biology department ordered preserved cats for dissection in the lab. One older student refused to skin a cat because of some kind of odd belief she had about cats. I kind of admired that woman. I didn’t want to see another cat skinned anyway. That one back in the 1940s was sufficient. I still remember the odor, the sounds of the process.
Oh, I had cleaned a lot of fish by the time I saw Dickie skin that cat, but I had never paid much attention to the process. I just knew that our family cats, Buttercup and Sweetpea, liked to clean up after we cleaned fish. They would fight over the heads and intestines with rare aggression. I couldn’t help noticing that the two house cats were nowhere to be found during Dickie’s cat skinning process. I think they knew to respect the remains of their own kind.
Maybe that woman in Hope thought of cats that way. Come to think of it, she was somewhat catlike--the way she moved, the way she talked with a kind of meow at the end of almost every sentence. Was it a laugh, a throat clearing, a sigh or an audible punctuation mark? I don’t know, but she would say things like, “Good morning (mew). How are you this morning (purr). I’ll bet she thought of cats as family members, and that’s why the biology faculty had to find alternate ways to teach this unusual individual about anatomy. I think it was a frog.
Anyway, as I started out, before my tendency to digress broke in: there is more than one way to skin a cat. Teachers know that better than anyone. Because of the diversity of modern day classrooms in terms of ethnicity, economic status, academic preparedness and home environment, teachers have to be multi-taskers in the classroom to get the lesson across. Any teacher will tell you that their “methods” courses in college seemed out of touch with the reality they face when they land their first teaching job.
On-the-job training leads those destined to be great teachers to multiple approaches to instruction. They often teach the same lesson over and over in varying formats, trying to reach as many students as possible. Teachers who do their job as a vocation instead of an avocation tend to skin the cat in only one way. Some of their students get it. Unfortunately, many don’t.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Boy Bit my Cousin

“Boy” was the dog’s name. He lived across the street from my childhood home. He was not a friendly animal, but he was smart as a whip. His owner Mr. Barr, was sour and reclusive, but he loved that dog. They were inseparable. Mr. Barr trained Boy to ride on the fender of his 1946 Dodge with Dynaflow. (Dynaflow meant you didn’t have to keep the clutch in at a stop light. You could let it out and then ease down on the accelerator when the light changed.)
Boy had an arrogant look on his fuzzy face as they drove by. He seemed to say, “I know I am a special dog, privileged to have Mr. Barr as my master, a man who understands how special I am, how easily trainable I am. Just look how well-trained I am to ride up here on the fender. How many other dogs do you see riding on a fender?”
It seemed to me that Mr. Barr could easily teach Boy to do stuff like that, but he didn’t bother to teach him not to do stuff that he should not do. For example, he chased every bicycle or motor scooter that came by, trying earnestly to bite the leg of any he considered intruding on his road space, which stretched about a half a block. I learned to get off my bicycle as I approached the bellicose animal and keep it between him and me. I would roll the bike back and forth as I walked, blocking his pursuit of my legs until I was out of his territory and he relented.
Once, my first cousin from across town came to my birthday party. After all the festivities, he wanted to ride bikes. He got on my brother’s Schwinn and I got on my hybrid ditch-jumper. I forgot to warn him about Boy. We left my house in a direction not monitored by the dog, but we came home right in front of Boy’s domain. He flew towards us in a fury of soprano barking. Immediately, I got off my bicycle, thinking, I guess, that my cousin would follow my lead. Instead of doing so, he sped up, much to the delight of the dexterous dog.
Boy bit my cousin and drew blood. He left two rows of perfect teeth marks on his calf. My cousin screamed. He was a year or two older than I was and I couldn’t recall ever seeing him cry, but he was definitely crying that day. Instead of coming on into the house and letting Mother have a look at his wound as I recommended, he rode straight home without a word.
Soon, his father my uncle showed up at Mr. Barr’s door. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Mr. Barr looked cowed as he held Boy in his arms. As it turned out, he had no evidence of a rabies vaccination for Boy and he had to keep him pinned up for awhile. My cousin was required to get shots in his stomach and after the confinement Mr. Barr had to put the dog down. As far as I know he never got another dog.
There was something sad and incomplete about the 1946 Dodge with Dynaflow after that. Mr. Barr sat on his front steps smoking his pipe as we rode our bicycles by his house sadly, but without fear.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Clocks, Calendars and Eternity

When I think of daylight savings time ending on Sunday, November 1, I hear St. Augustine whispering in the background about the unfathomable nature of time. The famous Christian philosopher indicated that there was no past—what we call past is just a present memory. He went on to say that there is no such thing as future—it is merely a present expectation. In his view, all we have is the NOW and it becomes the past as soon as we say the word now. St. Augustine said he knew what time was until someone asked him to explain it, but then he didn’t know. Time is ineffable and unfathomable.
William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize winning Mississippi novelist, expressed the concept of time this way: “There is no such thing as was. If was existed, there would be no sadness or sorrow.” No matter how you cut it, then, time is a difficult concept to get our minds around. God did not create clocks and calendars, but an apparently limitless universe in which self consciousness is as rare as hen’s teeth. If earth is the only inhabited planet, our lucidity is rare indeed in the vast expanse of interstellar space. Man created clocks and calendars to measure the motions of our tiny part of the universe.
God exists in eternity, which is an unquantified state. I remember a preacher in my youth explaining how long eternity was by saying if a sparrow pecked up a grain of sand and flew it to the moon and took another one up there every year, when he had the earth removed to the moon, that would be about one second in eternity.
That analogy blew my adolescent mind because I knew sparrows could not fly in space suits. But the real problem was the attempt to quantify a concept that is not sequential but durational. Eternity simply IS; it is not BECOMING. The only way earthlings understand time is in this sense of becoming. Even when we say “constant state” we don’t know what we are talking about.
Do you remember the song “The Love of God”? One of the verses proclaims that if the ocean were ink and the sky were a scroll, we could still never write out the love of God. God’s love is similar to the concept of eternity. We just can’t quantify it. Perhaps that is why so many people have trouble accepting the grace of God. Since our capacity to love is so limited, we have difficulty imagining God’s freely given favor. He loves us not because of anything but in spite of everything.
Possibly the best way to understand eternity and God’s love is to ponder Jesus on the cross. He stretched out his arms as if to say, “I love you this much.” And because of that expansive, incomprehensible love, eternity opened up for all of us time- and calendar-bound people who would put our trust in God’s only son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making a Living, Making a Life

Mother was obsessed with work. I guess it was what we call the Puritan work ethic that drove her to work so hard herself and to find work for her children. As soon as I turned 16, she had a job for me at Western Union. I was a bicycle messenger and Mother was so proud of me, especially when I showed her my check.
Curtis, my brother just older than I, went to work at a grocery store when he was 16. She was equally proud of him, especially when he brought home produce that was on the verge of going bad, or bread that had gone beyond its date to be sold.
Later, when I got out of the service, I found a job immediately, but it didn’t last. The company went belly-up. The next one was short-lived as well; it was billed as a temporary job in the first place. Then I painted houses and built chicken houses for a non-union carpenter, much to displeasure of my union carpenter stepfather.
While I was working on chicken houses, putting four-by-fours in concrete and roofing the place, Pop called me aside one night and said, “What are you doing, boy?”
“I’m just sitting here in the living room.”
“No, I mean what are you doing with your life?”
“Well, I’m making a living.”
“No you ain’t. You are 22 years old and living at home.”
“You want me to move out?”
“Naw, but I don’t want you working for that rat carpenter.”
“You want me to quit?”
“Yes. If you want me to get you on down at the local as an apprentice carpenter, I can do that.”
“No, I don’t want to be a carpenter.”
Pop surely understood that one. But it brought him back to his original question: what was I doing? I pondered that question substantially that night. The next day I quit my job at the chicken house site and applied for college. I really appreciated Pop’s directness. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want me to become a carpenter’s apprentice, because, when I worked for him on our house, he was highly critical of my lack of skills. He’d say things at supper like, “That boy can’t hit a nail.”
Anyway, college worked out for me. I got a job at a lumber company in that little college town and was fairly good at it, since I knew about different sizes and grades of lumber and all the sizes of nails. I also got good at framing pictures, which was an ancillary enterprise of the lumber company.
But, the best thing that happened was that I got married and the dean of men asked my wife and me to be dormitory hosts at a men’s dorm, apartment furnished, tuition paid. It was much better than carpentry and Pop approved of my new vocation. Years later, during my fourth year of graduate school, Pop asked me, “When you gonna get through with school, boy?” I said, “I’m right on the verge of finishing.” He replied, “Well, at least you are making a living at it.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

God in the Human Heart

Ralph Waldo Emerson said all things take on pleasing form in the eyes of memory. I don’t buy that 100 percent, because most of us have some very unpleasant and unshakable memories. Ray Price used to sing about the healing hands of time. I don’t think that’s altogether correct either. Time’s hands may be somewhat healing but some memories sting perpetually.
Marcel Proust believed that everything we experience lingers intact in our subconscious. His fellow Frenchman Henri Bergson also believed that our experiences are never lost. Philosophers and shrinks put it out that we have an accurate hard drive recorder up there in our gray matter that is unrelenting in its accuracy. All of us have experienced those moments when we smell an odor, hear a tune or see a beautiful scene and whole areas of our past are opened up to our conscious mind, areas we thought we had forgotten, but there they are in all the detail of reality.
For example, every time I hear organ music I get sleepy, because Aunt Sarah used to listen to radio soaps during my nap time. The organist for those programs always had tremolo turned way up. Also, when I smell freshly cut watermelon, there I am as a kid, sitting under the back yard picnic table, waiting for my slice. These involuntary remembrances are evidence enough for me that we never lose any experience, but all of them are fresh as a Sunday biscuit, just waiting for some sensation to give them leave. I’ve heard people who have had near death experiences say that their whole lives flashed before their eyes in an instant. In the light of involuntary remembrance, I don’t doubt it. A review of our existence on the planet is certainly in order at the moment of death.
But I am sure we can have some false memories, too. That’s where Proust’s concept gets very complicated. Jacque and I used to go out to the nursing home on a regular basis to minister to the residents. We heard some wild stories, fantasies reported as reality, imitating true memory, fairly consistently. Some of the residents could not remember things that actually happened but thought things that never happened did. Thus, our minds can make liars of us all. Or are these fantasies really lies? We tend to believe our own thoughts, don’t we? If we define truth as what each individual holds to be true, then a lie is indefinable.
But there is an absolute unchanging truth. Do I dare capitalize Truth? Yes, I dare. When the father in Faulkner’s “The Bear” is trying to explain Truth to his son, he explains that what the heart holds to becomes Truth, as far as we can know it, things like love, honor, pride, sacrifice and pity. The heart holds to these and they become Truth. That is a humanistic view of Truth. The Christian goes a step beyond: why does the heart hold to these things? The answer is that they are attributes of God, exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of the Most High God.
Daniel G. Ford

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grace to the Rescue

I first learned what a bad boy Milburn was at an Angel Martinez revival in 1955 when the teenage delinquent reached into the bulging offering plate and pocketed a wad of money intended for the Lord’s work. He was two rows in front of me, but I moved back a little for fear of a potential thunderbolt from Heaven.
Not long after that, Milburn shot a teacher under the chin on the last day of school with chunk of concrete from a homemade slingshot. Mrs. Thornton was waving goodbye to her homeroom class when, zap, Milburn got revenge for all the detentions, trips to the principal’s office and daily humiliations. Mrs. Thornton used to have all her pupils go to the front of the classroom and articulate the phrase, “Wasps build nests on posts.” Most of us learned to control our tongues and front teeth well enough to sound the “psps” sounds at the end of “wasps, nests and posts.” Milburn never could. His version of the phrase was “Waspes build nestes on postes.” He would say it that way every time, much to Mrs. Thornton’s displeasure.
He went to reform school for that assault on our teacher and came back to our school the next year with ragged, self-inflicted tattoos below his knuckles that spelled ugly words when he laced his fingers. Reform school had not helped him towards kindness. On the contrary, the place made him meaner. Shortly after he returned, he threw a chubby boy named Bobby down on the curb on the way home from school. Bobby wailed and bled profusely from a gash in his forehead, while Milburn gloated over his random act of violence.
Miss Grace, a neighbor lady who walked close to the Lord, observed to the church boys I ran with that we should allow Milburn into our group. She put it this way, “When hunters train bird dogs, they put the bad dogs in with the good ones, and they learn to be good dogs.” I understood the analogy, but doubted it applied to Milburn’s relationship with other boys. We feared him, even the older boys. We also found his company obnoxious, because he had absolutely no sense of humor, and we lived on laughter.
Anyway, Miss Grace employed all of us, including Milburn, to clear some land near her home. I tried not to work too close to this conscienceless miscreant with a sling blade, but he kept sidling up to work beside me. I soon learned that it was because I had a car and he wanted to use me and it for criminal activity. He whispered to me how much money we could make going to oil fields and getting scrap metal. “We could take that back seat out of that old wreck of yours and haul two or three hundred pounds to Smackover. We’d split the money right down the middle. What do you say?”
I know I sounded like a sissy when I replied that my mother would not allow me to use the car in that fashion. Milburn started pushing me and making fun of me, calling me a mamma’s baby. Fixing my gaze on the sharp implement in his hand and remembering Mrs. Thornton’s wound and Bobby’s injury, I felt certain my life was almost over. That’s when Grace intervened. She must have been watching from the edge of the woods. She grabbed Milburn by the ear with one hand and cast the sling blade away from him with the other. “I’m taking this cur home, boys.” That was her way of saying, “This dog won’t hunt.” Thank God for Grace.
Daniel G. Ford

Friday, September 18, 2009

Artemis Didn't Fall From the Sky

The full title of the Book of Acts is Acts of the Apostles. A better title might be Acts of the Holy Spirit, considering the many evidences of His work in the narrative. But much of the book does outline the dangerous activities of Paul and other apostles as they gave wings to the fledgling new religion. Paul was involved in some very risky business in Ephesus, where many wanted him dead.
There is an interesting story in Acts 19 about political and cultural unrest brought on by lucrative activities based on a lie. The story may have some parallels to the political and cultural climate in the U.S. today. A silversmith, Demetrius, was doing a booming business in Ephesus selling silver shrines of the goddess Artemis. Of course Paul and his companion Alexander were pointing out that Artemis was a lie and that God was the only God. Demetrius was putting it out that Paul and friends would cause his trade to lose its reputation and that Artemis would be discredited, possibly even losing her divine majesty, not to mention that Demetrius would lose his job.
Then there was a town hall meeting full of shouting and pushing. When Paul’s friend Alexander tried to speak at the meeting, the crowd chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” and Alexander was shut down. The crowd did let the city clerk talk and his message was that Artemis’ divinity was an indisputable fact since her image fell down to Ephesus right out of the sky. He maintained that the courts should deal with the problem. In other words, he was doctrinaire and self-assured with inadequate evidence. He was of a mind to force his point of view based upon his assumed righteousness.
What does this passage tell us about our age? I think it is fair to say that there is trouble in the United States of America concerning the health care reform proposal(s). Some stand to profit from the passage of this bill, whatever it may turn out to be. Demetrius feared loss of position if Paul’s crew prevailed. Modern politicians are ever sensitive to losing their next election, and many voters are disgruntled. Town hall meetings demonstrate that many erstwhile quiet people are riled up. Many of the Ephesians claimed their goddess was an undisputed deity while in reality, it was a lie. Many Americans claim the health care proposal before the lawmakers is the only way. At least one congressman proclaimed it as a lie and he got into trouble.
How did things turn out in Ephesus? Paul and Alexander not only prevailed, their point of view became the universal mindset of the Western world. Do you know anyone who wants a silver shrine to Artemis? I don’t. Even though some of my intellectual friends tell me we are living in the post-Christian age, I believe that the majority of Americans are still Christian. Their Christian worldview keeps them from accepting any widely accepted myth, such as “Artemis fell out of the sky.”
Daniel G. Ford

Friday, September 11, 2009

Turkey Legs

Turkey legs was six-five in the ninth grade and possessed a beautiful bass voice. He went from squeaky to basso in one summer. In the eighth grade when the teachers called the roll, Turkey legs sounded like a girl. In the ninth, he answered “here” in such a profoundly adult way, all eyes turned to see the owner of those astonishing vocal cords.
Because he was so gangly, the coach would not accept him as a football player, so he became a water boy. In fact, his water boy duties gained him the nickname of Turkey legs. I wish you could have seen him dashing out to the field with the water bucket, his free arm all akimbo and his legs twirling like a cartoon character. He is the only water boy I remember who got cheered regularly. Back on the sidelines, he would often bow to the crowd with a courtly maneuver.
Well, Turkey legs got a Cushman scooter the summer before the 10th grade. He needed transportation because his wonderfully resonant voice had gained him a job as an afternoon DJ on one of local radio stations. So, the primary purpose of the scooter was to get him back and forth to work. The secondary purpose was much more important. It was that of visiting friends over in my part of town. In my neighborhood, we all looked forward to his visits since he had become a celebrity from performing at ball games and saying witty and inane things on the radio.
His scooter had a maladjusted muffler and we could hear him coming a mile away. Perhaps we would be sitting under someone’s carport in the heat of the day playing Uncle Wiggly or listening to Big John and Sparky on the radio. Someone would tilt his head and say, “Listen, I hear Turkey legs.” And sure enough, he would roll into the driveway a short time later. He always seemed to intuit where we would be gathered and when he joined us, he was the center of attention.
Turkey legs could draw, too. He could whip out a sketch of Elvis or Sarge in Beetle Bailey at the drop of a hat. He did this with no sense of pride whatsoever. He just wanted to entertain, use his gifts to please his friends. I had a bit of artistic talent, too, so people running for office at the school would enlist Turkey legs and me to make posters for them. I tried to match his creativity and speed in poster making, but never did. He was just naturally clever and so impatient by nature that his talents had to keep up with his need for speed.
This need for speed resulted in an accident during our 10th grade year. I was riding on the back of the scooter when Turkey legs ran the thing broadside into an automobile which ran a red light. The jolt threw Turkey legs onto the car and me onto the handlebars. We weren’t hurt, but I wish you could have seen his performance as he scolded the adult for running the red light in his most manly voice.
Turkey legs now owns his own advertising company in a major Southern city and we e-mail from time to time. He comments on this column occasionally and the little caricature of myself I sketched that appears above it in The Bee.
Daniel G. Ford

Friday, September 4, 2009

Motivated by Grace

I was so shocked to see the wise old man having an ice cream cone in uptown Westerville, Ohio. For some reason, I thought he was fairly local in the Texarkana, Dallas, Mena areas, but there he was, sitting on Amish furniture at an establishment across the street from a popular ice cream place. I see him around every holiday.
“Hello, sir,” I said, as I approached him and sat on a wrought iron bench beside him. “Oh, hi, Dan,” he replied nonchalantly.
“What are you doing in Ohio?” I wanted to know.
“Oh, I’m pretty much everywhere,” he said, savoring a jaw-full of blueberry ice cream. “How’s it going with your mission up here, Dan?”
I poured out the positives and negatives of my current work and he listened with a benign grin, constantly attending to his treat. At the end of my monologue, he said some things I can barely remember but will never forget. At first his response was inexplicable, but eventually a deep understanding took hold. This is more or less what he said:
“Guilt is a savage beast, managed only by the great accuser. Guilt is always the wrong motivation for any enterprise. Like the deceptiveness of alcohol, you know. One drink makes you feel good, so you think two will make you feel better still and a third will elate. However, you find that the more you drink, the less the kick and down you go to a counterfeit joy which really is depression in disguise. What I’m telling you is that actions motivated by guilt result in more guilt. So, the thing to do is educate your conscience by understanding grace, you know, unmerited favor. Guilt makes you work for a peace that never comes. Grace gives you peace that work can never bring.”
“Sir, you’ve given me a lot to digest this evening.”
“Just digest that puny little cup of ice cream you got, Dan, and what I said will grow on you.”
“Do you think I’m motivated by guilt from what I said about my mission here?”
“Well, Dan, is anything within you accusatory these days?”
I avoided his question by asking another, one that’s been on my mind: “Sir, it seems that our representatives in high places are out of touch with their constituents. What can we do to make them understand?”
“They are not out of touch with ALL of their constituents. A pretty good hunk of humanity sees eye to eye with those who seek radical readjustment of American life. It’s a worldview thing, Dan. The Christian worldview, such as the one you hold, says God made us and put us in charge, made us stewards of all aspects of earthly life. We are responsible to him to love and nurture his creation and hold fellow human beings in high regard. Those who do not hold the Christian worldview often think of people as really smart animals whose responsibility is to dominate the world. People who do not hold the Christian worldview should feel guilty but don’t and those who are truly Christian shouldn’t feel guilty but do.
Daniel G. Ford

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rottweiler Hazard

My bicycle buddy and I were riding side by side on a country road early one morning 30-odd years ago when a huge Rottweiler came angrily out of nowhere. I don’t think the dog actually saw me—I was on the inside by the shoulder of the road—but he charged straight for my friend. While doing so, he ran directly into my path and I couldn’t stop. I hit the animal broadside, flying over the handlebars, hitting my helmeted head on the roadway. The event terrified the animal more than it hurt him. He loped off yelping, looking back at me as if to say, “Where’d you come from?” For some reason (maybe it was divine protection) I had no bodily harm from the incident. I’m just thankful I was wearing a bicycle helmet. I do not recommend pounding one’s pate against the pavement. Bike helmets do indeed protect.
I thought of that incident the other day while riding on a bike path through the woods near Genoa Township in Ohio just before dark. A fawn was standing beside the well-maintained path, gazing off into the woods. I knew the deer didn’t hear me coming, and because it was in such deep concentration, I doubted it would see me until I was very close. I slowed down and quietly stopped within 10 feet of the animal and waited. Shortly the mottled fawn turned towards me, jerked its head in surprise and bolted off into the forest. I watched it fade into the wilderness like a falling leaf. That natural camouflage of spots on grayish tan concealed the creature in an instant. I’m glad the little guy didn’t share the fate of that Rottweiler of many years ago.
Thousands of deer get hit daily by cars and trucks on our highways. They are unpredictable creatures. The second we see one, we should brake and be very cautious. Where you see one, there are probably more nearby. They are herd animals by instinct. I have only hit one, and that was on the Arkansas back-roads near White Oak Lake. I was driving a 1998 Geo Metro and the deer I hit was almost as big as the car. Needless to say, the vehicle was ultimately totaled, and the deer was totaled on impact. It was ironic that the first utterance out of my mouth after hitting the deer was, “Oh, dear.”
My sister had a device on her car that was supposed to whistle in the wind at a pitch that deer could hear, but humans couldn’t. She never hit a deer after installing the little whistle. Could it be that something so simple could warn the animals and keep them out of harm’s way?
I remember signs on a military base in northern Missouri that read, “Deer are hazardous to military vehicles.” Be that as it may, there is another perspective to offer, “Military vehicles are hazardous to deer.” I know for certain that bicycles can be hazardous to Rottweilers.
Daniel G. Ford