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