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.