Monday, April 27, 2015

War Eagle!

A friend of mine asked me why I hated the Tide. I replied that I did not truly hate the University of Alabama, but the anti-Tide attitude rubbed off on me when I became a part of Auburn. Then the friend asked, “How did you end up at Auburn University anyway?” I told him to read my next entry here, thus, the following explanation.
When we got out of the service, my friend Kenneth and I were employed building 400 by 40 foot chicken houses. One summer when we were doing this, Kenneth started singing in the “Town and Gown” choir at a nearby college and one Saturday invited me to come along. The rehearsal was to be that evening but we got to campus in the early afternoon. He took me over to the music building and introduced me to the choir director, who noticed my bass voice and said, “I could sure use your voice in the college choir. I assume you are here for orientation?” I did not know orientation was going on, but I expressed an interest and left there that day signed up for courses for fall semester. So did Kenneth.
We did not know how we were going to make it financially, but that college had ample opportunities for working such things out and I later found a flexible-hour job at a builder’s supply. My step-father was a carpenter, so it helped that I knew all the “pennies” of nails and all the dimensions of lumber. Kenneth and I roomed together in the cheapest dorm and, like good military veterans, attended all our classes and studied a reasonable amount.
I honored my commitment to sing in the college choir and I am so glad I did, for that is where I met my wife. She was ahead of me in college since I was a late-bloomer veteran and she was most assuredly ahead of me in musical skills, but we got along very well. The choir had the great opportunity to sing as the chorus in the opera “Carmen” in a nearby metropolitan area, and we did most of our courting on the bus and in the wings of the theater. It did not take us long to form a bond so strong that it became a lifelong commitment. We got married spring semester and the dean of men offered us a job as “dorm parents” in one of the men’s residence halls. The position gave us a spacious apartment, utilities paid, took care of both our tuition and fees, gave us a discount on books, one meal a day at the cafeteria and $50 cash per month. We were sitting pretty.

We kept that going until my wife graduated a year before I did. When she landed a teaching job in a nearby community, we quit the dorm business and I went to work in the English department. My senior year, I took the “Graduate Record Examination” and started looking for a graduate school. Auburn University offered a fellowship and assistantship possibilities that made graduate school possible, so……War Eagle!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fishing Partner

One Saturday afternoon, I was fishing with shrimp in the brackish waters between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach across the street from First Baptist Church when a vagabond approached me for money. Silver and gold had I very little, but what I had, I offered him, that is, an ear. And he filled it with his obviously mendacious story, which was most certainly rehearsed and worked-on and worked-out through his years of handling the pan. As full of contradictions as his tale was, it was fascinating the way each episode made him look like a benignly resilient victim of the most awful circumstances.
The bottom line was that although he was a good guy, a stellar father, an ideal husband, a perfect son and brother, neither his ex-wife nor anyone in his family would have anything to do with him because they were selfish and unloving, especially in times of great financial need, such as this time right now. Well, I was fishing for real fish, but I fished in my pocket and retrieved my wallet and, knowing all along that it would not be wise to give this prevaricator money, doled out the few bills I had, all ones. I also told him about nearby Samaritan Gardens, a homeless shelter operated by First Baptist. He grabbed the bills gratefully and went on down the waterway towards the shelter, saying over his shoulder, “I hope your generosity brings you good luck—may you catch a big one.” I never got another bite that afternoon.
I watched him as he turned into the office of Samaritan Gardens and felt satisfied that I had helped the man. You see, the church had purchased a motel adjacent to their property and turned it into a nice set of apartments to temporarily house the homeless. The staff worked with local businesses and employment specialists to get jobs for those who dwelt there. The number one rule was that if Samaritan Gardens got you a job, you took it. If you refused the job, you lost your apartment. Fair enough, right? Well, there were those who refused to work and, sure enough, they found themselves back on the streets. I hope they found my new acquaintance a job and I hope he took it and got back on his feet long enough to be reconciled with his loved ones.
Because of my observations of the homeless both in California and Florida (and to some degree in Texarkana), I feel that the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach had the best idea. Help people help themselves. It is analogous to a good theory of education: teach people to be their own teachers. If you stimulate curiosity and demonstrate research methods, you have provided tools that truly educate.

It amounts to the same thing. Every worthwhile goal requires effort and sometimes that effort is difficult indeed. We must remember also that sometimes the reward for good work is more work. The answer to that one is to unite your vocation with your avocation as your two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” clarifies the concept.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reckless Path

When the huge host of wandering Israelites came close to the Moab border, King Balak got nervous. He had heard how strong these people were and he wanted to figure out how to defeat them. His strategy was to hire a diviner named Balaam to put a curse on them. He reasoned that he would be able to rout them if they were under a curse. So, he sent a delegation of high-ranking Moabites to Balaam’s home with his message.
No delegation ever so ill-discharged its mission. They spent the night with the diviner as he consulted the Lord and in the morning Balaam told the great ones that he had heard from Providence and that he could not go with them, explaining that God did not want these people cursed because he had blessed them.
When the delegates got back to Moab and reported what the diviner said, King Balak was disappointed and upset, but he did not give up. He sent a second group, a larger one with more noble people and the promise of financial reward and royal favors. This group also spent the night as Balaam consulted the Lord, who told him to go ahead with the group but that he must speak only what the Lord told him to. But, it is implied by the full counsel of scripture (II Peter, Jude, etc.) that Balaam must have started thinking about the money and favors during the night, because when he took off with the group on his donkey, God, who looks on the heart, was angry and sent an angel with a sword to stand in the road to oppose him.
Perhaps blinded by his own ambition, Balaam does not see the heavenly being, but his jenny does and she shies off into a field. Balaam beats the donkey back onto the road only to have her pin his foot against a wall. He gives her another whacking and shortly she just lies down in the road and he starts in on her again. Then the creature speaks, “Why are you beating me? Am I in the habit of behaving this way?” Balaam has to acknowledge that she is right and then the Lord opens the seer’s eyes to see the angel, who tells Balaam he is on a reckless path.
When Balaam arrives in Moab, he and King Balak make animal sacrifices on a mountain and the diviner speaks about Israel, but no curses are forthcoming. The king takes him to another location, hoping to get a different result, but the same thing happens: the seer blesses Israel and does not put a curse on them. Balak takes him to a third location with the same result. Then he says, go home, you will get no reward from me. I brought you here to curse Israel but you have done nothing but bless them. Balaam said something that may be about like this in today’s vernacular, “I can’t help it.”

That story is in Numbers, but elsewhere in scripture we read about “Balaam’s error” which we take to be seeking favor from men over obedience to God. And, we have become acquainted with the angel’s words that Balaam was on a reckless path, that is, self-seeking over honesty. If our donkey balks, whatever our donkey may be, we had better pay attention. It could be that we are on Balaam’s reckless path of error.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Don't Compare Yourself to Others

After Jesus of Nazareth came back into his mangled body, it changed into an eternally perfect one, though it still bore the marks of his horrible execution. He walked around for 40 days in this body and 500 people saw him. His resurrection and appearance to his followers radically changed them from cowering disappointment to highly motivated evangelism. But that change in his friends apparently did not happen overnight.
Early one morning a little while after he came out of the tomb, he built a fire on the banks of his favorite lake and started roasting some fish and warming a few patties of bread. He had a little camp site all laid out with the aromatic feast just about ready when he called to a boat about 100 yards out in the lake, “Hey, boys, have y’all caught anything?” I am sure they shrugged their shoulders in the universal gesture of bad luck and said, “Nope.” He instructed them to cast the net on the opposite side of the boat and they hauled in 153 nice ones, more than the net was accustomed to handling, but it did not break.
Peter and John, both great professional fishermen, were leading the expedition. Peter had stripped down to handle the nets more efficiently. They did not discern that it was Jesus on the shore calling to them until John said, “It is the Lord.” Suddenly (and curiously) Peter threw his clothes on and jumped into the lake and started swimming towards Jesus. It is possible, I guess, that he thought he could walk the distance on top of the waves since he had done it before, but that was at Jesus’ command. Anyway, he got to Jesus first.
Then the boat arrived and Jesus said, “Bring some of those fish to add to what I already have cooked here and come have breakfast.” Don’t you know that was a great feast, full of joy and joking and thrilling conversation about eternal life and how death has no dominion now! With all those big old fresh fish, I am sure no one left the campfire hungry that morning. Just thinking about it gives me an appetite for roasted fish and bread for breakfast, you know, an outdoorsman’s lox and bagels, as it were. Anyway, the conversation got serious after a while.
Jesus walked along the shore with Peter, John following at a distance. He asked Peter about his love for him, wanting to reinstate him to his position as a close apostle. Remember, he had denied he even knew Jesus to stay out of trouble. Peter assured him of his love and Jesus admonished him to take care of his people and then indicated he would be required to undergo great suffering and death. “What about old John back there?” Peter wanted to know. In effect, Jesus told him it was not his business. Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” has a line that is apropos to this story, “Do not compare yourself to others, for will find those who are not as well off as you and that may make you proud and you will find others that are better off than you and that could make you jealous. Therefore, do not compare yourself to others.”

Good breakfast, great conversation!