Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Leader's Voice

Washington, Arkansas’s Mayor John Eakin, who was also editor of the Washington Telegraph Newspaper, managed to keep a sane point of view at a time of confusing foment. Not a single Union soldier had been to his city during the War Between the States, but at the end of the costly and bloody conflict, troops from Michigan came marching in, ostensibly to keep order. Emotions amongst the citizenry ranged from fear to resentment to anger to frustration. So, the Yale-educated mayor wrote a poignant editorial for the paper and made an impassioned speech.

In these, he made it clear that all duties of patriotism concerning the Confederacy died when President Davis and his cabinet were captured and when the Southern congress dispersed never to re-form. He also mentioned the final surrender of the last army of the South under General Smith. He held out no hope of the reassembling of the Confederate government. Mayor Eakin showed the futility of allegiance to that government for, in his words, “nothing remains to which allegiance may attach.”

His argument was clear, concise, cogent and apparently well-received by the majority of citizens who just wanted to regain a sense of normalcy. Many agreed when the mayor looked at the flag of the United States flying in front of the courthouse and said, “It is good to see the old flag flying here again.” But there were those who could not accept the new configuration. To these, Eakin said they should find a new country, probably meaning Mexico just to the south. Those who stayed, the great majority, were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States which included this phrase: “I will abide by…proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

The wife of a local former slave-holder in Washington, Mrs. Carrigan, made an entry in her dairy just after the war expressing great concern for former slaves who were homeless, wandering about the streets of Washington with no place to lay their heads. I know that must have been a terrifying condition with no local prospects for a livelihood in the place called home for so long. The price of freedom was great for all concerned. But freedom finds a way in the United States of America.

In every age, leaders emerge like John Eakin, who energetically acted as educator and encourager of the populace through his editorial skills and rhetorical acumen. Eakin had the gift of seeing what we sometimes call “the big picture.” Provincial in his personal tastes, he was nonetheless cognizant of the world beyond his borders. He had read history and he had a deep understanding of the human heart in conflict with itself. He knew as we often forget that there was not a single motive for the great war, but many motives, some of them wildly contradictory. And, mainly, he knew the necessity for a powerful persuasive voice, which he provided eloquently.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Noses turned up at manna made God burning mad. But, Moses prayed and the fire went out. Like Moses, true leaders pray for their people. Remember Daniel in chapter nine of his book? He repented on behalf of his people and asked God to deliver them because of his mercy, not because of any goodness on their part. We even have a record of Jesus praying for us here in the 21st Century in John 17. He was praying for the disciples and then shifted to those who would believe because of their efforts—that’s us. What did he pray for? Unity. At one point, he even said the world would believe in him because of our love for each other.

But, back to that manna. I cannot imagine complaining about food sent from Heaven, can you. It just about had to be the perfect food, with all the ingredients to nourish people in a top notch fashion. But they were tired of it. The word “manna” is the equivalent of the Hebrew “what’s this stuff?” (I heard that on television from a Catholic priest). In the Book of Numbers we read that the travelling horde of Hebrews following Moses to the promised land got to thinking back about those good fish they used to eat. They were so readily available in the Nile and the stock ponds. They also longed for cucumbers, melons, onions, leeks and garlic. None of these delicacies were available out there in the wilderness. Manna was not enough for them—they wanted meat.

In effect, God said, “They want meat? I will give them meat to eat until it comes out their nostrils.” He sent an overabundance of quail, blown in from the sea. There were so many! They were lying three feet deep all around the camp and a day’s walk in every direction. Each man gathered close to two tons of quail. So, they had a quail feast and their complaint and gluttony was so displeasing to the Lord that many got sick and died.

There was other complaining going on, too. Even Moses complained to God that he was not able to lead those folks all by himself. But that kind of prayer did not bother God at all. He simply had Moses name 70 elders of the people as helpers and placed an anointing to prophesy upon them. The end of that story is that the people complained about a couple of Elders—Eldad and Medad—who were not selected as part of the 70 and yet were prophesying. Moses’ response was cool. He said, let them prophesy. I wish all of you would do so.

I conclude that the God of the Bible hated complaint and we see later that he loves gratitude that results in contentment. In effect, gratitude is riches and complaint is poverty. When God told Adam he could have all the fruit of the garden except that from one tree, he should have been grateful and content. Moderation would have saved a world of trouble.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Flybird Nord and the Wise Old Man

When the wise old man was working on an Arizona ranch back in the 1950s, he became acquainted with the cowboy character actor Flybird Nord, who, besides being in demand in Hollywood, was an actual foreman for the Circle-K. He had mentioned Mr. Nord to me several times, usually noting his desire to do actual work apart from the movie set but I did not know he had mentioned me to the actor. Our home phone rang at around noon on Independence Day.

“Dr. Ford, this is Flybird Nord.”

“Uh, yes sir, you are a friend of…”

“Yes. I just talked to him. He called from Bright Leaf there in Atlanta and I am flying out to visit him. I will be happy to stop by if you and Mrs. Ford would care to accompany me. It will be a quick turnaround but we are both getting kind of long in the tooth, so I really wanted this visit.”

I had a lot of questions, such as, how old are you now? Do you still fly your own airplane? Weren’t you a producer for Shane and Giant? You know, things like that. So, I was not a little comforted by his next statement.

“My son will be flying us out. I am 94 and do not pilot much anymore. Shall I pick you up at the Hope airport or Texarkana?”

Well, we chose Texarkana and it was a joy to meet Mr. Nord there at the airport. He still sported the droopy Western mustache and, though a little stooped, still had his trademark bowlegged swagger. His boots were ostrich with silver inlays. The airplane was bigger than I had expected and we actually had a dour cowgirl flight attendant. The younger Nord looked more like a pro wrestler that the son of his father. I immediately discerned that he visited the gym regularly, as well as the tattoo parlor.

The wise old man was thrilled to see his old friend and tickled that my wife and I were along for the visit. The most interesting part of our time there was the rich conversations of the cowboy actor and the wise old man. In discussing today’s unusual political configurations, they identified what they called a zeitgeist of independence. The wise old man concluded that 1776 was the first Brexit borne of the desire of English-speaking peoples for independence. These two old fellows gave a whole new meaning to Independence Day.

Our muscular pilot and the dour attendant went out in the rental car and found some of the best ribs imaginable. When the wise old man said the blessing, he did so in this fashion, “Lord, you are good. You gave us choice and chose to make this crowd here, my dear friends. I am glad you did. Even though we value our independence as a country, we never want to think ourselves independent of our Father in heaven who knows what to do with ribs. Plant us by the river, Lord, and help us to produce fruit, even in old age. Amen. Pass the potato salad.”