It’s great to be home after two very recent, serious hospitalizations. One of the joys is to be able to read tons of good wishes and get well cards from you dear readers. They are great medicine at a time like this! They are like the world’s greatest multi-vitamins. Some are deeply spiritual. Many are hilariously funny. All are inspirational.
Let me give you a few examples that knocked me out of the bed with laughter and lifted my spirits. And I’ll add a few comments.
I reckon I may be partly responsible for this incredible winter weather. I have sometimes professed my enjoyment of a nice winter snow storm. To watch snow falling is, to me, a wonderful sight. It brings a calmness over my spirit like few other experiences in life. God knows this about me and in most winters provides me just enough snow here in North Carolina to keep me reasonably serene.
Rarely do we get too much. Sometimes we don’t get quite enough to suit me. In fact, on Groundhog Day I was not terribly disappointed to learn that we could expect six more weeks of winter weather. I was hoping for two or three days of snow with temperatures at about 31 degrees, safe clear roads, crackling fireplaces and toasty, warm homes. We only build fireplaces anymore here in the South for the atmosphere in our homes. So I like a little snow for atmosphere.
My story this week is set in the mid-1940s. I was a young boy at the time. Many of the men in my family were away serving in the U.S. military. How many of you are old enough to remember those years? Our mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were holding things together here at home.
Consult your elders and see if they remember any of what I’m about to tell you. They may not know about this because, while it was not secret, it was not widely disclosed at the time.
World War II was raging at the time. As the war wore on, thousands of German and Italian prisoners of war were brought to America and placed in 700 prison camps in 43 states.
Mike Poplin knows I enjoy Cajun humor. Now and then he sends me a funny story in the distinctive accent of the bayou. He knows this will make me hungry for some Cajun cooking and will also inspire a sermonette from me.
Well, the following story came at the perfect moment for me. As you regular readers know, I have had some serious health problems during recent months and have been unable to attend church. I get a bit depressed when I can’t take my seat in my pew among my friends.
So here comes a story from Mike. Boudreaux decided he wanted a pet. So he went to the pet store and told the owner that he wanted to buy an unusual pet. After some discussion, Boudreaux finally bought a talking centipede (the 100-legged bug), which came in a little white box to use for its house. Boudreaux took the box home, found a good spot for it and decided he would start off by taking his new pet to church with him.
All religions that have staying power make prayer and meditation central to their common life. This is certainly true of the great religions in the biblical tradition: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Just read the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament, and note the examples of the “Chosen People” communicating with the One who chose them. Or read the New Testament teachings of Jesus about how to pray.
Islam arose after Judaism and Christianity and is noted for its emphasis on prayer. Most devout Muslims pause to pray five times daily. They kneel and touch their foreheads to the floor as they pray. This often leads to the formation of a callus on their foreheads from praying.
Late 19th and early 20th century German playwright Frank Wedekind became quotable for one sentence. Alluding to the statement in Genesis that humankind was created in God’s own image, Wedekind wrote: “God made man in his own image and man returned the favor.” There is no doubt that lots of talk about God is the projection of human tendencies upon God.
What human being does not harbor a grievance and desire for revenge for some real or imagined action or insult?
On Nov. 30, 2016, my left leg was amputated below the knee after a nine-month effort to save it. Because of some complications, I spent 29 days recovering to get well enough to return home from the hospital. I still have some healing to do before I can get started on the process of getting ready for my new, artificial leg.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all you dear friends for your prayers, thoughts, good wishes, cards and letters. I was so swamped with letters and e-mails that it will be impossible for me to answer them all. They ran into several hundred. I know you will forgive me and understand when I finally read messages from you and offered this little prayer: “Thank you God for this friend of yours and mine who spoke to you about my great need.” I was a pretty sick puppy for a long time and I was never forgotten.
This New Year, 2017, couldn’t get here soon enough to suit me! I’m not lying about this. As we hillbillies say, “I’m done wore out.” I’m ready for a new year and some relief. The rustic rube that is me says, “I’ve done swore off,” of cable TV cable news. I’m just “flat-out, slap-dab done.” Football season is about finished and none of my favorite teams has done well. So that’s done. Please, somebody, just stick a fork in me; I’m done!
I apologize, friends, for that brief diatribe but I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I know it wasn’t pretty and I should have warned you in advance to protect your young children from that ugly display. However, I do believe I’m feeling better already. I’m going to breathe deeply a few times and hit the reset button.
Our house will be quiet this Christmas morning. I get up early because that’s a Christmas morning habit I developed long ago when our children were young and I was as excited as they were to see what had transpired overnight. They were eager to know whether the mysterious Santa had stopped in. Had he left gifts? Had he eaten the cookies and drunk the milk they had left on the mantle? I had assured them that Santa was a personal friend of mine and I knew he could not resist cookies and milk. Usually, I wore a milk mustache above my lip on Christmas morning.
Back then, after a few frenzied minutes in a blizzard of discovery and mayhem, Judy and I would sneak in a little catnap and get ready to motor off, family in tow, to visit our parents and other kin in far away places.
Things are different now. Our parents have all gone to be with God. Our children are all grown up and our grandchildren are, too. We are often together as a big, extended, close-knit family. But Christmas mornings now are spent with just the two of us at home. We sleep as late as we can. Then we awaken and sip cups of coffee to Christmas music. There’s a serene rhythm to Christmas now for us. This is how it should be. We chat about how Christmas has changed for us through the years. Christmas is all about change. Birth is always about the emergence of change entering a world in need of new beginnings.
Some change is more welcome than other kinds of change. I think of myself as a person very open to change. But sometimes I get a bit grumpy when it comes to political correctness. For instance, what is the proper greeting for a morning like today? Particularly for a person like me. I am going to say, “Happy Christmas,” “A blessed Christmas to you,” or “Merry Christmas.” I’m just grumpy enough, even on Christmas, to resist greeting you with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or “’Tis the season to be jolly.”
Now don’t get me wrong; I enjoy holidays as much as anyone. I like all seasons too — especially seasons in which to be jolly. I mean, I’ll put my jolliness up against anyone else’s anytime. But right now, I’m talking about Christmas! I’m resisting the efforts of some to remove Christmas from Christmas. I’m firm in this. I’m not going to be unkind or impolite, unpleasant or disrespectful about it. I’m simply going to be straightforward about who I am and what I’m celebrating. Lots of folk whom I love see this differently than I, but you know me.
It’s true, Christmas changes for us as our lives change. So I wrote Santa the following note this year:
“Dear Sir Claus,
I know you are very busy at this time of year. I want to take a little pressure off you and ask you to change your plans as they relate to us. It’s important for you to get to all the children as you make your rounds. We would enjoy your visit, but we really don’t need it. We have what we need and want. Look out for the children. Spread some happiness. Bring a little peace to the children. We will be thinking of you. I’ll be happy to eat the cookies and drink the milk left on our mantle this year. We will be thinking of you. Your friend, Harold.
Oh, and Santa, a joyful Christmas to you!”
Our daughter, Susannah, is a member of the staff at Embry Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta. She works with children and has a few moments with the children in the services each Sunday. What follows here is her account of those moments on the Sunday after our recent election. I am biased, of course, but I think it is wonderful.
“Did you see that Donald Trump won?” The question came from a 9-year-old.“Yes, Jackson, I did see.”
“Ms. Susannah, did you want Trump to win?”
When I told y’all I was having a leg amputated, I also mentioned that I was imagining all kinds of gallows humor about that. And I invited you, dear friends, to send me some as well. I was swamped by your jokes and one-liners. Our daughter Susannah wrote, about my invitation for you to do this: “You are a goober. A one-legged goober. I love you!” Isn’t that sweet?
You sent me lines about socks lasting twice as long, one-legged kickers who always land on their behinds, the problem one-legged men have in butt-kicking contests. I received lots of IHOP jokes. Eight-year-old Lionel, who lives in New England, is sending me an eye patch so I can become a pirate. I love it.