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.
I am very proud of the bravery exhibited by my family members over the centuries. One old fellow was very brave. He was charged by the British with being an American spy during the American Revolution. Fortunately he escaped hanging. Over in the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tenn., is Roaring Fork, a rushing mountain stream. There outside a little cabin, the historical marker notes that the pioneer couple, Ephraim and Minerva Bales, raised nine children. It says that her nickname was “Nervy.” I like that. Mountain women are all nervy. Most of them are fairly brave.
Do you remember the old Country and Western love song that begins with “Together again, my tears have stopped falling ... ” by Buck Owens? Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the song. It is probably not among the hymns in your church hymnal. But those opening words have stuck in my brain since our recent election. We have been left with lots of wounds as a nation. Any fair-minded, intelligent, patriotic citizen must conclude that we cannot continue to carry the bitterness, rancor and anger we have endured during recent years in our national life. A “States of America” without the word “United” in it is a shame upon us.
You know how when something good or bad happens to you, it can change your behavior forever? Well, a few years ago I discovered that someone managed to steal some money out of our bank account. It caused me to develop the habit of checking the account every day to be sure nothing is amiss.
Recently, I did my usual check wondering whether we would still have any month left when the money runs out. Well, wouldn’t you know, I discovered that someone, only an hour earlier, had withdrawn several hundred dollars from our account. They used my beloved’s ATM card at an ATM about 40 miles from our home.
I heard a story about a fellow being hanged once upon a time. The hangman, being a generous public servant, asked the honoree if he had any last words. The doomed citizen paused and, trying to put the best face on it, replied, “Well, it shore does beat drowning.”
That epitomizes what we mean by gallows humor. Sometimes a stressful situation is relieved by cracking jokes about it. I have often remarked that people of faith are the only people on earth who can laugh in the face of death itself.
The refrigerator door is the great archive of American culture. If you want to know what is important to an American family, just take a look at what is posted there. It’s a collection of “post it” notes, magnetic inspirational slogans, cute photos, “to do” reminders, important appointments, emergency phone numbers, grocery lists, birthdays, anniversaries and miscellaneous artifacts of modern life.
Right there in the heart of the home is an index of the values of the people who live there. It is a perpetual reminder of things that really matter to that family. Of course, I enjoy the funny stuff stuck to the doors, too!
Christians are familiar with the word “immersion” in relation to baptism. Baptism by immersion means that the person being baptized is placed completely under the water by the pastor. It is only one of the methods used by Christians. Another method is by “sprinkling” or having a small amount of water placed upon the head. Yet another is by “pouring” or increasing the amount of water over the head. Some churches baptize only by immersion. This is true of Baptist churches. We Methodists use all three methods depending on which the recipient prefers.
I especially appreciate immersion. To be totally bathed in the symbol of new life — I like that.
I’m about to have a new adventure. I’m going to have a below-the-knee amputation of my left leg. I know that many of you have had similar surgeries. Sometimes I have encouraged parishioners as they went through this same experience. Of course, it is the lot of all preachers, whether Southern-fried or Northern-boiled, to practice what they preach. So I’ve told friends facing this to take heart, anticipate a perfect success, say their prayers, trust the Lord. You know, the kinds of things we preachers say and sincerely believe.
Now it is my turn to do the same.
The more experienced I become, the more I think about the importance of prayer. I’ve been reflecting on what people in high places pray for.
A delegation of Methodist preachers went to visit President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Their spokesman said to Mr. Lincoln, “I know the Lord is on our side.”
The President replied, “I am not concerned about that, for I know the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
I love old-folk wisdom, proverbs, adages and sayings. They have staying power. For example, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Our experience teaches us that this is true. Generous people are happy people. And people who receive gifts, instinctively want to respond with gifts.
When Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married, they received more than 6,000 wedding gifts. Among the gifts were a silver mousetrap and a ton of peat. In earlier eras, a gift to royalty might have been a country manor or a country — like Scotland — or some other chunk of geography.
Gift-giving is noted in the Bible in such stories as the visit of the wise men from the East who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. They wanted to express their devotion with gifts of special significance.
I’m going to be preachy this week. And I’m going to be personal. As I write this, the sun is shining and things are quiet in uptown Charlotte, a place I love. I spent some of the happiest years of my life in the 1980s as senior minister of First United Methodist Church, only a five-minute walk from the place where riots broke out over the past two nights. Fires were started in the streets. A person was shot and killed. Police officers and demonstrators were injured. Dozens of people were arrested. Buildings were vandalized and looted. The North Carolina National Guard and Highway Patrol are helping local police maintain control.
The event that ignited the unrest was the killing of a citizen by a police officer out in a Charlotte neighborhood. The religious leaders and pastors of the city are working tirelessly to guide upset, angry, scared citizens to express themselves in peaceful ways. The Community Relations Committee of the city, of which I was once a member, is doing its fine work of bringing people together.