I have been writing for publication for more than 50 years. The question I have been asked most often is “How do you get your ideas about what to write?” The same question sometimes arises in regard to preaching, which I have also been doing for more than 50 years.
I often reply to this question with the biblical adage: “The Lord doth provide.” It comes from the 22nd chapter of Genesis where the story is told about how Abraham took his son Isaac up on Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to the Lord. You remember how that plan was averted when Abraham spotted a ram with its horns caught in the thicket and was sacrificed instead of Isaac. Abraham named the place Jehovah-Jireh which means “In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided.”
An election season is a time when the inclination seems to arise in many of us to want to remake the world. We have lots of differing visions about what this world should be. Some would like the latest communications gadgetry in every pocket. Others want a roll of 20-dollar bills in every pocket. I’d like for everyone to have a pocket.
I’d go for simple things like an uncomplicated cell phone for my pocket. I would not need it to make photos, play games, make music, brew coffee or things like that. All I want my phone to do is give me a signal that doesn’t cut out when I go around a curve. Also I’d like a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. I’d like to have a knife that has a little pair of scissors built in just in case I want to give myself a haircut while stuck in traffic. And I’d want the knife to have a little file in case I need to cut through the bars in a jail cell if I ever get into trouble with the law. And I’d like for that knife to have a tiny compass. I wouldn’t need it to show me which direction is south. Nope, I want it to be a reminder that I’ve got another compass — a moral compass that needs to be consulted regularly during an election season.
Let’s have a little fun this week. Many of us learned first about the Bible in Sunday school when we were children. Our parents may have told us Bible stories at home, but those wonderful Sunday school teachers were the mentors who did the most to cultivate our knowledge about the richest textbook ever written.
I have noticed, however, that as we grow older we don’t go back and read through those stories we first learned as children. We assume we know all there is to know. So we go on to other things. You may be surprised at what you discover when you revisit those familiar stories. Here is a test of your knowledge.
Okay folks, it’s kickoff time in America! All you lovers of sports, get your game faces on for the best contact team sport of all — football! No doubt about it. Some college teams routinely play before crowds of 80,000 or more. On Sept. 10, more than 150,000 fans will stream into the Bristol Motor Speedway to witness my University of Tennessee Volunteers play the Virginia Tech Hokies. That’s more than usually turn out to hear me preach!
So, I want to offer a little sermon here on the spirituality of football. My scripture is the 13th chapter of I Corinthians. In this famous chapter on love, the Apostle Paul says a cautionary word that all football fans should heed. He addresses the favorite pastime of fans — prophesying about the outcome. He says eventually prophesying will end. We love to predict the outcome of football games. We fans talk trash with our friends about whose team will win. Some even wager hard-earned cash on such prophesies. The old saint doesn’t say don’t do it, but I can’t see him placing a bet with a bookie. He just says we won’t see the end ’til the end!
This is one very hot summer. Here in this part of North Carolina it’s already hot enough in the morning by the time the sun rises that you could fry your breakfast liver mush on the hood of your pickup truck. Now, if you’re not from around here and don’t know what liver mush is, I’ll explain it some other time. What I’m talking about right now is heat.
It is not only the weather that’s hot. This is turning out to be a season that feels like one of those times when you’ve got the flu and you ache all over. You’ve got a fever, your head hurts, your back hurts, your eyeballs hurt, your hair hurts, your friends are cranky and you are even worse. It is that kind of time. Everything seems to be sizzling! Well, that’s how it looks to me. Whoops! A lens fell out of my sunglasses and it looks worse than I thought.
I’ve written about the joy of pets before. Sometimes I have written about the poignancy of loss. This is one of those combinations of the two. Our beloved cat, Liberty, is gone now. She came to live with us more than 22 years ago. From the first day, we recognized that she would march to her own drummer. That’s why we named her Liberty. She had a mind of her own, even as a tiny kitten. Through the years we have noticed this tendency toward independence in our other cats, but it was even more true of her.
As she grew, we realized that she was not happy indoors. She also seemed not to be a people cat. She resisted cuddling. She was happiest when frolicking on the lawn, chasing chipmunks, squirrels and birds. She never left the safety of our enclosed yard. As she grew to maturity we respected her personality and gave her the space she loved. Over time she became so solitary as to seem almost feral. But, she was healthy and apparently content.
There is a gloomy cloud hanging like spiritual smog over many folks these days. It stings the eyes, makes breathing difficult and obscures our view of the mountain peaks around us. It is true that much of our life is lived in the foothills, but usually we awaken to beautiful, spacious skies. If we are lucky, we look out upon amber waves of grain. It’s the purple mountain majesty that establishes the far horizon and causes our vision and imaginations to soar.
On the other hand, there are moments and some seasons when it seems like we are in the intensive care unit watching the line on the EKG machine go flat. Anger, fear, depression, hatred — you make your own list — are things that can flatline your spirit. Sometimes people with unclear motives can stir up these gloomy, scary, angry feelings in us. They function like artificial fog or smoke machines to frighten, thrill or just creep us out. Visit a “house of horrors” on Halloween if you don’t believe me.
I have decided to lift the literary quality of these divine dawdlings and I have unleashed a fountain of poetic production that has surprised even me! This week, I want to share with you some of the poems that have been arriving daily from my high-class friends. First is this from my favorite Pentecostal preacher, John Abbey, out in Killeen, Texas:
We sometimes refer to the fundamentals of something. The ABCs of religion, for example. Or the ABCs of parenting. Or physics. Or whatever. Well, today I’m idling away a summer afternoon thinking of the ABCs of nothing in particular.
Take the letter A, now. What idea begins with an A? Atomic begins with an A, but a mini-essay on that would probably bomb. I certainly don’t want to think about bombing. Alaska starts with an A. That might be refreshing on a hot day down here in the lower 48. An Alaskan glacier would be a cool thing to contemplate. But my mind is already drifting to global warming and glaciers are melting. The melting ice of Alaska is drifting down the West Coast. Nope, I’ll scratch that. Alaska may all be gone by the time I get there.
It’s cobbler time in Dixie! The fruits are ripening and dragonflies are whizzing. Ovens across the Southland are heating and cobblers are on the way. Now, it hardly seems possible that there is some innocent child out there who is not sure what a cobbler is. But on the outside chance that one exists, here’s the dictionary definition of a cobbler: a pie filled with fruit baked with a thick crust on top.
I do believe that the very best cobbler is to pie what virgin is to olive oil — to speak theologically. What is your favorite cobbler? My vote is for peach. Especially if is made with peaches grown in South Carolina or Georgia. My runner-up favorite is blackberry. It is best when the berries are picked by the whole family from the briars along a rural, Southern road. Adding to the richness of such a pie is the knowledge that the berry pickers risked poison ivy, snake bite, bee stings, thorns, sunburn and heat stroke to gather the fruit. This is to say nothing about the wild yahoos speeding by in a cloud of dust in souped-up pickup trucks.
I’m looking at the month of June in my rearview mirror today. Lots of folk get married during June each year. It’s a pleasant tradition. There’s something special about being a June bride. Now those happy couples, wedded in June, are learning how to be married couples in July. It’s a wonderful thing, a wedding. But wonderful things are not without stress sometimes.
The marriage ceremony contains some features that have been included a very long time. They were included for very specific reasons. For example, the traditional wedding includes an announcement by the clergy: “If anyone can show just cause why this couple should not be joined in holy wedlock, speak now or forever hold your peace.” That was an important moment, especially in a time when many persons had common-law marriages. They never participated in a ceremony performed by a pastor and did not have a marriage recognized by the state. But they loved each other, had children together, and led long lives. But sometimes things did not go well. A common-law wife might show up with a bunch of children to protest their father’s official marriage to another woman. That could be a stressful moment.