Tuesday, 01 September 2015 16:46

What do you know? Here’s a trivial quiz

My friend Michael Braswell, who lives over in Jonesborough, Tenn., is a professor. Professors know stuff. They give exams to determine what other people know. He sent me an exam recently to discover what I know. I share it with you because it is time for a new school year to begin and it is time to remind us all of the importance of paying attention. You may be returning to school or your children or grandchildren may be taking their seats in the classroom.

It’s trash talking time again across the land. It’s football time again in the home of the brave and the land of the free! Stick with me now. I want to stir up some good old-fashioned rivalries here today and say a few good words for trash talking.

Of course, I will begin with some historical support for this brief sermon. To hurl harsh words at an opponent is a practice as old as conflict between rivals itself. Cavemen stood at the doors to their caves and yelled insults at each other before they plunged into battle with clubs and stones. Little could they imagine that a gazillion years later rivals would rush yelling out of their dugouts and go to battle with bats and balls. And be paid bazillions and become known as heroes around the world for doing it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015 17:26

It’s not the heat, but the humility

It’s the heat that’s bugging me. Now I know, some folk will say, “It’s the humidity, not the heat that’s making us miserable.” Humidity is bad, too, but it’s the heat that’s getting to me. I know there are some places in the world where the temperature is 120 degrees or more at this time of year. But you give me week after week of 90- to 100-degree heat like we have been suffering in the South and I’m as cranky as I can be.

Little things bug me when it’s hot like this. There’s my wife, Judy, for example. You know I think I’m the luckiest husband in the world. Been happily married 54 years. She’s the best cook in the world. She’s smarter than I am. She’s good looking. She’s patient and puts up with me.

I am a principled fellow and this is a principled column. My motto is: “A bit of what’s Southern, fried or preachy and more or less fit to print.” From time to time I repeat some of the guiding maxims of this divine epistle. This is because new readers are discovering this blessed blurb all the time and may be trying to figure out what this is all about. Then there are faithful readers who have been reading it for many years and are still bewildered by it. And, of course, all of us are growing old together and sometimes we forget stuff. I always have a serious point in mind when I begin writing each week. Sometimes when I get to the end, I can’t remember what the point was when I started.

Tuesday, 04 August 2015 17:46

Led to temptation? Somebody’s watching

One of the pleasures of writing this holy handbill is that readers send me lots of stories. All are amusing. Some have been around the block many times and are bent over with age. Some are knee-slapping funny. Many are timely, as is the story I’m passing along to you this week. It is a story about a preacher, a son of a preacher and the boy’s vocational possibilities. Here’s the tale:

A good old, Southern country preacher had a teenage son who was reaching the age when he ought to begin thinking about preparing for his eventual profession. Like many his age, the boy didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. And he didn’t seem very concerned about it. Of course, the father was quite concerned as any parent would be. One day while the boy was away at school, the father decided to put the boy to the test. He went into the boy’s room and placed four items on his desk: a Bible, a silver dollar, a bottle of liquor and a racy magazine. Your guess is as good as mine about where he got three of those objects.

“I’ll hide out here in the closet until he gets home from school,” thought the sneaky parson, “and watch to see which object he picks up first when he comes into the room. If he picks up the Bible, he’s going to be a preacher like me. What a blessing that would be. If he picks up the dollar, that means he is going to be a businessman. That will be okay, too. But, if he picks up the bottle, that means he will be a no-good drunkard and that would be an awful shame. Worst of all, if he picks up that magazine, he’s going to be a faithless, skirt-chasing bum.”

So, the reverend dad waited anxiously for his son’s arrival. Soon he heard whistling and footsteps in the hallway. The knob of the door turned and in stepped the son. He tossed his books on the bed and spotted the items on his desk. He picked up the Bible and tucked it under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. He uncorked the bottle and took a big swig while he admired the centerfold in the magazine.

“Oh Lord, have mercy,” the dismayed preacher whispered as he slumped to the closet floor. “He’s going to become a politician!”

Now, before you think it, I’m going to admit it. If that father had been a politician instead of a minister, he might have exclaimed, “Oh Lord, have mercy. He’s going to become a preacher!”

Preachers’ and politicians’ kids have a hard time. They are always on public display. There are lots of jokes about preachers’ kids, in which it is implied that the most mischievous children in the community are the pastor’s. Of course, pastors and their families are like everyone else — vulnerable to temptation.

Jesus recognized the power of temptation. In his lesson about how to pray, he said his followers should ask God: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

There are lots of temptations into which good people are vulnerable to falling. To name a few, here are some to be carefully avoided: spiritual pride, prejudice, coveting other people’s stuff, judgmentalism. These kinds of things can turn into evil. Most folk can resist everything but temptation, so be alert! Oh, and be careful about hard liquor, easy money and magazine centerfolds. There may be someone bigger than you peeping out of your closet door!

Harold Bales is a retired Methodist minister. For more information about him, visit TheSouthernFried-Preacher.com. Send him an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Texans boast lots about lots. They boast about their sports teams such as the Dallas Cowboys who haven’t won any championships in many years. They also boast about the San Antonio Spurs basketball team that has often won championships. Texans boast about their oil wells. They also boast about their big churches. I once preached at a Texas church that was built around an oil well. The well was in a courtyard beside a sanctuary with a wall of windows. While the preacher droned on with his sermon, the congregation could watch the arm of the pump moving rhythmically up and down, pumping away. Everyone seemed content with the arrangement.

Here I am in New Hampshire, a beautiful state. I’m up here to perform a wedding ceremony for my niece, Bridget, and her groom, Jeremy. I love New Hampshire. It has lots of distinctions. For example, of the states that have some ocean shoreline, New Hampshire has the least — 18 miles. But it also has four small, offshore islands and is rumored to be a site where the pirate Blackbeard buried some treasure. I don’t plan to go treasure hunting while here. The islands are seven miles from shore, and I get seasick if I get more than seven feet from shore.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015 16:33

He’s a Cajun-fried Preacher this week

I love New Orleans and Louisiana for lots of reasons. Give me a meal of Cajun or Creole food and my eyes roll back in their sockets and I can pass out from pure, culinary pleasure. I am not going to even mention any particular dishes because it would make me so hungry I would not be able to stay focused on writing. I would stop and eat. And then by the time I finish my nap, it would be bedtime. Please pass me a beignet and a café au lait. I’ve got to meet a deadline here!

In a few days, Judy and I are heading north to New Hampshire. Southern New Hampshire, of course. No, I’m not trying to escape our brutal heat here. Although it seems like only the day before yesterday they had seven-foot snowdrifts up there, it’s about as hot there now as it is down here in North Carolina. I’m going north to perform the marriage ceremony for my niece, Bridget Griffin-Bales, and Jeremy Mower. This is a very happy thing for an old minister like me — weddings for kids I love to people they love. Families joining families and making wonderful futures together.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 16:03

Mother Emanuel we weep for you

June 18, 2015. I awoke this morning and said, “Thank you God.” The sun was shining and the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees. It was a beautiful way to start the day. I punched the brew button on the coffeemaker and clicked on the TV morning news. Then I walked onto the patio, sat down and wept. Through the open door back into the house I could hear the details of the overnight murder of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

I was saying last week that I wonder how we ever got the idea that every argument needs to be won? Games are for winning. Arguments between people who respect each other ought to be something else. Why should we not think of an argument as a “thinkfest” in which the reward is that we learn something together?