Monday, May 26, 2008

Blast from the Past

So on Friday I headed east to the thriving metropolis of McCall Creek, Mississippi (m-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-hump back-hump back-i...for all of you baby boomer elementary school students) to play my part(along with my brother and sister) in a devious bit of subterfuge designed to throw a surprise 80th birthday party for my spunky little Cajun mom. For those of you not familiar with McCall Creek, it is a rural (wow, that is a gross understatement)community about 20 miles west of Brookhaven and about and hour south of Jackson along US Highway 84. There is a post office, a general store next to the lumber mill and the little New Salem Baptist Church...and that's it...really. My mom and dad moved there about 15 years ago from Baton Rouge after my dad retired from the chemical plant. Mom mom stayed there after my dad died in 2004 and has lived in a tiny little home in the middle of the woods. I thought after dad's death that she would want to move in with one of us and escape rural life. As a matter of fact, when they were about to move from Baton Rouge to McCall Creek, I asked her if she was okay with leaving the city and going to Mississippi. Her reply was, "when I left the bayou and the farm at 18, I left on purpose." So I knew she was going because dad wanted to go. At any rate, now she is solidly entrenched in the life of that little community and specifically in the life of that little church. She also feels a strange loyalty to the 45 or so acres that she and dad owned and wanted to always have to pass down to the three kids. That is very sweet and incredibly loyal to dad's legacy...but here's the reality. My sister and brother-in-law have lived for 30 years on property that his family owns in central Louisiana. My brother and sister-in-law, have lived in south Texas for the last 20 years and are in ministry and I don't ever see them moving to that area to serve...and both of their kids live in the Dallas area. As for me...I love Austin and don't have any desire to live anywhere else. But I digress...

So...the three of us plan this little soiree to surprise mom, and invited are family members form Louisiana, church members past and present form both states and a motley little crew of people who were pals and compadres of us three kids from our growing up days at Glen Oaks Baptist Church in Baton Rouge in the late 60's and early 70's. It was a great turnout, and a bunch of all of the afore-mentioned groups made the trek to little McCall Creek (we held it at the New Salem Baptist Church) bringing pot luck dishes aplenty and old stories and pictures to tell and retell. Mom was thrilled and blown away by the presence of faces she had not seen or heard from in years and to think that they had traveled all of this way to honor her was overwhelming. I was pleased and delighted at the crowd, and that it was a fitting living honor for a lady who loves Jesus with every fiber of her 4'11', 80 year old frame, and who not only knows how to pray better than anybody else I know, but genuinely cares more deeply than anyone else I know as well. But...and it is true confession time here...all of these people who were teenagers the last time I saw them...were old. I know...I'M OLD if they are even close to the same age I am, they are old too, but my mental pictures of them were all as teenagers in the 1960's. The truth is I was the oldest member of that crew, so they are probably all writing blogs about how old I looked, but...and this shouldn't surprise any of you...I don't feel as old as they looked. That's not a slam on them or their aging is just the truth...I can't possibly be 56...I know that is what the birth date on my driver's license adds up to, and I did actually get into the Arbor Cinema at the Senior Citizen's price last month, and I have been a member of AARP the last several years to get cheaper auto insurance rates...but those are extenuating circumstances. I am still a young man. I still go to the batting cages once a month and take three rounds of cuts on the 70mph machine, and still make good contact. My girls keep me listening to great music and I genuinely enjoy putting it beside my Beatles, Dylan, Eagles, and Simon and Garfunkel albums. The blast from the past was fun, it was entertaining, it was a connection back to much simpler times...not better necessarily, but important nonetheless. It did seem though, that some of those folks who were there were so enamored with the past, or maybe it was that they are so dissatisfied with the present, that they not only reveled in those memories, but that they longed to stay there and to rekindle the magic of yesteryear. I'm sorry, I like who I am today...I like where I am today...I like what God is doing in the family and the friends around me today...and a quick trip back in the time machine is a delightful break, but I don't want to live there. There is a line from and old Billy Crockett/Milton Brasher-Cunningham song called Walking on the Earth, that says, "...there is no practice life, this is it...". I believe it. I respect my brothers and sisters who believe in reincarnation, but there is no hope whatsoever for me in the notion that I have to keep coming back until I get it right. I honor and cherish the past, but I have been given this day...these relationships...these gifts...these injustices...these opportunities to make amends here and now for my mistakes, and this mercy, grace and forgiveness. I don't even like watching old ball games on ESPN Classic...the time is now... and to quote the the old CCR front man, John Fogerty, "Put me in coach...I'm ready to play..."



Saturday, May 17, 2008

Axe of God?

Wednesday evening Calla and I were returning to Austin from Arlington with the old-school truck loaded to the gills with her college apartment paraphernalia and a tarp appropriately protecting the semi-precious cargo from the elements. All was well until we cleared Waco and began to hear emergency reports on the radio warning of gale-force winds, softball-sized hail, and funnel-cloud activity all up and down the I-35 corridor from Temple to Austin...only the exact route we were traveling. We kept driving...I know...I know...kinda stupid, but I figured that the only way the weather was better was where we had just left and I didn't want to go back there...and the bad weather was supposed to stay in the area for another 3-4 hours, so on we went. Part of my stubbornness is attributed to dad was particularly mule-like in many ways, and my momma didn't raise no fool, but she sure missed a good chance. I got my driver's license when I was 15 in Louisiana and was driving way before then. I have driven broken down old school buses loaded with kids cross-country, towed trailers full of sound equipment on icy mountain passes headed to and from youth camp and made more 25-30 hour non-stop driving treks than I can count. So...what's a little inclimate weather, right?

As we got close to Temple the rain began to fall in torrents and I had to slow to 45 miles an hour just to see the road in front of me. The wind began to come in gusts that were being reported in the 60-75 mph range. Every half hour I had to find a covered place to pull over because the wind was blowing so hard it was tearing the grommets away from the tie-downs on the tarp. As we entered Temple I managed to position myself between two semis who didn't seem to mind that they were shielding me from the brutal wind. I was concentrating on the road, so I didn't notice immediately when the truck on my right peeled off to take a different highway just outside of Belton. What I did notice came a minute later when a huge gust of wind literally picked my truck up and set it down about 3 feet to the left...right where the other semi that had been escorting me was sitting. Fortunately the same burst of wind moved him a little as well...I don't think you could get a piece of paper between the space between my driver's side mirror and the side of his rig. I looked over and I think his eyes were as big as mine as I managed to slide back over into my side of the dotted line. About that time a brilliant cloud to ground lightning strike hit and I saw a monstrous wall of rain and wind off to the right that looked like it was out of the movie "Twister". From that moment on I kept expecting to see random objects flying toward me like in the movie; cows, tanker trucks, whole trees, Starbuck's billboards that talk to your cup holders... but it was just lots of rain, occasional hail and a number of "low" water crossings where curiously, the water was very "high"...go figure.

Obviously we made it home, the tarp was in shambles and we had to dry out the mattress, but other than the truck driver and I having a fear connection, we fared well. Others were not so fortunate, with Hannah's best friend (who just graduated from the Engineering School last night...congrats Kate!) having a window blown out of their apartment near the UT campus and other property damage here in Central Texas. Tornadoes and flooding have destroyed lives and property across the United States in the last two weeks. The devastating consequences of the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in Southern China are almost too incredible to get your head around.

While the insurance companies refer to these things as "acts of God", I can't help wonder, global warming and depletion of the ozone layer notwithstanding, what the response of people who claim to "act like God", should be. We certainly are to respond to the suffering and need of the victims, that is a given...but there has got to be a deeper, basic, systemic response as well for those of us who claim to value all of the created world...not just our narcissistic navel gazing. For God so loved the WORLD...



Monday, May 5, 2008

Idiota De Mayo

Today is Cinco De Mayo, and here in Austin there have been festivities all weekend in preparation for a lively celebration that is not limited to the Hispanic population in this city that never unweirds. However, my singular most memorable Cinco De Mayo reflection has little to do with the holiday, and is actually fairly embarrassing... so it is only fitting that I tell you about it. Three years ago, my middle daughter, Hannah, was living in West Oakland, California, working with an organization called Mission Year. She and five other young adults had committed a year to live, work, play and love their neighbors in The Lower Bottoms, one of the toughest inner cities in America. Hannah decided to make this commitment right out of high school, she was 18... her five housemates, two other young women and three young men were all 22 and younger, and operated under the motto of Mission Year, "Love God...Love people... Nothing else matters". Hannah had been living in Oakland since August of 2004, so she only had about four months remaining, and her birthday was approaching. Driving to work on that Cinco De Mayo 2005, It occurred to me that it was her birthday and I had forgotten to call her. I knew she got up early since she was working every day as a teacher's aide in a kindergarten class there in West Oakland, so I decided I would just leave her a message that she would probably get later in the day. I drove in to work, sat down and wrote down some lame birthday lyrics to the tune of La Bamba (I think) and left her this dramatic, marginally funny birthday message. It was later that afternoon that I realized, Hannah's birthday is not the 5th of is the 10th of May. Yeah...I know, I'm an idiot. I can't even remember my daughter's birthday...So I now I have to call her back and admit that I have forgotten that her birthday is not for another five days, and as soon as she picks up the phone she is laughing because she knows I know that I have screwed up. She forgives me...after telling me she has played it for about 50 people who know know for sure (not that they didn't already suspect it) that her dad is a goober. Of course, five days later I called and sang her another song to the tune of The Beatles' "You Say It's Your Birthday" because how could I not sing for her actual birthday?

So there it is...I managed to not call her here on Cinco De Mayo 2008 and still have several days to write this year's musical tribute to the woman, the myth, the legend that is Hannah...I'm thinking a nice Hannah Montana tune might be appropriate... naw...not a chance.

Happy Birthday Hannah!