RADAR, GAYDAR, PAYDAR, HOLYDAR, AND JESUSDAR

Having NOT actually researched these things, but rather speaking from personal experience as an old guy, I wonder if we can’t fine tune our sensitivities as people of God just a bit and maybe assess the truth about ourselves and Jesus.

For me, this seems to have started with M*A*S*H (hereafter, just MASH).

MASH started out as a book, but I never read it. Then it became a movie, but I didn’t know that for many years after it had become a hit TV show. It helps if you are my age, or older, to appreciate what I am talking about here, but I was a little kid growing up when MASH was hot.

One of the main and enduring characters in that show was Radar O’Reilly. He might have been a major character, but the character was a simple kid pushed into a big war. Radar had a sixth sense for things about to happen. He frequently would announce “choppers” just prior to anyone else hearing them coming and bringing wounded soldiers to the MASH unit for treatment and surgery. Though this feature was often a source of humor, it also proved to be a flair for dramatizing the tragedy.

“Radar” was not the character’s true name, not the one his mother gave him. That was Walter, but because of his knack for sensing the future just ahead of everyone else, he earned the nickname. “Radar.”

Many years later, I heard people use a morphed version of the word to describe their ability to detect whether a new acquaintance might be homosexual. The new term was “gaydar.”

My guess is that the term “gaydar” is ripe to cause offense. I typically say very little about homosexuality on this blog since it is not my point of interest here, and the subject matter is so ripe for controversy. I hate to risk bogging down in that rather than my main interest, and so I keep a respectful distance from the topic most of the time because of that. But then there is the matter of having your “gaydar” triggered by mistake. That puts you in about the same place as suggesting the young lady is pregnant when she is not!

Oops!

Really stepped in that one.

Nevertheless, the notion of a “gaydar” as a phenom in and of itself strikes me as an extension of the Radar O’Reilly thingy, on the one hand, and useful for OTHER topics too, on the other. The problem is that “gaydar” rhymes with radar so well that to move past the rhyme risks losing the point.

What about “paydar”? The ability to sense whether this course of education and training or any other type of investment will pay off. Does this opportunity trip your paydar???

My guess is that by clicking on the title of this post you might expect it to preach either for accepting and affirming homosexuality among the people of God OR against it according to my personal Holydar – which ever way I happen to roll. But actually, that would be beside my point.

In fact, all of this is beside my point.

I hope it helps set the stage for my point, but it is not the point. Not yet.

I’m thinking about my Jesusdar, actually. I am wondering how to fine tune it too.

Having grown up in the Churches of Christ – ahem – I mean, churches of Christ, I was raised to think very critically about denominationalism. How and why is the body of Christ split up so much? Surely, all that splitting is a mistake! The church is meant to be ONE, as Jesus in God, the Father, is ONE.

So… somebody, somewhere, botched this.

It stands to reason, then, that any church that has this stuff worked out correctly surely is getting it together with other churches working it out correctly, thus they are becoming ONE.

Unless, of course, they are all botched.

But that can’t be either, since Jesus builds his church on the Rock and the gates of hell cannot withstand it.

Therefore, there must be ONE among all the posers, fakers, beggars -n- hangers on. And, well, of course, that had to be us. We were the true church among all the phonies.

(Hey! It makes logical sense of the limited data it employs.)

But what constitutes “working it all out correctly”?

Hmmm… That is a whole OTHER can of worms. No doubt the old school church of Christ types I grew up with thought they had that simplified to easily manageable ideas, but over the course of my life, more and more and more of us either find such questions lead to ever increasing complexity, or we tend to just drop out altogether.

I once heard a man, not from our ranks, a complete layman among church goers though, anyway, this man said he could walk into a church and just sense the Spirit there – or not. If he sensed the presence of Jesus, he stayed and worshiped. If he did not sense Jesus among a congregation, he would simply slip away.

NOW…

To me, that sounds extremely subjective – especially as put.

What if a sermon “steps on my toes” and calls for conviction and repentance?

I don’t know about you, but when that happens to me, I generally go through some FEELINGS, some of which are not attractive. In fact, I might feel repelled and repulsed, at least initially, and if I am simply going on a sensation, I might slip away from a congregation before I have had a real chance to determine the discipline God is working into my life.

That seems a little too consumerist in nature to me. I really like the prices, the selection, the location, and the return policy at Walmart, but if a clerk there miffs me, I can drive just two blocks further (and not have to hassle with the left turn in heavy traffic too, I might add) and shop at Target which has almost as good a selection and friendlier staff! What’s different from Jesus and shopping?

I need a better Jesusdar than just my sensation.

Well, I have been reading and studying my Bible and looking for Jesus in it for many years now, and one of the things I notice is that poor, broken, sick, needy, crippled, and lonely people seem to have a really good Jesusdar! The Good Book tells us that they come from EVERYWHERE to see him, to hear him, to touch him (or the hem of his shirt)! When he gets in a boat and cuts across the sea, they have a Jesusdar sense about where he is going, and they get there ahead of him!

Hear me very carefully on this point: THERE MAY WELL BE (and I believe there are) MORE & OTHER INDICATORS to consider here, BUT NOT LESS.

If you want to go to a church, a congregation, where you can sense Jesus is really there, FOLLOW THE POOR! Listen to THEM! THEY HAVE THE JESUSDAR you been missing.

How many poor folx y’all got where you worship?

HAPLESS HOLLOWDAYS, EVERYONE

I got in trouble once for wishing someone “happy holidays.” Seems I was utterly offensive for saying that. Never mind that I heard the expression all my life, but suddenly saying it had become a betrayal of “Merry Christmas.”

Never mind that Christmas had been hijacked generations earlier by commercial interests, I was supposed to “put Christ back in Christmas” by not saying “happy holidays” anymore.

And just when we got that all settled, then a year of social hibernation.

Of course, just saying THAT is oversimplifying things too. But despite all the complications with it, I think my message is plenty clear. I think you KNOW what I mean.

This sad, scared, crummy Christmas just isn’t the same. It just isn’t what we dreamed.

My babies are all young enough not to know the difference. Not really. I think they are enjoying it, and that counts for a lot. Santa came and left junk in his wake that my kids are still playing with and still singing songs about. They barely remember (to the extent they do at all) last Christmas. A sense of magic was born last year which they are building memories on right now. (The oldest one is 4 this year.)

They haven’t articulated the fact that they suffer cabin fever because they haven’t quite put together the big picture on it. They longingly point at the Science Spectrum as we drive past, recalling that we used to visit there as a family and have fun all day – much like an amusement park. The oldest one, meanwhile, was still exploring the backyard at the start of the year (though he has it thoroughly mapped out now).

We celebrate the holidays this year, but with grave concern for the virus and with heavy hearts for the loss of loved ones no longer with us. Somehow, we have managed to keep the magic alive for the kids, and that, of course, is the main thing, but the rest of us feel the pain and articulate it regularly.

I can’t help but think, as I reflect more critically on things, if we aren’t in a better vantage point to “put Christ back in Christmas” in more meaningful ways than our mere lip service.

The paradox and ironies are not lost on me. I think of how few of us could hardly be bothered to get up and attend Church in 2019, but the moment we thought we were denied this “God-given right,” we suddenly became devout.

We are at a cross-road. Every little thing we do, pretty much beginning the moment we step out of the house in the morning, has potential consequence for ourselves and our neighbors including life or death. The most mundane things become life or death decisions. We are far more connected and more dependent upon one another than we ever realized. We have had the opportunity to think of others more seriously than ourselves all along, but now it’s no longer an opportunity, but a necessity.

This holiday season, I resolve not to turn this necessity into a politically obstinate refocus of intensity on myself. I resolve, instead, to take care of OTHERs and to the extent I take care of myself… to put that in the perspective of how it fits with caring for OTHERs too. My life is not my own. Freedom is not free either. Greatness is not found in individualism, though responsibility for it is; rather it is found in our cooperation. I will look for the ways Jesus instructs me on this stuff.

We talk more about Jesus’s birth at this time of year, but on its best day, that is a prelude to his kingdom come. There was one fateful Passover celebration long, long ago, which, for those Jews at the time, surely felt like a hapless hollowday season at most homes. Rome was in charge, Sadducees colluded with them, Pharisees on their talk radio shows constantly bickered about all the things wrong with this country, and zealots terrorized people in the marketplace. But there amid all that pain, a young prophet (having been born of a virgin and laid in a manger in accord with the welcome mat the world rolled out for him) rode into town on a colt and celebrated his kingdom inauguration with a few peasants in an upper room right under the nose of everyone.

Something really big and new happened that hollowday that was easy to miss.

I resolve not to miss it this year.

’tis The Season (yet again)

Here we go again. Even with a COVID crummy Christmas…

Fat Beggars School of Prophets

(The following is the Fat Beggars traditional Christmas Eve post. May it prompt readers to open their homes tonight. (Heb. 13:2))

It’s Christmas Eve now. A night filled with expectation. Expectation of God. Expectation of LOVE. The candles lit, the stockings hung, the Christ-child is in his manger, and all through the house… not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.

This is Christmas – ground zero.

Camp Jesus: Ground Zero

And my heart hurts for anyone who (like that celebrated Mother and Child of old) does not have a home to be in tonight. For anyone who is not with their family.

I really want you here with me, celebrating. We have a fire. We have some hot chocolate. There is room for one more.

It might be meager, but if you ain’t too proud, you can fit in here.

I am thinking of you just now, as…

View original post 187 more words

USING OUR INSIDE VOICE(S)

As I have said so many times before that I can’t count that high, almost nobody reads these posts on this blog. I have been blogging many years and many blogs, but this one is the least of all. Somebody reads here some of the time, but I have no mass following and few posts make much of a splash.

This is rarely far from my mind.

But I have even fewer people who listen to me live in person.

Seriously, I can talk until I am blue in the face and hardly anyone will notice.

I never was one to seek the lime light. I have a lot to say and a lot to share, but I am not the featured speaker in almost any venue, hardly ever. It was about ten years ago that I turned off the little audience I had. It was July 4th Sunday, 2010 that I dragged an American flag around on the floor in the church I was attending in proph-O-dramatic fashion helping that proud symbol bend the knee in the house of God. I got very little feedback from that prophecy, but shortly after that, I found out how little anyone wanted to hear from me.

I spoke up for the poor at a public exchange shortly after that, and it was there I began to really get the drift how the church was done with me. At that point, the feedback suggested it was my “tone” which was offensive.

I don’t believe that. I think that was a lie. My tone was not the problem; my picking on the idols my church worships when not worshiping Jesus was the problem. But, of course, how is a church to react to that? I mean, if you are not going to repent, then what? Well… you go looking for other reasons to marginalize that prophet.

The reason they gave me was “tone.”

It’s right about here I should say something about “inside voices.” The first time I ever heard the phrase “inside voices,” I was visiting an elementary school where the teachers were doing crowd control with the munchkins by ordering everyone to use there “inside voices.” I completely comprehended the instruction immediately.

But last summer I read Lee Camp’s new book Scandalous Witness and in it he used the same phrase a little differently. He spoke about prophets in the age of the church using “inside voices,” meaning they do not prophesy for the world at large, but for those of us inside the church. If you speak to the world outside, you can call that “gospel preaching” or a few other related terms, but the prophets in the church speak (or dramatize) God’s word for those inside.

You know??? That is exactly what I was doing with that flag on that Sunday so long ago. I didn’t drag that flag around town, not at the mall, the post office, or the American Legion Hall. No. I dragged it inside the church house at the hour of worship. In fact, if a flag can be dragged with any dignity, I afforded it that. It was as clean when I was done as when I started, I did not drag it in the mud or the parking lot, but only around in the sanctuary and the Bible classrooms. I also held my Bible in the same hand as the flag and let the tail drag around on the floor.

And it pissed off the nice Christians, something fierce!

But, with the exception of one sole protester who came to me privately at a later time, they said nothing about it.

Rather, the next time I had an opinion to voice, they shunned me and claimed it was because of my “tone.”

I have been stuck with that “tone” thingy for a decade now. Even many of my close friends caution me about my “tone.” There have been other criticisms leveled at me over time too, but that “tone” one is the one that kicked it all off.

Hmmm…

Now, I have checked with myself, and I have found times when my tone has become a bit shrill on a few occasions alright. I really have. I am not in denial about this. Whether successful about it or not, I have sought to keep my tone civil, if not friendly and inviting. But I also have noted that I have never opened with a shrill tone. I have never met a new person, or group of people, and introduced myself with a harsh tone.

HI! DAMN IT!! I am Agent X!!! So, F’n glad to meet ya!!!!

Nope. Not once.

Why am I posting about this now?

(Thanx for asking.)

Well, mainly because I have never shook this designation, and it has stuck to me in an unfair way. I FEEL it. So, therefore, I think on it and sometimes address it.

But it is not all that interesting to think about too much (unless of course it’s your curse). But this last week I was watching a news item (I bet both of my readers here saw too) of the cops raiding the wrong apartment of the nice lady in Chicago a couple of years ago, how they busted in on her as she was changing clothes and completely naked in the privacy of her own home, as they surrounded her with guns drawn so fast she couldn’t even get a blanket to cover herself.

Oh yeah…. body cameras are a beach!

She protested and told the cops that they have the wrong house! According the to the report, she told them (I think) 43 times that they could count from the self-incriminating body camera footage. Somewhere in the exchange the officer tells her she need not shout about it.

Hmmm… the cop didn’t like her “tone.”

She needed to use her “inside voice,” it seems.

Wow!

In her case, I hope she didn’t offer them tea or coffee before her tone got a bit sour, but it has me thinking. My tone was just fine the first time I spoke, the second, the third and fourth. I am not sure just which time it began to have an edge to it, but I am sure it was not the first, second, or third.

I think of all the meetings I went to with church leaders (semi-privately) … about praying with, even sharing communion with, and talking with them in the most respectful ways I know how… all to no avail.

ALL TO NO AVAIL!

When it comes to the poor, I got NOTHING for the asking. Every time.

But the church said that was because of my “tone.”

Yeah.

That is why I use the inside voice so much. It is the way a prophet addresses the church. Just ask Lee Camp.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY (not just due to pandemic)

Yeah, this might be a good year to skip Christmas and save a life. The life you save could be mine. Could be yours. A COVID Christmas just sounds awful to me. … but…

BUT

But perhaps this is merely a convenient time to talk about moving Christmas to July.

As a fair number of readers here know (and I know this because it is featured in one of the better viewed posts I ever published), September 23rd is Augustus Caesar’s birthday. Chances are good that you either didn’t know or forgot. Chances are at least that good, you didn’t celebrate it this year.

Fun fact: We don’t actually know the real date of the birth of Jesus Christ. For better or for worse, the church eons back chose to celebrate his birth on December 25th. It would seem that the idea was to subvert pagan holidays with Christian holidays. (Personally, I think that is a great idea!)

Whatever the date was of Jesus’s birth, this much I know. The whole empire knew about Caesar’s birthday. They probably didn’t celebrate too much in Bethlehem, but in other parts of the empire (Asia Minor for sure), the imperial subjects put on vast festivals. They might decorate the town square, put on a feast, host drunken orgies, the shops had holiday deals, and organizers would pack the civic center(s) with travelers from out of town for the festivities which might go on for days, maybe weeks surrounding September 23rd.

Only the Angels, the shepherds, and a few astrologers from the far east showed up for Jesus’s birth that first year, but look at us now! No one even remembers poor little Caesar’s birthday anymore.

Here’s the thing: If subverting pagan or imperial holidays is in anyway church business, and if it honors Jesus in the slightest, then perhaps we should celebrate Jesus’s birthday on July 4th and put it to shame until the nation’s birthday is as forgotten as Caesar’s.

They have a July 4th in England, in case you didn’t know it. They just don’t celebrate it. Perhaps they should. Perhaps they should celebrate the birth of Christ!

Christmas in July!

Worth considering.

Especially this year.

EVERYTHING I NEED (AND NOTHING I DON’T)

“Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a small child shall not enter it.”

Hmmm…

I am pretty sure I learned everything I REALLY needed to know in life by the time I was in the first grade. I am pretty sure that by the second grade, I had forgotten it.

I grew up and went to Bible school and devoted myself for six years to academic study of the Bible, and they failed to teach everything I need to know in life to me there. I got all kinds of good information and insight about the kingdom of God, and I am a slave to the debt I incurred even still. But the academy did not in any way make me childlike. Instead, I learned to be a responsible adult, a reliable bill-paying, tax-paying, upstanding citizen with deeper knowledge of the Bible.

For instance, I learned fancy things like “received.” Did you notice according to the passage there that the kingdom is “received”? Yeah… “received.”

Yeah. That whole childlike thingy had me throwed off that scent too. It will not do to become LIKE a small child and then take the kingdom. No. It must be “received” in order to be entered.

But this is starting to sound like a strange cross between philosophy which might be over my head and poetry which is beyond my grasp.

I went to church. Been there all my life – more than half a century now. My life was formed in and by church. I was there for meetin’s three times a week (not counting weddings, funerals, and special events). I knew all the songs, all the prayers, all the liturgies, all the customs. I knew everyone there. I was immersed, baby!

I grew up, and as a young person, I went to shows and waited my turn to meet rock stars I idolized and get autographs of vain people who wouldn’t remember my name in two seconds, much less give their lives for me, but when I was a child in church, I never felt half that excitement for coming to Jesus.

Today my church is more interested in Donald Trump than welcoming refugees fleeing oppression, more interested in defending a policy of keeping illegal children out of America and awaiting deportation in cages than in bringing them to the Body of Christ (not if that means on this soil, anyway).

I want to “receive” the kingdom like a little child so that I can enter it. Call me crazy, but that is what the man said.

I look at these little ones who find their way to the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, and I see them so utterly dependent upon the love of strangers for every little desire or need from food, clothing, shelter, and hygiene to human touch, diaper changes, playing hide -n- seek, and learning to talk. I tell them some of the hifalutin stuff I know about the Bible and about Jesus, but they show no interest whatsoever. I sing Jesus Loves Me a few times, and they begin trying to imitate me.

If I were pinned down under rubble in a burning building with these kids and tried to tell them to climb out and escape while there is time, they would not leave me, but would stay with me until it was too late. Not because they are good conservatives who know better than gullible liberals who fall for “fear mongering” tactics of the “lame-stream media,” but because they love me and know almost nothing else. In their whole little lives, the vast bulk of their little existence is entirely oriented to Ms. Agent X and me. To the extent they love Jesus, it is because I brought them to him… but I did that (to the extent that I actually did) by finding him in me and showing him to them.

That’s pretty flawed, but it’s what we got.

When God created the world and humans – I mean way back when he created them, he made the humans naked, vulnerable, and not overly smart. They were prohibited from eating from the tree of knowledge….

(Yeah. I know. You are itching for me to finish the name of that tree. There is more to the name. You are right. There is. But you are not a child protesting that. So, sit down and hush. Write your own post and say it the way you want.)

So… there are two meals. They are had at two different trees. Sorta like competing restaurants. You can’t eat at both. One is a tree of life and the other a tree knowledge. The tree of life is for children – small children – and people who are childlike. The other is for grown ups and people getting too smart for their own good. Grown ups die. They die smart for their trouble, but they die.

The children eat freely of any tree except that one – but they eat from the tree of life. They receive the kingdom and enter it. They come in naked, vulnerable and naïve. Trusting. Loving. They have everything they need and nothing they don’t.

Just imagine a whole world of naked, vulnerable, naïve, trusting and loving people and no one lusting, taking advantage of another’s weakness, hoarding and the like. The only people who come close to being like that are the small children. That’s humble.

Now imagine finding my fit in that scene.

I can’t see myself fitting in there. I see myself spoiling that scene right fast. I have too much baggage, too much fear, too much sophisticated knowledge of good and evil to harmonize with them. I noticed the verse said “received” and made some hifalutin analysis of it. My four year old has never even uttered the word before – not even in English.

Hmmm…

WITH THE EYES OF MY HEART WIDE OPEN

I am one of those who believes St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is not actually a letter written to Ephesus, but more likely a cover-letter addressing all of Paul’s churches and accompanied with a collection of copies which were addressed to them. Just a theory, but it’s a good one. Anyway, the point, as I see it, with this understanding is that the letter we commonly call “Ephesians” comes nearer being directly written to us personally than all the other letters.

Sure, it is a bit generic. But that was the case anyway. When I read the letter we call “Ephesians,” I don’t actually read over someone else’s shoulders and learn from the challenges some other church faces, but I sense that Paul (and the Spirit who inspires his writing) address us just as personally as anyone alive at the time it was written. It speaks right to me (to us). I am moved a bit deeply by that notion. Maybe you would be blessed to consider that too.

One of the things this letter says to me is that Paul is thankful for me (for us) and the church of today! I mean he is really, really thankful! He might have been thankful for more than even he bargained for, but not less! And when I sit with THAT, I get really jazzed about what God is doing in the BIG PICTURE. Paul isn’t just thankful for the Ephesians, though he certainly is that too, but for all the churches who his bundle of letters ever reach, and by now, with the scope of world history that I have, I see the incredible magnitude of what that might mean!

The Roman empire is long gone! But Jesus is alive and well in his church to this very day.

Could Paul have predicted that?

I don’t know, but I am sure that I would not have.

The letter we call “Ephesians” is gushing to overflow with thanxgiving. And in one of those gushes, Paul speaks about how we come to know God and how that has to do with the opening of the “eyes of our hearts.” That last phrase has always stuck out to me as odd. “Eyes of our hearts” is a very poetic phraseology. But is it true?

I have recently been reading and re-reading Joshua Jipp’s fantastic little book on biblical hospitality, and he makes a very curious and interesting observation at the opening of his chapter on John’s Gospel. Quoting James K. A. Smith, he says, “It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.” Jipp didn’t invent the idea, but he discusses how that we come to believe the things we LOVE and not so much the things we think. This seems counterintuitive in a modern, western worldview – especially after growing up watching Spock on Star Trek, but Jipp makes a curious case for it that is hard to argue against.

We are going to know God through an exchange involving the eyes of our hearts. We will see something with our hearts that the eyes of our heads do not see. You might liken it to walking by faith instead of by sight.

I saw God today.

I started to open my post with that last sentence. I want you to imagine for a moment that I invited him to sit for a cup of coffee (tea if you like (or a beer!)). Of course, that just sounds absurd, but so does resurrection from the dead so if you are reading this far, you surely are past that by now. But, of course, absurdity alone lends itself to the idea that I might be delusional with hallucinations, and that could be. I used to work at the psych unit, and I knew people who saw Jesus that way (they saw the cup of coffee with hallucination too).

Who’s to say that wasn’t Jesus?

If I am a psychotic, schizophrenic, deluded, mental patient seeing Jesus, who’s to say I didn’t really see Jesus?

A doctor??? How does she know???

If I imagine sitting for coffee with Jesus, who’s to say he doesn’t show up for that?

You???

Maybe I only see what I want to see.

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you.”

Did you ever sing those words? Did you mean it when you sang them?

I was bottle-feeding an infant with a deformity of the face. A helpless infant. Deformed. Yet the image of God.

Maybe especially the image of God.

I looked down on the suckling, helpless and vulnerable and deformed.

The infant looked at me, right in the eye.

Right in the eyes of my heart.

We connected.

The infant’s broken little face mustered a smile.

And I saw God.

IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM

Well, with the presidential election almost one-fourth the way over now, I am just about “ready to call it for…” Putin! Yes. There was a moment there when I thought it would go to the Republicans, but then it looked like it would be Biden. But now, with only three-fourths of this process left to go, I am confident that the Russians are winning.

(And they said this was the safest and most secure election in history! Ha!!! Putin messed with this one four years ago! And it’s paying off big now!)

That’s quite amazing considering Putin’s name didn’t appear on the ballot.

But neither did you find the name Jesus there.

Please cast your vote for Jesus. There is still time. Vote early; vote often. Vote late!!! No. His name is not on the ballot, but neither is Putin’s, and he is winning. But maybe if we vote – really vote – for Jesus, this election might actually turn this country around.

Rig the vote for Jesus – PRAY!

Just sayin’

… and prayin”

I am Agent X, and I endorse this message.

There are no rules to pray this game, but grace and love for your enemies applies.

FENCE IN THE JASPER CEMETARY

Living in Texas only one year at the time of the James Byrd Jr. tragedy, I immediately held race relations as was my experience in a context of the 92 LA riots and of the O.J. Simpson murder case.

I was a young man about to be married, living in Colorado, and listening nightly to the unfolding drama of the LA riots on the radio. LA was a world away from the rural mountain village where I was living at the time, but I held a keen interest all the same. Shortly after that riot, O.J. Simpson became the lead suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, and as a white man, I sensed rather viscerally the turning of tables as it seemed this guilty man was going to get off. It appeared he would go free for sake of peace in the streets of LA! (At least that sure seemed to be a real factor from my vantage point.)

Justice.

Rodney King didn’t get any. O.J. Simpson didn’t. But ironically, it felt like maybe, just maybe, in some poetic sense all of white racism did get justice – at least a small measure of it for once.

Was Simpson responsible for the murder of his wife and the young man with her? I believe so. But you would be hard pressed to find a black person who thought so in those days. I didn’t know many black people, but every one I saw on a TV screen with a microphone in their face sure seemed adamant that Simpson did not do this crime.

Also, ironically, I came to be a fan of Johnnie Cochran, and I wanted to litigate like him. “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit!”

Oh yeah! This was better than the blues! This was poetic justice. Those cops framed Simpson! They were racists cops!! Racist cops, ironically, got this murderer off!!!

I felt the salt in the collective wound, yet from my vantage ground, it almost felt good. It felt like atonement.

How many young black men have been hanged in the woods, beat to death, or burned at the stake over the mere accusation of looking at a white woman? Ahem, I mean raping her.

Yeah. There are not records to research. We can name a few celebrated cases. Emmett Till comes to mind, but he was way before my time. There are a LOT of ghosts riding his shirt tales into infamy. Far more than we will ever remember or know. I will never forget visiting Hubbard, Texas one time – ONE TIME – when I was a kid with my grandmother and her brother who told me about a day his daddy brought him into town for supplies but they stayed to watch the black [insert the N-Word here] burn at the stake for raping a white woman.

Yeah. That salt in the collective wound felt just a little atoning to me.

But in 1998, I was living in West Texas, many miles from Jasper, which is way back in East Texas. I didn’t know where Jasper even was. I didn’t know anyone from Jasper. But I quickly saw that Jasper was several hundred miles away – the opposite direction from LA.

Jasper was all country people living simple country lives. I could plainly see that, and fast! I might not have ever visited the place; I might not know the people personally speaking, but – BUT – but these were MY PEOPLE.

Jasper hit home.

The brazen way these men chose to kill Mr. Byrd demonstrated the impunity they expected.

Did they think they would get a medal?

I hesitate to describe my feelings about the news coming from Jasper. I had all kinds of empathy for the people in LA. That Rodney King thing was just so ridiculous that I actually almost rooted for Simpson to get off. (Almost. Not quite. I have watched the Goldman family mourn for years, and so I don’t, in the final analysis, wish Simpson any sympathy. But except for that personal loss at the center of that case, yeah. I get a measure of … of… of… I’m not sure. It’s not joy, but there is poetry in the injustice. There is justice in the big scheme of things.)

I don’t know. Let me amend that a bit: Watching Reginald Denny take a death-defying beating live on TV did NOT give me a good feeling, though I did ask the TV screen what that man thought he was doing going into that part of town on that day! The part that gave me a good feeling, and in fact the only part that could, was watching black people come to his rescue. That rise-above spirit was far better than the revenge spirit, even if the revenge spirit was so well deserved.

The good folx of Jasper were my people. That was me you saw on the TV in that one. Not me personally, but me in every other way. That was my Mammaw and my Pappaw!

I didn’t know James Byrd, but I was good friends with a young African man named Andrew Bukuru, and he was a guest in our country, in fact at our school here in Texas.

How could I look Andrew in the face? It was my people that did this to his people. Maybe not our personal social circles, but close. A lot closer than those plastic, rich, Hollywoody Californians! This was Texas-friendly people being neighborly! In the worst way. Andrew was our guest in this country, a very long way from home, and I was one of his hosts! This was more than embarrassing.

Well, these things are never too terribly far from my heart and mind, but in the wake of George Floyd’s death last Spring, I have gone back to watch the documentary about Jasper called Two Towns of Jasper. I have watched it several times during the pandemic lockdown. I keep seeing my people in that film. I keep seeing me – almost. I could be too comfortable there.

They sent two film crews in, one black and the other white, to film a single documentary. So every interview conducted gets a candid statement that is not being sanitized by the interviewees for cross-racial consumption. I am amazed at how much the white people seem to honestly try to be even handed and fair minded, yet how far they wind up away from being anything sensitive. There is a staunch concern that Mr. Byrd is being portrayed as a saint in death by the media – a martyr of the first order. And of course, I keep thinking, “So what?”

I don’t think Nicole Brown Simpson was in anyway a bad person, per se. But if we dig, really dig, into her personal life, there is no doubt we will find sin, selfishness, someone she hurt. But I don’t have a need to drag any of that out to ensure the public realize she was after all a flawed person and not some super saint. Neither did her being white and her killer being (supposedly) black make the crime any worse, though I think that aspect sticks in many a craw.

But actually, I am writing today about the fence in the graveyard at Jasper. According to the documentary, there was a lot of talk about “healing” that community in the months surrounding the trials of the men who killed Mr. Byrd. I can’t help but think the white people in that town felt they were depicted as barbaric. I bet that was at least a partial motivation for “healing” among some. I can only imagine, and I have to work at it as a white man, but I can imagine it still, that little black children growing up in Jasper (and most anywhere else too) for the last 20 years are told the story of James Byrd as a cautionary tale about very real boogeymen that will really hurt you if given a chance, and there is just no arguing against that!

And so a few of the “religious leaders” in Jasper got together and noticed a fence, a very old, dilapidated iron fence, running through the cemetery. They discovered that it separated the white side from the black side. As a step toward “healing” the town, they took it down.

Just a symbolic thing.

Some people interviewed in the documentary question the purpose, the meaning, the efficacy.

I can’t help but think that the fence there is, paradoxically, both a big thing and a little thing. Nothing replaces LOVE and kindness as true healers, but then those are paradoxically big and small too.

So the fence is gone! So what? Do they start burying whites on the black side and blacks on the white side now? Is this a first step among many?

But then on the other hand, if you protest this small gesture, then you protest too much. It becomes Shakespearean. You betray the bigness hidden in the smallness of the gesture.

Aha!

And that has me thinking about those small things that are deceptively big.

How do you heal what happened in Jasper?

Well, they got justice in Jasper for Mr. Byrd. They got the justice in that country-simple town of rednecks and racists that eluded the courts in LA just a few years prior. Seems ironic. Perhaps, that is meaningful too.

I am glad the religious leaders there took out that fence. That fence, of course, wasn’t any less or more racist than a confederate monument and was just as full of heritage too. But at least the dead are not fenced off from one another by the living anymore in Jasper. I take comfort in that. I find wisdom in that too.

I like to think that with that fence gone, James Byrd Jr is on the other side preparing for the arrivals of John William King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry… preparing to welcome theme them into the grace of God. Like the final scene in Places of the Heart, perhaps killers and victim share communion.

Now if we can get the living to imagine it.