IT IS EASIER TO LABEL THAN TO LOVE

By MIKE PATRICK

We tend to use categories to guide us through a complicated life full of boundless diversity. For example, most children learn the difference between a parent and a nonparent, safe and unsafe, self and other. That is good. However, those walls of security may turn into prison walls, both for the one on the inside and those on the outside. Categorizing people may create barriers which destroy relationships.

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Mike Patrick

Categorizing people is a common practice. Economically, we divide people into rich and poor. Politically, we talk about conservatives and liberals. Republicans identify as traditionalists or Tea Party folk. Democrats are yellow dog or blue dog. A recent political issue in the news debates whether the next US census should have the question, “Are you a citizen?”

Racially, people are called black, white, or Asian. A young receptionist asked me the other day, “Why am I considered white, when I am Latino?” Sexual identity labels someone as gay or straight. Theologically, we identify people as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive or post-modernist. We pigeon-hole people by labeling them by their faith affiliation—Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Catholic, Charismatic. We use to kid around by saying, “When you get three Baptists together you will have four opinions.”

We think we understand people by labeling them theist, deist, monotheist, atheist, polytheist, pantheist, animist, universalist and so forth; not to mention the fear generated by certain perspectives of other world religions, especially the irrational fear of Muslims. So these categories may become a means of expressing derision against others. We accuse them of being different in an unacceptable way.

The Bible (Rev. 12:10) calls Satan the accuser. He seeks to destroy our relationship with God by bringing judgment on us—accusing us of not being good enough, holy enough, generous enough, worthy enough. We are all that in Christ. The word translated “accuser” comes from the Greek New Testament word kategoreo.” We get the English word category from it. Thus, when we categorize people with an implicit judgment of them, we join Satan’s ranks of destroying relationships.

For a number of years, the late Rev. Fred Levrets, Southern Baptist missionary to Africa for three decades, spoke each semester as a special guest to my seminary students. Fred shared with them the story of his and his wife Mary Lou’s journey of having a gay son, Scott, who died of AIDS. During the 1990s, they helped a number of families in Abilene deal with the issue of having a gay child who was diagnosed with AIDS. Sometimes, when medical help was unavailable in Abilene, Fred, at his own expense, would drive a young AIDS patient to Fort Worth for treatment. I will never forget the statement that Fred declared to my students: “It is easier to label than to love.”

Mike Patrick retired as Chaplain and Ministry Education Coordinator after 27 years at Hendrick Medical Center.

ENCOUNTERING HEROES EVERY DAY

By DANNY MINTON

You walk through the hallway every day and notice him sweeping or mopping the floor. Some days you nod and say “Hi,” while most days you scurry on to your next class not giving him much attention. You’re here for a better education where you don’t have to spend your life sweeping floors like him. Or maybe you’re a busy businessman, leading a major company or in charge of a task force of employees.

There are days you call on the janitor to change a light bulb in your office or empty a trashcan that has overflowed. In your mind, he is probably no more than a high-school graduate or maybe even a dropout. In your world of important people, he is way down on the list of people with whom you associate. You don’t invite him to your home or the office party. You don’t ask him if he wants to go out and have supper with you and the others. After all, he’s just a janitor, or is he?

Danny Minton

Danny Minton

William Crawford was a janitor. He cleaned the floors of the United States Air Force Academy. It was the 1970’s and having retired from his previous employment he hired on as a janitor for the Academy. He enjoyed being around the cadets even though he, himself was never part of the Air Force. Each day the cadets would pass him as he swept the hallways, mopped the floors and cleaned the restrooms, something these Air Force officer candidates could never see themselves doing. The shy unassuming Crawford went on doing his job, humbly, quietly and unassuming.

Then, one day a cadet was reading a book on World War II about the Allied advance into Italy. He came across a picture of a young army man named William Crawford who looked much like the older man now sweeping their hallways. Not only was his picture present, but the caption proclaimed that he was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for taking on single-handedly machine gun bunkers for his division to move up and take Hill 424 near Altavilla Silentina. The man sweeping the floors for these want-to-be officers was a recipient of the highest honor a soldier could expect to receive. Captured by the Germans and presumed dead, his medal was awarded posthumously to his father. When the students approached him about the picture, he humbly said, “Yep. That’s me. But that was one day a long time ago.” In their midst was a humble hero who they would never look at the same way again.

Our world is full of everyday heroes, men, and women who have done great things without seeking the praise and limelight in the midst of others. I think of Irena Sendler who saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazi gas chambers in Poland or Gladys Aylward who marched a hundred children to safety in 1938 China. There are men like Jim Elliott, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint and Pete Fleming, missionaries who lost their lives taking the gospel to a tribe in Ecuador. Why? As one of them said, “If we don’t go who will?”

You walk through the hallways of your church building passing people who have done great things that you may never know. You walk down the street and see sitting on an old wooden bench an old man and his tiny gray-haired wife sitting peacefully, waving at children as they pass by their quiet place. On his head, you see a baseball cap with the emblem of his past military service. You may wonder, what’s their story?

The world honors its most visible heroes. There is vast media coverage, large funerals, long eulogies, and books and stories written about them. People will remember them in history classes for generations to come. However, in our personal lives, there are everyday heroes who do more for us than any of the great figures we read about in books. Maybe it’s the minimum wage worker who gives $10 to help hurricane victims, maybe it’s a single mother trying to make ends meet and being mom and dad to her children, maybe it’s a dad who goes to work every day to a job he dislikes, but does so to take care of his family, or maybe it’s a fireman or a policeman protecting your neighborhood.

Heroes are those people who show courage facing the challenges of life. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are male and female. They are old and young. They are the people we see on the street, in the park, at work, at church, just about everywhere you turn. Maybe they are sweeping the floor in our building. For most, there will be no movies or books written about them. There will be no rewards or medals pinned to their chest. But to someone, they are a hero.

Then there are those who gave their lives for us to be where they are today in our spiritual lives. The Hebrew writer lists several “no-name” people who gave their lives to further God’s cause. He then says, “The world was not worthy of them.” They were heroes giving all they had for people they would never know. They were unappreciated, figures left in the shadows.

Take time to look around you and find the heroes in your life. Take the time to go up to them and tell them how proud you are to know someone who is of noble character striving to make the world a better place. See the courage that everyday heroes possess as they go about their daily lives without fanfare, pomp, and circumstance. The true heroes of this world are those that make it a better place for us all. They go about unseen, not for glory, serving us all, leaving in their wake a better world.

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And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

 Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

By SARAH DANNEMILLER

What do a Muslim, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and atheist have in common? Not very much, as each operates from very different philosophical starting points. It would be odd, then, to claim that each of them ought to walk into a room together, sit down, and talk about these fundamental differences. Yet, I believe this collision of differences can remedy our intellectual and spiritual weaknesses.

Dannemiller,Sarahphoto

Sarah Dannemiller

The prevalent use of social media has drastically changed the way we communicate and interact with one another. We consume information like our favorite take-out: just the way we like it. We don’t have to invest as much intellectual or emotional labor into forming our beliefs about the people and world around us. As a result, we have lost the art of dialogue.

The theater of speech has atrophied into a menagerie of lines drawn in the sand, where you are immediately given a side to stand on whether you consciously chose that side or not. When we begin to speak, we are met with silence-inducing accusations and personal attacks, when what we need to be met with is kindness, understanding, and compassion.

If we can’t listen to one another, especially those who disagree with us, we run the risk of losing those life-giving principles that nurture the conditions for liberty. Humility, open-mindedness, empathy, perseverance, and courage must be cultivated if we hope to flourish. However, this requires hard work because the cultivation of these virtues demands an encounter with the ‘other.’ This ultimately entails the healing of both our own wounds and that of others.

Yet the question remains: how do we listen to the ‘other’ with the openness, empathy, and perseverance that dialogue requires? We do so by the same means we acquire the other things in life that are risky but well worth it, like love, trust, and faith; we leap. In order to learn how to dialogue with those who are different from us, we simply have to enter into that dialogue. Consequently, we may discover the transformative power of such encounters as we receive understanding and compassion from the least likely of places—from those who are fundamentally different from us.

The Abilene Interfaith Council’s Café Conversations are a prime example of such a project. A little room in the back of a local coffee shop in a West Texas town transmutes into a microcosm of human reciprocity. How do we accomplish this, you may ask. First, everyone who attends a Café Conversation commits to an agreed-upon set of standards for dialogue. For example, we restrict ourselves to “I” statements in order to avoid falsely perceived attacks and unwarranted assertions. This way, everyone has the opportunity to clarify and correct any misunderstandings one may have of a particular group.

Second, we witness to the diversity of the room by sharing our religious affiliation with one another. By doing this, we have accepted the reality that there will be dissonance. We then proceed to discuss topics that matter to the entire human family because they get at the heart of what it means to be fully human. As such, Café Conversations are hard work and there is a lot of pain and fear to wade through. True dialogue requires emotional and spiritual labor. While it’s inevitable that voices will raise and eyes will water when those very human topics of race, gender, and faith find their way onto the table, individuals who attend Café Conversations remain committed to responding to such pain and fear with compassion and understanding. One only needs to take a seat at the table and look to the left and to the right to find exemplars of mutual reciprocation.

By listening to the ‘other’ and by sharing ourselves with the ‘other,’ we strip ourselves of the need to be right and the fear of being wrong. In receiving each other with all our insecurities, doubts, and confused beliefs, we bear the healing marks of reciprocated vulnerability: empowerment. Paradoxically, it is through attuning ourselves to the lives and voices of others that we discover our own authentic selves and learn how to fearlessly share that self with others.

Sarah Dannemiller is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, earning her Master of Arts in Theology. Her research interests include questions in philosophy of religion, theological anthropology, and mystical theology. She was recently confirmed in the Episcopal Church of the United States and is currently a member at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, TX. She also has been a member of the Abilene Interfaith Council since 2015 and has served as an officer of the board since 2016.

If you are interested in the project of human cooperation and the discipline of dialogue and desire to cultivate compassion and kindness within yourself, please join us at the Abilene Interfaith Council’s Café Conversation, hosted every fourth Thursday of the month. We will start our conversations back up in September 2018 in the back room of Meamiz Coffee House from 7:00 – 9:00 pm. If you have any questions or would like to facilitate a Café Conversation please contact Sarah Dannemiller at snd14a@acu.edu.

Abilene Interfaith Council works to promote communication, understanding, and peace among people of different faiths who live together in our community.

“AS KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE”

By LARRY FINK

(Editor’s Note: Larry Fink is a professor of English at Hardin-Simmons University. He brings insight into the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins in this explication of “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”)

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.


I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Larry Fink bw

Larry Fink

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889) was one of the best British poets of
the Victorian era. (Others: Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Mathew Arnold.) He published very little in his lifetime—somewhat like America’s great 19th-century poet, Emily Dickinson. In both cases, their styles were so innovative that readers and potential publishers didn’t know how to respond to them.

In addition to being a poet and a priest, Hopkins was something of a philosopher of aesthetics; he developed influential ideas about beauty—its nature, origin, and purpose—ideas compatible with, and closely related to, his faith. To explain his ideas, he coined several words that are still in use by critics of art and literature. He believed that everything God makes is unique, one of a kind—not just every kind of tree, but each tree of the same species, each leaf on each tree. For Hopkins, this uniqueness is perceptible by people. He called this quality inscape, and it permeates the whole creature. Depending upon the nature of the thing—stone, bird, person—its inscape is expressed in different ways. As simple or as complex as the being is, Hopkins calls its expression of its inscape selving. A rock selves simply by being that rock, with its weight, size, shape, color, etc. People selve—reveal their uniqueness, including their inner natures—by their actions.

Of course, their outsides are also unique, a glorious fact for Hopkins. A third term he coined is instress. Like selve”, instress is a verb. It is the act of perceiving something’s inscape. To perceive someone or something’s inscape usually requires the intense use of the senses and the imagination, consciously or unconsciously. For Hopkins, the experience of instress can yield not only the appreciation of uniqueness, but a revelation of a particular facet of the creator, a bit like how looking at different works of art by the same artist reveals his or her different sides. Of a walk home from fishing on a fall day in north Wales, he writes,

“. . . I lift up heart, eyes,

Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour . . .”

— from “Hurrahing in Harvest”

That is, he attempts to harvest a vision or an insight about Christ from a deliberate and intense act of concentration on the clouds and sky. By example, Hopkins encourages the reader to use his senses, to look at and listen closely to the creation.

Now, with that background. Let’s look at “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” The first eight lines offer examples of animals and objects selving, expressing their inscapes. The rest of the poem describes the more complex selving of humans, especially those indwelt by Christ. Line one identifies what a particular bird and insect have in common.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

The poet is referring to the fact that when we see these two animals, they are usually illuminated by the same kind of light—flickering light from below—sunlight reflecting off the surface of water—like light from a fire or flame. To paraphrase the line, kingfishers catch the light the same way dragonflies doMost of us have seen dragonflies hovering above water or landing on the tips of our fishing rods. Birders know that the kingfisher perches above rivers and lakes, dives headfirst into water, and emerges with a fish in its beak. This is how it makes its living. This is how we are likely to see these creatures expressing their uniqueness (selving), with flickering light illuminating them from below.

The next three lines provide auditory examples of selving: a stone rolling over the edge of a well, a string being plucked on a harp or other stringed instrument, and a bell ringing—each making a sound different from every other stone, string, or bell in the world.

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

These simple objects are similar in that they express their uniqueness by emitting their unique sounds when tumbled, tucked, or swung. Notice, Hopkins uses the archaic word “tucked” instead of “plucked.” He frequently uses older words or words that have multiple meanings, two reasons why Hopkins is a challenging poet.

Lines four-six are the easiest of the poem; he’s just explaining selving:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

In the concluding lines, he describes how the being living in a Christian—Christ—selves through the actions of the believer:

I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

 
 Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Note how Hopkins turns “justice” into a verb, a small matter for someone who invents his own words. The word “plays” has at least two meanings. First, play as in, amuses himself: Christ taking joy in acting through different believers. Second, He plays—or acts out various roles—“To the Father through the features of men’s faces.” Thus, entertaining or, more likely, glorifying the Father.

Understanding the poem and the ideas it affirms is alone satisfying, even inspiring: the grandeur and dignity granted to each creature by the quality of uniqueness, the possibility of glimpsing a fresh vision of the Creator through looking and listening, the thought of the Son joyfully glorifying the Father through the actions of His followers. But to fully experience the impact of the poem, we must read it aloud. Let your ears hear all the rhyme, but also the alliteration: “kingfishers catch”, “dragonflies draw”, “rim in roundy, “tucked string tells”, “speaks and spells”, “goings graces”, “Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes”, “Father through the features of men’s faces”. Or, try saying this three times fast: “like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s / Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;”—all monosyllabic words with some internal rhyme thrown in for fun: “hung”, “swung”, “tongue’.

Now, memorize it. Carry it around in your head a while. Recite it aloud like a prayer. See if you don’t start looking more closely at birds and bugs, listening to stones and bells and tucked strings. See if you can keep from seeing Christ playing in working arms and loving eyes to the glory of the Father.

Larry E. Fink is professor of English at Hardin-Simmons University

GOOD ADVICE IN JUST THREE WORDS


 (Editor’s Note: Glenn Dromgoole is graciously sharing a series of “Just Three Words” from his book, More Civility, Please. A new segment will be posted each week for 10 weeks. The entire book can be purchased at Texas Star Trading Company.)

Most good advice can be expressed in

Just Three Words

By Glenn Dromgoole

From More Civility, Please

 (Second in a series)

Get more exercise.

Call your mother.

Be a hugger.

Sing out loud.

Don’t be judgmental.

Write your story.

Pray for others.

Expect the best.

Offer your support.

Praise works wonders.

Cook something delicious.

Laugh a lot.

GlennDromgoole

Glenn Dromgoole

RELEASING THE KIDS

By NANCY PATRICK

I recently noticed, sitting on the church pew behind me, a young man I had known since his childhood. His mother introduced the beautiful young woman with him as his fiancée.

NancyPatrick

Nancy Patrick

My husband whispered in my ear, “Should we ask John Michael if he’s spray-painted any mailboxes lately?”

He was referring to an incident when John Michael, our next-door neighbor, was about 5 years old and spray-painted the brick housing of our mailbox with a bright orange paint. Later that day, I answered my doorbell to find John Michael’s mother holding him by the hand. He was quaking with fear, tears streaming down his cheeks. His little boy voice shook as he said, “I’m sorry I messed up your mailbox.”

For my husband and me, whose son was a teenager at that time, the incident seemed trivial and humorous. For the 5-year-old John Michael, it was utterly humiliating. As I looked at the handsome young man John Michael had become, standing next to his fiancée, I thought, “Why in the world would I bring up a painful memory to this young man and perhaps embarrass him in front of his future wife?”

I guess we adults are so far removed from our own childhoods that we forget these young adults are no longer those cute, mischievous kids we laughed at. They are struggling to establish themselves apart from their childhoods.

Someone once said, “God gave our children into our care for a season, but they are in our hearts for a lifetime.” My own son Jason is a wonderful 43-year-old man, but he is still my “baby.” I remember everything—and I do mean everything about his childhood. I know he wouldn’t appreciate my reminding him of his adolescent foibles any more than I liked it when my dad did it to me. Jason is a man now, not a child, and I must respect that. I have all my memories recorded for my own reflection, but I don’t have to remind him of things that might embarrass him.

Our grown children and grandchildren deserve the same respect we want for ourselves. They do not need us to remind them of past episodes we thought were cute or foolish or even reprehensible. We can be sure they have not forgotten them; they have simply moved on and grown up. So I did not remind John Michael of his childhood painting spree because I would never want to embarrass him in front of his fiancée.

We should appreciate our young adults’ accomplishments, love them, and keep our memories where they belong—in our minds and hearts or on the closet shelf for an appropriate time of remembering.

Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.

McMURRY CELEBRATES INTERFAITH

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Four McMurry University students took part in Interfaith Story Telling April 13. Left to right are Yuwei Bao, Kaitlyn Thompson, Christina Martinez, and Ian Limones. Photo by Loretta Fulton

 

By LORETTA FULTON

Four McMurry University students wrapped up Better Together Week Friday, April 13, by sharing their beliefs through a program called Interfaith Story Telling.

Events during the week included an international game night, diaper drive to benefit refugees resettled in Abilene through the International Rescue Committee, and an interfaith prayer and meditation session.

Sharing their beliefs were Christina Martinez, Christian mysticism; Kaitlyn Thompson, United Methodist; Yuwei Bao, non-religious with beliefs; and Ian Limones, Brujeria.

Martinez, a junior political science major from El Paso, went “church shopping” when she got to Abilene and was disappointed.

“I didn’t feel like they were welcoming,” she said.

So, she left the church but not Christianity. She was introduced to mysticism, which emphasizes awareness, mindfulness and being in communion with God. Martinez’ boyfriend is Muslim and she liked a lot of his beliefs, especially the emphasis on letting go of the ego.

Martinez has learned about other religions and their belief systems. Her own Christian faith has grown from that.

“Jesus is extremely important to me,” she said.

Thompson is a junior sociology major and a member of the United Methodist Church. She grew up Baptist and was baptized at age 12. She heard people say that people who weren’t baptized would go to hell. So, she was relieved once she was baptized.

“I thought everything was OK after that,” she said.

When Thompson arrived at McMurry and took at New Testament class, she made a new connection with faith. She joined the United Methodist Church, which her parents were OK with. She felt the presence of Jesus in her life that she hadn’t felt before.

“It’s been a real journey,” she said.

Bao, a math and computer science major, is from China. She describes herself as “a non-religious person with beliefs.”

Bao said there was only one church near where she lived in China and that she doesn’t know much about Christianity.

“Christianity was a word,” she said, before arriving at McMurry in 2016.

But she is attending church in Abilene with a friend and has a Bible that is printed in both English and Chinese.

Bao carries a pencil box with the image of a Chinese Buddha on one side and a Christian cross on the other. She feels free at McMurry to discuss her faith.

“I feel comfortable,” Bao said.

The most unusual presentation came from Ian Limones, who was taught Brujeria practices by his grandmother when he was growing up. He described Brujeria as a pre-Columbian witch craft, with good witches and bad witches. The word itself means “witches” in Spanish.

Candles are important to the practice, and Limones is partial to a candle devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is important to Catholics in Hispanic and Mexican cultures.

“As a practicing Brujo,” Limones said, “I take a lot of pride in Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Limones recalled a day when he was feeling especially low. He lit the Our Lady candle, which proved to be pivotal to his spiritual life.

“Instantly, I felt like I was floating, ” he said.

Brujeria may sound mysterious and exotic, Limones said, but the ceremonial candles can be purchased at Walmart, United Supermarket, H.E.B, or any dollar store. Brujeria is not a religion, Limones said, but a practice.

“Brujeria is about acknowledging the power with you,” he said, “and putting that out into the world through symbolism.”