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Unmoored

Originally posted September 2018

I feel like a part of my childhood has ended today.

When I was born, I had three living grandparents. They all passed away before I exited my preteen years.

My mother’s grandmother, Geya, passed away before I reached 10 years of age. I don’t have many memories of her, but I do remember our family spending time with her as she lived with her daughter, my grandmother, not far from our home for the last few years of her life.

My grandmother, my mother’s mom, lived a short distance from us and passed away when I was near 11 years of age. Her house always smelled of smoke and was dark. She watched football with us and I don’t know if that was from a love of football or a desire to share with her grand-kids, and her son-in-law.

I remember A&W Root Beer and Entemaan’s Chocolate Chip cookies, which she kept in her fridge. There was always another mysterious dark bottle next to the A&W bottle and I never realized I was that close to being able to taste wine. Which, of course, would have banned me from ever visiting Grandma’s house again. Just last week, my wife Christy, brought me home a box of those cookies and I once again placed them in the fridge. It was a great reminder of what love tasted like, though mine were without the sour taste of cigarette smoke that always accompanied Grandma’s cookies.

I remember my oldest brother, Abel, playing the organ in the formal living room while I watched horrible Florida Gator football in the den with an annoying younger brother, Timothy, who loved the Gators. Kerwin Bell was quarterback at that time and I still remember Grandma saying when they got close to the goal line that he should just run the ball himself. Incidentally, I saw Kerwin Bell a few weeks ago when the Valdosta State Blazers came to Waycross to play a game against Fort Valley State. Grandma was right, as I saw Bell; now the Blazers head coach in person, he is a very large man.

My father’s father, Roy, came into our family’s life for a very short time. My father had had no contact with him past the age of 3 until my father was well into his adult years. By the time we knew who he was he was near the end of his life, almost completely vanquished by the alcoholism that had ruined his body and soul.

Memories of Grandpa are few. I remember getting in the car with dad one time, a beautiful tan Datsun station wagon, to ride around town looking for Grandpa. Grandpa was looking for a bottle, or the coins with which to buy a bottle, and dad was determined to find him and drag him back to the seedy hotel where he lived.

I also remember being in the van with mom one day when she stopped on the side of the road to give him a ride as he was walking to or from town. Grandpa wore western shirts with snaps and a cowboy hat, but what I still remember vividly today was how he smelled. If you have ever smelled a homeless person, that was how Grandpa smelled, and I remember sitting in that van on that hot summer day thinking I was going to puke all over the vinyl seats in front of me. Thankfully I didn’t, although puking in vehicles was kind of my thing for a few years.

But it was my aunts and uncles who ushered me and my siblings into adulthood as those caring and generous grandparent figures. They were the ones whose home we were excited to visit and they were the ones who made sure that they were present for those major events of our lives that seemed simple at the time, but which one day we look back on as a time marker, and we remember those who were there and their love and sacrifice.

These aunts and uncles were the brothers and sisters of my dad’s mother who had died when he was 5 years old. They had served as surrogate parents, alongside my dad’s grandmother, for my dad and his brother, my Uncle Roy. They gave them time, they provided material blessings, but mostly; for my dad and his brother, they gave them a place that they knew was home.

It was their homes that we went to on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it was their hugs that we both dreaded and anticipated. Dad, who has passed on his orneriness to at least this son, can be quite prickly, although age has mellowed him somewhat. He didn’t mind telling those who loved him the wrongness or incompleteness of their ways, more than once. I certainly have done the same.

Yet they did to him what family does, they loved him. And they most certainly loved his family. My Aunt Katherine passed away a few years ago, and I was probably most impacted by her and Uncle Lloyd’s love. They never missed a graduation and some of my most memorable reunions were the ones at her little green block house. They were the constant in our lives that continuously said to us; “You are family, you are loved.” As a young adult I remember driving past that house after they had moved and somehow feeling a sense of loss. They were still living at the time, but life had moved on and for a moment I felt that shifting reality of being a finite being.

For kids growing up in a church that sometimes withholds love from their pastor as a leverage to prove they are right, the reality of being loved outside of that community was crucial, and I know impacted my siblings and I. For kids who grew up somewhat removed from a lot of outside relationships, it was empowering to know that outside of our limited scope there were people who genuinely wanted the best for us. When you think your roots are only as deep as those you immediately know, and those you immediately know are shifting and changing and leaving, you need to have family. My dad’s aunts and uncles were that family for us.

Aunt Grace was an aunt that I didn’t fully know until I reached my later teen years but she also made it a personal point to be involved in our lives. At times, I felt that she knew that she must act as the refined one to make up for Uncle Lloyd’s repeated attempts to rile Dad. As an uncle, I now understand why he got so much delight in telling us off-color jokes. He wanted to know that behind that facade of always doing right that actual breathing humans existed.

Uncle Bud, who’s passing spurred these thoughts out of my mind and into linear shape, became the kind man whom everyone hopes to have as a grandfather. After his retirement, trips to Florida became regular and he always wanted to see his family. We were his family. My mom, who doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve and can be faulty in making us aware of things, I don’t believe once missed telling me when Uncle Bud was going to be in town.

He meant that much. He loved, and he knew love. I believe that Rosa helped him with that as she also poured out love on our family over the last 30 years or so that I’ve known her. While he would have brushed it off as being of little consequence, his gracious demeanor taught us much about what love ‘looked’ like, and his constant presence taught us what love ‘felt’ like.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.

Time and Introspection

 

Monday for our family this week was grocery shopping day. Christy and I met up at Kroger during our lunch break to fill a cart to help keep our children fed. As is normally the case, when I put the groceries away I found opened boxes of different items that had been abandoned over the past few weeks. As dad, I subject myself to checking to ensure that cereals, cookies, and various other items have not gone stale since they were originally opened.

I have often blamed my children for their failure to finish items, properly store items, and opening boxes of cookies that are already opened. However, there comes a point in time where I have to own my role as a parent. There are many things that I can do to help change this situation, and yelling and fussing at the kids achieves only serves to set us against each other.

There is something about personal responsibility that forces me to enter into each and every situation. How am I contributing to the ongoing issues in our society? How can I challenge the behaviors of our society? How can I help those who share similar cultural experiences to reconsider the way they view things?

These are my thoughts and where I have realized the beginning of my responsibilities. Where I have either remained silent and not confronted ridiculous and self-serving behavior, and where I have myself contributed to the systemic inequality that still confronts our country. These are general observations, which can certainly feel personally motivated.

My first observation is primarily to the religious community that I have inhabited since birth. Conservative in our social and fiscal politics – unless of course we’re talking about military or police spending – we have long believed that America’s brightest and best were somewhere in the past; at least culturally.

In this community we have criminalized cultural differences. When you think of the culture of young Black people in America I realize how much my religious community has criminalized their behavior. Rap is a genre of music. As any genre of music it has quite a variety of artists and subject matter. Yet, this is not what we have heard from the pulpits and stages of our religious institutions. Rap, as a genre of music, has been portrayed as all that is wrong in America. When it comes to clothing styles I cannot count the number of times I have heard from our pulpits and stages condemnation for the pant styles of young Black men – in congregations that were over 90% white.

The last preaching conference I attended almost 10 years ago had so many of these observations and provocations from the stage that I observed that the entire point of the conference was simply to build a false dichotomy of ‘us vs. them’ that ultimately had some serious racial implications. Fight your culture wars pastors, but fight them in your church and with your people. In these congregations they would have been better served to challenge the Instagram innuendo and the proliferate mockery of others if they wanted to point to a decaying culture in their church. For every complaint about a lowered car blasting rap music we have had thousands of opportunities to critique our boys for flying their Confederate flags up and down our streets, and to challenge their reasoning for doing so. To make a more direct observation; if our religious leaders are more concerned that ANTIFA should be classified as a terrorist organization, and has never given the same privilege to the KKK; well …

My second observation is directed towards the socio-economic class that I have occupied to some degree since adulthood. I often refer to my position in this group as lower-middle class. This is somewhat a reference to how my social status – a religious leader in the South – has far outweighed my economic status and ability. In this group we have valued convenience over challenging conversations and moments. How often have we called the police when we saw someone – of a darker skin color than our own – ride through our neighborhood or perform some other simple innocuous task and yet we deemed them out of place?

In the early 2000’s Georgia instituted a tax-free weekend to encourage purchasing of school supplies, clothing, and electronics. The store I managed; Hibbet’s in Valdosta, was completely unprepared for how much our customers – and a great number of other folks – cared about a measly 7%. We were absolutely overrun. I left for a few hour break and came back to a store that was in complete shambles. We simply had to many customers and the store was supposed to close in 30 minutes. Thinking absolutely nothing of it, I walked through the mall until I located the two off-duty VPD officers that I knew from their regular patrols on weekend nights. I asked them to help me clear my store of customers. They did. They did nothing irregular, except that wasn’t really their responsibility and yet they felt an obligation to me and my store, and as such I put them in an unenviable position. Multiply this situation by hundreds of thousands of requests by neighborhoods, businesses, and a multitude of examples and we have too many times asked our police officers to keep the separation that we desired.

Back now to my grocery discoveries this week. I found a box of Rice Krispies that had been abandoned to the back of the cupboard and three; 3!, bags of opened marshmallows. Had I set these two items on the counter and asked my family to eat them here’s what might have happened; my youngest would have eaten a handful, possibly two, of marshmallows and if Christy did not like my cooking that night she would have eaten a bowl of the Rice Krispies. Years of experience told me that wouldn’t work so I took two simple ingredients; time and butter, and made Rice Krispy treats. Almost all of them were eaten that night.

I’m asking you to take some time and then to bring in the ingredient of introspection. Ask yourself if these two realities have been part of your life. How many times have we sought to criminalize cultural differences that go largely ignored in their counterparts in our own culture? How many times have we sought convenience to the destruction of our neighbors?

This is where I have begun to see my own responsibility.

Landon’s Call: Week 7 Matchups

#2 Georgia @ #13 LSU

One of this weeks top games, probably the top game, puts Georgia in the hostile environment of Baton Rouge. Let’s be honest, Georgia got lucky with the time scheduling of this game, a 3:30 game in Death Valley is much better than a 7:30 game. SEC night games are some of the craziest in the nation, just ask A&M fans. LSU is coming off a tough loss at Florida while Georgia’s score against Vanderbilt last week didn’t show the struggle the Bulldogs went through. Expect a close one  in Death Valley this week, and don’t be surprised if it comes down to extra time.

LSU – 24 Georgia -21

#15 Wisconsin @ #12 Michigan

The Big House sets the site for this big game between rivals. Wisconsin has been on fire since being upset by BYU, but Michigan believes that QB Shea Patterson will save them again. It’s been a while since Michigan hosted College Gameday, but they never disappoint when they do. A close one with Northwestern last week could bring down the Wolverines confidence, but with a game like this I don’t believe it will. 

Michigan – 31 Wisconsin – 14

#7 Washington @ #17 Oregon 

Autzen Stadium, one of the best in the nation, holds this PAC-12 North matchup. The winner will likely be the Northern division champion as Stanford fell to Utah last week. The PAC-12 at this point needs Washington to win. Oregon’s résumé has started to go downhill with the loss to Stanford looking worse and worse, but who knows, these next two months could shakeup the entire playoff picture, but the PAC-12’s chances are getting smaller and smaller.

Washington – 17 Oregon – 13

Limiting Others: A Reflection

It’s a long story, so I will attempt to keep it short. A few months back I decided I wanted to do a series on how friendships with Jesus changed and challenged people. It was something that challenged me to look at how Jesus interacted with specific people. It also revealed his humanity that he fully adopted.

There sat James, his brother. The same brother who would have known him his own entire existence and probably most of Jesus’ existence as well. The brother who was probably with the family when they told Jesus to quit acting crazy and go home. The brother who existed outside of the range of Jesus’ closest companions for his three years of ministry and yet started his written record with these words:

This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
Greetings!

Who is this guy? What caused such a turn around? As these questions were sought I began to see the book of James in a different light. It’s often been taught from a position of condemnation as we seek to determine exactly who are the ‘real’ Christians.

If we envision the book of James as a reminder of who Jesus was as a person we see that much of the time James is quite simply saying; remember how Jesus lived! There are multiple overlaps between the Sermon on the Mount and the reminders and teachings of James. In every reminder of our behavior as believers is the call to remember the person and actions of Jesus.

This leads us to James’ teaching on how we should interact with the rich and the poor. James is adamant that we not send the poor to a lower seat or raise the rich to a higher seat. There’s a revelation there that I am learning, and hopefully you will give my imagination just a moment of attention.

The concern of the poor man might be that they will not be accepted fully into the Kingdom of God. Religion has, to some degree, been used to keep social divisions and divides normalized. The particular call of Jesus was that all were equally welcome into His Kingdom. And, all were equal in the Kingdom.

The concern of the rich man may be that he may not fully need God. While religion can be used to keep social divides normal, it often is characterized as a sign of weakness. Humility, therefore, can be hard to come by, even among the religious; something that Jesus pointed out more than once.

Here is the truth that jumped out at me, and quite frankly, exposed me. When we treat the poor man as if he is less than us, we reinforce the opinion of himself that he may have already accepted or constructed. When we treat the rich man as if he has already earned that which is not his to earn we have also reinforced his view of supremacy and therefore no need for dependence.

In either case we have solidified a view of them as a person which is not how Jesus would have had them view themselves. We have told them that what the world sees them as, and possibly more importantly; how they have come to see themselves, is really who they are. We have told them that how others respond to them is truly what matters. We have told them that they are whom they have been forced to become or whom they have made of themselves.

I’m just going to leave it there while I think over my interactions of the last few days and how often my actions, words, and thoughts have caused some one to feel like they are outside of the Kingdom. As I’m doing so I will leave you with a short list of words that I commonly use as descriptors of others; annoying, clueless, needy, know-it-all, condescending, and on and on I could go.

In the days of those kings, the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms

For more reading on the rich and poor man, look at Jesus’ story in Luke 14 and see how closely James was mimicking Jesus’ teaching here.

Landon’s Call: Week 6 Matchups

#5 LSU @ #22 Florida

LSU gets a tough away test before their big home game against Georgia next week. Florida’s defense may be a good test for LSU this week as it will be a lot like what they’ll see next week. Florida’s defense and crowd could be a big factor this game, but I think that Joe Burrow and LSU’s receivers can get it done.

LSU – 24 Florida – 14

 

#19 Texas v #7 Oklahoma

The old Red River Rivalry, one of the best traditions in college football. A neutral site game that will put both of these teams to the test. Kyler Murray made his Heisman statement last week with 7 touchdowns against Baylor. All the talk right now is the question, “Is Texas back?”. I can answer that: NO.

Oklahoma – 48 Texas – 17

 

#6 Notre Dame @ #24 Virginia Tech

Notre Dame has started to look better since Brian Kelly made the decision to start Ian Book two weeks ago at Wake Forest. Virginia Tech coming off a good road win against ACC rival Duke, may have some trouble with this Notre Dame offense. I think that late game, Notre Dame will make good plays to put themselves in position to win, and I think they will win.

Notre Dame – 31 Virginia Tech – 28

Blocked View: Analysis Paralysis

It has been often and well said that one of the reasons that adult men love sports is that they are taken back to their childhood so quickly and easily. Probably so. There is, however, that point when our analysis of sporting events causes us to miss the obvious happening in front of us.

Such an event happened this past Monday night. There was a moment in the game when Patrick Mahomes, quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, made a play that befuddled the announcers in the press box, but which caused me to almost immediately jump off my couch. I had practiced the same move with my brothers multiple times in the front yard as we threw a football back and forth.

With three minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Chiefs faced a 3rd and 5. Trailing at this point, a play was an absolute necessity to keep the Chiefs hopes of winning alive. Mahomes was flushed from the pocket and ran to his left. Noticing his predicament, his running back turned and began to run parallel to Mahomes, hoping for a pass. The rush and the surrounding players made a throw almost impossible and yet Mahomes managed to get the throw off and secured the 1st down, continuing the drive.

No one else was in the room and yet I blurted out immediately, “he threw that with his left hand!” Patrick Mahomes is right-handed. Running to his left, he had quickly moved the ball to his left hand and heaved it to his running back just a few yards in front of him.

The reaction from the announcers was a little slower to come. In fact, they didn’t observe that he had thrown it with his left hand until they watched the replay and saw the play from another angle. I definitely understand. These are folks who have played professional football and it’s probably a little odd to see a quarterback make a play with their opposite hand.

It wasn’t odd for me. My younger brother could catch anything I could throw and we had done and practiced this play on multiple occasions – and may have even tried it out on a few unsuspecting brother-in-laws – and I saw it for what it was immediately.

Folks, I don’t ever want to lose the joy of recognizing a touch football play in an NFL game. I surely don’t want to lose the joy of seeing others act in power, love, and kindness, because I am too busy analyzing their behavior from the booth of my own self-righteousness.

 

 

My Missing Ingredient

Now, if you have been around me lately, and you see the glass of tea above, you will assume that the missing ingredient is sugar. You would be correct, partially. There’s a little more to the story.

For the last year a glass of sweetened tea has not been consumed by myself. Realizing that I was going to have to make some long term health choices, I decided to abandon sugar in drinks, and out the door went sweet tea. But, I still needed my caffeine, and I turned to unsweetened coffee and unsweetened tea.

The adjustment has not been that difficult and I still indulge in a latte at least every other week. However, my desire for no sugar in my tea revealed something about myself that I would rather forget; I didn’t use to care about unsweetened tea. More clearly, I didn’t worry about whether or not there was any available.

About 11 years ago I began a rotation cooking on Wednesday nights for our church suppers. I have the wonderful ability to get sidetracked and forget things that are a regular occurrence or need. Invariably, as the dinner hour approached I would become consumed with completing some task and would become urgently busy.

Our pastor, Derwin, would graciously inquire as to whether or not I needed anything. I would usually tell him no, but he would hang around and soon enough find something that needed to be done and he would quietly do it.

On more than once occasion he would ask me whether or not I had made any unsweetened tea. As I noted above, I normally forget routine tasks, and this would be one that had been lost in the shuffle. Shamefully, I can remember on more than one occasion telling him that we just wouldn’t have any unsweetened tea that night, and reassuring him that it wasn’t a big deal. I’m sure that I reminded him of how few people drank it, as well as the possibility that none of them might be in attendance that night.

I don’t remember him ever arguing with me, but I certainly remember him quietly making the tea; unsweetened.

The missing ingredient in my life that this exposed is referred to in the King James Bible as ‘tender-hearted.’ Our more common term today would be compassion.

We often think of compassion as having pity, but it is so much more than that. Compassion is a willingness to put ourselves into the position of the other. It is to remove blame and shame and assume their need as your own.

This isn’t fun to talk about. Not because it is some big deal and whether or not some of those folks are going to come after me about their tea, but because it reveals a self-obsession or self-serving attitude about myself.

I now make unsweetened tea without fail, but I have to admit there have been a few times that the mayo hasn’t been put out when we’ve had hotdogs. I still need to daily engage in compassionate living. Here’s a few things Jesus said about compassion.


Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”
The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?”
Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”
They replied, “Seven loaves, and a few small fish.”
So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd.
They all ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. There were 4,000 men who were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children. Then Jesus sent the people home, and he got into a boat and crossed over to the region of Magadan.


Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

 

Landon’s Call: Week 4 Recap

Week 4 Recap: #22 Texas A&M VS #1 Alabama

 

Alabama has made their statement as to why they should be, and to why they are the number one team in the nation. This weekend they hosted division rival Texas A&M and showed their strength. While everyone currently is on how good and great Alabama is, I want to give some props to A&M.

Jimbo Fisher has done a lot in just a few weeks. Near upset at home against Clemson, scoring 23 on the road at Alabama. Kellen Mond looked good, he made mistakes, but Kellen Mond looked like a good quarterback, especially against a defense like Alabama. If I were you I’d watch out because A&M could make some noise.

Let it Fall: A Prayer

Over the last few years my understanding of prayer has grown and I want to share a quick thought. A piece, you will, of my understanding.

Having grown up a Baptist I had only primarily been exposed to spontaneity in prayer or extemporaneous prayer. Unrehearsed, off the top of the head, or from the bottom of the heart, as each moment brought out or exposed. I cannot recall ever reciting the Lord’s Prayer corporately, although I certainly was made to memorize it as a child.

Yes, the Lord’s Prayer gives us a template, but oh that template is so powerful. As I have sought out teaching on prayer I have found that many wrote out their prayers; practiced, if you will, and yet so much power and humility. Many times music is simply a prayer set to tune, and we might agree that it can lead to an understanding and knowledge that we were yet to see.

Below are three of my favorite prayers:

     One from Scripture

     One from history

     One a song

Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us.

 

Landon’s Call: Week 4 Matchups

#22 Texas A&M VS #1 Alabama

One of this weekends key match-ups is another battle of SEC West teams, but to be completely honest, I don’t think it’ll be close. Tua Tagovailoa has been nothing short of spectacular to this point, and Jerry Jeudy is leading Alabama’s young receiving core. Alabama looks to be the best team in the nation. A&M may have kept it close against Clemson, but that was at home, and Tuscaloosa is a completely different place.

Alabama- 45 Texas A&M- 17

#7 Stanford VS #20 Oregon

Gameday for week 4 puts two PAC-12 North teams against each other. Some people overlook the importance this game could hold. This could be a battle for the PAC-12 North, and really the PAC-12 as a whole, because the Southern division doesn’t look all to good. I think this game is decided by Stanford’s ability to run the football. Heisman hopeful Bryce Love returns from injury for this game and he could run wild. With enough luck if the winner of this game wins out, we could see a playoff dark horse come from the PAC-12.

Oregon- 31 Stanford- 24

#18 Wisconsin VS Iowa

A critical night game for the Big Ten. Wisconsin looks to rebound from a crazy upset and Iowa looks to keep on winning. The Big Ten has been tested a lot so far and they haven’t passed most of them, really they haven’t passed any of them. A night game, at Iowa, I just can’t see Wisconsin win after what happened last week.

Iowa- 24 Wisconsin- 10

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