Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
In the last two weeks I have had 3 funerals. All of them were Indian. I take the liberty now of repeating an early post from 2006.

Last fall I helped bury a Ft. Sill Apache. He was 97 and had been born while the Apaches were held as prisoners of war. The tribe was released in 1913. It is thought that he was the last such in Oklahoma; there may be one other surviving Apache POW in New Mexico. He had been living with his daughter in Norman, OK, the last several years following the death of his wife. For years he was Headman of the Ft. Sill Band of the Apache Nation. I saw him in the hospital in Norman several times in the last week, though he was lucid only at my first visit when I took him communion. The past is not so very far away: I have had contact with a living link to the Indian Wars.

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Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
I am currently on medical leave from my church. My thyroid punked out and I am trying to get my hormone levels adjusted through medication. Bummer. But, I am feeling better. Today I used this opportunity to visit another church.

I attended a Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lawton. If I were a "church shopper" I would go back for several reasons.

One is the hospitality. There were the usual greeters at the door, handing out bulletins and introducing themselves. Good hospitality, but not exceptional. I took a seat near the front--three rows back, to lesson the odds of sitting in someone's favorite pew. A woman sat in the pew in front of me, turned around, introduced herself, and chatted briefly. Better hospitality. As the service started a couple with 3 or 4 children sat down in the same pew as I. When the first hymn was announced, I reached into the rack on the back of the seat in front of me. There were two kinds of books--hymnals and psalters. The boy sitting next to me, perhaps 10, pointed to a hymnal and quietly said "This one." Best hospitality.

I am comfortable visiting strange churches, and enjoy the experience. Most people are uncomfortable going into a strange church. For many, the decision to return or not will be made not on the basis of the doctrine preached, or the meangingfulness of the music, but on the hospitality experienced.

For those of you who are church members--be hospitable.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last month I spent two weeks in Europe with my family. Wonderful times. Although I neglected the Bosque Boys entirely in my absence, my wife did maintain a travel blog to which I contributed a few travel posts.

Here is a version of something I wrote over there (please forgive the self-indulgent length):

22 July 2009

Can anybody direct me to the "British Museum of British History"? Like the English Constitution, a central and systematic telling of British history seems to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I would love to see the UK equivalent of the Smithsonian American history collection. Until then, we skip back and forth across London paying homage to landmarks and statuary, picking up scattered pieces of the story, and continuing to mostly breathe in the past. Today we have all of the things we have not done looming over us (we wake up in the throes of last day panic). We tentatively have four museums on our agenda today.

For the record: the last day was a major triumph visiting the Museum of Natural History, the Apsley House (Wellington's home) located conveniently beside the Wellington Arch, the Winston Churchill Museum, and one last visit to the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Yesterday, however, was different. Yesterday we were in search of an American history. Specifically, we were on the trail of the Charles and Janice Yates family. Colonel Yates served in the USAF for 27 years (most of that time with Mrs. Janice Yates by his side, although she served without rank or remuneration)--and most of that time with the Strategic Air Command. During the early 1960s, the Yates clan (all eight of them) found themselves stationed at Greenham Common AFB outside of Newbury--approximately fifty miles west of London. For as long as I have been a part of the family, I have heard the cherished stories of the Hilliers Farmhouse in which they lived during this assignment. Yesterday, we went in search of place--part myth, perhaps, and part reality?

The trip to Newbury required a rental car, about which I had some anxiety. For a number of reasons (mostly logistics and economy), however, the rental presented itself as the only real option. So, with much trepidation, I crawled into the wrong side of a Euro-fitted Chevrolet compact and headed west out of London on M4. We made it back alive--but one tire did not after I ran us into an inconvenient curb.

Although the property remains fairly isolated, thanks to the amazing benefits of modern technology, the GPS led us to the front door of the legendary farmhouse. Truly Amazing! But there it was behind a stone fence, looking shockingly like the painting on the living room wall of the current Yates home.

"We've got a really crazy question--and even crazier request," I said.

"This really is bizarre," replied the surprised lady of the house--home alone and desperately trying to take the proper measure of a strange man in a rented car dropped from the sky. Fortunately, as my wife and then two sleepy boys emerged from the vehicle, the woman's suspicion gave way to curiosity and human connection as she came to see us as earnest pilgrims and embraced the spirit of our mission.

She happily agreed to our picture taking--offering to take one of the four of us and reluctantly agreeing to pose for one herself. Although we refused her gracious invitation of tea, we did take a quick peak into the house. It was lovely. As it turns out, our kind host is an interior decorator, and she had lovingly and skillfully blended the classic with the modern (see the pics).

Back on the road, my wife and I looked at each other and agreed that our appointed labor really could not have gone any better. We had renewed an old family connection to a specific place and moment attenuated by the passage of time and a changing world. Caleb and Cade had trod the same steps as their grandmother had at almost the same age nearly half a century ago when the planet was a very different place. We had watched our children in the front yard of that same 400-year-old house that Charles and Janice had lovingly watched their brood when they, like us, were in the fullness of life--young and powerful and in command. While there really is no accounting for the joy we take from such errands, our hearts beat happier and more alive for the rest of the afternoon. We had venerated the spirits of our personal past.

Finding the Hilliers Farmhouse seemed close to miraculous. After considerable research, my wife came up with a few vague directions and an odd-sounding partial address. We entered a foreign postal code into the GPS, followed the electronic road map for fifty miles (with almost no confidence that we would end up even remotely close to our objective), and, suddenly, there we were in the middle of nowhere exactly where we had hoped to be.

Even more unlikely was the way in which we stumbled onto Greenham Common (formerly Greenham Common AFB--where Charles led a Strategic Air Command squadron). After searching fruitlessly, we were giving up and looking for a place to safely turn around when we mistakenly pulled into the "Greenham and Crookham Commons" parking area.

How do you miss a former jet bomber air force base? It is easier than you might think. The installation no longer exists--and by that I mean it is GONE! The physical campus of the former base has been almost erased from the landscape, replaced by an intentionally wild meadow public park area.

Why the complete undoing of the once-crucial Cold War bulwark? During the early 1980s, Greenham Common emerged as an acrimonious bone of contention between the peace movement and Cold War hawks. Long after SAC departed, the United States Air Force designated Greenham as a prime installation for short-range nuclear weapons. Inspired and supported by an international nuclear freeze movement, area residents joined the "Peace Women" in demonstrations that vehemently objected to the basic premise of nuclear deterrent in general and the local deployment in particular.

Aided by the collapse of the USSR (which some might argue, ironically, was the product of a hard-line policy toward the Soviets), the peace activists ultimately prevailed in regards to Greenham. The USAF moved out in the 1990s, relinquishing all rights and control of the facility to the Royal Air Force. Soon after, the RAF vacated entirely and ceded all claims to the vast campus back to the community.

Once under local management, a series of community trusts and commissions immediately went about the business of removing all traces of the American occupation. Their efforts have proven amazingly successful. What was once the 12,000-foot-long runway sized to accommodate B-47s and B-52s is now meadow and indigenous brush. Base housing: gone. The hangers and assorted structures to support military aircraft: gone. While the old control tower stands as a reminder that this immense tract of wilderness is the product of un-development, there are few other indications of the myriad sorties flown here or the thousands of USAF personnel stationed here over the years.

The fruits of their labor are truly beautiful (ingeniously funded by a secluded business park on a small portion of the former air station). Walking the breadth of the old base, one cannot help but feel the inherent exhilaration of nature reclaiming a parcel of the earth temporarily despoiled by the grandiosity of man.

Nevertheless, I kept thinking a crazy thought: you know, they tore down a perfectly good thermo-nuclear missile base to put up a meadow. What a shame!

Of course, I say that with a large grain of self-conscious irony. Even a right-wing war monger like me can admit that a peaceful meadow is better than a concrete staging area for nuclear Armageddon. But, in all seriousness, there is an eerie hollowness about the place. Any piece of ground in which its history has been surgically removed engenders some disquiet in my soul.

For us, of course, the redaction is more palpable. In a deeply personal sense, we feel the absence of commemoration for the legions of men like Charles Yates who so diligently and responsibly flew all those missions. Entrusted with the most lethal military weapons ever produced, those Cold War warriors personified professionalism and dedication to a cause they earnestly believed essential to the preservation of Western Civilization. Reasonable people will disagree whether they were naive and/or misguided, but no fair-minded account can cast aspersions on their sincerity and honorable intentions. No one should question their fierce fidelity to the cause of human freedom.

What of those warriors? The only scant and indirect attempt at history at the reformed Greenham Common is the sympathetic telling of the "struggle for peace." On a six-by-six placard, a short narrative triumphantly relates the tale of the community's long struggle to overcome the mighty American war machine. Eventually, rationality transcended madness, and the people wrested local control of the Common away from powerful foreigners bent on bringing the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe. One prominent quote proclaims that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented--but the moral framework that allows the existence of such weapons of mass destruction can be unlearned.


At the end of the day, we enjoyed a fine walk through an inviting meadow on a beautiful July afternoon. Life is good. We are the beneficiaries of an uncommonly serene moment in human history. Have we really changed the moral framework of human existence? Is that the true lesson of the restored meadow with the carefully incomplete history?

I have my doubts--but I hope I am wrong.

Last week an American family, in pursuit of its own history, picked their way across the brambles and marshes of the erstwhile jet bomber runway--enjoying the natural beauty and soul-renewing power of the transformation. But, at the same time, we looked up into the sky and fondly remembered trim young men in their leather jackets and aviator shades a long way from home protecting hard-won freedoms.

May we always remember that heroic spirit. We forget the sacrifices of the past at our own peril.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I received this email today:

Hi, Prayer Warriors,

How are you?

President Obama, according to this article, has picked a church and personal spiritual advisors.

Whether we agree with his politics or not, let's pray that he is surrounded with God's truth and His love.

Thank you.

May the Lord bless you,

I like the tone of this note. Thanks, Philip. In my view, it is much more Christian than an "imprecatory prayer" against the President.

Allow me to associate myself with this invitation to pray for the President of the United States.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In the midst of his humiliation and desperation, the prodigal son experienced an epiphany: his father's hired men had a better life than he did. He resolved to go back home and say, "Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand."

He picked himself up and went home to his father.

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, his father ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: "Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again."

But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, "Quick. Bring him clean clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Kill the fatted calf. We're going to feast! We're going to celebrate! My son has come home! My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, but now is found."

I have viewed the Parable of the Lost Son through the prism of at least three different life perspectives.

1. As a child, I understood the protection and the power of my father. Fathers are fearless and wise--fully capable of insulating little boys from the cruelties and meanness of the world. When trouble was on the horizon, his face turned to a stony mask of determination and deadly force, intimidating evil doers back into the shadows. Two young punks at the Van Nuys post office, carelessly menacing a citizen with a small child for some kicks, quickly came to understand that the game had suddenly turned sour--and the air was now thick with danger. In the face of his terrorizing scowl, they backed down. What would have happened if they had not? Later--but not too much. My dad sitting in his big American sedan at the top of the hill, with a baseball bat on the seat and his .357 literally strapped to his leg. Absolutely crazy and scary to think back on it now. But no one was going to insinuate that a neighborhood street was not safe for his son to ride his bike on. A bad bunch that did not fear the law would understand force. The head of a bullying clan had miscalculated. A foolish individual was on the edge of bringing a knife to a gun fight. They backed down. I rode my bike without incident.

Like John Wayne, "he wouldn't be wronged, he wouldn't be insulted, and he wouldn't be laid a hand on. He didn't do those things to other people, and he expected the same from them." "If the world was not black and white, why the hell not?"

As a child, I understood perfectly why the prodigal went home. Home was safe. Dad was strong. Dad was powerful enough to save him. The real question: why would you leave in the first place?

2. There was a moment when my dad stopped being John Wayne and became Gene Hackman--still bigger than life and blustering, but now balding, paunchy, and flawed. No longer was he inerrant or bullet proof. His black and white world suddenly turned upside down. He was now confused and battered, flat-out wrong sometimes--but still counter-punching and looking desperately for vindication.

As a young man, I understood why the prodigal left. It was time to make your mark outside of the old man's shadow. Too much advice--not all of it good, really. Too much pessimism. Too much bitterness. What the hell did he know? How hard could all of this really be?

When I was a young man, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But as I matured, I was astonished by how much he had learned in a just few short years.
~~my apologies to Mark Twain

3. I have said this before, but I was born again, again, on 12 May 1999. That is the day I became a father. It was the day I saw the world anew. It was the day I lost control of my life and my emotions, and it was the best-slash-most important day of my life. It was not until that moment that I understood the true import of the story of the prodigal.

The utter sublimeness of the parable of the Lost Son is the reaction of the father. When I think about him looking down that road and seeing his son, I can feel the absolute rapture of the moment. Can it be? Is it really him? How many times, I wonder, had this father seen his son walking down that road in the happy recesses of his imagination? How many times had this father caught a glimpse of someone walking down this road and been carried away with the momentary sanguine hope that it was his son? No, it's him this time! It really is him this time! This boy was gone. Gone forever. But there he is! Praise God! There he is!

The absolute perfection of the metaphor is that God the Father might actually love us as much as we love our sons. This is the way God feels about me? Wow! This truly is a loving God. Yes. He let me go. Yes. He let me make my mistakes. But there he is, weeping with joy at my return and all is forgiven. It didn't matter why the boy left; it didn't matter what the boy did while he was gone. The only thing of real consequence was that the son was back. The strength of that metaphor was completely lost on me before I experienced fatherly love for my two sons. Now it is the most powerful illustration in the Holy Book--the very heart of the Gospel.

An Aside: for me, this is strong evidence that Jesus really was divine, or really had a family somewhere, or someone other than Jesus imagined this parable.

So, my third life perspective on this story, in addition to my added comprehension of God the Father, is the view of my own father as only another father can know him. As a father, I can now fully understand the true power and scope of my father's love for me.

It's a love without end, Amen.

I don't say this nearly enough. Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day, 2009.
All I need to know:

Three dead pirates and one live American.

I am very happy to praise this president for this success.

Kudos to the United States military (still the baddest bunch of white hats on the planet).

Kudos to the President for employing the tools in his arsenal.

UPDATE. Another thought: this strikes me as a big political win for the President--domestically, of course, but also as a defining moment on the international stage.

His Statement to the World: we love you and we want to be your friend--but, if you push too far beyond the bounds of civilized behavior, we will shoot you in the head.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
The invention of the arts, and other things which serve the common use and convenience of life, is a gift of God by no means to be despised, and a faculty worthy of commendation. John Calvin

Recently on Wednesday night our church has begun a new Family Night format called "Dinner and a Movie." We eat, and then we watch 15 or 20 minutes of a movie followed by discussion and Bible Study. The plan is to finish one movie over the course of Lent, then see if we want to repeat the experience. We do this as a single mixed-ages group: what those who get paid for being church consultants call "intergenerational approach to education." For those of you new to the blog, our congregation is Native American, mostly Comanche, Kiowa, and Ft. Sill Apache.

I am structuring the first part of the discussion around the "world-view" presented in the movie. William D. Romanowski, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College, suggests this approach in his book Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. (Here is a brief review of this book I wrote for Perspectives. Scroll down to page 9.) If you've not read it, I recommend this book. Then we move to discussing the themes presented by the film. After discussion we move to a teaching Bible Study on one or more of the themes.

If you have never seen it, I suggest you rent the movie we are now watching: Smoke Signals. Both the writer, Sherman Alexie, and the director, Chris Eyre, are Native American: Eyre is Cheyenne-Arapaho, and Alexie is Spokane-Coeur d'Alene. The movie centers around two Indian young men, their relationship to their families and to each other, and to a tragedy early in their lives. Funny, poignant, insightful, true-to-life, definately worth a view.

The themes from the movie that we are doing Bible Study on are family, friendship, and forgiveness.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
The Nativity by E. Merrill Root

Here is the hinge of history--the hour
Wherefrom the years recede, the years advance--
The night when Love has victory over Power.

A new born child beneath a mother's glance,
God the creator is made manifest,
Born of his creature, flesh of circumstance.

Here, petal-soft against his mother's breast,
He lies who made the sun to be his rose;
Here he who strews the lightenings lies at rest!

O little hands that buoy the nightengale!
How can your fingers sleep in such repose?
And must you, of soft baby feet, rescale
The height of heaven on the driven nail?

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
We had the season's first Christmas program practice at church last night. As usual, it was more-or-less controlled chaos. Squirming little children not listening to directions, teens trying to act cool and not always listening to directions, costumes being tried on while trying to learn to hit the marks on stage--tough to do when your angel costume is stuck on your head. But, by the end of the night the program was beginning to be recognizable. We still have a problem with the bashful Joseph not wanting to look too husbandly toward Mary.

But, by Sunday night we'll be ready--more or less.

Children just naturally disrupt our ordered lives simply by being children.

On Sunday mornings a little before 11am I holler into the sanctuary (it's Oklahoma)--"Time to ring the bell!" The children there on time walk/rush/run to the bell tower to take turns ringing the bell to start the service. Not an orderely start to the worship of the Most High God. But, better now than when I began this practice. Then I'd have to separate pushing, squabbling children wanting to be first in line to pull the bell rope. Did I mention that we open the outside door of the bell tower so we can hear the bell, and so that the kids who want can go outside to see the bell ring? Yes, of course I sometimes must yell at some of the small boys to stay away from the road and get back into the church.

Next the children take turns by Sunday lighting the candles at the front of the church. I follow them in, not always in an orderly procession because a kid who is new automatically gets to light it on his first Sunday. (sotto voice) try to walk side-by-side, OK your candle is now lit, you can put the candle lighter out, now follow her to the back of the church and put the lighter into the holder. (I have one little boy who seems so fascinated by fire that he forgets his moves.)

Somehow, I don't think God minds.

On Sunday night we'll have the Christmas program. Even after three rehearsals there will be some confusion, a bit of chaos. But that's OK. After all, we are celebrating the birth of a child, who brought his own chaos into ordered lives.

You're pregnant? Who's the father? What, I have to ride all the way to Bethlehem on a donkey in my condition? Eleazer, wake up! How could you sleep through the music. Come on, we're all going into Bethlehem! The sheep? They'll be fine for a while, come with us to see the Messiah! You've seen whose star? Quick Mary, we must go to Egypt. Kill all the children you find. Joseph, where's Jesus? I thought he was with you. Help me look for him, he's only 12 you know. . . . Come, follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men.

And we think we can both order our own lives and welcome into them the Holy Child.

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
On 5 November, in a post entitled "congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama," I wrote:

I hope Obama completes the mission in Iraq regardless of where the credit for success may fall. If the president-elect decides to retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, and David Petraeus as commander of Cent-Com, and allows them to back us out of Iraq in a responsible fashion, he will have my undying gratitude for the duration of his administration.


According to the AP, Gates will stay on as Secretary of Defense for at least a year.

Remarkable. Truly Remarkable.

I will happily stand by my pledge.