Tonight was the last night of the Third Wednesday Open Mic. It had bounced around to different venues and traded hands with hosts long before I started going a year ago. I saw one host and two venues. We’d been reading for a few months at Fig then Fig closed. It was a sign that none of us wanted to see but we all recognized: like a divorce, you can’t force it.
No-one read tonight. Instead, we sat around a table telling stories. I was between a poet from near Fayeteville and a teacher from all over, most recently Chapel Hill. We talked about the way the South has changed. There’s a lot of new construction in the triangle. They’re tearing down malls and selling off property. Every street in Chapel Hill is becoming a canyon with the sky-rises. Meanwhile, down…
Who can forget the famous Flanders. He is a religious nut who lives next door to Homer.
He says things like, “I’ve done everything the Bible says – even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!” He accidentally pokes fun at the religion which he is very serious about. I think when I first became a believer in Jesus, I followed a lot of what other people were doing around me. Many of the “rules” were probably beneficial for me, but some seriously limited my exposure to the world.
Over the years, I still have a very deep faith in Jesus, but it looks a lot different than it used to. I am not sure how to explain it to others, except that it looks so much different than when I was a bible college student. A lot different.
I went to bible college for a year in Missouri and a few of the rules are below:
You may not go to the movies at all.
You may not wear shorts on campus unless you are playing sports.
You will attend chapel daily.
You will keep yourself to the highest level of morality.
There were a ton more, but I did not last more than a year there. I realized that even in American Christianity, it mattered less about who you were than it mattered who you knew. I saw minority students kicked out of school for marijuana use on their first discipline referral. I also saw students who were clearly not following morality rules, yet they were speaking during chapel. It really rocked my world, especially when I started dating a young lady who came from a pretty troubled past. I made my share of mistakes that I regret.
I ended up leaving bible college to never continue.
I still ended up doing ministry off and on for eleven years. I wanted so much to be in the crowd of ministers. They would tell me I was gifted for the ministry and would often work me to the last ounce of my energy. Ultimately, I gave up on vocational ministry in 2012, and I have never felt so faith-filled and authentic in my faith.
My faith has always been integral in my life, but I see it more evident now, just not in the way that many people would count it. Now my faith means the most when I am teaching my middle school students. I want them to find a way to make sense of their life.
I am glad I am no longer the Flanders of my neighborhood.
I am pretty sure my fascination with including special guests in a show started with Scooby Doo. I will never forget the episode with The Harlem Globetrotters. Although Scooby Doo only aired with 24 episodes, this is a trend that started in cartoons.
The list of people on The Simpsons is filled with everyone from celebrities to scientists, athletes to comedians. I think that I learned a lot about being around different people growing up. My parents and grandparents always had a unique mixture of friends and family. They always worked pretty hard to get us around different people.
I will never forget the time that my Dad had a friend of his take us back to our mom. He was a younger guy who drove a Monte Carlo, he was seemingly pretty normal, except for one really horribly awful habit. He drove laid back in his seat with his bare left foot hanging out the window. He was a really fun guy, but I never could understand that. One other thing that was different for me was that he really liked to build stuff in his apartment, again not strange, but his building materials were old Coors Light cans. That was the interesting part.
My grandfather had a couple interesting friends, but I was intrigued most by his friend Chet Fisher. Chet was one of only a few African Americans in his small town. Chet reminded me of Bo Diddley who was famous to me for singing Sixteen Tons. Chet visited at least once a week to chat and to come in and make some trades. Grandpa traded him for so many different things, a Ruger pistol, many guitars, appliances, and tools. Chet was always a kind and considerate person. He was a local celebrity, but we found out as time went on that his daughter was a pretty famous traveling singer. My grandpa showed me that people are not as different as we sometimes think, and for me growing up in 78% caucasian state this was helpful.
As a young pastor, I met John Brookfield who was an evangelist and strongman. I had him come and speak to our students and we struck up a friendship. Over the following years, I helped produce a lot of different videos to help him teach others how to have amazing hand strength. John was on numerous tv shows including The Today Show, Regis and Kathie Lee, he is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not holder, and has some pretty amazing feats of strength. John had followed his dreams and for a long time. He is the picture of perseverance for me. He is still doing it all these years later.
It is important to have varying, different people in your life. They will help you dream, learn, and sometimes loosen up a little bit to accomplish something you thought you never could.
Growing up, we had a hall closet that greeted you as soon as you entered the door. It was used for coats, board games, and holiday decorations. I remember feeling excitement, for every season that we would take out the decorations for each of the different seasons. It was like this closet held a lot of our traditions in one place.
The Simpsons have always been good at this. Opening nearly every show with the Simpsons sitting on the couch together. Every Halloween there is a Treehouse of Horror episode for Halloween. There are a few Thanksgiving episodes, St. Patrick’s Day, and Christmas episodes.
They started The Simpsons with traditions, not just because it is a family show, but because I think they believed that this show was going to be going for awhile.
Tradition is important to kids and should be to adults as well. My Grandma Lois always made every holiday so special for us. She worked at a Pharmacy that also was a Hallmark store, so she scored some pretty amazing decorations. She loved to dress up on Halloween and even was the Hallmark Bunny for Easter a few times.
I remember her hosting a lot of different events for the whole family. One of my favorite events was when we would celebrate New Year’s Eve, we would play board games, bingo, and invited our Great-Grandmother Bessie over to celebrate. We would have sparkling cider and would toast at midnight.
I have always tried to build a sense of of tradition into my classroom as a teacher, but I will say without having kids, it is more of a struggle to want to do traditional things at home. We have traditions as a couple, but they increasingly have less and less to do with over doing it, as my Grandma used to do for us.
Tradition is important, but more important is showing everyone in your family that you love them, no matter how you do it. The love is ultimately she left us, not the traditions. I suspect that this love is what Homer and Marge wanted to show in their traditions as well.
I found out what death was when my parakeet died in 4th grade. I think it was 4th grade. It might have been earlier. But the bird did die. I walked out on a weekend morning to his living room cage. He was on the floor of the cage with his wings splayed out. He chirped twice and fell over. I called my mom. I ran to my room. I buried my face in my bed. She came to tell me he was dead. I cried, but not so much for the bird as for what slippery thing he’d invited into our house. When Death comes, it never goes away.
After Beak – that was his name, the parakeet – we rushed out and got a cockatiel named ‘Tealy.’ I loved Tealy. He was bright and neurotic. He sang love songs to his…
I fell in love Santa’s Little Helper, Snowball II and Snowball when they were introduced into the show. At first it was a little scary considering that Bart could do any manner of things to the animals. Santa’s Little Helper showed up in the very first Simpsons episode. He was the slowest greyhound at the tracks and his owner abandoned him. Bart and Homer were at the the track to earn some money for Christmas presents, but adopted him instead.
Over the course of our marriage we have adopted four animals. They each provided us with different blessings and unique challenges. They helped us to have so much joy and we also briefly experienced sorrow with them. Our current rescue is our American Labrador, Shady.
He is the embodiment of love and loyalty. The Simpsons taught me that life is better with pets. I am not sure how anyone lives without a pet. Since growing up, we have always had a cat or dog around the house. I love to walk him every day, besides the rainy and cold days. Shady helps me to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. He loves people much more than I do, in fact, he gets more excited about people coming to our house than about anything else.
Pets have taught me to be more hospitable to strangers and to pause at times and breathe In everything going on. Are pets a lot of work? Yes, of course so, but I think he is worth every minute of my time. Consider going to your local rescue to help out a pet in need. They might teach you a lot about yourself and make you a better human being.
Buber’s philosophy has often made me realize how important it is to remember that when another human being is serving me at a restaurant or cash register to remember to tip them well and acknowledge them.
When I was sixteen years old, I worked in a Potbelly’s in Wichita, KS. It was a massively popular breakfast spot that would pack out its dining area regularly. I was a clumsy bus boy, trying to pay for my gas and insurance on my El Camino. I was not extremely fast at my job, but I tried to be careful. One day, a large group of bikers came to eat in our restaurant after doing a local Toys for Tots run. They were all decked out in leather, patches, and chains. I was intimidated a bit.
I sat a tub full of glasses on a table nearby them and it was not balanced well. The glasses came down breaking around their boots. The broken glass surrounded them. I felt like such an idiot, but they were gracious and allowed me to clean it all up. They even left me a tip that day. I don’t think I will ever forget that. They showed me that they knew what it was like to be human and really saw me.
I try to think of this moment often when I am around other people who do not know me, I want to be the kind of person who would tip when glass was broken all around me. I want others to know I see them and accept them in their humanity.