The Author

The Television Generation

I am a part of the television generation. I can still remember the delivery of the first television to our house. Black and white with a screen smaller than most computer screens today, it was a source of periodic fascination since our town only got one station and my father controlled the on/off switch. We watched what he wanted to watch when he wanted to watch, which usually meant “I’ve Got A Secret” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

When I was in the third grade, Fred Lowery came to our school to present an assembly in the cafetorium (if you’re of a certain generation, you know what those words mean). Blind and dependent on a cane, Fred, as he insisted we call him, could whistle like a bird. As he concluded his program, he said, “This last one, you might hear me whistle every week on television.” My classmates and I exploded in applause as we recognized the theme from “The Andy Griffith Show.” He was whistling the theme song of our generation.

Andy Griffith died this past week. When I heard the news, I had to put aside what I was doing for a few moments to mourn. The reports detailed his skills as an actor, musician, and businessman. They admitted that his was a more complicated life than seen on the screen as he dealt off-stage with various illnesses and multiple marriages.

While all of that matters and none of it is surprising, it pales in comparison to the reality that played itself out on the screen. On the screen was where I knew him. There, he was a calm in the storm, wisdom in chaos, funny but never silly, strong but not a bully, willing to admit when he was wrong. He took his family to church on Sundays and on Sunday afternoons, he and Barney would sit on the front porch and sing hymns. He was the kind of dad most of us wanted and wanted to be.

As I’ve gotten a little distance from the news, I have had opportunity to reflect on what I mourned. It’s not like I won’t see Andy again, because I can always find a re-run of the show on one of those thousands of cable channels now available. I’m also not mourning the loss of my illusions about the simplicity of life – simplicity died for me the day my dad died when I was seven years old. I suppose what I mourn is how far short my generation (and others, too) have fallen short of those ideals reflected in an imaginary sheriff in an imaginary town. I suspect that I mourn that life has become so complicated that none of us seems to know how to fix it.

In the midst of the mourning for my generation, however, it occurs to me that there just might be a solution. It might take a while, and things will get complicated along the way, but a few more Sundays in church and a few more hymns sung, would be a good place to start.

If You'll Stop Talking

I mentioned in a sermon recently that one of the trees in our backyard is sick. This is no ordinary tree, but one that Ellen and I had purchased a couple of years ago as an anniversary present to each other. A bur oak, it had been touted as a great tree for this part of the world – hardy, disease-resistant, long-lived. We had even driven up to a tree farm north of Frisco to choose it from all the other trees on the farm. We were dismayed when this previously healthy tree with nice green leaves suddenly began to drop them by the droves. In a matter of days, only a few sickly ones were still holding on.

We called a tree doctor and both of us met her at the house. Her diagnosis was that it was heat stress from the previous summer, the one that had placed all of Texas in drought. Because it had made the tree vulnerable to disease, it needed treatment. Chances of survival were 50/50. If we could encourage the buds that were still green, it had a chance. I was feeling a little guilty because watering the tree was my responsibility. I thought I had done a good job, but maybe not. We signed up for the treatment.

A crew showed up late on a Saturday afternoon. They snaked a long hose attached to a tank in the back of the pickup across the yard. Because the tree doc had noticed that the other trees needed some help, we had agreed to have them all sprayed. For well over an hour, they sprayed, injected, and laid hands on our shade.

Early on in the process, I wandered the yard with the crew chief. He pointed out all the things that were wrong with the trees: fire blight, leaf scald, anthracnose, even some kind of beetle that was enjoying a hearty meal at our expense. “Wow,” I said. “All this because I may not have put enough water on one tree?” “Nah. Water’s not the only problem. Drought, a mild winter that didn’t kill the bugs, stuff blowin’ through the air. Water’s not going to cure all those problems.”

I wanted to know if the bur oak would survive. He grinned at me and said, “If you’ll stop talking and let me do my job, it will.” I went in the house, chastened and relieved. Chastened that there was a lot more wrong than I knew or could do anything about. Relieved that there was someone at work who not only knew the problems, but also knew how to fix them.

The tree is beginning to show some new life. It has some to go before it’s completely well, but it’s safe to say that it is no longer sick. There may be some more treatments before all is said and done.That’s okay; I know what that’s like. After all, God’s not through with me yet either. I’m just glad He knows what He is doing. Now if I’ll just be quiet and let Him do it.

Bird Houses

I have an old pair of shoes in the garage that I use as my lawn mowing shoes. They are perfect for the job since they don’t easily show dirt, wear like iron, and, as slip-ons, can be put on and removed quickly. I keep them on a shelf just outside the door for quick retrieval.

Early one evening last week, I walked into the garage to begin the mowing ritual. When I reached for the shoes I saw a piece of grass sticking out of one of them. Thinking nothing of it – grass gets on your shoes when you mow – I started to slip it on. That’s when I discovered that there was more than a blade of grass in the shoe. There was more grass, leaves, and a few small sticks. Looking at the other shoe, the same stuffing was in it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that in the few days between mowings, some birds had decided that they needed those shoes more than I did. They had begun to build nests in my shoes.

I hope that you are comforted that I did not immediately pull the debris out without a second’s thought. I considered my options, which quickly narrowed to two. I could abandon the shoes to the new tenants, allowing them the opportunity to move in lock, stock, and barrel, taking up residence in a smelly hotel. This choice would require that I find new mowing shoes while sharing the garage with new tenants. Or, I could evict these feathered squatters, leave them to find other quarters, and move on with my job.

The decision wasn’t immediate, but it didn’t take me long. Birds have nests, foxes have holes, and I needed those shoes to mow my lawn. Besides, every yard, including mine, has trees with plenty of branches for nests. Blue skies and fresh breezes are a much nicer environment than a closed garage. I pulled out the nests.

I checked the shoes again yesterday. They had begun building nests once more. I confess a certain amount of admiration for their perseverance. Trouble is, they won’t win. Or at least, I don’t think they will. But you never can tell. They might just keep on seeking, knocking, building until I say, “Well done. You want it so much, you can have it.” Know what I mean?

Late Bloomers

I planted some Hostas in a flower bed recently. They had begun life with me as a sack of three bulbs that cried out to me from a display case in a home improvement store. Wandering through the store on a Saturday morning, I had already rejected buying one plant in a pot for about six bucks when I saw that I could buy three potential plants for the same price. Running the risk of my green thumb turning black, I took them home.

Rummaging around in the garage, I found three plastic pots and some year-old potting soil that our son had used in his great pepper-growing experiment of last summer. Thinking that, at the very least, it would add a little spice to their lives, I followed the instructions on the bag for planting, stuck them in the soil, added water, and stood back to watch them grow. Days passed, then a week, finally after almost two, I began to see some green pushing itself up through the dirt. Like a proud papa, I encouraged the two pots that were showing growth while reprimanding the one that showed nothing at all.

While the first two pots were making me proud, the third was running the risk of judgment. As the others made progress every day, that one showed nothing that would redeem it from being tossed out underfoot until, one day, I noticed the slightest hint of a leaf beginning to struggle to the top. Excitedly, I dug around in the dirt, gave it some breathing room, and waited for a growth spurt. The most it was willing to put on was a couple more small leaves.

I waited as long as I could to move them from the pots to the ground. Finally, fearful that the season was getting away from me, all three went into the ground. The first two continued to prosper while the third languished. While I had applied the same amount of effort to each one, one was obviously a dawdler. Until today.

Before coming to the church today, I walked out to check on the plants. The first two continue in their merry way. But the third, the one that I was ready to give up on, has seemingly changed overnight. What was a straggler has become a star, thriving, producing leaves, shining in a way that the others simply do not.

All along, something was going on with that plant that I could not see; change was occurring underneath the surface in a way that was preparing it to become beautiful. I have to admit a little guilt. Making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, I was ready to quit because I couldn’t see what was going on beneath the surface. Sometimes I do that with myself. Sometimes I do that with other people. Sometimes you do, too. I’m just glad God doesn’t. Aren’t you?

The Pecan Tree

I grew up around pecan trees, even earning a little money as a teenager by “thrashing pecans.” While there are more sophisticated methods than we used, there is something exhilarating about shinnying as far as possible up a tree and swaying the branches back and forth as hard as possible to force the tree to drop its fruit. Because of its deep tap root, the pecan is far more forgiving of such an insult than a tree that sends roots wide rather than deep. The old wives’ tale was that the tap root of a pecan was as deep as the tree was tall. Although that’s not true, a root usually ten feet deep into the ground will withstand the swaying of a skinny teenager.

I thought of that recently when we experienced some problems with the pecan that has shaded our church playground for as long as most of us can remember. The tree sits in the middle of the play area, giving cool relief to adult and child alike. Almost a year ago, lightning struck the tree about two-thirds the way up the trunk, leaving a wide gash in its wake. Some of the upper limbs fell, and those that didn’t began to drop leaves.

The old tree managed to survive the brutal heat of last summer but it really began to show its age this spring. When other trees began to leaf out, the pecan was hesitant. Even when other pecans began to show buds, the damaged one held back. We decided that the tree had died, that its service had ended. We called an arborist to cut it down.

I wasn’t paying much attention to them when they came to work on the pecan and an old hackberry that bordered one of our parking lots. I did notice that the workers quickly dispatched the hackberry, but seemed to be taking longer with the pecan. When I walked out to check on the progress, I saw one of the workers swaying in the top of the tree, performing surgery on upper limbs, cutting away dead wood, declaring to everyone that, with just a little help, that old tree would live.

And it does. A little beat up, scarred, deformed by the loss of some limbs, but alive. The leaves have come out and, given time, new branches will form. Before too long, the shade will return for another generation. It wouldn’t even surprise me if, one day, some skinny teenager climbs up there to harvest a little fruit. I guess that’s what happens when the root runs deep. With deep roots, you can withstand all kinds of storms to live and bear fruit another day.

Let those who have ears, hear.

The Open Door

Last evening, I went into the garage to make sure that the door was down when I was dive-bombed by something that swooshed by my right ear. After my heart started beating again, I looked around to see if I could find the culprit. Finally, my eyes rested on a little brown bird that had taken refuge on a shelf that ran along the top of the garage wall. It looked more like a wren than a sparrow, though, mostly it looked frightened.

I tried all kinds of words to get it to fly its perch. “Come on, get out of here.” “All right, fun’s over, it’s time to go.” “Hurry up, I’ve got things to do.” “I’m not gonna wait all day; I’ve got to close the door.” Either the bird was deaf or doesn’t speak English. At any rate, I was left with a dilemma.

Should I close the door on him or leave it open all night on the chance that he might fly to freedom? It wasn’t an easy decision. Coop him up in the garage and all kinds of things might happen. Birds can leave a mess, if you know what I mean. If I left the door open, I left myself open to all kinds of possibilities. The bird could fly away, but all kinds of other things could come in. While we live in a safe neighborhood, there are animals that wander the night. There was also the possibility that a predator of the two-footed variety might decide to make a visit. I stood there for awhile, still cajoling the bird before I finally decided to leave the door open.

When I went to check this morning, the bird was gone. Sometime during the night, or perhaps as soon as I went back into the house, he had seized the opportunity of the open door. As I looked around to find that everything else was safe, I knew I had made the right decision.

I am reminded of a vision that John has in his Revelation. He sees Jesus standing at the door of a church’s – could just as easily be a person’s – life. In the vision Jesus says, “Look, I am standing at the door and I am knocking. Open the door, and see what happens.” (Rev. 3:20 paraphrase). It’s the test of the open door. A risk is always present. Open the door and all kinds of things might happen, some of them maybe even a little messy. But, there’s always the possibility that we open the door and we are set free.

Blessings, Sam