Remembering Dr. King

Next Monday, we will observe the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Personally, I have long been an admirer of Dr. King – he consistently stood for justice, for peace, and for non-violence. He believed in the Kingdom of God, and he believed that Christians, regardless of color, ought to do all they can to create outposts and colonies of God’s Kingdom here on earth – to create what he called “beloved community.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was in graduate school, I did a project on Dr. King’s rhetorical skills, looking at the way he was able to take traditional black preaching styles – with the use of Biblical storytelling, rhythmic phrasing, and uplifting hopefulness – and combine that with the best of white preaching styles, with its rhetorical structure and its use of logic and Aristotelian reasoning. The result was preaching which communicated to both white and black audiences. In the process, I read just about everything that Dr. King ever said or wrote. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from him.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”? Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God.”? And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? … Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The time is always right to do right.

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

Goals for the New Year

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? As we embark on 2023, it’s traditional for many people that they set some goals for themselves – things that they want to work on in the coming months. Whether we call them resolutions or goals or setting a personal agenda, I think it’s a worthy thing to do, so with your kind permission, I’d like to offer some thoughts on self-improvement for the coming year.

Practice Kindness. Did you see the news story the other day out of Buffalo, New York? During that region’s terrible Christmas winter storm, a mentally disabled 64-year-old man named Joey became disoriented and wandered out into the weather. He walked for miles, lost, and was just moments away from dying from hypothermia when a lady named Sha’Kyra heard him crying outside her home. She and her family – total strangers to this man, mind you – took him in and cared for him. She used a blow dryer to thaw out his clothes, which had frozen to his body. Sha’Kyra is a nurse, and she cared for Joey as best she could. His hands were so frozen that his rescuers literally had to cut away his gloves. She bathed him, cared for him, fed him, kept him warm and safe, and let him sleep until they were able to find his family, who had been frantically looking for him in the blizzard.

But the family couldn’t drive over there, because of the storm. Ambulances couldn’t get to them, and 911 was swamped, so Nurse Sha’Kyra and the man’s sister Yvonne used social media to organize neighbors, who in turn showed up – on Christmas Day! – with snowblowers and shovels to dig out their vehicles. Then Sha’Kyra and the neighbors transported Joey to the hospital. At last report, Joey is still in the hospital, recovering from fourth-degree frostbite. He may yet lose some fingers, but he’s alive, thanks to the kindness of one woman who was willing to go out of her way to help a stranger.

Granted, this is an extreme example, but I think the truth is inescapable: each of us can make a big difference in someone else’s life through a simple act of kindness. Whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances, let us be willing to be a Sha’Kyra to someone around us.

Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt. There’s probably a certain level of suspicion that is necessary – even healthy. But it seems to me that too many of us have become cynical in the extreme, unwilling to listen to anyone with a different point of view, and even doubting their goodness and basic humanity. There was a time in this country when we might disagree with others about their ideas or public policy, but we still respected them as people. But those days seem like a distant and unreachable memory. Now, when we disagree, we often feel the need to attack opponents personally, to call them evil and question their decency.

Certainly, we need to be able to debate and discuss many policy issues, but we should start by acknowledging that both sides want what is best for the country – they just have different ideas for how to accomplish that. Republicans, Democrats, Independents: everyone needs to quit playing political “gotcha” and work together for the common good.

I saw an excellent example of that just the other day at our own county commissioners meeting, as the incoming and outgoing commissioners calmly sat together before the meeting and discussed an issue relating to their precinct. No drama, no histrionics – just two good men, who both wanted what was best for the residents of that part of the county, and both doing their best to work for that. It made me proud of our local government – and a little bit sad that others in state and national government don’t show the same kind of unselfishness and good sense.

Learn Something New. It’s easy to fall into a rut – it’s much harder to try something different. I’m suggesting that it’s worth the effort to do just that. Read a new book. Learn to cook. Explore a new hobby. Plant a garden. Take up woodworking. Go for a walk. Be willing to explore the new and try the unfamiliar. Develop curiosity and put it into practice. When we challenge ourselves like that, it keeps our minds fresh and provides us with opportunities to make new friends and discover things we never knew.

Too many of us are too willing to settle for things as they are and always have been. Remember, there was a time when everything we enjoy was new to us, untried and unfamiliar. Let’s be willing to break out of our routines. Remember, if you want something you’ve never had, you have to be willing to try something you’ve never tried.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a blessed and safe 2023 for us all.

The Most Neglected Fruit of the Spirit

About a year ago, I wrote an article about the lost art of being kind to others. Since then, it seems that kindness has become even more rare. There is a large (and apparently growing) branch of Christianity that has decided that being considerate of other people is too “woke” for them to be bothered by trying to live it out.

Is “mean-spirited-ness” a real word? Probably not, but it ought to be, because that seems to be the guiding principle that so many are living by these days. Far too many of our political leaders are engaged in vilifying others to score cheap points with their “base.” It has become all about winning and gaining political power, to the extent that showing concern for others – demonstrating kindness and compassion – is now considered “weak” or “unmasculine” or somehow wrong.

Jesus told us – very plainly – that it was how we demonstrated love to one another, that would be the hallmark to tell the world that we were His disciples (John 13:35). The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, let us be kind to everyone, especially those in the household of faith.” And earlier in that same letter, when the apostle was listing the nine qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit, he listed “kindness” as one of those things. Don’t take my word for it; you can look it up – Galatians 5:22-23.

This call to kindness isn’t limited to the New Testament. Hundreds of years before Jesus lived, the prophet Micah said, “Practice justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Thinking about Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit helps me realize this is not necessarily a new problem. The nine characteristics that he mentions – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – have never been easy. Yet many church-goers today seem perfectly content to simply ignore these qualities of true Christian maturity and behavior, while they’re engaged in the very kind of legalism and judgmental attitudes that Jesus so often condemned.

Kindness means being willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of others. One of the most famous stories that Jesus ever told was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. To really “get” that story, you have to understand how much the good, religious people of Jesus’ day HATED the Samaritans. The Samaritans were the bad guys. They were the ones who robbed and cheated others. They were the villains. Yet when Jesus was asked to explain what does love for neighbors really look like, it was not the religious leaders in the story who showed kindness to the wounded traveler – it was the Samaritan.

In other words, Jesus was saying, look around you. Who needs to see some kindness? Then He commands, “Go and do that.” It seems to me that He went out of His way to tell us that we should be kind to others, and not merely to those we already know or love, and especially not only to those who are able to pay us back. He told us specifically to invite to dinner those who COULDN’T pay us back. He calls us to set an example of kindness and grace to everyone.

The problem with showing kindness is that, by its very nature, it doesn’t call attention to itself; it’s more concerned with serving others than in tooting its own horn. And in our self-promoting, selfie-obsessed culture, most of us simply don’t think of how to serve others. We’re too busy, or they’re too different. Maybe they don’t look like us; maybe they don’t talk like us. Maybe they have made some mistakes or are living a lifestyle that we don’t agree with. But they are still neighbors, created in the image of God, and still in need of kindness.

Caring about others – putting the needs of others first – is a learned behavior, and contrary to human nature. It’s an act of discipleship that follows in the self-sacrificing steps of our Lord. Maybe that’s why it’s so rare. But it’s how we show kindness to the helpless, to the weak, to the marginalized, and the disenfranchised, that really counts. Jesus is still looking for disciples who will walk as He walked, and live as He lived. That includes showing kindness to all. Especially those who don’t deserve it.

A Visit to the Hospital

I went out to Haskell Memorial Hospital the other day. I didn’t go as a patient or to receive treatment of some kind, although I have done that before. And thankfully, I wasn’t going to see a sick or injured loved one, although I have certainly done that plenty of times as well. No, this time I went at the invitation of senior hospital management, to take a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the facility and to visit with some key staff members about what working at the eighty-plus-year-old institution is like, and what some of the rewards and challenges are that come from working at the community hospital.

Haskell Memorial Hospital was originally opened in 1939, with funding from a local bond election and a federal PWA grant.

First, a little background. In 1936, Haskell County Commissioners applied for a federal grant from the Public Works Administration to help fund a county hospital. While that paperwork was still working its way through the government red tape, county voters approved a $60,000 bond issue. That was on July 7, 1937 – a remarkable demonstration of vision and forward-thinking community spirit, considering that the country was still in the middle of the Great Depression.

Ground was broken for the new facility on March 9, 1938. Then finally, on June 22, 1938, the county was notified that the grant application had been approved. Construction on the expanded plans continued with a new budget of approximately $100,000, and the hospital opened on October 23, 1939. It was described in the Haskell Free Press as “one of the most modern and up-to-date hospitals in West Texas.” Ex­tensions and new wings were opened in 1952, 1972, and 2015. Unfortunately, the facility is now considered “landlocked,” and cannot be expanded further.

(By the way – were you born at Haskell Memorial? We’re trying to find the oldest person still living in the county who was born at this hospital. If you or someone you know arrived in the old maternity ward in 1939 or 1940, please email or call me ­– haskellstarnews@gmail.com, or 940-864-2810.)

Current Chief Executive Officer Michelle Stevens says that through all the years of its history, the hospital’s mission and purpose have remained consistent. “We are here to serve the community,” she says. “It is absolutely vital that the hospital continues to be available. Most of the patients that we see come from Haskell and all the communities across the county, as well as those from about 45 minutes out in every direction. We are also one of the largest employers in the county, so that is another major benefit.”

Chief Operating Officer – and Rochester native – Mary Belle Olson is proud of the many services that the hospital provides. “If someone needs an MRI or a CT scan, we can do that, right here. We can usually get them in for that procedure within the next day. It’s a lot better than having to wait for weeks for an appointment, then having to drive somewhere.”

I spoke with Louis Enriquez, the hospital’s Chief of Maintenance. He told me that one of the biggest problems they face is the old plumbing and sewer system. “It’s 1939 plumbing,” he said. “Every pipe is old cast iron, and a lot of them have cracks, especially the sewer pipes. They’re all 2” to 4” in size, and a flood is coming – we just don’t know when. It’s going to be a major expense when it fails.” He said the electrical conduits are also a problem. “They’re all very over-stuffed with wires. We really don’t have room to add anything else.” He noted that the concrete walls also make infrastructure repair and replacement a constant headache, and that the basement – where many of the records are kept – often floods following a heavy rain.

Chief Nursing Officer Tammy Mason pointed out that the patient rooms were in serious need of improvements, that most of the rooms did not even have a toilet, and that those that did had doors that were too narrow for a wheelchair or walker to get through. “We are so far out of ADA compliance,” she said, “and if we start trying to fix one thing, we have to bring the entire facility up to date.” She also noted that the rooms are too small for needed equipment and personnel when a patient “codes” and needs resuscitation. Assistant CNO Meghan Shelton added that a more centralized nurses’ station with better access to the ER would also be helpful in managing patient care.

But Nurse Mason also added that she loves being at the Haskell hospital. “We’re a smaller hospital, and I like that we are a lot more family oriented.”

And CEO Ms. Stevens summed up the sentiment that I heard from several hospital staffers. “We have really good people, providing really good care, and we are so much more than just a ‘band-aid station.’ We absolutely want to do as much as we can for someone right here,” she added, “without having to send them somewhere else.”

The USS Haskell – A Little-Known Story of World War II

It has been said that there are numerous acts of heroism, bravery, and service during a war that are seldom remembered or celebrated as they should be. In my opinion, one such story is that of the USS Haskell, and the Haskell County sailor who served on her.

USS Haskell, APA 117, was the lead ship of a class of vessels known as “attack transports,” one of 119 ships of that designation, built and launched in 1944 and 45. Designed to carry troops into battle, most of these ships were named for counties across the U.S.

The Haskell was named for counties in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. She was 455 feet long and 62 feet wide, with a maximum speed of 17 knots (about 20 miles per hour). Her crew consisted of 56 officers and 480 enlisted men. Besides being able to carry over 1500 combat troops and their equipment, the ship had 29 landing craft for deploying them on the beach. She was also armed with numerous anti-aircraft weapons and had a complete hospital on board.

The USS Haskell, APA 117, docked at San Francisco Bay, 1945.

The Haskell was launched June 13, 1944, and commissioned September 11. She arrived in San Francisco on October 18 and began loading troops and supplies. She crossed the equator and the International Date Line before participating in the New Guinea offensive.

Throughout 1945, she repeatedly carried troops and supplies to assault enemy-held beaches. She was attacked three times by enemy submarines and survived their torpedo attacks, and came under fire in numerous air attacks. She shot down her first enemy aircraft on January 11. She participated in two hostile landings in the Philippines and another at Okinawa, where she also served as a hospital ship. During her combat, the Haskell suffered one fatality and 28 wounded.

The Haskell was in friendly waters in Seattle on August 12, when “V-J Day” was announced, but her service was not over. The ship began ferrying replacement personnel and occupation forces across the Pacific and bringing home demobilized troops. During one of these missions, the Haskell had to ride out a violent typhoon, with winds of 185 mph. She also brought over 1,400 released Allied POWs to Manila for further medical care before returning to the U.S. The ship made two more trips across the Pacific as part of “Operation Magic Carpet” before being ordered to sail for Norfolk, Virginia, via the Panama Canal. She arrived in Virginia and was decommissioned on May 22, 1946. She became part of the Reserve Fleet but was eventually scrapped on July 30, 1973. During her service, the Haskell sailed over 120,000 miles, crossed the equator four times and the International Date Line ten times. She visited more than 15 foreign countries and transported and/or landed over 14,000 allied military personnel on enemy beaches.

Serving on the Haskell during her entire tenure was a young man from Rochester, Leroy Wreyford, the son of Lawrence and Hattie Mae (Hester) Wreyford. The Wreyfords had a laundry just east of town on the Weinert Highway and were the parents of three sons and a daughter – Alton, Leroy, Donald, and Georgia – and all of the boys served in the war. Lee was born May 7, 1926.

He graduated from Rochester High in 1943 and joined the Navy. Of his service he would later say, “I boarded the USS Haskell, 10 September 1944, as a member of the landing craft crews. I was assigned as one of six to the Beach Control Boat Crew, always landing in the first wave. I remained on the Haskell the entire time she was a commissioned Naval vessel. She covered a lot of miles and did a magnificent job in her short service to her country.”

Seaman 1c Leroy Wreyford, USNR, of Rochester.

For his service on the ship, Seaman First Class Wreyford earned the World War II Victory Medal and the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon with Bronze Star, given for “outstanding heroism in action against the enemy.” He also earned the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, and the Philippines Liberation Medal with Bronze Star. He died on December 26, 2020.

So that’s the story of the USS Haskell, her service to our country, and the Rochester man who served aboard her. Many thanks to all those who helped me research and bring it to you, including Johnny & Teresa Scoggins, Billy Wayne Hester, Linda Short, Jane Short, Susan Turner, John & Mary Rike, and of course, the wonderful ladies at the Haskell County Library.

“…Lest we forget.”

Some Thoughts on Small Town Living

My wife and I first moved to Haskell in July 1980, and for 17 of the next 26 years, I served as the minister of the First Christian Church – 1980-82, 1986-92, and 1997-2006. A few years ago I moved back to my Southeast Texas roots, to live in Orange County with my dad as his caregiver. After he passed in December 2018, Kathy and I talked about it and decided that we wanted to move back to Haskell, so we bought a home here and returned during the summer of 2019.

All of that to say, we love Haskell and the many wonderful friends we’ve made here. Three of our kids were born here, and two of them graduated from Haskell County schools. I have known members of the same family for six generations and have performed second, and in some cases, even third generation weddings, funerals and baptisms. That’s rare and special for a pastor these days.

I enjoy the rhythm of life in our small town – the “regularness” of it, the familiarity of it all. I appreciate the traditions of life here, from Wild Horse Prairie Days to Friday Night Lights and how folks who haven’t had a family member playing high school football in 40 years are still holding on to their season tickets. I love our annual Lighted Christmas Parade and the Easter Egg Hunt at City Park. All of these things, and many, many more, are all part of what makes life good in Haskell.

And of course, the friendships – the wonderful relationships with people that we walk through life with. You see them at their best, you see them at their worst, and everything in between. We visit with them at Modern Way and at the post office. From weddings and funerals to the birth of babies and grandbabies and high school graduation – fiftieth anniversaries and backyard BBQs and quinceañeras – towns like Haskell are where life happens, and it’s where the people are who matter the most to us.

Other towns around the area are all also nice, each in its own unique and special way. Stamford has the Cowboy Reunion, and Rochester has its Trade Days. I have friends in just about every community around here, and I cherish all of those relationships. They help make life worth living, and they are a big part of why Kathy and I decided to buy a place and settle here. For better or worse, we have “adopted” Haskell, and it is our intention to stay. You’re stuck with us.

However, as much as I love Haskell – and I REALLY do! – there are things about our town that make me crazy. And so with all humility, I offer some thoughts about a few areas of concern I have.

At the top of the list would have to be people who are automatically opposed to anything new or different. This attitude is especially prevalent in churches, but we find it everywhere. “We’ve never done it that way before.” Just because something is new or untried doesn’t make it wonderful, of course, but just because something is old and familiar doesn’t automatically make it the best, either. Every item that we use every day – automobiles, electric lights, telephones, running water, and more – were all once new and untried. Rather than rejecting a new idea simply because it is new, we ought to be willing to at least listen and consider some fresh ideas and different approaches to problem-solving.

Closely related is the issue of being afraid or suspicious of “new” people moving into town. Yes, Haskell is a tightly-knit community with shared values and a common heritage, but that shouldn’t mean that we hate and fear all “outsiders” who come here. We all have a lot of friends and loved ones buried in Willow Cemetery, but we can’t be so devoted to honoring the dead that we neglect the next generation. Yes, we should cherish the memory of our grandparents – but we also need to make a way for our grandchildren. And sometimes, that means being willing to meet and listen to new people and hearing their thoughts.

One final concern is that sometimes, we are much too concerned with the past and not enough with the future. Have you ever noticed the size of your car’s windshield, compared to the rearview mirror? That’s because when you’re driving, you should be much more focused on where you’re going, as opposed to where you’ve been. We must absolutely have pride in our past – but we also need to have faith in the future.

I love Haskell and I’m very proud to be here. All I’m saying is, working together, we can make it better.

A Good Habit for Life

There are some habits that nearly all of us agree are good things to do on a daily, or at least a regular, basis. We may not always DO them, but we agree that they’re good ideas. Making your bed every morning, for example. Flossing your teeth. Eating a healthy diet.

And I would add, donating blood.

I started donating blood when I was 19 and in college. (More about that in a bit.) In the years following, I made a total of 80 donations – that’s five gallons of blood. But after achieving that milestone, I decided I had done enough, and somebody else could take over. I’m not sure why I came to that conclusion. I guess I felt like I had done my part, and it could now be someone’s turn. Or maybe I was busy that day, or that five gallons was a nice accomplishment – got my name on a plaque! – so now, let that be someone else’s problem.

Except that’s not how life works. I believe we all have a lifelong responsibility to be good citizens, to be good neighbors, and to do all we can to help others. And as far as I am concerned, that means being a blood donor, so I have resumed my old habit.

Giving blood usually takes about 45 minutes. It is absolutely safe. You will be asked a few basic questions about your overall health and how you are feeling. They’ll check your temperature, your blood pressure, your weight. You’ll be asked about any prescriptions you take, your travel history, and a few questions of a personal nature – but they ask only to make sure your blood is safe to give to anyone (even a little child), and ALL of your answers are kept strictly confidential.

The American Red Cross says that about 6.8 million people give blood every year, totaling up to 13.6 million units. The fact is, someone – men, women, boys, girls, infants and the elderly, cancer patients and trauma victims – someone in this country needs blood every two seconds. A typical transfusion of red blood cells requires three units of blood, and a single car accident victim can require as much as a hundred units. Burn patients often need a lot of blood, as do victims of Sickle Cell Disease and other chronic illnesses. It has been estimated that one donation of blood can save as many as three lives.

Who can give? Just about everyone. You have to be at least 16 years of age in good overall health and weigh at least 110 pounds. As for myself, I’m 65 and a Type 2 Diabetic, but even with the meds I take to keep my blood sugar in control, it didn’t disqualify me. And I got a nice T-shirt as a bonus!

There are some common-sense precautions. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re anemic, if you have a cold or other illness, don’t try to donate – wait until you’re better. Be sure to eat a good meal before, and maybe even have a little light snack just after. Drink plenty of fluids and keep the bandage on tightly for several hours. Don’t try to get up too quickly after the donation – take it easy for a few minutes and let your system adjust before you try to move too quickly. Take it from a five-gallon donor: you’ll be fine.

So my first time giving blood? It was the summer of 1976, and I was working as a ministry intern for a church in Jackson, Mississippi. One of the dear old saints in that congregation was in the final stages of her battle against leukemia, and so the senior pastor and I went down to the local hospital, to each give a unit of blood as a “credit” on her account. He was an experienced donor, but I was a “newbie.” When we were finished, he immediately jumped up and began heading for the exit. I (of course) felt that I just had to keep up with him and be as tough as he was, but with every step, I noticed my legs getting more and more wobbly, and an increasingly unpleasant sensation of dizziness. When we got to the front door, the heat and humidity of that Mississippi summer morning hit me in the face and I collapsed. The next the thing I knew, I was in the front seat of Earl’s VW Beetle, and he was asking, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

From that inauspicious beginning, I have now given many more times, and I’m asking you to join me and over six million others and become a blood donor.

Just don’t get up too fast.

A Shot in the Arm

I turned 65 a few days ago, so I celebrated by getting a flu shot. Personally, I’m a big believer in vaccines. That is partly based on the science involved, and partly based on personal and family experience.

Back in the 50s and 60s when I was growing up, there weren’t as many vaccines available as there are now, and I ended up having a number of “childhood diseases.” One of them nearly killed me. When I was in the first grade, I had chicken pox, mumps, and measles, all within a period of a couple of months. It was while I was battling measles that my fever shot up to about 105°. I remember being in bed and “seeing” snakes crawling up and down the wall in my room. I ended up with a terrible kidney infection that put me in the hospital for a week. You can bet that when our kids were little, we made sure they had all their shots.

I also remember being in elementary school and standing in line to get a sugar cube with the polio vaccine on it, and the stories my parents told me about their classmates and cousins, pre-vaccine, who contracted polio and ended up crippled or in an iron lung. A generation before that, it was smallpox. My dad (born in 1928) carried a small round scar on his left shoulder where he received his smallpox inoculation.

Over the years, I have had numerous vaccines. I get a flu shot every year. I used to catch the flu about every other year. It would always make me sick as a big dog, and it seemed to be a month or six weeks before I was completely over it. So I don’t mess around about it anymore – I just get the shot and am done with it. It may make me feel a little “blah” for a day or two, but that’s a lot better than six weeks.

I have also been blessed to go on a couple of short-term mission trips to Central and South America. There was a long list of shots that I had to get when I was preparing to go to Peru a few years ago. I was in line with several other people for a yellow fever vaccination, and some of the folks were complaining about having to get “so many shots” for such a relatively short trip. The clinic director told us, with a seriousness that I did not mistake, that we would be given a card proving our vaccinated status, and that we needed to keep it with our passports. “Just remember,” she told us, “you don’t have to have that card to leave the country. But you will need it if you want to get back in.”

Today, thank God, we don’t have to worry about smallpox, or polio, or a whole host of other diseases, and it’s because of vaccines. Vaccines for kids do NOT cause autism. That was a rumor that was started back in the 1990s because of a published report by a British surgeon ­– except he had falsified the numbers in his study. He lost his medical license because of that lie, but the rumor persists. And the Covid vaccine does not make you sterile, it doesn’t implant microchips in your body, and it’s not the Mark of the Beast. And no, it’s not perfect, but if you get Covid, the likelihood is that you will have a relatively mild case. And the main side effect of the vaccine is, you don’t die from Covid – about 99.95% of the time.

So please, if you haven’t had yours yet, go get a Covid vaccine. Now that they have approved the booster for Moderna shots, I plan to get mine soon. And while you’re at, you can also get a flu shot – they’re saying that this flu season could be one of the worst in years.

Some people claim that requiring a vaccine somehow impinges on their “personal freedom,” but the truth is, there are all kinds of restrictions that we agree to abide by, in order to live among others as part of a community. You don’t have the “freedom” to drive your vehicle if you’re drunk. You don’t have the freedom to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

When the framers of the United States Constitution were drafting the Preamble to that historic document, part of their purpose, they said, was to “promote the general Welfare.” We need to recognize that we have responsibilities to our neighbors to behave in a way that promotes health and wellness as part of the “general Welfare” of the entire community. And surely that is also included in what Jesus meant when He told us to “love our neighbor.”

Welcome Home, Exes, and Other Random Thoughts

Scatter-shooting while thinking about sports columnist Blackie Sherrod and the great articles he used to write for the Dallas Times Herald

Welcome back to all the Haskell, Mattson, Weinert, and Rochester exes! We are glad you are here and hope you enjoy your visit. No doubt you will notice some new things, here in Haskell and elsewhere – there are several new businesses on the square and around the community, and others that have moved from their familiar locations to new sites (including the Haskell Star offices, now at 112 North Avenue E, and in with the DCOH and the Chamber!). From the football game to the street dance, to the various programs and class activities, we extend best wishes for a safe and enjoyable time with classmates, family and friends. We also pause and remember all those we have lost to Covid and other causes since the last homecoming.

Speaking of football – I love hearing and singing the National Anthem before the start of the games and wish more folks would sing out. I know it’s not an easy tune to carry, but I for one love those lyrics and the true story they tell: how Francis Scott Key was being held on a British warship after negotiating the release of a doctor who had been captured. The Brits were engaged in a fierce naval bombardment of Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore, in preparation for invasion, and Mr. Key was being held on the enemy ship and was literally up and down all night. He was watching by “the rocket’s red glare,” to see if the American flag was still flying over the fort, or if enemy forces had captured it.

By the next morning, at “dawn’s early light,” of course, it became apparent that the fort still held firm – and our flag still flew. Our daughter Brittany lives in Baltimore, and a couple of years ago, we got to visit Fort McHenry. I know we are all proud and thankful to be Americans, so let me encourage us ALL to sing those patriotic words – even if we’re not the best vocalists.

Here’s a tip of my cap to my friend Steve Allen Goen from Wichita Falls. Steve is an authority on Texas railroads and their history; he’s also an author and photographer with several books to his credit. Many of his books are beautiful “coffee table”-style collections of gorgeous color photos of different railroads around Texas. He has just released the third in a new series about railroad passenger trains – and this one will be about the Burlington Route, including the Fort Worth & Denver and the Wichita Valley railroads that served Haskell. And he tells me one chapter in this newest book will be about the Doodlebug that operated between Wichita Falls and Abilene.

I have spoken with folks from the Friends of the Haskell County Library, and they may be able to host an “author’s book-signing” later this year, so Steve could come and sell copies of his new book. Watch this space for more details.

For my birthday, my family took me to a showing of No Time to Die, the new James Bond film. I have enjoyed actor Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. He says this will be his final appearance as the British agent, and if so, it was pretty good.

Maybe that’s an idea for a future column – rating the various Bond movies and the different actors who have portrayed author Ian Fleming’s suave agent. You can start a pretty good argument among fans of the series, wrangling over Sean Connery or Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or perhaps Daniel Craig, as their favorite actor-spy.

I have written before about how much I enjoy sitting on my back porch, watching and listening to all the birds as they fill the trees. It’s still something that I love to do, and especially watching the different species of avian friends who come and go with the changing seasons. Now we have new guests – monarch butterflies. These travelers are making their semi-annual visit to our area, and I love to see them as they fly around. It seems especially appropriate with the colors of the fall season, and this close to Halloween, for them to appear in their orange-and-black markings! And thank You, Lord, for the beauty in all of Your creation.

A Call to Community

According to Genesis 1, as God was creating the universe, He would pause from time to time, examine his work and pronounce that it was “good.” After God created our first parents, he surveyed them, along with everything else he had made and pronounced that it was all “very good.” Then we come to Genesis 2, where the story backs up just a bit and gives us more details about how God created the first humans. When he saw the man alone, it was the first time that God said something was “NOT good,” and so the Creator said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.”

It seems we are hard-wired for relationships. God created us that way, and He has called us to live in community.

That shouldn’t come as a galloping surprise to anyone. God himself exists within a perfect community, a union we understand as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one, living in perfect community within themselves. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let US make humans in our image” – and that “us” is a reference, I believe, to that Divine Community, or if you prefer, to the Trinity. Later, when God gave Israel the “Shema” prayer – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4) – the word translated “one” is the Hebrew word, ekhad. It’s the same word that describes the “one flesh” of husband and wife. One as a union. One as a community.

When God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), it’s important to note that the first commandment begins with, “I AM the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt; you will have no other gods besides me.” Please notice that: the foundation of the entire law was the covenant relationship between God and his people.

God described himself to Moses by saying, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” He was defining who he was, at least in part, by the relationships he had. Throughout the days of the prophets, God was constantly calling his people and inviting them into a closer relationship. Sending Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s desire to be in community with his people. That’s why one of the names by which Jesus is known is “Immanuel” – God with us.

According to Luke 4, when Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he read the scripture from Isaiah 61 about proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, setting captives free, and rebuilding the ancient ruins – all dealing with restoring broken relationships. In Mark 12, when he was asked about the most important commandment, Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The fact is, God has made us so that we need each other. In Romans 14:7, the Apostle Paul says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” We are called to live in community. Indeed, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that God has “committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.” And what is reconciliation, if not a fancy word for rebuilding relationships?

That community sometimes looks different. We are called the “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2), to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” (Rom. 12:15), and to “live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In Revelation 21:2, heaven is described as “The New Jerusalem.” A city. Not a suburb. Not a farm. Not a solitary cabin by a lake somewhere. A city. And city implies neighbors close by, and relationships all around us.

Genuine community is risky. Relationships take a lot of work and can sometimes be messy. But God has reached out to us, and desires to be in relationship with us, and that is precisely the way we are called to reach out to one another.