(This is a repeat of an earlier article that I was asked about so I moved it back up the list)
A recent incident happened the other day between some property owners who have difficulty getting along with each other that reminded me of a childhood memory. The two really don't have much to do with each other but perhaps that's the beauty of the comparison.
Anyway, here goes.
When I was in the Sixth Grade, in 1966, my Dad, the air traffic controller, got transferred to Dodge City, Kansas. It was a town of about 15,000 people. In those days the city was known for the 1960's TV western Gunsmoke
. Gunsmoke was a mandatory watch program at our house and my grandparents house. Marshall Matt Dillon always got his man/woman and as the country western song says, "he never hung his hat at Miss Kitty's place." In other words, he was a gentleman.
There was a lot of conflict in that program between neighbors, ranchers and the bad guys. It always seemed that Marshall Dillon got the upper hand...one way or another....dead or alive. Yep, he was fast on the draw.
So imagine my mental visions as we drove into town. Imagine my disappointment when we got there and I discovered there were no gunfights on Front Street except those staged for the tourists held on the other "Front Street" down the road. You could go into the Longbranch Saloon, belly up to the bar and order....a sarsaparilla? Well when you are 12 years old, it's probably better than "redeye" anyway.
It was also my first attempt at activism. I became a one-person demonstration - sign and all- when I picketed the local newspaper, The Dodge City Globe
but that's another story.
We rented a house in the heart of a very old neighborhood. It was owned by the lady next door who I swear was the old lady Miss Havisham in Great Expectations
. I kept waiting for a young girl by the name of Estella to wander out of the house and call me "Pip." Across the street on one end of the street was the biggest Presbyterian Church a 12 year old ever saw. On the other end of the block was an even bigger Catholic Church. Since neither of these denominations suited my rural Nebraska parents, we drove clear across town to attend the Christian Church. They had a piano in our church, not just an organ so we really rocked! One of my best friends in the whole world for that year anyway, was the Presbyterian minister's son, Tim Birch. His family lived in the parsonage located inside the church . We used to play football inside the sanctuary until the janitor kicked us out and told us to stay off the grass outdoors too.
Tim also taught me that just because your dad is a minister, it doesn't automatically mean that holiness rubs off on the offspring. Tim got me in more trouble than I would care to remember. Tim also had the coolest set of electric trains down in the basement. We spent a lot of time down there so I guess the whole thing evened out. It was kind of a "Leave it to Beaver" type of experience. Until one Sunday morning.
We got up to go to church and and someone had parked in our driveway, not blocking it mind you, actually parked in our driveway. My dad was working and my Mom was determined we would make it to church. Being the sleuth she was, she deduced that the owner of the car was probably attending one of the church services. Since the Presbyterians were out for the day, that left the Catholics. I remember my mother calling the rectory and explaining to the priest our situation and asking that an announcement be made to have the car moved so we could attend church. Seemed simple enough until a guy showed up pounding on our front door. Through the screen he shouted some words that I added to my vocabulary that morning. He managed to curse at my Mom for a while and in between epithets, he expressed how we embarrassed him by calling him out of Mass. He seemed to feel that it was everyone's fault except his. It was bad enough that Mom called the police and they had to remove the guy. The excitement was over and we went on our way to church. I was proud of my mom. All five foot-three inches of her had stood her ground and she had remained unbelievably calm through the whole thing.
When we got to church, she reminded me that we needed to pray for the guy who had just yelled at us. You see, she declined to have the guy charged. She just asked the police to remove him from our porch and ask that he not come back anymore. Then she went to church and forgave him. It was a teaching moment.
The next day, we had a visit from a priest who had learned about what happened. For those of you who are younger, you may not appreciate the uniqueness of this moment. In the early 60's, the Catholic Faith carried a kind of mysticism in the eyes of Protestant kids. Especially when you had a Grandad who was a Methodist-Episcopalian - no kidding-who would tell anyone that Catholics were a threat to national security. I think it had something to do with my aunt running off and marrying a guy from California who was Catholic when she was younger.
There was something mysterious about women dressed in black and men with black "uniforms." The priest was a younger guy. He was cool. I found out that the nuns and the priests were just normal people with a calling. Looking back, I think that the effort taken by the priest was remarkable. It was an exercise in grace. Caring about one another. I know that it was an opportunity for growth and understanding on my part.
The rest of that year, I learned a lot more about Presbyterian folks, attending a few services and learning about "stuff" in their church. I also learned about Catholics, that they did speak English in their services..not just Latin and discovered that nuns bake remarkable cookies. Ironically, 16 years later, I found myself walking down the aisle of the First Presbyterian Church in Grand Island, Nebraska, getting married on a Big Red football Saturday, became an Elder in the church and eventually a Moderator of one of the Presbytery committees. Go figure.
By next spring, it wasn't uncommon to see the son of a Presbyterian minister and a kid who went to the Christian Church across town playing football with a priest in the front yard of a Catholic Church (This taught me a valuable lesson: the grass at the Catholic Church had to be tougher than the Presbyterians' because the janitor at the Catholic church didn't yell at us for playing football on it).
So the moral of the story is that a guy with a lousy sense of self and a limited vocabulary taught me a lot about forgiveness, grace and understanding. If a burst of anger can get a Presbyterian preacher's kid, a Christian Church kid and a priest together for a friendly game of touch football, I'll bet some less-than happy neighborhors (you know who you are) can be friends as well. How 'bout it?
Anybody up for a game of touch football?