Deadly Combination

Hatred and stupidity is a damnably dangerous combination. It’s not that either one of them on its own lacks for potential damage or disaster but putting them together takes the risk factor right off the charts. We had another fine example this weekend over at Kansas City in the Overland Park area.

All of the alleged facts in the following allegations are allegedly based on published sources. The opinion parts are my own insertions.

A seventy-three-year-old former head of a Ku Klux Klan unit, after many decades of hating people for one superfluous reason or another, apparently decided it was time for more than speeches and cross-burnings. So, he grabs the guns which should have been pried from his cold dead fingers long ago and heads over to the Jewish Community Center and shoots a grandfather and his grandson. If you’re in the parking lot at a Jewish Community Center, you must be Jewish, right? Surely you wouldn’t just be a couple of Gentiles showing up for a Scout meeting.

That being just a start and it being such a lovely day and all, he then headed over to Village Shalom senior living center and shot a female victim there. What better way than to celebrate Palm Sunday than by going out and shooting a few Jews, right? I mean, just because Jesus taught us to love our enemies and do good for those who abuse us, we can’t let that get in the way of a little religious fervor, right? Never mind that these people weren’t enemies in the first place and had never abused the shooter or anyone else that we know of, demented religiosity can’t be bothered by trivia like that.

As it turns out, and this is where stupidity strips off its raincoat and runs around the stadium completely naked, none of the victims were Jewish. That’s right, folks, our shining white supremacist shot three Christians. Never mind that Christians have a long and proud tradition of killing each other, that’s beside the point here; this guy was supposed to be killing Jews.

When hatred and stupidity infiltrate a religion, or more accurately, use religion to infiltrate our minds and hearts, we turn into monsters. Regardless of who or what we hate. It is no wonder that Scripture warns us to take caution in judging others and to be especially careful about feeling superior to others. Even others as stupid and hateful as Frazier Glenn Cross or F. Glenn Miller or whatever his name is…

H. Arnett
4/15/14

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Dark Changes

On Friday evening, I brought out a couple of our lounge chairs on the patio and we sat out there for a little while, enjoying the evening’s warmth. On Saturday, Randa took her horse to a training clinic near Ottawa, Kansas. I spent the morning and early afternoon doing spring chores and took a load over to the re-cycling center at St. Joseph. Mid-afternoon, it was so balmy that I took a break from installing a door in the garden shed.

I had my friend Neil come over and document me “Taking the Plunge for Landon” in Peter’s Creek. The creek water didn’t feel like a sauna session but it was certainly a lot better than Neil and Katrena’s jump into a cold pond a few days earlier when it was only fifty degrees or so outside. There probably wasn’t a lot of difference in the jumping in part but the getting out part is definitely better when it’s seventy-eight and sunny.

The sunny part ended in the evening on Saturday when a very slow-moving storm moved in with the sunset. We had a really fine lightning show that lasted for three hours or more with more thunder during the night. On Sunday, we had more rain on a long gray day that seemed to drag on forever.

This morning, we have a light covering of snow on the ground and a forecast for a hard freeze tonight. A few days can sure make a lot of difference in the weather in a place where it seems it can be so fickle. But it’s nothing to compare to the changes a few days made almost two thousand years ago in a city halfway around the planet from here.

There, thousands of people turned out on a First Day morning for a huge celebration welcoming a humble prophet from the countryside, a man of compassion and wisdom who had healed thousands. A few days later, they nailed him to a tree.

H. Arnett
4/14/14

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Blessing for a Spring Morning

I hope that the calm stillness
of this day’s slow wakening
stays with you from dawn till darkness.

I hope that some good growing
will freshen in you
like tender buds opening on maple branches.

I hope that grace will flow for and from you
like the gentle waters of the creek
brushing against smooth stones.

I hope that your vision
will be clear and guileless
as a cloudless day.

I hope that you will feel
God’s own love and presence,
warm and reassuring like a gentle breeze.

I hope that you will find goodness and blessing
bringing hope as fresh as slender green branches,
bowing toward earth on the willow tree,

testifying that the work of God
is being born in all creatures,
in all that lives.

And may it find its fullness in you.

H. Arnett
4/11/14

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A Whispered Kiss

Earlier this week, a few of my colleagues and I had occasion to observe short segments of several classes being taught by some of our adjunct instructors at our Wamego regional center. One of those was a math class that was scheduled to begin at five p.m. that afternoon.

When we entered the room a few minutes early, several students were already seated and the teacher was doing some review work on the board. As we filed in, we couldn’t help but notice two small children seated at one of the long tables beside a woman whom we presumed to be their mother.

The little boy looked to be about five and his sister about three. Both were coloring but the little boy was already fidgeting. I looked at the middle-aged woman seated behind them for any expression of annoyance; I saw none. Still I wondered how long it would be before the children became a distraction for the adult students in the room.

A few minutes later, a young man appeared in the doorway and walked quietly in without looking at the teacher. “So,” I thought, “you come in late without a book, a notebook, or any indication whatsoever of any preparation for class.” As I watched, though, my initial impression began to change dramatically. He wore a blue industrial work shirt with a name patch above the pocket on the left. His clothing, face and arms were streaked with dirt and grease and his expression, body language and manner of walking clearly conveyed a man who had worked a full shift on a long day.

He walked silently to the third table. As he knelt beside the small children, their faces brightened; the boy grinned broadly and the little girl beamed at him. He began quietly gathering up their crayons, books and markers and sliding them into a pack. As he was kneeling and busily stuffing away their belongings, the little girl, tiny and bright-eyed looked up directly into his face. Without a word, she kissed her fingers and then patted her kiss onto the side of his face.

I won’t presume to know what that simple gesture meant to him but I suspect that all the tiredness of a long day at the shop suddenly faded away and he knew that every moment of his life was worth all that he had done.

I do know that I felt as if God himself had just breathed on me.

H. Arnett
4/10/14

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Driving Through Pottawatomie County

Somewhere south of US 36
along the line of Kansas 63,
you can see where rolling farmland
begins its transition into the Flint Hills.

On a day like yesterday,
the smoke of the stacks
at the Jeffrey power plant
lays out wind speed and direction:
twin white flumes stretched out horizontal
with only the slightest rise
above the low wide column
of the cooling tube.

Tall tan blades of last year’s prairie grass
bend in our passing,
the greens of brome and fescue
show through the black-ashed slates
of burned pastures and road banks,
the impossible sheen of winter wheat
springing up after April’s fresh rains.

I’ll take this drive any day of the week
over whatever waits
in the folders and files of my office:
these miles of fields and farms,
old frame houses and stone-post fences
blending in the constant changing
of God’s good seasons.

H. Arnett
4/9/14

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Day of Fog and Mist

I like the way a day like this
settles around you,
pulls a comforting shroud of gray
up close
but not too close,

holding back the long endless seams
of trees and ditches
stretching out like a past you can’t forget
and a future you’re not ready to face,

leaving view enough
for what’s coming up close
so that you know
there’s enough open road for passing
but not so much
that you wonder whether or not
you’ve got fuel enough for the journey.

I like the feel of mist kissing my face
like a gentle lover
wanting not to smother me
under some self-absorbed lather of emotion
but reminding me that she is close,

a subtle whisper suggesting promise
of warmer rains to come,
a soothing start for spring’s good planting,
the greening of these gray hills
fading into the fog
as gently as God’s own grace
easing the aching heart,
soothing the scorching touch of ancient memories.

H. Arnett
4/7/14

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Mercy Triumphs over Judgment*

So far as I can remember, and today it feels like I can remember pretty darn far, I’ve never done anything that would have likely gotten me any jail time. I won’t debate which forfeited opportunities for such owed to strength of character and which ones owed to lack of courage; the net result has been a life lived beyond the bars. However, and it’s a very significant however, I have done things that would have resulted in my execution had I lived under the Levitical Law recorded in the Old Testament.

Don’t bother holding your breath or licking your lips in anticipation; I’m not going to offer any hints regarding that particular history. I bring it up only to show some basis for empathy, for understanding, for compassion.

My colleague and friend, B. J. Smith, cannot make the same claim in regard to legal record. He recently pled guilty to a few felony charges, what people generally call “white collar crimes.” Although these things have nothing whatsoever to do with his coaching role at the College, there is no dispute that he broke the law, no argument that he did some things that he should not have done. He has admitted that; it is public knowledge. It is, in fact, quite a bit more public than B. J. or many of the rest of us would prefer; it was on the front page of the Saint Joseph News-Press earlier this week.

I suspect that many of us are quite thankful that our sins, mistakes, errors and faults have never been chronicled in the local paper. That gratitude should not lead us into a sense of superiority but rather humility and understanding. In the words of The Carpenter, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I cannot say that I am unbiased in this matter; I have to admit that I really like B. J. Smith. Not because of his being named National Junior College Athletic Association-Division II “Coach of the Year,” not because of taking our women’s team to the national championship playoffs two years in a row, not because of the parallel consecutive Jayhawk Conference championships. It’s not even because of the tremendous positive influence to which players, parents and friends testify.

It’s much more selfish than that; it’s because of the way his remarkable positive attitude has helped me. It’s because of the fact that he tells people, “There is always something positive in your situation, no matter what your situation is.” It’s because of the fact that every time that I have a conversation with him, I gain respect for him. It’s because of the fact that the longer I know him, the more I like him.

One of life’s simple and powerful truths is that when you love someone, it’s easier to forgive. When you love someone, it’s easier to choose compassion. When you love someone, it’s easier to choose forgiveness, mercy and understanding.

Perhaps at this point in my life I find it easier than some to choose the path of peace but I did not come to this place easily or quickly. I know that the seeds of mercy that I have sown have produced good fruit. I know that sowing forgiveness yields forgiveness. I know that I owe my soul to God’s good grace, mercy and love.

And on behalf of my friend B. J., I plead with the people of Doniphan County, the much wider circle of those associated in any way with Highland Community College, and the even broader community of life: choose mercy.

H. Arnett
4/4/14

*James 2:13

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