Friday, November 22, 2013

A Dimly Burning Candle....

...He will not extinguish. A bent reed, He will not break. (Isaiah 42:3)

...a thief hung next to a Man beaten beyond recognition and yet recognized something in Him that was a hope beyond his wildest dreams. He had nothing to lose by asking. Given the situation, he didn’t have many options left, really. He took the chance of his life.

Sure the thief staked his life on it, but it was not much of a life at that point. He was pretty well used up, beaten up and dumped on the trash heap of humanity: human trash hanging on a cross outside the city, worthless to anyone for anything ... except God. So he offered up his last and only gift, his last ditch hope against hope that this other hopeless case next to him was who He claimed to be and His word was good.

He was, and His word was.

(Excerpt from "Fire from Ashes" that I received notice will be published in June, 2014)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

College War Stories

I ran away from home for a night in May of 1970 when my father demanded I cut my hair for my high school graduation. I told a friend that I was running away and he drove me to one of my art teacher's houses where I helped him grade final exams.  My parents called my friend figuring he would know what was up. He caved and told them where I was when my father told him he would have him arrested for "aiding and abetting a runaway".  My mother worked at my high school and called my teacher and told him to tell me to come home, I didn't have to cut my hair.  I graduated with my hair over my ears and collar and moved away from home three days after the ceremony.

So by 1972 I looked like this. 

After a brief visit to the South (where this picture was taken at my grandparent's house) you'd think I'd have known better than to attend a conservative Christian College in Lubbock, Texas in 1972.

I'd never heard of Lubbock. It wasn't until 1980 that Lubbock was somewhat immortalized by country singer Mac Davis as a good place to see in your rear view mirror. A friend got married there in 1972 and I met my first wife at his wedding. He had arranged for a group of out of town folks to stay at her house for the wedding. I fell in love with her when I drove into her driveway.

It was probably midnight and she heard us drive up. It was hard to not hear me drive up. The headers on my 1968 Volkswagen had come detached when I drove off a curb and I wired tomato paste cans to them and the engine to span the gap. I saw her standing in her doorway in the 40 watt yellowing porchlight through the bug splattered windshield and said to my friend, "Wow! I'm marrying her".  We spent the weekend together going places and talking non-stop. I didn't sleep for three days and started hallucinating while driving on my way home.

We'd been to the mall and she saw a dress she liked, a Renaissance-hippie looking gown. So I bought it, her wedding dress, and hid it in her closet before I left to go back to Phoenix. The day after I got home, I quit my job, packed everything I owned in two cardboard boxes and a guitar case in the back seat of my VW and drove back to Lubbock to marry her in spite of the fact they still had Blue Laws, no 24 hour restaurants, grocery stores or radio stations, no Jack in the Box and you couldn't order a beer with pizza. 

She attended Lubbock Christian College and I visited the school with her. I was looked up and down and pointed at. A few people in shit-kickers actually made audible comments about "stinkin' hippies" and my hair. One of her Bible teachers, Rees Bryant, whose class I went to with her, acknowledged me and was very kind and welcomed me to Texas and the college. He had been a medical missionary in Nigeria during the Biafra war.  He flew medical supplies in the dead of night over the treetops in an unlit plane. He had heard many times when fundraising in the Southern churches for the hospital in Nigeria, "Why would you want to help ni**ers?" He became one of my best friends at the college. I met a few of the Bible majors and teachers, found out I could get some scholarships and decided I could deal with Texas for a few years for a woman. At that time I had aspirations to be a minister and I saw all of the happenstance convergences of events and people and places as "the providence of God and His will for my life". 

After a six month courtship I married my wife in May and started school in September. The day before I started school I shaved my head bald.  I immediately connected with a few other "freaks" on campus who did likewise.  Thus began my infamy.  

I quickly became known as an activist.  I wrote a humor column and drew a cartoon strip, "Robinson's Believe it or Don't", for the weekly school newspaper.  I ended up being the editor for two years and turned the paper around from trash bin filler to an anticipated Friday event. At the peak of my heyday I ran for Student Body President on a platform of better food in the cafeteria. I was out of town on "campaign speech day" and had someone else read my Monty Pythonesque campaign speech in chapel. Two cowboy President aspirants figured I'd win hands down in a three way race so they ran as a Pres/VP team so they wouldn't split the votes and I lost. I was actually glad because I knew I had little to contribute to the West Texas Christian culture of the college and would spend my tenure pissing back and forth with the college administration.

The newspaper was a cut above a mimeograph. We hand typed the articles on a manual typewriter to column width specs. I drew the cartoons actual size and then we pasted everything on a blue lined template on a light table. Photographs and print ready ads were also pasted onto the template. We wrote the headlines and the typesetter set them in the print shop for us.  There were perils in the operation.  In one issue a photo of one of our track stars with his junk hanging out of his shorts in a race made it by four editors and into the hands of the students. In another, there was a cool picture of one of our youth day activities but there were a couple of young girls in shorts in the picture. It was sent to a touch up artist who airbrushed long pants onto them in order to not offend conservative supporters of the college.

My columns and cartoons, for the most part, were good-natured Christian college life parody. I took on everything from the non-working clocks all over the campus to the cafeteria food (Samson killed a thousand with the jawbone of an ass, but J.O. Bell has killed a hundred thousand appetites with one side of beef!), and faculty fun (the head of the Bible department was put on leave when he turned the water in the Bible building's fountain into "Pinky's Wine of the Week"). Faculty and staff hoped to be caricatured and poked fun at in my columns and cartoons.

But I also took on the dark side, the hypocrisy and politics of small town insular Christian culture and education. It was not weekly stuff by a long shot, but when I did take a shot, it was taken carefully and with sniper accuracy.

One of my reporters was a mess of a woman in her early 30's with a huge frame and bigger heart, no family and few friends. Because she was a little shy on social skills, she was a pit bull if that's what it took to get a story for me. She covered the Mac Davis concert held in the college auditorium. She had gone to a thrift store and bought a "new dress" and had someone do her hair to look more professional. She tried to interview him before the show.  He was an asshole to her and paid more attention to the college "Southern Belles" who had backstage passes. Wandering around backstage she discovered that one of the school staff had gone to Pinky's on "The Strip" and bought beer for Mac and his band and entourage.  Understand, Lubbock was a dry county back then and you had to drive a few miles to the county line to buy liquor. And back then the standard church teaching on alcohol was that in the New Testament everyone (including Jesus at the Wedding at Cana) drank non-alcoholic watered down "raisin paste" and if you drink one drink, you are one drink drunk. Drinking on or off campus was grounds for expulsion. She made a big stink about it to the Administration who denied knowledge of it and never investigated the allegations.

She was virtually homeless if not for the college and she was permitted to stay in the dorm over the Christmas break. She was caught having sexual relations with one of the janitors in the dorm. Actually she wasn't caught. It was an easily concealable event except for the fact that she "went forward on Sunday morning" at the altar call and publicly confessed her sin at one of the largest congregations near the college. She was expelled from school in spite of her open repentance. At that same time one of our star basketball players knocked up his girlfriend and they were both permitted to stay in school and he continued to play ball. Years later she moved to Phoenix because I was the only friend she had and I found her one day in her apartment in a catatonic state. She spent a few weeks in the State mental hospital and decided to move back to Texas where I heard from someone who found my phone number that she died alone a few years later.

Over my three and a half years there I became embroiled in human struggles, people's confessions and "separation of college and church" politics of students' sexual sins (hetero and homo), drug and drinking and sundry common college moral scandals that I thought were unjustly or un-mercifully handled. I never exposed the sinners who confided in me. I once buried pictures of some popular and high up student body people engaged in homosexual activity that someone had secretly and anonymously taken on a college sponsored road trip. I had friends in high places who would tell me about some college fund raising financial dealings that pressed at least some people's definitions of Christian integrity. Some were more public than others, it was tough to bury a new building being put up with a name on it. I always found comfort in the fact that people in power and in their 30's and 40's (who we weren't supposed to trust back in those days) saw things in the same ways I did.  Even then I understood they couldn't really speak up. They lived in a small town in an insular church environment with few career options among the "Christian college network", and they had families to please and kids to feed.  Me, on the other hand, had little to lose except my scholarships (which I did, eventually). But I wore that as a badge (and still do to a degree, but with old man caveats) that affirmed my zealous Jeremiah complex. 

To keep some level of discretion in my columns dealing with high end politics, I wrote in parables populated with wise owls, scheming foxes, innocent bunnies, harmless field mice and fattened swine. I wrote about a fictional city Lang Cy Chung (LCC), where unbelievable citizens and leaders wrought equally unbelievable events. "He who had ears to hear, heard" but in a college of 900, knowledge of people's sins and administrative mismanagement spread like a West Texas brush fire. I spent almost every Monday morning in the president's office being lectured and warned about my stuff. He would even critique my benign comedy and say, "This isn't funny... if you would have said it like THIS, it would have been....". 

I was a thorn in the president's side, but I wasn't openly fired. The president hired a new journalism professor, an old buddy of his, who said all positions for the paper would now be filled each year by a hiring process and everyone who worked for the paper would have to re-apply for their positions.  Of course I was not hired back nor was anything I submitted accepted for publication.

I put out a single edition of an underground paper as a farewell. Because I lost my newspaper editor's scholarship, I had to take out a whopping $2,500.00 student loan my last semester to finish my degree.

My parents couldn't make it to my graduation and I was working two jobs to pay for school, so I requested that I not have to walk because the restaurant I worked at would be swamped with graduates that night and it was "all hands on deck".  The school policy was "no walk-no diploma", mainly so parents who shelled out huge money to send their kid to a private college could have the satisfaction of seeing them in cap and gown.  So I walked.  The president handed me my diploma. 

...and the students cheered.

Then I went to work at the restaurant to serve my fellow students one last time.