This past summer I left my beloved state and visited a foreign land. The primary purpose was to take courses with a group of students from the University of Oklahoma School of Law in Oxford. However, I combined other parts of the trip with my regular marital policy work at OSU, and took a few days vacation to visit distant relatives I had never met. The trip was one of the best experiences of my life and greatly nurtured the Explorer within me. I’ve been working on cleaning up all the photograph links that somehow deteriorated during our move to the new site. During this process, I decided to put this guidepost up so if anyone would ever like to revisit the journey through my “40 Days in the UK,” they could do it all from one location.
Monday afternoon I was sitting in the window seat of a plane flying toward Minneapolis. During take off preparations, some of the shiny chrome trim on the tarmac equipment caught a reflective beam of sunlight and sent it directly into my eye; so, I had shut the window cover. But now I was curious. I wanted to see the view, to look around and say hello to the sky.
When I lifted the plastic shade I was met with a view of tiny ice crystals that had been forming on the outside of my window. I examined them and looked for purpose or replication in their pattern. I thought about Minnesota and wondered if the quilted jacket I had with me was enough to keep the cold air at bay. My thoughts turned toward the conference. It had been a long day, so I reached up to once again close the shade and try to nap. I had been up since 4 a.m. and had a long night of preparations still in front of me.
Just as my arm started the downward motion to close the shade, something caught my eye. I stopped and took in the “skyscape” moment, visually tracking the long blanket of cloud cover beneath the plane all the way to the horizon. I’ve seen the clouds before, but I almost missed them this time.
I had allowed what was right in front of my eyes to be all that I considered. I then wondered, who had I done that same thing to today? Yesterday? This week? So my hope for you today is:
Remember to also step back, take in the whole person, and enjoy or consider their sum. After all, their whole being is always so much more than the sum of their individual parts.
For a little over six years now, I’ve walked the halls of the College of Human Environmental Sciences (CHES) at Oklahoma State University (OSU). One of the things I’ve never worried about is where I might eat my lunch in case I’m in too much of a rush to pack myself a meal. There are two restaurants in the adjoining building to ours, CHES-West. One of them is a little “faster food” style cafe’ serving both breakfast and lunch. The other is Taylor’s Dining Room, the “fine dining Lab for students in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration.”
I eat there about two or three times each semester. Every time I go, these thoughts come to my head: 1) The food is a good value compared to other bistro-style restaurants in larger city areas; 2) I’m contributing to the students’ education by eating there and interacting with the staff; and, 3) I get more than a meal when I go. I get a smile on my face; it’s a treat to be welcomed, seated, served and checked on by students in training within the 8th ranked hospitality and tourism programs in the world.
I visited Taylor’s about a week ago and was glad to see they continue to revamp the menu as are newly inspired from students, faculty and visiting chef’s from around the globe. In the mood to welcome autumn, I ordered the Arugula, Pear & Manchego Salad ($9) and a glass of tea.
The salad was complimented by their bread basket. They’ve changed their daily bread service since last year; the added bread sticks with caraway was a nice modification.
Like many salads I’ve had lately, I had to pick out two or three wilted leaves. Other than that, the dish was excellent. I especially liked their choice of the buttery Manchego cheese as a compliment to the sweeter poached pears.
If you have a chance to visit Stillwater and want a good meal for a good price, I suggest Taylor’s. It’s a chance to give, get and eat. Bon appetit!
Down through the centuries, theologians and mystics have spoken of divine experiences in human time as kairos moments. By definition, a kairos moment is an event used by God to impact one’s life. It involves an intersection of sorts between the horizontal and vertical, the humdrum and holy, where, for a fleeting moment, one experiences God’s nearness in his life and God’s hereness in his world.
Kairos moments have happened infrequently in my life. But none was more pivotal and life changing than the karios moment on an obscure battlefield at Gettysburg.
The months leading up to this event had been colored by deep darkness. It had been almost two years since my wife and I first visited the fertility clinic. Now the “I” word was not some distant and remote diagnosis. It was a sobering reality. By this time, my prayer life had been reduced to a whimper of faith. The silence of despair grew firm within my chest. On the brink of a spiritual breakdown, I prayed as a desperate man for a break through. Little did I know how God would answer my prayer.
While attending a leadership conference at Gettysburg, one night I was approached by Marty, a conference leader. He asked me if I wanted a personal tour of Culp’s Hill, a famous battle during the Gettysburg campaign. I grabbed my Mountain Gear fleece; I was definitely up for it.
After snaking our way up through hills exploding with green April foliage, we stopped at a tiny knot of cedars surrounded by large boulders and scattered tree logs. “This was the Union army’s extreme right position,” Marty exclaimed as he pointed to a breastwork of cobbled stone covered in moss and dirt. “It was here that the fate of the Union army largely hung in the balance.”
As Marty began to lead me around the markers that jutted up around the hill, the whole scene suddenly transformed before my eyes into a dramatic amphitheatre of war.
The main battle commenced at dusk on July 2, 1864.
As darkness moved in amongst the thick trees at Culp’s Hill, the NY 137th disbanded in a thin line from the saddle down to the lower hill. Below the hill, gathering in a swale, and quickly filling up many trenches was a Confederate brigade led by General Steuart.
About that time, General Meade of the Union Army sent orders to Colonel David Ireland, the twenty-five-year-old commander of the NY 137th. General Meade’s orders were short and exacting.
“Colonel Ireland, hold the line at all costs.”
Soon Steuart’s men moved into position behind the low stonewall in rear of the 137th.
They quickly unleashed a staccato of gunfire. Before they knew it, the 137th was taking heat from front, right flank, and rear. Their position, as Marty described it, was “like a finger, surrounded on three sides.”
At about that time the 71st Pennsylvania regiment showed up. They were backups sent by General Hancock to assist the 137th. But seeing Ireland’s men taking heavy musket fire from all directions, the 71st fired off a volley or two at Steuart’s men and quickly withdrew from the line. Their position was untenable.
With half his infantry dead, resources depleted, and reinforcements in retreat, Ireland decided to order one final defensive tactic: commanding his regiment to stack up granite rocks to form a stone wall. There, entrenched on the saddle back between the hills, Ireland waited with his men.
As Marty showed me where Ireland had burrowed in with his men, I tried to put myself in the young colonel’s shoes. I got down on my knees behind the stonewall and peered out into the thick darkness with only the silhouette of the overhanging limbs visible. I wondered how Ireland held his men together as trees splintered from canon fire, bullets pinged off granite rocks, and hot metal tore through sinewy flesh. I suddenly felt like I could hear the shrieks of young men as they breathed their last breath and their souls slid out of their bodies.
Somehow through the long and unrelenting night, Ireland and his men found the strength and fortitude to stymie every Confederate charge up the hill.
At around three a.m., Steuart’s men suspended their attack due to complete lack of visibility and thus an inability to determine who was who. They feared they were shooting and killing their own men. As their attack subsided, the 137th found renewed strength and hope as the 14th Brooklyn and the 6th Wisconsin showed up with reinforcements.
Had the Confederates known the 137th was the end of the line, they could have advanced toward the Baltimore Pike and overrun the Union army, changing the outcome of the battle at Gettysburg, probably turning the tide of the whole Civil War.
But the line never broke.
After Marty finished telling the story, I stood in complete silence, as I suddenly felt like Culp’s Hill was becoming holy ground. I didn’t see a burning bush or hear an audible voice. But as the wind rustled through the Pennsylvania birch trees and I stood against the cobbled traverse, I sensed somehow that God was near.
A scripture came to mind, one that I had memorized early in my life.
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
For two years I had endured what St. John of the Cross called the oscura noche, the dark night of the soul. During that time, I felt like Job—confused, doubtful, and befuddled by God’s seeming absence and deafening silence. My prayers were punctuated by sighs and groans. I came closest to God in my questions. I wondered not whether God existed but if God knew I existed. Did he know my pain? Did he see my suffering? Would he respond to my cry?
As I walked the hallowed grounds at Culp’s Hill, I began to pray. Specifically, I echoed Peter’s prayer: ‘I do believe, Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24). I confessed to him that I felt like I was living within a precarious space between two parenthetical opposites: one being faith, the other being doubt. The bitterest pill I felt I had been forced to swallow involved watching Amy suffer and hurt and not knowing how to palliate her pain in any way.
In that moment, though, as the moon rose high into the starless sky and the leaves turned silver, I felt that God was near. For so long, God had seemed distant and remote, like a satellite. Sensing God’s closeness now, I cupped my ear and leaned into the silence. What I heard filled me with a renewed trust that the night would give way to the day. And somehow, in some way, against all odds, pressed in on all sides, he would hold the line. Like Col. Ireland and the NY 137th, Amy and I would see the first gleam of dawn burst through the darkness. We would feel the sun on our faces again. We would hear a new word heralded through the clouds: a new day had arrived!
~~Note: Josh and his wife Amy documented their journey, struggles and resolution to travel to Africa and adopt a child in their book, “From Ashes to Africa.” This post is a revised piece from that book. For more information visit http://fromashestoafrica.com/
I am a white-skinned father with a black-skinned son.
A little over a year ago, my wife, Amy, and I adopted our son, Silas, from Ethiopia.
Silas turned two in December.
Today our conversations tend to revolve around our favorite snacks – yogurt and lemon pound cake at Starbucks – and favorite TV characters and movies – Elmo and Ratatouille. We also squabble very little these days. Sometimes Silas will take a swing at me when I take away the Wii joystick. And other times he’ll treat the cheese sandwich I made him for dinner like a Frisbee.
One day, though, Silas will want to talk about other things. Like the color of his skin. And my skin. And his mother’s skin. And pictures and events and people and dates he finds in his history textbook.
There are some historical dates I don’t want to broach with Silas then. August 12th, 1955, for example. That’s the day Emmett Till, a 14 year old boy, was brutally lynched in Mississippi by white, southern, “Christian” men.
Then there is September 15th, 1963. That’s the day when four little girls were killed by a white supremacist bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Or April 4th, 1968. That’s the fateful day Dr. King had his hope-filled voice silenced by a sniper’s gun.
But then there are days in America’s history I can’t wait to explain to Silas.
Days like December 1st, 1955, for example. The day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. That small, defiant “no” reverberated out into a large, defiant “no more.”
There are other days, too. Like August 28th, 1963. The day Dr. King delivered his famous message, “I Have a Dream.” It was a day unlike any other day. It was a day of dreaming of another kind of America.
And then there was November 4th, 2008. Obama’s presidential victory. And then there was January 20th, 2009. Obama’s inauguration.
These are dates I look forward to telling Silas about – not as a student of history, but as a participator in making history.
And I will tell Silas this: whether one voted for Obama or not, one could not argue that it was a significant symbolic moment. And a storied moment with deep biblical resonances. From hundreds of years wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and oppression. To now the new days of exploring the “milk and honey” land of equality and opportunity.
Undoubtedly, MLK glimpsed the Promised Land from a distance. Like Moses. Like a dream just beyond his grasp. But Silas, you, and others of your skin color will experience this land as a blessed reality. Like Joshua. And the nation of Israel.
I can only pray that this new land for you will shimmer with the topsoil of fresh possibility, and contain in its seedbed the promise of renewed dignity. But, Silas, there are still weeds trying to choke out these verdant seeds. For though the “color line” W.B. Dubois spoke of has been broken in America’s political establishment, it still exists in America’s religious establishment. 95% of the evangelical church, for example, still remains divided along the color line. Unfortunately, Martin Luther King Jr.’s truism stills rings true today: 11 am on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. Perhaps, though, Silas, by the time you come of age, that small, subversive 5% of the American church will have grown and spread through the body of Christ like a lush vine.
Voting though won’t bring this change.
Only Spirit-led repentance will.
I can only pray that you discover these seeds pods of repentance bursting within my heart. And your mom’s heart. And your grandparents’ hearts. And in the hearts of all of those who you know that call themselves Christ followers.
I am reminded of observing MLK Day last year. You, your mom, and I celebrated Dr. King’s legacy with our adoption community at the Queen of Sheba, a local Ethiopian restaurant. On that special day, our dear friends, Eric and Tara, received their referral picture from Ethiopia of their soon-to-be-adopted baby boy, Malak. That night we laughed and cried over Malak’s picture, ooing and awing at his large black eyes and his luminous smile.
Later that night as I lay awake in bed and reflected on that festive evening, I couldn’t help but wonder if in fact Dr. King were alive today, would he approve of couples like us and the Silvestres adopting black children. I also thought about how far we have come, from an age of colonialism, where Africans were our slaves, to this new post colonial age, where Africans are now our sons. And I wondered if Dr. King could have even dreamed of such a day when such transformation was possible. Who knows really? But it makes me wonder if at the Queen of Sheba, if just for a fleeting moment, with our bellies full of freshly baked bread, and sweet Ethiopian wine on our tongues, and with you in our arms, and Malak’s picture in front of our faces, if we did not glimpse even if for a moment, the future community of God, the eschatological days when the old age of hatred and racial division will be truly over, and a new age of love and racial harmony will have begun.
As I closed my eyes to sleep, I suddenly recalled Dr. King’s words spoken days before he was assassinated.
“The end is reconciliation;
the end is redemption;
the end is the creation of the beloved community.”
And remembering these words, Silas, I thought to myself, Perhaps the end has already begun.
Editor’s Note – this article is reprinted from Relevant,an online magazine. It was published as a Martin Luther King Day feature dated Monday, January 19, 2009. Josh is the Director of College Counseling at Casady High School in Oklahoma City. He coaches basketball, is a husband and now a father of TWO children from Ethiopia.Silas has a little sister. She joined the family in June of this year.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.