"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The bells of peace continue to ring

We all have our favorite holiday television specials that we look forward to each year. Some like the Charlie Brown specials, others the classic movies, and still others enjoy the many musical programs. I fall into the latter category and may even miss my (almost) daily N.C.I.S. marathon viewing for a good Christmas music program. My favorite each year is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Special that blends traditional music with contemporary and always stirs my spirit with the massive choir and orchestra. This year was no different; however, one portion of the service captured my thoughts for the days since.

Actor Edward Herrmann told the story of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to write the words we now know as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The story goes that the happy Longfellow family suffered tragedy during the early 1860s when a house fire claimed the life of his beloved wife, and then shortly thereafter, Longfellow received word that his son was seriously wounded in one of the early Civil War battles and not expected to live. With his country at war with itself, and the loss of two family members, Longfellow tried to cope with these tragedies by penning the words that so strongly described his despair and lack of hope.

“And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “ For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.”

If Longfellow had stopped here, this work would never have become one of the favorites of Christmas and especially one about the hope of Christmas. Over time, he and his remaining family began to heal emotionally and spiritually. Longfellow recounts that several years later as they were out on a carriage ride in the snow, he heard the bells of town churches beginning to peal and he realized that the bells were still ringing out the news of hope, of peace, and that God is still in control.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor does He sleep; the wrong will fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth good will to men.”

Just as Longfellow, people around still suffer loss and tragedies that are magnified during the Christmas and New Year holiday season. Divorce, financial hardship, death, moving, loss of jobs, many things can affect our emotions that may lead to wondering where God may be during this time. They may need someone to help direct them back to the bells of hope and a future. We can all do this either as individuals or as groups. Say a kind word to those you pass in the store, stay off the car horn if someone is a bit slow in starting when the light changes, be more patient if a crying child is in the same restaurant with you; just be nice to other people. You can also volunteer with county agencies that help others. Henry County is fortunate to have so many organizations that help others where you can plug in. Connecting Henry, A Friend’s House, Haven House, Henry County Cancer Services, The Fuller Center for Housing, Henry County Life Management Solutions, and many more.

Let 2010 be the year we give hope to others. Let 2010 be the year we become more involved outside the walls of our homes and churches (Jesus did not sequester himself inside the walls of a synagogue). Let 2010 be the year we take care of others face to face, one by one.

So for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Even goats deserve a nice funeral

Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, fish…these tend to be the most commonly thought when asked about what pets you might have. Then there are those who have snakes and other reptiles, horses, and even cows for pets even though these are the type of pets I would want to curl up with on a winter night in front of a roaring fire. Nonetheless, whatever you may deem to be your pet, it is your pet and you mourn and grieve when they are gone. Most folks also engage in some type of farewell burial or service for their beloved animals. For instance, when one of my mom’s pet finches died, she was more than ready to put it in a zip-lock bag and hurl it out into the trees and privet at the back of our yard which borders Camp Creek. The horrors of her aim being a bit off and having a dead bird-in-a-bag hung up on a tree branch and twirling in the wind was more than my brother and I could imagine, so we talked her into a nice burial by the bird bath with a stone marker. Of course, mom already had her back-up plan ready in case birdie-in-a-bag landed in the tree. “Well, I’ll just get the BB gun and shoot at it until it falls into the privet,” was her quick reply. I sincerely doubt most folks have such discussions over their pets, but, you just need to know my family.
Recently, my friend the catwoman, was telling us of her uncle’s pet goat, Mitch (names have not been changed, since Mitch is dead and…..well, Mitch was a goat). Uncle Hemphill used to take Mitch to local schools and carnivals because all the boys and girls in that part of DeKalb County loved to see and pat Mitch the goat. However, mean neighbor lady didn’t care so much for the noise and smell of Mitch, so one dark day (Uncle Hemphill suspected), she slipped some poison to poor Mitch and he transitioned into goat heaven.
Uncle Hemphill and his brother, Eufort, were so distraught that they imbibed a bit too much of the spirits and became a wee bit too verklempt over poor Mitch. Actually, Uncles Hemphill and Eufort would use most any occasion to imbibe: waking up in the morning, lunches, any new phase of the moon, the arrival of the daily mail, get the drift? At least in the midst of their “happy grief,” they had the sense to not shoot the mean neighbor lady, so they dug a grave for Mitch and decided to give him a 21-shotgun salute. Yep, they fired those squirrel-hunting rifles into the air right in the DeKalb County neighborhood where Uncle Eufort lived. Mothers began grabbing kids from the yards; catwoman’s aunts grabbed them from the back porch while hollering at Uncle Hemphill and Uncle Eufort to quit shooting off those guns in the neighborhood because of a dead goat. Uncle Hemphill replied that “he’s my goat and he deserves a good send off.”
Personally, I think the 21-gun salute is better than spending all of eternity as a twirling dead bird-in-a-bag on the banks of Camp Creek, but who am I to know?

Jimmy Cochran lives in McDonough, works part-time at the Stockbridge Public Library and drank goat’s milk as a boy. This is why he was so touched by the story of Mitch the goat.