The Harrow

The Harrow

Gary Allison Furr

 

In the years I lived among the peanut farmers,

I breathed October dust and prayed for their harvests.

The church and all of the town waited for the yield,

To tell us what sort of year it would be.

Only a few restaurants, drugstores and movie rental places

No movie theaters, theme parks or malls,

But we had a John Deere tractor dealership out on the bypass

Where the farmers’ trucks had to pass by.

On the most prominent corner, right by the road

the latest double wheel model

with the air-conditioned cab and stereo system.

Plowing without dust and sweat! Hard to imagine

we were so far from the farmers with their mules in the old days,

on a forty-acre farm, working like the Devil to survive

lest the mule be repossessed or die.

 

But always there was the harrow, evolved from ancient times,

At first, only a tree branch, sharpened to punch open the ground,

The Romans first made them of iron to mass produce

And now they are rows of teeth or knives neatly arranged

Or deadly discs, sharp enough to kill a man, but modern

in their symmetry of tearing open the earth,

They rip open the crust so the seed can go deep, down

Into the moist fertility, then burst open and seek the light above.

 

“Harrowing” is near-death, danger, all our protection

Torn away from us, some sharp and deadly threat

Gashes open the layers of careful habit and insulation

until death and I stare back at one another

waiting for one of us to make a move.

 

The medieval Christians said that on Saturday Jesus,

Punched down under the tomb, all the way to the underworld

and preached to the souls in hell.

He led out all those who had no chance to know Easter,

Satan, surely, filed an immediate lawsuit against God

for breaking the rules and letting a dead man breach the underworld

to claim souls Satan thought were a sure thing.

“The Harrowing of Hell” was kept in the Creed

We shake our heads

at the primitive believer thinking He “descended into hell”

Even as we still survive by eating the bounty of earth’s puncture wounds.

Farmers still dig down to the only place where life can emerge.

We are deluded by surface coverings of asphalt and wireless noise

“Virtual” cannot feed the hungry or raise the dead.

For that, earth must be broken, hearts pierced, nails driven.

 

Down went the Son of God, into Hell itself.

I’d like to think a little disc-plowing is called for,

Some holes punched in hell still on this earth,

Right through hard-hearted souls who deny

there is anything under here worth looking at or saving.

I’d like to think the Son of God, even in the grave,

Cannot help but vanquish every poison weed and pestilence

that threatens the Garden that God put here for us all.

 

Spy Wednesday

This is a poem I wrote two years ago.  During National Poetry Month, my youngest daughter, who teaches middle school in NYC, and I write poems to each other.  Many of mine should never see light of day, but that year I wrote poems each day of Holy Week about the events of that day.  I stumbled across the tradition of calling this “Spy Wednesday,” after the plotting that was going on that day.  Treachery, using, selling out–they are the deepest pain that wells forth from human beings. The deepest pain of Holy Week is the revelation of betrayal of the innocent Jesus by his friend.

The-Last-Supper-large
The Last Supper by Carl Bloch (Wikipedia)

What a great name for the day

A friend’s fate was sealed,

Sold out by the man for whom

Dante created an ice rink on the lowest level of hell.

 

Betrayed.

The word sends icy shivers down the spine

Because it requires loving trust as its precondition.

People betray love, not hate.

Enemies try to kill you.  It’s what they do. No surprise.

Only friends, lovers, teammates

Sisters, brothers, colleagues betray you.

It has to rip a hole where you felt safe to do its work.
It’s a sordid business—

Traitors sell you out, stab your back

Let you down, break your trust, turn on you

Ruin your faith in people and undermine your capacity to trust again.

Only double minds and hearts, labyrinths of secret compartments

With cracks in the walls, broken floor joists and low light,

Can pull it off.

A loyal spy is still a patriot

But a double agent is up to the highest bidder

At the cost of a soul

 

Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus puts the condemnation at Simon’s house

In an even more painful contrast. Hers was of love found

His was of love disdained.

 

His only hope now is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory”

A tiny speck of hope that his wretchedness is but one more evidence

Of what stares back at us in the mirror sooner or later.

So the drama unfolds,

which character, bent, long before it would be set in motion.

Out of the Ashes of Holy Week

The emotions of Holy Week run the gamut.  From the wild enthusiasm of Palm Sunday morning to dread and anxiety of Maundy Thursday, the stark hopelessness of Good Friday and “darkness across the face of the earth” to the somber placing of Jesus in a borrowed tomb, the pilgrimage takes us through the full range of human experiences.

Churches will look forward to crowded sanctuaries on Sunday morning, naturally. Children in beautiful new Easter clothes, beautiful ladies’ hats, uplifting music and, unless a pastor has the flu, a message of enthusiastic hope and energy. A great crowd, a holiday,: of course, it will be energetic.

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Notre Dame, from our visit in 2005

This is the fortieth consecutive year I have preached an Easter sermon. I intentionally do not look back to see how badly I fell short to capture the “extraordinary in the ordinary” majesty of the resurrection and what it means to humanity.  I will tell you this, though: As my own experience of call to ministry came in 1971 on a Palm Sunday and was presented to my high school church family on Easter Sunday, I have never forgotten the ups and downs of this week for me. That week I wrangled and struggled and finally decided to accept the call, at least what I knew at that point, to enter the ministry. It was full of anguish. What did I really understand about what this would mean or where it would go? I can assure you, it wasn’t as clear as

And then, forty years from now, you will be standing in your beloved church of more than twenty-five years in Birmingham, Alabama, and you will have a wonderful congregation, one of whom will be in the top ten in American Idol singing competition.* You’ll have some nice facilities and three grandchildren and an excellent staff.

If only the call were so clear!  It was little more than, “This is the direction for your life. Come with me.” What did that mean?  Where did it lead? I moved toward the leading but still without a lot of clarity about what it would mean.

The late theologian Jim McClendon said of the spiritual life that we must leave room, along with our spiritual disciplines and our spiritual experiences for what he called “the anastatic.”  It means, in the ancient koine Greek language, “Resurrection.”  Literally, “to stand again,” but Jim took it to mean, “the surprising work of God.”

In the Christian faith, Easter is a surprise. That means people had no right to expect what transpired. So, everyone was surprised, shocked, stunned, overwhelmed. There was no way to anticipate what happened. “Well,” one might say, “Jesus told them this was what happened.”  Even so, I imagine it made as much sense at the moment as lecturing your dog about the importance of a good education.

Nothing indicated this was coming. Their hopes were literally in ruins. I have thought of this while grieving the terrible fire at Notre Dame in Paris. I have only had the privilege to visit there one time, but I remember the awe at this magnificent work of human hands motivated by faith in God.

Out of ashes and devastation, we wait. One more Holy Week. One more hard moment in humanity. No reason to expect a surprise. But for those of us who are Christians, we’ve become accustomed to looking to something unexpectedly, undeservedly good to come along when we least expect it. This week, we walk into the cold ashes of human disappointment and wait to see what God might say to enable us to build out of this moment something new and unanticipated.

No matter who you are, where you came from, or whatever has happened, Easter is for you.  That is the message.  “God is for us.  Who can be against us?”  That is a word for everyone.

Walk along this week with God’s people.  Through it all.

 

Callings That Find Us: Dan Haseltine

This Wednesday evening we come to the final of four outstanding speakers in our 2019 Speaker series.  Each week, a speaker has taken us inside the journey of Christian calling.  Too often we have turned the Christian faith into a series of ideas or reduced it to a buttress against our fears and anxieties rather than what Jesus revealed it to be: a dynamic and life-changing adventure.  Our final speaker is Dan Haseltine.

For more than two decades, Dan Haseltine has been the founder and primary songwriterPublication1 for the Grammy-winning music group, Jars of Clay.  From a band formed among college friends in Illinois, they skyrocketed in the mid-90s to crossover fame.  Their self-titled debut was released in 1995. When the single “Flood” began to climb the charts on mainstream radio stations, Silvertone Records started to heavily promote the song, turning it into one of the biggest mainstream hits ever by a band on a Christian label. The album has since reached multi-platinum certification according to the RIAA. Over the next decades came touring, more Grammys and successful albums. 

I met Dan a few years ago while on an interfaith advocacy effort in Washington.  We were paired together to talk to congressional leaders about the importance of global health and hunger funding, so we spent a day together. He is one of the most engaging and thoughtful, down to earth people I have ever met. Many years ago my youngest daughter, then in high school, pressed me to go down to the old Boutwell Auditorium, May 2, 1998, to hear Jars of Clay. I had never heard them, pretty well being into acoustic music and bluegrass then, but I went along.  I liked them. I didn’t know I’d ever end up walking around DC with that young singer someday.

Dan visited Africa in 2002, which in turn inspired the founding of Blood: Water Mission, a non-profit organization created to raise awareness Continue reading “Callings That Find Us: Dan Haseltine”

Lenten Speaker Series Continues: Kate Campbell

Last evening, we kicked off our series, “The Callings That Find Us,” with Dr. Danny Potts.  An overflow crowd filled the room and was not disappointed as he shared his personal journey with brokenness and new life through his father’s long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  It was inspiring and so helpful to all who were there.

Next Wednesday we welcome folksinger Kate Campbell. Kate is a favorite singer-songwriter for many.  She is a storyteller and singer with a unique voicrockcitye that blends faith, justice and humanity in her writing and singing.  Growing up in the south as the daughter of a Baptist preacher, Kate’s formative years were spent in the very core of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, and those years left a mark on her.  

Her Two Nights in Texas CD received the prestigious Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award. Ballet Memphis featured several tunes from her song catalog as well as a live performance by Kate and band at a ballet entitled South Of Everywhere. Three of Kate’s songs (“Ave Maria Grotto,” “William’s Vision,” and “Fordlandia”) were recently featured in documentary films.  A variety of artists have recorded Campbell’s songs including Laurie Lewis, Missy Raines, Ronnie McDowell, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band who covered her compelling snake-handling song “Signs Following.”

Campbell has played the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival (England), Merlefest, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Port Fairy Folk Festival (Australia), been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Live From Mountain Stage, and had her story (and haunting song “When Panthers Roamed In Arkansas”) included in the debut issue of The Oxford American’s ultra-hip Southern Music series. Kate’s latest release Damn Sure Blue, a heart-felt collection of tunes that pays a respectful nod of admiration to the Man in Black and reverberates with the soulful sounds of award-winning Americana guitar whiz and producer Will Kimbrough.

Kate lives in Nashville with her husband, Ira, a minister a

PR Lent

Good Men and High Callings

So much about bad things men do these days. But what about good men? Five years ago today my father-in-law, one of the best men who ever walked this earth, left it. He is surely playing the front nine in heaven if they have a course. From the obit I gave for him in 2014:

The goal, the prize of the high calling, was never about piling up money for its own sake, but for being able to help others. In our early years, Forrest drove, excuse me, a crappy car. It was an old sky blue Ford that seemed a hundred years old. It smelled like a paper mill and the only luxury in it was his golf clubs in the trunk.Forrest and our girlsvickie-and-dad-e1497743310363.jpg

In our time, it is wonderful to still find people who work hard and save up so they can care for their family, help their grandchildren and children, and give to those in need. I cannot tell you how many times in our ministry we had some need in somebody’s life and the next thing I knew, Forrest and Betty were sending money. “Don’t tell anyone it came from me.”

Being grateful, truly grateful begets generosity from the heart. Forrest and Betty were thankful people. In 2011, Forrest wrote a short autobiography. It’s funny, so Forrest, his stories written like he talked. He put a picture on the front from the peak of his working life. I told him it looked a little like a mafia don. But the book is a glowing tale of gratitude for his beloved Betty, the love of his life, his three children and their families, his work, parents, siblings. He was glad to be alive, glad to be here. And it ends with these words: “Betty and I are extremely proud of our family, and recognize them as the crowning achievement of our lives. To all who read this, enjoy your life to the fullest.”

Of all the magnificent blessings I’ve had in my life, I believe the three F’s are the crux of life. These three are: faith in Christ, a loving family, loving friends. There is nothing of greater value. If you have these in your life, you are wealthy.”
Notice—nothing about money, lake houses, fame, and having status. Just core treasures that radiate through you. That’s the man we knew.

I had a fourth F.   In addition to faith, family and friends, I was blessed to have Forrest. A real man, but also a good man to the bone. I was fortunate to know and love him.

I miss you.

The Callings That Find Us: Lenten Speaker Series

PR LentIn March, our church will welcome a special Lenten time of renewal with a series of Wednesday night speakers entitled, “The Callings That Find Us.”  Our speakers share Christian faith but come from a variety of backgrounds and stories to share their faith journeys—how they

came to Christian faith, how that has lived out, and the unexpected turns that have taken them to new places in their discipleship.  What is the calling that ”found you” along the way of following Christ in that journey?  This series will be open to the public as well and you are encouraged to invite friends to come and hear an exciting series of presentations.

March 13, 2019       

“The Faces That Change Us: A Neurologist’s Experience With Dementia”

Dr. Daniel Potts

Dr. Daniel Potts  is a neurologist, author, educator, and champion of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their care partners. Selected by the American Academy of Neurology as the 2008 Donald M. Palatucci Advocate of the Year, he also has been designated an Architect of Change by Maria Shriver. Inspired by his father’s transformation from saw miller to watercolor artist in the throes of dementia through person-centered care and the expressive arts, Dr. Potts seeks to make these therapies more widely available through his foundation, Cognitive Dynamics. Additionally, he is passionate about promoting self-preservation and dignity for all persons with cognitive impairment. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

March 20, 2019          “Wonders Along the Way”                   Kate Campbell 

 Singer/Songwriter Kate Campbell has since put together a considerable body of work. Originally from the Mississippi Delta and the daughter of a Baptist preacher, Kate’s formative years were spent in the very core of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, and the indelible experiences of those years have shaped her heart and character as well as her songwriting. Her music and songs continue to inspire and excite a growing and engaged audience. A variety of artists have recorded Campbell’s songs and she has performed widely, including at the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival (England), Merlefest, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Live From Mountain Stage. Kate lives in Nashville with her husband, Ira, a minister and chaplain.

April 3, 2019         

“Ending Hunger:  A Redeemed Hope for Feeding the World”    Dr. Jenny Dyer               

Dr. Jenny Dyer is the Founder of The 2030 Collaborative. As such, she directs the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Faith-Based Coalition for Global Nutrition with support from the Eleanor Crook Foundation.  Dyer teaches Global Health Politics and Policy as a Lecturer in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, and she has taught Religion and Global Health at Vanderbilt School of Divinity.  Dyer formerly worked with Bono’s ONE Campaign, Bono’s organization, from 2003-2008 to promote awareness and advocacy for extreme poverty and global AIDS issues.  She is an author and frequent contributor in the media. She lives in Franklin, Tennessee with her husband, John, and two boys, Rhys and Oliver.

April 10, 2019                        “Closing the Distance”    Dan Haseltine

Dan Haseltine is the Lead singer/Primary songwriter for the 3x GRAMMY™ winning band, Jars of Clay.  Dan has written 17 #1 radio singles, received multiple BMI Song of the Year Awards, and National Songwriting Association’s highest honors. He is a Producer, Film/Television composer, and Music Supervisor.  Dan is the Founder of non-profit organization, Blood:Water, celebrating 15 years of supporting local solutions to the clean water and HIV/AIDS crises in Southern and Eastern Africa.  Blood:Water has helped more than 1 million people gain access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene training and community health support.  Dan lives in Franklin, TN with his wife, Katie and 2 sons, Noah(18), and Max(15) and two dogs… Gracie and Coco.  Dan is also a columnist, advocate, and thought leader surrounding the work of extreme poverty reduction, and international development