“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by. And feed them in your dreams, the one they pick(s), the one you’ll know by…” Recorded by: Crosby, Stills & Nash, released May 1970. Composed by: Graham Nash
How are you? I’m glad you dropped in on this west Texas adventure with me. I’ve just slipped on my Mr. Rogers tennis-shoe loafers (No to Mr. Fred Rogers sweater, as it’s still too warm in a Texas October). I have something I want to share with you. Grip tightly.
Take another look at that incredible grapevine above. I took that picture with my cell phone at Ft. Belknap in Young County Texas. The old 1850’s fort is chock-full of local West Texas history of which the Wild West movies are made. (For more on Ft Belknap see my post from July 21, 2017 entitled, “Don’t Let It Hit Ya.”) Among the old ammo houses, bunkers, stables and school house is an enormous grapevine arbor providing a huge covering. It measures around 9 feet in height and the main stalk, or trunk, is over 54 inches in circumference. It spreads over a large picnic area with some 25-30 picnic tables. It was planted long ago by Burl W. Cox, an early day Ft Belknap school teacher, who was also a talented gardener and naturalist. The photo was taken during the off season for the Mustang Grapevine, but when fully in bloom, the grape clusters and thick vine leaves are a terrific canopy, well-deserving of a postcard.
I suppose, over many decades of nurturing and growth, it has filled young children with imaginings of a deep dark forest with grapevines ready for Tarzan to swing from one branch to the next. I was one of those kids. Meanwhile, multiple family reunions are held there under the arbor each year as the potluck dishes are spread from table to table. If you close your eyes you can almost hear the laughter, greetings and children running circles around the old arbor. One family’s reunion, which happens each year under the natural canopy, is my family on my adopted father’s side. Have you been to one recently? How do you feel about them? Are you the first or last to leave the festivities? If you escape early, ask yourself why. Better yet, leave me a comment and tell me.
Recently, I attended another family reunion in East Texas. It was an annual gathering of relatives from another branch of my birth-family tree, or maybe I should I say, “vine.” It was a pleasant time renewing old friendships with cousins, uncles and aunts. All had a good day together over some awesome homemade dishes that was to die for.
Here, allow me to disrupt that Norman Rockwell moment for some other realities concerning family. How brave are you? Can you pull back the layers of this onion with me? Warning here: It might bring some bad memories to you. Here we go.
I love my family. I do. I respect my family members…as best as I can. I say that only because, in my grapevine, there are some family members who can and will hurt you and others. These, on this vine, appear from time to time along the stalk and produce bitter or even rotten grapes. Much like the Mustang grapes from Ft Belknap’s arbor, where the raw skin of the grape can burn or irritate your lips, tongue and throat, some family can burn like acid to the heart. OUCH! Did that hurt? How honest am I with you right now? Are you thinking of a family member with acidic tendencies? If you’re like most of us, you have a sour grape or two on your branch. He, or she, could be a criminal, maybe a thief. Perhaps you share DNA with a drug dealer or child molester. Maybe you have a domestic spousal abuser in your vine. There very well could be an adulterer sharing your apple pie. It could be you have a grape in the cluster who loves injustice, or applauds it. How about one who, without deep thought or heart-searching, publicly displays harshness and venom against another race. (If you are one of those who adopts language that could be printed in a neo-Nazi newsletter, you won’t like this blog at all. But if so, read on and consider why you do such things, if you’re not afraid of the touchstone of truth.) I listed these things above because I have them all in my family vine across the various branches and limbs. Should I just avoid family reunions all together? Should I go and cocoon myself in the corner hoping nobody will speak to me? Maybe I should snuggle up to each one, playing the denial actor for 2-6 hours at a time and eat cake. I feel those options are way too easy to initiate. Because my Christian faith teaches me differently, I must entertain another method.
The old saying, “No man is an island”, comes from a sermon by the 17th century English author and Anglican cleric, John Donne. (No doubt he adopted it from Paul in scripture, “No man lives or dies to himself.” – paraphrasing Romans 14:7) It’s true. The older one grows the clearer this view becomes. We, whether we like it or not, affect one another. We persuade one another to the right or to the left. Some of us cause others around our vine and branch to lean in nefarious directions where the edge is sharp, overgrown and slippery. Let us be sincerely honest with each other. The Ft Belknap vine is bent purposefully toward the picnic area where the branches are trained to follow after the wire grid to create a natural roof over the area. It took effort by Mr. Cox, and those who followed after him, to make this a successful covering. It reminds me a bit of, “And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.” – Jonah 4:6 (NLT) (Interestingly enough, that was in Nineveh, modern-day Mosul in northern Iraq, where ISIS had ruled for some time until recently.
Like the great vine being arranged, we too can help to train those on our branch. It’s easy to excuse some in our family with statements like, “Oh, let him go on with all that nonsense. Let’s have seconds on the fried chicken.” Or how about, “I see the teens are headed for a joint or two out back. They’ll be back for some cookies later. You know how kids can be.” We might even reply passively to vile words spoken from a pillar of the branch with something like, “Ha-ha, there he goes again, rattling on about ‘those people’. It’s just where his generation came from. Let’s play checkers.” This technique is all well and good, with one exception: We are all followers, whether we want to admit it or not. Our little ones in our grape cluster are impressionable with rather large ears. You may not consider they, too, will walk away from things said with a new ideology growing inside them. Why? Because no man is an island!
“…And you, of tender years, can’t know the fears that your elders grew by. And so please help them with your youth. They seek the truth before they can die…” – Crosby, Stills & Nash
What’s wrong with pulling aside a relative, influencing your section of the vine, and privately speaking the hard truth in love about their statements or actions? I say, nothing is out of bounds. If that family member laughs you off, or worse, so be it. At least in the eternal view of your existence, you made the attempt to stand for righteousness that protects the family. After all, Jesus said we are like sheep and there are wolves.
The next time I enter in under the great canopy of the Ft Belknap Mustang Grapevine Arbor, I will recall the way we train our own branches and what kind of fruit we leave behind when pruned off at the appointed time.
Being grafted into a Holy vine trains us and our next generation, ushering in fuel for the race.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – Jesus – John 15:5 (NIV)