Monday, October 24, 2016

A communist in the audience

Flickr photo by TEDx UniversityofTulsa
As a teenager, I spent a couple of summers working in the Harding University media center.

(If you need an overhead projector set up, I am your man.)

One of the perks of the job was setting up AV equipment for various seminars on campus—the best of which was the “Youth Leadership Forum.”  Interesting speeches, plus a good number of high school girls in attendance.

My favorite part of the forum?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

As I recall, Harding president Cliff Ganus would kick off a session talking about some patriotic theme.  He wouldn’t get too far into his speech, though, before a man in the audience would stand and interrupt.

How dare the Harding president fill these young people’s minds with such terrible ideas? the man would ask.

And it would soon become apparent that the debating gentleman was actually a communist, and he would begin to put forward—somewhat convincingly—the benefits of the communist system.

And we media center workers—sitting up in the audio booth of the American Heritage auditorium—could see all of this unfolding below us.

Now, Dr. Ganus handled the man in stride, but the students in the audience … well, that was a different matter.

The more heated the communist got, the more heated the audience got.

Some scattered boos.  People jumping up from their seats.  Questions being yelled.

A few students singing God Bless America.


I worried about the communist.  Would he be okay?  Would he make it out alive?

At the peak of the unrest, Dr. Ganus would regain control of the situation and ask everyone to be seated.  He would then properly introduce the communist—who happened to be a member of the university faculty.

You see, the communist was a plant.  He was only pretending.

And, in the end, the students were encouraged to think about their experience and were reminded of how important it is to listen to other people’s perspectives.

A lesson in showing civility … in being respectful … even when we disagree.

Monday, September 26, 2016

More grace

Flickr photo by faungg's photos
I had this dream
I’m not kidding
a real nighttime, fast-asleep dream

I’m seated at one end of a conference table
surrounded by old friends
Some of them are sitting on top of the table
Why are they sitting on the table?

We’re wrapping up some sort of seminar
and we’re discussing potential topics
for our next get-together

The conversation slowly winds its way around the room
and then, suddenly, all eyes are on me
“Grace,” I say
“I’d like to hear more about grace”
and I start to cry
Why am I crying?

And all of the people
around the table and on top of the table
nod their heads
“Yes,” they say
“We’d like to hear more about grace.”

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Growing up
I looked forward to the day
that I would shave

So when the time finally came
in junior high
as I stood at the sink
in the middle bathroom
lathered up a Santa beard of
Barbasol Shaving Cream
broke out a brand new plastic razor
began to shave

And soon after
a dream began
a dream of growing a mustache
like Coach T at school
Full Fu Manchu

So that by my late teens
I was trying regularly
to grow the perfect stache
Just check out my senior pic
Sport coat
Big grin
Tiny stache
like a worm crawling across my upper lip
a sickly worm

And I refused to quit

One time
in college
a minister’s wife
came up to me and said
Mike, you give it a good try in about 10 years, and you will look just like Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck!  Magnum, P.I.!
Now in the mustache world, that IS the peak
as I’m sure you know
And this minister’s wife was being completely serious
and sincere
I think

So I pressed forward toward the goal

Until one day
I met a girl
a really cute girl
who shook her head and smiled and said
Um, no
No stache

Can you believe it?
How dare she kill the dream?!

Which brings me to today
this very day
30 long years later
when I know, FOR A FACT, that I could achieve killer facial hair
and that same girl smiles
and shakes her head
and sweetly says
No, Mike
No stache.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Woman on a plane

Sitting next to a woman
on a plane
from Charlotte to Dublin

We’ve been in the air a few hours
and neither of us can sleep much
so we talk
to kill time

I tell her about where I’m from and what I do
and she shares the same
I gather a few extra details along the way
like that she’s almost a decade younger than I am
and a mother of 5
and eventually
we discover some common ground …


She grew up Mormon
and I grew up …

“Church of Christ?” she says,
“I’ve got some relatives in Mississippi who are Church of Christ!”
and we chat some more about church and families and our travel plans

She’s heading to England to visit her brother-in-law’s family

Her brother-in-law—she later tells me—is married to her brother
It embarrasses her to say this
I can tell
Then she adds, somewhat fiercely,
“I love my brother.”

And the conversation
from there. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

World’s largest pizza

When I was a kid
our local Pizza Hut
decided to bake
attempting to set a record
a Guinness Book of World Records record
And they were going to assemble this amazing pizza one block away from my home
in the “New Gym”
which is exactly what happened

So that one morning, we all trekked over to the gymnasium
like pilgrims
to see a pizza the size of a basketball court
all laid out on a plastic sheet
a pizza so big
they had to bake it in sections
because no oven on earth could even cook a quarter of it
And we slowly walked around the pizza
soaking in every detail
because this was historical

You don’t want to rush through something like that

There was no doubt this would make the Guinness Book
the same book we ordered every year
to study people who were the very best in every category
Longest fingernails
Largest twins
Most days spent in a treehouse
And much much more
Including—of course—the world’s largest pizza
a record we would now own
This was going to put Searcy, Ark on the map
Seriously exciting
I’m not even kidding about that

And after the humongous pizza was finally completed
we bought some of it
You could purchase it by the square foot
It was cheap … a lot cheaper than regular pizza
Can you believe it?
World record pizza at an affordable price?
We SAW and ATE the world’s largest pizza
No one could ever take that away from us

Except that someone did

Just a short time later
some other pizza joint in some other town made a larger pizza
and we never even made it into the Guinness Book
But even so
we knew
there was a space in time
when we had been a part of something big

There was a day when the record belonged to us.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Film Festival

Flickr photo by Larry Lamsa
One day

our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Sears

told us a story

the kind of story that fills in the time between math and lunch

She told us about attending a film festival

with her husband

all the way down in Little Rock

50 miles there

and 50 miles back

to see a movie about coyotes or whales or some other kind of mammal

a wildlife film

I think that’s what she called it

And I believe she said they grabbed a bite to eat on the way

… and heard a little lecture

… and sat through a question and answer session

But even though most of the details elude me now

I remember this particular story

for a reason

because it wasn’t just a tale about my teacher going off to a film festival

It was a lesson in companionship

Boys and girls, when you grow up

this is the kind of person you want to be with

the kind of person

who will drive 100 miles

on a school night

not just to see a movie

but because they want to spend the entire evening

with you 

Mrs. Sears' 4th grade class, 1976

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bedtime prayer

Flickr photo by Dean Hochman
For a while now

ever since our firstborn went off to college

when our family began to have 2 or 3 under our roof

instead of 4

I’ve been saying a short bedtime prayer

which goes something like this

please bless Kate and Cal
and Cheryl and me

almost the exact same words every night

monotonous really

but it made me feel like I was doing my part

to hold our family together

at the end of the day

to present us, as a group, before the Lord

to ask for a small blessing

This routine changed, slightly

back in January of last year

when Mom’s health began to decline

I decided to add her in

to make her a part of the group

and so my bedtime prayer became

please bless Kate and Cal
and Cheryl and Mom and me

and it felt good to remember her as well

to present her in this small way

at day’s end

And now that Mom’s gone

among the things I miss

I miss having her in my prayers