Yesterday, I was thinking about my mother and the possibility of speaking at her funeral. I don’t know why because I am pretty sure she is going to outlive me and she may try to subvert that plan. She is an interesting person that loves to quilt and sew, but has also written and directed a play or two. We disagree on many things like politics and religion, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Before I get to the point, I should probably tell you about her parents.
My Grandpa Joe was an interesting character. To be honest, he was a hot mess for the early part of his life. People called him Little Joe or Jody and he built bridges for Lincoln County, Oklahoma and raised a huge garden on his modest farm. He had about a dozen cows that all had names even though they mostly eventually were butchered. Their names related to their color (like Little Red, Blacky, Big Red, etc.), and that is what he called black people (colored). He taught baseball to kids and never met a stranger. Later in life, he found religion and taught Sunday School from the quarterly.
The fact that Little Joe was messy irritated my grandmother even though they lived on a farm that was ripe with ways to get dirty. Nanny had a huge flower garden and recited poetry to me in the kitchen while she prepared delicious food. Everything that I remember from her were the different sounds she made. She was in stark contrast to Joe, but I got the impression that she loved him very much (even though she constantly scolded him). There was a vibration to my grandmother that things should be different – better maybe?
Like most of us, much of who my mother is emanated from her parents. In much the same way, I hear my father’s voice in mine. Much of our original religious and political views boil down to where we were born or where we went to college. If we were born in Afghanistan, it would be way more likely that we would be Muslims than if we were born in Chandler, OK. My mother stayed intensely loyal to her parents religious beliefs and politics, even though she later became much stronger and independent in other areas.
My home was not ideal in many ways. My dad worked hard, but made some bad decisions and never really learned to relate to his five children. This made it hard for us and my mother to thrive because some of the components were missing. Even though we had rough beginnings, one thing changed the direction of our lives–it was something my mother communicated in both her words and actions:
YOU can do better!
Even when she might not have been able to actualize this for herself initially, she told people that her children were going to do great things. I remember when I got a job in a big city, Little Joe was also ecstatic that I had accomplished this unbelievable feat. All of my siblings went on to higher degrees, travel and differing levels of success mostly because my mother’s belief that we could do better.
My daughter caught this vision and became an RN. The thing I admire most about both my daughters is that they have the courage to pursue what they dream about and their beliefs are always aiming at the better for all of us. My other daughter and I have a kindred spirit and she faces her challenges honorably. My son is the same way and his courage took him half way around the world where he teaches English in Taiwan.
Recently, when my oldest daughter and I were talking about politics, she reminded me of the focus that runs through the female side of my lineage. With a smile and a direct stare, she interrupted my monologue and said “We can do better.” By the way, she has two daughters that I expect will carry on the family line in their own unique way but with a conviction to do better.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we find ourselves in a less than ideal world. It feels a lot like I felt as a kid in my family of origin. Several things are wrong, but I still believe we can do better. The drumbeat of female influence in my life empowers me and I don’t even have time to talk about Laura’s side of the equation.
Just like the trash that nobody wants to empty, our environment continues to get worse. The condition of our environment affects everything within it, much like my family of origin shaped and formed me. The condition of the system directly affects our survival and the things that are evolving are becoming more serious and harder to ignore with each passing day. We can’t change it overnight, but we have to believe that we can do better!
Christianity needs a major overhaul. It doesn’t necessarily need to die, but it needs to be reborn and that probably won’t happen inside the organized church. It’s members need to go off to college and have other experiences to gain perspective, then what it will become will most likely look nothing like the current model. For 2000 years, we have argued about beliefs and only gotten more and more off track. What we need is a simple commitment to love one another and to ignore the voices that divide. We can do much better and we will.
My mother won’t even talk about politics any more with me. Most of the problems with politics are similar to the problems in religion. The leaders / pastors / politicians have subtly taught us to fear and hate the other to promote their own agendas. It’s called common enemy intimacy by Brené Brown – we find acceptance by hating the same things. In a small town, it is easier to see people that are essentially very similar that are at war with each other. At some point, someone demonized the other religion or politics as being so dangerous that the person that even looks, talks and acts like them is the enemy. We can do so much better!
Little Joe straightened his life out even though he became somewhat of a zealot for religion and his politics. My mom struggled for many years to find her identity, but eventually emerged and nurtured five kids on to bigger and better things. All of us did well and are now fostering that same dream in our children and grandchildren. I can’t wait for my daughter to tell her daughter what she told me with a resolute stare, “We can do better.”
Most of the problems in politics, religion and our families boils down to one problem – we don’t talk in an effective way and we don’t really love one another. We must forget about the party, the platform, the belief system and all the other agendas we have inherited from our selfish leaders and adopt the simple injunction of Jesus to love all our neighbors, especially the other country, the other party, and the other denomination.
The universe is bent in the direction of progress, but we must lean into it.
We CAN do better!
Be where you are, Be who you are,
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!