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My Tribute to Ray Vickrey

Ray and Me
On Thursday evening I heard my cell phone ringing and when I picked it up and saw that Harry Wooten was calling, I just knew what he was going to tell me. It's not that Harry doesn't call regularly, but it was an odd time of day for such a call.  So I made sure to sit down and he soon told me that Ray had died that afternoon.  And I cried and spent the evening sending condolence messages and texting with other people who loved Ray.  And participating in that double grief we all experience in 2020--the loss of the person and the loss of what would be the fitting response to their death.  For in normal times, I'd already be in Dallas and there would be a mass gathering of progressive and moderate Baptists to honor a legend.  

I first met Ray Vickrey twenty years ago.  He was twenty years into his tenure as Senior Minister at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and I was freshly out of grad school, a new Associate Pastor in my first position at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The two churches were part of a larger group of Baptist churches in our region who had for many years been gathering together to do youth camp together because these churches were more moderate and progressive than many other Baptists around them.  The Southwest Baptist Youth Camping Association formed a tightly knit group of clergy who gathered through the year to plan and then for the week in the summer to host camp, and I was a new member of this fellowship.  But Ray was the senior figure of the group, treated almost with reverence.

Ray didn't attend all the planning meetings but when he showed up for the minister's meeting at camp, everything changed.  Other pastors, themselves highly opinionated people sometimes serving larger churches, quieted down and showed their respect to Ray.  But Ray didn't demand this treatment, in fact I'd come to learn how amused by it he was.  Ray himself was unassuming, never thrusting forward his own ideas, often remaining reserved, and only speaking on occasion, but when he did, everyone listened.  As a 27 year old I had no idea what to make of what I was seeing.  I sometimes found it funny while also finding it compelling, what was going on here?

In my memoir I introduce Ray this way, 

He had been a champion runner in college and retained the trimness and vigor of a much younger man. His bearing was both authoritative and charming; he smiled broadly. He was over six feet tall with bright white hair that was always perfectly combed. Distinguished is an overused word, but the word fit Ray.

Ray was a respected Baptist statesman. He had endured the Eighties-era fights in the Southern Baptist Convention and was a leader in the moderate and progressive camp. Other ministers treated him with deference and sometimes awe.

You can read about his athletic exploits here.  I remember him talking about how he should have gotten to the Olympics, but I fail to remember what prevented that.

So, over a couple of years I casually got to know Ray, but got to know Harry Wooten even better.  Harry was Ray's colleague, the Minister of Music at Royal Lane, and Harry and I hit it off rather quickly.  It helped my relationship with both men in that I was friends with Tim Youmans who has served with the two of them at Royal Lane when Tim was Youth Minister there.  I had befriended Tim when we both lived in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  Tim vouching for me, paved the way for my relationships with Harry and Ray.

Then, in 2002, when Royal Lane was looking for a new youth minister, I was surprised and honored when Harry called and said he and Ray wanted to hire me.  But I wasn't looking for a job and hadn't been in my current one very long.  I told him no.  And told him no again a second time later.  And then that autumn he called again.  They were struggling with finding the right candidate and he and Ray were convinced it was because I was that person.  Just come to Dallas for a weekend, let us show you around, then make up  your mind.  I finally agreed to that.  Before I left for the weekend I had decided I didn't want to move again so soon.  And I was particularly ready that if they put on some hard sale, I'd be able to easily say no.

But that's not what they did.  What they did was give me a foretaste of what was to come.  The three of us just hung out, eating and drinking and talking.  Sure, they showed me around the church and told me their visions for it, but there was no hard sale at all.  They did set up an interview with the committee, though they seriously downplayed that ahead of time.  We spent the afternoon drinking beers and then they brought me (a little tipsy I might add) to the interview and suddenly I was in a room with fifteen people!

Driving back home to Fayetteville, I knew they were right, that I was being called to Royal Lane.  And, so, a few months later after tearful goodbyes in Arkansas, I moved to Dallas, a town I'd always thought represented everything that was wrong with America.  And there everything in my life would change.

The first half of my memoir records in detail the affects of living in Dallas and how during that time I came out of the closet as a gay man, so no reason to go into all of that here.  

Serving at Royal Lane will always been one of the high points of my career.  There was a special alchemy between Ray, Harry, and I.  We were not simply effective colleagues, we were dear friends.  So much of our work was done while sitting at a table together enjoying fellowship, often with some visiting friend of Ray's.  Our favorite place was the Bavarian Grill, a great German beer hall surprisingly located in a Plano strip mall. When we were doing it up right, we’d arrive after the lunch rush for our own late lunch of trout, red cabbage, spinach, and pretzel rolls washed down by Warsteiner Dunkel. After lunch we’d smoke a cigar and then eventually order Black Forest cake and coffee for dessert. We’d usually leave about the time the dinner crowd was beginning to arrive. Sometimes we’d actually plan an entire season of worship during one of these outings. Other times it was just fellowship.

Ray grew up in a working class area of Houston.  He attended Baylor University, where he excelled as an athlete and student.  He was there when Waco's downtown was destroyed by a powerful tornado.  He rushed downtown from the university and helped rescue people, pulling them from the rubble.  His early ministerial career was ended by a divorce, at a time when Southern Baptist still opposed divorce.  He became the director of the alumni association at Baylor and in that role cemented relationships throughout the state (more on that in a moment).  Then, in the late seventies, he was called back to the church, pastoring a large singles ministry at FBC Richardson.  Then, in 1981, Royal Lane called him as pastor, where he served until 2008.

In the 1980's Southern Baptists would undergo a huge battle as the fundamentalists took over the denomination.  Ray was a voice of reason and moderation in those battles, but standing on the right side of questions of biblical interpretation and the role of women in the church.  And so he was one of the leaders as new splinter groups of moderates and progressives formed in the 1990's.  

When you attended a denominational meeting with Ray, you needed to be prepared for something.  When your group decided it was time to leave the convention hall to head to lunch or dinner, you had to decide that a least a half hour before you planned to eat, because it would take you at least that long to get out of the convention center.  The reason is that everyone wanted to talk to Ray.  I personally would find this irritating, which is why I'll never be that person.  But Ray handled it with grace.  Pastors were constantly coming up to him to talk.  More than once I'd hear some small town Texas pastor say, "Ray, I've been looking for you.  I really need to talk to you about something."  And then pull him aside.  Ray had spent decades at the university and in church work cultivating relationships, and he was a deeply and wide respected and admired man.

I was glad to know him more personally.  As funny and wise and more rebellious than the public role suggested.  

One of Ray's great gifts was his ability to form deep friendships.  His close friend the Rev. Kyle Childress published an article in The Christian Century in 2004 about Ray and their close group of friends.  They call themselves "The Neighborhood."  Six pastors who for years gathered twice a year for a week at a time to be friends and supporters of each other.  Try as I might, I've never been able to replicate this in my own relationships.

But even beyond this gang, it wasn't unusual for some friend of his to drive or fly to Dallas to spend time with Ray when they needed wisdom and advice, and Ray would bring that person along for drinks at the Bavarian Grill.

When the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was beginning to discuss and argue over what to do about gay people, Ray hosted conversations for people to talk.  He encouraged a more inclusive church, but never stepped out radically.  Royal Lane and slowly and quietly acquired gay members who were promoted into positions of leadership.  Years later, when the Baptist General Convention of Texas somehow finally figured this out, then they expelled the congregation.  

One of the most important things I can say about Ray Vickrey is that he didn't fire me.  I think I completely surprised him one day, when during staff meeting, completely out of the blue, I just said, "Ray, I'm gay."  He seemed at a rare loss for words at first.  It took him a couple of days to formulate a response.  This was the early Aughts in a Baptist church in Texas, when it would have been so easy and so typical for me to be done with ministry at that point.  But that didn't happen.  Now, if you've read my book, you know that the next few months were a struggle for me and for my colleagues.  This sure wasn't what Ray expected in the final years of his ministry, and I did things that didn't make it easy for him.  But we remained despite those difficult months, we remained friends.  He was present at my wedding to Michael in 2009 and was so very excited when I called to tell him about my call to Omaha.  It is safe to say that Ray is one reason I'm still in ministry 17 years after coming out.

Ray and I were so different in temperament.  He thought I was too open, that I shared too much, that I expressed my opinions too often.  He was more reserved, quiet in meetings, kept his personal thoughts for close friends.  I've always recognized that his temperament was the source of his power and the respect and admiration with which he was treated.  I've always been somewhat envious of it, while also know that I'm not that person, as much as I might want to be.  And so he remains a mentor and a model, but in some ways the ideal I can never achieve.

What a blessing for a young minister to work with Ray and to learn from him.  He was quite fair and balanced but brooked no nonsense.  If someone caused trouble in the church, Ray had no problem making sure that person knew they should leave and not let the door hit them on the way out.  That was an important lesson to learn.  So many other lessons run through my brain--how to cultivate relationships with congregants, to make short hospital visits, the proper concern a pastor should have for stewardship and finances, how to develop a staff that works effectively as a team, how to have fun while working, etc. 

Most importantly maybe was this set of lessons.  He often said that ministry was not a difficult job, and he was annoyed at those who viewed it that way.  He had grown up around oil refinery workers and knew that was a difficult job.  A minister should set clear boundaries and take lots of time for themselves and their family, which was more important than the job.  In fact, it was the pastor's job to model not overworking because too many congregants overworked in their professional lives, to the detriment of themselves and their families.  And no minister should not everything about their church.  If you knew were the scissors were kept in the fourth grade Sunday school classroom, you were headed for burnout.  I believe I have absorbed all of these lessons and also done my best to pass them along to my Associate minister.

Alzheimer's took Ray in the end.  It was a long, slow decline.  With hindsight, I was clearly there as it was beginning, though none of us knew it at the time.  It was a shame to see such a keen intellect who had cultivated relationships with so many people lose much of that in the final years.  On my most recent visits to Dallas I was encouraged not to visit, as he wouldn't know me, and I decided I didn't want that experience of my friend.

On Thursday after I got the call from Harry, I kept picturing my last visit with Ray, fittingly at the Bavarian Grill.  And I remember his charming smile and his big laugh and the light that radiated from him.

Christine Reynolds

California Vacation 064 

At the First Baptist Church of Shawnee, Oklahoma, which I first attended while a student at Oklahoma Baptist University, college students were paired with a member or couple in the congregation as adopted grandparents.  I think this was a random pairing, so I got lucky when at the welcome college students lunch I was introduced to Christine Reynolds.

And for the last twenty-five years Christine has been one of my favourite people in the world.  Her daughter posted on Facebook today that Christine died this morning.

Christine was the tennis coach at Shawnee High School for much of her career.  She was even once the National Coach of the Year.  She had a stellar record of tennis champions. 

When I met her, she was 73 and still actively playing tennis.  She had a sports medicine doctor she went to for her knees when they acted up.  She was notoriously still beating women much younger than she.  And I don't think she stopped playing tennis until her mid-80's.  Then she took up swimming for exercise.

In retirement she had taken up painting as a hobby.  

She was one of the first elderly people I met who was vitally active.  She was witty and joyful and sarcastic.

I remained in Shawnee while I was in graduate school at OU, and so my friendship with Christine deepened as we attended church and events together.  When I was elected a deacon, she was in my deacon family--the group of church members I had responsibility for.

For many years I would drop her off and pick her up at the airport in Oklahoma City whenever she traveled.  Christine was a cursed traveler.  Every time she traveled some unusual thing would happen that would delay the flights she was on.  But then she'd add it to the long list of funny travel stories to tell.

My most embarrassing memory connected with her was one night I was asleep at home and got a call, "Scott, are you picking me up at the airport or not?"  I had the day wrong, thinking she was arriving the next day.  I made it from bed in Shawnee to the pick-up at Will Rogers World Airport in forty minutes (which isn't legally doable).  It was almost 11:30 when I pulled up and she was sitting on her luggage at the curb with this put-out sarcastic look on her face.  I was so deeply embarrassed and apologetic.  But she forgave me and laughed about it.

After the big celebration for her 80th birthday, she decided to move out to California to be closer to her kids and grandkids. I moved from Shawnee shortly afterwards, but we've always remained in contact via e-mail, especially exchanging digital cards at Christmas.  

In 2008 Michael and I were in California to visit his brother Robert and his girlfriend Anne and our drive took us through Fresno, so we stopped to see her.  She grilled us steaks, and we had a great time catching up.  

At Christmas this last year when we exchanged cards I began to think of her 100th birthday in a couple of years and how much fun it would be to go if there was going to be a big party.  She only made it to 98, but they were 98 good years.  

DC Day Two--The Ideals of Our Republic

I awoke early in hopes of securing, via the website, timed entry tickets made available each morning to the African American History Museum, but during an hour of refreshing the webpage I never was able to secure any; someone always beat me to them.

So I enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the inn and chose to spend the morning walking around the monuments and memorials.  I thought that encountering the ideals of our republic would ennoble and inspire me.


Albert Einstein's statue is bigger than I realized.


I always cry at the Lincoln Memorial.

I'm always surprised by my grief that he was killed.  I cry as I read again the words of the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural.  I cry as I watch African American children joyfully getting their pictures taken.  

Sebastian is at that age where every time he sees or hears an airplane he gets excited.  Watching him I recall my childlike wonder.  But I also realized yesterday he not only possesses a wonder, but a naivete.  The plans approach National Airport are so close; every time I caught one out of the corner of my eye I was startled.  We don't experience planes with wonder anymore but with the possibility of horror.  

I decided since I've never walked around the Tidal Basin, I'd do that.  It was a very pleasant morning.


At the George Mason Memorial, which honors his role in assuring our rights, philosophy makes a good appearance with books by Cicero, Locke, & Rousseau.  He seems like a pleasant fellow.


I had read that the Jefferson Memorial was in bad shape, but I was still surprised.  Throughout the day I was struck by the number of turned off fountains, crumbling plazas, algae filled pools, and obnoxious security fences. You can see the rot at the heart of our democracy.

The African American History Museum sure makes statement boldly sitting next to the monuments to slave owners.

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My grandfather fought at the Battle of Anzio where he was so severely wounded that for a time they thought he was dead.  He spent six months in the hospital recovering.  In a recent podcast I shared this story.  Ordinary people like he are honored here for the roles they played in defeating tyranny and advancing the cause of liberty.

When I set out in the morning I hoped that encountering the ideals of our republic would be ennobling and reassuring, but the morning had only made me sadder, for we have failed to live up to our ideals. 

And all this before I learned that while I was re-reading quotes about sacrificing self-interest for liberty and the common good, the vile occupant of the White House was again acting like petty adolescent bully.  David French of the National Review wrote, “It’s a sad symbol of our times that one feels compelled to actually make an argument why the president is wrong here.  The pitiful reality is that there are people who feel like the man who sits in the seat once occupied by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan should use his bully pulpit for schoolyard insults and vicious personal attacks.”  That’s what has always bothered me about Trump—not him so much, for his is a pathetic, little man, but the millions of people who have voted for him, people who somewhere along the way failed to learn what the moral ideals of our nation are or were willing to risk them for an imagined short term gain.

For lunch I met up with Chris Rempert who was in my youth group in Dallas fifteen years ago. At the time he was a middle school kid.  Now he’s spent years in advocacy work for progressive causes


This was my first visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, and I did not expect that I would spend the entire afternoon, but I greatly enjoyed the exhibits and leisurely took my time to read and experience them, particularly the exhibit on Native spirituality and philosophy.


I spent the evening with Christie Platt whom I befriended at Yale in 2014.  What a delight to catch up with her and finally meet her husband.  Seeing her was one reason I had come to DC ahead of General Synod.


And so this morning I’ll take the train to Baltimore and weekend of colleagues and work on behalf of God’s people.

Not Valid


Dan, my host and hiking buddy last week, went to Oklahoma Baptist University and majored in religion and philosophy while I was still living in Shawnee and working on my Ph. D. at the University of Oklahoma.  He once led a youth group event for me at Rolling Hills in Fayetteville and a few years ago I led a Lenten event for him in Oregon City.  In between he has also lived in Paris, Southern California, and Zurich.  He became an Episcopal priest and I became UCC.

He told a humourous story about one time being in a meeting with some Roman Catholic priests when one called everyone else "Father" except Dan.  Later he was asking Dan about his church and when Dan mentioned a priest of the Old Catholic Church, the dogmatist said, "Oh, his orders are valid."

Thus implying that Dan's orders are "not valid."  I responded, as we hiked along sharing this story, "wonder what he would think of your orders in comparison with the gay married UCC guy?"

We enjoyed apostolic succession jokes and anecdotes and much other theological, churchy, middle judicatory, and philosophical humour in our days of hiking (and drinking) together.

Dan and I agree that the issues facing the mainline churches are not as severe as often reported.  That most churches simply need to make a few correct decisions and that what often plagues congregations is poor leadership (can be clerical and/or lay). 

I have also rarely laughed so hard so often in one week.

Hiking Lost Lake in a Hail Storm


Okay, the hail part goes like this.

As we came along the final stretch of our hike around Lost Lake, a little girl, walking with her family, said to us excitedly, "Did you get hailed on?"

We had not.  Apparently it did hail.  We had ten or fifteen minutes before heard ominous rushing winds, so maybe that was actually hail in the near distance, but fortunately not falling on us.  

That does not preclude that the story will now be that we, my Episcopal rector and soon to be Canon friend Dan Morrow, did hike around Lost Lake in a hail storm.

I was in Oregon for a week of hiking as part of my sabbatical.  Despite wanting a week of hiking, I had also planned this to be the real retreat portion, though after last week's mass murder in Orlando, I was unable to cut myself off of the internet all week as I had planned.  I felt not only a personal need to connect but a responsibility to be present.  Dan and I also have a project (or maybe projects) idea that we have been tossing around and this would be a chance to work on that some.  More on that later.

I left Omaha that Monday morning bright and early, taking a cab as my husband and child were still asleep.  Dan picked me up at a time that was still early in Portland and we went to breakfast before driving up the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River.  I had last (and for the first time) been to Oregon three years ago in the winter to lead a Lenten discussion for Dan on the Problem of Evil.  I knew then that I wanted to return and do some hiking.  Last year Dan and I were going to hike together in New England as part of the sabbatical that I had planned before news of Sebastian's impending birth delayed the time off.  Months ago I asked Dan about hiking around him and he arranged with some church members to use their cabin in Parkland, near Mount Hood.

The weather in Oregon was cooler than average, only reaching a high of 70 once while I was there.  The near 100 degree temperatures back home were happily missed and returning to this heat has made me irritable.


In Hood River we drank some of the many delicious local beers as we plotted out the week's events, then grabbed our groceries and headed up to the cabin.  After getting settled we took a short hike to one of two Punchbowl Falls we would visit last week before driving up to Lost Lake.

Rain began to fall as we arrived.  Dan had left his rain jacket at the cabin, so he bought a temporary poncho from the General Store, though they only had what was labeled kids-sized.  That it fit Dan made me wonder how it would engulf a child.  We then began the two hour walk through the pine forests as the rain came and went, enjoying the lush surroundings and admiring the newts lazing in the water.


When I was momentarily friends with a rock band

This is the fourteenth post as I listen through my cd collection.

It was Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2002, I was in my late twenties, and I was friends with a rock band.  They were a group of local guys named BE, headed by Talley and Mark Summerlin and they had just released a new album Thistupidream.  I met them through their cousin Ellen.  One of the things I regret in life is my friendship with Ellen.  We were originally set up on a date, as I was still a few years from coming out.  Fortunately, the relationship never developed romantically, but she and I did become friends, though that friendship faded when I moved to Dallas and then my life just moved in other directions.  

I enjoyed Ellen's family.  She and her cousins had a huge group of friends and their parents and aunts and uncles would party with them as well.  It made me jealous really, for my family never had relationships with my friends like that.  They were also musical.  They would sing songs when they were together, songs of joy and blessing and honor.  My short time being a part of their large, warm family circle was one of the highlights of living in Fayetteville.  I was even the minister at Mark & Lucinda's wedding.

Ellen took me to hear BE at George's Majestic.  The music really connected with me.  It should have.  We were the same age group and had similar musical influences and likes.  


My two favourite songs (of many I deeply enjoy) on Thistupidream are the title song and the opening song "On the last day I was happy."

I remember the bomb floating, floating
I remember the song we were singing
On the last day I was happy

I remember the news droning, drowning
We were young and confused
Desperate, doubting
I remember the plans we were making
So much better than friends
Sleeping, waking
On the last day I was happy

I like the description of the album on iTunes: 

Their brand of alternative guitar rock keeps the pulse light and moody, with splashes of lush rhythm guitar crunch added for tonal color. "On the Last Day I Was Happy" is a good example of the general approach: strong on melody with a decided millennial Brit-pop sensibility. The pose is more languid than aggressive, honing in on dreamy, introspective lyrics — although at times the band shows they are capable of rocking out. 

It also says "Thistupidream sounds remarkable and demonstrated that Be was poised to make a grab at mainstream recognition."  That would have been great.  They disbanded in 2003.

Talley and Mark moved to Dallas a few months before I did in the winter of 2003.  One of my first social events in Dallas was hanging out with all of them again. 

Tonight, looking them up for the first time in a decade, I see that Mark works with Seal and Talley has released solo material.  

It is one of the sad facts of life that when one does move regularly for work, friendships are made and lost.  


"You're not listening anyway"

Second in a series of listening through our entire cd collection alphabetically.

Over the years, sometimes unannounced, a package would appear in my mailbox filled with burned cds of music.  These came from Charlie Bates (Chazz, we used to call him), one of my more musically inclined friends, wanting to make sure that I kept up on the latest, coolest sounds.  There are a handful of these cds in my collection, some of which I grew to enjoy more than others.  Some I completely forget about and then listening to them during a project like this, I wonder "Why did I forget about this album?"


Which brings me to the next cd in the line-up, Acoustic Junction's "Strange Days."  What a great album!  Yet I had completely forgotten it was in my collection.  That's easy for burned cds, because they are in those tiny little jewel cases without the vertical labels that one scans when looking at the rows of cds and trying to pick what to listen to next.  But, now that its ripped to my work computer, I'll be hearing it more often for sure.

This is the type of music I resonate with.  A sound between folk and alternative rock.  Smart lyrics with thought provoking metaphors, expressing emotional themes that resonate with me.

Like these lyrics from the chorus of the song "Melt" 

But last night
I had a dream
I saved your life
I proved my love
I took the bullet
I killed a shark
I kicked some ass
I won your heart
I won your heart

Other notable tracks include "Strange Days," "Yesterday's Come and Gone," and "Dancin' for You."

I do miss the days of the burned cd (or the mixed tape).  It was a great way to share music and learn new things.  Some of my favourite bands and musicians came to me that way.  It's how I first heard Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley, for instance.  I guess people now share Spotify links on social media, but I haven't personally gotten into that.

Plus, it doesn't seem quite as poignant as going to your mailbox and retrieving a package of cds from a friend in California. 


Marty & Rick

The other day I texted Marty Peercy reminding him:

Rick Moody on Saturday.

To which Marty replied:

Tell him he's my hero.  TELL HIM.

So, when we were introducing ourselves in class yesterday I added at the end, "I have a good friend Marty Peercy who lives in the small town of Shawnee, Oklahoma who texted me and told me that I had to tell you that you are his hero."

To which Moody said, "I'm honored that someone in Oklahoma feels that way about me."

The Hilarious Story about the Painting

We were in downtown Miami, Oklahoma at the bookstore and coffee shop enjoying catching up with my longtime friend Juan Penalosa.  He needed to take a conference call, so Michael and I decided to walk up and down Main Street and browse the stores, something I haven't done in many decades.  Fortunately, most of the stores have something in them, unlike many years, though its nothing like the days of my childhood when they were filled with department, clothing, and shoe stores.

As we turned at one end of the street to walk back, I said to Michael, "Did you ever see the murals we painted in the public library?"  Michael said, "I don't think so, because I don't remember stifling laughter."

So, we walked over to the library.  The last time I saw them, they were on the second floor, in one of the rooms up there.  Note: I last saw them in the mid 1990's, when I took my college girlfriend Jennifer to see them.

We walked up the steps to the second floor, but all the doors were locked.  Then, we walked downstairs into the main entrance.  The man behind the desk, who we later learned was named Terry, asked, "Can I help you?"


I said, "My elementary class painted some murals that used to hang in one of the rooms on the second floor.  Are they still around?"

Terry: "No, there is nothing like that up there.  And I've worked here for seven years; I don't remember anything like that.  Sorry."

Me: "Well, that's too bad."

Terry: "Wait.  Were they on panels?"

Me:  "Yes."

Terry:  "And they were paintings of things that are around Miami?"

Me: Brightening. "Yes."

Terry:  "Oh, we did find those in the basement once.  No one knew anything about them or where they came from.  I'm note even sure if they are still down there.  Let me go and check."

He left and returned a few minutes later, beckoning us to the basement.  Another librarian, a woman, was down there and the two of them took us to a back corner (I was last in the basement when I worked at the library -- my first job as a fifteen-year-old; I was fired from that job, which is another story).  There were the three panels.  As we pulled them out to look at, I explained what they were.


Our Gifted and Talented class in fourth grade (I believe that was the year, if not it was fifth grade), met at the public library on the second floor.  During that year we created these paintings of aspects of Ottawa County.  Mrs. Geneva Rush, our teacher, broke us into three groups to research the paintings and create them.  One was significant buildings, another was Native influences, and one was mining.  That was my group.  Our county was a major source lead and zinc mining, which supplied the country during the First and Second World Wars.  And also left much environmental damage, though we didn't fully understand that when we did the painting.  These paintings and then hung in the library, at least for a decade afterwards.

Lori Helton-Bailey said that she thinks they were part of a statewide effort, where kids in every county produced paintings that then went to Oklahoma City to be displayed.  She remembers that they were displayed in the Murrah building, and she always thought they were destroyed in the bombing.

The painting had been vandalized at one point, and may be why they were taken down.  It is scratched, including having a cuss word scratched in it.

After I explained what I knew of the paintings (I learned Lori's recollections later in the day), the woman librarian said, "You want it?"

Surprised, I said, "Well, I would rather they be kept in Miami and used somewhere. . ." as I said this, she gave me a look like I was delusional, so I kept talking . . . "but if they are going to be thrown away or kept in a basement, then yes, I guess so."  I looked anxiously at Michael, who signalled that he was okay accepting it.  She then asked if we wanted the other two, but we declined.  They aren't as good as ours anyway (plus we weren't sure the one would fit in our vehicle).

She said, "Let me go check with my boss first.  They are City property."  She came back later and said, "It's alright.  Go ahead."

So, we took the painting.  As we were carrying it out, I commented that I was still Facebook friends with the three other kids in the group -- Lori Helton, Kim Baldwin, and Dustin Headlee--and that I couldn't wait to send them a message about the painting.


We went and got our car, and Juan, and came back to load the painting.  That took some work, but we got it in there.  I was giddy and jumped up and down, clapping my hands and laughing.

We went shopping to kill some time before dinner, and I sent Lori a message asking if she was in town and then explaining what had happened.  She was excited, saying she had been talking to her husband Will about the painting just recently.  So, we arranged to bring it by her house for her to see it.


She was pleased that the painting was better than she remembered it being.  Lori also sent Kim a message, because she thought Kim was in town.  She was, but wasn't able to arrange a meeting to see the painting.  

So, Michael and I hauled it back to Omaha.  Now, where should we hang it?


Peter & Henrietta

Yesterday my good friend and former congregant Judge Peter Keltch died.  A few weeks ago Henrietta Holcomb, another former church member died.

Henrietta and her late husband Herbert were pillars of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  They quickly embraced me when I came as Associate Pastor and shared their stories, their hospitality, and their advice.  Henrietta was a stalwart of Christian education, mission, and wider baptist life.  She had been an educator all her life, and one of the elementary schools in Fayetteville is named for her.  My early years in ministry benefited greatly from their kindness and support.

Peter was a member of Cathedral of Hope-Oklahoma City.  He sang in the choir and served in leadership roles.  He was a faithful, regular attendee and participant.  He was also a good friend.

Peter would regularly take me to lunch so we could have engaging conversations.  He was a Republican, a history buff, a Sooner fan, and into geneaology.  He enjoyed our conversational disagreements more than when we agreed.  He always felt a little inferiority that his family came to Plymouth on the second boat, so I was able to jokingly rub it in that mine were on the Mayflower (my last e-mail to him was about learning that another branch of my family are also Mayflower descendants).  Once he groaned when I wished him a Happy Thanksgiving, "The holiday brought to you by my ancestors."

We enjoyed watching football together or going to games, especially if we got to say nasty and hateful things about the University of Texas.

He traveled to Omaha for my installation here and read scripture in the service, bringing greetings from CoH-OKC.  His visit was a delight.

Yesterday when I heard the news, I cried deeply.  I will miss my friend.

Saturday night cookout 001