I’m betting that you are thinking that this title refers to a certain orange-colored ex-president. You are accurately thinking that I have a long list of the things done to degrade our country, both internally and internationally. As tempting as such a diatribe is to me, that is NOT the subject of this piece of writing.
Rather, it is to mark the four-year anniversary of South of God. Four years. Trumpets sound, French horns adding gravitas.
My first blog post was published on November 22, 2018. It was Thanksgiving week and I was at my brother’s house on Ocean Drive on St. Simons Island, off my beloved coast of Georgia. I remember that the mechanics of Word Press was intimidating to me, but courageously, I pressed the “Publish” button twice, as required to send out my first article to the cyber universe. It was brilliantly entitled “The Journey Begins”. I could have creatively toyed with my virgin readers by framing the title with a suggestive, alluring “So”. but why obfuscate with such pandering techniques. Straight up. One true sentence…..
And, so, it began. For years, I had written a weekly column for my parish newsletter, usually pedantically pushing upcoming events and playing cheerleader to the troops. I had developed a routine that, in the hurly-burly world of parish urgency and palace intrigue, helped to make me feel normal, even sane. Most were written on Sunday nights, after the rush of the day was settled, and I was in my study, no one else in the church…..except God, I hoped…on a variety of levels.
Once, someone broke in, setting off the alarm, causing me more fear of the onrushing police mistakenly shooting me, although there was that one detective that never liked my style of playing the role of pastor. And one time, the alarm was not on, and a well-known druggie entered the building, pulled a gun on me, which I laughed off, giving him a ride home in my Jeep. But those were the exceptions. Mostly it was quiet, my stereo playing eclectic Texas songs, with me writing, reflecting, but encumbered by the role, the position. the dependent need to deliver to my parishioners.
Not so on November 22, 2018. I was FREE, and damn glad of it. Liberated, loosed, sprung, or as my colleague John has trained me, unleashed. And that appellation feels right.
It calls to mind a Springer Spaniel, a hard-charging dog with a nose for birds, that I would restrain with a “lead”, a fancy dog trainer word for a leash. Sometimes, I would let Rob off the leash, and he would rear his head back and take off in a sheer joyful run, none of the trained, disciplined quartering to cover efficiently the ground in search of birds for his master, but unleashed to go in a free rush of spirit. It brought a smile to my face as I watched vicariously. It still does.
Also invading my mind is an image that runs continuously, sometimes uninvited. It is of a wind-swept, deserted beach on Cumberland Island, an undeveloped strip of land just south of mine. It is the last barrier island before you fall off into Florida. I was introduced to it by my boss, Congressman Jim Mackay, who helped to broker the deal of wealthy aristocrats who had invaded the South’s barrier islands, to give it for a national park. That is when I first met Jimmy Carter, on a dock on that island, as we gathered to close the deal. It was good to know someone who actually did know the art of the deal.
Later, my friend, John Miner, a communicant at the Cathedral, would invite me to his cabin that stood near the famous Greyfield Inn, where John Kennedy, Jr. has his wedding reception, hosted by his uncle, Teddy. My friend, John, would use the Inn and his hunting lease for the Carnegie land to entertain his clients, and fortunately for me, his priest.
I first met one of Cumberland’s wild horses on a misty morning in the maritime forest. I was meditating in a camouflaged hunting chair, listening to Barber’s Adagio and a variety of Ralph Vaughan Williams selection on my Walkman with earphones. I felt eyes on the back of my head. Turning slowly around, I found a pony staring at me, observing this curious life-form invading his living room. After we properly introduced ourselves, he returned to his work. At least, that’s what he told me. And I, I returned to my meditating, my mantra, which suddenly seemed rather pedestrian. But my smile, that same smile, was on my face for quite a spell, as Grandma McBrayer would say.
Later on that same trip, I was walking on the beach in solitude at dawn’s break. I sometimes had observed the rather curious and ominous sight of nuclear submarines being towed out to sea from the King’s Bay base, its menacing towers and tubes of metal at the waterline, breaking the surface, the oddest juxtaposition of the Apocalypse framed by the Garden of Eden. The mercury-vapor orange cast an odd glow on the sky in the middle of the night, superseded only by the emerging light show of the Creator of morning itself.
On this particular morning, there were no subs. The orange glow had been banished. The sky was a blue, so pure and deep, that it would make you cry with joy and promise. It’s the exact same clear blue that I singularly remember on the morning walking to my office on 9/11. A purity that screams at you, demanding you notice its sublime beauty. But on that November morning, my reverie was supplemented by another sight, a herd of wild horses running free on the beach. I don’t know, but I thought I heard one of the horses laughing. Me, I was smiling again, that same goofy smile when everything seems “just right”. Free.
And that is my brief point on this Thanksgiving week, this fourth anniversary of South of God. It represents a celebration of freedom to write that “one true sentence” that I chase. It’s the dream of any true writer, to tell your truth, tell your story, express your feelings, offer your insights into this thing we all share called life, to risk one’s vision of a future. Freed from constraints, sponsors, sensitive members who pay your salary…..Free. I smile as I type.
Two-hundred and twelve articles…I counted them. Reviewing them quickly brought to mind an extravaganza of images and memories. Each title captured a bit of my soul, some deep memories of connection, a piercing pain of loss and separation. It’s been a mixed bag, which like most things, has its positives and negatives, don’t you know.
I look at the titles listed in order of their publication date and thought of how I had used South of God over the past four years.
It has provided a therapeutic outlet when a close friend like Chris Wall died…The Poet Is Not In Today. I still miss my Texas-Montana cowboy, particularly on Friday nights. I remember meeting him one night in Austin at the Broken Spoke as he sang his most infamous song, I Like My Women Just a Little on the Trashy Side. Smile.
I tackled some spiritual issues, much as I did when I played a priest on TV…Advent: Getting Ready. Lent: A Pause and a Nudge. “Don’t Screw Up My Easter!”. Sunday Morning Coming Down. Kidnapping the Baby Jesus. What Color is Your Bible? Go Grow Roses! Put the Camera on the Bishop…the Fat Guy in the Pointed Hat!
I used it to work out and promote my passion and commitment to Creative Interchange as a way through our malaise of dysfunctional polarization. A Powerful, Creative Interchange. Creative Interplay. How to Unleash Spirit. Tenacious is the Word. Spanning Boundaries, Building Bridges.
And it bought me space to share my learnings of Positive Intelligence and the work of mental fitness. Who is Sabotaging You? Want To Get Mentally Fit?
I used it as a journalistic device, reporting on the Ahmaud Arbery trial from my home in Glynn County. A Symbol of Unity in a Divided Town. Justice for Ahmaud! Giving Thanks for a Particular Black Panther.
It served as a vehicle to reflect on the gift of family. My Grandmother Is A Witch. Island Girl. On the Corner of Bourbon and Toulouse. Thinking of Thomas. To Look and See What God is Doing.
I explored subjects that caught the eye of my curiosity. Choose Your Bias. Decide…Killing Off Murderous Options. My Path to Mindfulness. Doctor, Lawyer, Tribal Chief. My Horse Named Music.
It afforded me a place to cogitate on the events of my life. Leaving Atlanta in the Broad Daylight. My Daughter’s Wedding. A Pause for Memorial Day by a Draft Dodger. My Nobel Prize. My Personal Camelot. A Fish Tale: A Freight Train, Bourbon Street, A Drug Runner, A Bouncer, and a Leopard. And on Nov. 5, 2020, What Does It Mean To Cast A Vote?
South of God even gave me a few moments to play with and get honest with my cosmology. Twist of Fate or Defining Moment. Sub-Version. Where You Step, You Stand.
And it focused my attention on my current work of coaching. Coaching… My Way of Giving Back. What is a Coach? Intentional Change. The Breakfast of Champions: Self-Awareness.
Some articles were just good stories. Ralph Does Folly…Ledell, A Man in Full. Magic to Do. Not THAT Part! In the “On Deck” Batting Circle Behind Henry Aaron. Do You Have Koons In Your Church? And a particular favorite story about my Cumberland Island friend/brother: That Old SOB Can Shoot!
This is Article 213. Reviewing the titles of my past South of God brings that same Cumberland Island smile to my face, the smile that is part of the Creative Self, the child-like smile that revels in the moment of existence, remembering the gifts of the past and leaning into the promising future. Joy and wonder begin to scratch the surface of describing this moment.
I have a list of potential titles for coming articles which gets my juices flowing. Next week, I will begin my fifth year. Thinking of the title, the creativity explodes. “The Journey Continues.”?
No. Time to turbo-charge. Like my old Saab, or my MR2.
So, The Journey Continues. And, there’s that smile, again.