Friday, July 31, 2015

Generations

My Good Wife and I moved into our new home last Friday. It’s the first new house to be built on the Ruffin Family Farm, located just outside of greater metropolitan Yatesville, since the original farmhouse was constructed around 1842. That house and the farm on which it sits became the Ruffin homestead in 1918.

Three years later, on July 25, 1921, Champ Lee Ruffin was born in that house. So last Saturday, the first full day that we spent in our new place just a little ways down the road from the house where he was born, was the 94th anniversary of my father’s birth.

He’s been long gone. He was at work in the Bleach Department of Thomaston Mills on Thursday, May 24, 1979, when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died in the Thomaston hospital three days later. He was 57.

A lot of Ruffins got together at the family farm on Daddy’s birthday last Saturday, but I’m not sure that anyone besides me was aware of the significance of the day. The gathering had nothing to do with him. It was kind of a “last bash before the kids go back to school” event; the place was crawling with my school-aged first cousins twice removed.

As I looked around I realized that the vast majority of the people at that family gathering had no memory of my father. Most of them were born after he died. Likewise, he never knew most of them. When he died, they were not, to use one of his favorite expressions, “even a gleam in their father’s eye.” Shoot, some of their fathers were barely a gleam in their fathers’ eyes.

Yet there they were, all of them with Ruffin blood flowing in their veins, all of them relatives of my long deceased father. He would have loved them all. He would have been proud of them all. He would have been tickled to have been around them last Saturday.

Daddy’s father—my PawPaw—was 94 when he died. I can imagine my father cackling Paw-Paw style at the antics of the newest generation of the family.

And so it goes with families. People die and people are born. Generations come and generations go.

It’s the same way in our families of faith. People die; generations pass. We remember them. We appreciate them. We build on what they left for us. We keep the best of what they left us; we discard what wasn’t so helpful.

People are born; new generations arise. They bring us new energy, new ideas, and new perspectives. They build on what was passed on to them but they also construct their own legacy. They have their own successes and they make their own mistakes.

Generations down the road, our spiritual descendants will still be keeping the faith, even as they try to figure out how to live it out and share it in changing times.

And just like now, those who are of the, shall we say, more chronologically advanced generation, will wonder if they’re going to make it.

Maybe the best we can do is to cackle at them. And to trust them …

(This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Thomaston (GA) Times on July 31, 2015)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Last Move

We just moved. Again.

If all goes according to plan, this will be our last move. We sure hope so.

We’ve moved a lot. Well, not a lot compared to some families, but a lot nonetheless.

My Good Wife had more experience with moving during her growing up years than I did. My mother birthed me on September 24, 1958 at the Maternity Shelter in the old Health Department Building that sat across the street from the New Gym (officially known as Alumni Memorial Hall, it hasn’t been new for several decades now) at Gordon Military College and up the hill from the Little League field and swimming pool where I would later spend many happy days. Then, my parents took me around the corner to 228 Memorial Drive (it was actually 317 Memorial Drive at the time, but they changed the numbers later, for some reason), and there I stayed for seventeen years until I left for college. My Good Wife’s family, on the other hand, lived several places in Calhoun County before finally settling down in the middle of some peanut fields about halfway between Leary and Morgan, which is where she was living when she left for college.

Luckily—providentially, I think—we arrived at the same college and it was there that we decided that whatever future moving we did, we’d do together.

So when we got married we moved to 1548 Johnson Avenue, Apt. 2, in Macon and lived there for a year while she finished at Mercer. Then we moved to U-7 Seminary Village in Louisville, Kentucky, where we lived for my first two years of seminary. When we realized that my academic ambitions were going to keep us in Louisville for a while, we moved to a house at 251 Saunders Avenue. We brought our firstborn, Joshua, home to that house. My first job after seminary was in Adel, Georgia, so we moved to the sprawling ranch home at 300 Bear Creek Road that was the First Baptist Church parsonage. We brought our second and last child, Sara, home to that house. When I took a job teaching Religion at Belmont University in Nashville, we moved to 5023 Marchant Drive in that city. While I served as pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, we lived at 2906 Sussex Road, just down the road and around the corner from the course where they hold that little golf tournament in April. Most recently, we have been residing at 126 Meadowlark Lane in Fitzgerald where I was pastor of another First Baptist Church; we closed on the sale of that house last Friday.

Whew. I’m tired.

I’m not sure why we’ve moved so much. Maybe it was self-preservation; perhaps I thought it was harder to hit a moving target. Maybe it was just wanderlust. Really, though, we have felt like we were doing what we were supposed to do in every move we have made.

Our move to the Ruffin Family Farm just outside metropolitan Yatesville, though, will be it. We’re staying put. Whatever we do from here on out, we’ll do it from there. And believe me, there is still a lot we want to do. Besides, you can go anywhere from Yatesville, Georgia. And you’d be surprised what you can see just sitting there.

It’ll be good to put down roots and see how tall we can grow staying in one spot.

Still, honesty compels me to admit that there’s still one more move to make, but that one will require us to stop breathing, so hopefully it’s a long way off. We sometimes refer to it as arriving at our final destination, like it’s a place where we’ll land and just sit around being happy. I can’t help but wonder if we’re thinking right when we talk like that.

I remember a couple of gospel songs from my growing up years. One of them said, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.” The other proclaimed, “Just a cabin will do.” I actually heard some serious discussions over whether we could be satisfied in heaven with just a cabin or whether it would take a mansion to make us content.

Just speaking for myself, make mine a cosmic Winnebago. There’ll be too much to see and do to sit around the house ...

(A version of this article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Barnesville (GA) Herald-Gazette on July 28, 2015)

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Lakes

I didn’t know what he was talking about and I really didn’t care, it being 1974 and me being sixteen and all, but I can still hear my late father saying that he was mad at then-Governor Jimmy Carter for killing an Army Corps of Engineers plan to build a dam on the Flint River that would have turned the Sprewell Bluff area into a big lake. I don’t know how serious Daddy was about his complaints, but I suspect he wasn’t really all that upset, given that he hardly ever went fishing.

I’m a bit of a tree-hugger, so had I been paying attention, I probably would have agreed with Gov. Carter’s decision. Sprewell Bluff is a mighty pretty place and I’d hate to see it covered up with water. Besides, the fishing is good without the river being dammed up; fishermen and fisherwomen can (and do) go after the shoal bass that are unique to the Apalachicola -Chattahoochee-Flint river system. It’s also good to protect the various rare species that live along the Flint, including the Halloween darter that was just discovered in the 1990s.

The headwaters of the Flint are in Hapeville, of all places; the river begins as groundwater seepage that goes into a concrete culvert and then under the runways at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Fifty miles or so later the water from several creeks has joined with that seepage to form the beautiful Flint. It runs for almost 350 miles, eventually joining with the Chattahoochee River to form Lake Seminole in Southwest Georgia. The sole river that exits Lake Seminole and goes to the Gulf of Mexico is the Apalachicola, thus the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The Flint is controversial as well as beautiful. It gets caught up in the “water wars” being waged between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over access to the water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system. The demands placed on the river by the pumping of water from the Flint watershed to irrigate crops in Southwest Georgia are also a cause of concern and controversy.

The Sprewell Bluff Lake (or whatever it would have been called) was never built. But another lake was built a long way away from here, and that one’s in serious trouble. Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River was completed in 1936. The dam, which depends on the water from the lake to drive its turbines, provides electricity to a large portion of the Western United States. It also provides water for a lot of people in a lot of places, including 90% of the water supply of Las Vegas. Because of a prolonged drought, Lake Mead is now 60% empty. In order to gain access to the water at the deepest part of the lake, Las Vegas has spent the last six years building a three-mile long tunnel under the lake. According to CBS News, the city will start accessing the reservoir’s water from beneath the lake by the end of the summer.

One wonders how long it will be before the last drop goes down that drain.

A few years ago I was listening to a rather eccentric fellow up in Minnesota who was holding forth on how important the Great Lakes were to the future of the United States. “If you think wars over oil are bad,” he opined, “just wait until we start fighting over water.” I usually dismiss such talk as paranoid ravings, but he had a point. Nothing is more vital to life than water, so if access to it ever becomes severely limited, I suppose it would get rough.

There’s a story in the Bible (Numbers 20) about the Hebrew people running out of water during their wilderness wanderings. When they complained to their leader Moses and his brother Aaron about the situation, the Lord told Moses to command a rock—a big rock, I presume— to produce water for the people. But when the people gathered around the rock, Moses hit the rock twice with his staff. Despite his abuse of the rock, the Lord still caused water to pour out of it.

Believe what you will about the role that human beings play in causing climate change, but any reasonable person can see that we often are not good stewards of this good earth and of the resources with which it provides us. One can’t help but wonder if we’ll eventually abuse the Earth until it has so little left to give that we have no recourse but to wage war over it.

Thus ends the tale of two lakes, one that didn’t get built and one they’re about to pull the stopper out of.

Those who have eyes to see, let them see …

(Most of the information about the Flint River is taken from www.georgiaencyclopedia.org)

[This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Thomaston (GA) Times on July 17, 2015)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Return Trip Effect

Maybe you’ve had the experience; I know I have, and many times.

You’re travelling to a place to which you’ve never been before. The trip takes whatever time it takes, but it seems like a long time. Then you return home, following the same route that you took to get to wherever you were going. Upon arrival, you say to yourself or to a travelling companion, “It sure didn’t take as long to get back as it did to get there.”

Chances are pretty good, though, that both the trip there and the trip back consumed about the same amount of time. The return trip just seemed shorter. Apparently we perceive the trip back differently than the trip there. And it doesn’t matter what your mode of transportation is; I’ve experienced the sensation travelling by land and by air.

It’s called the “return trip effect,” and Niels van de Ven, a psychologist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, conducted a test to try to determine what causes it.

He had a group of bicyclists travel the same route to a fair. He then split the group in half; he had one half of the group return by the same route they had taken to get to the fair and he had the other group return by a different route of the exact same length. All of the riders, regardless of which return route they followed, reported that the trip back seemed shorter than the trip there.

That result seemed to eliminate one popular theory of what causes the return trip effect, which is that familiarity with landmarks along the route makes the return trip seem briefer. The bicyclists who followed the alternative route did not encounter the landmarks that they had seen on the way.

On the basis of his experiment, van de Ven attributes the phenomenon to our expectations. "Often we see that people are too optimistic when they start to travel," he says. They’re looking forward to getting there and they hope the trip won’t take long. But once they arrive they feel that the trip took longer than expected. As a result, they feel more pessimistic about the return trip; they expect it to take a long time.

"So you start the return journey, and you think, 'Wow, this is going to take a long time,'" van de Ven says. But the return trip seems shorter than you expected it to be.

The National Public Radio report where I read about this study concludes with the observation that the return trip effect, no matter what causes it, is in fact an illusion, so maybe if we understand it better it will stop happening. But do we want it to? As van de Ven says, "In the end, this return trip effect gives you a positive feeling once you get home, so I'm not sure whether you want it to go away."

Lately I’ve been experiencing the return trip effect on a grand scale.

Forty years ago I was preparing to leave my home in Barnesville to embark on my life journey. Being seventeen years old, it was impossible for me to anticipate how long such a trip would take, especially since I didn’t even know what my destination was. I do know that I was in a hurry to get to wherever I was going. I also know that at times it seemed that I was riding in a horse-drawn carriage while at other times it felt like I was in a rocket.

Now that I’ve arrived back home (technically at my father’s home of Yatesville, but that’s close enough) and I’m looking back, it seems like the entire journey was taken in Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon with its hyperdrive perpetually engaged. And I must say I’m feeling pretty positive about the experience.

There’s a sense in which all of life is a return trip. So far as I can tell, two things are simultaneously true: (1) God sent us here and (2) Before we got here we were nowhere. Oh, the genes and the stardust and all the other stuff that went into making us who we are was already here, but the consciousness—the spirit, if you will—that makes me me and that makes you you was not. Still, in a very deep place within that consciousness, we know that home is somewhere else and we long to get back there. And by God’s grace, we will.

The farther along I get, the shorter my life seems to have been.

Now I know why—it’s all about the return trip effect. I’m on my way home . . .

(This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Barnesville (GA) Herald Gazette on July 7, 2015)

Friday, July 3, 2015

An Open Letter to the Atlanta Braves Radio Announcers

Dear Jim and Don,

I like you guys, which is a good thing, since I have been spending a lot of time with you lately.

That’s because in recent weeks, while our new house is being built on the Ruffin Family Farm a mile outside of Yatesville, Georgia, I’ve been living with my Uncle Johnny, and he doesn’t have cable or satellite television. So I’ve been listening to the Braves games on the radio.

I appreciate the work you and the crew do in bringing the games to us.

Still, I’d like to be so bold as to make a few suggestions.

1. Describe the game.

Tell us what is happening on the field. Give us details—tell us what the pitcher’s windup is like; describe the batter’s stance. But remember that your listeners are not watching the game so we do not see what you see. Tell us all about it.

2. Paint a picture.

I was eight years old and living in Barnesville, Georgia when the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta. We went to a couple of games every year but I watched most of them by listening to Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson on WKEU FM out of Griffin. I put it that way because they painted such a vivid picture that I could see the game in my mind. Your words could paint beautiful portraits, but instead you give us line drawings. Your descriptions should enable us to see the players in 3D, but instead we see stick figures. Communicate the atmosphere to us. Help us taste the beer and smell the hot dogs.

3. Give the score often.

Some people get to listen to the entire broadcast but many of us don’t. We turn it on in the middle of the game because we had things to do or because we just got in the car. I have gotten in my car and driven for ten minutes before ever hearing the score. Brothers, this ought not to be. Remember (again) that your listeners are not watching the game on television and so the score is not always in front of us. Giving the score at the end of each half-inning is not enough. I recommend that you make it a practice to give us the score at least once every 60-90 seconds. It should definitely be given after each at-bat. You guys are talented; you can figure out a way to make it blend in.

4. Stop telling long stories.

They distract from the game and we listen to hear the game. Now, they’re fine during a rain delay or during a pregame segment. All too often, Don will be telling a story and Jim has to interrupt him to say what is happening on the field. The game is the thing. Just describe the game.

5. Goof around less.

You guys are clever, intelligent, articulate, and funny. I’m sure I would greatly enjoy having dinner with you. But between the first pitch of the game and the last pitch of the game, none of that matters unless you put your cleverness, intelligence, articulation, and funniness to use describing the game and painting the picture. You are impressive but we do not want to be impressed by anything but your descriptions and accounts of the game.

6. Leave non-baseball stuff out of it.

If you want to talk about the best restaurants in Doraville, maybe the Food Network will give you a show. But such talk adds nothing to our understanding and enjoyment of the baseball game.

7. Describe the game.

8. DESCRIBE THE GAME.

Pardon me for shouting. But that’s the point I really want to drive home. Tell us what’s happening. Tell us what it looks like. Help us smell the smells, taste the tastes, feel the elation, and experience the frustration. Help us feel like we are there.

Thank you for listening to me. I’ll keep on listening to you whether or not you take my suggestions—my pleas, really—to heart.

You work in the Pete van Wieren Radio Booth. Make him proud . . .

And Go Braves!

Your Faithful Listener,

Mike Ruffin
Yatesville, Georgia