I have always been a catcher. I do not refer to baseball – in which case I have almost always been a second baseman. I catch things. I always have. I spent most of my sixth-grade recess periods catching grasshoppers because our science teacher asked for them. I would bring them in by the jar-full and he would dump them into a bigger jar filled with formaldy…formaldi…formalda… chemical preservative. Later in the year the high school biology class would dissect them – the school saved money by virtue of my tendency toward catching. Not counting lots of other insects or animals I caught be setting traps, I have, bare handed, caught snakes, birds and fish, no end of frogs, toads and lizards and hundreds of crayfish which are, by the way, delicious! In the same bare handed fashion, I have caught young groundhogs and racoons, kept them for a while and let them go. I have caught adult groundhogs and racoons too but you have to exercise more care with that. On the other hand, adult opossums are easy to catch and I have caught several, some baby opossums too. I have caught a lot of young rabbits bare handed and a few chipmunks. You may find this hard to believe but I still have all my fingers and the only wild thing from the list above that ever managed to bite me was one of the chipmunks. Once, I tackled a full grown white tailed deer. I have a photo! It was an unusual circumstance in which the deer nearly ran me over. And, I have laid hands on several snapping turtles – from fresh hatchings about the size of walnuts to 25 pounders that could probably have bitten a finger off if I were less careful. Every adult snapper I ever caught certainly wanted to bite me!
Once, when I lived in Tennessee, I caught a large snapping turtle crossing the parsonage lawn – no doubt headed from one body of water to another as snappers occasionally do. I knew a family that ate all things wild (big 4th of July groundhog BBQ!) and especially loved turtle. I snagged the snapper, threw it in a box, closed the box tabs in the usual crosshatch fashion, hopped in the car and took the turtle to their house. The father was a hard old man with a great resentment of the world invading the remote mountain valley in which he had lived all his life. He had worked on US 421 back in the day, scooping earth with a mule and said he regretted that more than anything else he ever done in his life as the highway let all the foreigners in. (I lived there for six years and never completely overcame my status as a foreigner but my country ways – including catching things – helped.) The house was out of sight of the road, up a hollow, across a home-made bridge. I knocked and no one answered. If the father were home alone he might not have answered either because he was never anxious for company or because he was nearly completely deaf. I left the box on the porch and almost as an afterthought, wrote across the top – Caution, live snapping turtle.
I thought no more about it until a few weeks later I went to the little community store and found one of the boys from the family holding forth in a tale that obviously had the complete attention of a fair crowd (there was always a ‘hunker’ at the store.) As I approached, I caught this portion of the narrative. …and whoever the fool was just left it on the porch and wrote on it – caution, live snapping turtle – just like they thought dad could read! It turned out his father had been nipped on the knuckle when he inserted his hand between the tabs of the box. I saw no need to confess to being the fool who had done such a thing.
Assumptions! Generations of men before my time have forgone education in favor of work. My paternal grandfather never finished high school because he wanted a year to hunt, fish and trap uninterrupted before he married and spent the rest of his life farming. But we constantly do things making the assumption that all the other people around us share our background and experience. No wonder they regarded me as a foreigner! The incident taught me this. Sometimes we can relate the gospel to people based on our similarities. But sometimes, it pays to consider the ways in which we are different!
Here it is – Independence Day – our national celebration of America’s historic transformation from a British colony to a sovereign nation in its own right. The Declaration of Independence laid out the rational for the change; i.e.
These conditions providing the justification, and appealing to God to support their cause, the states renounced the government of England and set up shop as an independent nation. England, of course, disagreed and there was a skirmish over the matter.
Most holiday celebrations leave me sad – not because I don’t like a good celebration but because the celebrations so frequently miss the point! I find this true in both religious and secular holidays. In the case of July 4 (assuming we don’t just celebrate another long weekend as an excuse to overindulge in food and booze) we celebrate national independence as a given and take no thought at all about the rationale for that independence. I would be surprised if the majority of our population could quote the first line of the Declaration of Independence much less summarize it. The endowments of God, the larger purposes of government and the gauge by which governments may be deemed legitimate or illegitimate are lost in the process.
Without understanding these core principles in the original organization of America, we do not even really recognize competing theories of governance and human rights. When we don’t know the differences – well, what’s the difference? When ‘independence’ is valued on the basis of ‘indulgence’, liberty becomes license and no longer worth defending anyway. Take a moment between hot dogs and fireworks this July 4 to remember what it’s really about.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Pastor of Indian Run Christian Church