On Government

It was with high ideals that I first learned about our government. Having read about it in our hoard of books at home, and with my father’s voice guiding me through each page, I held the founding fathers and the men who fought for us in the American Revolution in high regard. These weren’t mere men, a foreign concept to many in today’s society, but they were great men. Men with conviction. Men who lost fortunes for freedom.

Learning about government in school was quite a different experience. I was always puzzled by the role of the legislative branch. Why did we need new laws? Did people not understand right from wrong? It became apparent to me as a child that not everyone in my class, and maybe even a couple of teachers, had not grown up with a set of Encyclopedias and bookcase in every room of their home. In classes like civics, and government, I heard some the most bizarre ideas articulated and espoused that I am still more than a little concerned to know that those people are now voting.

I was chosen by our faculty to attend Alabama Boy’s State during the summer before my senior year of High School. Boys State was founded in the 1930’s to combat the Hitler Youth programs. Each year, schools all over the country send a select group of boys to a week long camp where they will create a miniature model of their state government. This mock government is complete with Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Judges, and all of the various commissioners and elected offices that make up the bureaucracy of their given State. At the end of the camp, two representatives, usually the elected governor and lieutenant governor, are chosen to attend Boys Nation, were a model of the Federal Government is created, and delegates get to meet the President of the United States. The boy that was elected governor of Alabama the year prior to my attendance was elected President of Boys Nation. Judge Pete Johnson, the Director of Alabama Boy’s State, had been a Boy’s Nation delegate and had met President Kennedy. While Everything I had learned about the government so far had been theory, Boy’s State was practice in every sense of the word.

I arrived at the University of Montevallo and upon registering was assigned a “City”, or Dorm. Each City was named for former Boy’s State Director. For that week, I lived in the City of Fann, which was the second floor girl’s dorm. We were also assigned one of two parties, Nationalist or Federalist.
I was a Nationalist.

In our first party meeting. We were tasked with establishing a party platform, and choosing candidates. As most of the large crowds I have been a part of had been at church, it was unnerving to be in such a starkly divided crowd trying, or not trying in many cases, to find common ground. The issues that we could not agree on, much like today, were Abortion, Gay Rights, and the Lottery. We argued for so long, that fearing we would run out of time, some adults intervened. They advised us to ignore these hot topic issues. We followed this terrible recommendation and developed one of the weakest party platforms in history, only rivaled in shallowness by that of the opposing Federalist party.


Looking back on the process we used to elect candidates that we did not know is quite comical, until I realize that it is also how it is done in real life. Anyone who felt so inclined was given two minutes and a microphone to convince the party why he should represent all of us. There were some vulgar remarks, quite a bit of silliness, and a hand stand by a snooty soccer player. In the end, we were able to narrow it down to the popular kids in each city, at which point there was another round of convincing with slightly extended microphone time and an admonishment to not pound the podium, the adult supervision not having ever heard a Pentecostal Preacher. At last we, brimming with patriotism, elected a boy from England to run for “Lufftenant” governor. Ultimately, he won the election and when it was discovered that he was a noncitizen, Judge Pete Johnson, being a member of some kind of naturalization or immigration board, pulled some strings and the boy was naturalized in front of the whole delegation at general assembly. It was quite moving and he cried a little bit. I’m not even sure why he was there if he wasn’t a citizen, but I’m also not sure why I was chosen, and I was born here.

Throughout the week we heard a few special speakers. They were mostly politicians who rambled about growing up poor, or growing up rich. One evening before one of these speeches, three boys played their electric guitars in front of the whole delegation. They played Sweet Home Alabama, probably the purest performance of anyone we had heard all week. The speaker was the honorable mayor of Fairfield and future 30th Mayor of Birmingham, Larry Langford. It was immediately apparent that he was the sharpest dressed man in the building. He walked to the podium and called the three guitar slingers back up on stage. “It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of a crowd of this size and give an outstanding performance. Y’all impressed me so much that I’m going to give each of you, out of my personal money,” here he paused to reach into his front pants pocket and pull out a handful of cash, “each of you a hundred dollars.” From the giant roll of money, he peeled off three crisp one hundred dollar bills. He did it with great ceremony and it made quite an impression on the boys in attendance. I recalled this incident when I began to read about Mr. Langford in the Birmingham News for running up a near six figure tab at Gus Mayer. The incident was again recalled when he was indicted and ultimately convicted for bribery.

Although there were many interesting things that happened at Boy’s State, probably the most important thing for me was realizing how the State government actually worked. As a result of a weeks immersion in the workings of the political system, I became disillusioned with government in general. After working in County and State Government for nearly my entire adult career, my views on government have repeatedly been confirmed. It is not the honorable, nor the noble that are elected, but the popular. It is not the faithful men of character that allow their name to run for public office, but the self promoters. Righteous laws are not passed, but popular laws.

Given the world’s current political situation, it would appear that with such a dim view of government I must be a miserable pessimist, or a political extremist. I am neither. Think me not unpatriotic. I am proud to be an American. Proud not in the haughty, raised up sense, but in the unashamed sense, proud. I cast my vote with a feeling of grave responsibility. I believe that our form of government is the best that man can do. After all, it is founded on biblical principles.

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” – Isaiah 33:22

The problem is not what form of government to which you subscribe, they all work in theory, but once you add people, the key ingredient, the whole thing runs amuck in time.


“…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.” Isaiah 40:7

In conclusion, I find it hard to get worked up about something that God gives so little thought.

“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isaiah 40:17

Vacation

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up.

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up. I was two years old when the whole family went to St. Louis, Missouri to visit some family friends, Sharon and Richard Davis. We drove Dad’s little red Mazda four cylinder pickup truck with a camper on the bed. Lindsay was under a year old so she was privileged enough to ride in the cab with air conditioning and the radio. Zach and I rode in the bed of the truck the whole trip. Mom was kind enough to give us a blanket to sit on and plastic three liter Mountain Dew bottle in case we had to go to the bathroom, which was great fun. We had no clue that this was not the proper way to go on vacation. Mom and Dad must have wanted to get away real bad. I remember falling into the penny pool at the bottom of The Arch, and being rescued by Andrea, the middle Davis girl.

For the rest of my life, we didn’t really go on vacation. I’m not even sure what a normal vacation is supposed to be like. If it’s what I think it’s supposed to be like, we couldn’t have afforded it anyway. What we did find a way to afford and what we looked forward to more than anything was spending time in Montgomery, Alabama at the Alabama District United Pentecostal Church Campgrounds on Pike Road. The original building was built in 1918 as one of the first schools with grades 1-12 all under one roof. At the time, High School was considered higher education, hence the “High”. The Alabama District had purchased the old brick school in the ‘70s and converted the classrooms into dorms and used the auditorium as the sanctuary. There was a big “Debt Free In ‘73” Plaque in the old lobby with the names of people who had donated to help pay off the mortgage early. My grandfather’s name was on there. By the ‘90s, a new sanctuary had been built beside the old school, I remember the new sanctuary always being freezing cold, I think they trying to make that air conditioner make up for all the years that it was absent. I didn’t complain, we didn’t have air conditioner at my house until I was eight and I think my parents had the same mindset.

There were four different week long camps held each year during the month of June: Crusader Camp, Jr. Youth Camp, Sr. Youth Camp, and Camp Meeting. Each of these camps roughly coincided with elementary school, middle school and high school, with camp meeting being for the whole family. Every June from the time I was eight until I was nineteen, I spent at least two weeks at the campgrounds for the various camps held there.  Camp was so great an influence on my life that it became one of the annual events that I still use to measure the years in my life, the other being Christmas. The focus of each camp was the same: Church. The daytime would be filled with games and activities, and the night time we would have church. There was also a day church session.

Crusader Camp was my introduction to camp. I remember The Hoppers were the feature children’s evangelists. I was and eight year old from a small congregation in a small town, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a minority. Our church taught gender distinction and to put this doctrine into practice, I only wore long pants (and still do) and my sister only wore skirts or dresses that covered the knee (and still does). Perhaps this dress code was a little redundant seventy five years ago when ladies had only just begun wearing pants, but glancing at the current gender identity crisis we have in America, I think we made the right choice. I’ve always stuck out- perhaps not as much as my sister- for dressing modestly, and Crusader Camp was the first time that I didn’t feel like an outsider. This was the longest that I’d been away from home in a single stretch. I had so much fun that I could have stayed another week.

I remember one year the air conditioner died in the dorms and the heat was unbearable. At about midnight, all of the boys were led out to lie down on the cold cafeteria tile, and the girls went to the freezing sanctuary. As soon as the counselors got everyone to stop giggling and lay down, the air conditioner came back on and we had to gather everything up and go back to the dorms. I’m very thankful for air conditioning.

Jr. Camp is when I really wanted to start playing the guitar. The two main events were softball, and choir. Since social media was not on the scene and  good decade away  from saturation, we were just excited to be able to hang out with our friends and we didn’t really need an event packed day to have the time of our lives. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive, so we would just sit and talk at the snack bar if we didn’t play softball. I loved playing air hockey at Jr. Camp, but what I looked to most was hanging out with friends, especially girl friends. The premier event at Jr. Camp, and Sr. Camp for that matter, was the Pizza Banquet on Thursday night. Guys would ask a girl to be their date and we would eat Domino’s Pizza after service in the back of the sanctuary. While we were eating, we would have Midnight Madness which is a lot tamer than it sounds. There were skits, messy games, music, but mostly comedy. People were easier to entertain before YouTube and social media.

In a time before cell phone cameras, we would buy a few disposable Kodak film cameras, snap terribly framed group pictures, and order double prints so we could share them. There is something ceremonial about viewing your pictures when they come back from the one hour photo at Wal-Mart. You sit down on the couch and pass the pictures around and relive the moment, a week or so later. It seems that camp was one of the only times I thought it was important enough to take pictures and I have a stack of pictures from different events at the campgrounds over the years. I remember feeling a lot cooler than I look in these pictures.

By the time I was old enough to go to Sr. Camp, I had already made a host of friends and I looked forward to seeing them at camp every year. By my second or third year, I was playing guitar for the worship team. I don’t remember the first time that I got to play guitar at camp, but I know that Bro. Stan Davidson had a hand in it. Getting the opportunity to play guitar at Youth Camp when you’re fifteen was a pretty big break, and I’m still thankful for that opportunity. Playing at Youth Camp opened the door to play at Camp Meeting. I don’t want you to think that I was an amazing guitar player at fifteen, I was painfully average, but playing in front four or five hundred people forced me to excel. Men like Stan Davidson and Zane Isaacson believed in training young people. They made me feel like a real musician and encouraged me to keep at it. Encouragement is something that was lacking in my community. People who could only whistle would criticize you for trying to learn an instrument. Camp provided me with confidence and opportunity to be a musician.

Something that always plagued the campgrounds was an outdated septic system. Not only were the pipes laid in 1918, the system wasn’t big enough to accommodate a small army of teenagers. Every year someone had to work on the septic system in some capacity. By the time we were teenagers, Zach and I were also emergency staff members. One year the sewer line got clogged sewer line, and Zach had to help out, I was fortunate enough to be at band rehearsal, so I got out of helping that time. When they opened the release valve, sewage sprayed about fifteen yards. When he was done with that job, he just threw his clothes away.

Once a year, not during the camp season, we would make our way to Pike Road to help out at work week. I’ve helped tile bathrooms, paint doors, but what I did most was clean and haul away trash. One year Zach was helping run a piece of conduit under the sidewalk for an electric line. The pipe was hung up under the concrete sidewalk. “Hold on, I think I can feel it.” Zach said to the man on the other side of the concrete and reached his hand down to see if he could pull the pipe through. At the same time the man on the other side of the sidewalk shoved the pipe. The pipe cut Zach’s finger pretty bad and it started spurting blood. He grabbed it and ran into the kitchen with the whole host of workers following him. After we washed the finger off it was still bleeding really bad and someone said, “You better take him to the emergency room.”

My Dad, said, “We don’t have any insurance.”

This reply was met with a smirk by the man who had shoved the pipe. When Bro. Mike Hartzell saw this expression, something came over him and he took Zach’s hand and said with authority, “Let’s pray.”

After everyone prayed, Zach pulled the wet paper towel away from his hand and we couldn’t even find the cut.

I heard some life changing sermons at that old campground. I used to buy all of the tapes at the end of the week with the money I had earned hauling hay. I still have a big stack of those tapes at home, although they are a little warbly from years of listening. There is one tape that has a reserved spot on my desk at home, “The Things God Measures” by Rev. Doug White. I can quote much of it. “The book of Ezekiel, chapter 40…God wants to know how big your altar is…” I remember that night like it was yesterday. I felt God calling me to preach in the altar call after Bro. White had measured out about a hundred yards of rope as an illustration of the line of flax. There were other memorable speakers from the various camps that I distinctly remember, J.T. Pugh, C.M. Becton, Paul Mooney, Mike Chance, and Wayne McClain. I remember being so tired from staying up all night that I fell asleep on the front row of the day session at Camp Meeting one year. I’m ashamed to say that this happened while Bro. Becton was preaching.

I also made lifelong friendships at camp. Back in the days before everyone had a cell phone and the internet was a luxury, we used to get a booklet with every camper’s name and address. It was a thrill to get a letter in the mail, especially if it was from a girl. I had my first crush at camp and we corresponded through the mail until the long distance phone rates went down. I hope that she could read my handwriting. It took a lot of courage to call knowing that her father could answer and I would have to ask to speak to her.

There was a distinct culture at camp and unless you experienced it, it might seem odd and a bit hard to understand. Sort of like someone trying to explain a real vacation to me. I wish the Pike Road Campgrounds story could go on and on, but sadly it must come to an end. In recent years, the Alabama District made the hard decision to sell the campgrounds for a myriad of reasons. This put a seal on my childhood. Sometimes, we adults would like to go back to being kids, but it’s not possible, we can only remember. I hold the memories that I made every June at camp very dear. Temporal things will not last, and even memories fade, at least for now I still have those tapes and pictures.