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Tribute to Oklahoma (Sweet Okie Space!)

imagePublished Mar 18, 2010 and April 19, 2015

In 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh, news reporters talked as much about the tragedy as they did about the heart of the Oklahoma people. Remember? It seemed like for every sorrow-filled story, the networks supplied at least one testimony of how wonderful Oklahomans are.

And you know what? They spoke the truth.

Back then, I had just moved back to NC from OK. My husband and I thought we were coming back to good ole' Dixieland where ever'body loved ever'body and good manners were mandated by state law. But when we arrived in Raleigh, NC we were met not with the hospitality we expected, but with angry drivers hunkered down behind their steering wheels. These Southern belles and their blueblood beaus were more than a little ticked off. Pretty soon, we knew why: there’s just not enough room for everybody, what with all the orange cones & “Lane Closed Ahead” signs. No kidding, when we moved back to North Carolina in 1992, it seemed like every single road in the state was under construction.

And good manners? Fahgetaboutit! If a motorist had the right of way, you could bet your sweet ice tea they weren't giving up their spot just to let you over—particularly if you were sporting an Oklahoma license plate. Heck, there wadn't enough room for the locals, much less a bunch of foreigners . . . .

Back in Oklahoma, there was plenty of room. I commuted to Chickasha from Oklahoma City. I travelled mostly on a turnpike and on many mornings it was me and the wide open road. After paying my toll, I rarely saw another human being until the city limits of Chickasha 40 miles away (yet so very many dead armadillos along the way—go figure). By then, I was as happy to see another car as the other driver was. We’d wave at each other as if we were headed to the family reunion.

In Oklahoma, there’s elbow room a plenty. Okies can twirl their two-steppin’ skirts and kick up their cowboy boots without ever touching anybody. They can stand on the edge of Oklahoma City facing west and point to Yukon 20 miles away. In Oklahoma, folks got space. Lots and lots of space.

I think that’s one of the reasons Okies are so warm and friendly: ‘cause they can breathe. Sometimes, I feel like I'm being strangled by all my doing, thinking and being. I feel like my schedule is caving in on itself and that I'm at risk of being trapped in the rubble. No doubt about it, I need a little space: space to inhale and then exhale; space to relax; space to realize how much love there is in the world and how little everything else matters.

So I think I'll take a moment right now. I'll breathe in and breathe out. I'll pay attention, but not too much. I'll breathe again. Ahhh. Space. It can sure smell sweet.

Tsarnaev: For the Love of God, Forgive

Photo by Laura Beth Slagle

Photo by Laura Beth Slagle

With the conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I thought it appropriate to repost this from 2013. 
"God in your mercy, hear our prayer."

One Sunday morning in June of 2001 as I listened to the pastor’s sermon, I found myself nodding in agreement to his timeless message. He spoke of the incomparable love of God. He used words like infinite and all-encompassing, unlimited and incomprehensible. And then he spoke of God’s specific love for each of us as individuals.

“God loves you just the way you are,” he said. “God loves you no matter what you do or who you become. You are a child of God and God’s love for you will never falter.” (Amen!)  “God loves the broken, the desperate, the incarcerated,” he said. “He loves each one of these just like he loves you. Because just like you, they are children of God.” (It was one of many times I wished my church were one where shouting an occasional “Hallelujah” wouldn’t cause the membership to go straight through the pearly gates from pure shock.)

“That means,” the pastor went on, “that Timothy McVeigh is also a child of God. That’s right. God loves Timothy McVeigh every bit as much as God loves you and me.”

Whoa now. Hallelujah halted.

A little back-story. From 1988-1992, my husband and I lived in Oklahoma City and absolutely loved it there. (We’d be there still if we could find a way to move that state closer to SC where our parents live.) We’d been back in NC for less than three years the day Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children under the age of 6. Another 200 people were injured in this the worst act of domestic terrorism in US history.  And while I didn’t lose anyone dear to me in the attack, this violence in the city I called home for four years hurt my heart. When McVeigh was identified as the terrorist responsible for the tragedy, I saw him as my own personal enemy. My bitterness grew over the years and when he was sentenced I felt nothing but relief that he was finally getting what he deserved.

Sitting there in the pew that Sunday, I was positively flummoxed. The idea that McVeigh could even deserve God’s mercy was—I confess—not something I was willing to concede. A beloved child of God? Timothy McVeigh? The man I’d come to appreciate about as much as I valued flesh-eating bacteria? That Timothy McVeigh? No way. Surely God loved me more than McVeigh.

Yep. It’s true. That egocentric notion actually settled in my mind. But even as my brain was forming this idea, I saw the ungodliness of it. God playing favorites? No way. I mean, really: if a mere human parent did that, who among us would condone it? Was I seriously ascribing that abhorrent quality to God?

My heart turned and God’s mercy washed over me (God’s like that—always forgiving, always drawing us back into the divine embrace). And as I sat there, drenched in the love of God, the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to me. While Timothy McVeigh’s actions on April 19, 1995 were heartless and cruel, my hatred for him was not changing that reality. Instead, it was changing me—and not in a way that made me look more like Jesus. So, by the power of God (certainly not by my own strength), I forgave Timothy McVeigh: a murderer, a terrorist, and a beloved child of God, just like me. And just like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also 
must forgive.
Colossians 3:13 (NRSV)

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