2 Cane Poles, a Honey Bun, and a Pepsi.

2 Cane Poles, a Honey Bun, and a Pepsi.

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Life used to be much simpler.  When I was a kid, or as my kids refer to it “the stone age”, it didn’t take much to make me happy.  When I was four years old my Dad became the pastor of a church in Ahoskie, NC.  Now, Ahoskie, NC. may not have had shopping malls, or big restaurant chains, and my parents had to drive across the state line to the Tidewater area of southeast Virginia to go Christmas shopping.  What it lacked in commercial appeal it more than made up for in outdoor adventures.  Those were some of the happiest years of my childhood. I can remember eating raw peanuts out of the field with Dad as he took me hunting.  I can remember being taught how to wring a chicken’s neck on one of the local chicken farms.  I remember the little golf course Dad used to take me to. I had a little sawed off iron that I would piddle around with while Dad went golfing. Those were fun times.

The best times, though, were those warm summer afternoons. I spent most of my day playing in the church playground, shooting my bb gun, making a racetrack for my Hot Wheels, building a fort in the back yard pretending I was B.A. Baracus, climbing one of the pine trees in my yard and swinging upside down on one of the branches, picking honey suckle, or just lounging around in my GI Joe underoos. (Look it up kids, yet another reason my generation’s childhood was better than yours) Dad would come home from the church office and I would see him standing there with two cane fishing poles.  He didn’t have to say a word.  I knew what time it was.  It was time for me and Dad to head to the Chowan river and wet a line.  I loved that time, just me and Dad, sometimes my sister would come along, but most times it was just us.  I felt like a big man.  Sometimes he would let me sit in his lap and steer the car as drove down the back roads.  On longer trips he would bring the cooler, and we would have Spam sandwiches.  We laughed and fished.  He was my Dad, but he was also my best friend.  I learned a lot about life, about parenting, and about being a man on those little fishing trips.  He wasn’t disturbed by emergency calls.  He wasn’t checking Facebook to see if there was something going on that he needed to know about.  No Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.  If somebody needed him they were going to have to wait, because we were on the river, and there was no way of getting in touch with him at that moment. My favorite part though was on the way home.  Every time we drove home he would pull in front of this country store and say “alright A.J., how about a Honey Bun and a Pepsi.” It was just fishing and a snack, not that big of a deal, right.  Maybe to you, but to me, I felt like the king of the Chowan River Basin.  That is one of my favorite memories, and it is just as vivid today as it was 37 years ago.

I thought about that yesterday as we were over at Dad’s for our annual Easter tradition.  After church we all get together and enjoy each-others company.  As we were recovering from our meal, Dad made the comment that all of us were on our smartphones.  I didn’t think about it, but instead of making memories we all were glued to our screens.  My kids were glued to YouTube, and I was checking ESPN.  Now, this may be hard for some of the younger readers to imagine, but no one in my family had a cell phone till I was in college. My first video game system was an Atari. You kids call that retro now. I didn’t have a home computer till I was in the 5th grade, and we had these things that were called floppy disks to make it work, and they were actually floppy.  Our television didn’t have a remote control, my sister and I were the remote control.  We didn’t have a cordless phone, our phone was mounted to the wall, so there were no private conversations, and it was a rotary phone. (Look it up on your Google machine) Technology has come a long way, but I am afraid we have sacrificed so much for the sake of convenience.

As I watch the news, I can’t help but notice how increasingly hostile people have become toward one another.  I watch the discussions on Facebook, and Twitter and see how hateful people are to each other.  Technology has given us the ability to do some amazing things.  Technology has also taken some things from us.  Character traits we claim to value like decency, and civility can be abandoned by the quick click of a button. Facebook, and Twitter have given us an opportunity to say some of the most rude and unkind things to people.  We say things that we would never say in face to face conversation or debate.  It has allowed us a feeling of anonymity, and we choose to use it to speak words that tear down. There is rarely constructive debate, and often people are just downright hateful.

When Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees about which the greatest commandment was he said “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NASB) Somehow, we like to preach about the first part, but skip over the second part.  Love your neighbor.  I wonder how much better the world would be if we genuinely loved our neighbor. Mr. Rogers once wrote “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” That is such a wonderful statement.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t fight for just causes, and that we shouldn’t stand up for those who don’t have a voice.  What bothers me is the vitriol and animosity that I see on in the news, and on social media. We are so quick to argue, we don’t stop to think if it is even worth arguing over.  If it is worth speaking out over, then how we speak out is just as important. I know some people love a good debate, I am one of them, but we must make sure we are not using the crutch of anonymity to say things so rude and mean spirited that we would never say it to their face.

I yearn for the simpler times, maybe we should turn the cell phones off every once in a while.  Log off Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and Instagram.  Let’s make a commitment to engage in actual conversation, write somebody a letter. Let’s learn what it is to be neighbors again. Instead of constantly arguing with someone, find a way to be an encouragement to someone today.  Take your neighbor dinner, just because you want to do something nice for them. Trust me, it will do you a world of good.  The amazing thing is, the kinder you are to other people, the better it will make you feel, and it might make your corner of the world a little bit brighter.

If nothing else, go to your local sporting goods store, and pick up a couple of cane poles and find someone to take fishing.  If you need someone to go with you, I am in.  I will even provide the Honey Buns and Pepsis.

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