Born of Conviction–The Book

January 2, 1963, became one of those pivotal dates deeply embedded in the lore and psyche of Mississippi Methodists. No one fully dreamed of the consequences, intended or unintended, that was immediately unleashed by the publication of the “Born of Conviction” statement. It was signed by twenty-eight white Methodist pastors and published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate on this date.

The statement simply, 1) called for freedom of the pulpit; 2) noted that the Methodist Discipline asserted Jesus’ teaching permitted no discrimination because of race, color, or creed; 3) affirmed support of the public school system; and 4) declared the basic commitment of a Methodist minister is to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, not to Communism.

What is perceived decades later as a mild dissent ignited a firestorm in 1963, widely taken as an open onslaught on the public unanimity of Mississippi white resistance. “You challenge ‘our way of life’ and you pay the price.” By mid-1964, eighteen of the twenty-eight signers had left Mississippi.

White citizens and white churches in Mississippi, for the most part, were totally immersed in their rabid resistance to change brought on by Brown v Education and the fall out from what William Doyle termed An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962. Others’ reaction to the underlying injustices and inequities these two occurrences addressed often was one of benign denial or shrouded in a cloak of silence when conscience was pricked.

Mississippi Presbyterians had their moments of struggle with voicing publicly Christian convictions in response to the racial discord and violence erupted in our state. On October 16, 1962, the Presbytery of St. Andrew (of which I was a minister member as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Amory) at its fall meeting became embroiled in a debate over what action it should take with regard to the “crisis and tension following the rioting, and bloodshed within our bounds at the University of Mississippi and Oxford.”

Some felt that we should take no action since this was not the business of the church. Others felt that we should take a stand in support of Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. It was friend versus friend and family versus family. All sorts of speculation were made about what had taken place there and where blame should be placed. For a while in the morning it looked as if no action would be taken.

After lunch the discussion took on a very serious tenor when two if its pastors strode onto the floor in full battle dress from their encampment at Oxford. They had been called up as Chaplains in the Federalization of the National Guard. Stories of their first-hand experience at Oxford persuaded the body to adopt a pastoral letter to the congregations within its care to remember “The spirit of hatred and strife, which manifested itself in the violence, is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

The pastoral letter admonished each of us “to give the Spirit of God that supreme place in our hearts and minds . . . summon those of our communion within our bounds to undertake such a searching self-examination and to turn to true repentance as the Spirit leads them . . . act only in those ways which promote order and peace . . . use their every influence to the end that those officials charged with maintaining order may pursue their task with dedication and with diligence . . . urge our communicants to pray for God’s mercy and guidance for ourselves and for our state and national leaders, that we may praise and serve Him all our days.”

This modest action by St. Andrew Presbytery did not generate the furor unleashed by the “Born of Conviction” statement of the Methodists. No further widespread action by Presbyterian ministers as a group produced any public statements to challenge prevailing massive resistance. Individual pastors did make public stands and found various ways to express their Christian convictions in matters of racial injustices. Reactions by their constituents were mixed.

By the late 1960s many that made stands left the state to other calls. Little comprehensive documentation exists of their actions or their impact. Only individual memoirs and personal files record their experiences. This is not the case for the twenty-eight signers of the “Born of Conviction” statement.

Joseph T. Reiff, a United Methodist pastor in the Mississippi Conference that grew up in Mississippi and graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, made sure a comprehensive record exists of the “Born of Conviction” statement. Reiff is currently Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion Department at Emory and Henry College.

Born of Conviction, Reiff’s book published this fall, was a long time coming. It is understandable, since he had the daunting task of weaving 28 signers’ “before, during and after stories” into one cogent narrative. He did it! When he started his extensive research it must have felt like he would never get it done. If Reiff had managed to get Born in some publishable form before 2013, it would not have been the book it is today. Part IV never would have been like it is. To me this is the most compelling part of the book, not to take anything away from the life sacrifices of the “28”.

Reiff was able to move to a much deeper level of insight and perspective on the January 2, 1963 “Born of Conviction” statement because of what took place at the 2013 Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Comments made there by those that left Mississippi in the 1960s and reactions by some of those that “stayed and not run” brought into sharper focus a deep divide in perspectives that existed too long without recognition and attention.

The Conference on June 9, 2013 may have been a critical watershed in the on-going narrative. Recapturing in a 2015 context what the “28” did 50+ years ago accentuates its relevance for back then, but more importantly now for today. The icing on the cake is “Legacies,” Chapter 11. “Some plant, some water, and some harvest . . . !”

I have always had an affinity for Methodists. My own narrative I recounted in my memoir, Transformed: A White Mississippi Pastor’s Journey into Civil Rights and Beyond, intersected briefly with N. A. Dickson, one of the “twenty-eight” signers that “stayed and not run.” Dickson served the Methodist Church in Columbia, Mississippi when I became pastor at the Presbyterian Church there in 1964. What we accomplished together to support our mayor as he sought to build community bridges and navigate the mid-1960s roiling social and political waters, made a cameo appearance in Born.

Transformed and Born are companion witnesses to the significant minority of Mississippians that finally broke their deafening, spirit-killing silence and challenged the separate but unequal cultural arrangement that dominated Mississippi’s relational landscape for generations.

My affinity was also more personal. For years I thought myself a “fourth generation Mississippian” because I was counting the four generations of William McAtees that lived there. [I’m IV and now there are V and VI!] Actually a generation of my family existed in Mississippi before the name McAtee entered my generational story. I had two sets of great great-grandfathers, both Methodist ministers that preceded the McAtees in Mississippi. They later linked up when the daughter of one married William I and the granddaughter of the other married William II.

One migrated to Mississippi from Alabama in 1833, a circuit-riding Methodist missionary to the Choctaw Indians, a well-known Methodist “Bishop,” physician, and teacher in a seminary in Alabama. [It is my understanding that the term “Bishop” did not carry the same connotation it does today, but was similar to the title “Reverend,” and referred to the function of “circuit rider.”] The other migrated to Mississippi from South Carolina in 1845, a circuit-riding Methodist minister that served many appointments in Mississippi, including appointments to ‘colored mission points.’

On the basis of these facts, I proudly qualify as a “fifth generation Mississippian” with Methodist DNA! How we became Presbyterians is a whole other story of my Dad being “a welcomed stranger” one Sunday after church.

11-25-15 © McAtee & weegems, 2015           







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Me and Fidel (Part 2) Retrospective on June 20, 1999

On the evening of June 20, in the fading humid twilight at the close of an exhilarating day with its “invisible energy” at the Ecumenical Celebration in Revolution Square, Carlos Ham drove us along boulevards through the once splendor of an upscale Havana neighborhood to the palatial convention center where Fidel holds state events and receptions. From the parking lot we entered a grand foyer where we parted company. I was directed to a room to leave my camera and then stood in the reception line leading to where Fidel was “receiving.” I had no idea where Carlos went.

Fidel greeted each international guest individually. We shook hands. Here I was standing eye to eye with Fidel–being the same height–almost as casually as one greets one’s pastor after the Sunday eleven o’clock service, yet with my insides doing flip-flops not sure what to say. I simply sputtered, “I wish you good health and a long life.” He smiled as his photographer took a picture of the two of us. I often wondered in what file that picture ended up!

I moved to an airy area with two large rooms, each with a huge table burgeoning with a magnificent spread of Cuban edible delicacies and libations no ordinary Cuban had seen in years. Both rooms were filled with guests from around the world, but I did not see my friend or anyone I recognized. I helped myself to a small plate of food and took the requisite Mohito. I stood off by self and began to munch on the goodies.

After a while, Fidel comes unaccompanied into the area where I munched. When he saw me in my clerical collar standing alone he gave a momentary glance of recognition and came over. He said something in Spanish, which I did not understand. He pointed to my Mohito, commented and laughed. I had no idea what he said, but I figured if El Presidente laughed, it was proper for me to laugh too, which I did.

He then reached up and patted me on my right shoulder and said in fluent English, “God Bless you, Sir.” Not missing a beat I reciprocated with a pat on his right shoulder and responded in my best Mississippi drawl, “God Bless you too, Sir.” He then simply smiled and walked away. I took a healthy slug of my Mohito!

In a few minutes one of Fidel’s aids came out to find me. He said I was in the wrong room and escorted me to a smaller room off to the side with a smaller replica of the table of food and drinks I just left. Twenty-five or thirty people were busily engaged in conversation, including my friend that brought me. Special guests were Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ U.S.A.; Rev. Lucius Walker from Pastors for Peace; and Rev. Pablo Oden Marichal, president of the Cuban Council of Churches, who preached at the Celebration that morning.

At some earlier event Fidel had for some reason snubbed Campbell and spent considerable time complimenting Walker for what Walker was doing on Cuba’s behalf. Word got back to Fidel of his earlier slight and he took this opportunity to make amends. Fidel arranged for three chairs to be set in a conspicuous place on one side of the room for him to sit with Campbell and an interpreter. We watched him for fifty minutes or so play nice with Campbell. She responded with diplomatic grace to his gesture.

After they returned to the middle of the room Fidel sought out Rev. Marichal and for another hour Fidel critiqued the morning’s sermon with the preacher as if he were grading a seminarian’s senior sermon. Well after midnight Fidel finally slipped away signaling the “grand theater of the absurd,” some might chirp, was over.

We quietly filed out of this impressive place into the steamy darkness of the parking lot to our cars, each with our own thoughts about what just happened. Carlos drove us in his modest Russian Ladda through the dark deserted streets of Havana back to the reality of Luyano Presbyterian Church. My goose bumps began to subside as I wondered what would be the reaction if we stopped and told someone walking down the street that we had just come from a social reception with Fidel. No one was in sight.

Now sixteen years later in retrospect I pinch myself still wondering what I really experienced that night. All of a sudden it is 2015. Raul succeeded Fidel. This past December President Obama took steps to begin reestablishing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Banking and economic development systems rattle into action. All sorts of groups rush to the island to see “what it looked like all these years” before Cuba joins the clutter of 21st century “progress.” Soccer teams schedule matches. Cuba is taken off list of Terrorist Countries. Embassies are set to open in each other’s country. U. S. Legislators dance around lifting the embargo and other travel restrictions. So many barriers yet to breach.

U.S-Cuban Presbyterian partnerships still flourish as they have since the late 1980s. Each Sunday Hector Mendez stands behind the very pulpit in First Havana that had its moment in the sun on June 20, 1999. Carlos Ham returns to Cuba to be President of the Seminary in Matanzas after decade of service at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. Jo Ella Holman, serving as PC(USA) World Mission’s Liaison for the Caribbean, incorporates in her responsibilities oversight of the Cuba study seminars I conducted as International Volunteer in Mission. What other changes loom in the future?

When I see frail pictures of Fidel these days, half of my good wishes came true–long life, not so much good health. I am not naïve. I realize scores of folk are probably outraged that I would even dare utter such good wishes to one that caused them such pain and suffering in the name of “the Triumph of the Revolution.” I am well aware that many dreamed for years of the opportunity I had “to shoot Fidel at close range”–but not with a camera like I did!

What I witnessed years ago is so true today. The more I see, the less I understand. On an earlier trip I encountered an old Cuban woman that issued me a perceptive yet mystifying commentary on Cuban reality: “Life is a carnival, everything is false, nothing is what it seems to be.” Could it also have been a veiled warning about Fidel?

Cuba is a complex place, with nothing more profound for good or ill than Fidel’s stamp and influence on a half-century’s thought and behavior of that island nation. None of that entered my mind on the night we exchanged blessings. I have no idea what really was in Fidel’s mind.

For a moment all complexities seemed to disappear. Absent were all the dynamic ingredients I deem crucial for reconciliation: no ambitious hint that healing of broken relations begins by facing and overcoming fear of the other; no grand awareness that one-to-one opening of oneself to the other in quiet and unexpected ways might bring out the best in each other, making a difference; no looking deep into the eyes of the other with compassion, telling the truth and searching for understanding; no lofty proclaiming one’s love for one’s neighbor in word much less deed.

In retrospect, what happened on the night of June 20, 1999 was to me elementally un-complex, not without significance, never fully understood. In that fleeting moment we simply shook hands and exchanged blessings with a trace of that “invisible energy”–one human being in touch with another–me and Fidel!

w.g. mcatee, International Volunteer in Mission, Cuba Specialist, PC(USA), 1997-2002

 June 20, 1999 pictures

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Me and Fidel (Part 1) Retrospective on June 20, 1999

Back in the early 1990s, I was told on good authority, Fidel Castro went to Columbia, S. A. on some kind of political junket. Right before he returned to Cuba he was holding court during which a petit nun in full habit confronted him on human rights violations. Maybe for a silent moment he was thrown off guard with memories of his early parochial school days until he finally muttered, in effect, “If I had some ones like you back in Cuba, I could talk with them about this issue.”

This started a chain of events that one-day led to my moment with El Presidente–a stretch but still a connection!

One of my Cuban Presbyterian minister friends told me that several protestant ministers and he were watching Fidel on TV back home when Fidel muttered that seemingly un-historic line. “When he arrived home we contacted him saying we would like very much to talk.” Fidel granted them a meeting with him at which time they declared they had been faithful to Revolution and had not fled. They presented a list of concerns about the religious situation they faced daily and changes they would like to see enacted. For example, they asked for time on the State TV for religious programs; permission for religious persons to serve in the government; and people in the government to become members of churches.

They were troubled that their nation’s Constitution mandated an unfair religious preference to the detriment of those they represented and all the many other religious groups present in the country. Fidel seemed puzzled and asked what they meant. “The preference for ‘atheism’!” He replied, “We are a religious people; I never thought about ‘atheism’ as being a religious preference. We will change the Constitution at the next Congress by removing references to atheism from it making it religiously neutral.”

And so it was changes came. This paved the way for the Pope to come visit Cuba and hold Mass in Jose Marti Revolution Square. It provided an opportunity for religious liturgy to be celebrated in the open air in this way. This openness to religion by the government was not a recent grandstand response in face of difficult economic times because serious conversations between the religious community and the government began in the late 1980s when the Revolution was at its economic zenith.

Not long after the Pope’s visit, representatives of the Cuban Council of Churches met again with Fidel. They asked that Protestants be allowed to have an Evangelical Celebration in Revolution Square too, as a matter of balance between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. He granted their wish.

In the month leading up to the appointed day for the Celebration, June 20, 1999, representatives of 49 Protestant denominations prepared for “something historic.” Never before in the history of the Revolution, or in the 500 year history of Cuba, or anywhere else in the history of the Caribbean or Latin America, had so many Protestants–regardless of creed or political ideology–joined together to celebrate God’s message of love, peace and unity so openly.[i] After the fact it was reported over 100,000 people were in attendance.

Four national activities took place in the largest Plazas around the country as part of the preparation, with provincial celebrations in eight other locations. Also municipal celebrations were held in five locations, including one in the Marianao section of Havana on May 30.

It so happened that I was in Cuba leading one of my Travel Seminars (May 24-June 2) for a group from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.[ii] We were among the 20,000 people jamming the Marianao Plaza, on the surrounding rooftops and hanging in the trees chanting–CRISTO VIVE!!! CRISTO VIVE!!! CRISTO VIVE!!! The air was electric with an “invisible energy!”

That would not be the last time I heard that chanting or felt that “invisible energy!” At the invitation of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba, I was appointed by our Stated Clerk to represent the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joined representatives of Protestant Churches from the United States, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, South America and Europe at the Evangelical Celebration on June 20.

Still Vivid in my mind about that day

–Hearing pre-dawn celebrants passing Luyano Presbyterian Church where I was staying on way to their buses chanting Cristo Vive!!! I shouted down the refrain from my second story perch; they shouted back waving Cuban and Christian flags.

–Encountering all sorts of buses and vehicles filling the streets nearing Revolution Square; growing crowds on foot from all directions.

–Stifling an uneasy feeling as I waited to have my camera checked, later only to discover it was a “high tech” procedure when I found a picture of a desk on my roll of developed film!

–Mingling with people before the service and feeling the buzz of excitement when Fidel’s entourage pulled up behind the platform a few minutes before the service, then finding his way to a front row seat.

–Walking in front of that crowd as I was escorted to the platform from my fourth row seat to join Rev. Carlos Ham and Rev. Hector Mendez, my Presbyterian hosts.

–Seeing the pulpit from First Presbyterian Church, Havana on the platform that I had helped load in a truck the previous day.

–Watching Fidel’s lips move quoting the Gospel Lesson, the 17th Chapter of John–Jesus prayer for the Church–and asking my friend Carlos if that was what he was doing, getting an affirmative nod.

–Sitting for several hours in the only shade in the Square from platform backdrop as the heat soared with the morning sun; Fidel sitting in front row in his long sleeved uniform and wondering how he was faring.

–Standing only a few feet away from Fidel after the benediction and taking his picture without incident.

Could all this be topped? Stay Tuned!

June 20, 1999 pictures

[i] For details see “Presbyterian Voice,” November 1999, p. 14, CRISTO VIVE!!! EVANGELICAL CELEBRATION, HAVANA, CUBA–June 20, 1999, Eyewitness: William G. McAtee

[ii] International Volunteer in Mission, Cuba Specialist, Led 11 Cuba Travel Seminars for the PC(USA) between June 1997 and March 2002; Represented PC(USA) at Evangelical Celebration, Havana, May 20, 1999           


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$5 here, $5 there Revisited, Again

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Yeah, right. What about the big stuff? Welcome to TPgate!

In my original “$5 here, $5 there” Blog entry (12-12-11) I wrote: “Sometimes the little clues are the ‘give-aways’ to larger schemes or signs of the time that come when cultural or economic fault lines are crossed. It is like what Walker Percy wrote in Love in the Ruins. He suspected that ‘the end was near’ but was not sure until one day, while going down an almost empty interstate highway, he noticed a sprig of grass growing in a crack in its concrete surface. Voila!”

Many corporate decisions are made over which the consumer has little or no control like my internet/cable/phone provider, my subscription to Netflix, and monthly charges to use my debit cards as illustrations. Don’t sweat the little stuff! Yeah, right. What about the big stuff?

Then in “$5 here, $5 there Revisited” (6-14-13) I opined how little stuff adds up and gets you by becoming big stuff! The increasing cost of internet/cable/phone service over four years finally hit the tipping point. Enter “Techno Hell,” that six-week saga of converting my internet/cable/phone service from one communication provider to another because the old one was being gobbled up by a competitor. [Maybe just retribution does exist. The gobbler back then was now gobbled up by a new giant corporate gobbler in a “friendly” merger!]

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Baloney! It’s the little stuff that adds up to big stuff and gets you; especially when it’s beyond your control. Is that all it has to be?

No, there’s more to come. The new corporate gobbler on the block had all sorts of customer defections. It even was faced with the local government coming to the aid of its citizens during the renegotiation of the communication providers contract with the city when “better customer satisfaction” was part of the deal. I was so glad to be free of that giant, and so happy with my new provider for 18 months. And then here comes old “$5 more to your bill at the first of the year.” You know, rising cost of programming due to competition from NetFlix and Amazon. What?! At least they were upfront with it.

But not all corporations are so transparent. While listening to NPR on my afternoon walk the other day, I got my first exposure to “TPgate.” That’s right, “Toiletpapergate!” This is so 21st Century. For years the biggest TP controversy for newly weds was over which family practice would be followed in the new household: end of the roll “out” or end of the roll “in” when mounted on the wall holder.” Oh yeah, there were promotional battles over “softness” or “weight” or “sheet count” or “extra large” economy packaging, but nothing like the latest “TPgate” maneuver to paper over hidden cost increases.

First of all, you have to know some basic statistical information about TP. This is small stuff. Did you ever stop to consider that the basic sheet size for TP was 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches for years? Not any longer. It quietly changed a while back to 4.5 inches by 4 inches and then of late to 4 inches by 4 inches. [I have known that 2 by 4 wooden wall studs have not been that luxurious for years.] Also, the size of the cardboard roll in the middle increased in diameter to make up for the reduced overall size giving the impression one was getting the same amount as always.

Was this transformation an environmentally sensitive move? Not really, because of the shrinkage in size, one tended to buy more because it ran out faster. Here’s the big stuff. It’s the corporate way of upping their bottom line by reducing the product without increasing the price. I don’t have my grocery tickets or TP wrappers from one, two or five years ago to verify this myself.

Thursday on my weekly foray to Kroger’s on Senior’s 5% Discount Day I decided to do some field research. There along the paper products aisle I got my eyes opened. My favorite TP greeted me with an adorable Lab puppy inviting me to pick up the big 12-roll bundle of “Ultra ComfortCare — thick & cushiony/epais et douillet–with/avec CleanRipple Texture.” [Ok, so I’m doing a free commercial for Kleenex Cottonelle Toilet Paper/Papier Hygenique! This enough attribution? I did not have to be sold; this is what I was sent after.]

Now to the stats, the seemingly small stuff. In faint lavender print on the clear packaging I get to the bottom line. “12 rolls [I’m leaving out the French] 166 2 ply sheets per roll 4.0 x 3.86 IN, 212.4 SQ. FT.” [What useful purpose is it to me to have the information to figure out that each roll is 62.25 feet long or what practical “application to life” is there in knowing the square footage of the thing?] In bold white letters on a red background I see “12 Double Rolls = 24 Single Rolls.” [Why have they started counting each “ply” as a separate roll when they are intertwined into one? Why don’t they simply say: “It’s twice as thick!”] I am stumped at how to calculate the relevance of these bold declarations much less figure out what it all means!

Then I remembered the NPR report that gave me a possible clue. Could it be a clever diversionary marketing ploy to make me think I am getting more for my money when I am not? That’s the big stuff! How many folks will figure all that out standing in the grocery aisle? Not many. Most go for the Lab pup and pay the price.

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Baloney! It’s the little stuff that adds up to the big stuff and gets you; especially when it’s beyond your control.

By the way, I went for the Lab pup and bought the “12 Double Rolls/Rouleaux . . . avec CleanRipple Texture” for $7.49 less 37 cents for my 5% Senior discount. It was Thursday/JeudiViva la papierhygeniqueporte!

1-30-15 © McAtee & weegems, 2015

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Let’s Keep In Touch

. . . (ring) . . . (ring) . . .   (ring) . . . (click) . . . “Hi, can’t take your call right now; leave your name and number after the beep and I’ll get back to you.” . . . (beep) bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (click)

Recently a friend told me about the problem she was having with her telephone. It was doing all sorts of weird things on its own. Right in the middle of a conversation it would tend to disappear. On other occasions she would find out that someone tried to call her but the thing did not ring. One day after the umpteenth time a phone company tech guy came to work on the problem with the “new and improved” system, she finally got an honest answer from him. He said people all over were having similar problems. His next-door neighbor was a ham operator and every time the neighbor went on the air the techie’s own TV went dark and his Internet crashed.

The techie finally admitted that his company’s long-range goal was to replace its landline system with cell phones. It was upping its landline rates in an effort to make them so expensive that customers would give up and switch to cell phones, sort of a slick corporate manipulation if I ever heard one. Evidently the company saw a new profit bonanza in “mining copper” from its soon-to-be defunct landlines. Could have Ronald Reagan, in his infinite wisdom, seen this coming when he deregulated Ma Bell way back when? What else did he miss in unintended consequences?

All this got my memory buds a’ blooming remembering our long love affair with phones. Remember “Central?” My wife’s grandpa used to pick up the phone and say to Central, “Hon, can you tell me where my daughter is?” And many a time she probably did! Then there were those party lines and all the eavesdropping and excitement they generated. Our number at home was 504-J. The one next door at the church where Daddy was pastor was 504-W. I admit that our phone “action” was not as exciting as tales I have heard years later of the 8-party lines up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

The automated dial system with its rotary phones replaced the old live operator phones. Then came growing named and numbered exchanges. Newer “push button” or commercial touch-tone phones were first introduced at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle.[i] Oh, yes, area codes entered the scene as the number of users piled up. We could actually find people and where they lived simply by going to the phone books with all the numbers and addresses listed until some folk went to unlisted numbers. That all went by the way when big-as-a-shoebox sized “mobiles” with shoulder straps came on the market. They weren’t listed in the phone book either. Early clam shelled cell phones showed up and later the “smart phones” with all their apps. Phone books are only half useful locators now.

A few weeks back I was playing email tag with my wife’s niece trying to set up a Skype session when she said, “Text me when you are ready.” I wrote back, “I don’t text, cause I had it turned off on my cell phone.” She called me on my cell phone and laughed at my not texting. She said her kids would roll their eyes and say, “you mean he can actually talk on his cell phone?” Call me old-fashion. Texting will never take the place of seeing loved ones’ handwriting in an old letter or hearing their voice over the phone, even if only on an answering machine. Skype, however, is a pretty good substitute for “being there.”

We have come a long way in communication technology since those immortal words–“Mr. Watson, Come here; I want you”–the first coherent complete sentence transmitted telegraphically.[ii] Could Alexander ever imagine that some day a camera would be attached to his new invention? The other night I read an article about “Viners” that used their smart phones to video their new “six second” stories they looped vertically several times. You had to see them more than once to get the message. With this new platform Viners have dreams of changing the entertainment world.[iii] [Now you know I am in over my head by inserting these comments on Viners. I did it so I could patch Alexander into 21st Century technology!]

While writing this, I have been trying to resurrect what I think was an old phone company commercial that spoke of “keeping in touch” or “reaching out and touch somebody today.” I googled that latter phrase and what did I get? Lyrics for Diana Ross’s “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” which she sang in the 1970s about “making the world a better place” this way. On the same page was a little button you could push to “download a ring tone to your mobile!” But that wasn’t all; this song was track #3 on the album “Never Can Say Goodbye.”[iv] Now if that isn’t double-barreled serendipity, I don’t know what is. Two chance tie-ins to phones with much more than technological interconnectedness on this link!

What got me going down this progressively random communication rabbit trail was more than concern about switching totally from continuously alive landlines to cell phones that have to be constantly recharged. That by itself gave me the heebie-jeebies because of the specter of “loosing contact.” I remember an eight-day ice storm power outage during which my landline worked but I sat freezing in my car recharging my cell phone just in case. There is a more visceral elemental feeling at work here.

Years ago I took comfort in a primordial sort of fantasizing way that when I picked up my landline phone and held it in my hand I felt I was literally “in touch” with the person on the other end of the line. My hand touched the receiver, that was connected to a line leaving my house, that joined another line on a pole, that connected with a trunk line, that went to another city–any city anywhere–that connected to a pole line, that hooked up with a line going in to my friend’s house, that touched his receiver, that touched his hand! We were “elementally connected.” I know it’s crazy, but I never felt that same connection on my cell phone.

What is happening here is more than deploring the fear of being overcome with “technological progress” that dehumanizes and separates us, though that is a worthy concern. It is about the deep human longing for keeping relational connections; for reaching out and touching somebody’s hand; for never loosing contact, for never saying goodbye. Not merely in a “virtual world” but in a “bone and sinew face-to-face reality.”

Once you say “never,” mortality raises its hoary head and “never” is no longer indefinite. We all come to a point in life when our relational connections become unconnected, when we can no longer touch the somebody’s hand we love; when we loose contact or have to say goodbye. That isn’t an easy time. However, if you are reading this, then you are not at that point yet and neither am I.

In the meantime, let’s keep in touch! I’m still on the line!

12-29-14 © McAtee & weegems, 2014


[ii] The first coherent complete sentence transmitted telegraphically in Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory on March 10, 1876.

[iii] The New Yorker. “Hollywood and Vine: How Six Seconds Could Change Entertainment.” December 15, 2014.

[iv] “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

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Putting X in Xmas? Huh?

In our every day life we are faced with symbols that tell us something without spelling out the complete word or concept. For example: $ or @ or % or &. We know immediately what they mean. What about St. or Ave. or P.O. or P.T.A, or btw or LOL? Go to a directory of governmental agencies and you find an alphabet soup-jumble of symbols that are merely forms of abbreviations for their titles.

Sometimes we use foreign letters in our abbreviations. They have special meaning; sometimes they are taken from Greek or Latin. In math we use π or pi, a Greek letter like our letter p. What does it mean or stand for? π = 3.1416. Draw a circle; then draw a straight line through the center. Measure the length of the line or diameter and multiply it by 3.1416 to get the distance around the circle. Simply saying π is easier than π = 3.1416.

During this Advent Season as we approach Christmas, ads and cards will use Xmas in their pitches or greetings. The first letter in Xmas is not really the English letter X, but the Greek letter Chi or X like our letters ch. When we see Xmas it is important to remember X or Chi is the abbreviation for CHRIST or Christos in Greek that begins with the letter Chi. Members of the early church were persecuted for their beliefs so they used the letter Chi as a secret symbol to identify themselves to fellow Christians. The letter X became a look-alike sign of the cross.

What about the other letters MAS? The word mass means “a feast day, festival, or time of celebration.” Connecting the noun form of mass to the end of another word creates a new concept. For example: candlemas = feast of candles; Michaelmas = feast of Michael; Christmas = festival of Christ.

Remember you learned in math, when you had a problem and you did not know the answer, you had a way of finding it out? For example: 2 + 2 = x. Here the x means the unknown factor indicating the question what. The same thing happens sometimes when we forget why or what we are celebrating; the “festival of the unknown or x.”

Or when I go to buy a new suit of clothes I look for a 44 XL. What does this mean besides I grew too much? The X here means “extra” and the L means “long.” Too often this is the way we define or understand Xmas–“the festival of extras that lasts too long!”

Many things are extra to Christmas: trees, presents, decorations, parades, lights, cards, dinners, parties, fun, vacation from school. In and of themselves they are pleasant, important, enjoyable–but they are just extras. They do not show us the real meaning of Christmas.

Recently during the run-up to Christmas increased voices were heard on behalf of taking all references to Christmas out of our growing multicultural secular world. Other voices countered with the much older “Let’s put Christ back in Christ.” And the secular/religious cultural wars were on.

Some were concerned about using Xmas probably because they thought only in terms of X meaning the unknown factor or as standing for the many extras that we have added to our Christmas celebration. But isn’t there more to Xmas than this?

In Latin the word mas means to send. Put all we have said together into Xmas and you get a “time of celebrating Christ’s being sent into the world.” God’s view: a time of sending; our view: a time of Christ’s coming to us.

For those who know what X means, Xmas will always be the identifying symbol of their faith. Christ is not unknown nor something extra but was sent, was born and is the center of their Christian life.

Putting X in Xmas is not just a celebration of a birthday of some unknown or extra somebody born some 2000 years ago. For the Christian, X is the living symbol for Christ, the known qualifying, redeeming, saving factor at the center of one’s life.

Putting X in Xmas is celebration of “For unto us is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)


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“$5 here, $5 there Revisited”

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Yeah, right. What about the big stuff?

In my original “$5 here, $5 there” Blog entry (12-12-11) I used my Internet/cable/phone provider as an illustration of “the little stuff” over which you have no control and how it gets you. Now that one has become big stuff! The increasing cost of service over four years finally hit the tipping point. Enter “Techno Hell!”

In Mid-May I was about to renegotiate cost of my services when another company took over my provider in a corporate buy out that called for getting a new email address by June 14. Of course this was beyond my control but it deeply affected me emotionally and physically. My emotions escalated from frustration to seething anger over this forced change in my life and not having a say in this. Change was coming fast and I had to find out what I could do to regain a “new normal” in my life. Which way should I turn, what services can I get and at what reduced cost?

With channeled [no pun intended!] determination I set out in search of a new communication bundle. My eventual new provider engaged in a campaign to rescue those abandoning my current provider with a bundle that included a lifetime fixed fee at a greatly reduced rate. It included switching from cable to satellite TV, getting a real “land-line” phone and high speed DSL Internet service. Due diligence on all of these satisfied my questions.

The clock was ticking. I spent hours cutting and pasting email files to my computer from my email account that will soon vanish–from my family, my misipi writer cohorts, from the University Press of Mississippi process of creating my book and its title, and from others. I logged on to all the business and professional accounts to change my new email address I had already established. I negotiated details with my new provider, including hanging on to our 43 year-old telephone number and the date for the eventual installation of the new service.

New frustrations began to mount with the waiting, waiting, waiting for the installers and snafu over scheduling. The Internet/phone installers were to come first, then the satellite dish installers. But because my phone number had not migrated from the old provider, the dish installers did their thing first. That meant we went over a week without a land phone line and Internet service. I did let close family and friends know to contact us on our cell phones if needed. At least we had TV service but no RoKu. [Getting RoKu back later entailed a long tedious conversation with someone I suspect was half way round the world!]

We spent more frustrating hours grappling with new remote controls, screen displays and guide, trying to connect the old VCR to our second TV set, and figuring out how to operate the new DVR. Then the first night the new satellite remote control quit working due to nimble fingers punching indiscriminate buttons. No TV!

When the long wait was finally over, we made all the connections and as the last act I turned in the leased equipment to my old provider. That was a cattle call. What a line of silent escapees. As I left, I told the person collecting the equipment he looked like he was working at a funeral home handling all these “dead electronic bodies.” His somber face broke into a hearty grin.

One afternoon during the waiting interim while taking my afternoon walk I heard on NPR radio a researcher talking about how creativity takes place in the pauses of life. The waiting and delay regarding my communication switch turned into somewhat of a spiritual timeout and moment of creative reflection!

Here are some random observations, questions and learnings:

I became acutely aware of how bound I had become to all this new technology that was supposed to enrich my life, but had gotten me into a rut. I felt addicted to checking my emails before I did anything else in the morning and then periodically during the day. This became accentuated when I got my Kindle FIRE and kept it by my bed for a quick fix. Now I was having withdrawal symptoms from the silence of the Internet.

True Confession! I managed a little fix by standing in my neighbor’s driveway at night using their Wi-Fi connection (with permission) checking emails on my FIRE! Being a bit embarrassed at this approach, I went to the local Good Foods Café and connected with their Wi-Fi hotspot.

The TV guide of my subscriptions on screen shows a vast wasteland of stuff — “World’s Best Blender,” “Insanity Workout,” “Uniquely Silver Jewelry,” “The All New Trivia Pack,” “Best Reverse Mortgage,” “Pawn Stars,” “Full and Sexy Hair” and the like. Out of hundreds of channels graphically displayed I am reminded that we watch less than a dozen or so at the very most. Why am I paying for this stuff in which I have no interest?

I agonized over the possibility of loosing our 43 year-old phone number because the old provider would not turn it loose. During the delay I felt like being punished by the provider for leaving! I finally was reconciled to loosing the old number but then I got the call that it was released to the new provider. I fretted over loosing some secondary PBS channels. We lost MSNBC but gained ESPNU in the deal. Bye Bye, Rachael; hello more UK basketball! [As I write this, a heavy thunderstorm blocked the TV Satellite signal for five minutes!]

After a period of time away from the previously numbing technological routines I sensed a significant change taking place–a free feeling of what happens when one turns loose. I can live without this stuff. I had more time for writing three new drafts to post on my Blog before I got my Internet connection back. I wrote a brief Advent devotional for a local church where my wife’s niece attends. I read new books and magazines–both print and digital on my Kindle. I read a book my friend recommended–GUT INSTINCT–about healthy maintenance of the second brain–the abdomen through deep breathing exercises and eating slowly in a quiet setting on a regular basis.

Now the “new normal” has appeared connecting me with family and friends and stuff on TV.  Fraught with new addictions and frustrations? You bet. Alas! How dependent we are. How when we turn loose something it quickly can go away, but how quick some of it comes back. June 14 is here and I am still sorting out what all this means. Fickle, fickle, plain and simple!

Oh yeah. The really positive net gain in this little episode is that we went from nine to eight remote controls for our two TVs! Now that’s progress!

Don’t sweat the little stuff! Baloney! It’s the big stuff that really adds up and gets you; especially when it’s beyond your control. Is that all it has to be?

6-14-13  © McAtee & weegems, 2013

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