Sunday, March 19, 2006

thorn

My mom took my car to fill it up with gas today, just a few minutes ago. She noticed something sticking out of the back seat pocket and had to fight back angry tears on the way home. My dad was notified of the paraphernalia and summoned me outside. Barefoot and with a guitar still in my hand, I endured the muted tirade and went back inside, knowing I'm grounded tonight and probably for a little while. "Now I can't trust you anymore," my dad told me. "I can't believe this," added my mom.

So what did they find in my car? It wasn't a crack pipe. It wasn't a porno. It wasn't a beer or even a pack of cigarattes. It was a pamphlet for Second Presbyterian Church, where I attended A.M. service today.

My dad told me that I'm almost eighteen, and he would rather I move out than make him and my mom hurt like this. I was silent for the most part, knowing that any attempt to defend myself would translate into more punishment. When he said that, though, I had to open my mouth. I chose my words carefully: "Well, you won't have to worry about that much longer since -" and he cut me off there. "You can't not be disrespectful. Go back inside."

I'm sitting here now, just wondering how people can be like that. Did they have a right to be angry? Sure they did; I lied about where I was going to church this morning. It's the reason I had to lie that confuses me. I am trying to stop these feelings from taking the shape of your average teenage I-hate-my-parents angst, but I confess that it gets harder every time something like this happens. Do I respect them? Not one bit - but I'm trying not to hate them.

To anyone who is reading this, I'll first apologize that it's sketchy. I'm just very worked up now and I'm too hurried for style. But most importantly, I want people my age to know that there are actually people like my parents. People who, as Jason Ashlock put it, "define themselves by who they exclude." I'm tired of Christians, and more tired of the word "Christian."

It's funny - this morning, during the time for individual silent prayers of confession, I told God that I felt like I should confess for being there at that building. A few minutes ago, Dad told me that what I did was a sin. I really hope he meant the dishonesty.

I think religion is probably more of an insult to God than atheism.

Monday, February 20, 2006

the pyramid

E-mail sent by me to the House representative of the 7th district of Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn:

Feb. 20

...I look forward to reading more about you now that I know I'm a constituent, since at this point I know nothing more than that you're a blonde Republican.
I've never written a Congressman (or woman) before, so I don't really know how it's done, or even if you'll indeed respond to it. Just in case I'm supposed to tell about myself, here goes: I'm a seventeen year old male senior at Harding Academy. I suppose that should be enough; I assume you'll want to at least know how old I am.
Here's my concern. Recently it was brought to my attention that a decision has been reached to transform the hitherto languishing Pyramid into a mega Bass Pro Shop. I was shocked at the news, and I'm positively disgusted that such a decision could be made. I've lived in Memphis all my life, and I've always been proud of the city's culture - its racial diversity, riverfront atmosphere, and most of all its musical history. To make The Pyramid - the veritable symbol of Memphis, TN - into a Bass Pro Shop would be to undermine our city's legacy and cheapen the appeal of the entire downtown area. Think about standing on the roof of the Peabody after a meal at Chez Philippe, and seeing a glowing neon bass emblazoned on the roof of The Pyramid in the distance. Think about crossing the bridge and seeing The Pyramid, once a majestic beacon for travellers, transformed into a crowded, gaudy travesty. And for what? For the delight of hunting and fishing enthusiasts - and quick profits. The fate of our city's most salient landmark should be determined by the prospect that best fulfills its tremendous potential, and not by who can write the heftiest check in the shortest amount of time. I need not catalog the innumerable possibilities that are better than a giant Bass Pro Shop, although I could think of several better options extemperaneously. That can be decided by people wiser than I, and isn't a pressing matter right now. The Pyramid's future will materialize incrementally - and I believe that the first step is to prevent this impending atrocity. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, and I will gladly stay in contact. I realize that the entire matter is in fact one of opinion, and the majority of Memphians may well support the Bass Pro Shop's ownership of The Pyramid. If that isn't the case, however, and the majority of the populace shares my sentiment, then I believe action should be taken. We can't let a lack of political or legislative efficacy cause dissenting residents to turn a blind eye to such a hideous distortion of downtown Memphis.
Thank you very, very much in advance for reading this, and for all that you do as a representative.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

giving away guilt

Harding Aademy SGA officers attended a meeting today in which one of the hotly debated topics was which charity should be the beneficiary of a fund-raiser. The spring fund-raiser was started as Penny Wars several years ago for the purpose of raising money for the Village of Hope in Ghana, West Africa. The consensus of the SGA, which consists of several representatives from each class at the Cherry Road campus, seemed to be that Penny Wars had become too trite to be conducive to giving. Furthermore, it was agreed upon that most of the student body desired to find a new charity other than the Village of Hope on whom to bestow its largesse.

Several ideas were suggested, the footlessness of each multiplying as the time passed, wasted. Among those ideas were that each class should give to a charity of its choice . . . that each class should choose a charity and at the week's end give all the student body's money to the charity of the class that raises the most . . . that classes should pair up to benefit a total of three charities. Et cetera.

Those who had been to Ghana and visited the Village of Hope seemed the most adament that the proceeds should once again be sent there. They insisted dogmatically that Harding Academy is one of few benefactors to the Village, if not the only one. The same people were quick to polarize the student body, making reference to those who want to subsidize the Village - and those who don't like giving to African orphans. One representative from the sophomore class claimed that now that the Village of Hope was "off the ground," it could use Harding's moneys to ameliorate living conditions for Africans in the surrounding areas.

I suppose that when he said the Village of Hope was "off the ground," he meant that it was located in a country with one of the highest per capita outputs in Africa, along with one of the fastest growing gross domestic products. UNICEF is active in Ghana West Africa Missions, or GWAM; the group recently bought a new drilling rig for the country and paid for the training of its future operators. GWAM is also an ative branch of the United Nations, working together with the latter to eradicate diseases in Ghana such as Guinea worm. The aforementioned SGA member/ Village of Hope enthusiast made several mentions of "saving lives," as if Harding's donations to the Village meant life or death for its inhabitants. On thevillageofhope.com, three present needs of the Village are listed. Actually, the only real need is more money, but it will be used to do three things: Furnish a library on the second floor of the academy, build another boys' dormitory, and construct an extra duplex. The site claims that the Village is in "desparate need to complete this home." That may be, but the "desparate need" is for additional housing, not life-saving victuals, as my fellow SGA member suggested. I might also add that the money that has been raised so far for the duplex was donated by one Prestoncrest church in Dallas, Texas. I guess the Village of Hope isn't Harding Academy's little secret after all.

The SGA Constitution, in its list of annual activities, includes what it refers to as a "monetary service project." Today as Harding Academy's chosen student leaders bickered over which charity most deserved our monetary blessings and what kind of incentives should be promised the students for participating, I couldn't help feeling as though we had somehow gotten the whole giving thing backwards. Shouldn't the recipient be pre-determined in order for any good deed to be sincere? I thought about the famous judgement scene in which Jesus extols the sheep for how they treated the imprisoned, the indisposed, and the impoverished. When we get to heaven, will the heartiness of our handshake be proportional to the number of zeros on the checks we present? I thought of an easily-forgotten verse about giving that I vaguely remembered from Sunday school. When I got home I even checked the Bible to make sure such a verse really existed. It does: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I thought, by planning this fund-raiser, what exactly are we seeking to fulfill: Christ's example or Mrs. Irwin's Constitution? Can giving money become our way of getting rid of our guilt?

Some in that room today were truly passionate about helping the Village of Hope; others were simply following the routine. Others, I'm sure, cared about neither. I realize that the Village is a wonderful establishment, and I respect Fred Asari for the work he does in the lives of African children. I realize also that grudging giving is still giving; that is, no amount of reluctance can lessen the value of a dollar. I worry, though, about my own heart, and those of people like me. What will happen when the incentives to give are replaced by inconveniences? When "each man" must decide "in his heart" - and not in an SGA meeting?

Surely, a reasonable alternative would be to give less and do more. We live in a city with people who need generosity, and I daresay we are a people who need a lesson in being generous. I don't want to help; I want to want to help. I want to give because of inspiration, not obligation. I suggest that working in our own city is the best of both worlds. If mid-town is Memphis (and it truly is), then Memphis could use some change - the literal kind, not nickels and dimes - as much as any other recipient we could choose. And maybe people like me could learn how to be cheerful givers in the process.

Today, generosity took a back seat to routine. The how, when, who, and what overshadowed the why. In helping the "least of these," I believe the motive should precede the method. I hope that the SGA, and people like me, will use the latter in a way that will cultivate the former.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

i have sat on a dead woman's lap

The guests outnumbered the tears. They showed up during the eulogies and were gone as quickly as they had come. The tears, I mean.

Being one of six pallbearers, I was seated in my designated pew in the Henderson Church of Christ building. That morning, I could have been seen thumbing through the hymnal during the sermon, fighting off the urge to sleep by busying my hands. This time, awe had replaced ennui.

It wasn't the facts that intrigued me; I had been given countless pamphlets about her life. I can regurgitate her biography:

She was born and reared in Jefferson City, Tennessee, the daughter of the late Andrew Walker and Eva Mae Harris Cowan. She attended schools in Jefferson City and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson-Newman College with a double major in English and history. She taught in public schools in Hampshire, Tennessee and was married to H.A. Dixon on October 5, 1929. The Dixons made their home in Memphis, Martin, Springfield, MO, Jackson, TN, Tuscaloosa, AL, Florence, AL, and then in Henderson, TN for fifty years (1950-2000). Brother Dixon served as minister for the churches of Christ in those cities. The past few years she has lived in Jackson and Memphis.

Mrs. Dixon was "First Lady" of Freed-Hardeman College (University) from 1950 to 1969. Her husband served as President of the University until his death in 1969. Mrs. Dixon was instrumental, along with others, in founding the FHU Associates, a ladies' group that raises funds for student scholarships at the university. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree by Freed-Hardeman University on May 5, 1990.

Mrs. Dixon was a member of the church of Christ since 1934; a member of the Henderson congregation for fifty years and then a member of the North Jackson church. She was a ladies' Bible class teacher, having taught classes for many years in Henderson. She also had taught ladies' classes during the Freed-Hardeman annual Lectureships.

Mrs. Dixon returned to Henderson, May 2005, for a reception in the church building in celebration of her 100th birthday. She is survived by a son Allen Dixon, a daughter Sara Dixon Sargent, seven grandchildren, sixteen great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

As the four men took turns admiring Nanny's faith and reflecting on her sense of humor, I could hardly recognize them. The fountain of youth was never discovered, but I suppose that tears bubble from the fountain of age. The man who sobbed through his story wasn't the David Sargent who had smiled at me a few hours earlier. My Uncle Sid had hitherto never spoken without making some reference to football, let alone shed a tear while doing so. Had Tom's hair always been that white? And my own dad. . . He's near-sighted. The glasses were to hide his eyes, not to help him read that poem. I saw wrinkles I had never before noticed as Nanny's son, my grandfather, sat beside me, wringing his hands but keeping his composure. As hard as it for me to believe, he's in his late seventies by now. He looked the youngest, even younger than my dad.

I thought about the 16 great-grandchildren, of which I am one. I haven't met all of the rest, yet they've seen Nanny as many times as I have. Rivers, deltas, tributaries of blood - they had snaked across the country, then flowed backwards to their common wellspring on that windy November day. Some are married, some are not yet in high school. Their hands can catch footballs, shoot basketballs, play pianos and guitars, and write books. They can be found everywhere from Indiana to Iraq. One of them, my cousin, has even proved quite effective in procreation.

All of this because Nanny lived a pretty normal life. Existence earns.

Several nights later, I wrote my funeral service. The songs I want played, who I want to speak, where I want it to take place - I tried to include the important details. I don't know exactly why; if nothing else, I assume the time will come when someone will realize, as I did of my uncles and father, how old I've become.

Lately I've been signing my school papers with my middle name, to remind myself - though the thought has yet to render a verdict - that not long ago I took tea with a dead woman.

Louise Cowan Dixon
1905 - 2005

Jordan Dixon James
1988 -

Sunday, November 27, 2005

the first one

When I awoke yesterday it was precisely 9:08 - well, give or take a few minutes, depending on the digits your clock, watch, microwave, coffee machine, or cell phone displayed at the exact moment my eyes opened. In saying, "it was precisely 9:08," I selfishly intend for the antecedent of "it" to be "the time," though I acknowledge that somewhere in Houston there was probably a NASA-owned nuclear time gauge that by its very design would hold dominion over the entire central standard time zone, let alone my modest clock radio, with whom it would certainly beg to differ by more than a few nanoseconds. But what does that theoretical clock know about time that my aging radio with the nickelodeon sticker and fickle cd player doesnt? The nuclear clock, upon entering Hobbs, New Mexico, would immediately become obsolete, earning my own clock radio a small promotion in the pecking order of clock/time congruency. My alarm sounded at what I believe to be 9:08 because I can't stand waking up at even times, and I had allotted myself eight extra minutes rather than the usual three because it was Saturday and I couldn't remember the last time I had slept in. Ironically, it is perfectly plausible that yesterday morning, for every clock in the country that read 9:08 at that given moment like mine, there was a clock that read 9:00 on the dot . If that's the case (and it is), then I've woken up on an even time against my will every day of my life. With that in mind, the aero-space engineers who forged the aforementioned infallible nuclear clock undoubtedly knew that they were up against an army, a world full of clocks, all dissenters, all right and wrong at the same time. Years of research and calibrations, millions of dollars - all wasted, because my beat-up little clock radio with the nickelodeon sticker and fickle cd player has a mind of its own, independent from any superior time display, no matter how costly. I'd go so far as to say that the only advantage modern clocks have over sundials is that they work at night. Some ancient gnome, pilgrim, or caveman deserves a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize; his or her idea of planting a stick in the ground and letting the sun do the rest has yet to be improved by modern technology. On second thought, I am wrong for implying that "the time" was 9:08. I would have been more correct to say "one of the times was 9:08."

It was around nine o' clock.

Tomorrow my alarm will ring at my own interpretation of what should be 6:19, regardless of what the hypothetical Houston clock displays as Absolute Time, if such a thing exists. Maybe you and I will get out of bed around the same moment; after all, our goal of puctual arrival at school is the same - even if your minute hand out-ticks mine to the mark. Time, like water, easily slips through fingers. Time, like most things, is relative.