Be a Horse, Not a Horse’s …. Well, You Know

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2015 by michaelcogdill

A horse will not resent you for naming him Jubel. You can name a horse Cathead Biscuit and call him Horse’s Ass for short with narry a problem. The horse is unaffected. He’s a creature who lives by feel, not by label. He’s not self-conscious.

He knows you love him by what’s in your eyes. The touch of your fingertips. The sound of you more than the words of you. The miracle of your caring presence matters more than the horse’s very own name to the horse. He has a stellar ability to let go of all else that doesn’t matter. Thats just a name.

What people call us — the ugly and the lovely — doesn’t make us that thing they say we are. But simply to be present with someone, mindful even across time zones, this makes us intimate and well with one another. This warms our inner hearth.

Find the labels people give you worrisome? Tending to believe all the praise? We’re all tempted. Let’s give in — instead — to letting go. Release the worry of what people say.

Then, eye up that fence. You know the one. The fence that hems you into relationships that wound. Those that hinge on labels instead of love. Jump that fence. Don’t wait for someone to cut a gate.

Judeo-Christian Jefferson?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2015 by michaelcogdill

“For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”

Thomas Jefferson said this as a visionary, a thinker, and a wildly imperfect man. If you think he shared your religious values, I would dare say, probably not. Jefferson was a Deist. A man of reason in pursuit of what humankind could understand.

Jefferson understood the classic languages. He read the Bible in its myriad translations, and sought to comprehend its mysticism and its human creation by way of the mind. Someone once argued with me that America was founded on Judeo Christian values. This is as true as saying the stars come out at night. But why do they? How far away do they glow? The values of Jefferson are those of a seeker, a man who sought to know what he did not know, and stopped short of believing much of what he couldn’t. Jeffersonian Christianity would set off shouts of heresy in the vacation Bible school of my upbringing.

I say this to speak here of my faith. This is a commentary on religion, yes I dare. I say this as a caveat against thoughtless following.

Think before you believe. Think upon the times of the writings that cause you to believe. Understand that much of this life — often its most beautiful mysteries — will always lie beyond the reach of our understanding. Those who protest to know everything, to understand everything, understand poorly. Theirs is a poverty of seeking. Of yearning. They refuse to know that they do not know.

The Jeffersonian Bible is a document of assiduous hand, of assumptions and the refusal to make assumptions, of crunching under the shoes of the mind the oats of a harvest we did not sow.

If Mr. Jefferson’s view of the omniscient and omnipotent Watchmaker is true, I believe the Watchmaker tends to the gears, oils the machinery, perhaps winds us up into a tension between love and evil, knowing love will prevail. Knowing that Love made the watch.

The sun sets each day upon the Tidal Basin in D.C., its quiet water and the rush of traffic flowing around Mr. Jefferson in his memorial, standing in repose, upright, yet dead, clothed in his time, yet timeless in the country he helped bring out of the ground. We are his America, and an America beyond him. He envisioned, brilliantly, so much of our need, and could not see some of what would come against us. Mr. Jefferson, in all his flawed humanity, lives in the vitality of the documents he made and the nation we keep making.

And I believe if he were alive today, Mr. Jefferson would say — seek. Seek before you claim to know. Seek to try to know. Then accept what is unknowable. Accept and have peace, beyond a simple word of the mind.

To believe in God, without claiming to have God in a box somewhere — that, perhaps, is the culmination of the Age of Reason. And true faith.

I believe Mr. Jefferson followed truth to the cliffs of mystery, paused to reason for a while, then took the leap.  We all will take it upon our final breaths.

Thank you, Mr. Jefferson, for America, greater now than she was. I am thankful, too, for a Christian faith that deems it reasonable to believe only God is good at being God, after all.

Media Bias? Ready? Set? Empathize!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2015 by michaelcogdill
To be blind….but worse is to have eyes and not see.
Helen Keller
I’ve just listened to a 911 call about a 2 year old accidentally shot to death. At the network affiliate television station I serve, we will not air this excruciating outflow of human tragedy. Yet as I sit here listening, I’m reminded how so many see us. They believe mainstream media sit around dreaming up ways to oppose their agendas and inflict harm. They are utterly wrong. We are no machinery of sadistic madness. We seek to serve as a Constitutionally mandated tool of expansive and questioning minds. We hear and see so much we protect you from out of decency. But we will never protect you from the truth.
We nurture the vine of human fact without adding the barbs of human indignity.
The next time you hear someone speaking of the so called biased media, ask for an example, quick. Don’t accept one from Fox Newchannel, MSNBC or National Review. These are outlets that live on advocacy journalism. And then look up a dynamic called motivated reasoning. It’s the seed of so much of the blind railing you’ll hear on cable and in the cubicle next to yours.
When you see a reporter covering something that breaks your heart, consider the reporter’s heart. The photographer’s heart. It is as yours. And chances are good that crew has seen or heard something that to share would amount to tragedy voyeurism and exploitation. We do not do this. We never will. It’s no cause for a merit badge. It’s simple human decency.
We remove the gore, but not the truth. And often, we take home with us what does not enter your home. To see the news is to require more than the naked eye. It demands a seers soul. A quiet connection to another’s suffering.  As a journalist, I will never objectify the suffering of another.  I will seek to feel it, and to report on it with due journalist detachment, never losing attachment to my humanity, or yours.
Do not spare your children from the news. Those who grew up on the Vietnam images, the Kennedy funeral and MLK assassination, the collective anguish of 911 are not emotionally scarred. They are broader of heart. They are the lesser naive. And I’ll dare say they are truly hopeful. They know love is no emotion, but an action. A state of being and doing. Truly human. They dare to be. And to see.

Love Like a Man!!!!!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2015 by michaelcogdill

A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.
Mahatma Gandhi

This is one of the finest statement’s of courageous vulnerability I’ve ever seen. I highlight this here for men. May we not wait to tell our fathers, sons, friends we love them. May we not let the words linger inside us until they come pouring out over a casket.

Dare to love, and dare to speak it. Let’s not let cowardice rule.  Let us rule cowardice.

Gentlemen, and especially those failing to qualify under the title, if there’s a rage within you that moves you to hit a woman, I implore you — pick on somebody your own size. Yourself. Only you can change who you are. Only you. It’s no one’s fault but your own that you carry this rage. An abusive childhood, a critical coach, bullying — none of these comes with a permanent get-out-of-jail-free card. You own what you say and do. It’s on you to get help. It’s your calling to have an authentic experience with God.

Same with addicts. Of any kind.

But the news arcs upward from here. Up into light. We live in a United States that circles arms around the broken. There is good, true, non-enabling help all over the place., and it works. Support groups are free.

If you walk around stinking in this culture, and you’re even close to an adult, it’s your fault now. Soap and water are everywhere. Their ubiquity in every public John from Maine to Guam. AA meetings, not quite as common, but close. Libraries brim with free books on how to resolve rage, find free resources, gain peace.  Then there’s the internet, where free help is good science, and funny as hell.

Man up, fellas.  No more excuses.  And watch that link until he pulls out the fish.  I mean, why didn’t I think of therapy by perch, or whatever that is, crappie, bream, whatever?  I can’t stop laughing at the dude.

Peace, y’all. Peace that’s real.

Dumb and Dumber: Inviting the Real Cuss Words to Sit Down and Shut up?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2015 by michaelcogdill

Not long ago, while working out on a trail fitness station near my mom’s, I heard a child utter words so foul, so profane, their stench will linger a long while in my memory.

“Dumb and dumber,” he pointed at two girls about his age, as they all swarmed together, parents obliviously nearby. “Dumb one and dumb two” he grinned, pointing down at them. He aroused a partner in his crime, a boy about two years younger. Proof that children can lead one another straight into the swamps of hell on earth.

They are not little angels. They are little humans, longing early for the rule of law, so often missing.

Making this experience even more vile is this. The victims are Hispanic children. The perpetrators Caucasian. All about 9 years old. A humanity-drowning hurt pooled deep in the eyes of the girls. A pride much too heavy for any man to carry fell from the grins on those boys.

These are not my children to parent. I could only make some quick eye contact as a bystander to the vulgarity. The face of a highway patrolman came over me. I felt it. The boys saw it. I’m glad they did. I hope their parents did as well. I wish I could comfort the girls who were victimized. Perhaps I did. That look sent the boys scattering. The girls got to play again in peace.

I and some other adults finished our workout without a word. I left, thinking about the folly of so-called bad words.

So many spend so much energy decrying the culture. A cuss word somehow stands for the devil, while the likes of “dumb, stupid, stooge, retard” and a litany of others you can surely call to mind stand as rites of passage. Just innocent banter among children. That banter cuts like a rusted machete. Yet we cut even mild cuss words out of movies in the name of family values.

If a family counts “stupid, retard, idiot” as acceptable for kids to wield at one another, count me out of those values.

Yes, I know we’ve all said seemingly innocent things that are not. Hopefully the hurt up in the eyes of our victims schooled us in the true definition of profanity. I do not define it as Jerry Falwell did. I never will.

A few weeks ago, I commented here about my late friend, the Rev Bob Lawrence. Bob could truly out preach a million clergy, and out cuss the crew of an air craft carrier. He was funny. Authentic. As real as humanity gets, and deeply loving and wise. I never heard him refer to someone as dumb or stupid or even a fool. Someone came along and questioned my taste in ministers. I accept the critique. Love the critic. But he does not change my opinion at all on what counts as a true cuss.

Those little boys swinging around “dumb” would likely take a hard parental scolding if they replaced it with something Joe Pesci might say in Goodfellas. Honestly, I’d chide less for a so-called cuss word than for an epithet that will travel home and linger, like a dehumanizing stench, in the memory of a little girl.

Twain said better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Even as he defies the standard here, he makes the point.

There’s a canyon’s worth of difference between a cathartic cuss and a truly ugly, unintelligent profanity. May we all worry far more about the dropping of a D Bomb. Dumb seems so innocent until it flies into our face. Then we see — it makes a bona fide ass of the mouth from which it falls. Especially our own.

Sanctuary: Granny’s Scrapyard Playground

Posted in Uncategorized on October 3, 2015 by michaelcogdill

My Granny found a palace quilt in a swamp-color garbage can.

She lived in a mobile home made of what felt like tin and onion skin.  A green and blue bread box of a place, in a coat of dust raised off two red dirt roads that converged at the hitch.  Out front jutted a cobbled-up addition of plywood and whitewash. Out back stood her tin hardware shack, bought at Sears Roebuck, raised next to her clay-clod strawberry field, measuring little bigger than a sandbox.

And down a hill, through some woods and over a neck-breaker of a ledge, stood her playground.  A green dumpster behind a fabric and clothing store named Connie’s fashions.  It caught the castoffs of the polyester age in America.  I never saw a woman named Connie near the place.  I doubt Granny did either.  If she had, she would have asked permission to dive into that green garbage box.  She never did, so far as I know.  If that amounts to stealing, then God surely forgives the crime in the name of reclaimed beauty.

Out of that dumpster, my Granny stitched beauty into the world.

The scraps wore colors for which there are no fashion titles.  Words won’t do for the green.  The purple defies a name.  The colors occur in the rarest nature.  It was her nature not to let them take a ride to a dumping ground.

Up the hill to that tin box, she’d carry arm loads of that scrap.  Her feet were tired from Cotton Mill labor that started in girlhood. They looked worn out by women of the Bible and handed down through ages, so they surely hurt on the trip.  But the dumpster dive and pillaging carried on.  My Granny, undaunted, behind an imp of a grin.

Those feet, in concert with some arthritic and artistic hands, carried three Granny quilts to my life.

My Granny died in 1989.  The heart of me still wears a void the size of her.  But on a chill night, I or my mother — her only girl — may wear a quilt made of scraps, saved from a trash box, sewn in a tin box, by hands rough and soft and tender at once.

My Granny helped make a man of me.  When a girl broke my heart, she held me, told me not to “fret that little gal.”   When I needed to act more like a gentleman, she let me see just enough of my shame in her tears.  She was my re-creator.  She taught me stout should be tender.  Thanks to her, I am more a creature of decency than the Philistine she would not tolerate for a grandson.

Now the quilts do what her arms cannot.

My Granny’s scrapyard mountain art runs the chill of mortal life off me.  The very thought of one, a sanctuary.

I believe in eternal life.  I accept its mystery, not prone to all that fancied up eschatology about gold streets and cherubs with halos made of Vacation Bible School tin foil.  I believe God lets my Granny live on in two poetical worlds at once.  The one to come, lovely beyond words, and another along the stitching of her scrapyard quilts in the wilderness we all occupy in this world. Her hands, in the stitching, still hold me.  And in her hands, God, in touch with his feminine side, holds me together.  Upright, such as I am, in the world.

A true man, perhaps, one day. One worthy of my Granny’s scrapyard playground.

The Call, the Cows, and the Old Coat of Fame

Posted in Uncategorized on September 29, 2015 by michaelcogdill
On the Graham Couch

At home, with Ruth and the Reverend Billy Graham

My Times with the Reverend Billy Graham

My phone rang with its normal annoying trill.  Late in a news day.  I yanked an answer into the handset.  I’m sure my mama would have denounced the tone as “Not entirely polite.  Not fit for your raising.”

“Michael?  This is Billy Graham.  Remember me?”

God as my sure witness, that’s what he said.  He didn’t lead with The Reverend Billy Graham.  He stopped way short of any pastor-to-presidents talk.

He was just Billy calling.  And I a fellow mountain boy trying to suck back the breath knocked out by the quiet thunder of him.  The voice of unwanted celebrity on the other end of the phone.

“Remember me?”  Oh, yes, I did.  Yes, I believe he meant the question.  He was that unsure of his fame.  It didn’t suit him.  He refused to wear it.

I had interviewed The Reverend Billy Graham a few years before.  His gray was showing.  My youth showed far worse.   I was an embryo with TV hair the size of a Fiat.  He was a gentle lion far from his springtime.  In the interview he had admonished, “Please, just call me Billy.”  I just couldn’t.

As I write this, he’s about to turn 97, and I still can’t.

“Reverend Graham, so wonderful to hear from you,” I strangled into the phone.  I had expected to hear from his PR man, Larry Ross, out of Texas.  Instead, I got the man himself, calling from just up the road at home in Montreat, North Carolina.  Billy Graham had my number, in every sense.  How great.  How terrifying.  It would surely have daunted the daylights out of Ed Murrow.

“I’m sure you’ve heard, sir.  Dr. Bob Jones Junior has died.  I wonder if I might get a statement from you about that.  I’m sure you recall some of what he said of you.”

I said something like that, about as composed as a teenage boy before his new girlfriend’s daddy.

Bob Jones, Junior was second chancellor to Bob Jones University, the school that hung the C on Christian Conservatism.  He didn’t have much good to say about Billy Graham.  He considered him an apostate.  That’s a blood-sport insult to an evangelist.  A one-word weapon, sharp and fancy at once.  He had denounced Billy Graham as a false teacher doing “…more harm to the cause of Jesus Christ than any living man.”

Billy Graham had already been named to Gallup’s most admired list what seemed like a thousand times (the actual current number is 57 ).  Bob Jones, Junior had been an outlier of all that admiration.

And he was dead.  An easy target, even for a gentleman.

“I love Bob Jones,” the Reverend Graham told me on that phone call.  “All that talk, well, that just rolls off me like water on a duck’s back.”

That’s the statement, made for TV that night.  I just answered the phone.  Billy Graham did the rest, directly answering one of his sharpest critics.  He borrowed some farm boy parlance and wrapped it in grace.  It was his way.  In my every encounter with him, it always was.

Billy Graham grew up as Billy Frank.  His mama and daddy called him that on the family dairy farm outside Charlotte, North Carolina.  In every interview and conversation we had, he wanted to talk of it.

“I milked 20 cows every morning and 20 cows every night” he said to me, as I sat on the arm of the couch in the Graham home place.  Ruth – his wife who helped to build the place out of 3 old cabins – grinned beside him, looking about the size of a wren.  Billy Graham still lives there, on a Western North Carolina mountainside.  The land so lovely it would rattle poets.  So steep it might send Gravity running, downhill.  Moonshiners used to run uphill there, haunting the scarps and hiding from revenue men.  Liquor making preceded America’s pastor to that ridge.

Billy Graham believes God lives in the real world, so he lived there too.  He let the human heartbreaks show.

“The music has gone out of my house” he said of Ruth Graham’s death in 2007.  Their first son, Franklin, once told me in her latter days, he would go into their room and find them lying on the bed, looking at one another.  Wordless.  None necessary.  She was hickory-wood tough.  Raised by missionaries in China.  When I covered a wildfire on the mountain to which the house cleaves, a car rolled up to the staging area of the firefighters.  Billy Graham, in blue jeans, got out and shook every firefighter’s hand, saying, through a smile, “My wife’s up there, and she can fight a fire or a rattle snake or anything else.  It’s gonna be all right.”

It was.  The farm boy just knew it.

In a sensible pair of britches that day, he ministered, as a small-town pastor might.   The Reverend Billy Graham was still holding big-arena crusades back then. New York City’s Central Park would soon get in the works.  But he made sure to stop and love some worn out men, out loud, one on one.  He took pictures and gave smiles and said God bless you all over them.  It wasn’t the Reverend Graham.  It was Billy Frank who stood in that parking lot that day, in the smell of smoke and dirt and hard-won sweat.  In his hand, we all felt the fence-post patina of humility.  A farm boy work ethic.  We heard his belief in the matriarch who held him and his mortal world together, just up the hill.

The fire went out.  I believe Billy Graham wished his fame had died with it.

Not far from that day, the pastor who has preached Christianity to some 210 million people in 185 countries walked onto his porch up that mountain to face a band of reporters.  He wore a weathered old blue-jean coat and those trademark dungarees.  I and the others, overdressed for the occasion, stood on the simple front lawn and watched him take a seat and lead with Psalm 141.  “Set a guard over my mouth, oh Lord” he said.  He seemed genuinely afraid of what he might say.  Any little thing that might get twisted or taken as hurtful to someone.  But I believe the thing he most feared that day – and most of his days — was pride.  He wanted none of it in his mouth.  The denim on that coat, worn and mellowed by hard years, held the color that translates to everyman.  Working man.  A hue not of blue blood, but a shade of human frailty.  Bleached by living in the light of real life, not the shade of high religion.  The coat had its say before the Reverend Graham could say a word.

“This coat was given to me by Johnny Cash” he announced.  He let the news of it hang in the air.  Giving room for the clang of Folsom prison and the feel of Johnny Cash’s fall and rise to gather into our minds.  Billy Graham was entirely Billy Frank in that moment.  Every bit as human as Johnny Cash, or Charlie Daniels, or any of the so-called real people who had shared his crusade stage.  He sat unashamed, of the Man in Black or any other friend.  Critics might call him an apostate or worse for that.  He clearly didn’t care.

People often ask me what he’s like.  How was it, sitting with the Reverend Billy Graham, across time zones?  The first answer distills to the word — humbling.  Self-consciousness runs from the man.  His own humility disarms and chases it off the people around him.  Humility and humanity leap from him, sometimes even in a grand way.  In a crusade meeting at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, I heard him say, “Billy Graham is a sinner, and Billy Graham deserves judgment, and Billy Graham deserves hell.”  85,000 people heard it, among them former President Carter and Coretta Scott King, and the silence that followed was daunting.   We all fall.  God loves us anyway.  He gave the room that comfort as well.

But in a conversation, he’s quiet.  The farm boy gentility like a garment that suits him.  A cosmic hem he has touched.  The fabric soft and tattered and hard-worn.

In one of our early chats, as if a camera were nowhere near, we got to talking less about old-time religion and more about new world orders.  He told me of knowing Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior so well he called Dr. King “Mike.”  That was a name used only among the King inner circle.  The most trusted.  The two ministers had traveled to South America together.  In North America, they had faced down the same sins of old South segregation.  Billy Graham had literally taken down the ropes that would have divided the races in his southern meetings.  Both men had broken barriers with what Dr. King would call “the weapon of love.”  They had done it under threat of their very lives.

But only recently did I learn just how far ahead of his time Billy Graham has been on the world stage.  The Graham influence, his courage, became an export of the American Civil Rights Movement, far from his southern home.

It was 1973.  In the undertow of Apartheid in South Africa, before a throng of many thousands in a stadium, the Reverend Billy Graham lit lightning into the thunder of these words:

“Now Jesus was a man.  He was human.  He was not a white man.  He was not a black man.  Don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black.  Christ belongs to all people.  He belongs to the whole world.”

The hands that milked cows shook the most powerful hands in the world.   He politely leveled critics, and chased off scandal without raising ruckus about it, and felt the world change under his feet.  Plenty of television evangelists tripped over their own frailties in pursuit of the success Billy Graham has known.  Success from which he cannot hide, even on a mountainside.  Success he dislikes to wear.

And that’s the other thing I’ll most easily recall about him.  He calmly said more than once he considered himself a failure.  Too much travel, too little prayer, too few hours studying the Bible.

“I could have done so much more, had I been more devoted to Christ,” he told me.  “I keep trying to crawl off that pedestal the world keeps trying to put under me.”

It’s nearly as though he wants to become anonymous.  The man who’s often said he looks forward to death and being with God wants his name to hurry and fade from his earthly legacy.   His library building in Charlotte wears no sign of Graham out front.  His orders.  He argued with his pastor, the Reverend Don Wilton, about even uttering Billy Graham a single time at his own funeral.

I won’t ever obey his quiet order to me from years ago.  What matters, in memory, is that he quaintly asked, “Please, call me Billy.”

Yes, I remember you, Reverend Graham.  History will as well, far beyond the final, “amen.”

Well after the fading last notes of your signature hymn:

“Just As I Am.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 191 other followers