"Redeemer-lite"   or   "A Few Words from a Serial Scoffer"
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         by David R. Davis ©2013

A Fourth Ward Clinic colleague once told me I had a "scoffing spirit" because I found some things in our community life humorous, and I drew cartoons about them every once in a while. (Later I went on to do political cartoons for two papers.) There's been lots of "spiritual" writing about that time in Houston, and a lot of serious writing about that time in Houston, but not enough mention of the fun we had along with the worship and hard work. So, at the risk of being accused of being a scoffer again, I want to share some bits and pieces of levity I remember from our life together, and a few serious moments, as well.

I was a part of what you might call the "second wave" in the Medical Community. I lived in the Satterfield Household and never were there more gracious loving people. We attended St. Matthew's. Some of us younger singles used to joke about being "Redeemer Rejects" or "Redeemer Lite".

When I first arrived in Houston, the leadership prayed about where the Lord wanted me—for about a New York minute. As soon as they heard that I had some medical lab experience, I was immediately hustled into the Fourth Ward Clinic lab. The first person I remember seeing in the lab was Dave B. sitting at a microscope doing a differential count. He looked up, and I thought: The cut of that beard makes that guy look like Abe Lincoln. Shirley M. raced out of her office talking a mile a minute. She handed me a bottle of urine test dipsticks. "This lab coat will do until you can get one of your own. I hope you're not too spiritual to work full time." She pointed to a backlog of urine samples lined up on a counter. "Start here," she said and disappeared into her office.

There were anywhere from seventeen to twenty of us living at the Satterfield's big two-story house. One thing I learned right away was that one of the sacraments of community life was coffee. There was a pot of hot water going at most of the time for instant coffee or tea. We ran on prayer and almost mainlined caffeine. We worked twelve hour days, worshiped, and gathered for meetings. Lots of meetings. All kinds of meetings. A plethora of meetings. Family meetings. Clinic staff meetings. Lab meetings. Men's meetings. Pre and post meeting meetings. At times I thought I'd never catch up on my sleep again. But we were young and the hard work was good for us. My heroes were Joe and Nancy S. They worked harder than anyone, and they were always available if you had a problem. Day or night. They saw me at my worst and loved me still.

One day a couple of friends and I started talking about community jargon. We discussed the fact that every group culture uses certain expressions and phrases in their daily life together. There was military jargon. There was hippie speak. Waitresses had a lingo. Community life developed its own brand, too. We decided to make a list of some of the expressions we heard every day.

Some examples:

Situation: You've just been to a meeting where a couple of folks were airing opinions about some sort of relationship problem in a heated manner. After honestly laying out their feelings, they asked forgiveness of one another, and moved on to the work of seeing the daily flood of patients. If someone asked how the meeting went, you might hear, X and Y had some vigorous fellowship and worked out their relationship.

Situation: (Hypothetical, of course) A brother has just caught you eating the last donut. You've already had one, but you especially wanted a second. The one covered with chocolate and sprinkles. The one being saved for the brother that caught you filching it. There is chocolate on your fingers and a couple of sprinkles on your beard. He has you red-handed. There is no way out. Later, the brother angrily brings it up at the family meeting. You have no defense and you need to get the spotlight off your sin. So, you look at the brother, point, and indignantly say, Yes, I admit I did that—but what's going on in YOU!

Prelude: I once heard John G. say, "The Lord can speak through anybody. Of course, with some folks it's just a the, and, or a but, every once in a while--but the Lord can speak through anybody." We were taught to listen to God speaking through the haphazard events of the day and the chance conversations of others. Sometimes it was hard to hear anything good in certain conversations. That brings us to this scenario:

Situation: You are visiting at an Episcopal Church that is suspicious of this weird community stuff. A fellow corners you and tells you that it smacks of hippie communism and all of you young people are just drones working for no money and what's with all of you carrying Bibles, and by the way, you REALLY need to get a haircut. Needless to say, this boils up all kinds of dross from the depths of your being. It isn't pretty. Parts of you are unconverted still, and you think of several choice un-loving replies, but you are slowly growing a bit in grace, so instead you say (in the kindest voice you can manufacture), Thank you for sharing that.

Situation: You have just heard a teaching or bit of doctrine that you really disagree with. You don't want to argue about it, but you don't want anyone to question you about YOUR views. The person asks you what you think. So you say, That's not what the Lord has shown me. That ends the conversation, and does two things. First, you imply that he's wrong because the Lord has shown you something different. Second, he can't question you about your view, because you just said the Lord has shown it to you. Who can question that?

Situation: A brother is visiting the clinic from another city and you have both climbed the submarine type stairs to the small sharing room on the second floor juggling cups of hot coffee. During morning sharing he tells another brother that he needs to be free to dance during worship. The brother puts his hand on the speaker's shoulder and deadpans Yes, but are you free NOT to.

Situation: The spirit is always moving. Literally. With the "fruit basket turnover" changing personnel at households, the parish moving ministry is constantly working on Saturday mornings. For the first time in a month of Sundays, there is no move scheduled this Saturday morning and you had hoped to get a little extra shut-eye. Then a brother calls and tells you Friday night that the moving ministry is going to move a lady, her two weight-lifter sons, her furniture, a large piano, several thousand pounds of weights from a third floor apartment across town to another second floor apartment—and by the way, the two strapping teenage sons won't be helping. (This actually happened.) You are pretty steamed. Your flesh is rebelling. You don't want to appear selfish, so you use the last refuge of a scoundrel. You say, in your most humble spiritual intonation, Brother, I don't feel led to do that.

Situation: You are sitting in a household family meeting. It appears that a brother and sister are getting serious about each other. When they can, they sit close to each other during worship. And they linger when they pass the peace. They try to not always sit next to each other at meals but everyone knows a romance is brewing. Meanwhile, another household sister thought that perhaps the Lord was maybe going to lead that young man her way. Not so. Frustrated with the circumstances, at family meeting she accuses them of having one of the most demonic of all relationships in community…an…an…EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIP!

Situation: A guy in your household gets a small amount of money in the mail and decides to walk around the corner to Udder Delight Ice Cream Shop for a cone of the heavenly stuff. You've hung around for quite a while hoping he will hear the Lord telling him to invite you along for a dip or two. Being extremely unspiritual, he misses heaven's call and invites his fiancé and another young household member. As they are going out the front door, you say, The Lord will sure forgive you for that, BROTHER.

Assorted scattered memories:

Strawberry Jam: Being such a large household, having jelly or jam for toast was too costly. Just a spoonful for each member meant spending big bucks that could better be used elsewhere. Occasionally, some kind soul would send a care package with a large jar of jam or jelly. This was quite a treat for all of us. The jam was usually placed in a crock jar. We would watch with anxiety as the jar was passed from person to person and each person spooned a bit on his or her toast. If you were in the seventeenth position at the table it caused lots of anxiety. How much would be left when the sacred vessel got to you? This set up the running family joke in this situation. It was always perpetrated by the second to last member in line for the jam. If you were the second to last person to get the crock, you would loudly scrape the spoon around like you were getting the very last bit of jam while the last person held his dry toast and looked on in horror. No matter how many times this trick was played it always got a huge laugh. And, of course, there was always a portion left for the last disciple.

Toothbrush Fun: There were lots of toothbrushes in the bathrooms because so many folks lived in the households. One brother I knew enjoyed pouring water on all the toothbrushes each morning after he brushed his teeth, so all the rest of the folks who came after would think he used their toothbrush.

For a while I worked with another brother as a janitor at St. Matthews. As we were eating on our lunch break one day, he started talking about how he wanted to stay real. He related how some folks put on a "spiritual face" and used a "spiritual voice" when sharing in church. The person would pick out his or her favorite his or her elder and after a spell start talking exactly like his or her elder. He called the malady ministeritis. He wrote a hilarious parody to the tune of the famous Mary Poppins song that described the behavior. It was titled Super-charismatic-istic-extra-holy-ghostus. Of course, he repented and it never saw the light of day.

Boiled Okra: At one point money was tight in our household. We never let on that things were critical in the shekel department. We knew God knew our situation and we waited for Him to take care of it in His way. Groceries were scarce. We were eating lots of cheese grits and oatmeal. I want to make this clear. Nobody was going hungry. It's just that the larder was pretty empty. Sure, enough, providence provided for us. A kind farming couple who sometimes visited St. Matthews gave us gave us a couple of bushels of okra and a large amount of liver. Now, I liked both, but some folks had never acquired the taste. We ate liver and boiled okra every night for supper until it was gone. And it was just the right diet to give us vitamins, fiber, and protein.

Saint John the Divine's Resale Shop: For some reason this joyful day sticks in my mind. Right after I married, someone sent us a small amount of money. I think there was even a short note telling us to do something fun with it. Winter was coming on full force and we needed new coats. (At that point I was riding a bicycle to work and it got pretty cold.) Saint John's was a wealthy parish and lots of the folks donated their wardrobes to the shop each year, They always had great clothes at bargain prices, and shopping there was like shopping at Neiman Marcus to us. Both of us were able to purchase new to us winter coats. After that, one of the other young married that lived at Lee House with us accompanied us to Sun Deluxe Chinese Restaurant. It was family owned, inexpensive, and we had just enough left to get lunch and all the hot tea we could drink.

B-12: Someone donated a huge amount of B-12 to the clinic. We didn't want to waste what the Lord had provided so everyone lined up for a B-12 injection. Everyone in the clinic limped around with a bit of a sore bum for the rest of that day.

Crab gumbo: There was an elderly black woman who was a regular patient at the clinic. Lord forgive me, I have forgotten her name after all these years. She was a great grandmother and she was sick off and on, but she was full of God's joy and love. She appreciated the care she got at the clinic. She didn't have much money, and she wanted to do something special for all of us. She got one of her grandsons and some of her great grandkids to take her to Galveston to go crabbing. She showed up at the clinic with a huge army sized pot of crab gumbo and another of boiled rice. Enough for all of us. I don't think I ever tasted gumbo as good as that!

Pat L. was one of my favorite household members. She had a bout with cancer but it was in remission. I did a liver screen on her one day when she was getting a routine checkup and the values were through the roof. Her cancer had returned and she only had a couple months to live. That night at family meeting she told us all. Her boys were grown, but she would hate to leave all of us. It was decided that we would take care of her since there were two nurses in the house and the rest of us could help around the clock. As the time grew closer she went through her meager possessions and picked out a gift for each of us. She tried to pick out something that would be just right for each of us. She gave me a bakelite enamel box with a small tape recorder and cassette tapes, because she knew I loved music. One of the last things she told me was that she would pray for each of us when she reached heaven. I still think of her and hope she is praying for me still.

During Eastertide, we had a rare evening off. Almost all seventeen of us crowed into the large back den to watch a bit of TV. We never got too much down time to do that so it was a fun event. Since Easter was coming up, the station showed The Greatest Story Ever Told. We had been debating about which Hollywood movies about bible events were the best and which were the worst. We decided that the worst casting ever done in Hollywood was having John Wayne play the cameo as the centurion in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Everyone thought that even though he had only one line it ruined the mood of the whole movie. Some had never seen the movie and wondered what the talk was about so we all tuned in.

In the meantime, a young nurse was flying in from California to work at the clinic for a spell. She told me later that she had pictured all of us sort of like monks and nuns living a very austere life. (Maybe she pictured us as the religious order cooked up my Monty Python that marched while smashing themselves on the forehead with boards.) She thought we probably never laughed, and just read the Bible. She worried that she would not be holy enough and hoped that she would fit in with such "super Christians". She arrived, and just as she stepped into the den, John Wayne, looking so out of place in roman armor, said (as only The Duke could say), "Surely this man was-tha sonna Gawd!" All of us dissolved in laughter and her image of monkish piety was shattered.

After all these years, it is still the good times and humor that I remember best. Perhaps my attempt at levity and selective humorous recall has made you uncomfortable. Maybe I still have a scoffing spirit. You may be right, but let me ask you a question. What's going on in YOU? ©2011. Click site map to navigate
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