Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


     I’m sittin’ on my barn porch at Johnson Farms this soft April morning, and I’m a happy man.  Waited months for this day.  Spring is peeking her sweet nose around the corner, and I’m smiling back, waving at her saying, “Come on sister, come on…it’s been so long.”  Saw a bee this morning.  During all those cold dark months, I had forgotten about the bees.  I had forgotten about the sparkling beauty of Easter, and how my little Momma was always so happy this time of year.  It just slipped my mind that when the earth renews herself, she does something similar to and for us all.  Forgotten about the hope that renewal offers, and the hope and mystery of the resurrection.  I’ll rope today as the ground is dry.  I’ll play cello music from the barn for Shine and Blue, and we will dance most of the day. 

     Apparently, others have forgotten as well.  In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of television shows involving debates of a sort between two groups, one we might label as ‘believers’ conversing with an opposing panel we can call ‘scientists,’ and the background of both is most impressive.  The believers hail from Harvard, Yale, and other addresses found only on Mt. Olympus, and the same is true of the ‘empirical’ thinkers, all holding prestigious positions at such universities as Cornell, Dartmouth, and Duke.  On PBS or perhaps the Science Channel, they spend a couple of hours debating - with courtesy and good manners, so rare in any debate these days - the existence of the Divine.  And as I watch and listen, I find myself so very annoyed, not at the scientists, evolutionists, and agnostics, but at those whom I assumed would be effective defenders of the faith…annoyed at the believers.  Here’s why. 

     The science group always begins with a question like, “How can you prove the existence of God?” Or “If there is a loving God, how can there be so much misery in the world?” I sit there waiting for some powerful response from the pillars of wisdom across the table, assuming of course they are on ‘our side,’ and…nothing.  I lean forward waiting, and their response is something like, “Uh, well…uh, it is impossible to prove such a claim, and yes, the world is a terrible place, uh…perhaps because something has gone wrong with Creation, and the Devil has hold of the world,” and I think… “What?”  Then the evolutionists smelling blood, dive in for the kill.  They begin to explain that all behavior is simply governed by biological urges, genetics, survival of the fittest, and perpetuation of the species.  And finally that there is no need to explain the workings of the universe due to a Creator, but rather science, and science alone is sufficient to explain everything in our existence. And the good guys just sit there.  They look off to the side, eyes downcast, waiting for one of their team members to say something profound, and no one says anything.  And during the course of all the discussion, what bothers me most is the condescending attitude adopted by the scientists.  They get this smirky little smile on their face, and act as if they are addressing a room full of hopelessly stupid fourth-graders who are desperately in need of being educated in real truth.  Those who still cannot cure a simple cold seem to feel sorry for the blind and dumb believers. 

     Yet I find myself annoyed not at them – let them wallow in their hopeless misery – but at the believers.  These well-heeled experts from the finest universities in the world seem to agree there is nothing good in the world.  They seem incapable of raising even a few salient points that would rock the scientists back on their collective heels.  How I would love to ask the panel of so-called experts – both sides - a few questions.  Such as… 

     “What on earth is the matter with you people?  Nothing good in the world?  Does your wife never fix you deviled eggs?  Do you not have hummingbird feeders?  Don’t any of your friends make incredible barbeque sauce?  Why is there beauty and have you never been in love?  Has your cork never gone under with a bream on the other end?  Haven’t you touched a baby colt, or seen a sparrow shower in the sand? Have none of you ever had a personal experience with something that defies reality?  Haven’t any of you ever been touched by something so magnificent and huge that words fail you, and you could not stop weeping with joy?”
That’s just for starters…I’m just getting’ warmed up.
     “You scientists claim you have a method for discovering what is real truth - by using “science.” And that the rest of us - who agree that science has value – but who  believe that insight and faith are also valid ways to discover truth, you assume our thinking is flawed because we “believe” something to be true.  Yet the man you seem to worship, Charles Darwin, did exactly that.  Darwin did not observe evolutionary change over eons of time, nor did he observe species mutate over the course of a million years. He only took a ride on a boat and “decided” that living creatures evolve so that only the fit survive, and the life force is about perpetuating the species.  If so, why didn’t horses evolve into carnivores?  They should be with their big teeth, big hooves, and tremendous speed…why are they not eating squirrels?  Scientists believe in Darwin, and believers in the One who made Darwin.”  

     And I would tell them something else.  About how as I grow older, an awareness comes in me that when difficult times and tragedies occur in our lives, something comes to help us.  In the worst of our days when we are on the valley floor, and our burden is impossible to bear, something cannot stand for things to be all bad.  For example, the legendary guitarist, Eric Clapton could pack a hundred-thousand seat stadium on any night he chose.  Instead, he chose to spend a long period of his life – three years - in a hotel room high on heroin.  How could anyone save Eric Clapton?  But when his young son fell to his death from a hotel balcony, instead of taking his life or continuing his addiction, Eric Clapton somehow found peace beyond understanding, and his song to his son, “Tears In Heaven,” revitalized his career and his life. 

     When my friend and great roper, Matt Phillips, lost his son, Michael Bryan, anyone would have understood if this good man had fallen.  Instead, he renamed his annual roping The Michael Bryan Benefit Roping, and to date, Matt, his wife Judy, Pastor Greg Matlock, his brother Terry, and so many others have sent hundreds of young people to church camp every summer.  And when I asked him why, Matt said, “I couldn’t sing, and I’m no preacher.  After we lost Michael, I wanted to find a way to help people.” The date for this year’s roping is June 4th, and I’ll be there with Shine and Blue. Because of Matt Phillips and his friends, so many young people have been and will be helped.  As is so often the case, our misery is transformed into our mission. 

     And then there is the Momma Cat.  Author Andrew Harvey shared a story about a cat caught in a high-rise tenement fire.  Firemen fighting the blaze tried in vain to stop her, but she darted past them again and again, each time bringing forth from the deadly fire, a small baby kitten clenched firmly in her mouth.  When she was done, all the fur was burned from her body, one eye was melted away, and only half-sight was left in the other, yet she made six torturous trips to save all her little ones.  Touched by her brave heroism, the firemen took her to local doctors who called other vets, and were able to save the mother.  The firemen described in detail how the mother cat - after successful rehabilitation – was reunited with her kittens, and how she licked and loved every one, and then let them nurse.   

     Some would have us believe that the life force is only about perpetuating the species.  If that’s true, why didn’t that cat just go find herself a cute Tom?  On my vet’s waiting room wall, a pamphlet encourages pet owners to spay and neuter their animals.  “A male and female cat can produce thousands of offspring in just a few years,” the pamphlet reads.  If so, why didn’t Momma Cat just go find her a fellow? 

     The answer is because even though science doesn’t believe in such things, there truly are mysteries and miracles.  Matt Phillips tells of one such just the other day.  Matt had started a colt, and while most of his behavior showed progress, the young horse had one disturbing response.  Any time you moved your hand, this two-year old would dart, dance and lunge to one side or the other, making for pulled groins and sudden meetings with the ground.  Just before dawn, Matt saddled the horse and prepared himself for a few rodeo moments.  Riding into the arena with the sun just peeking over the horizon, Matt’s mind was distracted by a miracle that most of us take for granted every day.  Struck by the beauty of the morning sky, and soft sunlight spilling across the arena floor, without thinking Matt doffed his hat, and held it straight up to the fading stars, and said, “Thank You for this sunrise, Lord.”
Then realizing what he had just done, he said, “Uh oh.”  And the colt let out a soft sigh, and stood stone still.  Matt would later say, good horseman that he is, “If that wasn’t a miracle, I’ve never seen one.” 

     Some days are diamonds and some days are stone.  All things are not good, and I battle the black dog of depression on occasion like so many.  But on this day, on this soft spring day, I’ll think about Eric Clapton, Matt Phillips, and Momma Cat, and the mystery and hope of the resurrection.  And listening to cello music from my barn, I’ll ponder roping and other mysteries… and dance all day with Shine and Little Blue.

       Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

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