I’m a pitiful Christian who offends God

I have never watched the entire 2005 movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. But, I have watched one scene many times.

That scene features actors Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, and Levon Helm. Mr. Helm was the drummer in the rock group, The Band.

In this scene, Mr. Helm portrays a blind man who lives alone in a frail house in the borderland between Texas and Mexico.

Mr. Jones is fulfilling a promise. He is carrying by horseback the body of his friend, Melquiades Estrada, to properly bury him in a Mexican village.

Mr. Pepper portrays the United States border guard who shot Mr. Estrada.

They stop at Mr. Helm’s home to ask for water for the three horses. Mr. Helm has no qualms about providing the requested water, and he even extends the hospitality by providing the strangers a meal.

At the kitchen table, Mr. Helm serves the food. Then, he extends his two hands across the table for Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper.

He says, “let us pray.”

Awkward silence and hesitancy capture Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper. Uncomfortable seconds pass until Mr. Jones extends his hands to Mr. Helm and Mr. Pepper.

Curious about how Mr. Helm lives and survives in such harsh conditions, Mr. Jones asked a few questions.

We learn that Mr. Helm has some food stashed away. His son usually comes to visit him once a month to bring supplies, but he hasn’t seen his son in six months.

After the meal, Jones and Pepper collect the three horses, and prepare to depart.

Mr. Jones thanks Mr. Helm, and then Mr. Helm asks Mr. Jones for a favor.

Mr. Jones replies with “anything you want.”

Mr. Jones clearly does not anticipate Mr. Helm’s heart wrenching question: “I wanted to ask you, if you could shoot me?”

A quiet, astonishment takes over the scene. Mr. Pepper instantly looks at Mr. Jones awaiting his response.

Mr. Helm explains his rationale.

His son isn’t coming back—he has cancer. Mr. Helm does not want to leave his home, and most importantly in his mind, he does not want to offend God by taking his own life.

After a few seconds of reflection, Mr. Jones responds that he can’t shoot Mr. Helm, and makes the point that he does not want to offend God either.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Pepper ride off with Mr. Helm still requesting that he be shot.

That scene makes me think of my own so called life as a Christian. I wonder how many times have I offended God?

In my mind, I reason that I have offended God quite a bit.

My brain will not let me forget the imperfections of my flawed judgment.

I curse my God who created the agitated yellow jacket that stung me while working on our church grounds.

I’m highly critical of others without considering my own shortcomings.

I silently swear at any driver who runs a yield or stop sign, or a stoplight.

There are days when my impure heart, mind, and soul feel like the devil is a half step behind me.

I wrestle with the inability of the church to see that the redundancy of its long worn templates might not work anymore.

I have let the current division in America make me a judge. I struggle to understand how insightful friends who were made by the same God that made me can’t see what I see in this division.

I ask why are they so blinded? How can their reasoning be so impaired?

Why have I lost my capacity to communicate with them? Is it because I have lost my ability to listen without judging?

Perhaps, they see me in the same way. Maybe, they ask the same internal questions about me?

In our division is fear the fuel that divides us? Is fear what drives the faulty logic founded in misinformation?

Yes, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a Hollywood script, but a raw honesty comes from the blind man portrayed by Levon Helm.

Perhaps, he should fear the two strangers. He doesn’t.

Mr. Helm provides heartfelt hospitality without knowing anything about their circumstances.

He extends his hands at the dinner table to offer prayer to the strangers. Something inside their troubled hearts makes them take Mr. Helm’s hands.

And that makes me ask myself, why can’t I extend my hands to those with whom I disagree?
Pitiful Christian that I am, will I continue to offend God?

Where is my commitment for these words from 1 Peter 3:8: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

When will my stubborn heart wake up?

Photo by Bill Pike

The earth shudders and the ACC moves to Charlotte

Bill Pike Guest columnist Greensboro News and Record Sunday, September 25, 2022

I wonder whether the U.S. Geological Survey detected any shifting of tectonic plates under the soil of the Piedmont of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it was moving the league’s headquarters from Greensboro to Charlotte.

If any tremors were recorded, perhaps it was from the original founders of the ACC rolling in their graves.

Congratulations, Charlotte. You’re not Greensboro, but a million times better than Orlando.
To ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, congratulations too. You did something no previous commissioner of the ACC has done — thrust a dagger into the heart of a city and community that has been loyal to the league since 1953.

Honestly, I don’t know why I’m taking this so hard. I’m not a graduate of an ACC school. And, I’m no longer a diehard fan who follows the league like Deputy Fife rabidly searching for Otis Campbell’s moonshine supplier.

However, I do have a heart — a heart full of memories. As a kid growing up in Burlington, I followed the ACC faithfully. Whether by radio or television, I spent many Saturday afternoons listening to and watching teams from the league compete in football and basketball. I remember the names of the players and coaches, and the voices of the announcers who called the games.

The league was compact then, eight teams. Primarily through men’s basketball, those teams built a foundation that would propel the ACC into the future and into the national spotlight. During those formative years, expansion was a speck on the horizon.

When the league initially expanded, the new members made sense geographically. Geography doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about the pennies, lots and lots of pennies, and power.

Pennies from municipalities, legislatures, sport networks and alumni who in a blink can buyout the contract of a non-winning coach.

But, there are also power plays involved; particularly with sport networks that broadcast the games. Their lucrative contracts with athletic conferences for broadcast rights are too tempting to turn down.

I like the fact that Greensboro leaders put together a package of incentives that made the decision to leave difficult for Commissioner Phillips and his team. Said Mayor Nancy Vaughan: “I also feel like we put together an excellent package, which is one reason it took them 14 months to make a decision.”

Another whine from the league was Greensboro’s airport. Listen, the Piedmont Triad International Airport is well-maintained and properly run. Yes, it might take you longer to make a connection to get to Greensboro, but you can get there.

In truth, I’m disappointed in what appears to be an absence of support for Greensboro from the founding schools of the conference.

With historic Cameron Indoor Stadium on his campus, a person might think that Duke University President Vince Price, would advocate for Greensboro’s legacy of tradition, support and loyalty to the conference.

Not the case. Price’s comments centered on Charlotte as “a lively sports town” and the opportunity to bring “two incredible brands,” Charlotte and the ACC, together.

Boston, Atlanta and Miami are lively sports cities, but I don’t sense their ACC conference schools are significantly marketing the league’s brand. Greensboro did.

Yes, I’m disappointed, but not surprised.

This move to Charlotte is one more example of America valuing power and money more than the cherished legacy of loyalty and support that Greensboro has given to the ACC for 69 years.

Author’s note: This post is courtesy of the Greensboro News and Record. Here is a link to the piece in the paper: https://greensboro.com/opinion/columnists/bill-pike-the-earth-shudders-and-the-acc-moves-to-charlotte/article_4c548b54-39bb-11ed-927c-c7b0295f256d.html

Last dance with the beast from the hardware store

Let’s get the truth out in the yard, I enjoy doing yard work.

For some reason, I always have.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my moments when I become unglued, and words spew out of me that could wither a flower. But overall, I enjoy yard work.

There is one exception. In the fall, leaves drive me nuts.

Growing up in North Carolina, as soon as I could safely operate a gasoline powered lawnmower, I was pushing one.

From early spring until late fall, I mowed our yard every week.

At one point, I mowed four yards in the neighborhood. No trimming, just mowing. The homeowners provided the mowers and the gas. I’m sure I wasted every penny I earned.

I do not ever remember my father buying grass seed or fertilizer for our yard. That yard was a combination of weeds, primarily wild Bermuda, also known as wire grass. My father despised that “durn wire grass,” especially when it encroached on his garden.
I could not tell you the moment when the pursuit of lawn perfection bit me. But, I succumbed.

In my memory, I can remember a couple of years when we contracted with a lawn service in Richmond to do aerating, seeding, and fertilizing. Then, I figured our the timing and the materials needed, and I started doing all that perfection work on my own.

Some springs and into early summer our yard looks like a well groomed fairway on a golf course. And naturally, there have been times when whatever magic preparation I tried didn’t work.

And before we go further, I must confess. When the summer becomes hot and dry, and rain is absent, I do not water our lawn. I water all of our shrubs and flowers. I figure when the rain does arrive, the grass will come back.

Labor Day weekend, I raked our back and front yards to remove thatch and other debris. Then I lowered the mowing height of the lawn mower, and cut the grass lower than I usually do.

Next, I went to Lowes. I carefully studied the labeling for the grass seed and starter fertilizer like I knew what I was doing.

Then I wrestled with getting two twenty pound bags of grass seed and a fifty pound bag of fertilizer. That fertilizer bag only reinforced that despite doing push ups and working with ten pound dumbbells, I have no upper body strength. I suspect I would lose an arm wrestling contest to any of our grandchildren.

Probably on the ride home from Lowes is when the irrational part of my brain took over—“You know William, it has been years since you rented an aerator. If you really want lawn perfection next spring, you need to rent an aerator this week.”

So on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 6, at 3:30, I was at our neighborhood hardware store. I committed to renting the beast for two hours. I also rented two ramps so that I could get the beast in and out of the borrowed pickup truck.

After giving me some pointers, two employees helped me load the monster into the back of the truck. They struggled.

So, I climbed into the bed of the truck to help pull the heavy machine up the last few inches. Then, I took some rope and tied down my new friend just to make sure that its restless hollow spikes didn’t start any problems on the ride home.

We arrived safely.

I let down the tailgate. I carefully positioned the ramps to line up with the wheels of the beast. I grabbed the handles bracing to be run over. The aerator ignored me. It raced down the ramp, and landed with a jarring thud.

Miraculously, the beast started on the first pull. With my gloved hands, I grasped the thin handle, and the beast took off dragging me behind it. I vaguely remembered one of the hardware store employees pointing out the throttle switch.

I let go of the handle, the beast stopped. I found the throttle switch and slowed down the engine. Even though the pace was better, no matter if I was in the backyard or front yard, the beast worked me over. I knew my old sack of bones would be hurting on Wednesday.

Before I knew it, I was approaching the two hour limit. I pushed the beast toward the back of the pickup truck. Next, I used a garden hose to wash soil and strands of grass off the underside and the spikes.

I repositioned the ramps, and somehow the Commander Supreme and I pushed and pulled the beast back into the truck bed. With the beast retied, I drove back to the hardware store.

When I arrived, two employees came out help get the beast down from the truck. I told them this was probably my last dance with an aerator. They laughed. I presume they have heard that declaration before.

Back at home, I pulled my broadcast spreader out of the tool shed. I adjusted the spreader’s rate of flow. I filled the spreader and started to work.

Sure enough on Wednesday, the beast was still with me.

My lower back was talking to me. My back must have been thinking, “ Don’t you ever, ever rent an aerator again. You think this pain is annoying, you don’t want to know how much pain you will be in if you rent a beast again.” By Friday, my back and I were on tenuous terms.

My dance with the beast made me think of Curley Fletcher.

A long, long time ago, Curley Fletcher was a cowboy out in northern California. Fletcher was also a cowboy poet and songwriter. “Strawberry Roan” is his most famous poem that has been set to music and recorded by a variety of musicians.

“Strawberry Roan” is a horse. A horse that no matter how skilled a cowboy claimed to be, no one could tame the cantankerous “Strawberry Roan.”

On Tuesday afternoon, I sort of felt like I was trying to tame a bronco—that aerator. In about ten days, I’ll learn if my work with the beast paid off. If grass seed start sprouting, then I might have kinder thoughts toward the beast.

My encounter with the beast made me think about life.

For some people, life is a tough ride everyday.

They are worn and battered by trying to live life.

The things that life tosses at me are nothing in comparison to their experiences.

Some are homeless.

Some fight addiction.

Some are unemployed.

Some have poor health.

Some are hungry.

Some are estranged from family.

Some have no faith, no hope.

And I’m whining about an aerator wearing me out.

What is wrong with my thinking?

The beast from the hardware store
Photo by Bill Pike

Buried In The Credits: Wolfgang, Matt, Mr. Casey, Jeffrey, John, and Emerson

About mid-morning on Tuesday, August 30, the invasion started. By late Wednesday afternoon, the occupation was complete.

Trinity Hall had been transformed into a dining room, complete with check-in stations, a row of make-up tables with mirrors and lights, and the stage held individual dressing rooms. Blue tents with rounded tops.

The parking lots had security guards, an air conditioned tent for overflow diners, food trucks, portable grills, tractor trailers, box trucks, port-a-johns, at least ten trailers used as offices and rehearsal rooms, trucks for fuel and maintenance, and vans for shuttling personnel.

The most impressive vehicle was the eighteen wheeler that held a noiseless generator. One of the technicians asked me if I could hear it running, and I didn’t hear a peep coming from this beast.

So, why this encampment?

Our church was one of the logistical sites hosting the second season of filming the AppleTV show—Swagger. This series is about Kevin Durant, a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association(NBA).

For three days, August 31- September 2, our grounds and Trinity Hall would hold all this equipment and at assorted times lots of people. This would allow the production staff and the actresses and actors to complete night filming for a party scene at a house off Ridge Road a few blocks away from the church.

During my eleven years of working at the church, location scouts had come by to see our facilities, take photographs, and ask about available dates. But, with the Swagger production, this is the first time that we have actually been a part of a show.

This time it happened that our calendar and our facilities matched their needs.

My initial contact and work was with two young guys, Wolfgang, key assistant location manager, and Matt, location scout. They both coordinate getting everything in place. Their work is non-stop. Night filming made their work even more rigorous.
Matt told me he clocks in about ten miles of footwork everyday, with eighteen miles being his one day record.

They both will be with Swagger until the filming ends in late November. Then they will rest up, and use their industry contacts to secure a job with a new television or movie production company.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, I was walking the grounds checking noise levels. We had hand delivered a letter to the homeowners on Stuart Hall and Rock Creek roads letting them know what was taking place.

As I approached a security check point, I heard one of the security guards say out loud: “I see a familiar face, I know this guy.”

Turns out the security guard had been a parent at Lakeside Elementary School where I had served as principal. Mr. Casey quickly pulled me over, and he started to tell me about his boys who are now grown men. He shared some pictures, and I could not believe how old I suddenly felt.

During the three days, I kept my eyes open for the son of one of our college friends. Jeffrey has been in the production business a long time. He was worked on an assortment of television shows and movies in the mid-Atlantic as a grip. Jeffrey and the team he works with are responsible for all of the rigging and set up for the camera crew, and this includes working with the electrical department in coordinating the lighting of the set.

I knew it would be a long shot to see Jeffrey because his night filming did not match up with my church work hours. But on Saturday morning just before seven, as I was pulling into the parking lot, Jeffrey was exiting the parking lot.

Drained from three nights of filming, Jeffrey was heading to the hotel to sleep before driving back home near Frederick, Maryland to be with his wife and two young children. We chatted for a few minutes, and I commented to Jeffrey how I couldn’t believe all the trucks and equipment. His response to me—“this is a small production.”

After saying goodbye, I walked into Trinity Hall to assess the cleanup. I was amazed at how quickly Trinity Hall and our parking lots had been cleared of everything that had been here since Wednesday.
I wiped down the table tops to prep them for cart loading. One of the extras for the show, a young man named John was waiting for a ride to arrive. So, John pitched in to help with putting the folding chairs back on the carts.

We talked quite a bit. In a short period of time, I learned a lot about John. When he was growing up, his parents were both in the military. John spent quite a bit of his early life overseas. He is a young father with two children in elementary school, and another child on the way.

John is stringing together jobs related to two of his passions boxing and dancing. In talking with him, I learned the importance of footwork to boxing and dancing. John described how a foot injury—the dislocation of one of his big toes, taught him about balance. He has never forgotten how critical our toes are in providing us balance.

Once the chairs were finished, John used his travel bag as a pillow, and the next thing I knew he was asleep. Being an extra for three days will throw off your normal sleep routines. The instant sleep meant John was exhausted.

As promised, around ten the tent crew returned to take down the tent. That went well, but they were not the same vendor for the portable air conditioning unit. From Saturday morning until late Tuesday afternoon, a schedule was developed by the security company to post a security guard to watch the air conditioning unit. They guarded that portable unit like it was Fort Knox.

On Sunday morning, that’s when I met Emerson. He had been there all night watching over the air conditioning unit. We had a good talk, and Emerson shared with me that it had been a rough week for him and his car. He misjudged a turn and caused significant damage to his car. With this car bill looming over him, Emerson had asked for extra hours of work.

In 1977, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne released a live album, Running On Empty. The set of songs captures what life is like on the road for the musicians and everyone who supports them in the production of a concert.

During the three days that the extra actors and actresses and all of the production crew were at Trinity, we caught a glimpse of what it takes to make a successful television show or movie. There are lots of moving pieces in the background that we never see or think about as we watch the show or movie.

When my wife and I go to see a movie, I have a bad habit. I stay until the last credit for the film is cast on to the screen. To me, all those people who worked behind the scenes are just as important as the actors and actresses who are in the spotlight.

Wolfgang, Matt, Mr. Casey, Jeffrey, John, and Emerson might be buried in those scrolling credits, but here is what I can’t forget—these are real human beings, with real stories, and who are working to keep their balance in the ups and downs of life too.

Sometimes, in our daily walk through life we are also buried in the credits.

But, we never know in that scrolling of life when we might be called upon to help someone regain their footing and balance.

In those unexpected moments, I hope I will not remain buried in the credits.

I hope reluctance will not seize me.

I hope I will offer assistance. How about you?

Author’s note, all photos by Bill Pike

The Monday after vacation: Sell the church

On Monday, July 25, I returned to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. Our week at Topsail Island, North Carolina is now packed away.

The office staff told me the church was quiet while I was gone.

Apparently that was true except for the morning a HVAC motor in a closet overheated and smoked up the first floor of the children’s wing. Five fire trucks responded along with a few other official vehicles. So much for silence.

Monday marked the beginning of Kids Camp(vacation Bible school). I had a role as a presenter talking about how our church helps to support three local food pantries.

A week away means a pileup of computer emails and paper in my mailbox in the church office.

I made it through the morning, but early in the afternoon the building began to conspire to fully welcome me back.

A technician confirmed what I had expected—two controllers for our outdoor sprinkler system were dead. They had to be replaced.

The elevator for the Welcome Center and Eaton Hall was next. The door would open and close, but the elevator did not respond to the command to take the short ride down to Eaton Hall. Turns out a module had failed. A part would need to be ordered.

But the best challenge was last.

Working in the Preschool office, our fearless leaders Katie Swartz and Mary Jones could hear a trickle of water. When they opened the door for a small mechanical room, a stream of spraying water from a pipe greeted them.

At first glance, I mistakenly thought the leak was coming from our fire protection sprinkler system. But as I looked further at the configuration of piping, I could see that the steady stream of water was coming from a large HVAC condensation pipe.

Fortunately in the mechanical room there was a floor drain, so the spewing water wasn’t going to create another problem. But, the water was also dripping into equipment used to chemically treat the water in the HVAC system.

It was late in the afternoon when I put in the call to the company who services our HVAC systems. They dispatched a technician. When he arrived, he had to deal with water to get into our building as an intense afternoon thunderstorm was dumping gallons of water in the neighborhood surrounding our church.

Soaked, he made it into the building, and I walked him to the mechanical room.

Within a few seconds of assessing the leak, he groaned. Where the leaked had spouted would require the skills of a plumber to properly remove and replace the failed pipe.

He made a quick call to his company’s office to describe the challenges of the failed pipe. After the call, he returned to his truck. He was going to use a special tape to slow the spew of the leak.

I jokingly asked him if he thought I should line up members of the congregation to serve hourly shifts to plug the leak with their fingers. He laughed, and hoped that his tape wrapping would slow the the escaping water. Luckily, this bandaid repair worked, and the air conditioning system could still run until the real repair could be scheduled.

I can’t tell you how many days like this I’ve had over the last eleven years. I cherish this building with its Flemish bond brick pattern and aesthetically pleasing architecture. The building and its grounds as Gomer Pyle would say, “Is a sight to behold.” However, there is always something going on behind that pleasing appearance.

During the last year, my sister has kept me informed about Davis Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, North Carolina. We grew up in that church, and like Trinity I cherished the building and the people.

But, back in the spring, the congregation decided it was time to close the church doors. They followed all of the required protocols from that famous Methodist Book of Discipline and sold the building and grounds “as is” to a company who works with families who have autistic children.

The closing of the building followed what has become a predictable pattern for many churches. Membership down, attendance down, giving down, new programming marginally successful, building needs in terms of repairs and maintenance up significantly, and the funding to repair and maintain the building not always available.

Translation—building and congregation on life support, the end is near.

In truth, I love the response by the Davis Street congregation and their leadership. They figured out the future was bleak, so they sought a remedy.

Was everyone completely happy?


But their plan still has life for the building and the neighborhood. The work the new owners will do with children and their families in a unique way still correlates to one of the missions of the church—helping people.

Yes, there are days, like that Monday, when I say to the Trustees let’s sell this place.

They might chuckle for a second, and say Bill, “You’ve lost your mind.”

But, you can only chuckle for so long.

Because behind that Flemish bond facade some part of the building is conspiring.

When a building with age starts to conspire— congregation beware.

Leaking HVAC pipe Photo by Bill Pike

Goodbye beach

Life moves too fast.

How do I know?

Just ask the beach vacation.

We arrived on Saturday, July 16 on Topsail Island, North Carolina.

Seven days later, we are packed, and departing.

When he was younger, our son, Andrew, would always tear up on the departure day.

Maybe, his tears are silent now. At least I didn’t see any when his family and their packed car headed back to Richmond. I’ll have to ask his wife, Kathryn, if any tears formed once they were out of sight.

My church friend, Elaine Peele, talks about the beach being her happy place. I think the same holds true for my wife, our Commander Supreme, the beach is her happy place.

I sense the beach is a happy place for dermatologists too. Perhaps, these essential doctors feel like a kid on Christmas morning when they view a beach full of scantily clad sun worshippers.

Even though I have a deep appreciation for my dermatologist, I have vowed not to make additional financial contributions to his retirement, summer home, or fancy car.

At the beach, I wear a hat that covers my entire head. If needed, I keep a head gaiter in the pocket of the long sleeved shirt that I wear while on the sandy shore.

Any bare spot on my old body is covered in 50 weight sunscreen, and I spend a lot of time camped out in a chair with an awning under the shade from our wind blown shibumi. Yes, I could be the poster child for grumpy old geezers who avoid the sun.

Despite my overabundance of sun caution, I am drawn to the beach.

I love watching our grandchildren as they learn the beach’s lessons.

I laugh at the haul of required beach cargo brought down from the house each day.

My ears and eyes delight in the sight of a low flying military helicopter scurrying down the coast line.

I respect the pull of the undertow in the ceaseless choreography of the waves.

People watching makes me wonder what beachcombers think when they see me?

I wonder if replenished sand dunes and rows of freshly planted sea oats will still be in place next summer?

I find reassurance when the sun inches up out of the ocean breaching the horizon line and signaling the start of a new day.

I appreciate the aroma of the salt marsh at low tide as it blows over me from a warm summer breeze.

And when life is pushing down on my shoulders, I’ll recall the graceful glide of pelicans skirting in formation in the trough between two cresting waves.

Now, my daydreaming is over.

The beach house is empty.

We have followed the required protocols so that the cleaning crew can make the home ready for the next renters.

The car is packed. In theory, we should have less junk on the drive back, but I’m not sure this is true.

As we pull out of the driveway on to the main road, it is my hope, my prayer that we can come back again next summer.

Goodbye beach, be smart and safe.

Sun rising Topsail Island, North Carolina photo Bill Pike