Purposeful Pausing in Anxious Times

In our anxiety-ridden world it’s really difficult to talk about anything without causing a ruckus. It’s almost as if you can’t say the word “love” without offending somebody. So, as tempted as I am to talk about civil rights for gay and transgendered people, racism and the dangers of being Black in America, the removal of confederate monuments and renaming forts, kneeling during the national anthem, proper policing, should we wear masks or not, how to do church restarts and prevent COVID spread in the community, I’m not going to take on any of these problems. They’re important, don’t get me wrong. They are life and death issues, but I would rather tell you about my father-in-law, Guy Mobley Godwin.

I’m not kidding. Narcie, our Methodist preacher daughter, used her “Gandaddy” in her sermon last Sunday. Without collaboration with his sister, our Methodist preacher son, Josh used him in his sermon last Sunday, too. Two different stories, and Cindy and I can’t get him off our minds either. We’ve been talking about him off and on for weeks. Why? At first, I thought it was the fact that Father’s Day is this Sunday, but other Father’s Days have come and gone since he died in the fall of 2000. He’s always been on our minds, but this year it’s been a lot more.

The reason why hit me this morning. In the midst of the societal, personal, and worldwide dilemmas that I mentioned at the outset, Mr. Godwin would have been the one we would have all turned to for advice and wisdom. He was “Mr. Godwin,” because he had been an educator and principal for decades. Hardly anyone of any age called him anything different. It was out of respect and admiration, not lack of closeness. He was the best man that I have ever known. I love my own Daddy, but Mr. Godwin was tops in every way.

He was the principal of Kingstree Senior High during desegregation. Mr. Godwin was nicknamed “McGarrity” as in “Hawaii Five-O” because he knew who did what in his school, and had a knack for slipping up sight-unseen at just the right moment. He lived Black Lives Matter. Mr. Godwin was deeply compassionate. He had a special needs high school student who was a savant of sorts, and Mr. Godwin connected with him through chess. He set up a chess board and pieces in the trophy case in the middle of the school so that he and the young man had a running game all day long. He wanted other students to recognize the young man’s uncanny intelligence.

Mr. Godwin was so smart himself. He could fix anything. We all called it, “Godwinizing.” He envisioned things in his mind, used his slide rule, drafted things out, and made it work, whether it was an added back seat to his station wagon so the grandchildren could go to Disney World, or his special lawn-mower pulled train that he made out of old school bus seats. He added wheels to each seat so that the children had their own “car” as he pulled them through “Godwin World” on a trail in the nearby woods where he had hung different eye-catchers from the trees. He was so inventive, and he loved his grandchildren. Gandaddy was their hero. He walked slower than Moses wandering in the wilderness, but he was always the first one to get up from a table at a restaurant so he could take the children outside. They went exploring while they worked off their energy under his watchful eye.

Good Lord, Mr. Godwin even taught our Rotary Club International exchange student and our children how to drive in an old dilapidated car as they barreled around one of his fields. He was a Daddy-figure to countless students and adopted children. When they came home, most of them would make a loving pilgrimage to see Mr. & Mrs. Godwin. He was a true mentor. Mr. Godwin was a quiet man of few words, but when he did say something, you made sure that you listened. He loved Mrs. Godwin, also an educator, so very much. Their banter was priceless. He adored his “Buggah’s,” Cindy and Guyeth. He endured his two preacher son-in-laws, and taught us how to be good men, too.  When he asked you if you wanted to go for a ride, you almost didn’t want to go because it would be hours of non-verbal travel from farm to farm, to his school, or a farm implement and parts store, or to Lee Cemetery where he and Mrs. Godwin lie in repose now, but NONE of us would want to miss the chance to be close to him, so we went. It was truly an honor to be asked.

It was such an honor to be left with him in the ER when Cindy and her mother talked to the doctor when, at age 67, he had his last heart attack. He asked me to take his shoes off. I never felt so unworthy in my entire life, and yet so close to the man I admired more than any other. He had 5 heart by-passes when he was 52, and 4 more when he was 57. His father died of a heart attack at 43, his next oldest brother with a heart attack at 39, and his mother died of the same thing at 52. Mr. Godwin’s physical heart may have been less than stellar, but the width and breadth of his love knew no boundaries.

So, Mr. Godwin, you’re on our minds a lot right now, not because of Father’s Day, but because you would be the only person with the wisdom to make sense out of this crazy time in our world. Your students’ first nickname for you was “Rock,” for that was what you were, and still are. You pondered, reasoned things through, and excelled in purposeful pausing. We need more people like you, but, I want you to know how much I see you in your girls and grandchildren, even great grandchildren right now. They are so much like you. It’s the highest compliment I can give them. It makes me cry with appreciation for your life. Thank you.

Keeping Christianity in the Church


Well, I enjoyed reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. It’s been especially interesting as I read about author Anne Rice saying that she was giving up on the church, but not Christ. What gives with established religion and how it’s turning people off? Maybe we can get at some of what’s going on by asking the question, “Why did Christianity flourish in the ancient world? What caused it to grow? Maybe a comparison of McLaren and Sociologist Rodney Stark In the Rise of Christianity will offer some insight to our current culture’s desire to be “spiritual” but not “churchy.” Stark said, “The simple phrase, ‘For God so loved the world,’ would have puzzled an educated pagan,” and “The notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd.” To the Greco-Roman world, mercy was a character flaw; the ideal was justice. Stark continued, “Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice.” Then Stark added, “This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues — that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was something entirely new. Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, indeed that it must even extend beyond the Christian community.” According to Rodney Stark, this is what made Christianity flourish. Maybe that’s the answer that we and Brian McLaren are looking for.

I bet most of us have witnessed this kind of loving Christianity. I know that I have. Since Cindy’s Dad has been on my mind, I’ll use him as an example. You use whoever comes to your mind. Anyway, nine years ago her father Guy Godwin died suddenly at age 66 of a heart attack. It wasn’t unexpected. Mr. Godwin, as most called him because of his years as a school principal, was a man whose family history was saturated with heart trouble. His father died at age 43 with a heart attack. His mother died with the same ailment at age 52. His next oldest brother Jack died at age 39 with a heart attack, and oldest brother Howard at age 66, also with a heart attack. The amazing thing about Mr. Godwin to me is not the horrific family history of heart disease. It is the way used that heart to love.

He had his first heart surgery and five bypasses at age 52. Five years later they were able to do four more bypasses. Nine years later he died, not as some invalid pent up without fanfare in a health-induced prison. Mr. Godwin loved people. He stayed busy, enjoyed travel, and worked his 400 acres of cotton on “Godwinized” machinery that only he could keep working with some homemade engineering. He was active in his church, served as Staff-Parish Chair in the Greeleyville UMC, had been Church Council Chair. He also taught Sunday School, including the Sunday before he died. He mentored countless young men and women through his life as an educator and through the farm. He was part father, friend, confidante, private investigator, and corrections officer. He didn’t love in a frumpy syrupy way. He didn’t even have to say the words. He simply loved.

A quiet man who despised fanfare, he lived the Christian life and its ideals as well as anyone I have ever known, except perhaps my mother. Certainly, he could be hard-headed, and was addicted to farming even when it was a money pit, but, all in all, Mr. Godwin lived life about as well as I could imagine. He married the woman he loved more than anything or anyone else in the world. He was a man of utmost integrity and unblemished character. He raised two of the smartest intelligent independent caring overachieving women I have ever known, and our daughter Narcie exhibits his handiwork and values, too. He also put up with me and another son-in-law, albeit the other one is a Baptist preacher/Missions Director for the C.B.F (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship). Indeed, he suffered fools with patience, a lot more than I have. He taught my daughter and sons the value of family, hard work, the stupidity of arrogance, and the honor in doing a job well without sympathy or accolades. He passed on to us all a grand appreciation for all people, especially those least likely to deserve it. It will forever be one of my greatest honors to have been under his tutelage.

It is people like Mr. Godwin that perpetuate the reason why the church has continued to grow. He loved beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, and did it well. There is a story that aptly illustrates the kind of man that Mr. Godwin was: An ancient rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day was on its way back. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked another, “when you look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” said the Rabbi. “Well, then what is it?” his pupils demanded. “It is when you look on the face of any person and can see … your brother or sister. Because if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.” Mr. Godwin saw a potential child of God everywhere he looked. Maybe that is the way forward for the church.