or "A Few Words from a Serial Scoffer"
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David R. Davis
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.
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
Prelude: I once heard John G. say, "The Lord can speak through
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
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
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,
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
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?