IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE HEAT
Rev. Pamela J. Tinnin
I must confess, summer is my least favorite season—it's the heat. I'm just not a hot weather person and in these past weeks we've had some 100 plus days here on the ranch. With several fans going and by keeping the shades down, it hasn't been too bad. We walk the dog in the early morning while there's still fog in the valley, then I help Zack pick vegetables before noon. After that, if it's not a day for me at my office, I usually spend my time working on the computer, a fan pointed right at me, sometimes with a cool, wet washcloth draped around my neck.
Last night as I sat here I remembered another hot summer, a summer in the late eighties. It was a time of terrible drought in northern California, long days of heat that reached 118° several days running, and the worst fire season in years. Day after day was filled with the sharp smell of ashes and the throaty rumble of the World War II bombers that were used to drop fire retardant on the flames that would suddenly flare up and race through the dry grass.
To escape the heat of the house at night, my husband and I set up a bed outside, an old iron-framed three-quarter-sized cot with a tufted cotton mattress, placed to catch the slightest breeze. We'd lie out there, covered with a thin sheet, and watch a sky full of stars. As we waited for sleep, there was little sound except for our soft talking, an occasional rustle of small creatures in the grass, or the muted cry of a coyote in a far off canyon.
No matter how many seasons pass, record-breaking hot summers always seem to take me by surprise. Some thirty years ago, I spent such a summer in Oregon. My husband, children, and I had moved to a small town in the farm country that surrounds Salem, the state capitol. Mostly there were small farms that raised mixed vegetables and a variety of berries for the truck garden market. One afternoon after my husband arrived home from work, we gathered up the kids and drove to a popular picnic place on the banks of the Molalla River.
Some of the local farm workers were gathered there, mostly Hispanics and a few African Americans. After a day's hard work, the women sat around on blankets fanning themselves with folded cardboard, the men wore sleeveless white undershirts, drank warm beer and played horseshoes, the children waded in the water and splashed each other. As we spread our blanket nearby, the women smiled shyly, the men tipped their straw hats, the children grew quiet.
We sat down and opened the bags we carried. I passed out bologna sandwiches to our kids, poured Kool Aid, and offered everyone cookies. Eventually the migrant children resumed their chatter and called my two to come and play. They dashed into the water, squealing as they jumped and ran in the shallows. Finally it grew late and we all began to pack up, us to go back to our little house and electric fans, most of them to return to tiny migrant worker cabins or tents, while others just bedded down in their cars or pickup trucks.
Remembering that evening, I thought of my favorite scripture: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) There's an expression my Oklahoma Great Aunt Ola used to say to her pastor—"Brother Harold, that scripture just plain convicted me." There have been many times those words from Micah 6:8 have "just plain convicted me."
I complain of the heat while in Africa a husband fans his wife as she lies dying in the hospital hallway because there's no medicine and no bed for her. I whine about my discomfort while a family of nine settles down to sleep in their cardboard shanty in Brazil. I fret about no air conditioner while right here in our own country thousands of mothers and fathers worry how they'll put food on the table for their families or, hearing the baby cough in the night, they pray it's only a cold because there is no health care insurance and no money for a doctor.
I don't want to be a Sunday morning Christian. I want to be like Peter and James and John, ready to leave everything and follow the One who came to show us how to live, how to love. I want to act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly. Then why is it so hard? Why is it so hard?