By: Rev. Keith Turman
As a kid, Labor Day weekend was synonymous with dove hunting. Every year we drove to Mooresville, NC, where my Granddaddy Turman lived. My dad’s Uncle Joe and his cousin Dewey were always in on the adventures. Opening day was usually on Saturday, but the rules could change and sometimes it would be on Monday. Some years you could start hunting with the sunrise and other years you’d have to wait until noon. But some things never changed. The day always began with a Hardee’s country ham biscuit. Granddaddy always sat in his lawn chair at the edge of the cornfield, gun in his lap, pipe in his mouth, and a big grin on his face. Uncle Joe was always listening to a NASCAR race, and Dewey always seemed to be in some kind of predicament. On one occasion, he wanted to ‘warm up’ his gun, so he went out into the front yard and shot five times into the tree. My dad said, “Dewey, it’s against the law to have five shells in your gun. Don’t you have a plug?” Dewey said, “Yeah, I took the plug out—I need all the help I can get. Besides, we’ve been hunting all these years and we haven’t seen the game warden once.” Later that afternoon, Murphy’s Law was in effect, and the game warden walked across the cornfield to check our guns and make sure we all had a hunting license. He found Dewey hiding in the weeds, and invited him back to his patrol car.
I mentioned our traditional dove hunting trip in a sermon once, and afterwards was met at the door by a woman deeply disturbed: “I can’t believe that you shoot the Holy Spirit!” To be honest, I had never associated the two—had never pondered that I might be hunting the Holy Spirit. In retrospect, I know for certain that the Spirit was present around that cornfield. We were bound to each other in love, and the cares of the world would fade for a day as we became lost in the joy of our company. It was a day my soul would sing. The Holy Spirit brings such things. We would sit around the table and ask the Spirit’s blessing on breakfast—which was another big motivation for the whole thing. My momma would fry the dove just like she would fry the chicken. No word can really describe it well, this meal that included her biscuits and dove gravy. Just the memory of it makes my mouth water and my heart warm.
Our Labor Day tradition has changed. We no longer hunt doves in Mooresville. Granddaddy and Uncle Joe are long gone, and my Dad and cousin Dewey traded their shotguns for fishing poles.
My gun is collecting dust too. These days I grow increasingly uncomfortable with even owning it, and I’m sure I won’t lose much sleep if my rights to do so are ever taken away. Some good rules would surely make the world a less violent place. Labor Day weekend is now synonymous with blueberries. Instead of a gun, I carry an empty milk jug with the top cut out, and I pick blueberries. The motivation for these new adventures is the same. My mom and my wife, Chan, bring Grandmother’s blueberry cobbler recipe to life—we sit around Sunday’s dinner table amazed every time. The five-mile hike on Black Balsam means a day in the company of family and friends, and views of our mountains that literally take the breath away.
Our new worship series at FUMC is a five-week reflection on the bible, giving some intentional thought to how we should hold our sacred book. Some people hold the bible like an owner’s manual or a rulebook. There are times when we should hold it that way. The Ten Commandments are rules given for God’s people, and if we break them, we could easily end up in a patrol car, or in a broken marriage, or completely alone. But I’ve learned it’s not always that simple. The Bible as rulebook or “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” doesn’t always work out for the best. It’s complicated. Sometimes we need to hold the Bible differently. Jesus seemed to do that with the sacred documents of his day. With relative ease he would break a Sabbath rule, convinced that something bigger than the ‘letter of the law’ was at work in that particular situation. And sometimes he changed the rules. “You have heard that it was said… but I say….” We don’t seem to struggle with it. I mean, he is Jesus for goodness sake, and changing the rules seems to fall in line with the whole being God thing.
But it’s interesting to me that at times the very human leaders of the early church would also change the rules. They took their Scriptures seriously, but also had the ability to hold them lightly in certain situations. For example, circumcision was a really big deal, but when it came to the matter of including Gentiles into the fellowship of believers, the circumcision rule was put aside. They knew that something bigger than the ‘letter of the law’ was at work, and they knew this because the Holy Spirit of God was present and moving. The Holy Spirit guided their actions. Jesus had promised them as much: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)
So these days, I am hunting for the Holy Spirit, especially in my quest to understand the bible and find a rule of life that matches God’s heart and God’s kingdom ways. It is my prayer for the church that together we can hear and know the Spirit’s voice, that the Spirit will bind us together in love, gather us to the table, and turn us loose on the cares of the world.