One Saturday night when I was sixteen I got arrested in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The state trooper who threw me on the hood of my dad’s Oldsmobile ’98 and cuffed me, said that I’d almost “run over” his cruiser.
I think he was exaggerating because I didn’t even see a Mississippi state trooper vehicle parked in the median of that intersection. Of course, at the time I was mainly focused on my right thigh where my date’s left hand was resting. But none of that’s why I got arrested.
I was arrested for the knife and unlicensed .38 caliber pistol the trooper found under the driver’s seat. Now the knife was mine, but the .38 belonged to my mother. But she’d told me to take it out of the car before I left home. I didn’t because some of the guys in Hattiesburg had beef with some of the guys from Bassfield, and Pop’s car had a Jefferson Davis county tag, and I didn’t want to get punked in front of my date so I took the gun with me.
And did I mention that I was 16. I had half a lick of hair in my mustache and not a lick of sense.
It’s strange the details that you lose and the ones that you retain when you’re waiting to die. I don’t remember what the room looked like at the trooper station. Was it a holding cell? An interrogation room? I remember walls and a hard chair, or maybe it was a bench. I remember being alone or rather I remember not seeing anybody because I stared at the floor in front of my feet the entire time. I don’t know how much time passed before my dad arrived. Maybe because they took my watch, or maybe because I was afraid to look at it and calculate how long it would take Pops to get there driving like a guy who used to race in the truck he bought from the guy who used to race trucks. I do remember that it was cold, colder than hospitals, colder than funeral homes. I remember that I wanted to stay in the cold place with the walls and the hard chair or bench or cot. I remember that I wanted them to keep me there and not call my father because he was going to murder me.
But they called him. When he got there he looked at me hard and said, “Are. You. All right,” and looked at me even harder as I mumbled, “Yessir.”
He didn’t say anything on the way home, and he didn’t murder me when we got there. There was no beating the next day. No loud lecture peppered with rhetorical questions that I better answer when he was talking to me and better shut up when he was talking. He didn’t pronounce my eternal grounding or burn my belongings and throw me out. For weeks he barely spoke to me at all. He just looked at me. He said nothing, and I saw rage in his eyes. I figured that he figured that if he opened his voice to the seething fury behind his eyes he would end up murdering me.
Exactly a week after my arrest, Saturday evening after finishing all of my tasks on the family farm--- tasks that I was suddenly able to do without instruction or reminders from my father--- I (Did I mention that I was 16?) asked my father if I could borrow his car and go out.
Silence. The eyes.
I withdrew my request and retired to my room to contemplate the fragility of life while huddled in a corner of my bed, knees pressed against my chest, watching the door for movement.
I’m 43 years old now, and I hadn’t asked my father about that incident until two weeks ago.
Pops said, “I wasn’t mad at you. I knew how them state troopers could be and if he had messed with you I was gone lay some hot stuff on his a**. I didn’t want you going back down there cause they be waitin’ on you. I know what I’m talking about, boy. And if they’d hurt you----- none of them was going home.”
I hadn’t considered that my father grew up in segregated, rural Mississippi. When he was in college, he marched with Medgar Evers. He drove through Ku Klux Klan rallies down the road from his house,and knew men who’d been beaten or disappeared by state troopers.
The silent fire I had seen in his eyes wasn’t just rage. It was mostly worry. He had been quiet because he had no words for how scared he was for his child. Yes, my father was mad at me for acting so recklessly but he was seething against the system that he believed was a threat to his stupid 16 year old son. He stopped me from going back to Hattiesburg not because he wanted to hurt me but because he didn’t want me to get hurt.
For nearly 30 years I had completely misunderstood my Father’s feelings.
Just like we misunderstand God’s feelings.
When the book of Isaiah begins, Israel, the children of God, had been acting like they didn’t have a lick of sense. They’d sinned so terribly and persistently that their Father, our Father went silent.
He didn’t even want to punish them anymore
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. (Isaiah 1: 5)
They were so close to being as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1: 9) that God called them Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1: 10).
God responded by calling for ---- silence.
No more sacrificing (verse 11).
No more worshipping (verse 12).
No more special services (verse 13)
Don’t come to Me asking permission to go out in the vehicle of My blessing (verse 15).
I used to think that Old Testament passages like this were only about God’s wrath and anger upon His people. I’d misunderstood. In verse 15, the Lord declared that He’s through listening. But in the next verses He invited His children to come away from the sin He knew was the real threat.
Our Father says, “Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.” (Isaiah 1: 18-20)
The pure anger I thought I’d seen in God in the Old Testament is really mostly worry.
Yes, He is righteously indignant when His children lose focus, get off the path, and thoughtlessly place themselves in bondage to sin and sin-centered circumstances. But mainly God wants to bring us out of that and back home into fellowship with Him.
“Let’s go home, son.”
Let us reason together.
“Are. You. All right.”
If you refuse and rebel…
“They’ll be waiting on you to hurt you.”
I never served time for the concealed weapon. Somehow between the night in the cold room and the hearing at the Forrest County Courthouse, the arresting officer decided to just throw the pistol and knife in the creek (his words). Without evidence, my case was dismissed.
I still don’t know how my father pulled that off.
I was guilty. I am free. The father I thought was just mean and angry and waiting for a chance to judge me and punish me was actually my greatest advocate, my most tender and dauntless protector. He’d rode into Hell ready to slay everything there to bring me out. He paid a price I still don’t comprehend to set me free.
There’s so much more to see than we’ve usually seen in the fire of our Father’s eyes.
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelations 19: 12, 16)
---Anderson T. Graves II is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama; executive director of the Substance Abuse Youth Networking Organization (SAYNO); and director of rural leadership development for the National Institute for Human Development (NIHD).
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