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RANDY HUFF: Strolling, Stones and A Better Way

The stroll I often took in my growing up years recently came to mind. We lived in Ulysses, a farming and light industrial town in far Southwest Kansas. Our house was on the corner, one block off of Main Street and the four stoplights that controlled it.

In a town of 3,500 or so, that was no problem, except those who spent hours “dragging main” (as in cruising) used the block adjacent as their turn-around. But that was a small inconvenience and my dad’s patrol car was often parked in the back, giving an instinctive brake-check to the High School-age drivers.

Since the town was small I did a lot of walking. We could be to school in 8 blocks or so: to the bank, grocery, general store, library, hospital, and a local park in less. The main grocery store was a mere two blocks away and before it was a small lumber yard with long, low yard buildings parallel to the street. What brings this to mind is a lot of pleasant, and some not so much. Today I’ll consider the not so much.

I remember walking along beside that low building, not two blocks from my house, heading home early one evening. Who knows why I was there — perhaps an errand to get a grocery item for Mom. Or maybe walking home from a hunter safety course at the Law Enforcement Center in Court House Square one block behind me.

Whatever the case, I saw rocks on the ground, picked them up, and tossed them over my head like a hook shot. I was aiming for the windows of that lumber yard shed.

And I hit one. In fact, several of “one.”

These were old single pane, glazing and grid and all. But windows. Someone had paid good money and worked hard to install them. Someone would have to replace them and soon, for broken windows aren’t so good at letting light in and keeping harmful elements out.

Speaking of harmful elements – who held me to account? Only my conscience, and without good training it would fail me. Who would make it right? No one, unless authorities caught me and made me pay. A few years later I did send them some money (that’s another story) and while the right thing to do, I doubt I sent enough. In today’s money the damages would be worth $100 per window as a minimum.

Today, the old building is long gone. So was it any big deal?

Of course it was. If we measure justice according to “whose ox is getting gored” we quickly know when there is a wrong. The lumberyard suffered wrong. It matters not any explanation. I took from them and I owed them.

And maybe more than just the money.

This is as real as life but it came to mind as I thought how easy it is in this world to tear down. For my part I am sure I was “acting out” some kind of inner strife or anger, for such is the human lot, though it does not make my actions right. But in other matters we often tear things down out of frustration: “It ain’t working right — get rid of it!” And that is always easier than finding a solution.

“Anything is better than what we have now.”

“Really? What do you propose?”

And so dies the discussion. This is the French Revolution. This is most revolutions, I suggest. The miracle of the so-called “American Revolution” is that it broke the rules of revolutions and certainly was not tearing things down as an end in itself. Rooted in common folk and citizen-soldiers grounded in the land, we built something on an idea that amazed the world in time and gave us a treasured civilization.

Do we have problems? Is that even a serious question?

Too easily we throw stones because of our own problems or perceived problems in the civilized order, such as it is. This is not noble of itself and is easily ignoble. Throwing stones is easy. Anyone can do it. Breaking those windows was a piece-of-cake, even made me feel triumphant. But it tore down. It did not build.

We can agree that all fault-finding is not destructive. But what can we do to build instead of tear down? What solution do we have to remedy that which we declare wrong?

And perhaps most of all, what real serious attention are we giving to repair and strengthen our own personal character? Any one can throw a stone. But as the old song would remind us, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.”

Fix yourself and you have a lifetime job that pays back in spades and blesses the world. Throw stones and you degrade yourself while hurting another. It is not a good strategy for a good life, for your neighborhood – or for a civilization that blesses the world.

Randy Huff

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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