I love to visit big cities, but I am a country boy at heart. So, it probably won’t surprise you that one of my earliest musical memories is that of hearing Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in concert. After Roy Rogers made a spectacular entrance astride Trigger, these two put on a show that I can remember like it was yesterday. I especially remember them singing Home on the Range. Until I turned 12 or 13 and my musical tastes began to change, this song was my theme song.
Many people have a special place in their hearts for Home on the Range. In 1947 it was adopted as the state song of the Sunflower State. The opening stanza usually gets the bulk of the play time. You remember it, don’t you?
Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
I’m not sure whether life imitates art or art influences life. It’s probably both. I have found that, even though the lyrics of this song were composed more than 131 years ago, it still articulates a prized value amongst westerners, especially the line that reads: “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word”. Some of the most encouraging people I’ve known are or were country folks, people for whom Home on the Range is much, much more than a hokey song cherished by backwoodsie folks.
Perhaps I’m inclined to think about this song because I live in a part of the United States notorious for discourteous casual interactions with others. Exchanging pleasantries seems, in the minds of most, to be nothing more than a waste of time. This is a place where you hope your conversations do not require you to venture beyond this harsh exterior. You know that if they do you will likely be forced to engage people who have a decidedly acerbic tone. It is not surprising, either, for these conversations to end abruptly with some sort of caustic comeback.
Perhaps this is just the Code of the East, I don’t know. What I do know is it’s everywhere round here. I’m amazed at the number of times this standard of behavior prevails, even amongst Christians. I’ve even heard some attempt to justify this harshness by statements that run something like, “Well, I know I’m sometimes offensive to others. I really don’t mean to be. But, that’s just the way I am, because that’s the way I was raised.”
While I am indulging in a bit of stereotyping here, I have found the way many east coasters treat Texans to be astounding. If a Texan makes a personal observation about almost anything, it’s not very long until someone comments on how boastful or arrogant Texans tend to be. They don’t say this behind their backs, either. Usually, it’s a demeaning, caustic, in-your-face comeback. If a Texan were to say, “I don’t mean to be offensive. That’s just the way I was raised,” he would, in the minds of many, simply be giving further evidence of his conceit.
Regardless of the regionalized idiosyncrasies both are far from the desirable conduct called for by Christ. Jesus insists that we treat others the way we want to be treated. (cf. Luke 6:31) Moreover, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS… (cf. Galatians 5:22-23) Additionally, in Christ we are called to “be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
Beyond this, we are by nature “works in progress”. Growth, change, progress, spiritual development, these are all to be the norm for followers of Jesus. We, like the Ephesian Christians of the first century, are instructed “…with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (cf. Ephesians 4:22-24)
This is not going to happen if we simply keep coasting through life. None of us should say, “Well, that’s just the way I am, because that’s the way I was raised.” We need to be growing into the likeness of Christ, becoming more-and-more like Him as our journey through life progresses. Interestingly, when we do this, we also grow closer to one another in the process. The more we think, talk and act like Jesus, the less of our idiosyncratic differences grate on one another. More importantly, the more we become like Jesus the better equipped we will be to bless and encourage one another.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our reflections of our church family caused us to immediately think of the line, “where seldom is heard a discouraging word”? How wonderful it would be if the body of Christians with whom we work and worship took seriously the imperative of Hebrews 3:13 that says, “…encourage one another daily…”? It just may be that a few kind words mean as much to Jesus as a cup of cold water in the eyes of Jesus.
© Bill Williams
May 21, 2007