Guest Post: Thy Kingdom Come

by Braden Bell

Last night, I had a remarkably moving experience in a most unlikely place.

I should preface this by noting that we live in a rural part of the South. Most of the people in our community would be easy to stereotype. Nascar, hunting, guns, sports, thick dialects–these are people directly out of a snarky Howard Dean speech.

Stereotypes aside, they are generally good people and I have come to love them. To be sure, when dealing with contractors, mechanics, coaches, or other dads on school trips, I slip into a Southern drawl (a theatre person, my articulation makes them think I am either British, homosexual, or incurably stuck-up—or maybe all three).

One of the very big things in our very small town is Little League. Here, you start when you are 3 or 4, and then you move on up, generally staying with your teach and coach until you start “High School ball”. Parents bring their camp chairs and watch EVERY practice. Newcomers who register their children are tolerated, but generally shunted to a “special” team—of all the other newcomers. This team, of course, is promptly eviscerated by every other team in the league.

This is serious business, folks. This year, our 2nd grade daughter wanted to play basketball. She was put on one of these teams—the athletic equivalent of a go-cart patched together with baling wire and bubble gum. She was on a co-ed team. In her league was an entire team of 2nd grade girls—many of whom are her classmates. If her team was the go-cart, this team was shining new Nascar race car. They were pretty good. When my wife wondered aloud why our daughter hadn’t been put on this team, another parent looked at her with a shocked-are-you-crazy sort of expression, shrugged her shoulders and
said, “They’re going to play 4th grade ball together.” The way she said this not only made it clear that this was the most obvious question in the world, but also that 4th grade ball was very important. I suppose it is similar to a crack combat unit being trained to deploy for a difficult, vital mission. One would not just throw a beginner in that mix—it would ruin morale, discipline and endanger the vital mission.

I really detest this sports-clique mentality. It informs the social structure of the town to a remarkable degree and the team your child is on, confirms (or removes) status upon the parents. Then, of course, there is also the tobacco spittin’, camo wearin’, good old boys who have nothing to do with me.

But, the children want to play, and they need exercise, so we sign them up and grit our teeth. Last night, I went to pick up my son from baseball practice. I arrived early, so I stood watching—my new black microfiber raincoat standing out against the layers of sweatshirts and hunting gear the other fathers (all of whom watched the entire practice, half of whom are helping to coach) were wearing.

They finished, and the coach called out for the boys to come gather around for a talk. He is tall, skinny guy with a heavy dialect. His teeth are crooked. He chews and spits regularly. I wouldn’t wear his clothes to work my garden. He doesn’t have Sunday practices (which we like) because he won’t miss “the big race” (ie Nascar!). There is nothing about him that suggests refinement, sophistication, or even intelligence. It would be easy to look down at him.

He runs through the practice schedule for the next few days, spits a few times and then announces that he likes to say the Lord’s Prayer at every practice. He tells the boys that they don’t have to do it, and they’re free to leave. He takes his cap of and kneels on the ground. 13 grubby, chubby, 10 and 11 year old boys who are about as collectively couth and genteel as a cow pasture do the same.

He begins: “Our Father….” His accent is so thick that it would be hard to caricature, but he speaks with an astonishing degree of sincerity and humility. The boys repeat, “Our Father…..” He leads them through the prayer, getting some of the words wrong, mispronouncing others. “Tha kingdum comm…tha weel be dun….” Finally, “Awh-main,” echoed by his team.

“Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Last night, on a muddy ball field in a po-dunk Southern town, an uneducated good ol’ boy of no worldly significance or accomplishment, knelt, doffed his cap and taught his boys to pray as best he knew how. The words were rote, but the feeling was genuine and reverent. I’m not sure I’ve ever prayed with the childlike sincerity that this man had.

Last night, the Kingdom came a lot closer, and, for a moment, earth was a great deal like heaven.

Braden Bell is the proprietor of his own blog, but has been too busy to do much with it lately. He is married with 4 children and lives outside Nashville, TN. Braden is currently working on his dissertation at NYU in theatre and
education. He likes NPR, classical music, Harry Potter, and Dickens.

18 thoughts on “Guest Post: Thy Kingdom Come

  1. Braden, what a wonderful post. I am going to print it off and use it as an example of spirituality for the sisters.

    I attend Al-Anon, which is an organization for friends and relatives of alcoholics. Sometimes there are just a few of us and we join hands at the end and say The Lord’s Prayer and every time, every time, I am filled with the spirit as I pray with people of every ilk. I think of that scripture “where two are gathered together in my name.”

    Thank you so much for sharing that.

  2. Braden!!! So nice to see you in the bloggernacle again. There is something about the South (well, Tennessee, anyway!), isn’t there?

  3. My daughter is intensely interested in basketball. She participates in Jr. Jazz basketball, and loves it. Either my wife or I attend every game and practice in support. The competitive climate for little league teams in Utah does not seem to hold a candle to what you have described in Tennessee, but I was nevertheless disturbed by how agitated some parents could get over a 9-year-old’s missed free throw shot.

    My attitude: “It’s all in fun, it helps the children learn to work as a team, develop physical skills, confidence, etc.”

    His attitude: “get the BALL! GET the BAALLL!! GET THE BAALLLLL!!!!”

    My daughter had a wonderful coach. He taught good skills, he played each girl giving each a fair amount of time. Other coaches were highly competitive (only playing the best players) or lackadaisical (“what am I doing here at 7:00 AM Saturday morning”).

    The most competitive coach’s team ended up in first place. Our daughter’s team came in second. This was only a slight disappointment for her, an emotional resolution to the season which I credit to her coach. She was hardly bothered by the second place finish at all, but more concerned by the immutable fact that the season was over.

    It is amazing how much influence a good coach can have on a child. I suppose the same goes for a good Scoutmaster or Laurel advisor, too.

    Though you might try to deny it, Braden, I think there is a little Nascar-lover in your heart of hearts, too.

  4. Braden,
    Nice to see you back. Hope you stick around. Nice post by the way.

    There looks to be a pretty good movie coming out with Will Farrell called “Kicking and Screaming” that is about a dad who coaches his son’s little league team. Looks funny (how can it not be, Will Farrell is starring).

  5. I was thinking just this morning how immature it is to judge others. Someone who has qualities you don’t admire once you get to know them you realize that they are a better person than you in another area. It brings a little needed humility, I think.

    I am amazed at the willingness of the coaches to spend all that time coaching their kid’s team. I’m irritated just to be there wasting my time. I’m certainly not looking forward to 2 practices a week plus a game. I think I’ll be fed up after about 3 weeks (and probably so will my kids)!! My husband has a job with a commute. I have other kids. Yet every year someone manages to arrange their responsibilities in order to coach and my kids benefit.

  6. I was thinking just this morning how immature it is to judge others. Someone who has qualities you don’t admire once you get to know them you realize that they are a better person than you in another area.

    One morning I passed a young man who looked out of place and whose behaviour was vaguely suspicious. Continuing on, wondering what to do about this person who troubled me, I figured I should call the police and let them sort out if this person was trouble or not. Before I had gone much further though I began berating myself for wanting to turn the police on someone just because of his appearance, and so I did nothing (always the easy solution). A half hour later, someone in that location, closely matching that young man’s description attacked a woman. Fortunately, she fought him off without incuring significant harm, no thanks to me. Undoubtedly, that young man was better than me in some way, but I wish I had been more usefully judgemental.

  7. It is usually easy to find the exception, and then decide to throw out the rule. I would doubt whether most of us have the daily experience of seeing someone suspicious; yet I think it is quite common to look at others and judge them negatively because of their appearance, dress, grammar, attitude, etc. I have a neighbour whose grammmar is not up the the standard in the Queen’s English. Yet he is wise, able and charitable.

    Sometimes out difficulty is we don’t penetrate the surface and see the valuable individual beneath.

  8. John Mansfield,
    I was refering to judging an acquaintance. I realized I described him in passing in a conversation to someone in another state–I wasn’t cruel, but less than flattering. A couple days later my husband told me something he admired about the man. I realized how pride had let me feel superior and I felt sorry for my earlier comment.
    Judging strangers is sometimes a safety issue. Yes, we can be wrong. But we should also try not to be stupid.
    Its hard to know where to draw the line. I am trying to teach my children to be kind and helpful to others. But yet I have to teach them to run away from men who want them to “help him find his puppy.”

  9. I appreciated the message conveyed here about a very humble prayer. I do want to speak in general in regards to stereotyping the common man. I remember serving my mission in rural Pennsylvania. We had the opportunity to teach with a returned missionary who had also gone to BYU. I am not sure where she was from, but she did not seem local. She made a remark about coming home and saying that it had been a long time since she heard the pluralization of the word you. I guess as a missionary you get to see people up close and personal. I loved the areas of which some used you-uns and others not so far used yous. They is a beauty in being down-to-earth. I have an great-aunt who I try to speak with regularly. She is very common and had to go out on her own at a very young age as did most of her nine siblings. I try to remember that it is the generations that worked and toiled so hard to make it possible for me to have an education and think in a more analytical fashion. I have not done much physical labor in my day and reserve much respect for those who have. I remember once somebody commenting how the people in Pennsylvania according to one missionary never offered a napkin. Then they added that they used paper towels. I think that if someone cares to much about that distinction, then maybe they were not loving the people enough. I think that deep down people that appear simple have the same core feelings without the fancy words to articulate them.

  10. Braden, I hope you do not take my comments in the wrong light. This is something that I have thought on for a long time. Also, I size up people right and left myself so I do not want to come across as somebody who does not judge others. I am rather a chameleon personality that shifts from simple to profound depending on the circumstances or context. I do not change registers so consciously. I can go into modes where I fit perfectly and seem to actually be more vulnerable than the most common man. Other times, I can talk of more nobler things with ease provided I have a slight general knowledge of the subject. At times, my thought processes are rather simple. Because of this, it has given me much pause to wonder what goes on inside other people’s heads. I better use a different name if I come this way again to comment as people will surely think that I am strange.

  11. I believe Braden is out of town until tomorrow, so don’t be offended that he hasn’t responded to any comments so far.

  12. Hi Folks! Andrea, thanks for covering for me. Yes, I was out of town–on a holiday with my wife. At any rate, sorry to delay in responding.

    Annegb, I really appreciate your comment–and particularly the vignette you shared about how you feel the spirit at the Al Anon meetings. I think you really are on to something about “where two are gathered in my name….” I hadn’t quite thought of it in that light, but it makes a great deal of sense to me. It also makes sense that the Spirit would abound at an Al Anon meeting (or a similar meeting for other addictions) since, from what I understand, there is a great deal of humility there–admitting powerlessness and asking for divine aid. That seems so noble to me.

    Jim R: By the way, I’ve enjoyed your posts on this site a great deal. First of all–shhhhhhh! My Nascar-love is a deep dark secret that I try to keep hidden from any of the inteleckshuls (as Kristine so aptly put it once) in the Bloggernacle.

    I am intrigued by your comment: “It is amazing how much influence a good coach can have on a child. I suppose the same goes for a good Scoutmaster or Laurel advisor, too.” When I was called to be in the Nursery, my Bishop said something that has fascinated me ever since. He said, “This is your chance to be a mortal counterpart to the angels we know move among the little children.” At any rate, I really concur with you that being a coach/teacher, etc. is a powerful role and provides a significant opportunity for helping a child develop in healthy ways. I feel profoundly grateful to a whole passel of people who were helpful to me when I was young.

    Kristine: Hi!!! I’ve missed discussing stuff with you. Yes, there is something about the South! But there’s so much good here, too. On my forementioned holiday, we attended the old West Nashville Ward and Rich was conducting. He so clearly had the mantle on him. It was really neat.

  13. Rusty: Hey! How are you? Nice to hear from you. I’ve really missed the bloggernacle, but I’ve been so busy. I think things are slowing down, so I hope to have my own site up again sometime and visit everyone else’s. That movie does sound funny–although it may be funnier to me when I am out of little league purgatory.

    JKS: You make a great point–where do these folks come from who are so willing to sacrifice their time for my kid–it’s not that they get paid for it, they certainly don’t get any kind of honor–in fact, they get a great deal of grief. We really do owe these people a big debt–coaches, scout leaders, yw/ym advisors, etc.

    Bkay: What part of PA were you in? I was in the Pittsburgh mission from 90-92 and spent most of my time in rural PA, OH, and WV. Everything you say sounds so familiar to me–it’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone say “youns.”

    I really agree with you and think you are really wise to nurture such an appreciation for those who went before you and whose sacrifice has allowed you to be where you are. My brother Ryan said something once I thought was very wise. When my parents were complimenting him on his well-served mission, he demured, saying something to the effect that he really couldn’t take credit because he was “standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Ry, tell me if I got that wrong. But, it doesn’t matter because it’s a good story and ought to be true if it isn’t). At any rate,I think a lot of us are in that situation. We have the priviliges we have at the cost of a great deal of sacrifice from our forbearers.

    I also think it is wise to be open to the wisdom and nobility of those who have not had the opportunity for education. They, especially those who are older, have a great deal to offer. Thanks for your comments.

  14. Braden, welcome back! This was a beautiful post. It’s so sad how often we need these reminders.

  15. Thanks Ange! It’s good to be back. I’m afraid I need these reminders frequently. By the way, in case anyone missed it, Andrea has an interesting post about The Incredibles on Intellexhibitionist.

  16. Braden, Thanks for your remarks and added insights. I served in the PA Harrisburg Mission. ’92 and ’93.

  17. Bkay,
    That is great. You are close to the greatest mission in the world. Did you ever eat squirrel?

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