Who remembers Liberty Land, in Memphis? I sure do. Man, there was a time when I thought Liberty Land was about the best place on all of God’s green earth.
Those knobby, sizzling corn dogs, “Pronto Pups,” they called them, slathered in mustard.
Funnel cakes, which my wife calls “elephant ears” with all that powdered sugar. Good, good, good.
I once rode all the way from Endville, in Pontotoc County, to Liberty Land in the bed of a pickup truck. It was me and about five other boys and one poor mom. We overflowed the cab and sat practically in each other’s lap in the truck bed, laughing like little teenage idiots will laugh, with small regard for how recklessly close to death we hovered, barreling down Highway 78.
The trip was kind of a spur of the moment thing, just a few kids on our road getting a wild hair and a willing parent and heading out.
My brother, who is two years younger than I, was around that day, somewhere. Unlike me and the others he wasn’t into sports, but he frequently served as a good tackling dummy, or as a “shagger” for Whiffleball home-run derbies. At my evil little urging, we all loaded into the truck, laughing, jostling, and left him behind.
At the park we roamed like a pack of snickering, arrogant little coyotes, gobbling up junk food, howling our way up and down roller coasters and whistling at girls. We attended the musical production under the pavilion four times, mesmerized by an attractive singer with a mane of curly hair and a form-fitting red white and blue sequened vest. To reward our devotion at the last show, she came and sat in my lap during the closing number. I nearly vomited with excitement.
We rode home in the cool dark of a summer night, picking bugs out of our teeth, and when I got home my brother was playing a video game. He never offered one word of protest about being excluded.
My mother, however, was a different story. I took quite a tongue-lashing, both for running off to Memphis without calling anybody and for leaving my poor brother behind.
I was a cruel, arrogant, selfish child and I’m not much better as an adult. If I live to be 100 I’ll never forget the hurt look on my brother’s face when I walked in the door. It’s silly, but the hurt clings to me and burns me like hot tar.
I did, however, learn something. As I’ve studied theology over the years I’ve imbibed this tendency to exclude people based on various criteria. Their understanding of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, is different than mine, or their church polity is different, or, dare I say it, their sexual orientation. For some reason the system of facts, of verses, of theological apologies I’ve learned have led to drawing a circle around myself from which some folks are excluded.
I can’t let go of the thought that theologically speaking, we need to be vigilant and precise about what is and what is not orthodox, but when somebody gets left out, when somebody loves us and wants to embrace us yet we won’t let them, something’s wrong.
I don’t think I ever apologized to my brother for leaving him that day, and he’s never held it against me. So, I’m sorry, brother. Thank you for forgiving me. Slowly but surely I’m learning, and now I know I missed out when I left you behind.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 662-678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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