A Matter of Integrity

A number of years ago a book opened my eyes and challenged my thinking. It was Radical Son, written by David Horowitz. The book is an autobiographical account of the author’s journey from Marxism to neo-conservatism. I believe it should be required reading for every person concerned about the ideological drift which is moving our country away from its historical roots.

I must admit that I found the book to be infuriating at times, as Horowitz unfolded his attempt to undermine the political structure of the nation and bring about revolution. I found it enlightening as he exposed the methodology of the Left and the violent means which some were ready to pursue in order to make the revolution happen. I found it to be incisive in its de-evaluation of Marxism as a promising ideology for those seeking justice and equality.

What really struck me, however, was the unwillingness to those on the Left to see the truth about itself and admit the failure of Marxism to create a stable and equitable society in any of the countries where it had seized control. They did just as Paul de­scribed in Romans: They suppressed the truth and exchanged the truth for a lie.

In the process of being infuriated and distressed by the unwill­ingness of intelligent people to see and admit the truth, I found myself being discomforted by the fact that those of us who oppose Marxism and who call ourselves disciples of Jesus may be no less guilty for being unwilling to confront truth. I thought of how often I had gone along with ideas and positions of the theologi­cal conservatism with which I had identified myself, when in my heart I was not convinced that we were right.  I didn’t want to see what was not agreeable to what we said was the truth; and I didn’t speak up even when I was uneasy about conclusions which were being drawn.

When we come down to it, the whole issue is a matter of integri­ty: the willingness to ask ourselves the really hard questions and seek to answer them with a total commitment to the truth.  Without integrity, everything else is cheapened, even the truth which we may be seeking to espouse.

If Jesus taught His disciples anything, He taught them that He was the truth; that they would know the truth, and the truth would make them free; and that they would proclaim the truth to a world that was in the darkness of untruth.

Yet, the truth often has been the victim of convenience, the lamb offered up for faith, and the sacrifice for convictions felt to be right. The end has too frequently justified the means, and the cause has all too readily been used to mute the voice of reasoned conviction.

Of one thing we can be certain however: Jesus is never served by cutting the corners on the truth or by softening the blow of truth against traditions and practices which may be considered sacrosanct. At whatever point we feel it necessary to close our eyes to what is clearly to be seen or to close our minds to what is obviously to be thought, we have done the Gospel of Jesus a terrible disservice and have sold our own integrity for a cheap victory.

The world can be expected to sacrifice honor for gain, to ex­change truth for convenience, to sell out its moral standards for tawdry pleasures and its integrity for apparent advantages.  We, as Christ followers, must not.            William B. Coker, Sr.

Beyond My Dreams

As an 18-yr-old I left my family in Alabama at the invitation of a college grad and followed him to Mississippi. I never would have dreamed the path we have taken. For where we’ve been and those whom we’ve met have convinced me that God has a plan for each of us.

First of all Bill and I added four children to make a family. We reared these to be independent and we are not disappointed in their work ethic and accomplishments. They have added to our tribe ten grandchildren and soon to be twelve great-grandchildren.

Bill has pastored churches in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Indiana, providing us with good homes while he also earned three degrees. We are still in touch with many of these beautiful church people. At our first church Bill also taught high school English and some of these students still connect with Christmas cards. One student dedicated her PhD dissertation to Bill.

Bill’s teaching at Asbury College afforded me a college degree, 20 years after my high school graduation. That opened the door to work in journalism, a career I’ve revisited.

The never-dreamed-about life has included trips to other countries, such as Mexico, India, the Far East, Africa, and Israel. These brought most humbling experiences as people thanked us for coming, as if it were any sacrifice. A new perspective of values highlighted these trips.

Along the way we have made friends with prominent as well as common but generous people. For example, I would not have imagined that I’d know such leaders as Dr. Robert Coleman and have the privilege to pray weekly with his wife and several missionaries. It’s not uncommon to receive acknowledgement by church members who have appreciated our service.

We are grateful for all that the Lord has given us in friendships and opportunities. That seems trite as I write it, but it’s a big deal to me. God is good – all the time.

A Moment Seized

How stories are developed:

  • Woman                                                                        Boy
  • in late 30’s                                                           about 10 years old
  • light clothing                                                      dark clothes
  • arms folded tight above waistline                arms straight and limp
  • looking down, head to side                             looking up
  • talking                                                                   listening
  • questioning or scolding                                   waiting to answer
  • authority figure                                                  minor/submissive
  • not flailing but calm                                         not defiant
  • seizing the moment                                          sensing importance

Saturday in April 1999

A fleeting scene made an impression begging to be described, cherished, tucked away for future use. Driving in Mobile, Alabama, I saw a woman and a boy on the sidewalk of Sage Avenue. Details are such that they lend themselves to a story:

Maybe the woman was the boy’s mother, but she could have been a neighbor or a sitter. Their stance spoke of a moment seized to teach a lesson, to question behavior and give opportunity for an answer. While she was the authority figure, the boy was not defiant. She kept her temper, making it possible for him to keep his dignity. If the boy had been caught in disobedience, he certainly did not display any stubborn will, but waited either to explain himself, give an answer, or even to accept the due punishment. Her folded arms and his limp arms placed the two in a representative stance of adult with minor, mother and child. They both knew the importance of this encounter. Why the confrontation I could only guess, but the fleeting scene captured my attention as I drove away, and I can still see it now. The desire to weave a story around it remains yet to be done.

Cool Cat to the Rescue

As the weather gets colder and we hear threats of snow and ice coming our way, I look back at when . . .

“Tom, do you remember the time I did a donut on ice when driving you to high school?”

“Yes, I remember it well,” Tom replied in an email.

What I don’t recall is why I had to drive Tom to school that day after an overnight rain when the temperature dropped. We had gone over the hill on US 68 almost to the grocery store at the Y. The rain had drained down the hill and frozen at the bottom where it levels off. I lost control of the big car we called a boat, a green Mercury Marquis. The next thing I knew we were facing the opposite way and in the lane on the other side of the Y. I froze at the wheel.

Tom simply said, “Cool, Mom, you did a 360.” He also acted cool, settling me down, ready to act according to his directions. We had spun around in a circle, a bit crooked in the road. Thankfully, no other cars were nearby. Tom talked calmly as he told me to turn around and get back to the stop sign at the Y. Heading the right way we continued on route, arriving at school without any other incident. Leaving the car he spoke softly to me before I headed back home.

From that time on, Tom has been my “cool cat.” If I’m ever in a jam, needing to get control of myself or a car or some undue circumstance, I would like Tom to be there beside me. He has a calming quality about him that helps people get back on track.

This quality of cool he also exhibited as a team player in sports. Once when his dad and I arrived at a ball game, one of the guys in the stands asked if Tom was present. “Yes. Why?”

“Well, when he’s here the rest of the players don’t get upset over the little stuff.” Even Tom’s friends and team members knew him as cool.

Advent: His Coming

During Advent each year I choose a study, such as reading the Gospel of Luke or a book such as The Manger Is Empty by Walter Wangerin, Jr. This Advent I wanted to read from Isaiah. I found this list of the Servant Songs with additional references. Some scholars debate about whether these reference Christ or Israel, but they present a beautiful way to get ready for Christmas. Join me.

Servant Songs in Isaiah        

  1. The Lord’s Chosen Servants: Isaiah 42:1-4
  2. The Servant of the Lord: Isaiah 49:1-9
  3. The Servant’s Obedience: Isaiah 50:4-11
  4. The Wounded Servant: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
  5. “Light to the nations” – Israel or Jesus?
  6. When Simeon saw Jesus: “Your salvation…” Luke 2:30-32
  7. “Light” – Isaiah 2:5
  8. Israel – Isaiah 10:17
  9. “Know not the Light” – Job 24:16; Psa. 27:1
  10. “The Lord is my light” – Psa. 43:3; Prov. 6:23
  11. “Named” before birth – God choosing name & purpose – Jeremiah 1:5                        John – Luke 1:13      Jesus – Luke 1:31
  12. “That they may know” – Deut. 4:35; I Kings 8:60
  13. “Declare My glory among the nations” – Isa. 66:19
  14. “Bow down” – Isaiah 49:7
  15. “At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow” – Phil. 2:9-11
  16. “To Me” – Isaiah 45:23
  17. “Crushed” (cf. NASB & NIV) – cf. Isa. 42:4 and 53:5, 10

Rainy Day

The screen on my window is covered with rain. I wonder. Why do we associate rain with sadness and sunshine with happiness? Why is one a gloomy day and the other a pleasant, hoped-for day?

Both rain and sunshine are gifts and both are needed for nurture of the earth. Both give us cause to thank God. Yet I confess: I’m not happy now looking out at the wet leaves and hearing the sloshy roadside noises. I am, however, satisfied that I have a warm, dry home in which to live and view this rainy day.

It’s that way with life in general. I attach “don’t want it like this” to those unsuspected turns of events that are unwelcome at best. But when things go “my way,” I am more pleasant to be around. Both ups and downs contribute to my personal growth and should promote a thankful attitude. I know this but need reminders – such as this rainy, gloomy day that sent me to my desk to write this reflection. Thank You, Lord God, Creator of the universe and my tiny viewpoint.


Decorating Eclectic Style

The décor in our home is what some would call mix and match, but the fancy term is eclectic. That means it’s selected from various sources. My sources came from other people, not selected by me but placed in various rooms. The style has developed over the years as I have put things together for a décor that appeals to me. If you go on a quick tour of our home you will see items given to us and then placed to form our preferred style.

On the dining room table is a large vase crafted by art students at Asbury University. It was a gift to Bill, then academic dean, in appreciation for his support of the new pottery kiln in the art department. A florist designed the artificial arrangement in the vase. His shop was next to where our daughter worked in Greenwood, Indiana. She requested the arrangement for us. Included in this room are objects we’ve either bought or had given to us and they represent countries we’ve visited. Russia and Taiwan are two. There’s also a friend’s painting of a Chinese scene. She taught me that art is not to be placed according to the color of a room.

Now the kitchen has a sunflower (mostly) theme, and our granddaughter has helped decorate with her gifts ­– ceramic flour and sugar canisters, a framed cross-stitch verse, and a vividly painted pitcher from Mexico – all with sunflowers. There are also two spoon rests of sunflowers. During the Christmas season I bring out gifts from family and friends – a small framed snowman, a stuffed cloth snowman with twig arms, and a change of Christmas kitchen linens from my mother.

In the center of the coffee table in the living room is a colorful Mardi Gras glass bowl filled with potpourri. The bowl belonged to my mother-in-law, so you could say it is part of our inheritance. On the bottom shelf of a table by the window is a pair of high-top black and brown shoes obtained from an old store in Mississippi. Bill’s father saw them and said he used to wear that style when a boy. So it’s a reminder of the past. While the shoes don’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the items on that shelf – large books and a decorative plate, they have been on display in every house where we’ve lived.

Now come into our bedroom. Above the bed is a framed photo of a boat on Mobile Bay. The photographer is my brother and the scene takes me back home whenever I view it. Other wall hangings include a photo collection of trees in the parking lot at World Gospel Church. That framed photo and a cross-stich of an old sewing machine were gifts from the former custodian of that church. The latest picture we hung is another cross-stitch worked by our neighbor to the west of our home. It’s the Twenty-third Psalm.

            Over the years these deco items in our home have been reminders to pray for the gift-givers. I rejoice that we have their contributions to my eclectic home décor, but mostly I am thankful for their interaction within our lives.

New Name

I’ve noticed lately that I have a new name: Ms. Ann.

“Hi, Ms. Ann. It’s good to see you.” That recent greeting came from a friend who attends Silver Sneakers at the YMCA. But several church friends have been addressing me as Ms. (pronounced Miz.) Ann for quite some time. This time I paid attention and it got me to thinking of my other names.

My great-granddaughter who lives in Ireland calls us her great-grandpa and granny who live-in-the-woods. Yes, we have woods near our home, so Abigail makes this sweet distinction between us and her other great-grandparents. Our grandchildren call me Granny. I chose this because their grandpa started calling the grandkids by animal names and they wanted a name for me. Granny Goat seems to fit, and for a while one grandson called me Goat, much to the chagrin of guests.

To our children I am Mom or Madre (from two who took Spanish in high school). Just as my siblings differed on what each of us called our mother – I chose Mother while others used Mama, Mom, and Mommy.

When I married I became Mrs. Coker, and like many engaged girls, I wrote that name over and again on scraps of paper: Mrs. William B. Coker, Mrs. W.B. Coker, and Ann Coker. My new name brought joy. At our first pastorate in Mississippi people called me Sister Coker while their pastor was Brother Coker. It came out as Bruder Coker from the children. After we moved to Kentucky and then to Indiana, my name became Mrs. Coker or simply Ann.

My given name is after my grandmother who was Frances Ann. I’m glad my parents turned it around and named me Ann Frances. I‘ve never been fond of Frances, probably because my school friends teased me about it. My younger sisters are the only ones who get away with calling me Annie. If I had named myself, I would have chosen Anna. It has more class.

All this talk of a new name connected me to Scripture, for Zion “will be called by a new name” (Isaiah 62:2, NIV), and “to the one who is victorious . . . [Christ] will give that person a white stone with a new name written on it” (Revelation 2:17). But my favorite reference is: “I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1), for God knows my name. I am His beloved, “precious and honored” in His sight because of His personal love for me (v. 4).

When we get down to the bottom line, my name is nothing (although it’s personal and meaningful) compared to His “great name” (Joshua 7:9). My allegiance to His name connects me with His power and love. It’s His great name that I proclaim and exalt. All of life is meant to honor and glorify His name. Amen.


Get Help

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

The billboard posted a brief message, easy to read as I drove slowly on a busy street: “Too much hot sun or a burn on the thumb? Check it out and come get profession­al care.”

The city’s new health center was advertising for business. The written message highlighted something specific – summer’s hazards – and the thought of pain could lead readers to identify their own need. You would think, however, that if people were hurting they would not need a billboard to convince them to get help.

What about our spiritual needs, hurts, and pains brought about by sin? How often do people seek the true cure, Jesus the great physician? We tend to over­look the cause or look in wrong places for the cure. Sooner or later the sin will find us out (Numbers 32:23) and show us up for what we are – sinners in need of redemption.

The good news is that Jesus came “to call . . . sinners” (Matthew 9:13). We will not be free of sin until we come to Jesus (Romans 5:8). But we may first need to see an advertisement about the remedy.

We who have received the everlasting remedy can be that advertisement. When we share our own success story of spiri­tual health, we invite others to “check it out and come get Profes­sional Care.”

How well do we advertise the real Cure for sin?

Beauty Shop

While filing my nails memories flooded my head. Bill’s first gift to me when we started dating was a manicure set. To him it must have seemed appropriate, yet not too personal. I kept and used it for a long time. His second gift was an ID bracelet. A few years ago I brought it along with some other silver items to the jewelry shop to trade it for money, a profitable exchange. After all, my ID had not been Laird for many years.

My mother was a beautician, but she did not like doing manicures. She did like everything to do with hair. I recall one story about a regular customer, a young man who had red hair. He would come to the shop to have my mother dye his mustache for it did not grow the same color as his hair.

Before we reached the age of getting our hair permed with wave solution, Mother used a curling iron. The rod was actually made of iron and it had a clamp, similar to the ones used today. But it was not electrical. Mother heated it over the stove top. I would sit on a high stool near the stove while she heated the iron and with great care she would wrap my hair around the rod to curl it in ringlets. Another way we got curls was when Mother wrapped small strips of brown paper bag around sections of our hair and tied the strips. We would sleep in those and it did not make our head sore like plastic curlers of later years.

My sister and I had our haircuts and perms at the shop where Mother worked. Up into our teen years, we got perms at home. During the process, while Mother applied the solution to each section of hair, my job was to hand her the small white papers to wrap the hair. The solution had a strong smell, but it was worth getting curls into my straight hair. The curls were so tight and short that I called myself “cherry top.” The perm process has not changed much over the years.