When War Was the Only Casualty

From The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"

From The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

This is my favorite Christmas story, after the original one, of course. It deserves to be told as long as war still exists.

It was Christmas Eve one hundred years ago, the first year of the Great War – the “War to End All Wars.” All was indeed quiet on the Western Front. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. On 7 December 1914, Pope Benedict XV had suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but in the trenches on Christmas Eve, English and French soldiers on the one side and German soldiers on the other, declared their own unofficial truce.

The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in “No Man’s Land,” soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from the 23rd Psalm.

It was a welcome respite for a group of lonely British soldiers who had become all too familiar with the roar of the cannons. As they reclined in their trenches, each man began to speculate about the activities of loved ones back home.

“My parents are just finished a toast to my health,” a lad from Liverpool said slowly.

“I can almost hear the church bells,” a man from Ely said wistfully.

“My whole family will soon be walking out the door to hear the concert of the cathedral boy’s choir.”

The men sat silent for several minutes before a soldier from Kent looked up with tears in his eyes. “This is eerie,” he stammered, “but I can almost hear the choir singing.”

“So can I,” shouted another puzzled voice. “I think there is music coming from the other side.”

All the men scrambled to the edge of the trench and cocked their ears. What they heard were a few sturdy German voices singing Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn:

From Heaven above to earth I come,

To bear good news to every home;

Glad tidings of great joy I bring,

Whereof I now will say and sing. . .

When the hymn was finished, the British soldiers sat frozen in silence.  Then a large man with a powerful voice broke into the chorus of a traditional English carol:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

Refrain:

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy. . .

Before he had sung three bars, a dozen voices joined him. By the time he finished, the entire regiment was singing.

Once again there was an interlude of silence until a German tenor began to sing Stille Nacht! This time the carol was sung in two languages, a chorus of nearly a hundred voices echoing back and forth between the trenches:

Stille Nacht!/Silent night. . .

Heil’ge Nacht!/Holy night. . .

Alles schläft/All is calm. . .

Einsam wacht./All is bright. . .

 “Someone is approaching!” a sentry shouted, and attention was focused on a single German soldier who walked slowly, waving a white cloth with one hand and holding several chocolate bars in the other. Slowly, men from both sides eased out into the neutral zone and began to greet one another. In a few minutes, each soldier shared what he had with the others – candy, cigarettes, and even a bit of Christmas brandy. Most importantly, the soldiers showed the battered, but treasured pictures that they carried of loved ones. On Christmas Day, men from both sides again joined together, even visiting the other’s trenches.

With “No Man’s Land” cleared of dead bodies and throngs of men milling about, it was only a matter of time before a ball materialized and a soccer game was afoot! The depth to which these men enjoyed the game was evidenced by the ingenuity in their producing balls in the middle of a war zone! These games, by all accounts were filled with excitement and joy at getting to kick the ball about. There were no referees and goals were marked by headgear. The size of the teams opposing one another could number as many as one hundred or more, yet there is no account of an opposed foul or scuffle over a play. In most of the reports, the Germans won most of the games 3-2.

The spontaneous truce was largely over by New Year’s Day, however. Commanders on both sides ordered their troops to resume hostilities under penalty of court-martial. The Great War stretched on through another three Christmases and beyond, but all subsequent attempts to organize similar truces failed, and millions more died before the armistice of 11 November 1918 finally ended the Great War for good.

As a celebration of the human spirit, the Christmas Truce remains a moving manifestation of the absurdities of war. Frederick Niven, a Scottish poet during the Great War, may just have it right in his A Carol from Flanders, in which he writes these words:

In Flanders on the Christmas morn

The trenched foemen lay,

the German and the Briton born,

And it was Christmas Day.

The red sun rose on fields accurst,

The gray fog fled away;

But neither cared to fire the first,

For it was Christmas Day!

They called from each to each across

The hideous disarray,

For terrible has been their loss:

“Oh, this is Christmas Day!”

Their rifles all they set aside,

One impulse to obey;

‘Twas just the men on either side,

Just men — and Christmas Day.

They dug the graves for all their dead

And over them did pray:

And Englishmen and Germans said:

“How strange a Christmas Day!”

Between the trenches then they met,

Shook hands, and e’en did play

At games on which their hearts were set

On happy Christmas Day.

Not all the emperors and kings,

Financiers and they

Who rule us could prevent these things —

For it was Christmas Day.

Oh ye who read this truthful rime

From Flanders, kneel and say:

God speed the time when every day

Shall be as Christmas Day.

One hundred years later, a Christmas truce seems an impossible dream from a more simple, vanished world. It appears that peace, however brief, is indeed harder to make than war.

 

Expect the Unexpected!

christmas giving2No political commentary this week. And no tirade against fundamentalist pastors who show no compassion. Not this week. No lamenting of the present state of affairs in either politics or religion or historical comprehension or theological knowledge. No, none of that this week. Rather, I am taking my lead from Pope Francis this week who said in a recent sermon: “Enough gloom, try joy ahead of Christmas.”

So, instead of writing about some of the darker sides of our human condition, let me share this more joyful post.


December is a beautiful time of the year. The celebrations for Christmas are in full swing. Of course, they have been in that mode since Labor Day in September!

The symbols, some sacred, some quite secular, mingle in the market place: Bethlehem and the North Pole, the Angel Gabriel and Santa Claus, the Heavenly Host and grandma being run over by a reindeer, crèche scenes and chestnuts roasting by an open fire, shepherds in the fields and Christmas trees.

In the Northern Hemisphere, December is also the time when light hurls back the darkness of the winter solstice, an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

December is also the time when Bill O’Reilly heads into the trenches for his annual battle against the “War on Christmas.” For years now, the Fox News host has been scrambling to save Christmas from a slew of threats – real and unreal – and, I am afraid that 2014 will be no exception.

The shopping malls, the Internet, the television, the radio, the magazines, and the newspapers are all proclaiming what every child already knows to be a fact: Christmas is coming! Many children will ask – if they have not already asked – “Is it Christmas yet”?

Speaking of children, during the Christmas Eve Service one year, a child was heard to innocently warble this very distinctive, but utterly unauthorized version of the Christmas hymn O Come All Ye Faithful. She sang: “Sing choirs of angels . . . sing and expect raisins!”

Expect raisins? No, I don’t think so! The child’s words were unexpected! The child’s meter may have been correct, but her thought certainly missed the mark.

With children, one should be prepared to expect the unexpected. Often, in their innocence, children just “cut to the chase,” say what is so obvious to them, and in the process, often leave us speechless.

Here are just a few of the classic cases in point:

A kindergarten pupil told his teacher that he had found a cat, but it was dead.

“How do you know that the cat was dead?” she asked her pupil.

“Because I pissed in its ear and it didn’t move,” answered the child innocently.

“You did WHAT?” the teacher exclaimed in surprise.

“You know,” explained the boy, “I leaned over and went ‘Pssst!’ and it didn’t move.”

As I said, expect the unexpected from children.

Or how about this one?

After a long day, the house had finally settled down. The children were in bed and the exhausted mother and father sat down to enjoy a few well-earned minutes of relaxation. But no sooner had they started to relax when their seven-year old daughter called from her room: “Daddy, can I have a glass of water?”

Familiar with this delaying tactic, the father called back: “No, it’s time to sleep.”

After a few minutes, the child cried out again: “Daddy, can I please have a glass of water?”

The exasperated father replied: “No, it’s time to sleep! If you ask me again, I’m coming up there to punish you!”

There was a long pause, and then the child called out: “Daddy, when you come up to punish me, would you please bring me a glass of water?”

Again, expect the unexpected from children.

Or this classic?

The little boy was doing his math homework. He said to himself, “Two plus five, that son of a bitch is seven. Three plus six, that son of a bitch is nine.”

His mother heard what he was saying and gasped, “What are you doing?”

The little boy answered, “I’m doing my math homework, Mom.”

“And is this how your teacher taught you to do it?” the mother asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

Infuriated, the mother asked the teacher the next day, “What are you teaching my son in math?”

The teacher replied, “Right now, we are learning addition.”

The mother asked, “And are you also teaching them to say two plus two, that son of a bitch is four?”

After the teacher stopped laughing, she answered, “What I taught them was, two plus two, THE SUM OF WHICH, is four.”

Children!

Finally, perhaps you recall this story.

The five year-old boy came home one day and asked his mother: “Mommy, where did I come from?”

Well, mommy was not really ready for this question, but she did the best she could, and told him that she and daddy loved each other very much and how it was out of that love that they made their little son. She then asked him if that answered his question. The five year-old replied: “Yes, I guess so, but, you see, there is this new kid who just moved in up the street and he told me that he came from Chicago. I just wanted to know where I came from.”

Ah, out of the mouths of babes, as one of the Psalms has it! Yes, children say and do the most unexpected things.

On a more serious note, consider what happened to this mother and her child.  The mother in this story realized that after all the bills were paid, there would not be much left for her and her four children to use to spend on each other for Christmas presents. Nevertheless, she took her children to a shopping mall and gave them each a twenty dollar bill and told them that was all they had to spend on each other. The children did not seem to care. They all went off thinking of inexpensive and creative ways that they could spend their five dollars per person. The mother gave instructions to meet back in an hour.

The hour went by quickly and soon everyone gathered. Everyone was excited and they were all hiding their bags so that no one could see. The youngest daughter’s bag was the smallest. But the mother did not think too much about it until they all entered the car and the youngest dropped her bag. The bag fell open and candy bars fell out. The youngest daughter turned red, hurriedly picked up the candy bars and shoved them back in her bag.

The mother was furious. She knew her youngest daughter was a little irresponsible and had a sweet tooth, but to go and spend all the Christmas money on herself was unthinkable. The mother stewed on this situation the whole way home. All the children rushed into the house to wrap their presents. The mother followed the youngest daughter into her room, closed the door and started telling her how disappointed she was in her for spending all of her money on candy bars.

The girl started to cry. And then she said, “But I didn’t. These aren’t for me. These are the presents for you and the others.”

Then the mother asked, “But what happened to the rest of the money?”

The little girl explained that she had been shopping and could not find anything that she liked for anyone else. While she was shopping, she saw a tree covered with angels. So she went to see what it was all about and found an angel with the name of a little girl on it who needed a pair of gloves, a coloring book and crayons. She thought about all the things that she and her family had and decided to buy those things for that little girl. When she was finished, all she had left was enough to buy everyone in the family a candy bar.

As Art Linkletter used to be fond of saying, “Kids say the darnedest things!” To put his words another way: Children say and do the most unexpected things.

This mother learned a valuable lesson that day. She had made significant assumptions and unquestionable expectations about her daughter’s maturity and instead, she unexpectedly found her daughter’s actions to be remarkable  expressions of caring, of compassion and of love. And, come to think of it, such demonstrations are truly in the spirit of the one whose birthday we celebrate at this “most wonderful time of the year.”

And so, with Tiny Tim in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I say, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”
Christmas giving

A Gospel of Hate

bible-evil-cruel

Would you like to eradicate AIDS once and for all from the face of this earth? Here is a simple answer to that question and you can accomplish it with God’s blessing. The answer? Execute all homosexuals! No need to spend all that money on research and testing any more.

What “looney” would say anything like that? I will tell you who.

Steven Anderson, that’s who. And who is Steven Anderson? Steven Anderson is “pastor” of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. I put quotation marks around the word pastor because while Steven Anderson may have memorized 140 chapters of the Bible, as a pastor myself, I cannot begin to identify with this man and his rhetoric of hate.

Anderson has made some shocking claims as the spiritual leader of Faithful Word Baptist Church. Anderson’s latest claim was made in a sermon on the First Sunday of Advent (November 30, 2014) in which he said that AIDS would be eradicated if gays were executed.

In his sermon, Anderson argued that members of the gay community are “filled with disease because of the judgment of God.” Anderson continued, “Anybody who’s a homo or bi[sexual] – it’s all the same category – sodomite is what the Bible would call them.” The reference here is Genesis 19, which centers upon the story of Lot’s visitation in the city of Sodom by two angels. The men of Sodom tell Lot to hand over the male visitors so that they may “know” them, i.e. sexually know them (giving rise to the term “sodomy”). Lot bargains with the visitors, quite horribly to a contemporary reader’s eyes, by offering the men his virgin daughters instead! However, any reader of ancient literature (of which the Hebrew Bible is a component) would realize the familiar motif concerning hospitality. The story is not one denigrating same-sex practice; instead it upholds the incredible (and ludicrous) hospitality of Lot as a virtue. (Obviously, Anderson has never heard this explanation.)

To back up his claim, Anderson also cites Leviticus 20:13, “If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination, they shall surely be put to death, their blood shall be upon them.” Says Anderson: “It was right there in the Bible all along … if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.”

I am sure that Anderson was moved by the Christmas spirit of good will toward all people as he laid out his final solution for all those homosexuals spreading AIDS — simply execute them all, preferably before the day Christians celebrate the birth of that blessed little baby in a manger. Hallelujah! And that, my friends, is the cure for AIDS. It was right there in the Bible all along. It is curable — right there in the Good Book: if you execute homosexuals as God commands, you will not have AIDS running rampant.

Of course, I take exception to Anderson’s premise. Apparently, he has never engaged in any kind of serious Bible study. If he had, he would know that Leviticus 20:13 is part of the Holiness Codes set down for the people of Israel – rules set forth both to define what was clean and unclean before God, as well as what set the Hebrew people apart from their heathen neighbors who worshiped gods other than the one true God.

In practice, modern day Christians have regarded most of the injunctions in the Holiness Codes of Leviticus and Deuteronomy written in the 6th century B.C.E. as culturally bound to the ancient times of the Hebrews, but not binding on us. These same purity codes forbid the eating of shellfish, the planting of a field with two different kinds of seed, and the wearing simultaneously of two kinds of cloth. If followed, the codes would prohibit the ordaining to the ministry of any handicapped person – not to mention women.

Yes, Leviticus 20:13 does proscribe the death penalty for same-sex relations and is quite related to the codes that condemn bestiality, invoke dietary restrictions, and order the wearing of certain fibers. But again, these codes were set down to make the Israelites unique from their neighbors and they reflect a particular time and place in Israelite history. Any contemporary critique must note this reality before invoking the codes as ammunition against same-sex practice. We cannot isolate these passages about homosexual acts and impute to them the kind of enduring authority that we ascribe to nothing before or after these passages. That is just not honest.

Yet the texts regarding homosexuality, reinforced by the ignorance and discrimination of the ages, are still literalized and used to justify dreadful, even murderous, behavior, carried out against those whose only fault, or as religious people might prefer, “only sin,” was that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. (According to a 2013 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, about 20 percent of the population is attracted to their own gender. That is nearly double the usual estimates of about 10 percent.) The overwhelming consensus of the medical and scientific world today suggests that sexual orientation is a given – as is gender, skin pigmentation and left-handedness. One’s sexual orientation is not a moral choice. It is a description of one’s being, not of one’s doing. It is therefore not morally culpable.

And the texts in question are scant indeed. The most referenced texts are the already cited Genesis 19; the above-mentioned holiness codes of Leviticus 17-26, and in the New Testament, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 6:9 and his Letter to the Romans 1:26-27. Not only does one have to hunt for references to same-sex practices, but there are no gospel texts that treat the matter. There is nothing attributed to Jesus that has anything to do with same-sex orientation. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus never commented on same-sex practices; that fact certainly bears repeating to anyone criticizing the gay community on Christian grounds. I believe that it is safe to say that for the most part, same-sex practice is a topic of little interest to the Biblical authors.

The texts in Leviticus 18 and 20 are simply wrong. Based on ignorance, they should be viewed with other abandoned attitudes as stages in our development that we have outgrown. For example, slavery was once justified by quoting such biblical passages as “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9).To quote these texts today to justify continued prejudice destroys what Christians say they believe about God, and the Christ who invited all to come to him to find rest from their labors. So, too, the very depth of Christianity is violated if the texts of Leviticus 18-20 are given legitimacy.

But to continue. This is not the first time that Anderson has spewed some pretty awful things, all in the name of the Lord and all based on his understanding of the Bible.

Earlier this year, Anderson argued that “remarriage is adultery,” based on his understanding of Matthew 5:31-32. Needless to say, there are other interpretations of these words of Jesus than those of Anderson’s rather limited understanding, but it will take another posting to take up that issue.

Anderson has also argued in favor of keeping women silent in church. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection,” he said in a sermon, using as his authority I Timothy 2:12: “But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man.”

And just this past March, Anderson went on a tirade over women who so much as dare to utter an “amen” in church, telling the women in his congregation that their place was subserviently in the home.

He has also had some choice words for Jewish people, declaring that “Christ-rejecting Jews are children of the devil.”

But it was in 2009, that Anderson really made a media splash when he delivered a sermon during which he prayed for President Obama’s death! In his sermon, entitled “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” Anderson repeatedly insisted that he would be in no way responsible if one of his followers went out and tried to kill the president. I honestly do not recommend you listening to his sermon, because I did, and now I feel dirty. But for a taste of what I mean, here is a few lines of what Anderson said in that sermon: “I’m going to tell you something. I hate Barack Obama. You say, well, you just mean you don’t like what he stands for. No, I hate the person. Oh, you mean you just don’t like his policies. No, I hate him.”

“I am not going to pray for his good. I am going to pray that he dies and goes to hell.”

“What goes around comes around. You love violence. You hate that which is right. You love to harm others. You love to hurt or kill the unborn or the innocent or the righteous. He is saying, God is going to bring that upon your own head, because whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

“Now, turn back to Psalm 58 and let me ask you this question. Why should Barack Obama melt like a snail? Why should Barack Obama die like the untimely birth of a woman? Why should his children be fatherless and his wife a widow, as we read in this passage?”

“Well, I will tell you why. Because, since Barack Obama thinks it is OK to use a salty solution, right, to abort the unborn, because that’s how abortions are done, my friend, using salt — and I would like to see Barack Obama melt like a snail tonight.”

“If you think God is in control of this country, you’re insane. A madman is in control of this country.”

Speaking of a madman, perhaps now you can understand why Steven Anderson is such an anathema to me and why I do not want to be associated with him professionally. Actually, I believe that he is out of touch, out of control, and the Secret Service better be on to him, for he is a very dangerous man. Apparently, his words hold so much sway with his parishioners that one of them  was caught with an assault rifle at an Obama Rally in Arizona.

Truly this is not a man of God’s loving peace, this Steven Anderson. But just who is Steven Anderson? What do we know about him?

Steven Anderson started Faithful Word Baptist Church on December 25, 2005. He holds no college or seminary degree, but has well over 140 chapters of the Bible memorized word-for-word, including approximately half of the New Testament. Of course, memorizing the Bible does not mean understanding the Bible or living its precepts.

But there is another side to Steven Anderson. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anderson is the operator of the True Sons of Liberty website and he calls for abolishing the IRS, the Federal Reserve, Social Security, and Child Protective Service state agencies. In April 2009, Anderson refused to get out of his car or answer questions from Border Patrol agents at the California-Arizona border and agents had to break his window and taser him as a result. Anderson was charged with refusing to obey a lawful order and blocking a public highway. A jury found him not guilty of both misdemeanor charges brought against him.

And what about his church, the Faithful Word Baptist Church? Faithful Word Baptist Church is a small congregation located in a strip mall in Tempe, Arizona. According to their website: “Don’t expect anything contemporary or liberal. We are an old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning Baptist church.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the church as an anti-gay hate group, noting that Anderson described gays as “sodomites” who “recruit through rape,” and “recruit through molestation.” A few days after the listing, Anderson said: “Do I hate? Absolutely. I do hate homosexuals and if hating homosexuals makes our church a hate group then that’s what we are.” Anderson said further that he preaches his hatred for homosexuals and wishes death upon them. How is that for compassion! Whatever happened to “hate the sin, but not the sinner?” Unfortunately, there will always be people like Steven Anderson who use religion to justify their bigotry and hate. I feel sorry for them, because hate only breeds more hate.

When word of Anderson’s recent hate speech masquerading as a sermon became known to Planting Peace, a global nonprofit organization founded for the purpose of spreading peace in a hurting world, they decided to turn the situation into something positive while rebuking bigotry at the same time. Accordingly, they launched a fundraiser to help people with HIV/AIDS, and declared that for every donation made, they would send the Faithful Word Baptist Church a lump of coal, the traditional gift for naughty children of Christmases past.  Every lump of coal the group sends will be wrapped in a “festive” package, complete with a bow, and will be delivered on Christmas Eve. As of this date, the fundraiser has brought in over $20,482 in donations and will presumably be sending hundreds of lumps of coal on their merry way soon.

What a wonderful idea!

Merry Christmas, Steven Anderson! Watch your mailbox for your Christmas gifts!

lump of coal

Farmer Brown: From Pigskin to Potatoes

PIGSKIN2 Football – and particularly the National Football League – has been in the news lately. Most of that recent news has been negative. For instance, in the last several months of this year, the following players have been in the news:

  • Perhaps the highest profile example is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was dropped by his team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL following the September release of elevator surveillance footage from February 2014 that showed Rice punch his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, knocking her unconscious in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He avoided trial on an assault charge in May when he was accepted into a diversionary program to address his domestic abuse. The NFL’s initial handling of the incident drew criticism from fans and in the media after Rice was originally given just a 2-game suspension by the league. (Rice has since appealed his case and has been reinstated in the National Football League.)
  • In September, 2014, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was been indicted in Texas for “reckless or negligent injury” when he disciplined his four-year-old son with a tree branch. Peterson was deactivated by the Vikings pending the resolution of his legal issues. Peterson was previously arrested in an unrelated incident on July 7, 2012 for resisting arrest.
  • Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested September 17, 2014 in Phoenix on charges of aggravated assault, criminal damage and preventing someone from calling 911, stemming from two alleged incidents in July. A woman later told police that Dwyer had sent her a photo of a knife and also described threatening text messages she had received from the running back. She ultimately left the state with her child.
  • Greg Hardy, the Carolina Panthers defensive end earned a jury conviction in July for choking and threatening to kill his then-girlfriend, was deactivated by his team before a game against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 14 amid league-wide scrutiny about domestic violence. He had played the week before.

With that kind of news, it is refreshing to hear about a football player with a totally different story. We hear more than a few stories of someone growing up on a farm and eventually moving on to become a National Football League star, but there are not too many stories of a player going the other way on that path.

But Jason Brown  is one of those who did just that! And his story is one of the best, one of the more unusual, and one of the most inspirational stories I have come across in quite a long time. Even if you are not a football fan, I hope you will agree. Here is his story.

Jason Brown is a native of Henderson, North Carolina and was a top high school recruit at Northern Vance High. He signed with the University of North Carolina and was a three-year starter at center. He was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2004 and was taken during the fourth round of the 2005 National Football League draft by the Baltimore Ravens.

He started some at left guard for the Baltimore Ravens during his first two seasons and started every game at center during 2007 and 2008. His natural accolades awarded Brown a five-year contract and $37 million with the Saint Louis Rams, including a $20 million guarantee that he would be paid regardless of how long he played or did not play. He started every game in 2009 and 2010, and fourteen games during 2011 before being released in March 2012. Jason Brown was considered one of the best centers in the league at the time. He was only twenty-nine at the time and still had several years left for him to play. San Francisco, Carolina and Baltimore all contacted him about possibly joining their teams. It was evident that Brown achieved what most people dream of: fortune and popularity. Brown’s National Football League career was not really over unless he decided it was over. He decided that it was over and that it was time to honor what he termed his “covenant with God.”

So, Jason Brown simply walked away from the spotlight. Instead, he chose to pursue what he called “a life with purpose.” So what was Brown’s purpose? You probably will never guess it or even believe it, but Jason Brown’s life of purpose was farming! Jason Brown gave up his prestigious position in the National Football League to become a plain, old dirt farmer! (Excuse me, but my jaw just dropped!)

Jason Brown – a man who spent his National Football League career with his hands in the dirt plowing the way towards the end zone for his teammates – found a life of purpose in serving others. Instead of signing as a free agent to interested teams like the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens, this 6-feet-3 inches, 320-pound former offensive lineman bought a 1,030 acre farm in Louisburg, North Carolina consisting of a massive dairy barn, silo, fields, four large ponds, and a large white house gleaming with a fresh coat of paint. He gave his new land the name “First Fruits Farm” because the first fruits of each harvest were to be donated to groups that distributed food to the needy. After laboring all of 2013 to get the place in shape, Brown’s farm produced its first major harvest on a couple of smaller subplots within the 1,030 acres. “When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service,” Brown has said.

Even though he reached the National Football League, earned a considerable amount of money and lived in a big house, Brown said that he has not felt more successful than he does now. “Not in man’s standards,” Brown said. “But in God’s eyes.”

“My agent, he told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’” Brown said shortly after he had made his decision. “And I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No, I am not.’”

Brown said he knew nothing about farming, but he learned by studying tutorial videos on Youtube and by talking to other farmers.

Even though Brown had no experience as a farmer, he had a vision and faith. His faith came to fruition when he gave away 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes. Brown’s First Fruits Farm already had yielded 10,000 pounds of cucumbers, also given away. All 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes were donated to food pantries following his vision that the first fruits of his harvest would all go to feeding those who were in need.

“You look over a sweet potato field and you don’t see a crop,” Brown said. “The vines are kind of wilting. There is nothing there to pick. You’ve got to have faith.

“I went out to plow up the potatoes last week and looked behind the tractor. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite as beautiful as those big brown potatoes lying everywhere.”

The harvested sweet potato crop was helped by the Society of Saint Andrews. (Saint Andrew’s is a national group that links gleaners with farmers.) Rebecca Page, the coordinator of the gleaning group, had about two hundred people and thirteen trucks in the fields to harvest Brown’s crop. The group coordinates with shelters, food pantries and other distribution points. The group usually goes into fields after a harvest and gleans the crops that were missed, but Brown told Page that he wanted to give away the entire crop.

“What he is doing is unbelievable,” said Page. “The time, the effort, the work, the cost. And he gives it all away.”

Brown hopes to plant at least twice as many acres of sweet potatoes next year, and he envisions a harvest celebration. “A lot of churches have harvest celebrations this time of year, but they don’t harvest anything,” Brown said. “I can picture 500, 1,000 people here gleaning the fields until noon and then having a celebration of the harvest with food and music. It would be a great celebration and fellowship. I can envision things. I look out over this farm and see such a blessing. This has been more than I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed more than I blessed others. Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.”

Jason Brown’s choice to leave the National Football League to pursue a life of purpose was the right choice even though his agent would not agree. I, for one, believe that he is doing more good now as a plain, old dirt farmer than he was as a star center for the Saint Louis Rams.

Everything I have read about Jason Brown has been pretty great. So I raise my glass and toast Jason Brown and the many other kind souls who put other people ahead of themselves.

Jason Brown in front of barn at First Fruits Farm

Jason Brown in front of barn at First Fruits Farm