Uncle Wilbur’s Hot and Cold Hat

Wilbur Robinson was, like most Robinsons, an outdoorsman.  As a youngster he was often out fishing, hunting, or just walking around looking for adventure.  On one of these long outings he stayed out a little later than he intended.  He noticed the sun getting lower, the temperature dropping, and looked around and realized he would not be able to make it home before dark.

Wilbur did not panic; he knew how to take care of himself in the woods, even on a cold winter night like the one he was about to face.  He did feel a sense of urgency as he looked for a place to hunker down and keep warm through the night.  As he walked through the woods, he stumbled upon an old abandoned shack.  It was the perfect place to protect him from the wind for the night.

As he settled in, he heard talking outside.  It started as a murmur, but grew ever louder and clearer.  There was a group of men approaching the shack.  Just as he was about to step outside and introduce himself, he heard one of the men say something about “hiding the money.”  He paused, decided to listen to more.  He picked up a few more snippets about “the bank,” the “G-Men,” and even heard a couple of their names—Bill, George, and “Pretty Boy.”

The blood drained from Wilbur’s face as he recognized the names of “Pretty Boy” Floyd and his associates, Bill Miller and George Birdwell.  Wilbur was in his teens in the early 1930’s, the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma.  Gangsters like John Dillinger, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Bonnie and Clyde were wreaking havoc across the country, robbing banks, bootlegging liquor, and killing lawmen.  “Pretty Boy” Floyd had grown up in Oklahoma, and had recently gone on a spree, robbing banks in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.  Among others, he hit Earlsboro, Meeker, Maud, Sallisaw, Bixby, and Tulsa in 1931 and 1932.  In an instant Wilbur put it all together:  he had stumbled upon a gangsters’ hideout, where “Pretty Boy” Floyd had come to lay low after robbing the bank in Pawnee.

Before Wilbur could put together a plan, the door of the shack burst open and “Pretty Boy” Floyd walked in.  He saw Wilbur and immediately knew he was going to have to get rid of him.  “He’s seen our faces, he’s heard us talking about the robbery,” he muttered to his associates.

Still, “Pretty Boy” Floyd was not fond of shooting people in cold blood, especially young poor boys like Wilbur.  He decided to simply shut Wilbur outside for the night, knowing that he had nowhere to go, and that he would not survive the cold night outside.  As Wilbur huddled against the south wall, he pulled his po’ boy hat down low over his ears, and felt it warm his whole body.  He smiled; “Pretty Boy” Floyd did not know how warm his hat was.  When the gangster opened the door in the morning, he was astonished when, instead of finding Wilbur’s frozen corpse, he found Wilbur sitting there next to the shack, with the snow melted in an 18-inch circle surrounding him.

Floyd questioned Wilbur, “How did you not freeze out here?”

Wilbur answered simply, “My hat kept me warm.”

Floyd came up with a new plan.  There was a large wood-burning stove in the shack.  He decided to dispose of Wilbur by shoving him into the oven.  “That hat won’t help you much in there, you’ll be plenty warm!”

As he sat in the stove, Wilbur pulled down his po’ boy hat and smiled once again.  “Pretty Boy” Floyd didn’t know that Wilbur’s hat could cool him off too.  A couple of hours later, the gangsters opened the stove door to reload the wood, and were amazed to find Wilbur sitting there smiling, not even breaking a sweat.  They hauled him out, quite crossly interrogating him about his hat.  He simply answered, “It keeps me warm in the cold, and it keeps me cool in the heat.”

Floyd had had enough messing around.  He found an old molasses barrel, stuck Wilbur inside, and nailed the lid tight.  “Unless that hat can feed you too, you can just sit in there ‘til you starve.”  Wilbur didn’t smile this time.  “I might have really had it this time,” he thought.

It was dark in the barrel.  There was only one hole in the barrel, the bunghole that had been drilled to empty the molasses.  As he peered through the hole, wondering what to do, something poked him in the eye.  He jerked his head away from the hole, and watched as a bushy tail poked in through the hole.  It swished around a little, then withdrew.  He looked through the hole again and saw a coyote.  Then the tail came back, swished around the inside of the barrel, and withdrew.  When he looked through the hole this time, he saw the coyote licking his tail.  He realized it was licking the sweet molasses that it had fished out of the barrel.

Then Wilbur had an idea.  He got himself ready, and when the tail stuck back in the bunghole, Wilbur grabbed hold of it and hung on with everything he had.  The coyote panicked and took off running at full speed.  On and on the coyote ran, pulling the barrel and Wilbur along behind him.  The barrel bounced and tumbled over the rough ground, slowly but surely breaking apart.  As the coyote dragged it across a group of rocks, the barrel burst open, releasing Wilbur from his prison, and relieving the coyote of his burden.

Wilbur lay on the ground, catching his breath and trying to orient himself.  He had been in the barrel for several hours.  Worse, the barrel had been sitting for several years, and the molasses had fermented, and now smelled more like rum.  Wilbur had never been a drinker, so the few hours he had spent in the barrel had been sufficient for him to get quite drunk on rum fumes.

My sister Sarah (middle) and I (right) sit on the couch at Grandpa Jack's house as we listen to Uncle Wilbur tell us about his run-in with "Pretty Boy" Floyd.

My sister Sarah (middle) and I (right) sit on the couch at Grandpa Jack’s house as we listen to Uncle Wilbur tell us about his run-in with “Pretty Boy” Floyd.

Wilbur staggered home, and had quite a lot of explaining to do to his mother, Iva Della, when, after having been gone for two days, he stumbled into the house, reeking of rum, holding his po’ boy hat in one hand and a coyote tail in the other.


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Fishing at Falls Creek

A week at Falls Creek is a summer staple for Oklahoma teenagers.  Over the course of my junior high and high school years I made several trips with Crestwood Baptist Church, where the Baker family attended.

Crestwood Baptist owned a cabin at the head of the trail to the Devil’s Bathtub.  This meant that there was a steady flow of foot traffic in front of the cabin all afternoon, as campers, sponsors, and camp staff enjoyed their recreational time.  Behind the cabin sat a large pond that was great for fishing on hot Oklahoma summer afternoons.

We always brought fishing gear since the pond was only several yards behind the cabin.  One afternoon, Uncle Steve said, “Let’s go fishing.”  I noticed he had grabbed a fairly small fishing rod, but I was not particularly surprised since he usually caught small fish anyway.  I was thrown off, though, when he headed for the front door instead of the back.  We sat on the front porch, where Steve pulled out a one dollar bill from his wallet and tied it to the end of the fishing line.  We set the bait out in the middle of the path and waited.  As someone approached and bent over to pick up the money, Steve would twitch the rod, pulling the bill just out of reach.  Then he would laugh and explain, “We’re fishing for men!” (Matt. 4:19).

The pond sat directly behind the cabin about 25 yards.  Trees lined the bank, which had an abrupt three-foot drop down to the water.  The trees provided relieving shade, but sometimes got in the way of casting and maneuvering.  Once, as Steve fished down the bank from me, I cast up the bank in the opposite direction.  The plan was to pull my lure parallel to the bank, about 8 feet out into the water.  Unfortunately, one of those trees got in the way and my lure sailed straight into its branches.

“Won’t catch many fish in the trees,” remarked Steve.

“Uh-huh,” I replied, trying to tug the lure free.

I decided I would have to change my angle of attack, so I tried to pick my way up the bank.  There were several trees between myself and the stuck lure, some of which were perched precariously on the edge of the bank.  At each one, I had to reach around the trunk and pass the rod around the tree before continuing up the bank.

One of these trees was quite flimsy, sat right on the edge, and grew outward over the water.  I stretched to reach around it, and my foot slipped.  I tried to catch myself on the tree, but it would not take my weight.  As I tumbled to the water, my foot caught in the roots.

steveI splashed into the water, hanging upside down from my foot, clinging to my fishing pole for no reason other than obstinacy.  My life flashed briefly before my eyes, for I was upside down and underwater from my head to my thighs.  I looked up and saw the surface of the water, the tree above, and the sky beyond.  I pulled myself up high enough to get my head and shoulders above water, but not high enough to see over the edge of the bank.  I held myself there, thinking Steve would be waiting there with his hand out to pull me up.  Instead, I heard laughing coming from where Steve had been sitting.  He hadn’t moved.  He later explained, “I just thought, ‘He’s an athletic boy, he’ll get himself up.’”

Growing impatient, I yelled, “Some help, please?”

“Oh,” Steve hurried over.  He reached out and pulled me up, trying to hide his laughter.  “We might as well quit now that you scared all the fish off.”

Being a Robinson himself, Steve couldn’t wait to tell the story to my mom when we got back from camp at the end of the week.  He still enjoys telling the story, and always introduces it with the question, “Have you ever seen that movie about ‘Saving Ryan’s Privates?’”


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Leon’s Pet Fish

Uncle Leon Robinson grew up in Pawnee, OK, only a few miles from the sheep farm where he now lives, and where the family campout is held these days.  There was a pond where he used to go fishing not too far away, and he caught quite a few good bass in those days.  One day he caught a monster.  It was so big he couldn’t stand to let it go without showing it to someone, or else he would just be accused of telling one of those Robinson fish stories.  So he took it home as proof.  When he got there, it seemed a shame to waste such a big fish by killing it for dinner, so he decided to keep it as a pet.  He put it in a 55-gallon barrel that sat at the corner of the house catching the rain off the roof, where the fish could stay comfortably, and Leon could show it off to anyone who stopped by.

Leon started to feel bad about keeping the fish cooped up in that barrel, so he decided he would start taking it on walks for some exercise.  Early in the morning, while the grass was still wet with dew, Leon got up to take the fish for a walk.  By running a stringer through the fish’s mouth, he could keep it on a leash, and the fish would flop along in the grass behind him, getting its oxygen from the cool morning dew.  Leon started with short walks—only a few minutes at a time—before returning the fish to its barrel.  He gradually worked up its tolerance, until the fish could stay out of the barrel for 10 minutes at a time, then 30, then an hour.  Leon even stopped using the leash, and the fish would flop right along the grass with him on its own.


Unable to bring himself to do much fishing since the loss of his favorite fish, Leon spends most of his time these days passing wisdom to the next generation.

One morning as they went for their walk, they came to an old wood slat bridge that crossed a creek.  There were gaps between the transverse slats, but the longitudinal running planks for driving on were solid all the way across.  He walked across, the fish flopping along behind, staying on the running planks.  All of a sudden, the fish slipped sideways, fell off the running planks and through the slats, and splashed into the creek.  Leon rushed downstream to catch the fish, and the fish struggled to swim toward the bank.  But all that time spent out of the water had changed the fish, and Leon cried when it washed up on the bank at his feet, drowned.


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Robinson Stories

2 Ryans fish

These two fish, caught by Ryan Weber (left) and Ryan Griswold (right) have been the source of their share of fish stories.

The Robinson Family is known as a group of storytellers.  Sitting around the campfire at the annual family campout in Pawnee, OK, one will hear fish stories, huntin’ stories, tall tales, whoppers, and more than a few lies.  We exaggerate, embellish, fill in missing details, and lie, sometimes for pride and prestige, but mostly for entertainment.  In honor of this year’s campout, which Sarah and I will unfortunately miss for the third year straight, I am putting together some of my favorite Robinson stories in a series of blog posts.

Uncle Fred Crowned Best Liar

The whole family—some 30 or 40 Robinsons—was sitting around the fire at suppertime, watching the cooks prepare burgers, hot dogs, and Uncle Leon’s favorite fried taters.  Some were beginning to ease their way closer, so as to be the first in line.  Others were content to sit in their chairs and wait, knowing that the first food to come off the griddle was never as good as later, when the cooks had a better feel for how hot to keep the fire.  Everyone talked.  The dominant conversation was the Robinsons’ penchant for telling whoppers, and various lies were told and recalled.

Uncle Fooey (Fred) tells Kyle a lie at the 20012 campout.

Uncle Fooey (Fred) tells Kyle a lie at the 20012 campout.

All the old folks participated in the exchange of stories.

Grandpa Jack:  “Norton (his favorite beagle) was on that rabbit’s trail for an hour…”

Uncle Carney:  “…caught a 10 pound largemouth last week…”

They talked and talked, even ranking each other in their propensity to fib.  While most agreed that Uncle Wilbur was the best story-teller, there was unanimous consensus that Uncle Fred was the best liar.  As the discussion unfolded, Uncle Fred sat back in his folding chair, looking rather pleased with his title.

He listened, satisfied that his relatives recognized him as the best liar.  From across the campfire, Steve said, “Well, how ‘bout it?  Show us how it’s done.  Tell us a lie, Freddie!”

Uncle Fred casually folded his arms over his overalls and said with an ornery grin, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that.  I gave up lying years ago.”

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Book Review – The Story of the New Testament Text

Robert F. Hull, Jr., The Story of the New Testament Text:  Movers, Materials, Motives, Methods, and Models, (Leiden and Boston:  Brill, 2011)

Hull NT TextThis wonderful monograph tells two stories simultaneously:  the story of the New Testament text and its transmission from the earliest extant copies up to the latest scholarly Greek editions, and the story of the development of the discipline of New Testament textual criticism from early figures such as Origin and Jerome, to the emergence of the modern critics like Erasmus and Westcott and Hort, to the latest shapers of the discipline like Bart Ehrman, Kim Haines-Eitzen, and David Parker.  The development of the discipline is indeed the primary emphasis, as author Robert Hull (recently retired Dean and Professor of New Testament, Emmanuel School of Religion) focuses attention on movers (significant figures in the discipline), materials (important sources and documents), motives (the goals of various movers), methods (criteria by which certain movers made decisions), and models (examples of methods in practice).

Although the primary audience is seminary, divinity, and grad students of New Testament, this book would also be useful in undergraduate bible courses or even for the lay reader, provided that the reader has enough New Testament background to understand the general idea of textual criticism.   Although Hull provides some preliminary material explaining the reasons that textual criticism is necessary and the general goals of the discipline, this is certainly not an introductory level book.  I would think the most natural place for this book would be in a seminary or graduate level course on textual criticism, alongside readings from Westcott and Hort, Metzger, Epp, Ehrman, Haines-Eitzen, and Parker.  Unfortunately, as Hull laments, such courses are difficult to find.  I certainly was unable to take one over the course of my graduate career (all of the authors mentioned above I read independently), and found that interest is quite low even at the Ph.D level.

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Why George Zimmerman is a Liability to Gun Rights

As the nation awaits the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, much of the media attention on the case centers around Zimmerman’s legal defense:  self-defense.  This leads to ridiculous re-enactments of the alleged fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, speculations about who was in better shape, who initiated physical contact, and who was winning the fight, and claims by both sides that it was one or the other who was heard on the phone crying for help.  In addition, gun rights supporters point to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, claiming that it gives Zimmerman the right to use deadly force instead of retreating.  I will demonstrate here that they should reconsider that position.

All of the aforementioned topics are really irrelevant in this case, nothing more than distractions from the central issue:  given that both men technically had a legal right to be where they were, the party at fault is whoever committed the first crime.  Let me explain.  Despite the fact that gun rights supporters and the talking heads on Fox News cite the “stand your ground” law as legal justification for Zimmerman’s actions, and gun-o-phobes on the other side point to the law as a problematic statute that empowers paranoid gun owners to take life indiscriminately, this case has nothing to do with “stand your ground” whatsoever.

For starters, Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing, at which a judge could have determined that Zimmerman had a right to “meet force with force,” preventing any criminal or civil trial from proceeding.  Zimmerman and his attorneys waived that defense, instead deciding to go to a criminal trial in which he would argue that he acted in self-defense, making the physical altercation the focus of the trial.  The attorney for the Martin family has commented that this was a move to keep Zimmerman off the witness stand.

If this wasn’t enough reason to get away from the “stand your ground” discussion, here are a few more.  The author the Florida statute has taken up its defense, arguing that according to Zimmerman’s account, he was pinned on the ground under Martin as they fought.  Thus, he was not able to flee, and even under Florida law prior to the introduction of “stand your ground,” would have had no duty to decide whether to flee or to stand his ground.

Before moving on to my final few points, let’s look at the Florida “stand your ground” law.  According to 20012 Florida State Statutes, Title XLVI, Chapter 776.013:  Justifiable Use of Force

Section 3:

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

This section allows legally armed citizens to use deadly force against an attacker provided that three conditions are met:

1.)     The armed citizen is not engaged in unlawful activity

2.)    The armed citizen is attacked in a place where he has a legal right to be

3.)    The use of deadly force is allowed only if it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm

As a gun owner and concealed carry permit holder, I can attest that these requirements are the most important things one learns at the required concealed carry training course.  I believe two of these requirements were not met, and they will cost Zimmerman his freedom.

As I began this article, we assume that both men had a legal right to be where they were.  Certainly the only thing Trayvon Martin was guilty of was “walking while black” in an affluent neighborhood.  Neither was Martin engaged in unlawful activity.  However, Zimmerman may have been guilty of stalking, under Florida statute Title XLVI, Chapter 784.048:  Stalking.

“A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking…”

There is ample evidence that Zimmerman followed Martin against the instructions of a police dispatcher.  Furthermore, he demonstrates his willful and malicious intent on the 911 call, when he comments, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good,” and “these assholes always get away… fucking punks.”  Therefore, Zimmerman was engaged in unlawful activity when he followed Trayvon Martin, and it becomes completely irrelevant whether or not Martin threw the first punch.

Zimmerman injuries

Zimmerman certainly was injured during his fight with Trayvon Martin, but these injuries probably do not justify a reasonable fear that Zimmerman might have been killed.

Finally, even if Zimmerman was entitled to physically defend himself—assuming Martin initiated the physical contact—he probably was not justified in using deadly force.  The law cited above requires that a person be in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.  This is basically about proportionality of force:  if you are in a fistfight, you are not justified in shooting someone.  In other words, Zimmerman should have taken his ass-beating, and learned his lesson.  If he had, Trayvon Martin would still be alive, and George Zimmerman would not be about to lose his freedom.

Gun rights supporters would be wise to recognize Zimmerman for the overzealous vigilante that he is, or they risk losing all credibility in their message of self-defense.  Those who are already inclined toward distrust of gun owners and “stand your ground” statutes have found in Zimmerman the perfect example of someone who oversteps his own rights and hurts someone in the process.  The inevitable outcome of the gun lobby’s blind support of people like Zimmerman is the erosion of its credibility and the suspicion of common-sense laws like “stand your ground” and the “castle doctrine.”  These laws are obviously not the problem, but when they are misapplied in cases like this (by the media and the gun lobby), they replace the triggerman as the suspect.

In the end, Mr. Zimmerman may have set out only to defend his neighborhood, but it was not his to defend—nor was it ever under any threat—and instead of defending, he took what was not his to take:  the life of a young man named Trayvon Martin.


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Left-Lane Lurkers in Inferno

As Dante narrates his 14th century journey through the levels of hell in Inferno, he meets various sinners who suffer retributive punishments that correspond to their chief sin.  In the third circle, Dante encounters gluttons who are forced to lie in a vile slush, blind to their surroundings.  The allegorical punishment is intended to reveal the true nature of the sin—the selfishness and emptiness of sensuality.  The fourth circle punishes the greedy—those who hold one of two inappropriate attitudes toward material possessions:  on one hand, the avaricious, or hoarders, and on the other hand, the squanderers.  The two sides are forced to joust one another by pushing large weights with their chests:

They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?

Canto VII

Between the third and fourth circles are sinners that Dante neglects to identify:  left-lane lurkers.  We can only speculate, but the most likely reason this circle is not mentioned is the anachronism of vehicular sin in the 14th century, and the unfamiliarity of Dante and his poet-guide Virgil with modern automobiles and highway courtesy.  Regardless, the punishment endured by left-lane lurkers is as apposite as the punishments in the other circles.*  These sinners are fitted with a ball and chain—attached through their Achilles tendon—and compelled to crawl on all fours, dragging the weight for all of eternity, reminding them of the slow agony that they inflicted upon the drivers lined up behind them in the passing lane.  Like the gluttons in the third circle of hell, the left-lane lurkers are blind, reflecting their inconsideration and obliviousness to their surroundings.  This blindness causes the sinners to bump into each other frequently during their bumbling, sometimes causing “traffic jams.”

On a recent trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma to visit my parents (1,100 miles one way), I encountered left-lane hogs at least twice per hour.  At one point, I observed a woman drive more than thirty miles without leaving the left lane.  At times, she had more than ten vehicles stacked up behind her.  I had my cruise control set on 78 mph (in a 70 mph zone), which was slightly more than the flow of traffic.  She clearly was not using speed control, because she ranged from around 65 to 85 mph, depending on her level of attention to her phone and her passenger.  The infuriating thing was that she was happy to pass you on the left when she was doing 85, but when she slowed to 65, anyone passing her had to do so on the right.

As our highways become ever more congested, and common courtesy seems to be at an all-time low, some states have recently revisited their “keep right” laws.  While 30 states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code requiring “slower” traffic to keep right, enforcement is usually rare, since speeding tickets are better revenue producers.  “Impeding traffic” is an excuse more often used by officers to pull over a suspicious vehicle.  In addition, the verbiage “slower traffic” is vague, with many speed-limit drivers feeling no obligation to yield to speeders.  In fact, only five states and Puerto Rico stipulate that drivers must keep right only if traveling below the speed limit (for shame, Alaska, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Dakota!).  Otherwise, “slower” refers to the normal flow of traffic, despite the protests of proud lane-hogs who obstinately rationalize blocking traffic by self-righteously insisting that they are “keeping people from speeding.”

Ten other states, including my home state of Oklahoma, specify that drivers must keep right except to pass, turn left, or to allow traffic to merge.  New Jersey, already a “keep right except to pass” state, recently passed a bill through the Assembly that would increase the fine for offenders from a range of $50-$200 to a range of $100-$300.  The bill now awaits Governor Christie’s signature.  The Georgia legislature also considered a bill which would have clarified the state’s “keep right” policy this spring.  The new law would have specified that drivers should keep right except to pass, but would only apply if another car was trying to get by.  As far as I have been able to determine, the law was not passed by the deadline of the legislative session.  Florida lawmakers passed a bill in May making it illegal to drive less than 10 mph below the speed limit in the left lane.  The fine is $60.  Somehow I don’t think that will be a deterrent to all the retirees out on their leisurely Sunday drive.

Even though I was only in Germany for two weeks, I miss driving there.  We never saw a single disabled vehicle on the side of the road.  Never a chunk of tire in the road.  Not a single wreck, despite driving around 700 miles at speeds of up to 90 mph (as fast as our rented Renault Clio would go!), and being passed on the Autobahn by BMW’s doing 130 mph.  Yes, I miss driving in Germany, where if you pass someone, make it quick, and get back over to the right.  There is always someone going faster than you, and they are entitled to the passing lane.  If you are in the way, you will have a BMW or Mercedes molesting your tailpipe.

*Thanks to my sister Sarah, whose devious imagination helped me come up with an appropriate punishment for left-lane lurkers.

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