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My Father’s Uncle

I am very grateful to share these reflections by my own father, about his uncle.  My father shared these words at my great-uncle’s funeral.  I myself only visited with Uncle D a few times, but I was also very much struck by his attentiveness.  He listened to every word. 

Memories of Uncle D (J. D. Moore)

October 12, 2009

I am a grand nephew of J. D. Moore and the grandson of Shirley Moore Elliston, one of J. D. Moore’s sisters. I happen also to be a United Methodist minister, the pastor now of Tarrytown UMC in Austin, Texas. For nine years, from 1990 until 1999, I was the senior pastor of First UMC in Victoria. It was during these years that I got to know J.D. personally.

As a child growing up in Palo Pinto County, Uncle D (our family’s life-long name for him) was for me a larger than life figure, and not just because of his tall stature. (He would have been such a figure even if he had been 5 feet tall!) I knew him as the uncle who was a famous athlete in football, track and basketball—-and who ran marathons into his 60s. It was only later that I learned that he had done other things.

Uncle D’s and Aunt Edith’s visits (along with Bill, John and Cora Jo) were special occasions. They were all so full of life. I remember one visit especially. We were living on a farm four miles north of Graford. I was junior high age. They had no sooner gotten out of the car than John and Bill decided they wanted to run down to the Keechi Creek some two miles away, just for the exercise! I tried to keep up with them but finally met them on their way back to the house. My dad, Bob Hall, always enjoyed visiting with Uncle D. It seemed they could visit for hours and my dad would talk more than usual because D was such an attentive listener.

Uncle D had a commanding presence. I think it was his eyes that riveted me in place. When he looked at me, I knew I had been looked at. He would give me his full attention as I tried to answer his questions. He always gave me the impression that he knew me well and expected great things from me.

When Carol and I lived in Victoria, I would often drive to visit with my mother. A few of these trips were to Houston or Huntsville, and Uncle D would go with me to see my mother, his niece, Ethel. (He also wanted to size up the retirement home she was living in as a possible place for himself someday.) When my mother moved back to her hometown of Mineral Wells, I would go there monthly to check on her. Uncle D traveled with me almost every time to visit John and Rhoda and other relatives. It was during these six hour journeys that we became friends. We would call it our therapy sessions.

I learned so much from him about my family on my mother’s side. He would talk about his mother and dad, his siblings and his early years on the farm. I learned that he earned money each summer selling soft drinks and produce by the side of Highway 180 West in Mineral Wells. There were stories also about his years at North Texas State University, his athletic adventures and injuries, his work as a short order cook, his meeting Edith and working for her parents at a boarding house. He would reminisce about his earliest teaching jobs in Salesville, Dublin, and El Campo. In El Campo, he looked so young that he bought some non-prescription glasses so the students would take him more seriously.

In town after town as we traveled between Victoria and Mineral Wells he would recount events that happened: refereeing a game in an open field in Hico, and visiting on a ranch between Hamilton and Lampasas when he was serving on state boards of education. One memorable story: As a young man, he was refereeing a high school game in the old convention center in which the fans were so unruly that he stopped the game and threatened to clear the gym if they did not settle down. They did.

When his beloved Edith passed away, he would talk with me about how he went up to the farm house on the pecan orchard south of Mineral Wells for a while “to get acquainted with himself again.”

These trips were a great gift to me. Without them, I would not have had the extended time to listen and learn from him. And he was always a good listener for me as I shared some of the joys and trials of being a Methodist pastor.

What I came to appreciate about my uncle were these traits:

He was principled. His principles were shaped by his disciplined Baptist upbringing. A passage of scripture that comes to mind for me is Psalm 1: He was “like a tree planted by the waters which yield their fruit in their season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.” He was committed to the Lord and he strove to live an upright life—–and expected others to do the same.

He was persuasive. He was not a man you wanted to say “no” to! He got things done, not the least of which was establishing Victoria College and guiding it through its development. He knew how to “network” with decision-makers before they had a name for it.

Uncle D was direct. He was not known for subtlety.  You always knew where you stood with him and you did not have to wonder about his opinion.

My dad, who knew the Moore clan of Palo Pinto County well, used to tell me that nobody ever won an argument with a Moore. My Hall forbears were the quiet, retiring type, and the contrast between Hall reunions and Moore reunions was remarkable for me as a youngster. The exception to this heritage was Grandpa Fawks, my paternal grandmother’s father, a staunch old-time Methodist, son of a Methodist circuit-riding preacher. It seems that he and Grandpa Moore —Uncle D’s father— got into a heated argument just before my parent’s wedding on the subject of infant baptism! Someone had to break up their argument so that the wedding could commence. I never heard who won the argument. It was probably a draw. I have felt the assertive Fawks and Moore blood contending with the retiring Hall blood a number of times in my life.

His ministry was educating. This was his Christian calling. I think he was so dedicated to education because of what education had done for him. He passionately wanted to provide quality educational opportunities for others.

Uncle D was an attentive husband and father. On our trips he would speak to me of his children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments and the pride he took in their distinguished careers.

During my years in Victoria I was always proud to tell people that I was a nephew of J.D. and Edith Moore. I learned how much they were loved in the community, each in their own fields of endeavor. And I would usually hear some wonderful stories about Uncle D from former VC students and faculty members—-and a few stories about how they butted heads with him over some issue, always told with a smile.

Victoria and this region would not be the same without the leadership of J.D. Moore. He was blessed and he was a blessing.

The other biblical text that came to mind for me when reflecting on his life was the parable Jesus told, found at Matthew 25: 14-30. It is the story of the talents and what people did with them. Well, my Uncle D did not bury his talents in the ground. He was not mouse-minded. He invested his talents, he exercised them for the glory of God and for the love of neighbor. To change the metaphor, he sowed seeds that resulted in trees which have and will bear much fruit for generations to come.

An ancient church patriarch, Irenaeus, said it this way: “The glory of God is a man [or woman] fully alive.” Uncle D lived his life fully and we are the better for it. The challenge for us is to claim this legacy and use our differing talents for God’s glory in the time we have left to us.

These are reflections of Robert Edward Hall, Grand-Nephew of J.D. Moore and Grandson of Shirley Mae Moore Elliston Moor and Eddie Earl Elliston; and son of Ethel Mae Elliston Hall and Robert McConnell Hall. Shirley was a sister of J.D. Moore. I have added more detail to the reflections I shared at Uncle D’s funeral service on October 3, 2009, at First Baptist Church in Victoria, Texas.

Someday at Christmas

This essay first appeared on January 1, 2017 in the Herald-Sun.pb-110128-egypt-unrest-kiss-ps_photoblog900

WRAL radio began playing Christmas songs around Thanksgiving. I have been singing favorites and learning new ones. One song from 1966 had never fully registered in my brain until this year. It was beautifully written by Ron Miller and made breathtaking by Stevie Wonder. A person named Lacey Sawyer created a YouTube montage for the song. Her tableau combines with the words in my mind. “Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars, when we have learned what Christmas is for” overlays images of American soldiers climbing over rubble and making peace signs with what appear to be children in Iraq or Afghanistan. The video includes men in loud lamentation at a protest, perhaps from the Arab Spring (2011). Sawyer has pulled together photos that evoke Middle America and the Middle East, as people in Marine uniforms hand out “Toys for Tots” and two women grasp hold of a man in uniform, perhaps returning from the Middle East. Miller’s lyrics and Wonder’s voice together were originally a prayer for a world without war, where “all men are equal and no man has fear.” This prayer from 1966 intertwined voices crying out against war in Vietnam and voices calling for Civil Rights.

I have been layering this prayer with another song, from 1989, called “Fight the Power.” At the beginning of their song, Public Enemy includes these words from a 1967 speech by Civil Rights leader Thomas N. Todd: “Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to fight. Matter of fact, it’s safe to say that they would rather switch than fight.”  The hope that Mr. Todd spoke of in 1967, the same year Stevie Wonder’s album debuted, was that people told to kill would refuse to do so. Playing off a cigarette ad, Todd paraphrased a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. Todd evoked a world where troops would refuse to fight – a world where swords were switched into plowshares – and this hip-hop group brought his words to bear again in 1989. Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no wars; our best will refuse to fight.

In 2011, during the “Arab Spring,” I heard a story about mothers and grandmothers in Egypt who had been teaching their sons for decades to refuse to shoot at civilians if ordered to do so. A journalist named Scott Horton spoke at a 2011 conference here in Durham about the geopolitical ramifications of U.S. sponsored torture, and he suggested that, possibly, one unpredictable result of coverage of U.S. sponsored torture of Muslim prisoners was that people in predominantly Muslim countries were galvanized to protest in the thousands against dictators who were torturing their own people – dictators like Hosni Mubarak. And, at least for a time, troops refused to fight. In a February 1, 2011 article for The National Hugh Naylor reported:

Egypt’s powerful military said yesterday it would not open fire on protesters as a coalition of Egyptian opposition groups called for a million people to take to Cairo’s streets today. ‘To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people … have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people,’ an army statement said. The concerted opposition action signaled the emergence of a unified leadership for the protests demanding the removal of the president, Hosni Mubarak.

A powerful image from Lefteris Pitarakis of the AP shows an Egyptian woman kissing an officer who could be her grandson. The NBC news ran these words: “An Egyptian anti-government activist kisses a riot police officer following clashes in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011.” Something akin happened in Wisconsin that same winter, as police officers joined hands with protestors against Governor Scott Walker.


Here is some news you may not have seen widely shared. Joshua Berlinger of CNN reported in July, 2016: “Many of the protests against police violence have been peaceful. In Dallas – before a gunman killed five police officers at a Black Lives Matter rally . . . officers were even posing for photos with demonstrators.” Which brings me to an image that could beautifully accompany Stevie Wonder’s voice. Ieshia Evans was protesting police violence – specifically the Baton Rouge police department, when a photographer named Jonathan Bachman caught her lamentation. She walks forward, hands out, as police officers in full riot gear appear to back away. The image has gone viral, as a visual prayer for otherwise. It is an image of disarming, non-violent courage, remarkable to people in part because she is a visually beautiful woman and the police officers look as if they would prefer to switch, rather than fight. It is not the only image of hope. There are others. I pray we see more. “Maybe not in time for you and me, but someday at Christmastime.”

Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight, with Love

moonlightThis essay was published in the Durham Herald-Sun on Sunday, December 4, 2016.


When my older daughter was at Riverside High, the theater program performed “The Laramie Project,” a collaboration of author Moises Kaufman, people in Laramie, Wyoming, and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. It was performed first in 2000 and uses multiple voices to tell a real story, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard.  The event that precipitates the production, every time, is the brutal death of a young man murdered because he is gay.  The story begins with a tragedy.

Annie Proulx set her 1997 short story “Brokeback Mountain” in Wyoming. She opens with these words:

They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state, Jack Twist in Lightning Flat, up on the Montana border, Ennis del Mar from around Sage, near the Utah line, both high-school drop-out country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.

This love story ends as Jack is murdered with a tire-iron after attempting, finally, to stop living a lie. Ennis offers to help Jack’s parents take his ashes to Brokeback Mountain. Jack’s mother, who Proulx implies has a clue and a heart, offers for Ennis to visit Jack’s boyhood bedroom.  Proulx describes what Ennis finds:

The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack’s sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one.

Proulx’s prose and characters are so familiar I can visualize their gait, hear the cadence of their voices. I grew up loving men who are “inured to the stoic life.”  Texan Larry McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay with Diana Lynn Ossana for the 2005 film.  I have not seen the movie.  I knew too many boys and girls suffocated by a setting where they could not live the truth of daylight.  The only suicides I knew growing up were of people who others whispered about, often with a tsk tsking that implied death was better than living gay.  As one friend wrote, a town like my hometown is a place “you dearly love but never feel relaxed in.”

People have, in my hearing, used the words “Brokeback Mountain” as a derision, drawn from a visceral fear of men who are gay in secret. This is absurd, given these same people do not want anyone to be gay not in secret.  Fear of the undetected gay coupling is a nonsense that acknowledges God makes some of God’s beloved children gay, linked to a refusal to bless love between two gay people.  This nonsense is written into movies attended by congregations as a fellowship outing – where men marked as “effeminate” are mocked, used as comic relief in supposed morality plays or to accelerate comedy in self-loathing slapsticks about “family life.”

[Let those with ears to hear, please hear.  You know what I am talking about.]

I am grateful for the 2016 film Moonlight.  I am grateful the Carolina Theatre brought this to Durham.  The film is based on a play by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, and the screenplay was written and directed by Barry Jenkins.  McCraney and Jenkins offer a blessing that does not mock or evade hatred.  McCraney and Jenkins have also offered a story that shows a man coming out in a way not linked to death.  They wrote neither a comedy nor a tragedy.  They wrote a life.

In his November 4, 2016 essay “The Sad, Surreal Experience of Seeing an Audience Laugh at Moonlight,” E. Alex Jung writes:

It was a Friday night . . . and the screening was completely sold out. Early on, though, one scene made me realize I might have picked a bad audience: It’s in the first third of the movie, where our young hero Chiron is sitting at the dining table with his surrogate parents, Juan and Teresa (Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe). He asks them, point-blank, “What’s a faggot?” It’s a moment that feels like a gut punch. When I first saw it, I held my breath, waiting to hear what Juan would say. He explained that it was a negative word used to describe men who liked other men. Then came the next question, “Am I a faggot?” A group of women behind me started giggling at the first question and were full-on laughing by the second — so much so that they drowned out Juan’s response. I was perplexed: Were we watching the same movie?

I pray people will see the film. I pray people will hear and, eventually, not laugh.  And I fervently pray that children from Texas to Wyoming to Durham, North Carolina will see on screen the possibility of their own beautiful truth.

The National Anthem Protest Matters

This essay originally appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on Sunday, November 6, 2016


I listen to sports radio while running errands. This helps me follow what fans are being told to care about and what they are inculcated to talk about with one another.  This is how I recently came across Colin Cowherd.  Cowherd, the host of a Fox Radio show, was explaining Monday Night Football’s apparently suboptimal ratings.  By Cowherd’s reckoning, the NFL is punishing ESPN for periodically featuring journalism.  The NFL is delivering bad match-ups on Monday nights to try to bring ESPN to heel, Cowherd explained.  Cowherd was clear ESPN should know their place, and keep “promoting the brand” of the National Football League.  ESPN, by Cowherd’s analysis, had made a reckless decision by covering stories critical of the NFL.  Just before this analysis, Cowherd had told listeners that most people in the U.S. dislike an athlete named Colin Kaepernick.

Here is one story that ESPN risked to cover journalistically. On May 24, 2016, ESPN reported: “At least a half-dozen top NFL health officials waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease, congressional investigators have concluded in a new report . . . the NFL pressured the National Institutes of Health” to defund a $16 million study, because the study “would be detrimental to the league’s image.”  ESPN concluded: “Taxpayers ended up bearing the cost instead.”  How dare ESPN cover a Congressional Report on the NFL, especially when Congress is supposed to be in gridlock?  (That was irony and a bad pun.)  Two Republican U.S. Senators from Arizona collaborated on another report, in 2015, on the NFL and the Department of Defense.  As ESPN reported: “the NFL received $7 million over three years from contracts.” Senator McCain “said he was ‘shocked and disappointed to learn that several NFL teams weren’t sponsoring these activities out of the goodness of their own hearts but were doing so to make an extra buck.’” Senator McCain noted that “the military faces cuts in spending” and that there is no reason to think (or studies to show) that displays of patriotism on the field will help recruiting.


A friend told me I will “need a bigger paddle to stir this pot.” I do not have a big paddle, so I will now come at the National Anthem controversy by way of a Southern classic from 1974.  The first time I heard Kid Rock’s execrable cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” I threw up my hands, asking what this world is coming to. It seemed to me that Mr. Rock had trashed a good ballad.  Then I saw a documentary that interviews and features African-American women who served as back-up singers coterminous with the Southern Rock Era – women like Merry Clayton.  The film is called “20 Feet from Stardom.”  Merry Clayton there explains how she and Clydie King came to sing back-up on “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Clayton told Dorian Lynskey in a 2014 Guardian article:  “I said we’re going to sing the crap out of this song. They have the nerve to sing Sweet Home Alabama! That’s the white interpretation of Alabama. It’s not sweet home to black people! It’s not sweet home at all. We’re going to sing it like a protest song.” Clayton explained in 2013 to journalist Sam Adams for “A.V. Club” that hearing Neil Young’s 1970 song had hit a nerve with her, “I read the lyrics and it was during those terrible racial times . . . Dr. King had just been killed . . . it was a highly racial time, not just for black people, but for everybody in the world. We had the Vietnam War going on at the time; our boys were going to war and being killed.”  Clayton’s words helped me truly to hear lyrics I had allowed to wash over me.


There is a reason why NFL players across the league are not standing up during the National Anthem. The rule stating that players will be on the field during the Anthem is new.  As Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sportsnet New England explained on ESPN, this requirement was started in 2009.  It is part of the very same military recruitment scheme that Senator McCain rebuked.  Men standing 2000 feet from stardom are being asked to stand and pretend like their friends are not concussive and their fathers and cousins have not been killed and traumatized over a lie about weapons of mass destruction.  Some people are so devoted to the idea that this country has lived only in valour and equality that we cannot move forward in truth.  I love football, and I love democracy.  Real journalism matters for both.  If you have been fuming over one young man’s courage to name that this country we love has problems, please ask more complicated questions about our history and about our present.



Syllabus for War Class 2017

War in the Christian Tradition

Amy Laura Hall

Mondays 2:30-5:00


January 11

“Blackwater as Ecclesiological Problem” (8 of 25 on this site)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, January 17, 1961 (and related documents)

President John F. Kennedy’s Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963

Augustine, “On Lying”


January 23

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (film available online and at Lilly Library)


These two news items:


January 30

Fog of War (film available online and at Lilly Library)


“The Inner Ring”


February 6

Borderline (please purchase and read entire book)


February 13



February 20



February 27

Guest Speaker, William Joseph (Joe) Stewart, “How Ideology Became Policy: The U.S. War in Iraq and the Role of Neo-conservatism”


March 6

The Shock Doctrine (please purchase and read entire book)


March 13 (Break)


March 20

The Shock Doctrine


March 27

The Shock Doctrine


April 3

Guest Speaker, Dr. Kara Slade, “The Technology of War”


April 10

The Terror Dream (please purchase and read entire book)


April 17

The Terror Dream


In his documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Chris Bell begins with the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s version of geopolitics, as Hulk Hogan battled The Iron Sheik during the 1984 season.  Bell tells a story about his two brothers on steroids, but the film is also about what makes a man a man in the U.S., and how athleticism and militarism have been intertwined to confuse, amuse and distract.  (Bell points out that Congress spent more hours during 2005 investigating and discussing steroid use in Major League Baseball than on the response to Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq War.)  In this class, we will consider how stories about war, faith, and patriotism shape North American, mainstream culture.  A line from The Clash’s “Clampdown” inspired this syllabus: “We will teach our twisted speech, to the young believers.  We will train our blue-eyed men to be young believers  . . .”  I am interested in twisted speech, violence, and belief.  We begin with an essay on Blackwater as a problem of belief, two historic speeches that name both opacity and a growing culture of militarism in the U.S., and a classic, Christian text on lying.  We will then move to two films that describe masculinity, war, and culture, and a classic text on the allure of belonging. Borderline and The Terror Dream are self-explanatory, if you look up the links.  The last time I taught this class, a person currently in the U.S. military recommended I teach a book on non-military forms of coercion in geopolitics. The Shock Doctrine is my attempt to answer his request.  Two guest speakers, Dr. Kara Slade and Joe Stewart, will speak from their expertise, on war and rhetoric.


Assignments and Grading: Regular, weekly attendance and participation (30% of your grade); weekly 2-3 page close-reading papers (double-spacing) on the assignments (70% of your grade).  I will explain in detail the close reading format of the papers at our first session.  Papers will be due weekly at class time beginning on January 23.  Last close reading paper due April 17.  I will not accept papers by email.  Participation does not necessarily mean speaking in class.  Listening closely to and asking helpful questions of other students also constitutes participation.

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