Columbia, Tennessee, is noted for its annual Mule Day celebration which dates back to 1840.  Just down the road, Lewisburg has a yearly Goats, Music and More Festival (yes, those would be “fainting” goats).  Kim’s hometown of Corinth, Mississippi, draws great crowds each summer with its Slugburger Festival (no, not what you might think).  These celebrations, and hundreds like them throughout the country, are part of what makes American culture so wonderfully rich, fascinating, and diverse.  The premise is simple: bring people together around some shared interest or common cause, throw in some live music and great food (deep-frying is almost always involved), and you’ve got the makings of a great time and a significant boost to the local economy.

So, with that as a background, you’ll understand why my curiosity was more than just a little piqued last Wednesday as I drove through Olney, Texas, on my way to Abilene where I was scheduled to preach that evening.  Interstate 44 had taken me from Tulsa as far as Wichita Falls, but the rest of the journey would be on rural highways through several small towns.  The welcome sign on the outskirts of Olney (population 3,236) instantly caught my attention as it touted the city as the Home of the One Arm Dove Hunt.  I thought, “There has got to be a story there!”  That night at the hotel, a brief search on the internet (thanks, Al!) led me to the information I was looking for.

The 39th Annual One Arm Dove Hunt will be hosted in Olney next Friday and Saturday.  The event started in 1972 and grew out of a joking conversation between two locals known as the One-Armed Jacks, Jack Northrup and Jack Bishop, each of whom had an arm amputated at the shoulder.  You can read more details in an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2006, but the event has grown into quite a gathering for those who have lost a hand or arm in an accident, through disease, or who were born without a limb.  While there is a real dove hunt, there is also a wide variety of other participatory events: a golf tournament, horseshoe competition, skeet shoot, and a Cow Chip Chunk’n.  Participants begin their day with a breakfast that costs 10-cents-a-finger!

Beyond the initial novelty that earned the One Arm Dove Hunt the title of “Texas’ Most Unusual Event,” it has grown and developed into a deeply meaningful support network for people who share common experiences and challenges in daily life.  The website quotes C. Rodney James as commenting, “The amputees in attendance find the two-day event not only a source of psychological support but an invaluable opportunity to exchange information, ideas and technology – all in a relaxed atmosphere of fun and fellowship each shooting for a better tomorrow.”  New amputees, along with their family members, find a place where people really understand what they are going through and can support and encourage one another.

I couldn’t help but see the spiritual parallels that should characterize our relationships in the church.     

Thanks, One Arm Dove Hunt organizers and City of Olney, for what you do.  Wish I could be there next weekend to see it for myself!