Within a couple of months of moving to DuBois, PA, as a pastor in 2003, I encountered the city’s annual Tom Mix Festival, celebrating the early 20th Century western film star and his roots in the DuBois area. This week (Oct. 12th) marks 66 years since his death. This was my sermon the weekend of the Tom Mix festival in 2003.
I have spent a great deal of time during the past three months trying to learn names. And, little by little, I’m starting to get some of your names into this thick skull of mine… Some of them are even the right names.
Also during these past few months… actually since my very first night of meeting Mt. Zion folks back in early February… I’ve had people struggling with my name as well… just like people have for the past four decades. How do you remember a name like ‘Dayton?’ A great majority of the time I find that people think I’m saying ‘David’ because they can’t imagine anyone being named like a town in Ohio.
Then there’s the last name. Not too many letters in it… just three. That was pretty handy when I was in boot camp trying to stencil everything I owned. Pity the guys named Horowitz or Wojeckhowski.
But mine was just those three little letters… M… I…. X.
And nowadays I inevitably get one of two immediate questions
1. Is that M-I-C-K-S? …or…
2. Are you related to Tom?
During these past few days, as the annual Tom Mix Festival has been going on here in DuBois, my family name has drawn attention… but not because of my reputation… but because of a man named MIX who lived here at the end of the nineteenth century… a showman who would become very famous and very rich by the name of Tom Mix.
Names are pretty important aren’t they?
Remember elementary school? One of the absolute, most horrible things someone could do to you was to call you a name… ‘wimp,’ ‘sissy,’ ‘tomboy’ ‘cheater…’ and there were others that were even worse… and meaner… and more debilitating to the receiver of that name calling.
Our names identify who we are… not that every Mary is virginally pure in motive like the Mary of Luke 1, or that every George is presidential material like the two Bushes and Mr. Washington.
No, people aren’t like their name… but that name they wear comes to be associated with them… and to speak a person’s name is to identify that man or woman’s reputation.
Thus, to speak of Benedict Arnold or Judas Iscariot, instantly brings to mind, not so much every aspect of that person’s life, but their reputation of betrayal springs into view.
To speak of Abraham Lincoln or Rudy Guliante suggests strong leadership in the midst of crisis and the mention of names like Billy Graham or John Wesley brings into focus an image of honesty and faithfulness in spiritually leading and caring for thousands.
So, this attention to my name… and the fact that it’s NOT because of my reputation but rather this Hollywood cowboy, has forced me to find out more about this man who used the MIX name during the past two centuries.
Tom Mix died in 1940 and I wasn’t born until 1962, so I wasn’t a fan of his… I’ve never heard his radio show and never seen one of his more than 300 short films… although I bought one of each this weekend so I can see what he was like.
So far, a single comic book, is all I’ve ever seen… although I’ve read a couple of biographies and stories about him.
To begin with, I grew up with the family stories of how we were related to this really famous person named Tom Mix. My grandfather, John Dayton Mix, spoke highly of Tom Mix, and always laughingly said things like: “Yeah, I’m related to Tom Mix, but not close enough to help me… nor to hurt Tom.”
I suppose Grandpa thought his reputation as a commoner might tarnish a famous movie star’s reputation.
It was this weekend, as I met an even more distant relative who was here from California for the Festival, that I finally was able to conclusively determine whether or not we are related. And we are!
And it’s even more distant than grandpa even knew… you have to go back to the early 1700’s to my grandfather’s great- great- great- great- great-grandfather to connect the two Mix family lines.
OK, so now I know… but what’s that got to do with anything practical in life… It really isn’t going to help me tap into the fabulous wealth of Tom Mix… that was gone before Tom died for the most part, thanks to the Great Depression and some personal choices and unfortunate circumstances in his life.
So what’s the value of knowing?
And I draw your attention to Proverbs 22:1 where we read: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. “
As I have heard about Tom Mix and the reputation he had on screen of being a good role model and refusing to ever even play a part that had him smoking or drinking or gambling suggests that a connection with this man, is not so bad. And millions of youngsters in the last century identified with his characters and his message he proclaimed of “Take care of your body, keep your mind clean, and always be truthful.”
In one biography, one of his wives recalls a time when Tom confronted a script writer about a script that called for Tom to be smoking, gambling, and drinking in the next film…
Mrs. Mix writes:
The script writer was taken aback. “I was only trying to get away from the old formula,” he explained.
The writer was a little hesitant. “Well, I still think it’s a good script.”
“Sure,” said Tom. “It’ll be swell when we cut out some things. The role I play on the screen has got to represent a man of high ideals. Just remember that when you do the script over, then we’ll come out all right on it. We’ve got to convince the boyhood of America that drinking and gambling are bad, that physical fitness always wins out over dissipation, that a good life brings rewards and evildoing brings punishment.”
—Olive Stokes Mix, The Fabulous Tom Mix, 1957, Chapter 8
OK… so with reports like that… and the fact that he really did make his movies that way… and didn’t use stunt men even for dangerous scenes… gives me some pleasure to have my name associated with his… Presenting a good image… positively influencing the youth and children… and conveying the dangers of drinking, gambling, and smoking… I like that. That’s a good reputation… Yay Tom…
PUBLIC IMAGE can never be all there is for reputation is there?
Off screen, it seems, my distant cousin, so many times removed, was known for his carousing, and his inability to tell a straight story… And to this day, outside of our area where we know better, there are still reports a full hundred years later of how Tom was born & raised in this place or that out West, rather than lowly, Eastern Mix Run and DuBois, Pa. And the fanciful tales continue of his heroic antics with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in battles that Tom may or may not have ever been near.
Since I arrived, I’ve heard local residents tell me that they’re pleased to have people come to enjoy their town, but wonder why such attention is given to a man who went from wife to wife… and perhaps woman to woman… and who was not such a great role model in his real life.
One man told me just yesterday, “It seems that Tom Mix left town one step ahead of the sherrif… nothing major…. just carrying on.”
Tom Mix, it seems, had two reputations… far more than any one human can carry on his or her own. A public persona… the movie image of wholesomeness that he would meticulously cultibvate and guard… and even contact various clergy to see if his image was appropriate for kids… and then the ghuard dropped, back home, off-screen image where he would do as he wished, would spend as he liked, and would drive as fast and as furiously as he wanted…
And that brings me to the second Scripture passage this morning:
Ecclesiastes 10:1 “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”
The perfume can be the very costliest and most expensive there is… with the greatest smell you can imagine…. But let a few dead things sit in it for a while and the whole thing will stink… And you can have a reputation of honor and be known for wisdom and kindness and being a good role model, but “a little folly” behind the scenes will reveal the true nature of your reputation.
As it did here for Tom Mix… the people around here who knew Tom the man… weren’t convinced by a public persona when they had seen him in real-life right here.
So… I ask you… what’s in a name?
And the answer is… NOTHING… unless you put it there.
Yes, I’m related to Tom Mix, but my identity isn’t as a distant cousin of a former wealthy movie star. My identity comes, as does yours, in the name I make for myself… what do I want to be known as… to be known for… Not in who I’m related to… good or bad… but who I am.
I daily help redefine what the MIX name will mean… and I become a role model for those around me… And a good name is better than all the riches of the world.
How about you?
What’s YOUR name say to people… What kind of reputation have you earned?
Is it good?
Is it bad?
Does it LOOK good, even while you wallow in the muck and mire?
As we have seen with television preachers, politicians, and athletes, all it takes to ruin sweet-smelling reputation are a few dead flies… a few uncontrolled unrestrained choices…
What’s in YOUR name?