Community as a Verb

Here in North Carolina, high school wrestling (folk style) is not a popular sport. But the participants and their fans are resigned to that and share an almost religious dedication and appreciation to the sport. This past weekend was sandwiched by two high school dual meets, one on Friday night and then one on Monday night. Both meets revealed more than good sportsmanship, the fantastic fans of the sport, and the athletic skill of the wrestlers gained through hard physical and mental work; both showed community as a verb.

On a January Friday night I drove to the high school from which I graduated in 1964. The  wrestling team of the town in which I now live was competing there, and I met two of my high school teammates to watch the meet. The school athletic director met us and gave us a pre- and post-match tour of the athletic facilities. While showing us the impressive weight room, the athletic director told me that he had originally been hired as a teacher/coach by one of the teammates with me that night. That was only the beginning because all through the dual meet and afterwards, people would approach the same white-haired fellow and shake his hand, often hugging him, and energetically talking. All the accolades I heard about him that night showed how highly respected he still was for his years as a teacher, administrator, and coach. What I witnessed was a community acting as a verb to commend one of its own.

The following Monday match was at my hometown school against its big rival, and it was senior night as well. The rivalry, like so many between two near-by schools, is intense, so I wanted to attend even though it was my wife’s birthday. (She agreed to my going but insisted on her birthday dinner the next night.) The school pep band played before the match began, a long-time teacher/coach of the school was recognized for twenty years of service, a student group (like Make-A-Wish Foundation) made a presentation to a youngster with special needs, and the seniors with their parents were introduced. Just like on Friday night, I witnessed community acting as a verb to applaud its own.

Participation, not success, is important for all youngsters. Yes, winning a chess tournament or swim meet or cross-country race or band competition is nice, but when we encourage (require?) participation outside the classroom for our students, we open other opportunities of community for them, and while winning is desired, it becomes secondary to being part of something larger than him or herself. In participation outside the regular school day, students are exposed to different stimuli than that of the classroom and its teachers. All classes, from bricklaying to calculus, are similar, but when a student steps out of that comfort cycle, that common routine, a new experience emerges. In the classroom students compete against each other for grades, but in those, to use my time period’s name for them, extra-curricular activities, students learn what it means to be depended upon by others. Suddenly the old adage “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” carries new weight and a sense of community (team) as a noun is born. But what I witnessed both nights was community as a verb, and it shows what we can accomplish when we come together to celebrate achievements that may not be big wins, but are reflections of our character.

            A Muddle of  Words Is a Bed of Mud

A reader of my blog pointed out a recent error of mine. The reader told me that I had made a mistake when I wrote that the word niggardly had association with the n-word when in fact it had no etymological connection with the racist term. I was surprised because, while I respected the reader since we have been friends for twenty-five years, I knew what I had written. Surely, I thought as I frantically searched for the essay on  my computer, he is mistaken. Not so!

My essay discusses the banning of offensive and thought to be offensive words. The following sentence is one that drew the reader’s attention: “When used to describe a person, disabled is still being fought over and a word like niggardly carries an unfortunate history and is banned from polite society forever.” What I had written was, sadly, not what I was thinking nor what I wanted to convey to my reader. After all, good writing is like a road (or Google) map that takes the reader from his or her point to that of the writer. My sentence is a tangle of thought, and it misleads. It also makes me appear to not know of what I write, thus giving my reader reason to question my legitimacy.

The following is what I wanted to convey to my reader and an improvement on what I had written: “When used to describe a person, disabled is still being fought over and a fine word like niggardly is banned because it is mistakenly associated with a similar sounding and racist word.”

To some extent I feel like Claude Bernard speaks to me when he writes, “It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.” While I have not refused to learn from the experience of my muddle of words, I have re-learned or re-enforced  the importance of proofing what I write, which is difficult because ownership gets in the way and there is no editor, but for me, available. The episode also leads me to do once again something when I wrote on a legal pad with a pencil—set the composition aside for a while before re-reading and proofing. However, the computer makes that difficult because it is such a quick way of writing, which is a blessing and a curse. But the computer’s conveniences are no excuse for publishing words that confuse instead of informing. After all, our words reveal our thinking and who of us wants to be thought foolish.

Selzer and Bellinger

In the January 1976 issue of Esquire magazine is an article by Dr. Richard Selzer titled What I Saw at the Abortion, (the doctor observed, the man saw). As I kept reading Othering by Charles K. Bellinger I kept wondering had he ever read it. It is not listed in the book’s Bibliography, so it’s probable that he has not. I think that unfortunate.

The verb othering is a somewhat new academic term for old-time prejudice or discrimination. The title is what drew me to the book because I am interested in why people are prejudiced.  Interestingly, the book is sub-titled The Original Sin of Humanity which also spurred my interest. So, I anticipated an examination of why we have been and continue to be biased towards those unlike our tribe.

However, what I read is an argument against abortion, and Bellinger seems to confuse abortion with culture wars, those mindless topics so popular with certain politicians and their voters. On page 121 he writes, “In this book I am placing so much emphasis on abortion because it is a key element in the culture wars that  has great potential to transform American  society for the better.” On the same page he writes, “In my view, we are in a situation that is parallel to the debate over slavery before the Civil War.” I think him wrong on both accounts, especially since our differences over abortion have become political thanks to our reliance on the judicial system to resolve certain questions.

Long ago as an undergraduate, I “discovered” the use of long quotations for research papers. A good one, centered and singled spaced, took up space. In reading Othering, I felt like I was reading a sophomoric paper because Bellinger constantly used an array of lengthy quotations from various authors to, in his view, help prove his point. I regret that a good editor did  not remove most of them because they take away from his argument.

In 1967 I prevented an abortion and in 1971 I paid for one. I think that gives me some credence on the topic, and I agree with Selzer. However, it is not a political or legal choice, but a moral one. Such books as Othering will do little to change minds.

A Product for Our Children?

The photograph in our North Carolina newspaper was above the fold. It showed two well-known college basketball players facing each other, one from Duke and one from UNC, and each was squirting an orange-colored aerosol into his mouth. The small two-ounce canisters holding the oral aerosol were marked with the logo of the North Carolina based company which had used the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) to score a major marketing move by getting these two college athletes to endorse its new product.

BOA Nutrition has unveiled BOA Ignite, its new oral aerosol sports supplement, which the company claims will elevate athletic performance. The company claims that its patented OraBlast technology will deliver and allow atomized nutrients to be rapidly absorbed by the body. Each two-second blast of Ignite delivers caffeine, B vitamins, fast- and slow-acting carbohydrates, and electrolytes to the athlete.

BOA Nutrition has launched BOA Ignite, an oral aerosol sports energy supplement, that claims to elevate athletic performance. Created using BOA’s patented OraBlast technology to deliver atomized nutrients which are rapidly absorbed, Ignite provides caffeine, B vitamins and electrolytes, as well as fast-acting and slow-acting carbohydrates, all within a two-second spray.

BOA Nutrition launched in 2020, working in collaboration with Duke University. According to a paper by Jeffrey Bytomski and Ben Ferry of Duke, “ BOA Aerosol Blast is a unique product that promises to change the game in how athletes fuel their bodies before, during, and after competition. This product takes advantage of an innovative aerosol delivery method to replenish the electrolytes lost during athletic competition. By using an aerosol device to bypass the need for gastrointestinal absorption, BOA Aerosol Blast efficiently and effectively delivers the necessary electrolytes to optimize athletic performance.” Their paper continues with this statement, “ In summary, these BOA Aerosol Blast products are designed to help an athlete achieve and maintain optimal performance, and their unique configurations are designed to give the athlete an extra edge where other sports beverages and electrolyte replacement products fall short.” Jon Pritchett, CEO of BOA Nutrition states, “Our proprietary formulations, combined with the aerosol mode of delivery, is a game-changer that provides athletes with a distinct advantage in training and in competition.” The product is endorsed by several elite athletes such as Des Linden, Morgan Pearson, Sam Long, Hunter McIntyre, and Wendell Moore, Jr.

Now, be honest and see how many of the endorsing athletes in the above italicized list you can identify without using Google. I offer that only the most dedicated sports fan will know more than the name of Wendell Moore, Jr., and that is my point concerning the significance of the Duke and UNC basketball players’ endorsements.

Controversy swirls around the NIL’s, and so be it. However, regardless of the Duke medical doctors and Mr. Pritchett, I am skeptical of such products of BOA Nutrition. As a 2:42 marathoner and coach of runners and wrestlers, I know that a sound diet, proper liquid intake, and good training coupled with rest, are the most important tools for any athlete. There is no magic potion for athletic success. But what concerns me with this issue is how youngsters may be heavily influenced by such photographs as the one in our local newspaper and the endorsement of well-known and idolized college athletes. Imagine how a twelve-year old, motivated to be basketball player, will hear that a blast of a citrus-flavored aerosol from Ignite will “enhance his or her performance”? Just because someone like Jeremy Roach says that a two-second blast of a citrus-flavored aerosol jump-starts him, giving him an advantage, is that good for our children? Will it help any young, aspiring athletes to carry around a cannister that delivers, through a two-second blast, caffeine?

I doubt that many young athletes involved in such youth sports as soccer or baseball or football know or are interested in who Des Linden is. But most of them know who Jeremy Roach is and he uses BOA Nutrition. Thus, if it works for him, it will work for me, they or their parents or coaches will reason. But they ignore the fact that Roach and such other athletes are mature adults who have different requirements than that of a twelve year old.

If a mature athlete wants to try a “quick-fix” formula for success, so be it. However, for any aspiring young person, I highly recommend hard study in academics, drills in your chosen sport, and a good program of nutrition. Anything else is a missed lay-up.

Roses and Other Words

Shakespeare, through young Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, offers this view: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.”

Words, those cumbersome things that are our main line of communication with others of our species, have a main meaning and perhaps one or more secondary meanings. They also come in and out of fashion such as the word hidebound. Some words like derogatory racial ones are frowned on by most of society but have been replaced with code words. Words like faggot have been given a new and unacceptable usage. When used to describe a person, disabled is still being fought over and a word like niggardly carries an unfortunate history and is banned from polite society forever. But words are the vehicles with which we communicate because they carry meaning. They can be delightful, provocative, mean, and helpful. Mark Twain writes, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

January, the month in which I write, is a time of lists, such as the usually ill-fated New Year’s Resolution list composed in a fever of desire for personal improvement. Or the list of best of anything from the past year, such as the ten best novels. But any list is subject to sharp criticism and revision. However, this truth for lists did not prevent Stanford University from publishing this past December a list of “racist, violent and biased language” in Stanford websites and code. Immediately Stanford was attacked for suggesting that such words as “American” and “grandfather” and “brave” be removed. Furthermore, while Stanford is not the only college or university to attempt to remove harmful words from its official communications, it was quick to remove the list from its website.

If Stanford’s efforts prove nothing else, they prove the power of words, and some words need to be removed from public discourse. However, as young Juliet says, a word is what it is and carries its meaning(s) regardless of our efforts. And when we mis-use words, we lie with intent or show our ignorance.

Pundits have had fun with Stanford’s list of what it views as offensive words, and I encourage the reader to view the reasoning for asking that such words as “American” be removed. With that in mind, I share the following paragraph from the article by Susan D’Agostino in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I read, “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful,” a Stanford University Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative website stated in December. “Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

I understand the paragraph until that last word—“pace,” and I can’t wrap my head around   what Stanford is warning me of that requires me to read at my “own pace.” What other pace would I use but mine.  An offensive word offends at any pace. The usage confuses, and I wonder if this is an example of a deemed offensive word being replaced with “pace.” Risk comes to mind as does hazard or danger, so perhaps those words carry some offense or harm to a reader.

Hurtful and mean and nasty words have no place in the public domain, unless in a context such as literature. I support their removal; however, how far do we go in our best of intentions to prevent someone from being slighted or hurt or even harmed? That rose of Juliet will smell as sweet no matter what we call it and mean-spirited, ignorant people will remain on the earth, in our midst. Perhaps we need to recognize their presence without accepting it.

117th Congress

 Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania is quoted as saying that he should not recuse himself from any Republican investigation of the committee that just investigated the Insurrection of January 6, 2021.  Perry’s explains that, “Why should I be limited just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven guilty,”  When pressed that his participation in a new committee investigating a committee of which he refused its subpoena would pose a conflict, Perry offered, “So, should everybody in Congress that disagrees with somebody be barred from doing the oversight and investigative powers that Congress has? That’s our charge,” Perry said.

I agree with Perry that up to now all that has been levelled against him and other members of  the House are accusations. After all, the only “evidence” against Perry and those other potential domestic terrorists come from a multitude of workers in the 45th Republican President’s White House.  So when it is written in the exhaustive January 6 Report that Perry recommended more than once to Mark Meadows that Jeffrey Clark be named acting Attorney General because he would “do what is necessary” and that he requested a pardon from the 45th President and he voted not to certify the electoral count of Biden, questions arise.

Perry, like some other House members, including the newly elected Speaker, had ample opportunity to testify under oath before the January 6 Committee. He could have done this not to justify the committee that he opposed, but to clear his name by explaining (under oath) his involvement or non-involvement in the conspiracy to overthrow our government. Instead he stonewalled and refused a rightful subpoena. (Lest we forget, in October of 2015, Secretary of State Clinton sat for an eleven-hour questioning by the Benghazi Select Committee led by Representative Trey Gowdy).  So why could Perry have not simply come forth and answered the questions about his actions and clear his name? He could have testified under oath and explained why he allegedly wanted an unqualified person like Clark to be appointed Attorney General and why on earth he desired a Presidential pardon? But he did not and the question Why Not? looms over him-and the other members of the House.

Last week during the voting process for a new House Speaker, I heard Perry make nominations for Speaker. He and others that the January 6 Committee have accused of being insurrectionist spoke platitudes of their various nominees. One of those nominees was arrested in 1997 for marijuana distribution and in 2000 the same Florida Representative pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge as part of a  scheme to defraud a bank. The charges for dope distribution were dropped as part of a pre-trial diversion program and the felony record was later sealed and expunged. (Gads, Jeffrey Epstein is not the only Florida criminal to get off easy.)  Another nominee from Ohio is discussed in the January 6 Report as being in contact with the 45th President constantly on January 6, 2021, and the newly elected Speaker publicly thanked the 45th President for his aid in getting elected on the 15th ballot.

Much has been written and said about the battle for a new Speaker and the whittling down from twenty to six staunch voters against McCarthy for the position. Some harsh words about the remaining six opponents have been uttered and fears of how they will influence the coming House Session abound in the news. While that is true and of concern, what about the others? 139 Republican members of the last House voted against the certification of President Biden and most of those are still members. Many present members still support the big lie of the 45th President. And these are the folks who want to investigate the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department and possibly impeach President Biden. The Speaker has agreed to form a new COVID Committee, but its task is not to protect Americans from the surging virus but to investigate Dr. Fauci and the origins of COVID in 2020. And there is always Hunter Biden to be looked at deeply.

This 117th Congress is of concern and its ability to govern is a just question for many reasons. However, its governance ability should  not be scrutinized just because of the so-called “crazies” or “rebels’ that many fear will railroad the Republican led majority. The 117th Congress is fearful because the old American idiom that “the fox is guarding the henhouse” has never been truer.

Carter the Fox

In Ilkestonb, Derbyshire, England, Jane and Phil Carter looked at their garden and what they filmed has been shared many times. A fox with only two front legs was walking about the garden as it looked for food. The fox appeared in good health and showed no signs of the awful mange from which many urban foxes suffer. After the video had been viewed many times, one wildlife expert stated that he had never seen anything like that, and he thought that the animal had most likely been born without hind legs.

In the days since I read about the two-legged fox, I have waited for a rebuttal telling how the video and photograph that I viewed is a fake, perhaps being altered by a computer expert to fool folks like me. But no such correction has emerged, so I am left to marvel at this animal’s resilience.  I have begun referring to the fox as Carter in order to give it some additional identity and a reference for me.

Nature is a good teacher, if allowed to teach. But like in any classroom, a learner needs to focus on the lesson, which means all secondary interferences must be silenced. So, if one wants to learn from Nature, he or she needs to silence the cellphone and any other modern-day gadget. Then the learner must look, listen, and linger. In other words, stay put and observe and be patient for the lesson or lessons can come in various ways and places in nature. The nature classroom need not be a large one and even a small garden of flowers and shrubs offers lessons, but the student must come prepared to learn.

Since we have forty-two large long leaf pine trees in our front yard, I pick up pines cones most every day and a fair number of fallen branches. Many mornings as I tool about cleaning our yard, I am kept company by the chatter of Carolina chickadees as they flutter from tree to tree searching for bugs in between the bark of a tree. They create quite a volume that if I were listening to music or talking on my cell phone, I would not hear. But in the silence of our “forest” the chickadee chatter takes dominion and teaches me another lesson about the balance of nature in our small front yard: Long leaf pines and their heavy bark give space in which insects thrive which means the chattering chickadees have a food source. One small space teaching about balance in life.

And balance is what Carter has. Visualize a person balancing on his or her hands and you have a visual of Carter walking across the garden in Derbyshire. While I have asked many questions about this fox, such as how does it get up to its front legs without the use of hind ones, I let them go and just sit in awe of Carter.

So much in our world disfunctions because so many of us lack balance.  The Ancient Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed with three maxims: “Know thyself,” “Nothing too much” and “Make a pledge and destruction is near.” They are quotations we should follow all these years later, in our minds as well as our souls. Yet so many of us don’t know or want to know ourselves while wanting or expecting too much as we pledge what cannot or should not be granted. If you doubt this just look at the present mess in the United States House of Representatives or Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

 On the BBC site and others is a video the Carters made. However you view this marvelous animal—look, listen, linger, and learn. If Carter the fox can, then so can we.

Nothing Is Until It Is

For the past few weeks I have been reading Oswald Chamber’s study of Genesis. Yesterday I read, “The ark stands as a reminder that nothing is until it is,” and “God can only do the impossible,” both comments concerning Genesis 4.

At first I was puzzled by his comment concerning the Ark, but comfortable with his observation about God and the impossible. The first quotation caused me to pause, and the second seemed exactly what a reader would find in a study of Genesis. But the more I thought of my reading, I was reminded of how effortless we often make Biblical stories like the one of the Ark. But as I pondered Chambers’ words, I came to understand that he is offering a deeper examination and understanding into the nuances of the Ark and the possibilities of God.  

Above I used the word “effortless” intentionally because, for me, it describes exactly how we often teach such stories as the one of the Ark, or the exploits of Sampson, or how we make the birth of Jesus so convenient. Yet, do we give these stories, and others, their just due or are we somewhat dishonest in our re-telling? The way we tell  them is almost magical—the large boat is built by a few people and all the animals arrive, while neighbors ridicule the builders; Sampson is a womanizer who performs a last feat after he is blinded; and the young and very pregnant Mary rides a donkey for miles, over rough terrain before giving birth.

But these Biblical stories and many more, even in our romanticized telling, show that “nothing is until it is.”  Yes, humans can do what is possible, but God does or can do (if He chooses) the impossible.  Only He can destroy the world to save it; use a womanizer to teach a lesson; and give hope through a lowly birth.

The Ark did not exist until God willed it, and at this time of the year we celebrate the birth of a baby who changed the world. You see, “… nothing is until it is.” Including our faith in such things.

This Birthday

For the secular and non-Christ followers in America, Christmas most likely is a season of gifts, a season of colorful lights, a season for a trip to share time with relatives, a season for a tree decorated with trinkets and heirlooms, a season for parties, and more. It seems to this observer that “the season” has begun earlier and earlier in order to take full advantage of the commercial side of this birthday.

However, for this Christ-follower, the substance of this birthday is more. Yes, I have always given and received gifts, had a decorated tree, and such. But I am aware of the power of the commercial world during Christmas and work to “be in the world, but not of  the world.”

Jesus’ birth mystifies still. Yes, he was born of a virgin, but what of the arduous journey that his parents made?  What of the smelly shepherds informed of his birth by angels? What of the Roman military occupiers of the land who wanted the child killed? What of so much surrounding this birth of one small child? Luke writes in 2: 18-19 that Mary, after hearing from the shepherds that folks wondered at their story, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Since Luke was not present ay that time, did the young virgin, who was cast like Job into an unasked-for role,  tell him how she felt at that time?  We know so much with so little, and our faith must take over for much of Jesus’ birth.  

But we are a culture that likes and expects concrete answers. So, I offer to the reader a poem by the English poet, U.A. Fanthorpe that may explain this magnificent birth:

BC:AD

This was the moment when Before

Turned into After, and the future’s

Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing

Happened. Only dull peace

Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans

Could find nothing better to do

Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment

When a few farm workers and three

Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight

Into the kingdom of heaven.

May peace reign: Vrede, Salām, Paz, Shalom, Peace to us all.

Masculinity

Last week a Congressman for the N.C. 11th Congressional District urged all us males to “reclaim your masculinity.” He went on to say that America has become a nanny state and “Our young men are taught that weakness is a strength, that delicacy is desirable, and that being a soft metrosexual is more valuable than training the mind, body and soul.” All of this and a bit more railing by Representative Madison Cawthorn in his last floor speech, which lasted sixty seconds.

When I read the news reports about his rant, I admit being relieved that WOKE was not mentioned directly, just implied. After all, as I discovered in a quick Google search, metrosexual has lost favor as an adjective and is now replaced by spornosexual, lumbersexual, and nuetrasexual, just to mention three chosen adjectives used to describe men who care about their appearance and inner selves.

Representative Cawthorn says today’s young men are being taught that being weak or delicate is the mark of being masculine. He accuses America of being a breeding “Nanny state” that produces neutered males and is on the precipice of decline. Wow! Those words are quite a condemnation, but they do raise the question: What defines masculinity and can it, if possessed, be taken?

Having masculinity can be exhibited, I offer, in many ways, but whatever way it is shown, it is, like most things, not authentic until tested. Thus, the fellow with the cigarette hanging from his sullen lips may lack having masculinity when he is asked to be the first to step forward to receive a flu shot. Perhaps the man who is one of several like-thinking ones in a crowd misses his masculinity when told to step aside and talk with the lone person being attacked.

But these examples only tell us what masculinity is not. So, I want to suggest a few examples of what masculinity is: The man who uses soft words instead of harsh ones; the man who works without complaint; the man who cares so much he has no time to hate; the man who prefers listening to speaking; the man who helps instead of hinders; the man who is guided by a faith in something bigger than himself; the  man who recognizes fads for what they are; the man who  encircles himself with those he loves; the man who accepts responsibility; the man who apologies when wrong; and the man who is so self-assured he has no need to publicly demonstrate his masculinity.

 Madison Cawthorn may not heed the words of a 76-year-old who grew up in the days of  Brylcreem, Vitalis, the Marlboro Man, and John Wayne. So be it! But I will offer him this bit of wisdom concerning “being a man” that I have gained over the years: Think of masculinity as something observed in men who go about their lives, enduring and doing in a quiet and strong manner. Ignore the loud and clanging types who shout and shove like a needy reporter at a press conference. You will not find the masculine men in the models such as the Marlboro Man but in your neighbors, friends, and others close by you who go about life as it is given them. Those are the ones who will exude masculinity.