Paw-Paw and More

Over his almost eighty years of life, James Hilton served many roles. Younger than James and a hopeful football player at A.L. Brown High School, I stood in awe of his gridiron powers. He and Jimmy and all those players were the ideal for all of us younger boys. Their school mascot was the Wonders and that name described them well because they were wonders. But because James dated and eventually married one of my older sisters, Linda, I was privileged to watch him grow into much more than the fellow who hit a Wyncoff player so hard that his hit not only caused the runner to lose the ball, but he also lost his helmet. One James Hilton hit produced three flying objects.

James always was present but never in the way. His strength was quiet because he was secure in his abilities and he had no need to be loud and obstructive. His still water ran very deep, and James did not tell us what he could do but in his quiet manner showed us how to do. In the late 1970’s when he was renovating a house that he and my sister had purchased, I was helping him. A small upstairs bathroom needed a floor covering, so James studied the room. He then measured for the tub, the sink and its two pipes, and the toilet. He then took a piece of linoleum into the hallway, turned it upside down, and marked it for cutting. After that he turned it right-side up and placed it in the bathroom where it fit snugly around all the pipes, tub, and toilet. He said to himself as he walked out of the room  “That oughta’ work.”

Waste was the enemy of James. About fifty years ago when Linda and he lived in Tarboro, my family visited them. In his shop I noticed several boxes of broom handles, but none had the broom still attached. I remember that the bright colors of each had been worn off by use, and I asked James about them. “Oh,” he said, “the plant (where he then worked) was going to throw them away, so I brought ‘em home. Somebody might need ‘em.”

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare writes,

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,”

James did have many parts or roles during his time on our stage. All the people gathered in West Point Baptist this past Saturday knew him in some of the same roles and in different ones. Some that he “played” like the revered football player we all shared. Some roles like Paw-Paw are cherished by six grandchildren. Some roles were that of older brother, or father, or husband. But all the gathered in his family church knew James as a kind man who never refused a request.  

In his poem To An Athlete Dying Young, A. E. Housman writes,

                         The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

Fortunately for us, James Hilton lived a long life unlike the young man in Housman’s poem, and when we finally had to bring him home we are better for having known, loved, and shared James’ life.

                                                            Service

This week a bulletin arrived via my email that partially read:

                        Volunteers Needed for Toy Store for Jesus!

More families than ever before.

More children than ever before.

More VOLUNTEERS needed than ever before!

Greatest need at this time:

Loaders – Wednesday, December 7 at 2pm

Unloaders – Wednesday, December 7 at 3:30pm

This is a perfect way for youth to get SERVICE HOURS…and serve Jesus!

The bulletin also listed the participating churches and a contact name.

As an adult who grew up poor in a mill town during the 1950’s, I carry memories of more than one bleak Christmas. I have written of the #6 lunch bags given to us by church deacons at Christmas. Each bag held an apple, one orange, a box of raisins, and various nuts. The apple was half-rotten, the orange thin-skinned, and the nuts were often too hard for our small hands to crack. The box of raisins was delicious. I choose to think that those deacons, like the adults behind the Toy Store for Jesus, mean well.

However! Poor people need food and help the year round. Hunger and need do not evaporate during the other months of the year. A growing mind, body, and soul needs nourishment across the calendar. Yes, a child wants a toy for Christmas, but in Iredell County it is estimated that 25 percent of its children lack proper nourishment. That need is attacked by some ministries, and I commend those endeavors; however, 25 percent is a lot of hungry children.

But what bothers me most about the bulletin is the line that I placed in italics. As an educator I understand and value youth service and teaching our youth to give back to their communities. Service is a wonderful gift that needs to be taught and one that should be a life-long practice and loading and unloading toys is a good way to give back. But why did the organizers feel a need to equate it with serving Jesus?  That type of thinking goes against everything about serving the destitute that our Lord taught. No where in the Gospels do I read that Jesus tells us to help the needy in order to get service hours or as a way in which to serve Him. That type of thinking and its wording does not make Christ followers; it makes self-centered people.

Our Lord told us to love one another as He loves us; so we serve all the yearlong because others need our service. We do it because it is the Christian way—or should be.

Doing What is Asked

Mr. Graham’s obituary was printed yesterday which is not a surprise because, as a 97-year-old Lake Norman business leader, John Robert Graham, Sr. had planned everything. The obituary told of his long marriage with Louise; the names of their five children and their families; and of his business successes. It told of his church memberships and his civic involvements and his enjoyment in playing golf.  His service in the U.S. Navy during WW II was also mentioned.

Mr. Graham and I met about five years ago when he stopped me as my wife and I were leaving a local restaurant. Noticing my wheelchair, he asked how I had been injured, and during our first of many long conversations we discovered we lived on the same street. Just like that, a friendship formed.

Over the next years Mr. Graham would stop by our house whenever his caregiver Marilyn and he ran errands. When he became less mobile and moved into an assisted living apartment, they stopped when they checked on his home. Our conversations, always on our driveway, were lively as we argued politics and religion. He would say, “Let me ask you a question.” After my answer, he would offer his explanation of why I was mistaken. Only a strong friendship can weather such discussions, and ours grew stronger and stronger after each of his visits.

But we discussed other topics. One advantage or disadvantage of meeting someone later in life is that much shared experiences are missed by both parties, but we worked to cover that lost time. Once when I asked, “Tell me about Mrs. Graham,” he settled himself into the car seat, looked up to the tallest pine trees, and said, “I miss Louise,”  as his eyes became moist. He also shared on occasion that he regretted not being much of a reader over his lifetime, and more than once he bemoaned ever having smoked cigarettes, as he became more and more dependent on a portable oxygen tank. “That was a stupid mistake,” he often pronounced.

But, most of all, I cherish Mr. Graham for his service- during WW II and afterwards. Like so many of his generation, he explained that “I did what I had to do” when after high school graduation he joined the Navy. In one of our driveway conferences he asked me what I thought of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb. He then shared what he and all his buddies felt about that as they shipped across the Pacific—on their way to invade Japan. “We felt bad for the Japanese,” he confessed, “but were happy for ourselves. It was awful, but we wanted to live.”

An obituary is just printed words, and none, no matter how well crafted, can capture a life. Yet Mr. Graham’s well lived life was founded on his generation’s belief in doing what was asked.  His generation has been called “the greatest,” but those mere words cannot describe their courageous responsibility.

The World Cup needs a John Carlos and a Tommie Smith.

Football teams for seven European nations announced on November 21, 2022 that their captains will not wear LGBTQ armbands in host country Qatar. The captains for England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland originally intended to wear the OneLove rainbow armband to promote diversity and inclusion. Then the FIFA stepped in to threaten penalties for any captain or other player who wore the armband. The football association said in a joint statement, “We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play. We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented. As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.”  But the teams promised to show support for “inclusion” in other ways.

Opposition to any displays of LGBTQ has happened off the football pitches, too. Homosexuality is a crime in Qatar, and public displays of it are heavily fought against. Some patrons report being harassed in public spaces such as streets, and others tell of having their LGBTQ hats confiscated when they tried to enter stadiums. Football fans are being asked to respect the culture of  the host country.

For the October 16, 1968, awards ceremony honoring the three medal winners in the 200-meter sprint, two young American, Black sprinters, who had won gold and bronze medals, stood and  protested world-wide racism as they accepted their Olympic medals. Tommie Smith and John Carlos wore beads and scarves to oppose lynching and black socks with no shoes to publicize poverty. During the American national anthem they each raised a black-gloved fist and bowed their heads. The American IOC immediately expelled the two college students from the Olympic village and sent them back to America where they were threatened and vilified by the public and the press. Yet their protest is still to be found in pictures and articles, and over 50 years later their act is seen as what is was—heroic.

So, the federations of seven European nations say,  “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.” 

Those managers, coaches, and players should read about Smith and Carlos and perhaps derive some spunk from their act of bravery. After all, how bad can a booking or removal from the pitch be when compared to what LGBTQ folks experience every day.

     Boguslaw Wos and Bogdan Ciupek

A note to readers: This post is my final revision, but I think it finally correct.

Boguslaw Wos, the 62-year-old foreman of a grain warehouse, and Bogdan Ciupek, a 60-year-old  tractor driver, were killed November 15, 2022 by a wayward rocket as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The two men were working in a field near the Polish village of Przewodo, about 4 miles from the Ukrainian border, when suddenly killed. 

The painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1555) is an oil painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In it the Greek mythological figure, Icarus, plunges into the sea in the lower right-hand corner because he disobeyed his father’s warning. In the myth,  Icarus and his father Daedalus, were prisoners on an island. Daedalus devised wings of feathers and wax for his son and him to escape the tower in which they were held. He warned Icarus not to fly too high because the sun’s heat would melt the wax of his wings. They took off from the tower and escaped the island. Icarus, feeling the exhilaration from flying, forgot about his father’s warning. He flew too high and so close to the sun that the wax began to melt, and the wings felt apart, causing him to plummet into the sea and drown.

The painting shows a farmer in the foreground plowing his field, a sack of seeds rest next to a rock ready for scattering when the plowing is done, ships sail on the sea, a shepherd gazes skyward as he guards his flock, life goes on as the flailing legs of a young boy, in the corner, mark his death.

The first news that I read about the wayward rocket mentioned only that two Polish farmers were killed while in a field. No names or village were mentioned. Just two Polish farmers. A bit of looking and I found the information that I wanted–the names of the dead. I read their names and studied the accompanying photograph that showed: A rather large, blackened crater; a red tractor; an over-turned farm wagon with inflatable tires; and wooden debris filling the hole.  The spot of their death held less details than Landscape with the Fall of Icarus but what happened to Wos and Ciupek was much worse than the fate of the mythical Icarus. His ego caused his death, but as far as I have read, Wos and Ciupek were just going about their business, working in a field for their employer most likely. But both were visited by death.

In the painting, Icarus falls, and no one notices, but the world almost instantly knew that two people in Poland were killed. But the larger implications of a rocket landing in NATO Poland carried the news.  But what we will never learn is the why of this random act-why did this wayward shell fell exactly where two men were working in a large field.

One story is a myth telling the plight of a foolish youth; the other is a story of war and its horrors for countries and their people. Yet, if we can know and remember the name of the vain Greek youth, we can at least work to remember the names of such victims.

Say their names. Two workers caught in something so much larger than themselves, but we can at least say their names. If we cannot correctly pronounce these names,  we can write them, and even if we mangle them in speaking we do more honor to the memory of those two Polish farmers than if we contort them by willful anonymity.  The Unknown Soldier had no name because we could not determine who he was, but we honor him by the moniker, Unknown Soldier, granting him and all like him an identity.  

Casualties of war, whether fighters or bystanders, deserve to have their names recorded whenever we can do so.  Boguslaw Wos and Bogdan Ciuipek deserve as much. Say their names:

Bo-goose-waav Woosh;    Boge-dan Ch-wee-pek.

    Scared or Smart

On November 14, 2022, the Observer printed an article by David McLennan. The article was an analysis of how both parties conducted their state campaigns. If I read the article correctly, then I suggest that our state and maybe others are in peril because the most winning party, the Republican, appealed to voters’ emotions by using crime and inflation.

In his series of lectures in 1909, Workmen of God, the theologian Oswald Chambers, writes, “The word of God is ‘a lamp’ and ‘a light,’ but when people get off on the “stupid” lines, it is all instincts, impressions, vague ideas—even learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Examining the last cycle of twisted facts and perhaps outright lies of the recent the state campaigns, I feared that the voters would allow their emotions to control their vote because the Republican ads did appeal to only emotions. And enough voters allowed their “instincts, impressions, and vague ideas”  to control their vote. My fear has now been realized, and North Carolina will pay for its choices of recent elected and re-elected officials.

Being scared keeps us hidebound, but smart moves us forward.

Election Day, 2022

On election day morning, 2022, I went out to ride my stationary handcycle as I do most mornings. The day was warm, even in the early sunlight, and as I rode the forty-two pine trees in our front yard showered the grass, the cars, the driveway, the roof, and me with pine needles. At each puff of the morning breeze they would fall, slicing through the morning air; each a thin, three-pronged mark on the calendar, a hallmark signifying the ever-present cycling of life. I cranked the cycle, watched for walkers coming by, and thought of the day’s importance for America.

Later that day, in the early dark of standard time, my wife and I were watching the news when we both saw it—a massive, full moon appeared over our lake cove. It was not the blood moon of the night before, but a bright and reassuring symbol of eternal change, much like the pine needles of the same morning.

Pine needles. Full moons. Morning breezes. Fall sunrises. All of that I have seen during my blessed life, and I bet you have, too.  Nothing new here for you or me; yet is there something of this day for us to grab hold of like we would a glass of cold water on a hot day?

November 08, 2022 was an important day for our country because it was the day when all citizens have the privilege of voting. Think of that! Some of those who came before us died so that we could go to a polling place and voice individual opinions, and we each got to help  decide on our government. So I, and many others, carried a bit of excitement or even anxiety yesterday.

However, I offer that everything from the falling needles to the massive moon, to more not seen in yesterday’s cycle,  offers us a lesson. In his short book, the disciple James writes about life and how to live it. He asks the question: “For what is your life? It is  even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (KJV)

Our government and our leaders matter. Our lives also matter and are affected by the leaders we elect on election day. But it all is but a vapor that lives briefly. To paraphrase Dr. Clarence Jordan, don’t get all tangled up. Watch the moon rise or hear the wind travel through the pine trees or follow a falling pine needle and don’t take our comings and goings too seriously.

Cotton Candy or Character

Recently in Sanford, NC a group of masked men with most wearing a bulletproof vest, harassed a gathering of folks who were conducting a drag event in a local brewery. The occasion was a fund raiser for a local LBTGQ organization, but when the masked men became too threatening the organizer had to call local authorities for her event to safely continue. However, the group of masked men exercised its right of assembly and remained a threatening presence. One masked man displayed a sticker that read:  “Join your local Proud Boys. Be a Man among Men.”

That phrasing interests me because, as a male, I wonder how joining the Proud Boys  offers support for what it means to be “a Man among Men.” In fact, as a 76- year-old, Christ following, heterosexual male who fathered six children, I am still trying to figure out what it means to be a man. Although my biological father offered no wisdom on being a man, I was fortunate to have a few men in my life like my high school wrestling coach Mr. Mauldin who exemplified being “a Man among Men.” Also, through reading the Bible, I have gained invaluable wisdom on that subject and additional help came from reading Becoming a Man and Fathers and Sons. Yet, after all that modeling of male educators and learning through reading, I still wonder what being  “a Man among Men” means.

However,  if one follows the “logic” of the sign, being  “a Man among Men” can be as simple as:  Dressing in the uniformed attire of the group; or walking and protesting in public only when surrounded by other males of the tribe; or wearing tactical gear such as a bullet-proof vest; or wearing a gator or other such mask to hide identity; or that by joining the group a male will suddenly become “a man among men”? It sounds as if a metamorphosis will take place.

But is being “a Man among Men” that simple? If that were true then anyone who attends a Christian church would automatically become a Christ follower; or any Christ follower who attends a Synagogue would become a Jew; or any Buddhist who attends a Baptist church would become a Baptist; and any Baptist who attends a Mosque would become a Muslim,  and so on. I suspect that being “a Man among Men” requires more than joining a group of masked men strutting about and attempting to frighten other folks. That is what bullies do, isn’t it?  A bully can’t function without the support of toadies. A bully attacks what is perceived as weaker members of a disenfranchised group.  A bully is afraid. A bully is unsure. A bully longs for what never was.

But a true man among men has faith in truth and because of faith he has no fear.  His faith, not some shallow belief in a group’s dogma, allows him to be gentle because of the strength that he derives from his truth. Having truth gives strength which gives the capacity to be gentle, kind, benevolent, and more. Simply put, “a Man among Men” can be gentle because he is strong.

Bombast! That is a good word describing so much of our culture today. We have politicians like Ted Budd who in campaign ads strutted about with a pistol strapped to his hip. We have groups that assemble in order to intimidate those they oppose. So much of what  we see and hear is a clanging of cymbals, a noise that offers no solutions.

Over 100 photographs of the Sanford episode have been posted on-line. As I scrolled through them I noticed a few of the bullet-proof vests had Latin crosses stitched on them. Take a moment to grasp that juxtaposing:  the Christian symbol of Jesus’ horrific death sewn on a modern garb of violence. I wonder how anyone can equate one with the other because the Gospels, at least in my reading, advocate love not violence.

But that use of the Latin cross reveals today’s paralysis in America: Too many of us have embraced a cotton candy vision for America. Instead of taking the path to character and the work that that requires, we choose what is convenient and attractive.  Yet we choose the easy at our peril and if we do not right ourselves, we will become a floundering ship without a rudder.

Beowulf Mistreated

The great epic poem Beowulf dates from about the 7th century CE and in 3182 lines of poetry tells the story of a great leader named Beowulf.  It is a fine story of early feudal England that is rich with battles, bravery, loyalty, evil, and early Christianity. For more than ten years it was part of the 9th grade curriculum that I taught each fall.

Today I read that a senior in rural Southwest  Riner, VA reported his English teacher to state authorities for the way she was teaching the poem. He writes on January 30, 2022, to the tip line set up by Governor Youngkin, “All my teacher wants to talk about is how the book is sexist because it portrays the warriors as men and not women. I believe my teacher is in violation of Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order which prohibits the teaching of ‘divisive topics.’ ”

Gads! Which is worse—the Orwellian tip line of Youngkin or the teacher’s alleged pathetic instruction of Beowulf?

 First of all, the tip line (or tattle-tale line) does not prohibit any poor teacher because once the tattling is done, so is the teaching of “divisive topics.” Whatever instruction given by  the teacher in Riner was done before the student reported her. Sure, the reporting of a teacher teaching a divisive topic may stop further teaching of such a pedagogy that is viewed as dangerous. But how long does it take the bureaucracy of Youngkin to act? No arm of Big Brother can be effective in such situations, but I offer that talking with a teacher, department head, or principal may be a better path to combat such wrong instruction, which interests me most in this situation.

As written above, I taught Beowulf for more than ten years– in the toney preparatory school that Youngkin’s daughter attended and of which he was a board member. (While I left before the Youngkins arrived, the pedological philosophy of the school has not changed and such literature is still part of the curriculum.) However, even in the all-female school, gender was not a central topic in my teaching of Beowulf. While the poem centers around the exploits of men and their battles, there are females present and some of them such as Thirth and Welthow are strong-willed, but yet minor characters in the poem. But the poem recounts the story of a 7th century feudal lord which is not a time of gender equality. To criticize the poem for that perceived weakness as the mis-guided Riner teacher is accused of would be wrong. Cultures such as those of Beowulf, Moses, Odysseus, and Gilgamesh were patriarchal. To criticism their literature as being sexist would be like condemning To Kill a Mockingbird for being too Southern. I suggest that anyone not wanting to read or teach male-dominated literature stay away from almost all literature written before Bronte, Wolfe, or Austen. However, any English teacher should know better than to teach as the Riner teacher is charged by her student. If she did,  shame on her. One note for the student: Beowulf is a poem, not a book as you write in your report. If you read it in prose form, I suggest you get a Burton Raffel translation and read the real thing. 

So much is wrong with the events as reported. The lesson taught by the Commonwealth by having a “tip line”; the hypocrisy of Youngkin by supporting a standard of education for his own but treating voter’s children differently; and the teaching of the Riner teacher (if the student report is accurate.) But these events show what can happen when we allow government to get involved in issues of culture. These are the type of results we can expect.                                                                                                             

A Popular Symbol

We all like, use, recognize, and value symbols. Every team has a symbol, usually called a mascot, and every organization has its unique symbol that conveys an idea or philosophy in a visual representation. But can a symbol be a reality or is each one destined to be just a graphic depiction of a firm, team, philosophy, or whatever?

For example, there are many types of crosses. However, the type that interests me is the Latin cross, the one derived from the Latin word crux, which means stake/cross and was an instrument of torture for the Romans.  The Latin cross is used by Christians to symbolize the Crucifixion and their belief in Christ and a representation is mounted on every Christian church steeple, will be found throughout such churches, and is worn around the neck of many Christians. It has also evolved into an ornamental piece of jewelry worn by many folk.

The Romans most likely learned the art of crucifixion from the Carthaginians, but they perfected it. It was a gruesome death caused by asphyxiation when the weight of the condemned prevented breathing. It was used as a public means of control and only the worst criminals suffered it. The Roman politician Cicero describes it as “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.”

Yet the Christian crosses seen today are neat and tidy. Their metal shines and there is no blood, sweat, excrement, or skin left on the vertical or horizontal wood pieces. I have even heard discussions in Sunday Schools centered around what method of killing would be used today that is comparable to what Jesus suffered. Can any method of execution compare to crucifixion except perhaps a lynching as done during Jim Crow?

Small, gold crosses are often worn by various folk, and when I see one adorning the neck of a person I assume that that person is a Christian, a Christ follower. No problem with that as long as the person realizes that when he or she places that tidy cross around the neck, they are cloaking themselves with Jesus Christ and that cloaking, if being sincerely done, has demands. Or, like so often done, the small, gold cross can be a symbol, making it an empty gesture.

However, a short conversation with such a wearer will reveal if the cross worn is a symbol. When a wearer speaks for discord and supports lies and is rude and espouses vile beliefs of other persons, it is likely that the cross is just a symbol. Their words and subsequent actions show that they are not true Christ followers, just opportunists who wear the cross for show. And this person likely wears the cross on the outside of clothing in such a manner that everyone can see it—a public display.

Oswald Chambers, the Scottish theologian, wrote in 1911, “The Cross is a Reality, not a symbol.” For a Christ follower, the reality of the cross on which our Savior suffered is so honest that such a believer would not make it a prop. The truth of the cross is too painful and while it must be held close and maybe used in places of worship, we must be truthful and not allow it to become a mere symbol.  In so doing it becomes about us and not Him.