Imagine

Imagine that you are a parent of a college freshman in a state university.

Imagine that your child has had a conflict and is accused of stealing and, because of that alleged theft, is kicked off a varsity team by the coach in front of the entire team.

Imagine how your child would feel about being removed from a team in front of teammates because of being accused of theft.

Imagine that your child turns to you, and you reach out to the university’s coach and athletic director to ask for just treatment of your child.

Then imagine receiving this communication from a university administrator ….

“Roscoe. We have video of your son’s actions and have discussed the Video with our University police. You would be well advised to immediately drop this mater. Forget the actions of our Coach. They are more than substantiated. I do not plan on discussing this any further. If you wish to discuss further you can talk with our Chief of Police. Thank you. Have a nice evening. DF” (the name and initials are mine, not the real ones)

No imagining is necessary. It’s real.

As a former administrator with experience in alleged athlete violations, I know how parents can be in such moments when they think their child is being unjustly treated.

That said, why would an administrator of a state university send such a poorly written, arrogant, and rude email to a parent? The pitiful grammar would be bad enough, but the tone is worse. This athletic director’s email does nothing to help the parent understand the university’s athletic position, and it will only build resentment and distrust on the part of the parent instead of offering edification.

It exemplifies how our democracy can be eroded from within and shows why parents have come to doubt our educational system.

Vitriol seems to abound in the United States. We seem to have lost our ability or willingness to have discourse and listen to the other person’s views. The above letter from an athletic director of a major state university exemplifies such ugliness. We have masked men with weapons “guarding” ballot boxes; a governor in a debate calling his opponent an old donkey; a leader of a major political party ridiculing the speech of a political opponent, the President; and more.

We can do better. We must do better. Our democracy depends on it..

 Timber Road Extended

It’s difficult to argue against a saving of $15 million of taxpayer money, but a saving is only as good as its final computation.

The Mooresville Town Board has unanimously agreed to allow a developer to extend Timber Road from Route 115 to Route 21 for a new 560-unit development. The Mooresville Town Board members laud that it will be the developer who finances the Timber Road extension to Route 21 with one spur for future connection to Foursquare Road and two other future connections—one to the south and one towards Route 115.

Since moving to Lake Norman five years ago, I have watched as the traffic woes become more and more like those of Washington, DC from where I moved. For instance, our elected leaders, such as Ms. Sawyer, seem to think that widening a section of road will ease traffic congestion. In a recent article, Ms. Sawyer bragged about a short widening of Route 150 near Morrison Plantation Road and another at the turn-off for Lake Norman High School. Other elected leaders appear to believe that a stop light with a short widening on either side of a newly created intersection will make a difference—I write about the Talbert Road development between Route 150 and Brawley School Road. And let us not forget the traffic congestion on all of Route 150 and Brawley School Road that is caused by development.

I wonder did the Mooresville Town Board study where all the cars generated by the Timber Road extension will go once they intersect with Route 21 or Route 115? Route 21 is already overly congested, and Route 115 is a small, two-lane road that struggles to handle its traffic load now, so how will these roads, like Route 150 and Brawley School Road move traffic?

I understand tax base and its partner-development. I get it. However, I value a quality of life and appreciate the influence of traffic on it. Any congestion in life is bad, whether in lungs, air, or traffic. I ask all elected leaders to think beyond the short term and think a bit out of that old and tired box that more is better.

In Vain

As a youth growing up in a south-central North Carolina textile town during the 1950’s, I attended a Baptist church with my siblings and mother. In that church I sang songs like “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” was taught Bible stories such as Noah and his ark, memorized Bible verses like the 23rd Psalm, and was taught about the Ten Commandments. Some of the lessons I took away from those Sunday School classes and sermons have butted heads with my adult reading and learning. For instance, I was taught that Jesus worked as a carpenter in his father’s shop when in fact both were most likely skilled handymen who were competent workers in several areas of building. Another misconception that I have lived with concerns the 3rd Commandment, the one about taking the Lord’s name in vain. For a variety of reasons, mostly my own ignorance, I have always viewed the breaking of this rule as a verbal one, such as the all-too popular exclamation, “Oh, my God…,” or when President #45 repeated three times the words GD in a North Carolina speech. A recent reading of Pastor Clarence Jordan showed how wrong I have been.

If you are unfamiliar with the writing of Pastor Jordan, I caution you. If you read a collection of his writings, such as The Inconvenient Gospel, your understandings of Christian doctrine likely will be confronted. A Christian scholar of Greek who lived The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Jordan will challenge any staid Christian learning you may carry with you. So when I began reading the new collection of his speeches, I noticed one chapter titled The Ten Commandments and thought that I may as well skip that chapter because I knew them; not in order mind you, but I knew that they were commands, not suggestions, and I tried to obey each one. To paraphrase: Oh, ye of little understanding.

This chapter, like each one, is actually a speech given by Pastor Jordan. The Ten Commandments is one he gave at Goshen College in May 1965, in which he concentrates on the commands concerning our relationship with God, so only the first four are discussed; but in his explication of number 3, Pastor Jordan rattles my shallow understanding because he shows how actions, not just words, can take the Lord’s name in vain.

Pastor Jordan says, “A person who has never come within the Christian fold can’t take the name of Christ in vain. He’s never taken it. A Buddhist can’t take the name of Christ in vain,  no matter what one says. Only those who come within the church, who take on the name of Christ, can take his name in vain.”

If Pastor Jordan is correct, and I think he is, every Christ follower becomes bound to keep the name Christ clean. Keeping the name of our Lord above reproach means that we are not free to express our anger at that other driver by flipping her off. Taking on the mantle of Christ means that we cannot cast a vote for a person who tells lie after lie. Becoming a Christ follower means that we must actively refute any combining of our religion with our country. If we are serious about the 3rd Commandment then we will shelter the sojourners. Being a Christ follower demands that I support justice not injustice. Wearing that name requires me to love not hate. I took on the name of Christ when I was baptized and now realize the enormity of that decision. Words, like all I was taught in that Baptist church, are nice. But actions, as St. Paul writes, are what matter and show that, No, I will not take my Lord’s name in vain by word or deed

Moms for Liberty

When I read a parent’s proposal for rating books in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District, I wanted to know more and read about the organization she represents in Charlotte, Moms for Liberty. Here is the pledge for Moms for Liberty: “I pledge to honor the fundamental rights of parents including, but not limited to the right to direct the education, medical care, and moral upbringing of their children. I pledge to advance policies that strengthen parental involvement and decision-making, increase transparency, defend against government overreach, and secure parental rights at all levels of government.”

Now, I take seriously any pledge, but not all pledges are equal in their believer’s advancement of the common good. For instance, in the above pledge, what is stated in it that is not already readily available to any parent who has the desire and love needed to  “direct” the upbringing of his or her child? If a parent objects to an assigned book, all school systems have a procedure for a parent to opt out a child for that assignment. If a parent objects to a book in a school library that he or she has read, school districts have elected school boards, administrators, and librarians to whom a parent can voice his or her objection. What parent, who is doing the tough work of parenting, needs a pledge or group in order to parent his or her child? The pledge asks a signer “to advance policies that strengthen parental involvement[in the life of a child]” What policy or policies can do that? A parent parents whether a policy to such an end exists or not. This part of the pledge gives the impression that by signing it, one becomes an involved parent. Finally the pledge gets to “government overreach,” and the signer’s need to defend against that in order to “secure parental rights at all levels of government.” Yet I must ask what government at any level in America is taking away any parental right? In all jurisdictions any parent can exert his or her parental rights. The presence of a particular book in a school system does not prevent a parent from exercising his or her “moral upbringing of their children.”

This pledge and its group is redundant. Everything stated in the pledge already exists in our Republic on every level of government. As a college professor suggests in the above-mentioned article, the best way for a parent to be involved is to read and discuss books with his or her child. Even the high schoolers, as difficult as that may be. Talk about the good and the not-so-good of all assigned books. Explain any objections and compliments to a book. As the professor says, this is the best way to influence a child.

The group’s name is troubling—Moms for Liberty. The Charlotte mom wants to rank every book by what she says is an objective calculus. But that cannot be because we all have our own measurements and when one group begins to decide about books for us all that leads to overreach. Moms for Liberty! Whose Liberty, I ask.

Fit to Serve?

Much has been said and written concerning the fitness of Pennsylvania senate candidate John Fetterman. Since suffering a stroke in May, questions about his ability to serve as a United States Senator have swirled in the news and on the campaign trail. The question, “Is he fit to serve?” is a constant, and it is a good question, one that should be asked of every candidate from dog warden to Congress. For instance,

Is the oft-lying Herschel Walker-who has lied about everything from his graduating from the University of Georgia, his number of children, having paid for at least one abortion,–and more “fit” to serve in Congress?

Ted Budd, a candidate from NC, has yet to rebut  #45 for his racist words in a rally two weeks ago held to support Budd. #45 hid his racism behind the word nuclear. Is Budd fit to  serve in Congress?

Adam Laxalt, who #45 held a supporting rally for his campaign last week in Nevada, has yet to criticize Coach Tommy Tuberville (a sitting Senator) for his overt racist remarks at his rally. Laxalt’s family has issued a letter stating that he is not a quality candidate. Is he fit to serve in Congress?

Then there is the salesman of dubious medical cures , Menhet Oz, who lives in New Jersey, but wants to represent Pennsylvania. He is a toady of #45. Is he fit to serve in Congress?

And speaking of toadies, there is J.D. Vance who has, like Ted Cruz and others already in the club, become such a toady of #45 that he has lost all his identity. Is he fit to serve in  Congress?

John Fetterman struggles with his thought processes and speech, but he is not a lying, racist toady for #45 who denies his children. He is, thus, fit to serve in Congress.

In 1919 University of Nebraska professor Hartley Burr Alex wrote an essay titled The Ballot. In his essay he writes, “ Your ballot is a judgment of the candidate’s character; and this is exactly what it should be, for this is the one thing that you are qualified, as a voter, to pass upon.”

We have enough members of Congress who lack character. Let’s not add to the mix but send folks of principle to Washington.

Josh Donaldson and Basics

 All phases of life have basics that each of us learn, and it is hoped will always follow. Consider one life lesson taught to children:  Don’t’  run with scissors. A simple basic that teaches a potentially life saving lesson. If you run with scissors in your hand and trip and fall, the point just might enter your body somewhere and cause trauma. Simple. So do it because it may save your life from needless pain.

Not running with scissors in hand is a basic taught and learned early in life, and as we grow we are taught others as our lives expand. For instance, if a youngster begins to play chess, one basic that is taught early on is to try and control the four middle squares. Of course, a player must learn and follow the rules of chess but controlling the central four squares is a simple but strong basic that will improve play.

While running downfield in lacrosse with one hand holding the stick and cradling the ball may look cool or appealing, it breaks a basic rule. The showing-off player is in a dangerous position because he or she has less control of the stick/ball. An opposing player has a much better chance of hitting the stick with the ball and knocking it out of the pocket because with just one hand on the stick,  the offensive player has less control. Two hands on the stick gives more control in moving the ball down field.

Posture is an important basic in my two favorite sports. Each racing event, from the sprints to the marathon, requires correct posture for maximum performance. The successful  runner keeps the head, shoulders, hips, and knees in a vertical line above the foot plant. This is a very important basic, especially when tiring toward the end of a race. In wrestling all beginners are taught the importance of keeping the head erect, in every situation. If you drop your head your opponent can use your poor posture against you. Head up leads to better performance.

Baseball, like chess, is a game of subtleties and both are packed with nuances that demand the learning and following of basics. For instance, every aspiring baseball or softball player is taught to run-out every infield fly. Why? Just in case the defensive player makes a sloppy play and drops the soft out. Run to first base as if no one will catch the fly—just in case it is dropped.

Basics! Even the pros follow—or should follow—the basics. Jordan Burroughs used a basic takedown to win a world wrestling championship last month. He kept his head up as he scored two double-leg takedowns, a move taught to every beginning wrestler.

Josh Donaldson, the Yankee third baseman, forgot his basics in the division series opening game Tuesday night in  NYC. Leading off in the bottom of the 5th inning, the score tied at 1-1 with Cleveland, Donaldson sent an opposite-field drive to right field. Confident that the ball would clear the short wall at Yankee Stadium, he put his head down, began a trot (swagger), and slapped the hand of the first base coach. Oops! The assumption of a home run was, like most of those pesky disappointments, wrong, and the Cleveland right fielder followed the basics. He caught the bounce off the wall, turned and threw to his shortstop on second base. He in turn threw to the first baseman who tagged the stunned (still trotting) star out as he tried to return to the base.

So, instead of a runner in scoring position on second base, in a tied play-off game, the Yankees had an unnecessary situation. Had Donaldson and the first base coach followed a basic taught to all beginning players, the Yankees would have been in a scoring position.

The basics, like not running with scissors, are taught to keep us from self-inflected wounds. Like gravity they will keep us grounded if we follow them.

Going Backward

In July 2019 President Trump held a rally in Greenville, NC and took the Lord’s Name in Vain three times, but the crowd only screamed, ‘Lock her [Clinton] up.” When I mentioned Trump’s despicable language to a deacon at our local Baptist church all he said was, “No body’s perfect.”

In another rally two weeks ago for Senate candidate Ted Budd, in Wilmington, NC, # 45 asked the crowd did it know what the N-word is and when some began shouting the N-word, he said no, it was nuclear. He continued to tell how Putin had used the N-word, nuclear.

Out in Nevada at another #45 rally for Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville told the crowd that Democrats are in favor of “reparations” because they are “pro-crime.” Tuberville also called for an end to food stamps, education reform, and closing the border. “No, they’re [Democrats] are not soft on crime, they’re pro-crime. They want crime! They want reparations because they think the people who do the crime are owed that. Bullshit!”

The far-right, led by the Supreme Court, continues to attack voting rights even though the Heritage Foundation, according to Washington Post, has compiled a database going back to 1982. In all those years, in local, state and national elections, it can document only 1,384 proven cases of voter fraud.

I agree with Coach Tuberville’s last quoted word. But what is bull is that speakers use such vile language, and a big push is made, under the guise of integrity, to limit voting. To think that a sitting President would violate a Commandment three times and not be called-out for it is unfortunate. The deacon is correct that no one is perfect, but Jesus told the adulterous woman at the well to go and sin no more. But # 45 uses the N-word years later in the same state to fan his supporters and we all know that he did not mean nuclear. The N-word is an evil and vile word for our fellow citizens. And Coach Tuberville takes the racist act all the way with his words. But Coach is correct—it is Bull, but not the way he thinks. The deacon does not object to # 45’s words, Ted Budd has issued no objection to Trump’s use of the N-word at the rally to support his candidacy (in which his opponent is Black), and neither has Adam Laxalt objected to Coach Tuberville’s racist language. Oh, and the Supreme Court continues it march on citizen rights.

There are many myths about a genie in a bottle or brass lamp. Genies are whimsical creatures who are fun, good, and, at times, evil. One tale from The Arabian Nights tells the sad story of a  poor fisherman who discovers a brass lamp and upon rubbing it releases the evil Asmodeus who is angry after 400 years of captivity. And once released, genies do not return to the bottle or lamp, unless she is the star of a television show popular years ago.

Our democracy is in peril from within. The brass lamps and attractive bottles lure some folks to accept a cheap and easy fix for perceived problems. But if accept the attractive bottles or lamps, they will in some ways, and have in others, release an Asmodeus, whose anger and wrath will consume our nation– unless we all commit to being better. Not perfect, just better than  nuclear loving #45, Ted Budd, Coach Tuberville, Adam Laxalt, and the Supreme Court.

LIES

My son-in-law this week sent his mother a short video showing President Biden in situations where he lies. The video is a collection of clips covering various years and situations. For instance, in one clip President Biden is shown talking to a woman and man who stand next to a white truck. His back is to  the camera, but he is clearly heard saying that he understands the life of being a long-distant driver because he once drove “a big rig.” In another clip he is speaking to a group of Black students, and he tells them that he got his start at Delaware State, the historically black college in Delaware. The video, while brief, shows President Biden telling more than one lie. It is not a video to be proud of, and it certainly puts President Biden in a compromising position, and it questions his veracity.

The video reminds me of other lies told by prominent people. Secretary Clinton told us that her plane on landing in Bosnia was under sniper fire and she had to run to safety on the tarmac. Brian Williams stated that the helicopter in which he was riding had been fired upon by enemy forces in Iraq.

There is no shortage, unfortunately, of politicians and famous folks telling lies. But I offer that there are at least two types of lies-one embellishes the speaker in some way or is an attempt to protect the speaker. Secretary Clinton lied to make herself appear, it seems, to have experienced first hand the threat of death by an enemy, while her husband lied to save his skin. Brian William’s lie was also one to enhance his standing as a fearless reporter. I suggest that a viewer may, after watching the video about President Biden, conclude that each of  his lies are told to embellish his standing with his audience.

However, I suggest that not all lies are equal. Some lies, like Williams’ lie, hurt no one but the speaker, and he received consequences because of his lie. The lie about Bosnia hurt only Secretary Clinton. The exposed lies tarnished the reputations of those two, but only harmed the speaker. Herschel Walker lied about his academic record at the University of Georgia, and Madison Cawthorne lied about his being accepted to the Naval Academy. Lies that should force voters to doubt the speaker, but that may not happen, and certainly did not impede Cawthorne’s being elected. Like the lies of President Biden in the video, some of the  lies of Walker, Williams, and others are easy to fact check. Why tell such a lie?

President Trump lied from his term’s beginning when he lied about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Why lie about something so easy to check? But it seems that President Trump, in the words of his past lawyer, “Lies like most people breathe.” And not all of his lies are equal. For instance, then inauguration lie is just a sad window into the man’s soul, but his lies about the COVID epidemic, his lies about Putin, his lies about the drove of materials he removed illegally from the White House, threaten our country and its citizens.

While I understand President Clinton’s lie told to protect himself and Walker’s lies about the women in his past life, I do not condone their lies and view them as reasons to disqualify those men from public office. They lie to cover a wrong. However, Trump’s lie about his inauguration crowd and others like this from Biden, Cawthorne, and Walker should be forgiven as silly and inconsequential.

But a lie about classified documents or COVID or Putin’s friendship are cause for removal.

The Sound Post

We all have ways that we remember dear folks who have died: Photographs of the deceased may sit on a piece of furniture or shelf or hang from a wall;  a cut flower or other small object may be placed in a book; a plant may occupy a place in a garden; the ways to remember someone are only limited by the griever’s need and imagination.

Yesterday I heard of a Carolyn’s death, and the person sharing that news asked that well-used question/statement, “You know Donnie (her husband) died from COVID this past January?, a full eight month ago. Not much news from the Valley reaches us since we moved to Lake Norman five years ago, but some does, just not news of his dying. So when I was told of his death, I went to my shop and opened a particular drawer just to check. The bone with a place where a small piece had been cut away was still there. I held the porkchop bone in my hand and remembered.

Donnie and I met when my wife and I began attending Antioch Church of the Brethren. Over time I learned much about Donnie, such as his devotion to his family, but before long I was also exposed to his musical gifts. I don’t think he could read music, but he sure could play and sing it, especially his fiddle and mandolin. Once he asked me if I could  help him with some repairs with his violin because he had been told that I worked with wood. I told him that while I had a small woodshop, I was in no way a luthier. He said that didn’t matter, and we agreed on a day for him to come to our house.

He came early on the chosen day, and he left after lunch, but before supper. The pace of the  day was easy as we talked, getting to know one another better, and he showed me a few soft repairs that he wanted to do for his violin. I honestly don’t remember the repairs we made, but he guided me and walked me through each. At best, they were cosmetic ones because I was not qualified to do any major repairs to such an instrument.  But I vividly remember the sound post.

We had shared lunch, talked a great deal, done a bit of repair when Donnie said, “Now we need a sound post.” I asked what that was, and he explained the sound post, its function, and showed me where it was to go. He looked around my shop and commented that he saw lots of wood, but did I have any bone because bone was best for that part of a violin. I motioned to the large yard outside the double shop doors and said, “We have three hounds, there must be a bone out there somewhere.” Donnie walked out to the yard and started looking. Soon he returned with a pork chop bone and said,  “This’ll work.”

I cleaned the bone and under his patient guidance I cut a piece from it to his specifications. We then inserted the bone sound post,  and he picked up his fiddle and tuned it.

Most days in my shop were good ones, but that day was one of the best as I learned about violins. But best of all was that a new friendship was formed, and Donnie picked up his violin, saying, “Let’s see how we did.”

My shop was just a wood shop, but for the next few minutes it was a grand concert hall as Donnie played his fiddle. Few songs have seldom sounded so sweet.

The Last Carver

When I first began working on the Close of the National Cathedral in 1995, a rather shabby looking building occupied a small space between the Cathedral and the school building in which I worked. There was a gravel parking between them that was used by school’s faculty, and the building was called The Carver’s Shed. Oh, it was a shed! Because of its shabbiness, many folks connected to the Cathedral found its appearance offensive and wanted it removed. But I liked it for what it was—a shed in which carvers for the Cathedral practiced their ancient art. In that plywood structure the gargoyles, pinnacles, parapets, crockets, finials, and so much more functional, but artistic parts, of the grand gothic National Cathedral were created. In that shed, carvings of Darth Vader and Medusa were imagined and then created out of limestone blocks; and now they decorate the Cathedral’s exterior while serving an architectural function. In that shed form and function merged in an art developed over years.

 However,  I also liked the building because after each Friday’s Cathedral Service, I would stop in and chat with Vincent Palumbo, the last carver for the Cathedral. Sometimes he would stop his work when I entered his space and at other times he would continue working, all the while talking and explaining his work. Vince was always patient and gracious with me, and he smiled when I gave him a handmade roof slate, complete with wooden peg that anchored it to the roof, that I had collected from a  14th century building of Pembroke College in Oxford. But my Friday visits with Vince in his dust-filled, creative, and magnificent work space ceased when leukemia worsened, and he had to quit creating for the Cathedral;  Vince died in December 2000.

I hold close these memories of Vince and a bit more. The Cathedral’s head mason, Joe Alonso, gave me two of Vince’s chisels and a dove that he was carving before his death. The chisels have the small initials VP cut into them, and the dove is outlined in the small block of Indiana limestone, and it was to have one more piece to grace the Cathedral, had Vince been able to finish carving it. His craft is evident in the small carving, and I treasure it for the spirit and hands that began to create it out of a block of stone. Now it and the chisels sit on a low boy in our living room as a reminder of him and of those Friday visits and of the Cathedral.

While my days of working on the Close are gone just as is the Carver’s Shed, the memories of my Friday visits with Vince are some of the many that carry me on. And the art of the Cathedral carries still, like the memory of Vincent Palumbo, the last master carver.