NRSV Edited

Robert Fitzgerald, the translator of Homer, writes “You must learn Greek if you want to experience Homer….” He’s correct of course, but many of us readers interested in ancient texts do not read ancient Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or other languages, which forces us to depend on translations or varied editions. Translating a text requires not just supreme knowledge of a language, but a sensitivity to its culture and time. Many modern readers are, sadly, dependent on translators or editors.

This week I read a review of a new edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The new edition of the 1989 NRSV has 20,000 changes that required four years of work by the National Council of Churches and scholars from the Society of Biblical literature. Thus, the work gives modern readers what many scholars refer to as  a “living” Bible. For instance, the new edition gives us a feminist reading of Mark 14:69. NRSV reads: “And the servant girl, on seeing him, begin again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’”  The new edition offers us, “And the female servant, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’”

Now I understand, appreciate, and applaud sensitivity to language. However, I also think that we owe fidelity to a text. Modern readers should bring sensitivity to their reading of an ancient text while understanding that the writers of those text had their own sensibilities expressed in their writing.  All of this reminds me of an interview I had with a high school principal in Woodstock, VA. I was applying for an opening the following year to teach 12th grade English, which was I doing then as a long-term substitute. During the interview, the principal asked me why I was requiring my students to read Macbeth in the original language and not use a modern translation. Flabbergasted, all I could respond was, “Well, one of the reasons we read and teach Shakespeare is for the language.” The principal had no understanding of what I said and did not hire me for the next year.

No matter the translation or edition of the Bible read, it must be acknowledged that the original was written by patriarchal men who lived years ago in the Middle East. Their language expressed their beliefs and culture. Thus, just like Shakespeare, their language is different than ours. So does it matter if some of our modern sensibilities are offended by such usage as “man” for humanity and that we change “man” to humanity or human? The updated NRSV has 20,000 such changes.

Yes, such wholesale changes to the Bible or any text sanitizes them. If the language of any text is changed, providing it is a faithful translation, it will change it and that need be acknowledged. For instance, let’s look at a simple “translation” of Ecclesiastes 9:11 from George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language,  Orwell re-writes the King James version of that verse into modern English. Here is the King James and the Orwell’s modern:

“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

Orwell gives us this example to demonstrate the danger in “government speak.” However, his example is, I offer, a warning to any modern reader who won’t accept the language of ancient texts as written while bringing his or her own to the reading. To read a word in its context that offends today does not mean it is accepted. It just means that the reader is one of understanding and maturity.

  A Frozen Week

For the past week I have been housebound because the heavy snow storm and its wind left a pile of snow on the back ramp, which I use to enter and exit our house. Over the past eight days of freezing temperatures the pile became a large ice mass. But my friend Shawn came yesterday and cut it into pieces that now jam an unused corner of our yard. This morning the sun shines on our back garden across a bright winter-blue sky, and when the warmth of day increases just a bit, I will venture out with Nick the beagle and ramble about the garden.

It may seem odd to think of warm weather when ice blocks occupy one part of my world, but I saw a reminder of it yesterday out a back window—a pair of doves sat together on a limb of the center dogwood tree before one mounted the other. It’s the middle of January, so I  don’t know for sure about their act, but it is a fresh reminder that, yes, the days are getting longer and warmer. But I remind myself that, no matter what the doves were doing, Shawn’s labor freed me from my housebound sentence, so Nick and I will shortly roam about our back garden.

Even in morning cold, the garden is busy with bird life. A blue bird inspects the entry hole of the birdbox on the center dogwood tree before realizing that the hole is too small, and a brown headed nuthatch moves about the tree trunk looking for day’s first offering. On a high branch a Carolina chickadee basks in morning’s sunlight filtering through the pine canopy.

However, my “play date” with Nick did not materialize because Mary Ann and I decided to get out of the house and go to a favorite flea market. We enjoyed the shared outing and returned in time to take a long walk with Nick on which he met and impressed some neighbors we did not know.

The day did not go as I had planned; but it proved to be an adventure of sorts and that is what matters at its end. That is one of the many sweet spots of life—there are the possibilities for the coming day and for tomorrow and for the next day and so on. After all, Mary Ann, Nick, and I shared parts of the day and we will tomorrow. It’s the way our days go since we were adopted by this beagle. And in the sharing is the joy.

Free to Say, Yet Responsible to Truth

Recently I read an article in the Iredell Free Press by Karissa Miller about the first Iredell County Commissioner’s meeting in 2022. Miller’s article covered the arguments of parents objecting to the mask’s mandates for local schools. While her article presented anticipated parental objections against the mandate,  one stood out for its originality.

According to Miller, Ms. Paula Mimaugh told the commissioners, “I recently learned that the federal government is bribing the public schools to abuse children.” She went on say that this is being done through federal COVID-19 funds, which total $47.3 million, of which the school system has spent approximately $7.3 million. Mimaugh went on to explain that “Every six months schools must submit reports of how they are abusing the children. This report must show forced masking of children all day with only a small break for lunch.”

As a citizen of Iredell County, North Carolina; the United States of America; and Earth, the words of Ms.Mimaugh and all folks like her frighten me. Take a moment and ponder what she is stating as fact: “I recently learned that….” Never mind that she does not enlighten her listeners or readers as to where she learned the astounding “fact” that the federal government is using COVID-19 funds to bribe local schools “to abuse children.” She just throws out this bizarre statement expecting any listener or reader to accept her failure in logic or even in common sense.

Certainly Ms. Mimaugh has the protection of our blessed 1st Amendment, and I support her right to say what she wants in such a meeting. In fact, I applaud her sense of civic duty in attending this meeting and others, such as health department meetings, to express her concerns. But! While Ms. Mimaugh’s statements are stated in plain language, what they state as truth is absurd, astonishing, insane, ridiculous, and more; but most of all it is dangerous.

First of all, her words are dangerous to herself and other citizens, especially our children,  because they may sway folks to object to science concerning the pandemic. While scientists are learning more each day about the virus, we know for certain that wearing a quality mask, keeping distance from others, and often washing of hands are a good defense against it. Ms. Mimaugh’s  “facts” threaten that knowledge by undercutting the truths of known science. Her words are also a danger to our democracy because they undermine the work of our federal government. I ask her and others who support such thinking to ask what is gained by abusing our children on such a level and to imagine where we would be without Operation Warp Speed, federal government testing sites, free federal government masks, and free federal government vaccines. To say that our democracy abuses its children through the use of COVID funds strikes me as a sad misunderstood conclusion of some fact or facts that Ms. Mimaugh read or heard. That, or she has a sinister motive, but I prefer to think that she or any other citizen would have an evil motive against our republic.

Our Founding Fathers were supporters of a learned and informed citizenry. They wrote extensively about the value of education and feared the danger to our republic by uninformed citizens. Men such as Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton were writers, speakers, readers, and imperfect. But their imperfections did not lead them to support or even acknowledge such mistreatment of truth as expressed by Ms. Mimaugh.

She is free to say what she wants. But she has a responsibility to make certain it is true.

“Persist, My Friend”

On January 20, 2011, Reynolds Price died from complications of a heart attack. He was 77.

In April 1997 Price received a letter from Jim Fox who had read Price’s memoir, A Whole New Life, his story of the 1984 diagnosis of spinal cord cancer, which caused paralysis of his legs, placing him in a wheelchair. Jim Fox, a young medical student who experienced his own cancer diagnosis, read the memoir, and asked Price, “Does God exist, and does he care?” Their correspondence was brief because Fox died soon after, but Price’s answer to him was published as Letter to a Man in the Fire.

            In August of 2001 I suffered an injury that, like Price, caused paralysis of my legs. During my rehab I experienced a myriad of emotions and a deep sense of loss. I suffered, but received great care from  the hospital staff, family, and friends. But, I had so much to learn at the age of 55: Incontinence. How to manage the purple wheelchair. Dependency for many matters. The loss of long, morning runs with Jay and Caleb. Loss loomed and frightened me. However, one night I woke to a warm, calming light that appeared at my face and out of it a sweet, kind voice told me not to worry, that everything would be okay.

            In his answer to Fox, Price writes: “Starting on a warm afternoon in the summer of 1939, …I’ve experienced moments of sustained calm awareness that subsequent questioning has never discounted. Those moments, which recurred at unpredictable and widely space intervals till some thirteen years ago, still seem to me undeniable manifestations of the Creator’s benign or patiently watchful interest in particular stretches of my life, though perhaps not all of it.”

            The light and voice I experienced was not, I knew, a dream. It was real, but I kept my experience close, and only shared it with Reynolds Price in a phone call. His response was, “Why, Roger, you had a visitation.” Shortly after our conversation, I received a copy of Letters in which Price had inscribed, “Persist, my friend.”

            Price– the North Carolina novelist, poet, scholar of Milton, teacher at Duke, Rhodes Scholar, cancer victim, had used the best word, a simple verb that expressed the perfect attitude that only a good writer who was surviving a cancer, could. His choice of persist came out of his struggle with cancer,  but also out of his experiences like that of the summer day in 1939.

            Price, a student of religions, especially the Gospels, draws on literature, several religions and beliefs, and his own faith to answer Jim Fox’s question concerning God and His involvement in our lives. Yet, and perhaps of my own experience from the fall of 2001, I return over and over to Price’s words,” I’ve experienced moments of sustained calm awareness that subsequent questioning has never discounted….”

            That is, for me, a complete explanation of God’s presence in our lives. If we believe and listen we will persist.

                                                Old Wrestlers

Soon following our move to Lake Norman almost five years ago, my wife Mary Ann looked for a representative for a particular beauty product she used. Scanning a long list of saleswomen, she randomly chose one and called her. After their long conversation had finished, Mary Ann came to the library to tell me how pleasant Terri the saleswoman was and how much she looked forward to working with her. It was then that her phone rang, and Terri asked, “Did you say your husband’s name was Roger?”

In 1823 the English Romantic poet, Lord Byron, wrote his poem, Don Juan, in which he writes: “‘ Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange; /Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,…” Over the years many other writers have expressed the same idea in various words, but no matter what version is written, all readers eventually learn the truth of Byron’s words.

There it was for me: Strange but True;  Life not Fiction.  The husband of Terri and I had wrestled against each other in high school. Mike wrestled for Mooresville High School, and I for A.L. Brown in Kannapolis. We competed in the same weight class for two years over fifty years ago and now we meet again, just not on a wrestling mat.

We four had the obligatory lunch to meet and talk and explore. Mike and I then continued sharing lunches, coffee in my shop, and he guided me around our new home, Lake Norman, which he knew well because his career was with the power company that built the Lake.  We soon discovered that we had much in common.: Both of our hometowns had been textile towns when we were wrestling against each other; our parents had worked in the mills; we lived in mill houses, and both of those houses are still family occupied. So much, besides wrestling, shared.

Each week he would call and ask, “Want a coffee?” then in a few minutes he would appear with a soda for himself and the promised coffee for me. Each weekly visit found Mike helping me with some project in the yard or my shop. He is most responsible for the deck that expanded my small shop– giving me much needed work space. A trained engineer, he made certain it was correct and safe. Exact, even. He would rake the abundant pine needles fallen from the 42 pine trees in our yard to use for mulch in his gardens.  Our weekly visit often included lunch, and when we ate at his favorite fast-food eatery, he would pull a rash of coupons from a pocket before paying and say, “A poor man spends money like he is rich, but a rich man spends it like he is poor.”  Then as we ate, some finer points of theology or politics would be discussed. I will always remember how he once looked at me during one of these “discussions” and asked, “Are you that naïve?”

When I work with a project on the deck that Mike more or less built or move in my wheelchair around the yard gleaning pine cones, I see his presence. The bluebird nesting-box with the red roof still graces the pine tree where he fastened it after I “mentioned” to him how it needed to be there. When I admired a long row of irises in a neighbor’s yard, I asked Mike one day as we returned from a road trip to knock on the unreachable (for my wheelchair) door to inquire if I could have some. The kind, elderly lady must of approved of Mike because she gave me permission to take any irises I wanted, and now next to the back garden gate is a small, varied-colored growth of purple irises that Mike and I planted; and, like our friendship, it grows and thickens and blooms.

Both our lives, like all lives, have had their dips and twists and failures and mountaintops. But for two boys from the mill hills of small, textile towns, we have been blessed and have done well. And as I share life with Mike long after our competitive days, I appreciate more and more the odd, interesting, and fulfilling paths that we all travel, whether planned or not. Mary Ann and I moved to Lake Norman not knowing that the “Stranger than fiction” of Byron would happen, and that a friendship would be forged out of a time long ago when two scrappy, mill-hill boys competed against each other. Byron also writes that “…truth is always strange.”  He’s right, of course, but not always in the way it may appear. It’s not strange that Mike and I respected each other as wrestlers. Nor is it strange that there is something deeper now.

Wonderful Winter Day

The 26-degree temperature and frozen bird baths announce this morning’s cold, the first hard chill of 2022. In fact, (“I think to myself, what a wonderful world”) that it is the first one of this winter season as I watch robins, cardinals, chickadees, and thrashers trying to create just a crack in the cruel ice of the birdbaths. All they accomplish, however, is a slide across the unfamiliar frozen circles or a sideways hopping along each edge. They quickly realize the futility involved here and adapt—and gracefully fly to other sources. Above all this life the almost harsh winter sunlight penetrates the scene, but it comes from a slightly more northerly track; proof of the lasting rotation which announces, if one is observant, winter season’s end began on December 21, at 21:48 UTC because that is when the winter solstice occurred in 2022.

Despite the occasional winter cold, I watch the sun rise each day to mark its position over the lake and note that each day’s light is a bit longer before sunset. In this way the gloom of raw, winter days is lessened and hope for warm, light filled days is sustained. For instance, as I type these words the next morning, one patch of the back garden is abruptly filled with red-winged blackbirds that gather at the non-frozen bird bath like members of a dunking sect. They drink, then hop to the turf under the feeder that hangs from the bare dogwood tree. Life, even on such a morning, swarms here and across the whole earth.

In 1967 Louis Armstrong recorded “What a Wonderful World”, the well-known song written and arranged by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele. I quote it in the first paragraph because it is a fine reminder of what we are given in this “wonderful world.”

Once, when I was a young man struggling with my first heartache, my mother said to me, “Son, sometimes this ol’ world is hard.” She, the mother who reared six children alone, certainly knew how true her words were. But she also shared her love of trees and birds and flowers. One memory I hold close is of her standing at her kitchen window, looking out at her back yard that was full of maple trees that we had planted. Today, all these years later, my wife and I enjoy birds visiting a birdbath that adorned her yard beneath those maples. She found solace where she could and used it as one of her shields against the hardness that life sometimes showed.

Armstrong, however, sings that friends, like nature, also make the world a wonderful place. He sings, “The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky/Are also on the faces of people going by/I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do/They’re really saying I love you.”

January cold. Ice. Snow. Short, dark days. All of this real. But even in these days is the promise of better ones coming.  Share it with a friend.

A Letter to My Congressman

Dear Congressman McHenry: Yesterday’s mail brought your most recent flyer which touted on one side some of your 2021 accomplishments and on the reverse side broadcasted, “I want to hear from you.” Below you listed selected issues with a box next to each for checking their concern and a space for “Other.” The list is a litany of standard complaints, whether real or imagined. The issues in order of your listing are: “Inflation and the Economy”, “Crime”, “Gas Prices”, “Taxes &Spending”, “Education Policy”,  “Vaccine Mandates”, “COVID-19”, “Illegal Immigration”, “Gun Rights”, “National Debt’, “Social Security”, “Healthcare”, “Moral Issues’, “National Defense”, “Other.”

Since you reside in Denver, NC, west of Lake Norman, you must know that, like many areas of NC, Mooresville suffers from too much growth in construction of  homes and businesses, but not in roads that can accommodate such expansion. Route 150 which crosses I-77 in Iredell County and continues west across Lake Norman is just one example of traffic troubles. Yet, there is nothing about this economic stifling mess in your flyer. Sir, you must be aware of the dire situation, so why is that not listed as a possible issue of interest for voters in the 10th District? Also, I remind you that other roads such as Brawley School and Williamson Roads in the district are not improving to keep pace and our economy will suffer unless road expansion happens.

Representative McHenry, as an American citizen, I am deeply concerned about the January 6th attack on our democracy. Yet nowhere in your flyer is this assault on our democracy mentioned. I believe you were present in the Capitol during the attack, so it is a fact that you are aware that it occurred, but you do not note it anywhere. Our government is threatened, and my representative does not list it as a possible issue of importance! In your flyer, you write, “As your Congressman, I know that I work for you. That’s why my staff and I do everything we can to be of assistance on matters involving the federal government.” Because you write these words, I ask you Sir,  to assist the January 6th Committee in all ways so that the truth of what happened on that dreadful and dangerous day be told. Someone attacked our federal government, so I encourage you to work with your colleagues to find out who.

One final comment concerning your flyer, Representative McHenry,  and it is one that I hope all American voters will be as repulsed by as am I at your mentioning of “Moral Issues” in a United States Government paid for advertisement. I know you attended and graduated from a Catholic college with a degree in history. I read that you family and you attend a church in Denver, NC, and I applaud your attendance to a house of worship.  But nowhere in your official biography is it written that you have a degree or training in “Moral Issues”, and as a student of history you must be aware that a mentioning of “Moral Issues” borders on trampling on our separation of church and state. I struggle, Sir, to understand how you as a Congressman can help any voter or me with “Moral Issues.”

However, because you mention morality, I ask you, as a member of the Judo-Christian belief, is it moral to support the Big Lie? Is it moral to oppose a commission to determine who attacked America on January 6? Are you, with every vote you make in Congress, being moral?  Is it moral to write the words you did explaining your vote on January 6 concerning the certification of the electoral vote:  (italics are mine) “I also worry about the long-term consequences these actions could have on the Electoral College, which the left has been seeking to eliminate for years. They know its elimination would empower the voters in corrupt and mismanaged blue states like California, Illinois, and New York to be decisive in electing our President. I have no doubt that activists on the left will use Congress’ votes against legally submitted electors as further evidence for why the Electoral College must be eliminated.” Sir, do you have evidence of corrupt and mismanagement in those states? Are you being moral in this accusation or just another politician acting immorally?

Your presence as a representative for me, Sir, worries me because, if your flyer is any indication, you lack the intelligence and moral character to represent any voter anywhere. Perhaps you should seek another line of work.

Respectfully, Roger Barbee, Mooresville, NC

                                                Respect

In one of the many videos of a fan fight that erupted during a game at the John Wall Invitational this week, a voice can be heard saying over and over as the melee is being filmed, “They gonna’ start shootin’.” Fortunately that did not happen, but at a basketball tournament in Salisbury, NC the next day it did. At least one shot was fired in a gym lobby and two youngsters were wounded. Also, two teams in the Wall tournament got into a brawl after their game ended.

What causes such behavior?  Is it poor sportsmanship? Poor coaching? Poor officiating? Poor policing? Poor parenting? Poor economics? Poor education? Or could it be that we are just poor?

The word poor is usually used in relation to money and wealth, as in “We were poor growing up,” or it is used as an adjective or adverb, as in “That was a poor performance.” However it is used, it means without or lacking, and as a reason for such behaviors this week in these two high school athletic events, I  offer that we as a culture are poor in several areas, but mostly in the area of respect.

For instance, one area where respect is needed is that for public and authority figures. Yet too many of us think little of chanting offensive words at a speaker or official during a game. Adults set the tone for such behavior and should respect their role as a model for children and youths by modeling respect for the “stripped shirts”, public office holders, coaches, and others. It seems to me that too many parents today eagerly share their negative opinions of coaches, teachers, and other authority figures with their children. Too many coaches berate officials and whine to their players concerning how a game was officiated. And some mutual respect in every classroom and practice room will improve everyone’s outlook.

Respect like so many values begins with each person, but it is not a natural value. A child must be taught respect by being respected and treasured. Also respect is another word for obedience. If I respect, then I obey. I obey because I respect—the rules, other persons, my culture, myself; it is the acceptance of personal responsibility.

However, in today’s America, too little respect is on display. We have some elected leaders who do not model respect. We have elected leaders who openly flout our laws or norms. We have elected leaders who take no or little responsibility. We have elected leaders who do not engage in civil discourse. And all of that poorness seeps down, I offer. Now, culturally it is accepted behavior to jeer ugly chants to a person I object to, or to physically attack someone I disagree with. The seepage now rest into the world of  our children and young adults.

Perhaps it is now too late for our culture to right itself. Perhaps the fights at the Wall tournament and the gunshots in Salisbury are our new normal. Perhaps, but I know that we, beginning with all adults from the lowest tiered coach to all elected officials, can and must do better. Let’s begin by being polite and showing respect to one another and watch that richness flow to our children. We need not be poor in respect.

Poor God

As a Christ follower, who is doing his best to be obedient, I recently find myself feeling deep empathy for God. I feel this not because I have a sense of superiority to God, but because so many folks seem to invoke His name as an excuse for their behavior or to justify a desire. For instance, we all are now familiar with Jared Schmeck. The  ex-policeman called the NOTAD Santa tracking center on Christmas Eve with his four children. They ended up chatting with President and First Lady Biden. At the end of the call, Schmeck  said, “Merry Christmas” and “Let’s Go Brandon” but insisted that he meant “no disrespect” to the President or First Lady. (He did not mention how he thought his use of such a vulgar coded phrase was interrupted by his children.) Following the exposure of his crude insult, Schmeck whined that he was being attacked for exercising “my God-given right to express my frustrations in a joking manner.”

Schmeck is free to offer a rationalization for his action. He is free to say that he was joking and that he is now being unfairly maligned.  Schmeck is  free, but so am I, and I do not accept his pitiful excuse for his act, but I do hope his children learn that choices have consequences, and those consequences can sometimes be embarrassing or dreadful or worse.

However, I think Schmeck, like so many people in today’s cultural and political climate, goes too far when he invokes a God given right. I suggest that he confuses the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence with the words of the Bible. In my reading and studying of God’s word, I see much about obedience and love, but little, if any, about rights. The right any Christ follower has, is seems to me, is the right to love our God and neighbor. If Schmeck studies the greatest sermon ever taught in Matthew 5-7, he will read about obedience, faith, love, and works but nothing about rights.

God gives us much, but no where in the Bible do I learn about a “right” to be mean, ugly, disrespectful, vulgar, a poor example to children, or more. Those actions are not rights. I pray  that Schmeck took the opportunity to teach his children about their fortune in being able to chat with the President and First Lady on the Eve of Jesus’ birth. I also pray that he remembers the words of James in 3:6-“And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity:….”

Instead of using God to rationalize our words and deeds, let us use Him to justify them.

The Face of Addiction: Stories of Loss and Recovery

Joshua Lawson

Quoir,  $7.95 softcover

A dozen voices from southern Ohio along the Ohio River reveal the humanity behind addiction. These dozen daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and others speak honestly to Joshua Lawson. In their sharing, they show that they are not to be shunned, but to be loved and valued because what they have is an illness, a disease like any other.

As a culture, we too often agree with a sheriff’s words that the only cure for an addict is “a tall tree and a short rope.” In making the users of the “opioid crisis” invisible faces, we make them enemies and losers and worse. But they are, as shown in these interviews, victims of sexual abuse, parental mistreatment, emotional trauma, and other ills. Being addicted to any drug, we learn over and over from these interviews, is not a choice but a result.

Lawson brief book is a testament to St. Paul’s words in Romans 7:19 and because of those words, we need to love the addict and help each of the many of them in our midst realize that they, too, are a child of God. Blaming is not a cure, but validating is.