An Anonymous Letter

 

Friday, September 13, we received a letter mailed from Charlotte on 9-11. Because it was hand addressed to Mary Ann and Delbert Barbee, I think the mailer does not know us well. Only one person calls me by my given first name, Delbert, so the mailer and I must not be friends, or even acquaintances. Comprised of six quotations, the letter is adapted from a column by John Pavlovitz in which he questions the morality of Trump supporters.  One paragraph reads, “Their [Trump supporters] religion is morally, spiritually and ethically bankrupt.”

As far as I know, no person likes or appreciates an anonymous letter, suggestion, or complaint because there is no one to question, discuss with, or even refute. In this situation the receiver is blinded by a spotlight, never to know who shines the light into his or her eyes. Anything anonymous besides a useful quotation or donation slices through potential thoughtful and enriching dialogue. It is all one-sided.

Mary Ann and I do not hide our politics. But we do not sport political yard signs, bumper stickers, or flags. Because the letter is unsigned, we can’t inquire why we received it. Does the sender see us a Trump supporters who need to be enlightened? Does the sender see us as wayward Christians who  need to be re-centered? Or is the sender reminding us of their view of Trump?  We can’t  ask anyone, so we have no dialogue.

We are not offended by the letter, just puzzled why we received it. However, I  see the letter as a deeper symptom of where we are in this country. Prior to the letter, I  had never heard of John Pavlovitz, and I did an easy internet search. He, like many, is a blogger with a sizeable following of people opposed to Trump. Fine. Others like Trump. Fine, again. But the letter demonstrates to  me that we have lost that word which is vital for a republic to work—dialogue. We seem to never discuss views anymore. We accuse. We shout. We fabricate truth or even lie. We have become a stiff-necked people who cannot see the ground below us or turn to see to the left or the  right. Dialogue such as our Founding Fathers built this nation on is dead and that bods poorly for our future.

The oft spoken of isle has been burdened with the characteristics of a wall, perhaps our own version of the Berlin Wall instead of a safe space easily crossed. The isle has evolved into a line that few dare to cross. To do so would show a lack of firm enough convictions of one kind or  another. Yet, perhaps while we pontificate on “our” side of the isle, our ship flounders.

Letters left unsigned are worthless, just as politics without dialogue is. Let’s open up and be mature about our differences. Our country needs it.

Unintended Consequences

As far as I know, only one black school’s students marched to protest the closing of their school for integration of public schools. During the days of public schools being integrated because of the Brown v. Board decision by the Supreme Court, black schools were closed, and their students were required to move to the previous white schools. Black communities across the country, and especially the south, lost a valuable institution, as the building (deemed inferior by the white board of education) was closed and with its students its teachers and leaders were scatted across the land for integration. But students in Walnut Cove, NC marched to keep their school opened, even if it were poorer than the white school.

On September 12, 1970, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), like so many local black schools during the 1960’s, lost its valuable assets when the all-white football team of the University of Alabama got whipped by a University of Southern California team led by Jimmy Jones, Sam Cunningham, and Clarence Davis, three star and black football players. The south’s football, and later basketball, college programs realized the need to recruit black players. The drain of black talent was on—and it made revenue of  $1.1 billion for the NCAA in 2017.

These words are engendered by an article in the October 2019 issue of The Atlantic by Jemele Hill. Why Black Athletes Should Leave White Colleges argues the case for historically black colleges and universities that if star athletes, who earn that billion dollars for white schools, would enroll at such schools as Grambling, Shaw, J.C. Smith then they would  earn much needed money for the struggling historically black colleges and universities. However, Hill explains that star athletes such as Kayvon Thibodeaux choose such schools as the University of Oregon over Florida A&M University because, as Thibodeaux is quoted , “Nobody wants to eat McDonald’s when you [sic] can eat filet mignon.” The comparisons between HBCU colleges is stark. Hill writes that the “Entire endowment of North Carolina A&T is worth barely as much as Clemson’s football campus.” Besides stating the obvious, Hill’s quotation reveals more about major college use of young black men. For instance, why does Clemson have a football campus? To make money, to be competitive in the Power Five athletic conferences. And the young black men sign on at such schools as Clemson (94 % white) to eat filet, not hamburger.

But like the Walnut Cove school, HBCU’s produce a valued product. To quote Hill: “Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country, HBCUs have produced 80 percent of black judges, 50 percent of the black  lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the  black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today.”

Should a rising star athlete go to a college with sub-par facilities or one that serves as a possible springboard to an NFL or NBA signing bonus? Thibodeaux answers for us. But, if he and others can’t bring themselves to attend Grambling State and ride a bus to away games but attend Clemson and play THERE in front of fawning, white fans, then at least give a large portion of that signing bonus to Morehouse, Shaw, or some  other HBCU. They had a great deal of forming the world you benefit from. You owe it to them, whether you are aware of that fact or not.

Rock, Brick, Gun

 

During one 7th grade recess in about 1958, I was playing second base.  In those day we all did not have gloves or bases and one bat sufficed. The softball was old and worn and may have had its cover on securely, but often it was frayed at the seams allowing the wound string to show. We used anything to make a base, and that day my base was a large brick that we had found near the school building. Sometime during that recess, a classmate ran over and tried to take the brick base. I yelled at him, “Roscoe, (not his name) that’s our base. You can’t have it.” He responded, “I’ll bring it right back, I just need it to bust _____ in the head.”

 

The Sunday following the shooting in Odessa and Midland Texas, two other church members and I were discussing the latest mass killing. When I mentioned that it was ironic that this event and the one in El Paso occurred in a state with liberal open carry laws. I asked, “Where was the good guy with a gun?” Both of my fellow Christians seemed to stiffen, and one said, (a hunter) “No one is taking my guns.” The other said, “What I can’t understand is where did all these crazy people who commit these shootings come from?”

My patience runs thin with folks who think that any gun control means they have to forfeit gun ownership and with the ones who hide behind their misunderstanding of the Second Amendment, using both their ignorance and the Amendment for their selfish gain. But I  am interested in the second response about “crazy people.” As my7th grade anecdote shows, people with emotional issues or anger issues or plain meanness have been with us forever. Remember the brothers in my chosen story of creation where a rock served a hideous purpose. Man has always killed, just his methods have become more efficient than that first rock.

Any gun that has the capacity to carry a large magazine and shoot to kill without having to aim, has no place in any society. Those types of guns are for one use—to kill other human beings. My friend the hunter does not use such a weapon for deer hunting. But it is a great weapon for a maladjusted person to use for human hunting. And it is, unlike the rock of Cain, convenient and easy. Just squeeze the trigger and float the barrel across the crowd. It is a rush of power and control for the warped mind. And bloodless because there is little or no bodily contact.

Depraved and ill people have always been with us. My answer to my second friend is that the availability of  weapons of mass destruction is here, and it gives those people a means of striking out and hurting others. You don’t even have to pull the trigger. It is so easy. My reply to my hunting friend is that no one that I know of wants him to forfeit his guns. However, the purpose of the  Second Amendment is to  maintain a militia for common  good, not individual.

Oh, my classmate with the anger issues eventually found something better than a brick and blew his wife apart with a shotgun for having an affair. He died in prison.

 

Suicide by Police?

 

The above three words are startling, but too real in today’s times. The way of  death summarized in those three words has become recognized by mental health providers.

Imagine coming home after working a night shift only to be told by one of the four children you fathered with a woman that she had been in your bed overnight with a coworker who she had been having an affair with. You allowed her and the four children you shared to be in your house, regardless of the affair. You sought help from inpatient mental health professionals because of the  affairs effect on you.

It is not too much of a jump in thinking, to conclude that Danquirs Franklin had some strong feelings for the mother of his children and the children. If not, why did he allow her  to stay in his house while working a night shift even though he knew about the affair. Franklin obviously trusted the woman. But Franklin’s trust and feelings were sinfully wronged when she used his bed for her affair. And, she did not bother to conceal her act from at least one of her four children.

Franklin struck out, and probably because of his strong feelings for the  mother of his children, he could not strike her. But he could strike, even kill, the coworker. So, he goes to find him and when he does, he points the gun at the  man, who  runs. Then, Franklin emotionally collapses. The Burger King manager tries to comfort Franklin by praying with him. Police arrive having been told that a man has  a gun in the Burger King. Kneeling next to the opened passenger door of a car, Franklin is  talking with a man seated in the passenger seat. Police tell his repeatedly to drop his gun. He does not, and when it seems he is drawing the gun, Officer Wende Kerl shoots and kills Franklin.

The shameful mother who had used Franklin’s bed the night before for her pleasure and her lover are no where to be seen. But they, especially the unnamed female, are in my mind responsible as much as Kerl for Franklin’s death. Franklin, it seems to me, was pushed “over the edge” by his child’s words, “Daddy, momma was sleeping in your bed last night with that man.”

Sin abounds in the sad tale of Franklin’s unnecessary death. It seems that the woman abused Franklin and took advantage of his feelings and generosity. Her sin hurt her children and cost Franklin his life. Yes, he  should have sought help and not gone to the Burger King with a gun. Anger is costly, but it is easy to understand Franklin’s pain and his need to close that pain. His action with the gun (was it even loaded?) is inexcusable and too many people use guns to settle disputes. But, try and understand his pain. It is unfortunate that the police had not the opportunity to hear his hurt that caused him to bring a  gun to a public place and  threaten people.

 

 

Intent of Words

 

Before I retired as an administrator and teacher, students began using the word freaking to describe many nouns. While I applauded their correct use of it as an adjective, I grimaced at its popular acceptance and use. Many discussions were held in my office or classroom concerning its vulgar intent. Sad to say, the students and some adults used it, but if in my presence a slight reprimand would be given. It was a discussion I lost as the students believed that freaking was acceptable in any situation because it was not, you know, that word.

It seems that the verbal intent of my students has now spread across our culture. Recently I saw a television commercial for Jif peanut butter. In the commercial a young woman sits on a park bench and spreads Jif over a slice of bread. As she takes a bite, a squirrel appears, and she throws it a tidbit. Soon, she is surrounded by squirrels, and one even sits on the arm of the park bench. She surveys the scene only to notice a human standing to her side who is dressed in a squirrel costume. An over voice says, “It’s that JIFiNG good.” As my students would say, it’s not the word, you know, so it’s okay.

Words and phrases come and go. Some excellent words, such as wicked fall out of fashion and become, too soon, archaic. Other words, such as gay, take on a new meaning altogether. A few, such as quote, become confused with a relative and enter the language in a new usage. And some, such as however and awesome, are doomed to misuse by the uninformed. Sadly, too many derogatory words, continue to be used by the mean and ignorant. And all of this applies to phrases as well. Our language changes, borrows, and evolves with our need for expression. For instance, a word or phrase, can shift meaning by it stress and use in a utterance. The popular two-word phrase beginning with mother can be a compliment or an insult. If  someone says, for instance, “ He is a mean mother ……”, that is a high compliment. However, if someone says, “You mother ……”, that is an insult. Language shifts and moves and evolves with our needs. Word meanings change but substituting one similar word for another is wrong and dangerous.

It does not require a degree in semantics to follow the path of my students or the Jif commercial with their bending of words. For the students’ use, it is simple to see that they are just exchanging one acceptable word for another one. In the commercial, Jif is just using its brand name to exchange for the same one as my students. Now, that word not spoken or written but mentioned,  is simply a word. Like any word, it has a context that requires its correct use. It should not, such as in the sad case of awesome, become overused and thus trite. Uttered at the correct moment and with the right company, it is a useful word. But it does not belong in polite company nor a commercial.

The substitution of freaking and JIFiNG  are poor choices for expressing our feelings. Their use exhibit how our public language has become base. Even our President has encouraged foul language by his utterances against all disenfranchised people and his use of gutter language.

Our language is one of the few things we have for expression. However, our expressions through language reveal our thoughts. When alone in my workshop, upon hitting my finger with a hammer, I  will utter certain words or expressions. Ouch does not seem to satisfy my frustration or relieve the pain. But when in public, more is required of all of us. We need to raise the level of our communication and show that we have a better vocabulary than that of small minded people.

 

A Letter to Parents of Athletic Recruits

A true story: He entered a major mid-west, nationally recognized college program. He was successful and placed 4th as a freshman, then he won back-to-back national championships. His senior year he did not place. It is told that he had to study in order to graduate, so he could not spend as much time practicing as he had his first three years. He graduated and last heard of he was a volunteer coach at a small D-1 school.

College coaches are paid well. A D-1 coach of a nationally ranked program easily has a base salary in six figures. Why? He is paid to win games, not to educate except in his sport. He will keep your son or daughter eligible but considering the recent UNC/NCAA episode concerning oversight of academics, there is a probable chance that your child’s courses will not be much. The old joke of a degree in underwater basket weaving seems all to real.

Two recent articles in The Observer highlight the careers of several local athletes. The paper also printed a fine editorial disagreeing with the NCAA for not having the ethics needed  to oversee academics and instead allowed UNC to police itself. All six of the athletes appear to have superior skills in several sports, but all seem to be planning to be recruited for football, a major money maker for many universities, the NCAA, and coaches. The draw of a major sports program with its separate dormitories, special food, training facilities, and fawning attention is glitter that proves difficult for high school athletes and parents to resist.

Parents are responsible for their child or should be. They need to ask deep and probing questions about academics of any coach who visits their living room. They must remember that the recruiting coach is there about their child’s athletic ability, not his or her academic skills. The coach sitting on the sofa is all about winning games,  not what courses an athlete takes. Staying eligible is the goal, and that may mean taking courses that do not demand rigor in the classroom like the rigor required on the field or in the gym. If parents and athletes ignore acquiring a meaningful education, one that gives skills, the athlete will graduate with little to offer an employer. He or she will have little to fall back on in real life when, just as on the field or floor, a difficulty arises. Parents and high school students must withstand the dream of being the “next” Williamson at Duke who leaves after one year for a huge signing bonus. The harsh reality is that there are few Williamsons or Woods or Iversons. And, injury is a constant worry because a serious one can end a career, so an education becomes even more important as something to utilize. The reality for parents and students is: If I lose my athletic marketability, whether by injury, being replaced, or whatever arises, what is my value to Podunk University?

Everything I read in The Observer about Will Shipley, Power Echols, Stephen Sings and Stephan Thompson impresses me. They are talented youngsters, but the NCAA and its universities/colleges want to use them as commodities. Their abilities to run, throw, and catch is a trove of talent to be exploited. Parents and athletes must protect their own interests and make certain that they, before signing, will be allowed and encouraged to obtain a degree of value.

The young man at the beginning of this  article found that he could not compete at the top level of his sport if he wanted to graduate. He made a good choice, but what price did he pay for his first three years of college?

Prayer

 

In the greatest sermon ever shared, our Savior tells us how to pray. Sixty- five words  in my KJV of Matthew 6  compose what is traditionally called The Lord’s Prayer. Any pastor would admire it for its brevity and force.

Yesterday I shared with my friend Mike how I had gone to church this past Sunday full of anticipation of prayers being offered for Dayton and El Paso. I told Mike how no mention was made of either horrific event, and I later emailed our Pastor expressing my disappointment that no prayer had been offered up for either city. Our Pastor responded that he had been needed on Saturday to be with a family because of  a life-threatening accident so he was unaware of either mass shooting.  Mike listened, then asked, “Were there prayers offered up during the service?” Not grasping his meaning, I said of course, we always have prayers, at least four or five. He asked, “Did the prayers  lift up concerns to the Holy Spirit?” Of course, I responded. “Then” he said, “prayers were offered up for Dayton and El Paso. In fact, by lifting any worry to the Holy Spirit, all our needs are lifted. We don’t need a checklist, Roger, for our prayers. It’s too much that way, so we just need to lift up to the Holy Spirit.”

After Mike left, I  sat in my shop sanding a piece of pine tree root. A good physical act like sanding, with its repetition, is good for my thinking, and I had lots to ponder about my Sunday expectations, and how I had doubted my church and my Pastor. So many errors on one Sunday: I had assumed that everyone in church would know what I knew concerning El Paso and Dayton; I entered Service expecting everyone to act and feel as I; and, worse of all, I came away doubting my Pastor because his commitment following a fatal accident had kept him from being exposed to what I had read and heard in the news.

Luke tells us in Chapter 11 that as Jesus ceased praying, a disciple said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  His version has fifty-eight words. Directly to the heart of how to pray.

Continuous sanding on the tree root brought  its grain into focus. I considered Mike’s words and his point that we do not need a checklist of requests to include in our prayers. Turning the root over to sand the side to be unseen, I realized that a felt prayer, such as the one in Matthew 6 or Luke 11, was like the root in my hand: the back, which would be unseen, still was important because it held the side that would be seen. Although it would not be exposed to the viewer’s eye, it was still a part of the whole. That is why I sand and apply a finish to every back, as I do for each front of a pine tree root. In Hebrews we are told that, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” There it was: the back is Faith. Praying with Faith negates the need for a list of prayer requests. We pray for guidance, showing our obedience and need. When we do, as Mike would say, all things are taken care of.

Joan Chittister writes “Prayer that is regular confounds both self-importance and the wiles of the world.” My self-importance last Sunday short-changed my Church and Pastor, allowing the wiles of the  world to control, instead of just being a part of the  whole.