Shame

As a boy growing up in NC during the 1950’s, I learned the power of a few biting phrases or words used by my mother and other adults. A single mother of six, Flora A. Barbee knew how to use a privet switch, but her words offered a stronger correction for bad behavior. Her use of the word “shame” carried force. “Shame on you”, was used to draw attention to a transgression involving deeds or words. Another rebuke was that probing question, “Have you no shame?” which placed all the responsibility for a misstep where it belonged—on my young shoulders. My mother, like so many other adults of that era, had a good command of what was called “The King’s English” which carried power without being vulgar.

The shame I am writing of is that of the noun, not the verb. The verb form, as any one knows who has had that frightful dream of  being naked in a crowd, is of no use in changing behavior as is the noun. To be shamed serves, in my view, little worth except to emphasize inequalities. That type of shame is external. The internal shame is what changes behavior.

I have been thinking of shame recently, especially when I read the report concerning Davidson College’s  graduate Greg Murphy, who is a U.S. Representative, and his comments concerning Senator Kamala Harris. During the Vice-Presidential debate on October 7, Murphy tweeted: [Kamala Harris] “is a walking disaster…she was only picked for her color and her race. Is that how we pick our leaders now in America?”

Other graduates of Davidson asked that the college issue comments concerning Murphy who has been honored by Davidson and served on its board of trustees. Obviously, the college, a non-profit, is prohibited from commenting on a political candidate, which Murphy is.

I appreciate the position of Davidson concerning the racist, cowardly rant of one of its graduates. But what can it do in such a situation except issue a standard-bearing comment like the one its president did? I suggest, however, that the college can take a powerful stand against such beliefs by refusing to accept donations from Murphy, not naming him to any board, and continuing to speak out for justice by its actions. When a small, private college refuses funds, that sends a statement much like the question of my mother: “Have you no shame?” It is asking the wannabe Wildcat (Davidson’s mascot) to self-examine his or her words and acts. It is a question that is almost the worse act against a member of the tribe—exile. It is an act forcing the offender to  go away for a while and ponder his action. It requires responsibility beyond deleting words from screens.

Words carry weight by what they represent and acts they cause. Yet, our ears are assaulted by vulgar words in print, on screen, and on television. Our shame is non-existent and its lack enables the cowardly a place to hide and do their evil.

Spark

Because of some poor life choices I had made before the fall of 2005, I was working through the emotional pain my choices had left me.  I was talking with a counselor once a week, and I had a cadre of friends who supported me. My siblings proved invaluable. Having some days better than others, I decided to treat myself to a small gift to encourage my mood on October 18, 2005.

Years before that day,  a dear friend had given me a Saint Christopher’s medal that I always wore, and it was held around my neck by a wire that I had fashioned for that purpose. I now wanted a proper chain for my medal, so after school I went to a jewelry store near where I lived. It was one that I knew I could make a purchase without depleting my meager account.  

Because it had been Spirit Day at the school where I taught, I was wearing my favorite Hawaiian Shirt.  I wanted and needed to continue the joy of that day, so I was eager to buy myself a small gift.  Going to the glass counter that was chocked full of rings, jewels, watches, and other items usually for sale by a jeweler, I waited my turn to be helped. A woman dressed in a green pants suit asked what I needed, and I explained that I wanted a chain for my medal. She showed me several chains. Because my key chain hanging from my neck had “Saints” printed on it, she asked if I taught at a near-by school.  I told her that I had worked there, but that I now worked at a school in D.C.

            As I looked at the chains I could afford, she asked if my medal had ever been cleaned and offered to have the store’s repairman clean it for me. Removing it from around my neck, I gave it to her and told her she could dispose of the wire that had served me for years. When she returned to the counter, I had chosen my $30 chain, and she wrote the ticket. Because we were chatting so much, she suggested we move away from the store’s cash register while my medal was being cleaned. The flirt, or spark was on! We exchanged soft information to each other that revealed, but did not divulge facts too personal for a stranger.  However, forty-five minutes later my medal was clean, and the lady in the green pants suite offered to fasten it around my neck because “This chain has a difficult clasp.” I gleefully let her, and I placed the card with her phone number next to the sales receipt in my wallet. Soon after that we had dinner and talked more. She shared how that day was her deceased mother’s birthday. I shared that when I arrived home after my purchase,  I had called a sister and said, “I met a woman.”

The following July we married. We share life. We age together. All of this joy after being unable to see the beauty of many October days. But now one of my cherished gifts from Mary Ann is an antique child’s school chalkboard on which she wrote: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made….”

I have kept the sales receipt for that chain as a reminder of what life can be. It reminds that life’s sparks are all around us, but we must be prepared to see, accept, and grasp them. And those sparks come anytime, but they are especially good in “the last of life, for which the first was made…,” when all else seemed doomed.

Late Friendships

We moved to Lake Norman three years ago and are now comfortably settled in our home and neighborhood. We know people. They know us. Each day someone stops for a visit in the shop and a myriad of topics are discussed: Children, grandchildren, religion, politics, sports, reading, and so much more. Our life here on LKN is made richer by these friendships formed late in our lives and the lives of our new friends.

However, friendship is usually thought of as something from childhood or college or a time when folks were younger, such as when rearing children. Those friendships formed during the struggles of youth and learning are invaluable as we travel through the paths of later life; we depend on those people because they have, over the years, become permanent posts in our lives on which we lean. They are now part of our root system because they, years ago, helped form us. But since retirement, my wife and I have discovered new friends in our late years. These new friends are retired as we, and they are intricate parts of our lives whether individually or as a couple. Yet, I sometimes wonder what these newfound friends were like thirty or forty years ago. I wonder if, had we met at age forty, would we have been friends. But I do not wonder too much, I just cherish the friendship because those types of questions never can be answered. To wonder about such things is as useless as holding onto regrets of a past action. Although each new friend late in life has a past, as do I, the present is what I know unless I learn when the friend shares some of his  or her past.

But one new friend is different, however, because she was in a writing group with me. She, at the bidding of her two children, was writing her life’s story. So each week during writing group, she shared parts of her life. All of it: The despair when the custom-built home that she and her husband had built burned to the ground. The shock of her divorce. The early life on a southern Georgia farm. Her love of classical music. Being the wife of a medical student in Washington, DC. Life as a single mother for her son and daughter. Her sister’s schizophrenia. Her love of literature and painting. And more.

Yvonne’s rich life from a Georgia farm to New York City to D.C. to Florida and finally to Mooresville interested the writing group and me. Her’s was quite a story, but I was most impressed by her late life, when she, my wife Mary Ann, and I became friends.  Every Sunday she sang in the church choir. Each Wednesday she shared the communal meal before joining the writing group before going to choir practice. Her life revolved around family, music, painting, reading, and telling her story. All as she battled her cancers. But if one did not notice her dry mouth as she read or sang or spoke, her cancer did not show itself, yet it presented itself in many ways, and she gracefully stiffed armed it like Thurber’s Rex: Her resolve is legendary with those who know her and she is not to be defeated except on her terms, which have now arrived.

            In 1st Kings, at the end of his life, King David says to his son Solomon, “I go the way of all the earth.” Yvonne’s journey is now where that kings was, and she has asked her daughter to move her from Levine in Concord to her home-to her library. A simple request that will offer dignified death surrounded by family, cherished books, her two loving cats, her paintings, and the last revision of her word-processed story that her children and grandchildren will read, and through which come to know and appreciate her well-lived life.

Herd Mentality

During my forty-year career in education I witnessed too often the damage of peer pressure. In order to “belong” to a group, a student would adopt behavior and dress to demonstrate they had reached the threshold of being “one of us.” This pressure was mostly negative and even dangerous because it required a student to follow imposed mores and not his or her own morality. At times this acquiescing to demands made by a group could result in serious circumstances, such as when a young female would “give it up” so that she would belong to the group of cool.

We all want to belong; to be a member of something larger than ourselves. Belonging to a group gives us a sense of worth, a sense of safety, and a sense of justice. If we become a member, then we become validated by the group and whatever price paid for membership becomes secondary to the belonging. This herd mentality, we hope, will lead us to herd immunity, the place where all members of our herd are protected by our experience and exposure.

 When I coached a high school wrestling team, I had team tee shirts with “Iron sharpens iron” printed on the backs.  I told the wrestlers that they were to help sharpen their teammates during every practice. I explained that they were each responsible for helping their teammates become better wrestlers and people. Iron sharpens iron. While the wrestlers were part of a team, a herd if you will, or a tribe, even, they were individuals most of all. They were parts of the whole, but they were required to be individual wrestlers, just like the individual strands of a rope. If they were not independent wrestlers, the team suffered because they were not being the best that they could be. Iron sharpens iron. The phrase I used comes from Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

But if one becomes trapped in herd mentality then he or she relinquishes individuality and is not sharpened by others. Instead of challenging and making each other sharper, the easy life of following the herd takes over. The price does not matter anymore; all that counts is the sense of belonging to the group. The aspiring member will now do anything to belong to the herd–even expose his or her children to possible infection of a disease that is rapidly spreading. Such illogical acts feed the self-serving aspirant. Membership in the herd has now taken over.

The trap of herd life is all around for Christ followers, and always has been. However, we are reminded to be wary of false leaders and ideas. The 1st Century Christians had to battle against tempting ideas such as Gnosticism. They had to use the discernment we are all given. They had to be aware! And we are to be aware as well for temptations that come in attractive packages. Such temptations are not only of the flesh, but of the lure of power, money, and belonging to a herd that offers only the allure of riches. After all, we can never be fully immune to any evil. That is perhaps the biggest lie of all.

To Mask or not to Mask

Following the RNC acceptance speech of President Trump that was held on the South Lawn of the White House, I saw a photograph of Senator Thom Tillis sitting in the crowd without a mask. I wrote him a note, but never received a reply. However, I did read a press release from him where he took responsibility for his poor judgement by not wearing a mask while in public, and he promised to make better choices in the future. Then came the Rose Garden event for Judge Barrett and the indoor reception for her and her family in which Senator Tillis participated. One photograph from that indoor reception shows Senator Tillis sitting on a bench in seemingly deep conversation with one of Judge Barrett’s sons. It is a chilling photograph because it shows our Senator speaking to a child without wearing a mask. The only conclusion I can draw is that the parents of the child nor the senator saw any danger in the mask less reception and the child being subjected to a close, conversational encounter with an adult who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Yesterday’s mail included more exhibits of Senator Tillis’ new-found judgement. It conatined a flyer supporting Senator Tillis with a  photograph of him shaking a woman’s hand in some type of store. Neither wear a mask and the heavy type reads:

“MASKS ALONE WON’T SAVE OUR  ECONOMY”.

            Well, the flyer is right in a typical, half-way Tillis way. An economy requires more than wearing masks. Any economy, it seems to me, is built on a sense of duty to self and others. An economy requires a workforce that is vigorous in mind and body. An ill worker cannot support an economy; in fact, an ill worker is a drain on any economy. An economy needs customers to purchase services and goods. However, if customers are hospitalized or otherwise incapacitated

by illness, they cannot make purchases. No economy can flourish when infected high interest rates, inflation, stagnation, or COVID-19.

            Health care workers, included the ones appointed by our government, have repeatedly told us of the value of wearing a mask when in public. We know that a mask worn, along with social distancing, and  hand washing will greatly help in controlling this pandemic. Yet, this flyer shows no one wearing a mask and repeatedly gives the impression that our economy can be built with no or little regard to public safety and health.

            After being photographed not wearing a mask as he sat with about 1,000 other mask less supporters on the South Lawn during the RNC, Senator Tillis made a promise. But a few weeks later he follows the herd mentality of too many people and attended the full Rose Garden event-inside and outside-without wearing a mask. He even potentially infected a child.

            Masks matter. It is time to put away any of the mealy excuses for not wearing them when in public. A mask worn in public is being patriotic; not wearing one in public exhibits quisling behavior.

            Our economy is in shambles. It cannot be mended until its owners, customers, and leaders are healthy. Sadly, until we all refute Senator Tillis’ mask less ways, we will languish and not advance in any meaningful way.

A Poor Contract

            Imagine that you have conducted a diligent search for a qualified painter to repaint your living room, dining room, master bedroom and bath. You even ask neighbors for recommendations and interview several contractors and chose the one who impressed you most. He returns in a few days to present his contract, which is specific and thorough and impressive. You sign it, are presented your copy, and you write him  a check for twenty-five present of the total cost. Before the beginning date you and your spouse remove wall decorations and every small item from tables. You are excited and ready for the agreed-on date for his crew to show. But the crew does not show on the date, and when you call the contractor to find out why, he babbles some excuse about trouble with a truck or van. The next day the crew does show, moves furniture in the living room, spreads drop cloths over everything, and leaves for a lunch break, never to return. You make another call only to hear the owner’s voice mail message. All calls that afternoon to him go directly to voice mail, and frustration grows in your home. But the next morning, his crew appears and works a full day to finish the living room. You and your spouse breath a big sigh of relief and that night re-arrange the freshly painted and pleasing room. But your happiness ends the next morning when the crew does not come to paint the dining room, which is in disarray waiting to be painted. You get the picture; and you may have had a similar experience of deciding when to forget the time and money you have invested and find another paint contractor.  Is such a contentious time worth the price?

The above scenario is all too real, and it is important for Christ followers. Our time is much like that of the 1st century Christians—we have contention all about us, and how are we to deal with them is easy to answer, but difficult to do: We turn to God and give it all to Him. Yet, we are so involved in the day-to-day events of our lives, like the story of the painting, that we fail to hear the answer that Scripture gives us: Avoid contentions and contentious people. While the Bible was written in the arena of early Christianity and its unrest, such as that which Paul in his two letters to Timothy points out, we should follow it and its wisdom in our modern, secular lives. The painting contractor, like so much in our secular lives,  will consume our resources and lives if we do not fully use our discernment.

Sin is like that mythical contractor because by trying to control, we will fail. Sin, like that contractor, will consume our lives and we will expend resources that will produce no useful product. The rooms may eventually be painted, but at what cost to us? Is this a battle worth the price? Has our ego taken over our senses? We Christ followers find many situations and people like this one surrounding us and we need to go to God’s word and examine what it tells us to do and how to act.  

We Christ followers are warned that His path is not an easy one, but we are re-assured that if we walk His path we will be rewarded. We are also reminded that some battles are beyond us, and we are to “shake the dust from our sandals” and move on. The situation with the painting contractor is an example of one in which we will only lose. Just like all situations involving sin. These contentious times and people  tempt us, and we think that we are in control or that we need to “stay fully informed.” But no, the sin controls, and we need to wash our hands of the situation or person and return to God.

“White Silence is Violence”

Recently I listened to a Podcast, something that I, as a visual learner, am reluctant to do. However, the title of this one intrigued me, so I opened Christianity and Racism: Part 1.

The young man producing the podcast shared his feelings concerning a poster his girlfriend and he saw while walking down a street in Ashville, NC: “White silence is violence” was printed on the poster and that sentiment angered him. He went on to explain that he was offended by that idea because he, as a white Christian, did his best to follow James 1:19, “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath….”  The podcaster continued to explain how he  always waited for accurate information before making any decision. Thus, he is silent in regard to situations such as the George Floyd one until “all the facts are in.” Well, I thought, that is a prudent attitude that we all should follow. However, I think he misunderstood the Ashville poster. Let me offer an explanation.

            In on-going situations, such as the one surrounding Kyle Rittenhour, prudence and patience are necessary. All the facts are not known, and any video should be viewed with a critical eye. So, in such a moment, the podcaster is correct. But I suggest that the white silence the poster refers to is the historical silence of whites surrounding racial inequality. When someone is an open racist like George Wallace (he did later apologize), other whites need to do what is required by the Gospels and speak out against his racism. By offering an excuse such as “I’m not involved,” or “I don’t treat people like that,”  the silent white person allows the bigot to be violent. Our white silence has perpetuated racial violence over the years by us not shouting out against the acts of racist. For instance, how does the podcaster see the action of Governor Abbott in Texas reducing ballot boxes to only one per county just before an election? Remaining silent may give rise to this attempt to make mail-in balloting more difficult. But will the podcaster wait for more information? Will the action of Governor Abbott be permitted through our silence, like that of the Jim Crow era and more?

            Rev. Clarence Jordan taught us well. He is not a long-ago historical figure like Jesus, an Eastern rabbi. Rev. Jordan, a Baptist,  lived and worked in southwest Georgia during post WWII America and was such a follower of the Sermon on the Mount that Hoover’s FBI watched him. The KKK bombed his farm. But he was not silent, and his life still influences. I highly recommend that the podcaster read him, and then ask why he, a white man, need be angered by such a poster. Perhaps his reaction should be one of enlightenment and action.

Hope “for one of the least”

The pandemic, forest fires, and racial unrest seem to be consuming us and affects us in many ways. At times it is as if we live under a constant sky of grey (in the West the sky is grey from the fires) but we do not suffer the clinical disease of Depression; it is just that the situation we now live under is depressing. We suffer “doom and gloom.” A bit of good news and sunshine improves our mood and outlook, and today’s paper brought a bright ray of light.

I have no idea what it must be like to be a well-known professional athlete. I cannot imagine their salaries, fame, and lives: The adoring fans, the gobs of money, the temptations, the hard work, the groveling coaches from middle school through college, and more. While I have no reference for these parts of their live, I know from experience one thing about their lives: The sound of the bottom when one of them hits it. And there are too many documented stories of the sad rise and fall of a boy or girl who is gifted with certain skills in athletics.

When the pandemic first washed over us, I read an article about this man, Mark Cuban, who owned a professional basketball team. While I had never heard of him, I found as many articles as I  could to read about his “reaching out” to all of the workers in his arena to pay them for lost revenue during the pandemic. Now, today, he reaches out again to a human being in need. Mr. Cuban hears that an ex-NBA star is homeless. He arranges to meet him at a gas station in Dallas. Cuban, a wealthy man, does not send someone to pick up the downtrodden basketball player, but drives himself. Yes, he has someone filming the event, but he, Mark Cuban, is there. Involved. And helping to rescue a life that has been shattered because of bipolar disease. Sure, the man could shoot three-pointers all day long, but he suffered from an insidious disease that could only stay masked so long.

Homeless. Standing on the street with a cardboard sign. No relationship with family. Embarrassed by his fall. But another heard of his trouble and worked to meet and bring him in for help. Mark Cuban did that. And his riches do not, in my mind, matter. What Mark Cuban did was an act done “for one of the least”. That is righteous and a ray of sunshine through these cloudy days.

What if Brad P. Were Black?

            A wife calls police telling the 911 operator that her husband is threatening suicide and has guns in his house which is in an upper scale location and is waterfront. Local officers and the SWAT team arrive and successfully defuse the situation with the 6’8” man who wears an imposing beard. A life is saved.

            What if the house had been surrounded by empty lots and boarded up houses and the wife and her husband were Black? Would the life have been saved or treated like those of Taylor, Floyd, and so many more?

Christians for Trump

In order to help several members of my family, most of my neighbors, and many members of the Baptist church I attend in their march to re-elect President Trump, I suggest they form a new group to  help themselves him: Christians for Trump. It is my wish that the 10 listed beliefs will help them reconcile the Four Gospels to President Trump’s actions and words.

  1. As a Christian for Trump member, I trust God to use President Trump “To Make America Great Again” just as He used the sinner King David to create Israel.
  2. As a Christian for Trump member, I disregard President Trump’s sometimes vulgar language, such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, because none of us are perfect.
  3. As a Christian for Trump member, I recognize that the multitude of women who have accused him of assault are celebrity seekers, nothing more than modern-day Jezebels
  4. As a Christian for Trump member, I deny his racism as nothing more than fake news from BLM and other radical left organizations.
  5. As a Christian for Trump member, I work to support President Trump’s words  that “It [the COVID-19] will go away,” and we need not panic even as we bury over 200,000 folks.
  6. As a Christian for Trump member, I trust President Trump and not the CDC or FDA
  7. As a Christian for Trump member, I believe in the Dow, not the jobless rates and fading small businesses on our Main Streets.
  8. As a Christian for Trump member, I  support the practices of ICE and the sub-contractors who build cages for children while ignoring the Sermon on the Mount
  9. As a Christian for Trump member, I  contribute funds to help build the wall to keep rapists, drug dealers,  and other criminals out of America.
  10. As a Christian for Trump member, I support a third term for President Trump because of the unfair media treatment he has received.
  11. Amen!