Sheltered Minds

 

 

A school board in southern Alaska voted to remove five novels from an approved list for high school English teachers this fall. Last week, the Matanuska-Susitna School Board in Palmer, Alaska, voted 5-2 to remove the novels: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; Catch-22 by Joseph Heller; The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, according to news’ outlets.

The books were removed because of, to cite a few reasons, their use of graphic language, sex, molestation, profanity, racist attitudes, misogyny, and violence. Oh, and for “anti-white” messaging.

According to the local Daily News, board member Jeff Taylor described the controversial content as “things that are pretty serious problems, especially in our teenage world. Is there a reason that we include books that we even label as controversial in our curriculum? I would prefer these were gone.”

Board member Jim Hart said if he read Angelou’s description of her childhood molestation “in a professional environment at my office, I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office.”

Like these two men, we are all entitled to our opinions, especially those relating to literature and what literature should be made available to students. It is worth noting that the above mentioned books remain on school library shelves and a local movement supporting them is alive in Palmer.

However, what concerns me is the removal or banning of a book because of those reasons so often cited: sex, racism, anti-anything that is deemed worthy by those in power, brutality, and so on. I have read all the removed books in Palmer and have taught each but Invisible Man and Catch-22, which I thought too long and complex for the high school students that I taught. However, I always had great success with the other three, especially Gatsby and Carried.

But if the matrix we will use to judge books is the presence in them of profanity, brutality, sex, racism, sexist attitudes, and so on, we have placed the Bible on the banned list.

I am currently re-reading the Old Testament. Having just completed the Pentateuch, I am beginning to re-read the story of the conquest of the Promised Land. In Joshua 6, the whore Rahab is introduced and because she betrays her city (Jericho) she and her family are saved, but as is written in verse 21: “And they [ Israelites] utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” Later  in chapter 10 it is written how Joshua at Makkedah “smote it with the edge of the sword, he let none remain.” He does the same at Debir.  Joshua’s conquest is brutal, but some of the judges of Israel, in the next book, such as Sampson and Jephthah, also offer reasons to remove or ban their stories from literature. Sampson, the one who traded his soul for sex, and Jephthah who offers his daughter as a human sacrifice, are no better than Tom Buchanan or Jay Gatsby in language or deed.

The road of removing, banning, or burning books is dangerous. To ban one book for a “crime” of language or sex or such, leads to a ban of all books. I offer that no book contains as much offensive material as the Bible. I show only a few chapters above as illustration, but beginning with Genesis, it is full of nudity, murder, lust (who are those “men of renown” in Genesis 6), envy, and more. Yet, every story from the Bible is used by Christians to teach a lesson. Look at how we use David, the murderer of the husband of the woman he impregnated, to teach a lesson(s).

Literature, which may be fiction, non-fiction, short, long, poetic, metaphoric, apologetic, and more teaches us a lesson of life. And as we all know, life can be ugly or beautiful, as its people are. All literature that contains value will teach a lesson that may be a new one learned or re-enforce an old one. No matter. It should be read and studied to determine if it has any value. Does it cause thought and self-examination? Does it open minds? If it does, keep it. If it does not, it will die its own death without being removed, banned or burned.

 

 

Just Another Day

 

In reading Exodus chapters 25-31, I have always puzzled at the precise directions God gives Moses for the building and use of the Tabernacle. Precise is one word to describe those directions. Another one is exact. I always finish reading those chapters by marveling how Moses accomplished to follow those directions in the Wilderness. However,  he did and, as always, there is a lesson in the story.

As a retired person, I no longer need an appointment calendar. While I do record meetings with doctors and dentists in the family calendar, the ones I used to keep where I recorded daily meetings now gathers dust in a cabinet drawer or rots in some landfill. My wife Mary Ann and I no longer say, “I have to meet with so-and-so,” or “I have to be in Arlington tomorrow for a meeting.” In fact, since we have retired, we no longer use the phrase, “I have to.”

Because of our relaxed daily, weekly, yearly schedules, we can now say, “I get to.”

In her fine novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, has one of her “porch characters” named Jones describe the new mayor of town in these words, “Joe Starks is too exact wid folk.”  As Jones means, being too exact or precise can be a problem. But not in Exodus and its message.

While Mary Ann and I have less recorded appointments during retirement, we both have kept Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings open for church activities. You could even rightfully observe that we have fallen into habit on those days, but I prefer to think that we are following ritual. Much like the Ancient Wanders in the Wilderness, we have an exact time and way of observance for those two days of the week. And like all repeated activities, they have become easier with the passing of weeks into months into years. While we have not conducted our attendance out of rote, we have performed it over and over. Habit? No, but a dedication built out of devotion.

However, those two reserved days have become endangered. Because of the COVID-19 virus, we Christians cannot attend our weekly church activities. While the absence of Wednesday night supper and lessons and choir rehearsal is not crucial, not attending Sunday School and worship presents the danger of our losing Sunday as the most important day of the week.  Because of the virus, worshipers of all religions and faiths have been forced out of their prescribed path and must adjust to the new circumstances.

Adjust. That is what any coach or athlete will tell you is necessary when a plan goes sideways—change the way to accomplish your goal. Because of the Internet, we can worship in the somewhat the way we are accustomed to doing. Our churches and other houses of worship “live-stream” services or even use drive-in movie theatres as places of worship. I applaud all those creative means of worship during these days.

However, I fear that if we are not careful, we may lose the distinctiveness of our worship days. If we become too lax in our “attendance” to worship service by not setting aside our day of worship, whether it is Sunday or some other day, it will become “just another day.” For instance, just because I watch our pastor share his message on my laptop does not excuse me from following him in my own Bible as he reads and refers to Scripture. As a member of his flock, I owe him a seriousness of attention that, while made more difficult by the circumstances, is still up to me to give.

In reading all the exact directions given to Moses, I do not read him complaining. In the wilderness, he is to have the dimensions of the Temple exact. Textures just so. Colors correct. On and on, all for a reason. We are now in a wilderness of sorts, but we should work to maintain a seriousness of worship for that one day, to not allow our day of worship to become “just one other day.”

Two Brits and One Nightingale

 

 

“When it is bottled up inside of you it is worse than reality.”

The pronoun it in the above quotation can represent almost anything. In this case,  the it stands for the horror that has haunted Ian Forsyth for 75 years.  A  21-year-old tank operator from South Lanarkshire, England, Forsyth had fought from Normandy after D-day, through Europe with a reconnaissance unit, and in April 1945, found himself facing the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp. He could not identify the odd smell of the place, and he had no knowledge concerning the starving people standing behind the barbed wire fence, and the people behind the fence did not know who he was. Bodies were, he says, stack everywhere. A young man, he became aware of how low mankind could sink. In a few days, his unit moved on, but what he had seen stayed with him. That and his unanswered questions about the place and its prisoners. After the war, he returned home, but his mother forbade him from talking about the horrors he had seen. Thus, the quotation above telling how his unspoken became worse than reality.

After I read about Mr. Forsyth in an on-line article from BBC, I kept returning to his words: “When it is bottled up inside of you it is worse than reality.” He walked the streets at night he says, and he tells how his wife suffered from his sharing. Yet, all these years later he is still haunted by what he witnessed.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Forsyth has suffered all these years, but we can learn from his suffering.  We all have the experience of emotions, not on the level of the horrors of The Holocaust as Mr. Forsyth saw, but emotions from living and sharing life with other human beings. Of course, what we are experiencing with the COVID-19 virus cannot be compared to The Holocaust, but we can benefit from Mr. Forsyth’s words and not allow our pent-up emotions to bottle up and become “worse than reality.”

Each of us, I think, need to remember the words of President D. Roosevelt made famous by President Kennedy. Each of us, I suggest, will be better off if we think of our entire tribe instead of ourselves. Thinking and praying for others will always lessen the inconveniences we feel about ourselves. Yes, there are real dangers present in ours lives. However, if we can focus our emotions on the others who suffer, we will be stronger.

There is no comparison, let me state again, to our situation and that of Mr. Forsyth. Ours is so much less than the horror of what he saw. We are fortunate that we have much, and we may disagree but so far are not disagreeable. Let us pray that that remains so.

In the meantime, look for what is good in life. See the sunrise. See the smile of another. Know that our world has made it through worse times, like that of Mr. Forsyth. But, talk about how you feel. Share frustrations and sorrows and joys and fears around the COVID-19 virus with each other. Talk  with one another, don’t chatter in meaningless conversations. Remember that, as is written in my favorite book, “This too shall pass.”

If you have doubts, Google Beatrice Harrison and read how a recording in her garden during WW I inspired a country. We can do this, but by sharing the burden, not casting it off.

Nelson’s Spaghetti

Nelson’s Spaghetti

The Covid-19 virus has ruined many small businesses, and local restaurants in and around our town of Mooresville, NC are suffering. My wife and I have several local eateries we like, but we especially enjoy two. When the mandate came that closed them to only take out, we discussed our role in helping them stay open, and decided to make a conscious effort to order some meals from each, realizing that, while take out is not the same as dining in their warm, relaxing atmospheres, they needed our business. If we wanted to enjoy them later, we had to support them now. So,  recently we ordered a take-out supper from one, Blu Star, and at the correct time we drove to pick up our waiting dinner.

Usually if we drove to Blu Star’s location during the dinner hour, traffic would be heavy and parking tight. Not this evening of the pandemic. Boom! Pulled up right in front, and Mary Ann hopped out to get our meal. While I waited, I counted cars in the shopping center—seven parked, but one soon left when its driver came out of the juice bar with her cup of cold, multi-colored liquid. One driver of a huge, black truck parked it deftly and getting out walked towards two  restaurants behind me. Waiting for Mary Ann, I recalled the adage that seemed appropriate for so many businesses in the current situation—any port in a storm. While only one customer, the driver was a person who would spend money, I hoped, at one of the restaurants behind me. He was part of the port so needed right now.

Mary Ann returned to the car and as soon as she sat in her seat, said, “You won’t believe what Nelson [the owner] was doing.” She buckled her seat belt and as we drove out of the forlorn shopping center, she told me how Nelson and a worker were busily packing Styrofoam containers with spaghetti meals for Charlotte homeless. When she asked him about what he was doing, he explained that his church was participating in a program to get good meals to homeless folks, and his restaurant was providing nourishing dinners-spaghetti piled high with yummy sauce, garlic bread, and salad.

Before we had left our home to pick up our dinner, we had discussed how much to tip the manager, who we have known since we moved here. Mary Ann suggested a good sum and when she paid our bill, she gave Stephanie the twenty. Yet, driving home and hearing that story, I realized that no tip was large enough for what was happening in Blu Star, one of the many businesses feeling the crunch of this epidemic. There, in the midst of such a need for income, Nelson and his staff were giving to others who had less than he and them.

Arriving home, I enjoyed my dinner, even if not eaten in the cozy confines of Blu Star. But the more I think of what Mary Ann witnessed, the more I realize that there, on the spread-out tables of Blu Star, was the Sermon on the Mount being played out in real time. Right there.

Dogwood Trees and Forty Days

 

Memory is suspect—yours, mine, all memory may have been warped by suggestion, desire, denial, or other factors. But if it is your memory, then claim it and cherish it because it is part of who you are.

One of my claimed and cherished memories is of blooming, white dogwood trees, the cold that arrives in an early spring, and Easter. One recent evening I sat on the screened porch and marveled at the full blooms of one of our dogwood trees. Looking at the rich array of white on the tree, I recalled warmly the myth taught to all us children: The story told that the dogwood was so small and misshaped because its wood was used for the Cross; and the four petals, shaped like the Cross, had blood-like stains on their tips. But for that evening, I just enjoyed the beauty of that one tree and of the other three dogwood trees in full bloom. Now, the week after Easter, all the white petals lie on the ground. Washed off by a strong rain or blown asunder by bitter, cold wind, the white of the dogwoods is just a memory.

Paul uses a powerful verb to describe what happened on the Cross. But after Jesus tasted death during his humiliating form of death, He rose from the dead and spent forty days with his disciples and others. One of my favorite stories of that time is the one told in Mark and Luke. Luke’s version, in more detail, shares that two believers are walking to Emmaus, a village near Jerusalem, when they are joined by another person. When the couple (Cleopas and his wife Mary) arrive at home, they invite the stranger they had been talking with about the recent events concerning Jesus in Jerusalem to stay with them. When they sit to eat, the stranger breaks bread, and they recognize the risen Lord, who “vanished out of their sight.” The Christians of the first century “lost” Jesus for those three, affrighting days, but He came again as promised, and He walked and lived with them for forty days.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had been there with Cleopas and Mary. I don’t know how I would have acted if I had been on that shore to see Jesus next to a fire of coals, ready for cooking some of the catch. However, I do know that when I watch the dogwoods come into bloom, I am thankful for their beauty, the adults who taught a young boy truth and myth, and the man who tasted death for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Having Courage does not Mean a Lack of Fear

 

Holy Week during the COVID-19 virus has been difficult. For safety of others and ourselves, we Christians cannot celebrate His victory over death as we usually have. Passover is also affected in the same way. But because we cannot be together does not prohibit us from worshiping.

As I was riding this morning, the wind blew the many pine trees in our front yard. Riding on the stationary I saw their tops whipping around as pinecones fell. The dogwood next to me showered the ground with bright, white flowers. Their blanketing of the area stirred the memory of the myth I was taught which claimed that the four petals formed the shape of the Cross and the roan color at the end of each symbolized the blood of Jesus. A sweet memory of a harmless myth taught to many children.

That memory of long-past Easters moved me to think of the Twelve, for whatever reason. Riding the stationary, gusts blowing pollen about, I  thought of that group of varied men. They carry such importance for Christians, yet we know so little of them. And what we do know, would not be inspiring if we did not know the conclusion of their collected and individual stories. They each, even the traitor, have profiles, which like all profiles, may or may not be accurate.

One, Thomas, is sometimes thought of as being “doubting” because of words he spoke when not present in the Upper Room. Be that as you  wish, I  like to remember John’s words of Thomas in his Gospel, 11:16. The brother apostle writes: “Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him [Jesus].,

Knowing that Jesus faced certain death by walking to Bethany, which was two miles east of Jerusalem, Thomas spoke to the other disciples, telling them that they, and he, should go with their Master to die. William Barclay writes that Thomas’ words show his courage and loyalty, even if he were afraid. That is the Thomas I revere.

By my ride’s conclusion, I realized that we need to be more like Thomas. We all are chosen by God, but we must have the needed courage to follow His path. On this Good Friday during the COVID-19 virus, let us all have the strength of Thomas.

ODU cuts to become national

“We are saddened to have to make this decision, but it’s one that was made with the long-term best interest of the athletics program in mind,” said director of athletics Dr. Camden Wood Selig. “No one wants to reduce opportunities for young men to compete and represent Old Dominion, but we are required to be responsible with departmental resources. Our decision became even more clear during this coronavirus crisis, which we know will have significant impact on future athletics budgets. This decision will better allow the remaining sports to compete at a national level.”

The above quotation explains why Old Dominion University cut its wrestling program. The decision was made in part after a six-month study of the athletics program was made by an outside consultant. According to ODU the report reviewed the situation in the national college sports scene, it identified current and future financial challenges, and it evaluated Title IX compliances. Thus ODU decided to cut a varsity sport and wrestling was chosen. It is estimated that the move, when fully implemented, will save about $1 million.

As a wrestling coach, old wrestler, and fan of the sport, I am angry by this move. Dr. Selig, the AD,  states that the million saved “will better allow the remaining sports to compete at a national level.” When I read his words, I found the 2020 football schedule and saw that it mentioned, rather proudly, of the Monarchs hosting Wake Forest in its opening game and a bit later playing UVA at home, also. Wow! Right in there with some of the Big 5, which I think this move is about. It seems to me that too many schools dream of having programs such as LSU or Clemson. The lure of fame and money cloud the vision of alumni and coaches and administrators.  Honestly, does Dr. Selig think that by cutting wrestling the field hockey team or golf teams will become national contenders. Or the football team. I doubt it.

For years I have heard the phrase “non-revenue sport” to describe any team that does not fill a stadium or arena, producing a profit. Yet I offer that any sport at any university college or high school produces a rich revenue because of the participation, sacrifice, team presence, and more for any athlete. That is revenue that cannot be computed but is valuable for the school and its students.

Also, the Title IX program was designed to help female athletic programs, not hinder or hurt male programs. But it seems that this has, at times, developed into the “tail wagging the dog.” No male program should be penalized to satisfy Title IX, but I fear it happens  all too often.

ODU, like many institutions, face difficulties caused by COVID-19. However, they all should enrich programs, not slash and burn them. The cost of such thinking and action hurts more that the athletes of all those “non-revenue sports.”