Poimen and Tekton


Robert Fitzgerald, the highly regarded translator of Homer, writes in his postscript of The Odyssey: “… It [The Odyssey] can no more be translated into English than rhododendron can be translated into dogwood. You must learn Greek if you want to experience Homer….” Not a reader of any foreign language, I am glad to have such a translator as Fitzgerald who admits that his craft is not sufficient to do justice to the original.  I recently encountered David Bentley Hart’s new translation of the New Testament which I enjoy and use. In our Sunday School, we are reading and studying The Forgotten Jesus by Robby Gallaty to better the Eastern Rabbi, Jesus.

Reared as a Southern Baptist, I grew up reading or hearing the KJV translation of the Bible. As an adult I wandered– sometimes a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Brethren, and sometimes a none. Yet, as an English teacher, I read and sometimes taught stories from the KJV. No translation I read had its poetry and grace. We memorized the 23rd Psalm and Lord’s Prayer and knew what the archaic words meant. And out of the KJV I held to certain beliefs, such as from Matthew 13:55: “Is not this [Jesus] the carpenter’s son?” Then last week I read in Gallaty this: “Read aloud Matthew 16:18; 21:24; and 1 Peter 2:4-5. If Jesus likely grew up working with stones as His father did, ….” I thought Gallaty had made a huge mistake or the printer did, but when I asked Pastor Steve about the passage, I learned that my understanding of Josephs’ craft was wrong and came to realize that I had been a lazy reader of Scripture who accepted Church tradition. As if to follow that experience, this past week in Wednesday night Bible study, Pastor Jerry taught about sheep and shepherd. Another enlightening followed by my friend Mike who directed me to my favorite commentator, William Barclay, and his view of Mark 6: 1-6.

I faced my arrogance and re-read and listened. I discovered the various meanings of tekton. I learned about the relationship between a 1st century shepherd {poimen) and his sheep, I felt like some of the disciples who asked Jesus to explain certain parables. For a brief and silly time, I felt as if I had been betrayed by my cherished KJV. But as I listened to my two Pastors, I came to realize that, just as I had told my students of literature, I had to be an active reader of my text and commentaries. I had to see the wisdom of Gallaty and his guidance into the life of an Eastern Rabbi during the 1st Century.  It was then that I came to see Joseph and Jesus as craftsmen (Hart and Barclay’s word) or carpenters, or handymen and could grasp the idea of Jesus as a shepherd over His flock. Then I came to a deeper understanding of foundations and shepherds.

And perhaps I will try to lean Greek. Then I will not be dependent on any translator.

Somebody in Your Life


Yesterday during lunch with my wife and two of my sisters, we talked about our growing years. Our ninety-nine-year-old mother lay in her near-by bedroom locked alone in Alzheimer’s disease. Safe, clean, and well-fed, she is as well, in some ways, as she ever has been. So, like siblings do, we chatted and shared with Mary Ann and each other.  Memories and stories flowed, but one story about our mother stuck: a single mother of six children who worked in Cannon Mills’ Plant One, a sister told how, one particularly bad winter, Mother went to “The Welfare” and asked for funds to buy heating oil.  She was told that in order to be granted the money, she would need to quit work (hemming washcloths) and “go on welfare.” Mother looked at the welfare worker and said, “If I did that, who would teach my children to work,” before leaving.

I remember many stories about Mother and her lessons for living she taught us, however, I didn’t know that one. Yet, I do remember cold days and nights on Applewood Street, but they are only markers now. They are not our “good old days,” just a shared experience. I doubt if the phrase “a teaching moment” was used when Mother told “The Welfare” no thanks, but she knew when and how to use such a moment. We six were her children, and she took that as a blessed responsibility, and she taught us how to and why to live righteous lives. We are not perfect adults, but we know what Mother taught us: that we could rise above our poverty.

Part of our lunch conversation was how, it seemed to the four of us, so many of our nation would rather go to “The Welfare” than work, and that this attitude crosses racial lines. The obvious question for me is, “How did some many in our nation lose their will to work?”

This morning I heard an interview on NPR with Dr. Tererai Trent. As she described her life in a mud hut in Zimbabwe, an eighteen-year-old mother of four children, she said, “I wanted to be somebody in my life.” As an English teacher and lover of language, I find her phrase powerful for several reasons: if we diagram it, we see that it is not the ordinary thought of “being somebody” which is too abstract to carry weight; Dr. Trent adds the adjective phrase, “in my life” which modifies the noun ‘somebody.’ So, we see that Dr. Trent’s desire was to be a part of her life, to achieve something of merit, which was for her a terminal degree. And that is remarkable for several reasons, but most of all because on the day she sat in a circle of women in her village and was asked by a stranger, “What is your dream?” she had only a second-grade education. She rose from a culture where an eleven-year-old girl would be traded for a milk cow to be an author, speaker, and role model known and admired by the world.

The English word inspire comes from the Latin root inspirare, in is into and spirare is to breathe.  Not long ago, many protesters wore shirts that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” and I offer that they were correct for the reason of police brutality which was being protested. However, I think that too many of our citizens can’t breathe for another reason, and we need people like Dr.Trent and my Mother to inspire and teach our young people that they can rise out of mud huts and cold homes. We need parents and individuals, not institutions, to inspire, to teach children how to breathe, how to live productive lives. Yes, work is a four-letter, dirty word; but it is also noble. Rise up and be somebody in your life.



Failed Foreign Policy



*According to the Southeast University Consortium, 21.4 percent of the children in Iredell County, North Carolina, live in “food insecure homes.”  (the county in which I reside)

*Across America, for lack of funds for trained police to be present, school districts are arming shooter qualified teachers in an effort to stop mass shootings.

*Mental health experts are asking for dollars to help prevent such sad events as the recent one in California’s VA facility and Lakeland, Florida.

*In 2017, the America Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of D+.

*Add your favorite here.

In 2001 immediately after 9/11, Gary Schroens, a C.I.A. officer, set up shop in the Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan. His task was to support the Northern Alliances’s drive on Kabul and search for Al Qaeda leaders. His men carried $10 million in boxed cash. Write that out: 10,000,000.00, and according to Steve Coll in Directorate S, “They handed our bundles like candy on Halloween.”  According to Coll, Schroens visited Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, a conservative mujaheddin leader who had once been close to Bin Laden. Schroens gave Sayyaf $100,000 in cash. Fast-forward to today, March 13, 2018 and Defense Secretary James Mattis is quoted as saying, “All wars come to an end,” and he says that some Taliban are ready to negotiate a peace settlement. Mattis warns that it is not all the Taliban, but enough to begin a serious discussion. It is his hope that little by little, more Taliban will be persuaded to quit fighting. All of this comes from a man who led the American forces in Afghanistan early on, and who, after seventeen years of war, over 2,400 lost lives of U.S.  soldiers, and who knows how much money, has the gall to say anything about our terrible ordeal in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he, others in our military, the C.I.A., State Department, and two Presidents are responsible for. Oh, and many others who led America on a lost quest. Yes, Bin Laden was killed, but is his death worth all the costs?

Coll’s book is a tomb, and in many sections it reads as a well-crafted novel; such as when he recounts the experiences of Darin Loftis and Lieutenant Tim Hopper. There are villains in Asia and the United States, but the waste and shoddy attempts to build a democracy in tribal lands sickens me. “No Taliban or other Afghans participated in the September 11 attacks. The hijackers were Saudis and other Arabs. Khalid Sheikn Mohammed, the plot’s mastermind, was a Pakistani,” writes Coll.

I tire of the lies and deception and waste of our government. Since the end of WW II, have been fed a series of lies: Korea, Vietnam, the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” debacle, and now these two countries that we tried to swindle into becoming democracies.

Money alone will not correct problems that we face. But, I wonder how far the $10 million in boxes would have gone to protect our students?



Rites of Spring


Yesterday afternoon Mary Ann, my wife, told me to quickly look on our patio next to the screen porch. Turning, I saw two Carolina Chickadees tussling on the concrete. Mary Ann and I watched what we thought was the spring mating rite, but when the two tiny bodies did not dis-engage but lay on the concrete next to each other, we asked, “Are they taking a cigarette break?” Watching them lay still but locked in an embrace, Mary Ann went to them and without any difficulty, picked the beating bodies in her hands and carefully separated them. One flew to the fence and the other soon chased it across the lawn towards the lake. Coming in, she told me how their small talons had become entangled in the other’s, and even in the other’s wings. Had she not seen them, we summarized that they would have died of exhaustion from the territorial battle. Death almost became an unintended consequence for both males.

Spring is viewed as a time of re-birth. The Ancient Greeks explained it as the time of Persephone’s return from the underworld to the earth. The time of dark winter, when she was in Hades is over, and the earth blooms and animals reproduce, and all living things are energized. It is a time of joy. A time of passion. A time of hope.

Yet, the fierce battle between the two tiny bodies, each no bigger than my thumb, is a reminder. Everything has another side, even your loving Aunt Mildred or favorite teacher or best friend. Nothing is everything we see or hope it to be, and nature is a good teacher of this life fact. However, it seems to this observer, that we have, as a society, tried to make life in general smoother and less negative. We grow berry producing plants that have no thorns. We manufacture products for easier living that never decompose.  GMO’s line our grocery shelves. We work hard at bending nature to fit our needs and wants.

In his poem Mother to Son, Langston Hughes compares life to a stairwell.  The mother in the poem describes the stairwell that she has climbed as one of loose boards, tacks, splinters, and sometimes dark. She tells how her journey has not been one of a “crystal stair,” but she tells how she has always reached landings and turned corners. She tells her son “Don’t you sit down on the steps/’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.”,

Some may say that the poem is a negative look at life and one not to be shared with our children. However, I read the poem as a realistic summary of living and one that is authentic. Life, any life, has splinters and tacks and loose board. But, we should keep on going, even when it is dark. The mother in the poem is an example for us all. She knows that as long as she turns corners and walks “through the valley of the shadow of death” she will see the sunlight and glory of life. It is our going through the dark stairwells and valleys of life, that make the ridges more beautiful.

Two small, male bodies fighting for breeding rights of our back yard during early spring teach that not all of this season is as we see it. However, that dark side does not negate the bright side of budding dogwoods, vibrant greens, and bird song filled air. It is a time of rebirth when some fledglings will fall from the nest. No GMOs will change that.




As I write this sentence the change from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time approaches.  The mornings will suddenly be darker, and the evenings will be lighter. The lake will not glimmer in the sun’s early glow but be restful in the waning light of day. Pow. We change the mechanics of the seasons.


Our concept of time is interesting. From an early age we are taught not to waste it, always to be busy and productive. A pithy saying many are taught at an early age is by Benjamin Franklin: “Time is money.” My, not only does that expression come from a Founding Father, but it makes sense for a while. But is it true? Perhaps, but maybe it is just another way of telling us to stick to the grindstone and work hard. For me, over my 70 years, I have found working smart is much more productive than working hard. However, if one wants to, follow Franklin’s words and let time be your money.


Back in the 1880’s when the railroads were coming into wide use, the need for a Standard Time arose. For example: when travel was by foot, horse, carriage, or canal, it was no matter that noon in Boston (as gaged by the sun’s position) was 24 minutes before noon in Washington. After all, the 24-minute difference would not matter when one rode a horse or drove a carriage from one city to the other. Yet, when trains with their marvelous speed came into general use, there was a true need for a standard time. So, in the 1880’s, the railroad barons created our time zones and gave each a Standard Time. Now, all would be uniform. With the advent of fast travel, it mattered to the barons and the traveling public. As one historian has observed, it was a way of building community. And commerce would flourish under this Standard Time, and by this accounting, Franklin’s definition of time would seem correct and best for all. Certainly, the distressed and overworked mother in Tillie Olsen’s short story, I Stand Here Ironing, sees time this way as she laments: “And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” For this overworked mother, time is a fleeting commodity, not a luxury.


Yet, this seems an injustice in our thinking of time. I appreciate and understand the need to be productive. After all, any farmer knows that the hay must be harvested when the weather is dry and to let a dry day go by courts disaster. But, it all seems like we are trying to control nature, and as John McPhee points out in The Control of Nature, we can try, but we can’t.


John Lennon, the singer and songwriter, observed that “Time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted.”

Now, that view is far from what Franklin wrote, but it has its place. And, the other quotation about time is by the Nobel playwright Dario Fo who wrote: “Know how to live the time that is given you.”


Perhaps if we mix Franklin with Lennon and Fo, we will not end up like the harried mother of Tillie Olsen—too tired to find any time. So, in this glorious season, take some time to study a red-orange leaf of a maple tree or the palette of color on your lake or mountain. Take a child on a walk through some woods to smell the tang of the season. Or just sit somewhere in the waning sun and enjoy what we have been given to enjoy. I promise you won’t miss it. It is yours, enjoy.







Nursery Rhymes and Authority

Nursery Rhymes and Authority


A father, unhappy with the sad endings of so many classic nursery rhymes revised one for his daughter. She liked it so much he revised more and now has millions of viewers on his Chu-Chu web site. Parents like the new versions of the rhymes because they have happy endings, and who would not like happy endings?

Many of the nursery rhymes we recite or dance to or sing have a rather dark history. For example, Ring Around the Rosie is likely about the plague of London in 1665. The “rosie” in the song may be the malodorous rash that suffers of the plague had, and the “a pocket full of posies” were needed to cover the stench of rotting flesh.  And since so many residents of London died from the plague, “we all fall down” [dead]. (thanks to BBC)

That is only one example, but it suffices as an example of an activity that countless children have learned from over the years. So many of the rhymes were originally a way for the disenfranchised to protest such actions as unfair taxes (Ba Ba Black Sheep) or a queen who killed for religious reasons (Mary Mary Quite Contrary). However, they evolved from a way of protest to a way of learning for later generations who did not suffer from such abuses.

Literature, and nursery rhymes are literature, is a safe way for children and all of us to learn. By reading or hearing or seeing well written words, we can experience a plot from the safety of our easy chair, desk, classroom, theatre, wherever we are. We can see and understand the violence or joy or humor safely. And, if we discuss the plot and characters and action of the literature, we benefit from the knowledge of others. Parents reading to or watching with their children is a great and secure way for the children to learn. But what the child is exposed to, I think, should be authentic.

And that, being authentic, leads me to question the revising of any literature in order to make it happier.  When we teach literature, we are becoming authorities, and the literature we expose our children to should be authentic as well, and so should be our interpretations of the literature. If what we offer our children is too sad or to happy, then when they grow and see that life is not too much of either, or they see that we gave them a wrong interpretation, then they may feel betrayed.

Yes, Humpty Dumpty was ruined, but in his ruin is a lesson for every child and the child’s teacher.


How to improve by re-writing

From Austen to Lake Norman

Mr. Bingley takes his morning walk on our road. He shuffles along, in his age, and stops to inspect things of interest. He does not hurry, accepting his limitations. Yet his determined spirit powers his bent, somewhat shabby body out for his walk  in the early morning solitude.

I did not know Mr. Bingley when he was young and in his prime. I did not see his scamper and quick movements of energy. It was then that he would have heard and seen me, and he might have barked in recognition.  Had I known Mr. Bingley in those days, he would have stopped to hear the squirrels scattering in the trees at his approach and acknowledged the call of the Carolina Chickadees. His bright eyes, not covered in film as now, would have noticed other walkers and perhaps paused to hear some news or gossip.

Yet, I only know Mr. Bingley now, in his time of less—the less of everything which all living things experience through the passing of days. Like the mild-manned father from Austen’s novel that he is named for, Mr. Bingley, a fine Cavalier Spaniel, carries his name and breeding well. Regardless of his faded color, deafness, cataracts, and curved spine, Mr. Bingley walks with the pride of a deacon, content with that which he has.

From Austen to Lake Norman


Mr. Bingley takes his morning walk on our road. He shuffles along, in his age, and stops to inspect things of interest. He does not hurry; accepting his limitations, but his spirit is strong and determined. Somewhat bent, somewhat shabby, he is out each morning, taking the walk up and back in the early morning quiet on our road.

I did not know Mr. Bingley when he was young and in his prime. I did not see his scamper and quick movements of energy. It was then that he could have heard me and seen me, but not through the film of aged eyes. Had we walked on our road in those days, he would have led me, having to wait for me to catch up. Had I known Mr. Bingley in the days of his youth, he would have heard the squirrels scattering in the trees at his approach and known the call of the Carolina Chickadees. His bright eyes, seeing the other walkers, would have looked to me to make sure that I had also seen them.

Yet, I only know Mr. Bingley now, in his time of less. He has less of everything, as we all do with the passing of days. Mr. Bingley, like J. Alfred Prufrock, faces that which we all will. However, Mr. Bingley, as I watch him walking each morning, musters all the grace he has and goes along.

Mr. Bingley carries his name and breeding well. Named for the mild mannered man in an Austen novel and bred as a fine Cavalier Spaniel, his aged appearance of poor color, deaf ears, cataracts, and bent spine, do not hinder the spirit of one who walks each day, content with what he has, and an example for all—whether dog or human.

Smart Steps


The February/March issue of AARP has a fine article by Donovan Webster in which he describes his slow decline into alcoholism. He writes of the painful price paid because of the car accident he caused in August 2014 in which Wayne T. White died because of Webster’s being drunk while driving.  Webster, who served two years in prison for involuntarily manslaughter, writes that as he approaches sixty: “Virtually everything in my life burned to the waterline. But I have realized that there’s some great power in being around long enough to comprehend that no matter the damage we’ve done, a new door will open. No matter what age you are, staging a comeback is only a matter of taking the rest of your life seriously and making the next smart step, and the next. Is there really any other option?” (my italics)

Webster freely acknowledges the pain he brought to the White and Webster families. His article does not offer excuses, and his pain is real as he goes about “staging a comeback.” A well-know and respected lecturer at UVA, an editor, journalist, and writer, he has a high bar from his past to try and regain. However, his quoted words above give assurance that, with the help of a few friends and family, he is going to try. Like us all, he has his demons like anxiety, and he knows them. But he writes that he will make “smart steps” because he has no other option.

Webster does not mention God as an option, and he may or may not know or believe in that option for making “smart steps.” Whether Webster knows or cares or believes, I offer him this passage of Paul writing in Philippians 4:6: “Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know unto God.” Even in the 1st Century, people suffered anxiety concerning new doors of life and where they would lead. Webster, like the Philippians Paul writes to, questions “what the point of this journey has been.” That is an honest question, and I suggest that the answer can be found in the quoted verse from Paul. By prayer, supplication with thanksgiving, we will see the point of this journey. By loving and using alcohol or fame or money that cannot return that love, we will see only pain.

My Granny Susie described worry and anxiety as “Like a rocking chair. It will keep you busy but won’t get you anywhere.”  Like Paul and Dr. Charles Stanley, who described anxiety as “a choice and bondage.” Granny Susie knew to make her requests to God.

Webster asks if there is any other option than taking steps one after the other; and Paul, Dr. Stanley, and Granny Susie offer that there is.







The Unjust Broad Stroke




The Charlotte Observer editorial board’s comments (March 1, 2018) concerning the 2018 CIAA basketball tournament are unfortunate for several reasons.

To justify hosting any event because it is “a superb event for Charlotte, bringing in millions in tax collections” is putting money over the safety of the “splendid fan base of alumni and students” of the CIAA and residents of Charlotte.

According to the editorial, “alarming incidents” began in 2014 when a man and a woman were shot. In 2015 a person was shot in the head and another was stabbed. In 2016, 40-50 bullets (some from an AK-47) were shot into cars and an uptown hotel.

The editorial continues: “It’s unjust to point to the violence and paint the tournament or its fans with any kind of broad strokes”, and it asks that an honest discussion be had concerning the recent violence to make the tournament safe for all. However, the editorial admits that “it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have.”

The recent violence that occurred at the CIAA Basketball Tournament is real. Any conversation concerning that fact must be direct. To make the conversation about race—from either side-is dishonest. The violence did not happen because the CIAA is a predominately black college conference, but the violence requires police presence.

To use a broad stroke is unjust to the CIAA, its players, fans, and residents of the host city.