Ownership

 

Several years ago when I worked in Oxford during a July program for high school students, one of my co-workers was a first generation Greek who lived in Manhattan. The program took students to many museums and exhibits. One favorite was the British Museum, and one particular July it had an exhibit of Greek gems. Aphrodite, my co-worker, convinced me to go with her to see the exhibit of gems, as she said, “From my homeland.” While we marveled at the vastness and beauty of the collection, a young couple were next to us. The young woman said something to her companion in a non-English language, and Aphrodite quickly looked toward her—their eyes met, and the young woman hurriedly walked away with her friend. On the ride back to Oxford I asked Aphrodite if she had understood what the young woman had said and she told me how the other woman said to her companion in Greek, “Just think! All of this used to belong to us.” She obviously had been surprised that someone besides her companion understood her words and their criticism.

I recalled this experience recently when I read two magazine articles centered around Dirk Obbink and his work for the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) collection in the Sackler Library at Oxford. Obbink, a highly regarded scholar, helped oversee the Oxyrhynchus Papyri collection,  named after the Egyptian city which trash heaps held the throve of ancient literature  excavated by Bernard Pune Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Eventually over 500,000 fragments of literary, biblical, and documentary texts would find its way to Oxford from Egypt.

Obbink sold some of the papyri to Steven Green, the wealthy American zealot behind the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Obbink may have taken up to 120 pieces of papyrus from the collection, including one fragment from the Gospel of Mark dating to the first century, which he sold to Green for his museum. He also sold other fragments to the Museum of the Bible and may have pocketed up to 1.5 million. Now Green is forced to return the stolen fragments and several others to the EES.

All of this is good, but not just. This thievery is why Aphrodite’s explanation of the young woman’s comment matters so much. All the Greek gems we saw on display that day in the British Museum had been taken—stolen—“From my homeland” as she said. While Grenfell and Hunt did a valuable service to the world’s scholarship of  ancient literature by saving the fragments from obvious harm, the fragments were found on Egyptian soil, thus they belong to Egypt. Perhaps more of us are like Steve Green– parties in the buying of stolen property for our own desires than we admit.

 

Tradition

 

 

Recently a nationally published columnist wrote a thoughtful article concerning commencements, the COVID-19 virus, and the importance of tradition. The article reminded readers of the importance of traditions, such as commencements, because they connect the past, present, and future. While all that was written  is correct, tradition, like many things of life,  carries its own danger.

Having spent forty years working in independent and Catholic schools, I have a thorough understanding of tradition. I appreciate, as the columnist wrote, how it connects generations. However, I also have experienced the downward side of tradition.

During the mid-1990’s I became an administrator in a suburban New Orleans independent school. A new chaplain had also been appointed at the same time, and over the two years he and  I shared in the school, his first lesson for me is the one I  most remember: “Is it tradition or unexamined habit?”

Whenever I would suggest a new way of doing or change a way of doing something at the school, a teacher would say, “But it’s the way we’ve always done it,” or a student would say, “But it’s our tradition, Mr. Barbee.” As soon as possible after being given this excuse, John the chaplain would say to me, “Tradition or unexamined habit?” The school had some great traditions, but some were awful, especially the supposed ones concerning “rite of passage.” If those were not out and out dangerous, they were sexist, racist, or just hurtful.

Another school in Washington, DC carried the tradition of white dresses, long-stemmed roses, and more for its awards ceremony the day before commencement. Fine. But one part of that day seemed so silly to me. The tradition of white dresses began with the first graduation when about twenty-five students were honored, and a class photograph was taken with all the graduates standing on the south steps leading into the, at that time, only school building. When I arrived as an administrator about one hundred years after the school was founded,  it had grown and the graduating classes numbered about eighty. Imagine trying to squeeze that many white dresses into the same space that so easily had framed twenty-five. My suggestion of finding a new site for the photograph was viewed as blasphemy, and I was no better off when for the  following year’s photograph, I had the two huge bushes flanking the steps severely trimmed back.

One summer while at Oxford University, the  program I worked for needed a large room for a meeting. I asked for and was granted permission to use the SCR (Senior Common Room).  To facilitate the meeting’s needs, I slid a  large, oak table about six inches closer to a wall. After the meeting, I replaced the table in its original position. The next day when I thanked the Head Porter for the use of the room, I told him about moving the  table. He, by good friend Brian, rose out of his chair and said, “But, Roger, that table not’s ever been moved.” I could only answer, “Well, it has been now, Brian.”

Please do not misunderstand me. I value tradition and have been responsible for two traditions in a school in which I worked. Both involve the same school: One is the awards ceremony for the middle school and the citizenship award being named after a dear teacher and administrator; The other is for the upper school that a fellow administrator and I began almost by accident. It seems that we needed a way to bond the boys and girls of our newly merged school, so retreats seemed a sensible way to do bring the high schoolers together. I am pleased that both traditions continue.

But none of that justifies a habit of repeating something just because. Because is a dangerous conjunction when it is used to explain a lazy, poorly thought out manner of doing. It is  unjust when used as an excuse for repeating what was done to us as a rite of passage. Most of all, it is  dangerous when used to excuse our same old way of doing anything.

A connection with those who came before us and after us will be accomplished by traditions. However, when we become hidebound we will soon sink into unexamined habit. And a habit likely will corrupt our actions because instead of appreciating and enjoying  what we are doing, we are like the lemming that just follows.

 

The Eye of the Storm

 

All around me the COVID-19 storm swirls, and disagreement concerning it seems to grow more each day. The ordeal tries us. But during this morning’s ride, I found myself in what appeared to be the eye of this raging storm.

A heavy, dark cloud cover floated in over my right shoulder from the west. It calmed the morning breeze and everything else. But for the birdsong: The brown thrasher talked from the holly hedgerow to anyone who was interested; A bluebird chattered as it flew to rest on the roof of an abandoned titmouse nesting box; One robin called to anyone listening while gathering morsels from the drainage ditch out front; And a water scattering of splashing from the birdbath told of a cleaner cardinal; A clamoring from above the tall pine trees revealed a chasing away of an intruder by the vigilant crows.

The sweet aroma from the privet across the road covered the scene like a mother’s blanket  spread over her child. Its sweetness floated to the pine tops, lay across the ground, and wafted through the air giving me cause to inhale deeply its strong, yet relaxing scent.

Riding into this calm of the storm, I hand-cranked vigorously and maintained, at least on my odometer, 16 miles per hour. Listening and seeing and smelling it all, I rode into the power of this moment, applauding its grace.

Thirty minutes later, the ride finished, I knew something special had occurred. Yes, I ride my stationary handcycle here next to my shop each morning. I see the coming of day, greet walking neighbors, compliment their dogs and children, and manage to break a bit of a sweat while exercising arms and lungs. But this morning’s ride was more than mere exercising on a stationary handcycle. A gifted grace of peace had happened there beneath the thirty-nine mature pines. A calm after the first onslaught from the COVID-19 and a calm before its next; a moment of nature’s balm; a gift from God far from the turmoil raging outside.

Church

 

The May 10, 2020 Charlotte Observer printed a story about churches in Gaston County, NC being eager to re-open for worship. In fact, many churches across America share the same desire. The article quotes Rev. Austin Rammell of Venture Church in Dallas, NC: “The worship of Jesus  is a community event, and when that’s restricted it creates a burden on their [worshipers] very spirituality. The very word ‘church’ means ‘a gathering.’

Citizens protest the restrictions being placed on our population by governments, and some state governors have acquiesced to the protestors and begun opening businesses. Some governors, like NC Governor Cooper are following a detailed re-opening based on data from health officials. Folks in Gaston County find his approach too slow and are expressing angst at his plan. We can debate the merits of being closed or re-opened or whatever but will only know if a particular state’s plan is sound or not by the rise or fall of the COVID-19 virus. However, what I disagree with in the article are the words of Rev. Austin Rammell.

I offer him that no Christ follower needs a building to worship Jesus. In fact, we are told by Jesus that prayer offers meaningful worship. I also argue against Rev. Rammel who thinks that any government can restrict any worship of Jesus. That’s impossible, and certainly no government is powerful enough to create a burden on the spirituality of any Christ follower. Only in succumbing to Satan, can a burden be created on spirituality. Lastly, Rev. Rammell is wrong when he says that the word church means a gathering. Church is a building, a place. It is not needed in order to worship. Worship of Jesus can take place anywhere and anytime. The word also is used in designating a body of believers, but the body is not required for individual worship of Jesus.

As a Christ follower, Sunday School teacher, and deacon in my church, I long to gather once again with fellow believers for many reasons. However, I support and will follow Governor Cooper’s guidelines because I believe it important to do so as a citizen. This plague causes many hardships. I suspect that Rev. Rammell, who has had a church member die from the virus, knows too well its danger. So I ask him and all others who feel the inconveniences we face to think of their own well-being and the well-being of others. After all, Christianity began in the homes of believers. Small groups. Remember that He is with us even if only two or three.

 

 

The Unknown Number

 

One day recently a number with a 202 area code appeared on my cell phone screen. Since I had taught in several schools in the Washington, DC area, I felt comfortable in answering the call from the DC area code.

The caller was a past student of mine, and we spent twenty-eight, delightful minutes “catching up.” We discussed her work at NIH under, her mother, her school classmates that we know, her family in New Orleans, and much more. During the chat, I asked her how old she now was, and when I guessed that she and her classmates would be about twenty-five or so, she laughed and responded, “I wish! I’ll soon be thirty-one.” She then went on and said, “Barbs, [my nickname with them]] “it [life] goes so fast.” She then added, “And its [life]so hard.”

Her pronouncements about life engendered a discussion concerning her present situation and what she desired. She assured me that she was pleased with where she was, and I felt happy that she realized these two truths about life, but sad that she, a graduate of a prestigious prep school and university was just now learning these lessons. We continued to share how well her high school had prepared her for the coming academics of university, but had ignored some of the ways she and all the other girls of her school could have be better tempered for life outside  the “golden ghetto” of her high school.

This past student is, by all measures of society, a success–sound education, good employment, and financial security. And all of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she is now learning what I think are some of life’s most valuable lessons and ones that perhaps her school could have helped her with before entering university.

As we talked, I recalled how teachers would always praise the students in our school. Expressions like, “She is so talented.” “She’s got it all.” “A superb student.” “One of the best.” were uttered in faculty meetings, at teacher lunch tables, and at other times and places. Those words expressed an almost worshipful attitude of students and their various skills in academics, arts, and athletics. That deep-felt awe of how well  students did in the bubble of our elite preparatory school life presented itself later as a large hurdle for some of our students.

In 2001 Wendy Mogel wrote a book titled, The Blessings of a Skinned Knee. As can be surmised from the title, the book is a guide for any adult who cares about children and how they are reared. Following the publication of her book, Dr. Mogel became a much sought-after speaker to groups, especially those in schools.  However, it seems to me that her message, while applauded for a while, has been forgotten. It now needs to have a Lazarus-like revival.

Parents are, I know, the primary teachers of their children, or they should be. But our culture has parents who, while present, are not teaching their children lessons needed for ethical lives. In Flint, Michigan, a mother, her husband, and son confronted a store guard because he had earlier “disrespected” the mother. Her twenty-three-year-old son shot the guard in the back of the head, killing the father of eight children. A lesson taught well, if the son is graded by his action of not allowing anyone to “disrespect” his mother.  My past student was admitting difficulty with the “hard” parts of life, the parts like sharing an apartment, managing finances, being joyful, seeing the possibilities of life, all of that. While her mother taught her as did her school, she now needed the skills to manage equations much more difficult than those of calculus.

Every railroad track needs to be graded. It needs curves and grades to be softened as much as possible. Tunnels need to be created through tall mountains. Bridges built over long expanses. Parents and schools need to be like those builders of a railroad track, but we should not remove all obstacles nor make grades too level. A bit of difficulty is good for our children. My high school mentor and wrestling coach Bob Mauldin shared at a gathering how he had flunked 7th grade. He used that word-flunked– to share with the group attending his being awarded North Carolina’s highest civilian award. It seems he had not given an oral book report, so he flunked. Such consequences are not allowed in today’s educational system.

My past student is still learning and that gives me joy. I know that she will be, in the larger scheme, fine. And I am glad that she has learned those two lessons. I just wish we all had helped her to be better prepared. We made too much of her and her classmates. That fact came forward later in her life when she encountered those situations where her intelligence or skills or looks or whatever were no better than everyone else’s. She soon realized that she was, like us all, one of many.

The COVID-19 virus gives every parent an opportunity to teach children that life is not fair, it is not even just. Life is hard at times. Life goes quickly, no matter how it seems while living with the virus. Those, and more are good lessons to teach. But so are the lessons of joy, fun, integrity, respect, and more. After all, the pain of a skinned knee will fade into the lesson learned. That’s a well-lived life.

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.