Archive for March, 2009

Prayer Request

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

There is a moment in the life of Henry Fleming, protagonist in Stephen Crane’s RED BADGE OF COURAGE, when he has to plumb the depths of his world view and decide, once and for all, if he believes in a personal, caring God. As you remember, Fleming is a Union soldier fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville, May, 1863. His unit is under attack. At first he holds firm. While he is hardly brave, he draws strength from the crowd. But the crowd thins. And as a second attack occurs, he runs. He runs from his friends, from his enemy, from his duty, and from his God. From that moment forward he rejects the transcendent, omniscient, “friendly” Judeo-God. He replaces this God with a naturalistic, uncaring, utilitarian deity who cares nothing about Fleming or the world in general. Fleming ultimately returns to duty a new man. While this new revelation causes Fleming to be “courageous,” the reader knows that Fleming is more “cynical” than courageous.

In Henry Fleming’s world there is no courage because there is no transcendenceBeverything is instinctive. People make decisions out of what is good for themselves, not out of anything noble.

I categorically reject Stephen Crane=s world view. I affirm again that we serve a loving, magnificent God. I want to stand with God’s people no matter what is ahead.

I need your prayers; I welcome your insights. It is my fervent hope, deep desire, and calling I believe, that I devote more time to writing and to speaking at conventions. In order to do that I need help from you: prayer that I will have the courage to do this, and prayer that I can find the financial means to do it too.

To the later end, please pray about hosting an SAT Seminar. For several years I have conducted SAT seminars with great success. These are one day seminars. Here is the typical outline:

SAT Seminar Outline
I. Background
1. History of SAT I
2. Test types: achievement, vocational, TOEFEL, aptitude tests
3. Scoring
4. Taking the test: when, where, how?
5. Special needs
II. Test-taking Skills
1. Overview
2. Short term preparation
3. Long term preparation
4. Test-taking Strategies: Verbal
5. Guessing
III. Practice Test
IV. Specific Test-Taking Strategies
V. Family Living in Scripture Prayer Meeting (Stress Reduction)
VI. College Admission and Financial Aid
1. Transcript
2. References
3. Delayed admission / early admission
4. Financial Aid
VII. Student and Parent Consulting

I normally charge $100/family. Once families pay their $100, they may attend freely a s many seminars as they like around the country. All family members are urged to attend. Each participant family members will receive one free SAT grading (I am a Collegeboard trained grader). Normally the seminars occur from 9-4, on a Friday or Saturday, at a local church or in a local hotel. I offer the host family, private school, or church 10% of the registration fees or free products from my web-site. I need 15-25 families to attend, but will speak to fewer if the seminar location is closer to home.

Again, I ask you to pray about this and, if you have further questions, e-mail me

Henry Fleming, like so many Americans, have lost the sense of transcendence, the belief in a loving God. I haven’t and I hope you haven’t either.

Remembering – Part 27

Monday, March 30th, 2009

“Oh beautiful for patriot dream/That sees beyond the years.” I had pleaded with my neighbors not to go. “It is like going to a pornographic movie. You really don’t need to go and see what is happening to know that it is evil,” I said.

But they went. By the hundreds they went. “I am not for the violence,” they sheepishly explained. “But, you know, what they say makes sense.”

What do they say? “The—-hordes have overrun all of America’s major cities, and turned them into jungles, unfit for human habitation.”1 Yes it makes sense. That makes their a ctions even more evil. No, my community has played the harlot.

My family, thanks to the watchful eye of the FBI and the grace of God, survived that evening. My story is the American Story. It is the story of racism and its resulting racial anger can do to one family.

Remembering – Part 26

Friday, March 27th, 2009

In John Milton’s description of Hell in Paradise Lost there is a brilliant image of both utter darkness and the burning fire of God’s judgment juxtaposed in the same place. Much as sin and love coexist in one’s heart. “In utter darkness, their portion set/As far removed from God and light of Heaven.” Then, Milton lights the fires of hell with hatred, rebellion, and prejudice. “. . . the unconquerable will,/And study of revenge, immortal hate,/And courage never to submit or yield.” “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” Satan cries to God from the floor of Hell. I felt and saw the cosmological battle between good and evil on the horizon of my property and in the center of my heart.

“And crown thy good with brotherhood,/From sea to shining sea.”

I was angry. And scared. I should have know that there trouble was coming. Two weeks previously I had heard that a giant Klan unity rally would be held near my farm. “It was the only public event that you could still attend and not see a single dirty, filthy, stinking nigger!” an advertising bulletin announced.

“Well, that is comforting,” I snickered, “I do not think my two daughters and my son–the only African Americans who lived within ten miles of the rally–would want to go anyway.”

There was an inordinate amount of traffic in the late afternoon–cars with out-of-state license plates, cars that stopped and whose occupants stepped out to look at my registered Suffolk sheep and, to my horror, at my children playing in the background. My wife Karen gathered her little ones and took them into the house–but where could we be safe? My daughter’s bedroom was next to a window whose glass could easily be shattered by an angry Klansman’s thirty-thirty rifle. Assured of the veracity of our cause, but afraid of a thoughtless, perhaps inebriated Klansmen’s angry rifle shot, we waited for the dawn.

As I said, I had met my antagonist at his father’s funeral a few weeks previously. Then, before I knew that he was the Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Kingdom of my unpretentious neighborhood, committed to ridding our neighborhood of niggers, Jews, and other undesirables–as far as I knew my three children and one man were the only African Americans and I knew of only one Jewish family. But the Grand Dragon was nothing more to me than the distraught son of a good man who had recently died. Joe, his father, had died of cancer. The night of his death I held Joe’s hand and led him to Christ. So, I felt nothing but pity for his sheepish son with his head bowed. He had no idea I harbored subversive minorities on my farm and I had no idea he was the esteemed leader of the local imperial kingdom.

On this eerie fall night had the distinct feeling that I still did not know him and he did not know me either. And I still felt sorry for him. But we were more alike than he really knew . .

My three adopted, interracial children were my promised land. They were my new time, my new land, my new chance. They were more than my daughter: they were God’s invitation to me to experience wholeness and new life. You know, what I have learned, and what my Klu Klux Klan neighbor needs to learn, is that being prejudiced is as bad as having others express prejudice against you. People know what Martin Luther King, Jr., did for my African American neighbors but do they understand what he did for me–a prejudiced white Southerner who hated African Americans? King showed me a way home. A way to put an end to this hatred and hopelessness.

Remembering – Part 25

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

It was a warm autumn night in the 1993 Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, an autumn night that belonged more to Pulaski, Tennessee, or Tupelo, Mississippi. By this time in middle October, my family–my wife Karen, my daughters Rachel and Jessica, and my sons Timothy and Peter–was expecting our first snow. But on this night there was only a clear night and the seductive warmth of a gentle breeze.

The unseasonable heat made us uncomfortable. But there were other specters lurking in the pasture on this night. I walked the perimeter of my 9.5 acre sheep farm that my family had hopefully called “The Shepherd’s Glen.” This night I walked in silence, without a flashlight, feeling more and more the stranger, the intruder on this land rather than its proprietor.

With great anticipation my family had purchased this Pennsylvania farm. I had accepted a call to a downtown church only eight miles away. I had my urban church and my wife Karen had her country home! Until this night came we were so very happy.

But the beauty of this night belonged to my Caucasian neighbors. To the Jewish family living nearby, to the interracial couple living a mile away, to the gay couple on the hill, and to my family–with three interracially adopted children–it was a night of terror.

Over the horizon a glow of light kissed the horizon. In the distance I could hear a moving rendition of “America, the Beautiful.” The comforting glow and inspiring melody was disarming. More comfortable with the drone of crickets and the ubiquitous hum of distant automobile traffic, my Suffolk sheep, however, obviously did not appreciate the harmonic offering. Perhaps they saw the fear in their shepherd’s eyes or felt another nameless fear but my Suffolk herd was uncomfortably on this abnormally pleasant fall evening.

The music came from a neighbor’s farm where over two hundred members of the Ku Klux Klan were singing patriotic songs and the glow on the horizon was reflecting three burning crosses. It came from the voices of my neighbors, it came from a poor, confused man on whose farm this KKK rally was held, whose father had been led to Christ through my efforts. But to me it came from Hell.

Remembering – Part 24

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Garner saw everything and was obviously displeased. Not that he castigated us. We could handle that. We enjoyed pastors who scolded us for our sins. We tolerated, even enjoyed his paternalistic diatribes. No, Garner did the intolerable: he wept. Right in the middle of morning worship, right where great preachers like Muzon Mann had labored, where our children were baptized, Garner wept! Right in the middle of morning worship, as if it was part of the liturgy, he started crying! Not loud, uncontrollable sobs, but quiet, deep crying. Old Man Henley, senile and almost deaf, remembering the last time he cried–when his wife died–started crying too. And then the children started.

My cousin Ronny, our organist, sensing Brother Garners impropriety, judiciously played the last hymn.
How we hated Palmer Garner! If we ever doubted, Garner was obviously an outsider to our community . . .

Brother Garner did not last the year. The Bishop moved him to an obscure church in North Arkansas, as close as possible to Massachusetts.

Remembering – Part 23

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I knew people like Uncle George–the Grand Wizard of the Kl an“would not approve but I felt that Dwight’s tools of prehension and mastication required a radical intervention.

Dwight came on Wednesday night and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I saw him on Thursday personally could see no evidence that he had brushed his teeth but his conversion seemed to be sincere.

The problem was Dwight was converted on Wednesday night and thought he would visit us again on Sunday morning. He foolishly thought that since Jesus loved him all the time, and we appeared to love him on Wednesday night, that we would love him on Sunday morning too.

So, he attended our Sunday morning worship service.

Only one African-American had ever attended our church on Sunday morning. A new paper mill executive Marcus Danforth sought to transfer his membership from another Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois. Mrs. Ollie Smith fainted outright when Marcus sat in her deceased husband’s pew.

Marcus never visited our church again. After Uncle George and his friends visited Marcus one evening, and burned a cross in his finely landscaped lawn, and after his children were not allowed to play in the local little league, Marcus quickly transferred to Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Dwight arrived promptly at 10:45 and shook Tommy Somerville’s hand. Without looking up, Tommy Somerville, who ushered the faithful to their pews, handed Dwight a bulletin. Dwight smiled. Mr. Somerville was speechless but D wight did not wait for Mr. Somerville to escort him to his seat.

Dwight sat in T-Bone Arnold’s seat.

Ten minutes later, arriving late from a fishing trip to Kate Adams Lake, T-Bone appeared noticeably irritated. Dwight was no doubt going to use the pew hymnal that was dedicated to his Uncle Harry Arnold. This was T-Bone’s favorite hymnal and no one used it but T-Bone. Everyone in my church knew that.

T-Bone growled (literally) but eventually sat next to the Widow Adams whose false teeth inevitably leaped from her mouth during the second hymn. T-Bone grimaced and carefully placed his Hymns of Praise in a position to catch the Widow’s teeth.

The first hymn was everyone’s favorite, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Before the end of the first verse Mr. Somerville he was politely asked to leave because “nigras” should go to their own churches. Dwight lowered his heart and walked away from our church and Jesus.

Remembering – Part 22

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

In short, Brother Garner was an incorrigible sentimentalist, and while Southern ethos was full of tradition and veiled sentimentalism, we fiercely hid our true feelings.

For instance, when Mr. Bubba Sinclair tried to kill himself , no one expressed surprise or shock. Bubba was the richest man in town. Of course, he was an Episcopalian and an alcoholic. His family owned the only remaining antebellum plantation. The family grew nothing, worked at nothing. They were old money. The Sinclairs had earned their money when Bubba’s great-grandfather, Marlboro Sinclair, returned form the War (i.e., the Civil War) and purchased most of Desha County. The Missouri Pacific, when it expanded southward, was obligated to make old Marlboro very wealthy. The Sinclairs did nothing with their money, of course, but spend it and by this time the Sinclair genus had just about run its course.

Suicide an act was expected of an unstable person whose alcoholism had brought dishonor on his family and town. The only thing that bothered us was that he failed. Such a noble action demanded resolution, and we perversely expected Bubba to act like a man and finish the job. Although we never said anything to him, he knew what was expected and he finally did it.

Garner was, however, a greater threat to our fragile equilibrium.

Dwight Washington, a high school scholar and track star, had a conversion experience at one of our revival services. This was an aberration, t o say the least.

There existed, however, in our church, a well defined, strongly held white Christian racial orthodoxy that supported racism.

As a result, theological motifs that were so comforting to us had lost meaning to the African-American church. For instance, Brother Garner predicted that America was the probable site of the coming millennium, Christ’s thousand-year reign of peace and justice. For many African-American believers, America was not the Promised Land–it was Egypt. No doubt Dwight felt some hesitation when he attended our church.

I never told anyone, but I had invited him. It was my fault.

Above the choir loft in our church, directly behind Brother Garner, was a stain glass image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. When I kneeled at the communion rail I remember looking up at Jesus and wondering what it was like. I wondered what he was doing in that window. I imagined he had just finished brushing his teeth–why not? My mother had told me thhat good people brushed their teeth twice, sometimes three times/day. Jesus was, without a doubt, the best person who ever lived. So, if my sources were correct. he must be brushing his teeth right up there. Oh, that stain glass window implied that he was praying all the time but I knew better. I knew that he had to have been brushing his teeth a lot.

Now I did not know much about Dwight’s soul, but everyone could tell that he needed to brush his teeth more so when Brother Garner mentioned that we were going to have a revival service next Wednesday night I was very careful to invite Dwight.

Remembering – Part 21

Friday, March 20th, 2009

He was an ordinary pastor, Brother Garner, the sort of pastor you would expect a Methodist bishop to send to McGehee.

McGehee was unprepared to face the present, much less the future. The Civil War hung like a heavy shroud on this declining railroad town. Less than 100 years before, Yankee soldiers had unceremoniously marched through our swamps to Vicksburg. To our eternal shame, no significant resistance was offered, except a brief unsuccessful skirmish at Boggy Bayou.

A pastor distinguished only by his mediocrity, Palmer Garner seemed committed to irrelevance.

McGehee called its pastors deferentially “Brother.” Brother Garner was about six feet tall and wore gray polyester, wide-lapel suits. He often wore penny loafers with optimistic shiny Lincoln Head pennies stuck in the top of each loafer. On Sundays, he sported penny loafers with attractive leather bells protruding from each ear of Lincoln. They silently jingled with each step he took.

His breath always smelled of juicy fruit gum. He was trying to hide his cigarette breath–everyone knew that he smoked Pall Malls. He would drive to Halley, the next town, to o btain cigarettes so no unscrupulous store clerk would reveal his secret. Most Methodists were willing to forgive this wickedness, positioned slightly lower in the hierarchy of probity than movie-going but slightly higher than chewing. Brother Holland, Brother Garner s predecessor smoked pleasant-smelling pipes and everyone fervently hoped that Brother Garner would switch but we more or less tolerated this serious infraction. Besides, everyone knew that Presbyterians were practically immoral because their pastor smoked lightly filtered Kents and drank California Chardonnay. The Baptists did nothing…“they were pharisees–although once an unscrupulous Baptist youtth leader impregnated the head cheerleader at McGehee High School. The Episcopalian pastor wore bright pink shirts with a clergy collar and drove a foreign car. Everyone considered the Episcopalians to be anarchists or communists but there were so few of them that it did not matter. There were so few Roman Catholics that most they were a foreign sect.

Brother Garner was married to a nurse who faithfully attended church and sat in the third roll front, right side, behind 88 year old Mrs. Rapp who hardly knew where she was, and right in front of Mr. Mays, our wayward truck driver who rarely attended church. This seemed about the best place for a preacher’s wife–behind the most celebrated scion of the churcch and ahead of the most reprehensible reprobate of the church. She could draw sustenance from one and beam benevolence on another.

Brother Garner’s boys were proper preacher kids. Their shoes were always shined. They attended all church functions–including the wwomen’s auxiliary club. They rarely spoke and when they did they spoke in perfect, complete, grammatically correct sentences, avoiding all evil colloquialisms and slang.

Brother Garner dutifully remained irrelevant. That is to say, his sermons always concerned vitally important subjects such as “Sanctification” or “Soteriology.” Despite the fact that desegregation was fracturing our fragile community and some or our neighbors and relatives were warring with the Army Reserve units at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Garner was warning us of “immoral thoughts.” Most of us had not had an “immoral thought” since Elvis Presley played in the old VA gym.

The only redeeming feature of Brother Garner’s sermons was that they were mercifully short. They allowed us to get to Lawson Cafe’s hickory-smoked pork ribs before the Baptists!

We never liked Garner’s sensitivity. It seemed so effeminate–un-Christian, really. Someone suggested that Brother Garner was a Yankee and part of that was true. Even though he was from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, his mother was from Massachusetts–which might have explained his strangeness. Mrss. Herren, the high school senior English teacher, acted the same way. She too was from Massachusetts. Herren met and married Mrs. Herren when he was soldiering up North during World War II.

Remembering – Part 20

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

In McGehee, race mixing was a social concern as much as a biological concern. The determination of boundaries between human groups in McGehee normally was a social one. White McGehee citizens easily categorized people in biological terms: an interracial person was very simply a black person. Social definition, though, was more difficult to control. What does one do with a black and wh ite couple who decided to defy social customs and had sexual relations? The Klan kept this group distant from McGehee.

The notion of whites and blacks legally marrying was particularly onerous to many whites. In the context of a monogamous , nurturing marriage people of color attained a legal equality. This was unacceptable to most whites.

Very few things bothered whites more than race mixing. Most whites did not want to live next to, have their children go to school with, or attend church with people of another race. Naturally they do not want their children to marry blacks.

Besides sexual relations, meaningful race mixing occurred in very few McGehee institutions–certainly not in churches. In McGehee, there have been two main churches–white and black–Baptist and Methodist.

Race mixing was so threatening to white churches that they generated sacrosanct theological positions to support their positions. White churches believed that race mixing would be an injury to all. They thought that the race line was providential, and that any intermingling had its origin in sin. White McGehee Christians embraced a position of racial separation and black inferiority with reckless abandon. Segregation was synonymous with orthodoxy.

Leroy leaned that race was a category of exclusion and prejudice–both in his society at large and in the Church in particular. It was a terrible lesson confirmed over and over again in McGehee history. McGehee obsession and fea rs about racial mixing colored most of societal and governmental decisions. McGehee whites were very happy to exploit African-Americans sexually; only when African-Americans openly dated and married whites was there any problem with race-mixing in the white community.

Remembering – Part 19

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

As whites learned to name minorities, so also a system of control arose. Racism was a justification for control. Racism with all its stereotyping components evolved into the deprecating form in which it existed in McGehee, Arkansas. The idea of race, then, emerged from the ways that social meaning becomes attached to physical differences. White McGehee citizens gave such meaning an inherent, God-given origin.

“Blackness” was considered to be a disease. The rhetoric of disease was a critical component in white racism. Whites loved to frame their racism in scientific terms. One favorite theory was that the skin color and physiognomy of the black were the result of congenital leprosy.
Naturally Leroy was angry.

Resistance concerned power: who had it, who did not, how it was gained, how it was lost, and how it was maintained. When one group–in McGehee that group was the white race–began to make decisions for another group–in America that group was the black race–the dominated group naturally resisted. White American created a field of action composed of diverse struggles to transform relations of power for the sake of respecting and enhancing the integrity of life for one people group–white Americans–at the expense of another people group–African- Americans. Black feelings off powerlessness was inversely related to attempts to control the environmental factors in life situations. A strong feeling of black powerlessness was related to a high level of effort toward manipulating situations with minimal results. Resistance was a defense against the shame that resulted from powerlessness. Resistance protected identity. Resistance, and then anger, increased when shame was unacknowledged and hidden.

Whites pursued power and convinced themselves they were entitled to it. Because they needed a large mass of cheap labor to mow their yards, to raise their children, African-Americans were exploited and denied basic rights. To control this substantial labor supply, whites intimidated, controlled African-Americans. White Americans developed a very elaborate philosophy of domination and intimidation.

Entitlement had its own precondition: to be entitled, whites in McGehee had first to believe in their innocence, at least in the area where they wished to be entitled. This myth of innocence promulgated by white Americans was maddening to African-Americans. It was humiliating for to have whites disenfranchise, and intimidate them; it was infuriating to have whites justify it.

The existence of different races did not guarantee racism. The origin of racism lay in comparativism. Whites decided that races were not equally gifted. So whites compared themselves to black Americans and decided that whites were superior.

Racial discussions were complicated by the myth of homogeneity–as if there was a pure white and black race. But, ironically, McGehee racial homogeneity was an illusion. Very few people in McGehee were 100% black or white. But whites normally described their racial identity in homogeneous terms. The reality was that individuals and their racial communities were not homogeneous. However, when one was classified white one enjoyed the privileges of the dominant caste. African-Americans did not enjoy these privileges. So, McGehee racism was made even more complicated by the ambiguous defining apparatus of American racial language.

It has always been difficult to know how many racially mixed McGehee citizens there were–no marriage certificate, birth certificate, or census report reflected a category called “racially mixed.”