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REMEMBERING HUGO

September 27, 2014
Morris Island

Last weekend the Spartanburg Herald-Journal carried an excellent piece by Susanne M. Schafer writing for the Associated Press. The article reminded all residents of South Carolina of “the devastation wrought by their worst storm in the past century – and to be ready in case another such tempest comes.”

Hurricane Hugo took aim at Charleston Harbor like a bull’s-eye twenty-five years ago on September 21, 1989. Landfall occurred just before midnight as a category four storm. The hurricane was thirty-five miles wide with winds in excess of one hundred and thirty-eight miles per hour. The coast north of Charleston was pounded by storm surges up to twenty feet above normal. Hugo wreaked havoc across the state, packing hurricane force winds into the Upstate.

Hugo left 60,000 people in the state homeless, 270,000 temporarily unemployed, and 54,000 state residents seeking disaster assistance. Many were without power for more than a month.

My brother Bill was pastor of Yeamans Park Presbyterian Church in Hanahan, South Carolina, just twenty miles north of Charleston. South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell had ordered 250,000 people to evacuate the Charleston area on the morning of September 21. Bill apparently didn’t get the memo. He and a group of his church members rode out the storm in the basement of the home of one of the parishioners. He described the fury of the storm and then the eerie silence as the eye passed overhead. Some in the group stepped outside. Bill said in the middle of the eye there was stillness and a star-filled sky. Then the back edge of the storm approached. Back in the safety of the basement the group experienced a greater fury from Hugo than before. When Bill told me about the experience he said, “I’ll never do that again!”

Because Hugo remained a hurricane during its trip across the Palmetto state, towns inland from the coast reported widespread damage. Spartanburg experienced the results as motels and emergency shelters filled to capacity. It was a state-wide emergency that compelled many to take action.

I watched the video taken all along the South Carolina coast by a cameraman in Governor Carroll Campbell’s airplane. As the footage moved toward Charleston Harbor, I was especially interested to look for the Morris Island Lighthouse. At high tide, Morris Island is no more, but the 161-foot brick tower built in 1876 was still standing. That lighthouse became, for me, a symbol of the resilience of the people of our state. Read more…

Bricklaying

September 21, 2014
Bricklaying

An emergency room nurse told me about a patient who came to the hospital in the middle of the night with an apparent kidney stone.  After some preliminary tests, she handed the man a small plastic cup and said, “I need a specimen.”

She left the room for a few minutes.  Upon her return the man was sitting with the empty cup in his hand.  He did not understand her request.

She tried to clarify.  “Can you make water?” she asked.

“No, Ma’am,” he said. “I lay brick.”

Laying brick is not as easy as it may seem.

In the High Hills of the Santee stands the historic Church of the Holy Cross, also known as the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. General Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero known as the Gamecock, donated the land on which the church was built. The remarkable structure is a notable example of Gothic Revival design, featuring a cruciform floor plan, corner towers, and pointed arches. The walls were constructed of pisé de terre or rammed earth.

When Clare and I visited the church, I commented on the unusual building material. Why they didn’t use brick instead of packing earth to build the old church? The answer is that there was no red clay in those sandy hills. Read more…

When All Else Fails Try Duct Tape

September 14, 2014
duct-tape-rolls

The troubled space flight of Apollo 13 has been chronicled in a movie starring Tom Hanks.  A real-life drama in space began with the unforgettable words, radioed back to earth by Jack Swigert, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here!”

On route to the moon, the command module was shaken by an explosion. The crew evacuated the space capsule and entered the attached lunar landing module, using it as a lifeboat. The square carbon dioxide filters from Apollo 13’s failed command module had to be modified to fit round receptacles in the lunar landing module. The challenge was the proverbial problem – how to fit a square peg into a round hole. Without the modification, the three astronauts would have perished in space.

On the ground in Houston, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration responded. Ed Smylie, chief of NASA, and mission control engineers, designed the modification using duct tape. Following the directions relayed from Houston, the Apollo 13 crew made the repairs using their own roll of duct tape. The filters started working, saving the lives of the three astronauts on board. Later, Ed said that he knew the problem was solvable when the crew confirmed that duct tape was on board the spacecraft.

“I felt like we were home free.” Ed Smylie, a native of Mississippi, quipped, “One thing a Southern boy will never say is ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix that.'” Read more…

REMEMBERING 9/11

September 7, 2014
Sept 11

Though I have taught in the Religion Department at the University of South Carolina Upstate as an adjunct professor for the past several years, this fall is the first time I am teaching the introductory level course, Comparative Religion. In the opening lecture I made it clear to the students that we will approach the study of world religions with respect for all people regardless of their faith orientation. This is a necessary prerequisite if the journey is to lead beyond tolerance to a genuine understanding of faiths other than our own. In my opinion, this approach is a much needed corrective to our current national mindset.

Perhaps never before in my lifetime has there been a more intense atmosphere of doubt and suspicion in our nation. After the atrocities of Adolph Hitler’s Germany, many Americans were guarded in our encounters with people of German heritage, even our fellow citizens. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Americans became suspicious of people of Japanese origin.   The Cold War kept us on edge in our dealings with those of Russian descent.

Yet how deprived we would be without the musical compositions of Germans Telemann, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Think of our poverty without the music of Russians Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky or the writings of their countrymen Tolstoy, Nabokov, Chekhov, and Dostoevsky. The art and culture of Japan has long enriched American life. While we have had legitimate reason to regard the governments certain countries at certain times as enemies, we have also found among those same people individuals who have made our lives better.

On the anniversary of 9/11 Americans will pause to remember the day when the twin towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon burned in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania became a charred grave. It is impossible to erase the mental images of the destruction of these important landmarks. Even more difficult is our overwhelming sense of loss and grief even after these years.

In worship services and symphony concerts, at baseball games and football games, at community events and candlelight vigils, we will remember.   The violent acts of al-Qaeda terrorists that turned our commercial jet planes into instruments of war changed our lives forever.

But, this was not just an attack against America.

The 2,977 victims who died that day were not only Americans. The World Trade Center brought together people from all over the globe. More than ninety countries lost citizens in the Twin Towers alone. This horror was unleashed not only against America. It was also against the world.

We remember not only those who died, but also the more than 6,000 who were treated for non-fatal injuries. We remember the spouses and children of the victims, the parents, the siblings, and the friends who, even now, fourteen years later, continue to grieve.

We remember the heroic men and women who worked to save, rescue, recover, nurse, feed, and console the victims.  Some gave their lives in the effort, becoming victims themselves.  Many others have since become causalities of war, protecting and defending our national interest.

Like most of you, I remember that day well. I was driving to Morningside Baptist Church on the morning of September 11, 2001, when my wife, Clare, called me on my cell phone. “You need to turn on a television when you get to the church,” she said.

I telephoned the church office. The staff already had a TV on in the office.

When I arrived a crowd had gathered. We all watched in dismay as the second jet plane struck the second tower of the World Trade Center.

The events of that day were confusing and confounding. President Bush was reading to a group of children in Florida when he received the news of the devastation. I, along with many other Americans, will never forget the expression on his face.

I had been asked to open the luncheon meeting of a civic club later that day with a devotion and a prayer. As I considered what to say to that distinguished group of community leaders, a hymn kept coming to mind. My devotion was brief. My prayer included some of the words of a favorite hymn by Martin Luther:

Though this world, with evil filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure….

The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;

His kingdom is forever.

Hatred is the motive behind terrorism. Terrorism evokes fear. Fear is the root of prejudice. Prejudice creates adversaries. An adversarial relationship promotes hatred. This vicious cycle must be broken. Otherwise, we become like the terrorists; and they will have defeated us.

A few days after September 11, 2001, Clare and I drove to Greenville. We had seen reports that indicated that Americans were reacting with hostility toward Muslim citizens of this country as well as people who looked like Muslims. Non-Muslim men who wore turbans, like the Sikhs, were victims of violence. Palestinians, even those who were American citizens, had come under suspicion and even under attack. About one third of all Palestinians are Christians and make up the majority of Palestinian refugees. Many have come to America and have become citizens.

Clare and I have often enjoyed eating at the Pita House in Greenville. The restaurant, owned and operated by a Palestinian family, serves sumptuous Middle Eastern food. We wanted to visit them and let them know of our support. When we arrived, the establishment was decked out with American flags. I spoke with the brothers who are the owners. They felt the same horror and grief that other Americans felt. Yet they feared that they might be targeted by those who had become so suspicious and fearful.

Those who died on 9/11 will help us remember an important truth. No one lives, suffers, or dies in vain.   Even as we remain vigilant in a world of terror, such acts of hatred will not defeat us. Love is the greatest power in the world. We cannot allow terror to lead us to suspicion and hatred. Our best response to the atrocities of 9/11 is to become more loving toward all people. It is the only way to conquer fear and hate within the human soul.

The words of a prayer by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu ring true:

Good is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.

 

LABOR DAY

August 30, 2014
rosie the riveter

“Dr. Kirk, tomorrow is the day!” the young woman exclaimed. A petite blue-eyed blond, she stood in line with her tall lanky husband at a local restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice that she was in a family way. The Biblical description is “great with child.” She had on a tee-shirt featuring Rosie the Riveter with the motto, “We can do it!” and she was very pregnant.

“And what is tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow is labor day,” answered the young husband.

“Yes! Tomorrow morning at six o’clock we have to be at Labor and Delivery at the hospital for the arrival of our first child.”

“Get some rest.” I advised. “There is a good reason they call it going into labor.” I spoke out of my experience of being with Clare for the births of each of our five children. I can attest to the fact that the labor of giving birth is hard work.

My dad, father of eight, used to say, “If men and women took turns having babies, no family would have more than three. There’s not a man on earth who would go through that twice.”

Labor Day as a holiday for workers was first proposed in May 1882 by a carpenter, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor. After witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada, McGuire thought such a celebration was needed in this country. Others say that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.

Whether McGuire or Maguire, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve the legislation. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. By that time thirty states already celebrated the day. South Carolina was not one of them.

When I was a boy it was never a holiday at the lumberyard. I remember it as the day the Southern 500 stock car race was run in Darlington, South Carolina.

Now Labor Day is a reminder of how I learned to work. Read more…

SMOKEY THE BEAR

August 24, 2014
smokey-bear-illustration

You have to admire a guy who goes to work every day in blue jeans to tackle one of the toughest jobs on Planet Earth. He accepts his assigned task without complaint, with a passion for his profession that is undiminished, and with a repetition for loyalty and faithfulness that is unblemished. The amazing thing is that he has been on the job, 24/7, for seventy years. Commendable in every way this is a fellow of few words. He utters only one sentence, but for seventy years his message has been loud and clear — “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Smokey Bear is an advertising mascot created in 1944 to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. During World War II, the Japanese Empire developed a wildfire strategy that met with little success to set ablaze coastal forests in southwest Oregon. Later in the war, in 1944 and 1945, the Japanese military launched approximately 9,000 fire balloons into the jet stream. As many as ten percent reached the West Coast of the United States. Elementary teacher Elsie Mitchell and five of her students were killed by one of the bombs near Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945.

Though the U.S. Forest Service fought fires long before World War II, the war brought a sense of urgency to the effort. Since most able-bodied men were already serving in the armed forces, none could be spared to fight forest fires. Fire prevention became the goal. The hope was that if Americans knew how wildfires would harm the war effort, they would better cooperate with the Forest Service to keep fires from starting in the first place.

A bear was chosen as the emblem of the fire prevention campaign. His name was inspired by Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who suffered burns and blindness during a bold 1922 rescue. Joe’s nickname, Smokey, was given to the bear.

Smokey’s debut poster was released on August 9, 1944. In the first poster illustrator Albert Staehle depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a campaign hat. The hat was like that worn by the National Park Service Rangers. Their hat was derived from the cavalry who protected the early national parks. In the poster Smokey is pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath read, “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” The more familiar slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by The Advertising Council. Read more…

WATERMELONS GALORE

August 17, 2014
WATERMELON

Last week Clare and I took an afternoon to cruise the blue line highways of the Upstate. We made a special effort to find good homegrown tomatoes. We stopped at several roadside stands and found delicious heirloom tomatoes at several of our favorite places. We also found a few figs, an abundance of late summer peaches, and early fall apples. At every stand we saw watermelons galore.

My mother was allergic to watermelon. Even a small spill of the sticky pink juice on her kitchen counter caused her to break out in hives, so we never had watermelons in our home. You no doubt have heard the wise old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In our family that was the gospel truth.

As far as I know it is next to impossible to eat watermelon without the juice running down your chin and off your elbows. If we had watermelon at all it was in the backyard where everything contaminated by watermelon drippings could be washed away with the garden hose.

My brothers and sisters and I were, of course, exposed to watermelon in other circumstances. Most of our cousins enjoyed the summertime fruit and looked forward to a big wedge of watermelon with the same anticipation as a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

Elaine was one of my classmates at Cooperative Elementary School. Her birthday was right after the beginning of the new school year. She invited every student in Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter’s fourth-grade class to her party.

Even though I was scared of girls, Mama said I had to go to Elaine’s party. She was our neighbor. Not going to her party would be rude. Reluctantly, I went. There were thirteen girls there. I was the only boy who attended.

I guess Elaine’s daddy felt sorry for me. He told me I could help him cut the watermelon. That was just fine with me. I liked watermelon, and I didn’t like girls. Turns out the girls were too prissy to eat watermelon. Elaine’s daddy said I would have to eat the whole thing by myself. I ate as much as I could. I got as sick as a dog. I have never liked watermelon since that day. Read more…

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