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January 25, 2015

One mild winter day, I took a bag lunch to the gazebo at Hatcher Garden. The ten-acre woodland preserve within the city limits of our town was quiet. Two men were busily working near the entry to the garden. They quickly finished their task and disappeared. As far as I could tell, I had the place to myself, except for a large red-tailed hawk perched on a tree limb above a pond. I thought he, too, must have had food on his mind. There was evidence that work was being done. I guess the staff and workers had gone to get something to eat. After lunch, I strolled through the beautiful landscape, a gift to our community from Harold and Josephine Hatcher. Now this public area is open year-round. It features a series of ponds and an impressive waterfall. The main attractions are the plants – trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers. Birds and insects add to the garden’s interest. The peaceful solitude and quiet beauty of Hatcher Garden in winter is quite a contrast to the happy sounds and active people that fill the space in the warmer months. Along one of the paths I found a bench in the sun. I paused there listening to the birds and the breeze in the trees. In that moment the garden became a sanctuary for me, a place of contemplation and prayer. Read more…


January 18, 2015

Last Thursday morning I attended the Mayor’s Unity Breakfast to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event hosted by Cornerstone Baptist Church and sponsored by the Human Relations Council of Spartanburg gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey in regard to the issue of racial justice. I share those reflections here.

Major Hugh Neely, my great-great-grandfather, was a portly man with red hair and a long, thick beard.  Growing up I thought that he was an officer in the Confederacy. I fancied him as a hero of the Civil War. However, I learned later from his octogenarian grandchildren that Major was his given name, not a military rank.

During the Civil War Major Hugh Neely taught school in Christiana, Tennessee, and served as postmaster in Fosterville, Tennessee.  He lived in a log cabin on the Shelbyville Pike.  He tried to join the Confederate Army on two occasions. He was originally denied enlistment because he was a schoolteacher.

As the war wore on, he tried again to enlist.  This time he was not accepted as a soldier because he could not see.  He was so cross-eyed he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a shot from a rifle.

Though he was unable to shoot straight with a firearm, Major Hugh Neely had the reputation of being a straight shooter in his conversation. He would have signed on as a Confederate soldier, but Major Hugh Neely actually opposed slavery. He is reported to have said, “No person can own another person.”

Others on my family tree had no such conviction. Read more…


January 11, 2015

The first extremely cold blast of winter last week quickened my awareness of the plight of the homeless people in our community. In 1997, our son Erik wrote a series of articles for the Herald-Journal on the problem of homelessness in Spartanburg. Erik’s journalism heightened community awareness and led to the establishment of the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network.

For this column I have taken excerpts from two of Erik’s original articles. Names have been changed but the problem of homelessness persists.

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.   (Matthew 8:20)

The first morning Joann Beaufort woke up homeless, curled in the crawl space under the house she had been evicted from the day before, she felt like the only person in Spartanburg without a roof.

‘‘You’re so scared about everything that’s going on in your life that took you here,’’ she said. ‘‘And then one night you’ve got no walls.

‘‘I feel so exposed, so alone.’’

Beaufort was not alone. A 1996 Housing and Urban Development grant application from the city tallied 2,736 homeless as needing care. Other estimates of the homeless in Spartanburg County run as high as 4,000. Both numbers are little better than guesses. The range and low visibility of homeless folks make them an underestimated group, encountered and recognized only in their most extreme forms. Read more…


January 4, 2015

I went to the grocery store with our ten-year-old grandson, Michael. Clare had given us a short list that included fresh fruits and vegetables. As Michael and I left home, Clare said, “And if you see any good tomatoes pick up a few of those, too.”

We found crisp and colorful carrots, spinach, and broccoli. We selected strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and red seedless grapes. As we made our way through the produce section of the store, I realized that the things we had in the shopping cart had been grown in other countries. Most, if not all, had been imported from countries far to the south of the United States.

When we came to the tomatoes, we saw bright red fruit attractively displayed.

“Those tomatoes look good,” said Michael.

“Yes, but they don’t have much taste,” I lamented. “Tomatoes just don’t have much flavor if they are picked green and shipped hundreds of miles before they turn red.”

I picked up a container of grape tomatoes. “These are about as good as tomatoes get in January.”

Is anything better than a sandwich made with vine-ripened tomatoes? The secret is to pick the tomato at just the right time. Read more…

Instructions for the New Year

January 1, 2015
streams in desert

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19

 From the NIV

This is what the Lord says—

“Forget the former things;

   do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

   and streams in the wasteland. Read more…


December 30, 2014
Trash Bags

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces: one looking backward, the other looking forward. The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year. We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

As a teenager, I remember that the last week of the year was the time to take inventory at our family’s lumberyard. Out of school for the holidays, I was available to help count fir and pine framing stacked on the yard, plywood in a warehouse, and moulding and trim in the dark bins of a lumber shed.

The concept of a year-end inventory has stuck with me through the years. What have been some of the blessings of the past year? My personal list is always lengthy and includes family and friends. Every year has times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those present opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate. This year a new calendar presents us with 365 new leaves and 365 clean slates. Read more…


December 21, 2014

A little girl looked forward to her ninth birthday on December 24. For several years her parents had combined her birthday party with a Christmas Eve gathering in their home. As the only child in the family, the little girl assumed that the festivities were all for her.

Few people bothered to wish her a happy birthday, fewer still brought gifts.  Her beautifully decorated home was filled with partying adults. She thought that surely the guests had gathered in her honor.

The nine-year-old, feeling ignored and left out, shouted in frustration, “Hey, whose birthday is it anyway?”

The little girl’s question we might well ask ourselves. Whose birthday is it anyway?

For Christians, this is the time to come again to the stable and remember the one whose birth we celebrate. At the heart of Christmas is a child born out back, nestled in a feeding trough, a manger that we must seek anew each year.  Read more…


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