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RAINBOWS, BLUEBIRDS, AND IRISES

April 25, 2015
Eastern Bluebird and Rainbow

Ever since Noah’s clumsy gopher wood ark settled on Mount Ararat, the rainbow has held a special fascination for the people of planet Earth, Even the busiest, most preoccupied among us will pause a moment and a take a deep breath at the sight of a colorful arch in the clouds.

At age seventeen I stood at an overlook above the Zambezi River in the heart of Africa to marvel at the splendor of Victoria Falls. David Livingston, the Scottish missionary and explorer, named the specular cataract for his queen. The African people know the place as Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Smoke that Thunders. On sunny days there is always a rainbow in the mist above the falls.

When I was nineteen I traveled with my brothers along old Route 66, also known as the Mother Road. To the west thunderheads loomed over a mesa somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. A complete rainbow framed by black clouds arched above the burnt red desert.

Years later in the nation of Israel I witnessed two of my most memorable rainbows. While I was having a meal on a rainy afternoon at a kibbutz atop the Golan Heights, the sun peeked out from behind grey clouds and a vivid rainbow arched to the Sea of Galilee below.

Three days later on Mount Carmel amid flowering redbud trees, I saw a rainbow stretch from the top of the mountain down to the Mediterranean. The Holy Land was made even more sacred by these experiences.

The science of rainbows is simple physics. Sunlight passes through raindrops at the proper angle. The water droplets act as tiny prisms, and they split light into a spectrum. Maybe it is the poet in me, but I much prefer the myths to the science. Read more…

ICE COLD SOFT DRINKS

April 19, 2015
BLENHEIM

Last week I learned something from my students at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Students and teachers often have a bottled drink in the classroom. I try to always have water, especially during allergy seasons.

Last Monday before my New Testament class I asked, “What is the difference between Diet Coca-Cola and Coke Zero?”

None of us knew the answer.

Here’s what I discovered later on the internet. The only real difference between the two drinks is in the proportions of the ingredients, which actually give different flavor profiles. The reason for two different products is a marketing decision. The Coca-Cola Company believes that men are more reluctant to buy Diet Coke because the word diet is associated with women. Coke Zero has been produced to appeal to men. Read more…

TALKING WITH THE ANGELS

April 12, 2015
TALKING WITH THE ANGELS

I have been reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The book, best described as historical fiction, is set in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early nineteenth century. It is inspired by the true story of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, early leaders in the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movement. The book relates the coming-of-age story of two characters. Sarah is the daughter of a prominent lawyer. Hetty is a slave assigned to Sarah. Neither is a wilting magnolia. Both are determined women, each with a strong defiant streak. I am not surprised that questions of God and Christian ethics arise throughout the novel.

Years ago, even while I was a seminary student, I realized that some of the best theology is not written by theologians. Works of fiction often require the reader to struggle with religious as well as moral issues. Theology and ethics are best learned through enrolling in the proverbial college of hard knocks. Fiction is one of the best ways to tell the truth about life. Read more…

Strawberry Fields

April 5, 2015
Strawberry Fields

The Beatles’ song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” was released on an old 45 rpm vinyl record back on the old days. It was on the flip side of “Penny Lane.” What is the meaning of the seemingly senseless lyrics? An answer can be found at http://www.Songfacts.com.

Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army orphanage in Liverpool, England. Having lost his father and his mother, John Lennon felt a kinship to the homeless boys. He had fond memories of the place, especially the garden that inspired this song.

In an interview Lennon explained, “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie, into a nice place with a small garden. Paul, George, and Ringo lived in government-subsidized housing.

“Near our home was Strawberry Fields, a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties with my friends. I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”

John donated money to the orphanage before his death. One of its buildings is named Lennon Hall.

The title of the Beatles’ song reminds me of Strawberry Hill on Highway 11 in northern Spartanburg County. The strawberry fields near Cooley Springs are abuzz with activity this time of year. Read more…

THE TREES OF SPRING

March 29, 2015
DOGWOOD AND REDBUD

On the second day of spring Clare and I were enjoying a second cup of coffee and reading shared newspapers, the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and the New York Times, when we both noticed a large bird on the suet feeder just outside our parlor window.

“There’s a red-headed woodpecker,” she said.

“Looks like a flicker,” I replied.

When the bird departed it perched upright on the trunk of a nearby sassafras tree. Then Clare and I both noticed that the sassafras just beyond the feeder was beginning to display chartreuse buds.

Later that same afternoon, I was sitting outside when I heard a disturbance coming from the Confederate jasmine growing on the arbor. The ruckus came from a smallish grey hawk attempting to snag a purple finch for lunch. He paused on a nearby branch before sailing away to better pickings.

With the help of the Cornell University Ornithology Web site, I was able to identify both birds. The one on the feeder was a red-bellied woodpecker. The other on the arbor was a Cooper’s hawk.

In our backyard, a weeping cherry tree given to us by my brother and sister-in-law is in full bloom. Bill and Wanda gave us the sapling tree after the death of our son Erik. Now standing more than twenty feet tall, the hanging branches are covered with the delicate pink blossoms of early spring. A slight breeze moves the slender limbs in a gentle sway, scattering a few of the petals on the green lawn below.

The redbuds here are just before bursting into their pinkish-purple glory. Dogwood flowers will just be opening, maybe, by Easter Sunday. Our side yard features the largest of our redbuds and the oldest of our dogwoods. The trees moved with us from our previous home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Spartanburg, South Carolina, back in 1980. I moved them because they were young trees that I thought would transplant well. They have established deep roots in this place just as our family has. Read more…

THE NCAA MASCOTS

March 22, 2015
ncaa MASCOTS

One of the joys of teaching is to see the students in your class excel in other areas of their lives. I teach in the religion department at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Ty Green was in my History of Christianity in America class last semester. Ty is an outstanding basketball player for the University of South Carolina Upstate. The Spartans’ senior guard was named the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. Ty finished the regular season ranked first in the A-Sun and 14th in the nation in scoring with 20.1 points per game. Ty is an exemplary student and president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The USCU Spartans missed an automatic bid to the National Colligate Basketball Championship Tournament when they were defeated by the Ospreys from North Florida.

Ty and his teammates were extended an invitation to compete in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. On Tuesday night they defeated James Madison 73-72 in the first round.

As students filed into my New Testament class last week, I asked if their favorite college basketball teams had received a bid to the Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament. One student said, with obvious excitement, that Georgetown University had indeed been invited.

“The Georgetown Hoyas?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. That’s my team!” he replied.

I asked, “What is a Hoya?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a bulldog of some kind?”

He was completely stumped. I assured him the question would not be on the next New Testament test. The truth is that I didn’t know what a Hoya was either. Read more…

SHAMROCKS AND FOUR-LEAF CLOVERS

March 15, 2015
Four-leaf clover

One of our grandsons has a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. Recently, when he stooped to pick one, I was reminded of the legend of Saint Patrick.

The story of the life of Saint Patrick is a mixture of fact and fiction. Captured by pirates and taken into slavery in Ireland, Patrick learned the language and culture of the Celtic people. Years later, when he returned to Ireland as a Christian bishop and missionary, Patrick is said to have converted the entire country in less than thirty years. He convinced Druid priests and peasants alike that they would become the people of God by accepting Christianity.

Historically, Ireland had very few Christian martyrs. The willingness of the Irish people to accept Christianity was due in large part to Patrick’s familiarity with their culture and Celtic beliefs. The genius of Patrick’s approach was to mesh the symbols of Christianity with those of their ancient religion. The Celtic cross, for example, combines the most recognizable sign of the passion of Christ with the circle of life central to the fertility cults of the Celts.

According to legend Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to teach the Irish the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its green color and the number three were already considered sacred in ancient Celtic religion. The shamrock has since become a symbol associated with Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17. Read more…

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