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June 21, 2018

I have the privilege of leading a book club at First Presbyterian Church on the first Tuesday of each month, September through June. The club meets at 10:30 A.M. and again at 7:00 P.M. in the Arthur Center on the First Presbyterian campus. The club was begun by Dr. Bill Arthur, beloved pastor and teacher. Upon Bill’s death, I was invited to become the convener of the group, and what an amazing group of people we have!

Some have thought that because the book club meets at First Presbyterian Church we read only books that are distinctly Christian. Others have considered the club to be for First Presbyterian members only. Neither assumption is accurate. The book club is open to anyone who would like to join us. Bill Arthur used to say, “You don’t even have to read the books.”

The club selects the books to be read. Our discussions are always lively and informative. So, this is your official invitation to join us.

For our June selection this month we read Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. The book is a deeply researched, well written account of the great Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the Texas town that morning. Later that day Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the city and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history. Read more…



June 17, 2018

I don’t recall where I first heard these stories, but I do know that Paul Harvey told both of them. I have received them several times by e-mail, always told together.

The first story tells of a young Chicago attorney named Edward who became connected with the crime boss Al Capone in 1927.  The two were first involved in the illegal sport of dog racing.  The lawyer became one of Capone’s favorite colleagues and represented members of the Capone mob for crimes including murder, gambling, and prostitution. Known within the mob as Easy Eddie, Edward’s shrewd legal mind enabled him to rig trials, bribe juries, and pay off law enforcement officers. This skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone always handsomely rewarded Easy Eddie.

Apart from his life of crime, Easy Eddie doted on his family. His three children – a son and two daughters – were his delight.  At some point, Easy Eddie decided that he owed his children more than just the material and financial advantages that came from his life of crime.  He wanted to provide for them a good education. Despite his own involvement with organized crime, Eddie tried to teach his children right from wrong. He realized that he could not provide them with a good example and a name of which they could be proud unless he changed hi ways.

Wanting to give his children an example of integrity, Edward made a difficult decision. In an attempt to rectify the wrongs he had done, he became a witness for the prosecution and testified against Al Capone and other members of the mob.  As a result, Capone was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of income tax evasion.

On November 8, 1939, while driving in the Cicero section of Chicago, Eddie was gunned down when a mobster pulled up beside him and opened fire with a machine gun.  Eddie died instantly. This is a true story with a sad ending. Read more…


June 16, 2018

An historical marker in front of the Holiday Inn in Newport, Tennessee, gives a brief synopsis of the life of Ben Hooper. A compelling part of the story comes from Dr. Fred Craddock, an outstanding preacher. I have heard and told this story many times. It is one of my favorites. Like most good stories, there are numerous variations.

Dr. Craddock was professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.  He and his wife needed a vacation.  They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where they rented a quaint cabin beside a mountain stream.

On the first night of their getaway, the Craddocks visited a mom-and-pop restaurant.  It was not a fancy place.  It featured wooden chairs and tables, plaid tablecloths, and excellent down-home cooking.

As they waited for their meal to be served, they noticed an old man enter the restaurant.  Wearing overalls, he looked the part of a mountaineer.  He went around the room, moving from one table to another, greeting the guests at each table.  Read more…


June 14, 2018

In 1928, a case came before the courts in the state of Massachusetts.  It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay.  He came up sputtering, yelling for help only to sink again, obviously in trouble.  His friends were too far away to reach him, but a young man in a deck chair sunbathing on another dock was only a few yards away.  The desperate man shouted, “Help! I can’t swim!”  The young man, an excellent swimmer, turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water and disappeared forever.

The family of the drowned man was upset by this display of indifference and sued.  They lost the suit.  The court ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility to try to save the other man’s life.

It was Cain who asked the cynical question after his brother’s death, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).  Perhaps we have no legal responsibility to care for others, but the law of God is different.  “Love your neighbors as you love yourself,” taught Jesus quoting Hebrew scripture.  Jesus himself demonstrated this: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Read more…


June 10, 2018

Thirty or so years ago, I stood with Dr. Lewis Jones on the bank of the North Tyger River. The beloved professor of history at Wofford College pointed to Anderson Mill. “This place is living history,” he said. “It needs to be preserved.”

I looked at the old building covered with corrugated metal, marred by graffiti. Wisteria and honeysuckle vines were creeping up the old stone foundation. The two waterwheels were rusted. My unspoken question was, Why in the world would anyone want to save this old place?

I remembered as a boy coming to this place to picnic with a church group on a hot summer day. On a big flat rock across from the old mill we spread gingham tablecloths, ate ham sandwiches, and drank sweet tea. Then we slid on the rocks in the river rapids. In the 1950s this was our water park. Little did I realize then the historical significance of this spot on the Tyger River. Read more…


June 3, 2018

Several years ago, our daughter, Betsy, presented me with a necktie for Father’s Day. Bright yellow, the tie was adorned with a colorful assortment of ladybugs.

“Wear it with a light blue shirt,” Betsy advised. “The ladybugs are cute!”

Even beyond the world of men’s apparel, the bright red beetles with black spots make a fashion statement.

As some of you know, I occasionally try my hand at painting. My children encouraged me even though I am colorblind. Because I do best with bright colors and simple subjects, I decided to paint a lady bug. I made the background a bright yellow petal of a gloriosa daisy. The insect needed to be large than life to capture the details. When the painting was completed Clare liked it so much that we hung it in a bedroom where our grandchildren take naps and spend the night with us. They, too, appreciated their grandfather’s creation.

My painting pales in comparison with the real thing. In fact, the tiny insect is yet one more example of the delicate, miraculous hand of the divine Creator.

Ladybugs stand out in the coleoptera family whose members are usually black and brown,

The proper name for these fascinating insects is the ladybird beetle. Over time the name was shortened to lady beetles.  In the United States they became known as ladybugs. The colorful beetle has been named the state insect of South Carolina.

Myths about the ladybird beetle abound. One myth is that if you spot one in your home, it means prosperity and good fortune. Another is that the number of ladybugs in your home indicates how many of unexpected guests you are soon to host. Mercy!

During the Middle Ages, hordes of voracious insects descended upon the fields and orchards of central Europe. Fearful that all their food crops would be destroyed, people prayed to the Virgin Mary for help.

According to legend, red and black beetles appeared, making a feast of the invading insects, thus saving the crops. People called their winged rescuers the beetles of Our Lady. Their red wings were said to represent the Virgin’s cloak. The black spots were symbolic of her joys and her sorrows.

Lady beetles are among the most helpful garden predators.  The brightly colored insects picnic on aphids and mealy bugs. One tiny ladybug can polish off a hundred aphids in a day!

More than 4000 species are found worldwide. In the United States the hard shell is usually red with black spots. During flight, the shell opens, allowing the wings to beat up to eighty-five times a second.

Ladybugs hibernate during the autumn and winter in logs or piles of leaves. Sometimes they find shelter beneath the siding of a home. As the spring sun warms them, they may emerge inside the dwelling, causing considerable consternation among residents. Our friends in the pest control business report that the problem is annoying but not serious. Ladybugs are attracted to light-colored houses, especially those having a clear southwestern sun exposure. Older homes tend to experience more problems because they lack adequate insulation.

The ladybugs enter through small cracks around windows, doors, and siding, searching for a warm, comfortable spot during cold weather. They congregate in groups during hibernation; so if you see one, you will probably find more. If you can locate their entry point, caulking the small cracks will keep them at bay.

Ladybugs do not eat fabric, plants, or paper. While in the house they live off of their own body fats. They prefer a little humidity. Because homes generally have low humidity during the winter, most of your ladybug guests will eventually die from dehydration. Occasionally, you might find one in your bathroom getting a drink of water. Smart lady!

The best way to eliminate the unwelcome guests is with a vacuum cleaner.  Use a clean bag and release them outside. The nursery rhyme “Ladybug, ladybug fly away home” was supposed to charm the insects into departing.

Many folks in various cultures consider the presence of a ladybug as a herald of good luck.  Killing one is said to bring sadness and misfortune.

The French believe that if a ladybug lands on you, any ailment you have will fly away with the insect.

In Belgium it is said that when a ladybug lands on a young woman’s hand, she’ll be married within a year. The black spots on the back of the insect indicate the number of children the couple will have.

When Swiss children ask where babies come from, parents tell them that ladybugs deliver newborn infants.

In Norway romance will surely blossom for a man and a woman who spy a ladybug at the same time.

People living in Victorian England believed that a ladybug alighting on your hand predicted that you would receive a new pair of gloves. If one landed on your head, a new hat would soon come your way.

In some cultures ladybugs were thought to have divine powers. According to a Norse legend, Thor sent the ladybug, riding on a bolt of lightning, as a gift to earth. Some Asian cultures believe that ladybugs understand human language and act as interpreters for the gods.

Many legends in this country harken back to pioneer days. Finding a ladybug in a family’s log cabin during the winter was considered a good omen. Ladybugs even played a part in pioneer medicine.  Ladybugs secrete a fouling smelling fluid to make themselves distasteful to birds.  In the 1800s, some doctors treated measles with that same secretion from the insects.  Physicians also believed that placing a mashed ladybug onto an abscessed tooth would stop throbbing pain.

Farmers say that seeing a large number of flying ladybugs during the spring months is a harbinger of bountiful crops. Folklore suggests that the number of spots on a ladybug found in your home reveals how many dollars you will soon find. Making a wish, while holding a ladybug in your hand, brings good luck.  Watching the direction it flies off your hand indicates the source of this luck.

Legends notwithstanding, the ladybird beetle is beneficial to home gardeners and commercial farmers.

In the 1880s a destructive scale insect was killing large groves of lemon and orange trees. The California Citrus Growers released thousands of ladybugs into the orchards. Within two years the infestation ended, and the trees began to bear fruit again.  Ladybugs saved the entire citrus industry.  Since then, ladybugs have been employed around the world to help control outbreaks of pests.

On one of the first warm days of spring, I was walking in my garden, examining various plants that were off to a fresh start. I paid particular attention to the climbers – scarlet honeysuckle, several varieties of clematis, and the rambling roses. Ordinarily, I will find a few aphids on some of the tender shoots of these vines. One clematis vine in particular was heavily infested with these tiny sucking invaders.

Later that day I purchased a bottle of insecticidal soap. When I returned to the affected clematis, I discovered the plant was covered in ladybugs, feasting on the aphids. I put the spray bottle away, allowing them to dine to their hearts’ content.

Master Gardener Joe Maple taught me that if you kill a beneficial insect, you inherit its job.  When it comes to ladybugs, my motto is borrowed from highway construction crews.

“Let them live. Let them work.”


May 26, 2018

The most expensive real estate in Spartanburg County rarely changes hands once the property is occupied.  These small tracts of land are cemetery plots.  A friend of mine worked for a local cemetery.  I often teased that he ran his business into the ground.  Just after Easter, fifteen or more years ago, he made me an offer too good to refuse.  The cemetery was planning to develop a new section.

“We’re running a special for a limited time only,” he said.  “I’ll sell you two cemetery plots for the price of one.”

I talked with my dad, who always kept an eye out for a good land deal.  Each of us purchased two plots in acreage still undeveloped.

Several years later, my friend called again.  “We’ve exhumed a body that is to be reburied in Tennessee.  Four adjoining cemetery lots are available near the graves of your grandfather and grandmother.  If you and your dad would like to have them, we’ll swap even.”

Occasionally this expensive real estate does change hands.  My dad and I both agreed to accept the offer.  My mother had qualms about being buried in a previously occupied plot, so my dad and I decided that she and Clare could have the new ground and one of us would gladly accept the used grave as our final resting place.  Now that both mama and dad have gone to heaven, it is clear that the used grave will be mine.

Two observations strike me as both odd and appropriate.  Cemeteries have become popular places to walk.  A cemetery is certainly a peaceful place to exercise for good health.  Perhaps striding past the graves of the deceased provides motivation to walk more briskly.

As student drivers, our children used the narrow roadways of a cemetery to master the skill of maneuvering an automobile.  While negotiating the circular loop around multiple graves hardly prepared our teenagers for interstate driving, it was relatively safe.  Perhaps the setting is a good reminder that driving can be hazardous.

I have spent a good bit of time in cemeteries. Funerals are a regular part of pastoral duties. After fifty-four years of ministry, the last thirty-eight in Spartanburg, I have spoken words of committal in burying grounds all across the Carolinas. From green mountain graveyards in Cherokee, Weaverville, and Spruce Pine to quiet country churchyards in Anderson, Rock Hill, and Hartsville, I have stood with grieving families saying goodbye to loved ones.

I usually linger a few moments reading the names and the epitaphs on the tombstones in each place. At Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church in Chester County, I found a graveyard filled with Neelys. At Nazareth Presbyterian Church on the Tyger River, a part of the history of Spartanburg County is etched in stone.

On a trip to middle Tennessee in 1985, Cousin Emory Tucker rode with me to find a cemetery at the base of Short Mountain near Fosterville, Tennessee. Emory’s grandfather and grandmother, my great-great-grandparents, were buried in a small family cemetery that had been untended for years. On a gravel road, we crossed a railroad track and stopped at a barbed wire fence. The enclosed land had once been a pasture but was now overgrown with high weeds.

Eighty-eight-year-old Emory, who walked with a cane, remained at the car. Spreading the rusted barbed wire with my hands, I climbed through the fence. I searched the ground and found a big stout stick. Using it to clear my path, I made my way through the weeds and insects, toward a grove of oak trees some two hundred yards away. Beneath the oaks was a tangled mass of bramble briars and poison ivy.

Wielding the stick, I fought my way into the thicket. I hacked away, finally clearing a small spot of ground. Then, I nearly stumbled. At my feet was a pile of bleached bones. After a moment of stunned disbelief, I identified the bones as the skeleton of a horse.

I caught my breath and rejoined the battle against twisted vines and vicious thorns. Then suddenly the stick hit something solid – a tombstone engraved with the name WEBB. I tried to shout the news of my discovery to Emory. Alas, he was not only lame, but also hard of hearing. Retracing my steps, I walked almost all the way back to the car before I could make him understand what I had uncovered.

“That’s it!” he said excitedly. “That’s the grave of Cousin Joe Webb. Grandpa and grandma are buried right next to him.”

Using the stick to separate the barbed wire, I helped Emory through the fence. I made my way back to the grove of trees. Emory followed at his own pace. Returning to Joe Webb’s marker, I continued my attack on the enemy tangled vegetation. There were no other tombstones.

Exasperated, I jabbed the stick into the ground. The resulting sound was a clear thud. Using my hands to clear away several inches of earth, I found another stone, and another, and another. This was a true burying ground; even the grave markers were buried!

Clawing with my bare hands, I scraped the dirt away from each fallen stone. Like an eager archeologist, I uncovered the names:  M. H. NEELY, N.A. NEELY, and W.M. NEELY.    I had discovered the graves of Emory’s grandparents, Major Hugh Neely and Nancy Aylor Neely. They were my great, great-grandparents. I had also found the grave of my great-grandfather, William Morgan Neely.

It was an unusual visit to a very special burying ground. The cemetery has since been reclaimed, fenced in, and is now properly maintained.

All burying ground is holy ground, a treasure to be preserved.

Just past Mary Black Hospital, about where Skylyn Drive becomes Cannons Camp Ground Road, are two cemeteries:  Sunset Memorial Gardens on the right and Lincoln Memorial Gardens on the left.  In my thirty-eight years as a minister here in Spartanburg, I have conducted many funerals at Sunset, but not even one at Lincoln.

These two cemeteries reflect the segregation of this community along racial lines from times past.  While the two tracts of land are in close proximity to each other, they remind us of a time when schools, lunch counters, restrooms, and even water fountains were symbols of discrimination.  Other than Sunday morning worship in most of our churches, hardly any other facet of our community remains so segregated.

On a recent sunny afternoon, I drove into Lincoln Memorial Gardens and walked among the markers, reading the names and dates of birth and death of those buried there.  I noticed that some were born soon after the Civil War and tried to imagine the discrimination they encountered.  On the surface, the granite markers in that cemetery look exactly like the tombstones of my deceased loved ones.

The back road of the Lincoln cemetery borders the Spartanburg Police Hunt Club.  Near that road is a large white marble image of Christ with his hands outstretched. The statue has been discolored, or maybe I should say colored, by time and the elements.  Beneath this Christ of color is an engraved scripture: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

On this Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded that all burying ground is holy ground. In every cemetery, the graves of fallen soldiers have been watered by the tears of sweethearts, wives, and mothers; fathers, sons, and daughters.

Eventually, every cemetery plot will be a used plot. The final resting place for everybody, red, yellow, black, or white, is precious. My prayer is that prejudice and discrimination will pass away and be laid to rest, not only in the life to come, but also in our life together this side of heaven.