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March 8, 2015

Dr. Bill Arthur was a man of many talents. Bill was a gifted preacher, a faithful pastor, and a delightful storyteller. He served a number of churches as an interim pastor. First Presbyterian Church of Spartanburg was one of them. Bill was always a source of light for people and for churches going through difficult times.

After Bill’s retirement he returned to Spartanburg to serve as a part-time Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church. Among the many other ways he ministered, Bill led what became known as the BBC, Bill’s Book Club. Because he was an avid reader and a dear friend to many, Bill Arthur and the BBC were a perfect fit.

Following Bill’s death late last year, the folks at First Presbyterian invited me to lead the BBC. I did so with some hesitation and with the understanding that we would just see how the arrangement worked. We all knew that there was no way I could replace Bill. Filling his shoes was an impossible task. I had known and respected him as a friend and colleague in ministry. So, since January 2015 I have been meeting with the BBC each month. It has been a delightful experience.

At our most recent meeting we were discussing the book Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. It is a spiritually enriching read for many people. One of her suggestions is that we regain our sense of lunar rhythm. We have flooded our world with artificial light to the point that we have lost touch with the experiences of night and especially an appreciation of the moon.

One of our members recalled a childhood memory of a calendar on the wall with the phases of the moon indicated. Another remembered reading the Old Farmer’s Almanac. I called to mind David Tanner.

When I was growing up I knew a wonderful man named David Tanner. He worked for my Uncle Asbury who was a building contractor. David did all kinds of jobs for my uncle from screeding poured concrete to laying brick. David was not a skilled carpenter but he helped other carpenters frame many a house. He was always cheerful, usually singing, and he was a diligent worker.

One of the things I remembered about him that seemed unusual was that David always kept a saltshaker with him in the summertime. Occasionally, he removed his old stained hat and sprinkled a little salt in his hair. He said the application of salt kept him from passing out.

I do not know whether that works or not. David never passed out, and I saw him sprinkle a good bit of salt in his hair.

When Clare and I returned to Spartanburg in 1980, we moved into the home that my grandmother and grandfather built after the Great Depression in 1937. Soon afterwards, I met the man who would become my personal philosopher.

David lived on the King Line behind the old stockyard, located not far from our home. Though crippled with arthritis, he would walk from his home past our house on his way to the lumberyard. There he purchased his daily Coca-Cola.

David could barely walk. His feet were so gnarled that they hurt constantly. His gait was more like a shuffle. In those days, in order to get to the lumberyard, he had to pass a mini-mart. I asked him why he didn’t just go there to buy the Coke. He said, “At the mini-mart, it costs thirty-five cents. At the lumberyard, it costs a quarter. No need wasting money.”

Though every step was painful, David walked twice as far just to save a dime.

Often David would stop at our house, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch to enjoy his Coca-Cola, and then shuffle on to his home. Many mornings I would take a mug of coffee and join David on the porch. Those were the times when I received my philosophy lesson.

In his starched and pressed khaki pants, David was always as neat as a pin. One February morning, his knees were covered with mud.

I asked, “David, what in the world have you been doing this early in the morning?”

“Yesterday, I put in my English peas.”

David grew some of the best vegetables in some of the reddest clay in Spartanburg County. He planted according to the astrological signs.

“But, David, why are your pants so muddy?”

“Got up early. Dug up all the seeds.”


“My daughter was readin’ the Old Almanac. She told me I put in my peas on the wrong sign. So, I dug’em all up this mornin’ before daylight.”

“Did you find them all?”

“Found all but four.”

He pulled a paper bag from his pocket. Inside were the muddy seeds. He had planted three rows of English peas the day before.

“When is the right time to plant English peas?”


“Will one day make a difference?”

“Yes, suh. My daddy always planted by the signs, and he always made a crop. I do the same.”

David was quite a gardener. He and I were standing in my garden late one summer day. My wife brought each of us a cup of ice water. At the time, Clare was pregnant with our daughter Betsy. As Clare walked toward the garden, obviously an expectant mother, David said to me, “Don’t you let her come in this garden!”

“Why, David?”

“You let a woman with child come in the garden, and every watermelon and cantaloupe will bust wide open.”

Clare had no intention of coming into the garden, pregnant or not. She handed our ice water over the fence.

David was quite a churchman. He loved going to church. He especially enjoyed singing in the choir. On Monday mornings, he would give me a report from the Sunday services.

One Monday we were having our early morning porch visit.

“Church was extra good yesterday.”

“What was good about it?”

“We had good singin’.” David always bragged on the choir.

“How was the preaching?”

“Preachin’ was good.”

“What’d the pastor preach about?”

“Well, he preached about sin.”

“What did he have to say about sin?”

“He’s agin’ it!”

“What kind of sin did he talk about, David?”

“He talked about gamblin’. He talked about drinkin’. He talked about smokin’.”

“David, did he say that smokin’ is a sin?”

“Yes, suh.”

David dipped snuff. He almost always had tobacco tucked in his lower lip.

“David, did the preacher say anything about dippin’ snuff.”

“No suh. He didn’t say a thing about dippin’.”

“David, is it a sin to dip snuff?”

“No, suh.”

“It’s a sin to smoke, but not a sin to dip snuff?”

“That’s right.”

“Why’s that? How can smokin’ be a sin, but dippin’ snuff is not a sin?”

He said, “It’s a sin to burn up anything that tastes that good!”

David’s church built a new sanctuary. He invited me to come to the dedication. My dad and I went together to the Sunday afternoon service, all three hours of it.

David sang in the choir. Several preachers held forth. The building was thoroughly dedicated.

After the service, David showed us around the church he took so much pride in. He explained that the church didn’t have stained glass windows. I will never forget the way that he expressed it.

“We don’t have none of them windows with people on ’em the light shines through.”

What a phrase! “People the light shines through.”

When you know people like Bill Arthur and David Tanner, you don’t need stained glass windows. Bill and David were the kind of people the light shines through.

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