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April 1, 2023

This is a Holy season for three of the world’s monotheistic religions.  The Holy month of Ramadan began on March 22, following the sighting of the moon over Mecca.  Ramadan is thirty days of fasting from dawn to sunset for followers of Islam who are of able body and sound mind.  Passover is a major Jewish holiday celebrating the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt.  This year Passover begins on the evening of Wednesday, April 5, 2023, and continues through the evening of Thursday, April 13, 2023.  

For Christians, Holy Week begins today.  It is a time for somber contemplation on the passion of Jesus Christ.  The events that unfolded between Palm Sunday and Good Friday were filled with foreboding.  Imagine the angst, the fear, and the insecurity for those closest to Jesus.  Perhaps Christians can begin to understand those days of uncertainty and dread as we live through this time.

By Friday evening of that week, Jesus had been denied, betrayed, arrested, sentenced, crucified, and buried.  His tomb was sealed.  To those early followers of Jesus, it looked, for all the world, like their faith and hope had been dashed, crushed beyond recovery.  Then came Sunday morning and the resurrection!

The Easter season is a time of sharp contrast.  It brings a dichotomy of emotions.  The traditional stations of the cross lead us down our own Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow.  According to the Gospel accounts, the feelings of Easter morning were not immediate joy.  The first visitors to the tomb of Jesus found the grave empty.  It looked like the case of a missing body requiring a Crime Scene Investigation, CSI Jerusalem.  Then, emotions shifted to those more appropriate for Halloween.  A ghost-like figure began making appearances.  It took a while for the disciples to recognize Jesus.  Once they did, the celebration began.

Holy Week is a time for music that inspires contemplation.  Clare and I enjoy two classical renditions of the passion of Christ by Johann Sebastian Bach.  The “Saint John Passion” was composed in 1724 for a Good Friday vespers service.  Written in 1727, the “Saint Matthew Passion” is regarded as the most magnificent setting of the passion story in Western music.  “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross,” an orchestral work by Joseph Haydn, is another favorite.  For Easter Sunday, “Messiah” by George Frederic Handel is renowned.

Were I to make a Holy Week playlist, I would include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the African American spiritual “Were You There?” There are many other cherished old hymns about the cross.

We tend to think of Jesus as devoid of all emotion, an impassive Christ, always calm and serene, never angry or sad.  That view fits the heresy known as Gnosticism which held that Jesus was not really human.  It is supported by the popular idea based on a children’s Christmas carol, “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”

The gospels show Jesus of Nazareth as fully human and Jesus as Lord fully divine.

We see Jesus as a person with a sense of humor.  The Quaker writer Elton Trueblood in his book The Humor of Christ points out the wit of Jesus in his use of Aramaic hyperbole.  In his beautiful paintings, the artist Richard Hook depicts Jesus experiencing the full range of human emotions.  One of my favorites is the smiling Jesus

Jesus could get angry.  The Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians counsels, “be angry but don’t sin.” Anger itself is not a sin.  One vivid example is Jesus’ righteous indignation toward the religious leaders who objected to his healing of the man with the withered hand.  Perhaps the best example is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.

Jesus experienced depths of sorrow that moved him to tears.  Today we begin Holy Week, a week that is tear-stained.

I sat in the cafeteria of a local hospital having coffee with three physicians.  I have learned that even in their own difficult emotional circumstances, physicians tend to be clinical.  One of the doctors had recently suffered a profound loss, the death of his wife following an extended illness.  He commented, “I know now why we are equipped with tear ducts.  They are intended to be used.”

Another doctor at the table sipped his coffee and added, “I read a study that indicated that if we don’t cry enough, we develop sinus problems.”

After a moment of silence, I asked, “Have you ever heard Rosie Grier, former NFL player for the Rams, sing that song on Sesame Street, “It’s Alright to Cry?”

The third physician commented, “They don’t teach us that in medical school.”

The psalmist turns a remarkable phrase to convey the notion that tears are to be treasured.  “You put my tears in a bottle.” (Psalm 56:8).  The verse implies that God values our tears so much that he keeps them in a bottle.

Following our son Erik’s death nearly twenty-three years ago, Clare gave a necklace to our newly widowed daughter-in-law, June.  A small antique bottle, a lachrymatory, was fastened as a pendant on a chain.  The lachrymatory was an appropriate present.  The word lachrymatory is derived from the Latin lacrimal, meaning tear.  These small terra cotta or glass vessels have been found in Roman and Greek tombs.  They were bottles into which mourners dropped their tears.  The bottles are shaped like a flask with a long small neck and a body in the form of a bulb.

During the Civil War, women from both the North and the South were said to have cried into tear bottles and saved them until their boyfriends and husbands returned from battle.  Their collected tears would show the soldiers how much they were adored and missed.

Lachrymatories have once again become popular.  They are created by artists who work in glass in many different cultures.  References to the power of the tear bottle occur even in contemporary literature.

Rebecca Wells’ book The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood explains the gift of a lachrymatory: “In olden days, it was one of the greatest gifts you could give someone.  It meant you loved them and shared grief that brought you together.” [Page 348, HarperCollins, 1996]

When Clare gave June the lachrymatory, they agreed that the only problem with the tiny bottle was that it was simply not large enough.  

I am astonished when well-meaning people instruct grieving people not to cry.  If we cannot weep in the time of deep sorrow, then when?  In the early stages of grief, there are times when tears flow uncontrollably.  At other times, we can better monitor our crying and even choose our own time and place to weep.  This is not to say that our tears should be postponed indefinitely.  The truth is that sometimes it is just inconvenient to cry.  Clare gave up wearing mascara after Erik died. 

My wife, Clare, has been my companion in both joy and sorrow.  Her clear insight and honest wit put things into perspective I appreciate.  On the issue of choosing a time and place to weep, Clare said to friends, “I cry in the shower.  Somehow being in the flow of warm water gives me permission to cry.  It’s the best place to cry alone.  It’s just not as messy as crying any other time.”

Though we may not keep them in bottles, our tears are a gift to be treasured.

Jesus had his heart broken many times.  Jesus was able to Cry

Today on Palm Sunday, we enter the most important week of the Christian year.  Holy Week is the dramatic conclusion to the earthly ministry of Jesus.  Holy Week is stained with the tears of Jesus and those who followed him.

Let me point out a few passages to you.

At Bethany, at the tomb of Lazarus

 When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

                                                         (John 11:33-36)

Jesus sheds tears of empathy.  Paul instructs the Christians in Rome “weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15)

The Lord is weeping tears of grief, but not as those who have no hope.  His very next action is to raise Lazarus from the grave

The prophet Isaiah points out that the Messiah empathizes with our tears.

He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief….

Surely, He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows; (Isaiah 53:3-4)

Jesus Enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  (Luke 19:36-42)

Here Jesus weeps over the human condition – injustice, willful neglect of the poor, religious legalism, and political recalcitrance.  

In the Garden of Gethsemane

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  (Hebrews 5:7)

As usual, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down, and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

                                                                                                      (Luke 22:39-44)

Jesus was struggling with destiny, to be sure.  But he is weeping for the sins of the world.  This sorrow is the reason he died on the cross.  These tears are for my sin and yours.  Jesus is weeping for us.

Christians take these tears of Jesus seriously.  And there is the hope of resurrection ever before us.

“Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for former things have passed away. …Behold, all things are new!”

                                                                                          (Revelation 21:3-5)

Clare joins me in wishing all of you a blessed holy season.


Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, teacher, pastoral counselor, and retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week consider volunteering or donating to your place of worship or your favorite charity. Thank you.


March 5, 2023

Our friend Sheila Ingle is the author of five books. Her books are written for children and early teens. Four are about the heroines of early South Carolina history, especially during the American Revolutionary War. The other book chronicles the story of eight women who worked in the cotton mills of the Upstate. Sheila was recently honored by the Spartanburg County Historical Association as the recipient of the Dr. Jeffrey R. Willis Award for her work in preserving the cultural heritage of Spartanburg County. Congratulations, Sheila! You can read more about her work on her Website: Her books are:

Courageous Kate (2006)

Fearless Martha (2009)

Brave Elizabeth (2013)

Cosmic Possum (2017)

Walking with Eliza (2020)

Read her books and give them to your children and grandchildren.

Thursday, March 2, was celebrated again this year as National Read Across America Day. Created by the National Education Association in 1997, Read Across America is an initiative to encourage reading. Elementary school students in many places dress up like Dr. Seuss characters for the festivities. Why? Appropriately enough, March 2 was also the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He is one of the many authors celebrated at this event.

Clare treasures books as much as I do. Children’s books are among her favorites. She has saved books from her childhood and most of the books our five children enjoyed as they were growing up. Clare and I still have children’s books in our home – a lot of children’s books. Now our grandchildren love coming to our house and delving into Miz Clare’s Children’s Library. Clare has even set up her own check-out system so the grandchildren can borrow books and return them after enjoying them for a while.

My job is to keep the books in good repair. I patch the treasured volumes with tape when much-handled pages accidentally tear.

I was at that task not long ago when I realized how many books we have that were written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

The Cat in the Hat is regarded as the defining book of Dr. Seuss’s career. The popular book was developed through a joint venture between Houghton Mifflin and Random House. Houghton Mifflin asked Dr. Seuss to write and illustrate a children’s primer using only 225 new-reader vocabulary words. Random House obtained the trade publication rights because Seuss was under contract with them, and Houghton Mifflin kept the school rights. With the release of The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss became America’s best-known children’s book author and illustrator.

As I secured the crumbling spine of The Cat in the Hat with strapping tape, I wondered how the beloved Dr. Seuss got his start as a writer of children’s literature. An internet search revealed his fascinating story.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born into a family of German immigrants in 1904 on Howard Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Theodor Robert, and his grandfather were brew masters. His mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel, greatly influenced his successful writing career. At bedtime, she often soothed her children to sleep by chanting rhymes remembered from her youth. Theodor credited his mother with his ability to create the verses for which he became so famous.

The Geisel family enjoyed a comfortable and prosperous life until the beginning of World War I. Prohibition presented both financial and social challenges for German immigrants. The family persevered through the difficult times and prospered again. Theodor and his sister, Marnie, had a happy childhood. Memories from that childhood time in Springfield are reflected throughout his work. In addition to its title, the first children’s book by Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, is filled with imagery from his hometown. Even the red motorcycles used by the police department are fashioned after Springfield’s famed Indian Motorcycles.

As a teenager, Theodor left Springfield to attend Dartmouth College, where he became editor-in-chief of the Jack-O-Lantern, Dartmouth’s humor magazine. His tenure as editor ended when Theodor and his friends were caught throwing a party, which was against the prohibition laws and school policy. He continued to contribute to the magazine, signing his work Seuss. This is the first record of his use of the Seuss pseudonym. It was both Theodor’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name.

To please his father, who wanted him to pursue an academic career as a college professor, Theodor went on to Oxford University in England after graduation from Dartmouth. However, he lost interest in his academic studies and decided to tour Europe instead. At Oxford, he met a classmate, Helen Palmer, who became his good friend, his first wife, and a children’s author and book editor in her own right.

After his return to the United States, Theodor began to develop a career as a cartoonist. The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly magazine, published some of his early pieces. Most of his creative attention was devoted to the advertising campaigns for Standard Oil Company. He held that job for more than fifteen years.

As World War II approached, Theodor’s focus shifted, and he began contributing weekly political cartoons to PM magazine. Too old for the draft but wanting to contribute to the war effort, Theodor served in the United States Army with Frank Capra’s Signal Corps making training movies for soldiers. It was then that he became skilled in the art of animation. He developed a series of animated films featuring a cartoon trainee called Private Snafu, a military term meaning “situation normal all fouled up.”

While Theodor continued contributing to Life, Vanity Fair, Judge, and other magazines, Viking Press offered him a contract to illustrate a collection of children’s quotes. Although the book was not a commercial success, the illustrations received excellent reviews, giving Theodor his first big break into children’s literature.

However, publishing a book he wrote and illustrated was much more difficult. After receiving twenty-seven rejections, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was finally accepted for publication by Vanguard Press. After a great deal of persistence on his part, the career of Dr. Seuss in children’s literature was launched.

After his first wife died in 1967, Theodor married an old friend, Audrey Stone Geisel, who was not only influential in the publication of his later books but served as the president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises until her death in 2018.

Clare and I often have conversations about authors and writing as a career. By any measure, Dr. Seuss was among the most influential to people of all ages. How many children have delighted in the rhyming lines of Green Eggs and Ham? How many parents have read Fox in Socks until sleep overtakes both young and old? How many grandparents have held little ones on their knee and sympathized with an elephant who can just barely hear the combined voices of Whoville in Horton Hears a Who? How many families have gathered around the television in December to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

At the time of his death on September 24, 1991, Dr. Seuss had written and illustrated forty-four children’s books. His books have been translated into more than fifteen languages. Over 200 million copies have found their way into homes and hearts around the world.

In addition to his books, his work has been made into eleven children’s television specials, a Broadway musical, and a feature-length motion picture. Other major motion pictures are on the way. Good news! Random House published a newly discovered manuscript on July 28, 2015. What Pet Should I Get? It was written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, received many coveted honors, including two Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and the Pulitzer Prize.

So again, this year, National Read Across America Day was celebrated on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. The day is intended to encourage all children and youth in every community across the United States to celebrate reading. That may be the very best way to remember Dr. Seuss.

Whenever I open a book with a child, I think of the words of Dr. Seuss from his book Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Oh, the places you’ll go!

 There is fun to be done!

Could I encourage you to read a book? Visit your public library or your local bookstore. They will be glad to help you find a volume that will suit your interest. Could I also encourage you to read to a child? You both will honor Dr. Seuss and all of those who love good books. It will do you and the child a world of good.


Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, teacher, pastoral counselor, and retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week consider volunteering your time or making a financial donation to Friends of the Library – Spartanburg County Public Libraries,, 2355 South Pine Street; Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 585-0111.


March 2, 2023

The week before Christmas of 2022, the first extremely cold blast of winter affected more than half of our nation. The bitter weather heightened my awareness of the plight of the homeless people across our land, especially in our community.

In 1997, our son Erik wrote a series of articles on the problem of homelessness in Spartanburg. Erik’s journalism led to the establishment of the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network.

I have taken excerpts from two of Erik’s original articles for this column. Though Erik wrote these words more than twenty years ago, the problem of homelessness persists. For this column, names have been changed, and some details have changed over time, but the hard truth remains. Our community has a homeless problem,

“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 over her head

“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. Homeless folks’ range and low visibility make them an underestimated group, encountered and recognized only in their most extreme forms.

Those members range from men with matted beards sleeping under bridges to single mothers and their families holed up in a friend’s living room. It is a range of people scraping toward a home of their own, each individual at a different stage of sheltering themselves.

Beaufort has achieved a measure of security since that first night sleeping on the ground two months ago. She is now a squatter in her brother’s girlfriend’s apartment in Camp Croft, a few paychecks from getting her own place, she said.

Chuck Black, another member of Spartanburg’s homeless, does not share that optimism. A 1990 study of the county’s homeless found that 67 percent were without shelter for less than three months. Still, Chuck has been living in abandoned buildings and camping beside railroad tracks in Spartanburg for more than twenty years and makes no pretense about ever changing his lifestyle.

Each morning, if he has the money, Black buys a bottle of Rock and Rye red liquor and walks to Labor Finders to look for a day job. He has no desire to turn his odd jobs into a regular paycheck, no desire to move from the streets to a permanent home.

“I’ll die out here, that’s for sure,” the 63-year-old Spartanburg native said. “I wouldn’t want it no other way. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it’s not going to change now.”

The spectrum of Beaufort’s temporary slide into homelessness and Black’s chronic transience makes helping the homeless a difficult task. This is possibly the most severe problem we have in Spartanburg. Homelessness comes with a cluster of other issues that have to be dealt with before someone can be stabilized in a residence.

That’s the case for Darren and his wife, Wendy. Their crack habit and problems with alcohol and marijuana got them evicted from their apartment in August. The couple also lost custody of their three young children.

Since then, Darren has stayed at his mother-in-law’s house, spent several nights in his car, and spent a few more at a homeless shelter. The couple was forced out of the shelter and their Narcotics Anonymous group for relapsing into crack use.

Homelessness is often out of sight and out of mind in the South, a region that prides itself on hospitality. Families without apartments are taken in by friends or family members. Folks on the street are cordial or prideful enough to make beds out of the public’s line of vision.

The lives of Bo Carpenter, who makes his home in the canebrake behind the Church of the Advent, and Sam Smith, who builds a fire under a different overpass each night, are evidence of the homeless problem.

Robert Jamison wakes up with his day stretched in front of him – a void of empty time.

Under the Magnolia Street train trestle with eight other men, Jamison throws off the layers of ratty blankets, plastic sheeting, and cardboard that sheltered him during the night.

He takes a morning drink, Old English 800 malt liquor or Bull of the Woods Grape Wine, and scrubs at his teeth with the broken bristles of a toothbrush he carries in his front pocket. Jamison is the man people think of when they hear the word homeless – living on the street, middle-aged and white, an alcoholic and lethargic panhandler – the classic portrait of the wino.

“People don’t know we’re out here. Not in Spartanburg,” Jamison said, his back against the concrete trestle. “But we’re all over.”

Some are out on the street for a few nights while they look for a better place to stay. But a large portion of these men are chronically homeless, without a plan or even a desire to get off the street. A certain portion of these men aren’t unhappy with their situation. They don’t want to come off the street.

That’s the case for Mick Compton, who has been homeless for more than forty years but can’t remember exactly how long. He has tried living in shelters but can’t stand living under other people’s rules. Compton doesn’t romanticize himself as a hobo and said he can remember a time when getting off the street was important to him.

But now, the restrictions of living in society outweigh the uncomfortableness of being homeless. He bounces around a series of abandoned houses he knows most nights and spends his days on the street in front of the Spartanburg County Courthouse, looking for odd jobs.

“Nobody here’s going to tell me how to live,” Mick said, gesturing at the men leaning against the wall in front of a law office. “These guys are going to treat you a whole heap better than folks you meet out in the rest of the world.”

Ronnie Love stands outside an abandoned car repair shop on Main Street, leaning his head on the plywood covering the windows. He had been sleeping in this building for the past five weeks since the weather turned too cold to stay outside at night. Now, all of his belongings, including a coat and a popcorn popper, are inside.

Ronnie is still struggling to adjust to life on the street. He is eighteen years old, homeless since he aged out of his foster home last spring. Ronnie said that soon after becoming homeless, he was raped twice by older men while high on crack. He said he would like to live in a shelter, but his drug dependence keeps him away.

David Oakes, 39, said the freedom of living homeless outweighs the dangers.

Oakes, an Army veteran, diagnosed with manic depressive illness, left his wife and three children in Philadelphia and ran south. He has been homeless for five years. Oakes said it bothers him to see the homeless beg, that the point of this lifestyle is its independence.

“I couldn’t handle all that family jazz,” he said. “It weighed too heavy on me.”

Lying on a dirt shelf under a bridge, he pulls a picture from the breast pocket of his Army jacket. It is a photograph of his family standing in front of their house.


Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, storyteller, teacher, pastoral counselor, and retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week consider volunteering your time or donating to a charity that provides for the homeless. Thank you.