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February 10, 2018

At the end of January, Clare and I were having a calendar session looking ahead to the month of February. We penciled in birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions.

I asked, “Do you know what February 14 is?”

“Yes. That is Valentine’s Day,” she answered. “Have you made arrangements for dark chocolate with almonds?”

“No. The fourteenth is Ash Wednesday,” I answered. “I thought we would fast and go to church.”

“Don’t try to make a sacred day more holy than it already is,” said my wife. “You can fast and have ashes if you wish. I’ll have a good steak, a loaded baked potato, and dark chocolate with almonds!”

I laughed. This woman I have been married to for nearly fifty-three years is a lady of deep devotion. But in her heart of hearts she is a party girl.

It is a strange occurrence that doesn’t happen often, but this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday coincide. What are we to make of this? Must we choose between the two? Read more…



February 4, 2018

As I penned these words, I listened to a Norfolk Southern freight rumbling along the tracks behind our home. I am told that, including the shifters, eighteen trains each day running along the tracks adjacent to our property. For me, these passing trains bring back memories of a trip I took when I was sixteen years old, one that I have written about before but worth repeating here.

In July 1960, duffle bag in hand, I ascended the steps of a railroad car to embark on an adventure that changed my life. I traveled with a troop of Scouts and leaders from Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union counties. Our troop, along with a second troop from York, Lancaster, and Chester counties, made up the contingent representing the Palmetto Council. The locomotive whistle signaled the beginning of our long journey to the site of the Fifth National Scout Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

We rode in a day car on the Carolina Special up the Saluda Grade through Asheville to Cincinnati, where we joined another train.  Once we reached Chicago our day car joined a train called the Jamboree Special. Picnic tables were lined down the middle of cattle cars to serve as our dining hall. We were herded into those cars and fed box lunches, preparing us to eat our own cooking once we arrived at the Jamboree.

From July 22 until July 29, 1960, a city of tents was pitched on 1,000 acres of ranch land eight miles north of Colorado Springs. Our spacious campsite was at the base of Pike’s Peak which towers more than twice the height of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. Representing twenty-six countries, 56,377 Boy Scouts officially registered for the event. More than 200,000 visitors came to Jamboree City, the fourth-largest town in Colorado, for that one week.

Twenty-eight hundred tons of food transported in ninety-seven boxcars supplied the hungry Scouts. We consumed 21,000 loaves of bread and 2,183 gallons of milk every day. Each night on 16,380 open charcoal fires, Scouts, organized into patrols, cooked their own supper at the same time.

The Boy Scouts movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. The founder’s son attended the 1960 Jamboree as an honored guest.  He recognized the jubilee year for the Boy Scouts of America, chartered in 1910 by the United States Congress.

As we hiked across the grassland to the opening show, the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, performed amazing aeronautical stunts in the sky above us. That night the popular Lennon Sisters treated us with a concert. They were followed by the largest fireworks display I had ever seen.

During the Jamboree I witnessed my first rodeo. I knew then that bull riding and saddle bronco riding were not for me. I would rather work at the lumberyard back home.

Several celebrities visited the Jamboree during the week.  James Arness was a hero to many boys. He played the part of Marshal Matt Dillon in the television show Gunsmoke. He was a big hit among the scouts.      

President Dwight Eisenhower, who arrived on the final day, traveled with his motorcade through the entire camp. Wearing a white suit and a yellow Jamboree neckerchief, he stood in the back of a new Lincoln Continental convertible.  At one point in the parade the car stopped, allowing the President to walk over to the Scouts lining the road and shake hands. An Eagle Scout, I had been elected Senior Patrol Leader of my Jamboree troop, so I was assigned to the front row. When I shook Ike’s hand, I looked into his eyes and said only, “Mr. President.” It was my first and only time to speak to a President.

At the closing show the western cowboy singing group The Sons of the Pioneers entertained.  Later, the humorist Herb Shriner invited any Scout who had a harmonica to play with him. He, along with 300 or so Scouts played “Home Sweet Home.”

The Jamboree closed that night with a candle lighting ceremony. More than fifty thousand of us repeated the Scout Oath together, dedicating ourselves to do our duty to God and country. Thousands of Scouts, raising their right hand in Scout’s honor and holding thousands of lighted candles, pledged to make the world a better place.

On that last evening, I walked to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the Jamboree campsite. I had previously attended numerous Scouting events, but that vantage point allowed me to envision the enormous impact Scouting could make in this world.

On our return trip back to South Carolina, our troop traveled a southern route through New Mexico. I had slept well in my tent on the Colorado grassland. That night back on the Southern day coach, however, I was uncomfortable. The next morning, Saturday, I was congested with a summer cold. The dramatic drop in elevation as we traveled overnight had forced fluid into my left ear. By the time the train pulled into Dallas, Texas, I had developed a throbbing earache.

Our troop was scheduled for a tour of Dallas, including a meeting with Miss Texas; but I opted instead to try to find a physician. I agreed to meet the troop back at the railroad station at the designated time.

I found a physician’s office building several blocks from the train station. I walked the hallways, searching for help. Because it was the weekend the offices were closed, but finally, on the fourth floor, I heard a typewriter. A few moments after I knocked on the locked door, a physician appeared.

Surprised to see a Scout in uniform, he asked, “Can I help you?”

I explained that I had attended the National Jamboree, that we were traveling by train back home to South Carolina, and that I had a terrible earache.

“Come in and let’s take a look,” he said.

As he examined me, he laughed, “I do not usually do this kind of medicine. I’m an Ob/Gyn. It’s been a long time since I looked in a patient’s ear.”

The doctor confirmed that my ear was indeed infected and offered to give me a shot of penicillin.

After explaining that I had very little money, but that I would send a payment to him when I returned to Spartanburg, he asked “Scout’s honor?”

I raised my hand in the Scout sign and pledged, “Yes, sir. Scout’s honor.”

I learned that the doctor himself was an Eagle Scout.

Back at the train station, I met my troop for our trip to New Orleans. There we boarded the Southern Crescent for the ride home to the Hub City.

The Boy Scouts of America is celebrating a birthday this week on February 8. It’s a good time to remember the important difference Scouting can make. In 1960, more than 5,000,000 boys were Scouts in America; today, more than 30,000,000 Americans have been members of the Scout movement.

Scouting continues to make a significant difference in the lives of America’s youth and in the future of our country. I am proud to be a part of this great organization.

By the way, the Dallas doctor that I saw so many years ago did send a bill to our home. A Star Scout himself, my dad sent a check to him. Dad also knew the meaning of Scout’s honor.


January 27, 2018

On the boundary between Yancey and Mitchell Counties in North Carolina is the community of Toecane. Located just to the west of Loafers Glory, Toecane marks the confluence of the Toe River with Cane Creek. The places where waterways intersect are often some of the most scenic and historically significant points of interest.  In the midlands of South Carolina, the Broad and the Saluda Rivers meet south of Columbia to form the Congaree River.

One of the most picturesque confluences I have seen is at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. There the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac River at the tripoint of the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.

Our son Kris traveled the length of the Amazon River on a hammock boat. Along the way he visited a place called the Meeting of Waters, the confluence of the Rio Negro (black) and the Rio Solimões (turbid) near Manaus, Brazil.

Like the confluence of great rivers, I have learned that the events of our lives often merge. These points of intersection are worth our attention. Not only can they prove to be interesting, they may also be teachable moments, when, upon reflection, we move forward with a renewed sense of purpose in our lives.

During the past month two events have prompted me to spend time in introspection and contemplation. Let me explain.

Our family celebrated Christmas on Friday, December 22. It was the one day that all of us could be together.  On Saturday, December 23, several of our children and grandchildren decided to all go to a movie. “The Last Jedi” was playing, and this most recent Star Wars installment was the unanimous choice of the group. Though I rarely go to a movie, this was one I knew I would enjoy. I have been a Star Wars fan from the beginning. Besides, this was an opportunity to be with children and grandchildren. I wouldn’t have missed it for a tub of popcorn with unlimited refills.

Question: Should I say spoiler alert, just in case some of you still haven’t seen the movie?

In the early stages of the film we find Luke Skywalker in self-imposed exile on a planet far, far away. The scene was actually shot on an island off the coast of Ireland. The Skellig Islands lie eight miles off the Irish shore. Skellig Michael, the largest of the islands, towers 714 feet above sea level. On the summit of this awe-inspiring rock is a Celtic Christian monastery, founded between the 6th and 8th century. It is here that we encounter Luke living in isolation.

Ever since the first Star Wars movies I have thought of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) as a man younger than myself. Indeed, in real life he is seven years younger than I am. But when we meet Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael living among the stone ruins of an old Gaelic monastery, he is a tired old man. With his grey beard, his staff, and his hooded cloak he is enduring what might be termed a late-life crisis.

“The Last Jedi” is a movie about Luke accepting his insignificance. When he speaks with Yoda near the movie’s midpoint, he realizes that he is aging past the wisdom he can impart. He can train Rey, the young woman who is the last Jedi, but she has to make her own way.

We learn, Yoda says, not just from success, but also from weakness and failure. Luke isn’t a hero only because of his remarkable feats. A part of the meaning of his life is that he accepts his disappointments and his own limitations.

So, on the night before Christmas Eve, I received a gift from Luke Skywalker. I came face-to-face with an important truth about my own life.

When I was a student in seminary preparing for my work in Pastoral Care and Counseling, I was introduced to the writings of Erik Erikson. His Theory of Psychosocial Development is the centerpiece of his work. He emphasizes our developmental tasks for eight stages of life from childhood to late adulthood. Erickson presents these as eight stages of conflict that all individuals must negotiate successfully in order to adjust well to our particular time of life. The eighth and last of these stages Erickson identifies as the struggle between integrity and despair.

This eighth stage identifies people who are in their 70s or older and who are typically retirees. It is important for them to feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that they have spent their life doing something significant. When they look back on their life, they may feel content. It is a Sabbath time when we look back and can say, as the Almighty did after creation, “That’s good!”  If, on the other hand, they focus on their mistakes and their failures, it is likely that they will experience a sense of despair. This is Luke Skywalker’s inner conflict on Skellig Michael until his old mentor Yoda sets him straight.

The second major event occurred two weeks after I had seen “The Last Jedi.” On Saturday night, January 6, the Christian observance of Epiphany, I was preparing to preach the following Sunday morning at the Palmetto Moravian Fellowship. I put the finishing touches on my sermon, printed it out, and placed it in my Bible. I walked upstairs to go to bed. Clare was already asleep.

At the top of the stairs, I felt an intense burning pain in my chest. I got ready for bed, hoping the pain would subside. It did not. In fact, when I tried to lie down the pain increased. I paused for a moment, collecting my thoughts. I prayed. Then I knew I had to go to the hospital. I got dressed and awakened Clare. She was, of course, confused and concerned. I told her my plan. I would call our daughter Betsy to come and drive Clare so they could arrive at the hospital together. I would call EMS to transport me to the hospital immediately.

Downstairs, I e-mailed the folks at the Moravian Fellowship, gathered my insurance cards and driver’s license, and met the ambulance in the driveway. I kissed Clare goodbye. She said, in no uncertain terms, “Kirk Neely, don’t you dare die!”

Though two electrocardiograms (EKGs) were normal, blood tests revealed that I had experienced a heart attack. I was on the front end of the episode, and no apparent damage was done to my heart.

The hospital was crowded. No rooms were available. I was kept in the emergency area of the hospital most of the day on Sunday, pain free, with a nitroglycerin patch on my chest until a room was available.

On Monday morning Dr. Alejandro Lopez performed a heart catheterization. He found two blockages and corrected both with stents. As I was waiting for the procedure to begin, I thought, Have I said everything I need to say to the people I love? My answer was yes, for the most part. But I realized just before the anesthesia sent me to la-la land that I had more to say to my grandchildren before my time is up.

I want to add a note of gratitude to the administration, the medical staff, transportation, food service, housekeeping, and the entire staff of Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. From the paramedics who picked me up to the discharge nurse, every single person that I and my family encountered was personable and caring and always the consummate professional. Thank you all!

The first night I was home from the hospital I made a list of twenty things I want my grandchildren to know. I’ll share that here another time after I have the opportunity to refine the list. Who knows, it might even become a book.

Next Friday is Ground Hog Day. The plump marmot has the reputation of being afraid of his shadow. Luke Skywalker was afraid of the dark side until he confronted it. We all tend to be apprehensive when the shadows of life approach. I am still learning to face the shadows of life without fear.

The Psalmist put it best,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil; for thou art with me. (Psalm 23:4)

There are many valleys of the shadow.

Our great assurance is that through it all, our shepherd is with us.


January 20, 2018

Back in the days before Transunion, Equifax, and Experian were sources of reliable information regarding the creditworthiness of an individual, small business owners depended on the experience of other entrepreneurs for such information. My father and my grandfather frequently received phone calls from other business folks requesting references on potential customers. Generally, the conversation was brief. As a teenage fly-on-the-wall I heard only one side of the exchange. I could sense what the call was about the moment the receiver was off the hook. The response was brief and to the point.

“Yes, he pays on time, every time.”

“He pays, but he’s a little slow.”

“He’s kinda’ hit-or-miss with us.”

One day I heard my dad answer such a call.

“He no longer has an account with us. He’d pay once in a blue moon.”

I wasn’t sure what once in a blue moon meant, but I could tell that the phrase meant rarely. An older definition of blue moon is that it’s the third of four full moons in a single season – summer, fall, winter, spring. More recently, the name blue moon has been used for the second of two full moons in a single calendar month.

The idea of a blue moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was referring to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he inadvertently simplified the definition. He wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

When thirteen full moons occur in one calendar year there will be two full moons in one calendar month.

Deborah Byrd of Earth and Sky magazine happened upon a copy of the old 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope in the stacks of the Peridier Library at the University of Texas Astronomy Department in the late 1970s. On her radio broadcasts she began using the term blue moon to describe the second full moon in a calendar month.

Later, this definition of blue moon was also popularized by a book for children by Margot McLoon-Basta and Alice Sigel, Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts, published in New York by World Almanac Publications, in 1985. The board game Trivial Pursuit also adopted this definition.

Can there be two blue moons in a single calendar year? Yes. It last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had blue moons. The next year of double monthly blue moons will be in January and March of this year, 2018. After that, the double blue moons will appear in January and March, 2037.

Just how often does a blue moon occur? The time between one full moon and the next is twenty-eight days, a lunar month. So the only time one month can have two full moons is when the first full moon happens in the first few days of the month. This happens only about every two or three years. The last blue moon happened on July 31, 2015. Because the moon was full on January 2, 2018, the next blue moon will be this coming Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

Such infrequent natural occurrences have sparked the imagination of many cultures.

In the Southern Appalachian Mountains it is considered a good idea to pick flowers and berries during a blue moon. This is believed to bring more abundance, love, and beauty into your life.

There is an old English tradition that holds that if a housewife sees a blue moon and changes her bed coverings she will become more fertile.

An ominous belief among the Welsh maintains that if a member of the family dies during a blue moon, three more deaths will follow.

Within Eastern European Gypsy culture there is a belief that a person who sleeps with the blue moon shining on his or her face may go insane.

Usually the term blue moon has nothing to do with color. However, it is possible, albeit extremely rare, to see an actual blue-colored moon.  Over very dry desert landscapes, unusual atmospheric conditions where particles of dust or smoke create a filter for moonlight can give the appearance of a blue-tinted moon. Blue-colored moons aren’t predictable. Alas, most blue moons are not blue.

Still, artists from songwriters, to painters, to authors give us the impression that the blue moon really is blue in color.  The Blue Moon Literary & Art Review headquartered in Davis, California, publishes poetry and fiction of all genres. The magazine features both artists and writers.

Blue Moon Rising is a novel by Simon R. Green that follows the exploits of Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom, Princess Julia of Hillsdown, his unicorn, and her dragon. The blue moon is the source of much that is magical in the novel.

In the field of music, one of the best known songs is, appropriately enough, the official bluegrass song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was written by Bill Monroe in 1946, and was first recorded by Monroe playing mandolin and backed by his band the Blue Grass Boys. Kentucky was his home state. In this song he is heartbroken over a girl who left him, but he wishes her well.

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and proved untrue

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue


It was on a moonlight night

The stars were shining bright

And they whispered from on high

Your love has said good-bye


Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and said good-bye


The Billie Holiday jazz rendition of “Blue Moon” by Richard Rogers is about a lonely person who finds the one they love beneath a blue moon.

Blue Moon you saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own

Blue Moon, you knew just what I was there for

You heard me saying a prayer for

Someone I really could care for.


And then there suddenly appeared before me

The only one my arms will ever hold

I heard somebody whisper ‘Please adore me’

And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold!


Blue Moon!

Now I’m no longer alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own.

The blue moon is certainly something we can look forward to Wednesday night January 31, 2018. I can envision blue moon gatherings on decks and patios to mark the appearance of this lunar spectacle. I know that some will go so far as to use such an occasion to enjoy an ice cold Blue Moon. This crafted beer is now brewed in Western North Carolina as well as in Colorado. They are advertising “Enjoy a Blue Moon on the Blue Moon.”

And just how often will readers find such an ad repeated in this column?

Well, once in a blue moon.


January 16, 2018

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 interest to this public treasure.

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 14, 2018

Several years ago, Clare and I went to Newberry, South Carolina, for the town’s autumn festival.  The owner of a bookstore there asked me if I would come and talk about my books and sign a few copies.

While I was in this quaint establishment, I browsed through the selection of used books, one of my favorite things to do. A title caught my eye, Prisoners of Hope. I had not read this book, written in 1900 by a woman named Mary Johnston. I recognized immediately that the author had borrowed this phrase from the prophet Zechariah.  It is a concept that I have paid attention to before in my own devotional reading.

The story, set in Colonial Virginia, is about a family that came to Virginia by way of the Chesapeake Bay.  The family did not come as wealthy planters.  They came as indentured servants, therefore the title.  Those people who came to this country as indentured servants had the hope that they would be able to make a new beginning.

People who were prisoners settled much of colony of Georgia.  Most of them had been transported from debtor’s prison in England. One branch of Clare’s family came to Georgia with James Oglethorpe. Her family is quick to say their ancestors were not in debtor’s prison, but they were guards on the ships that brought the prisoners to the New World.

I met with a friend I had not seen in several years. Born and bred in Spartanburg, he had been living in China, working there as an English teacher. Following a traffic mishap, he endured an ordeal beyond what most of us could ever imagine. He spent eight months imprisoned in a forced labor camp in China. At night he was confined in a concrete cell with 29 other men. The cell had no chairs and no beds. By day, he worked making Christmas lights destined for market in the United States. I doubt that I will every again look as Christmas lights without thinking of him. As difficult as his imprisonment was, it became the source of an inward journey recorded in journals. Those notes will eventually become a published memoir.

When I was in seminary, I read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The book chronicles his experiences as an inmate in both Auschwitz and Dachau, Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. Frankl’s writing details the various ways inmates find meaning during imprisonment. Frankl’s words prompted me to pay attention to other important works written from a prison cell.

As a part of my functional major in pastoral care and pastoral counseling, I spent one unit of training working as a chaplain in a medium security prison in LaGrange, Kentucky. Personal letters and journals written by the inmates were carefully censored as was all correspondence coming into the prison.

The Apostle Paul wrote several of his letters during his two-year confinement in Rome, in approximately 61-63 A.D. Regarding his shackles as a minor concern, Paul used this time of incarceration to write letters that, for over two thousand years, have been a source of encouragement to his readers.

In 1658 John Bunyan, a Baptist minister in England, was indicted for preaching without a license. Though he was initially imprisoned for only a few months, officials extended his sentence to nearly twelve years because he refused to stop preaching. During that time, he penned Pilgrim’s Progress, still considered a classic of Christian devotion.

Miguel de Cervantes returned home as a wounded soldier after serving in the Spanish army during the 1600s.  Unable to find work, he was sentenced to debtor’s prison.  There he wrote Don Quixote, as well as other stories, poems, and plays. I suppose that being behind bars leads to fantasies about jousting with windmills.

Watchman Nee, born in China, became a Christian in 1920 at the age of seventeen. The Communist government arrested him in 1952 because of verbal and printed professions of his beliefs.  Though he remained behind bars until his death in 1972, he continued to write about his faith. Those books and letters remain a source of inspiration.

Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned several times for leading revolution in India through passive resistance and nonviolence.  The Essential Gandhi includes his teachings on civil disobedience, freedom, and even the joy of prison.

During World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was active in the German Resistance movement against the Nazi regime. He was among those who opposed Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. The Gestapo banned him from preaching, then teaching, and finally any form of public speaking.

He participated in a plot to remove Adolf Hitler.  In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested. While imprisoned the young pastor produced numerous letters later published as Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer was hanged at the age of 39 three weeks before the end of World War II. His words continue to inspire believers to this day.

The late Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and leader in the struggle for equality in South Africa, was also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Locked up for twenty-seven years at Robben Island, he kept a secret diary. Upon his release he published his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Much of that book was written during his imprisonment.

January 15 is designated as Martin Luther King Day. King was one of the most influential civil rights leaders in modern times. After initiating a nonviolent protest against racial segregation on Good Friday 1963, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in Birmingham, Alabama.  Mayor Albert Boutwell was a segregationist, and Police Commissioner Eugene Bull Conner was notorious for his violent treatment of blacks. Governor of Alabama in 1963, George Wallace had won that office with campaign promises of segregation forever.

Eight white Alabama clergymen wrote a letter published in The Birmingham News on April 12, 1963, entitled “A Call for Unity.” The eight pastors agreed that social injustices were occurring but expressed the belief that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts and not taken into the streets.

From behind the bars of the Birmingham jail, Dr. King penned a profoundly worded response in an open letter written on April 16, 1963. While specifically addressing those eight clergymen, King clearly wrote to a national audience. He declared his conviction that without direct action, civil rights could never be achieved. As he stated, “This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'” He asserted not only that civil disobedience is justified in the face of unjust laws, but also that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

The letter proclaimed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King also quoted the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I will never forget a conversation I had with General Norman Gaddis.  General Gaddis was Colonel Gaddis when he was an Air Force pilot who was shot down over North Viet Nam.  He was in solitary confinement in what the United States Prisoners of War refer to as the Hanoi Hilton for 1000 days.  That is about three years.  Then for another three years, he was in a cell with three other American officers, also prisoners of war.

In conversation with General Gaddis, I asked, “What got you through?  What really gave you the ability to endure those six years?”

He answered succinctly, “Scripture got me through.”

I said, “You mean they let you have a Bible?”

He answered, “Oh, no.  They did not let me have a Bible.  When I was growing up, I was in Sunday School.  I was always encouraged to memorize Scripture.  I was surprised to know how much of that I remembered.  Even when I could not remember the exact words of a verse, I could recall stories that I had heard as a child.  Can you imagine what the story of Daniel in the lion’s den meant to me?”

All of these people might rightly be called prisoners of hope.  To be a prisoner of hope means that in whatever circumstance you find yourself, you know that ultimately your life is at the mercy only of the Almighty. Your life is not at the mercy of those who would persecute. It is the reason the prophet Zechariah coined this wonderful phrase, prisoners of hope.

With this provocative phrase in mind, let us remember those in our own time who are persecuted for their faith or their desire for freedom.

They are truly prisoners of hope.


January 1, 2018


At 3:30 A.M. on a cold Wednesday morning two years ago, our daughter and her family were packed and ready to depart for their home in Chicago. Clare was rocking our three-year-old granddaughter, saying goodbye. The little girl was sad to leave after a delightful Christmas visit here in the Upstate. She said to Clare, “When we have time together we need to savor every moment.”

We were all surprised at this profound truth spoken by our grandchild. “Out of the mouths of babes…” came to mind. Those parting words from a holiday two years ago prompted this column.

When I worked at the lumberyard, the family business started by my grandfather, the days leading up to New Year’s Day were always the time to take inventory. Every 2×4, every bag of mortar mix, every piece of plywood had to be counted. My uncles, my dad, and my grandfather would spend the week counting. I remember taking a pad and pencil to one of the smaller warehouses to count doors and windows. Taking inventory was a tedious task, but it was necessary to the operation of a small business.

Since those days at the lumberyard, I have realized the importance of taking an annual personal inventory. I have tried to set aside some time in the last week of the year to take inventory of my life. I usually get a new calendar for Christmas. I ignore the telephone and sit down with last year’s calendar and the calendar for the year ahead. This has become for me an important time of self-examination, prayer, and decision-making.

Some years ago, during my private year-end inventory, I complained to God that I did not have enough time to do all of the things I wanted to accomplish.

In a moment of quiet reflection, I received a message from God. Mind you, there was no flash of light, no audible voice. There was only a quiet truth seeping into my heart and mind.

“Kirk, you have exactly the amount of time that I intend for you to have, no more, no less. I have given you 24 hours every day, seven days every week. Day-by-day, week-by-week, this is what I bestow on all of my children. You have the same amount of time as Mother Theresa had. You have the same amount of time I give to Bill Gates and Billy Graham. Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer received the very same allotment I give to you. Look at your calendar. This is the time I give to you for the year ahead. How will you use it?”

I realized that, not only do I have enough time, I have exactly the right amount of time, the time God had ordained for me.

A teenager proudly showed me his new Christmas present.

“A new wristwatch,” I said.

“No, it’s not a wristwatch. It is a chronometer,” the young man explained.  “It is very precise, very accurate.”

The new gift on his left wrist looked just like a watch to me. The name chronometer reflects the meaning of the Greek word chronos. It means time that can be measured, time that is sequential.

A year-end personal inventory presents us with a new calendar, a clean slate. Some things have already been planned for the New Year, but before filling up the spaces, make a list of the things you simply do not want to neglect.

Certain occasions, such as holidays and anniversaries, come around only once a year. When I have gotten a new calendar from Clare for Christmas, the important days have sometimes been marked for me. For most of our married life we have had regular calendar sessions together. It is a safeguard against a husband’s absent-minded ways.

The birth of a child, beginning first grade, a graduation, a wedding, all are occasions that happen just once in a person’s life. Sometimes these things can be planned ahead of time and written on the calendar. Often they are unpredictable and require a spontaneous response.

These non-repetitive events have been some of the high points in our marriage. I think especially of the birth of each of our children. Being together in those miraculous moments are treasured memories for us.

The Latin expression tempus fugit, time flies, is frequently inscribed on clocks and sundials. The Roman poet Virgil wrote, fugit irreparabile tempus, which means, irretrievable time flees.  It expresses concern that our limited time is being consumed by something that has little or no importance. Time is irretrievable; once gone, it’s gone.

One spring afternoon, I listened to a young mother describe her day. “I wanted to spend some time working in my garden. First, I had a number of errands to run. I left home early, dropped my third grader off at elementary school, took my four-year-old to preschool, picked up a breakfast biscuit at a fast food restaurant, dropped several letters in the gooseneck at the Post Office, went by the bank to make a deposit, dropped books in the return drop at our public library, picked up a prescription at the pharmacy drive-through, and I left dirty clothes and picked up clean laundry at our local dry cleaners. All the while, I was talking on the cell phone. By then it was time to pick up my four-year-old. We returned to the same fast food restaurant to pick up lunch. When I got home, I realized that I hadn’t even been to the bathroom. In fact, I never got out of the car!”

Most of us have had similar days.

Taken together, the two Latin phrases, tempus fugit, time flies, and carpe diem, seize the day, help us understand how we can best be good managers of our time.

Time is constantly moving. It stands still for no one. We need to make the most of every opportunity.

So, two years ago, on the very last day of our Christmas holiday celebration, very early in the morning, our three-year-old granddaughter was sitting on Clare’s lap. They talked about how much we had all enjoyed our visit together. With some sadness grandmother and grandchild spoke about the impending separation that would soon follow when this child’s family returned to Chicago.

The childlike wisdom imparted by that little girl took all of us by surprise. The words still ring true. “When we have time together we need to savor every moment.”

It was a remarkable statement for a child, one that she had no doubt heard from some adult in her world. It is a lesson that she has learned from her mother and her grandmother.

Our granddaughter became a little professor for all of us, speaking a truth that we all need to remember.

A good resolution for the New Year is to savor every moment, especially those we share with the people we love.

With our grandchild’s admonition in mind, I look forward to breaking in a brand new calendar for a brand new year.

Clare joins me in wishing for each of you a blessed new year.