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REMEMBERING DR. SEUSS

February 29, 2020

Monday, March 2, will be 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 will dress up like Dr. Seuss characters for the festivities. Why? Appropriately enough, March 2 is also the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He is one of the many authors celebrated at this event.

Clare and I still have children’s books in our home – a lot of children’s books. 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. 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. Read more…

CELEBRATING LEAP DAY

February 21, 2020

Wells Chapel Baptist Church is located on State Road 41 in eastern North Carolina, west of the town of Wallace in Duplin County. In the church cemetery is the grave of a woman who died at exactly forty years of age, although she celebrated only ten birthdays.

 

Mattie C. Ramsey

Birth:   Feb. 29, 1880

Death:   Feb. 29, 1920

 

What are the odds? Someone figured out that the probability of a person’s birth and death occurring on Leap Year Day is one in 2,134,521 people. Three people on my Facebook Friends List were born February 29. By that reckoning, I should expect to have well over a million friends. I am sure they would all qualify as close friends.

In the Gregorian calendar, most years that are divisible by four are Leap Years. The month of February has twenty-nine days instead of twenty-eight. Adding an extra day to the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a solar year is almost six hours longer than 365 days.

Anthony is a town that straddles the border between two states; southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico. Also called Silver City, the town is the site of the Worldwide Leap Year Festival, an event that has grown in popularity. This year marks the tenth year of the festival, making Anthony the Leap Year Capital of the World.

Since the first celebration in 1988, the event has attracted thousands of 29ers, or Leapers, as those born on February 29 call themselves. The festival now draws national media attention, celebrities, and thousands of Leap Year fans.

Twelve years ago, the Parade Marshal was Josephine Concho Abeita, born February 29, 1908, four years before New Mexico became a state. At the time, this Laguna Indian and mother of nine had celebrated her birthday only twenty-five times in 100 years.

In 1960, Heidi Henriksen was born on Leap Day. Four years later, to the day, Heidi’s brother Olav was born. Exactly four years later, on February 29, 1968, their brother Leif came into the world. All three siblings were born on consecutive Leap Days. Read more…

GEOERGE WASHINGTON’S BIG DECISION

February 15, 2020

Clare and I recently listened to the soundtrack of the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow, the music, lyrics, and book were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In the musical, the song “One Last Time” Alexander Hamilton and George Washington have a conversation in song.

Washington: I need a favor.

Hamilton: Whatever you say, sir.

Washington: I need you to draft an address.

(Hamilton assumes Washington is running for reelection.)

Washington: I’m stepping down. I’m not running for President

Hamilton: I’m sorry, what?

Washington: One last time. Let’s take a break tonight. And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye. To say goodbye, you and I.

Chorus: George Washington is going home. George Washington is going home.

George Washington is going home. George Washington is going home.

George Washington’s Farewell Address, delivered on September 19, 1796, is the most important speech made by our first president. It is a powerful statement of American political purpose. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton collaborated with Washington in penning his final address to the nation. It calls for national unity above all else and warned about the divisive effects of political parties. It is read aloud on Washington’s birthday, February 22, every year in the halls of Congress.

On most Saturday mornings, I listen to National Public Radio. Scott Simon closes his “Saturday Morning Edition” with a regular feature, “Simon Says.” This week I remembered one of Simon’s commentaries from 2011. The date was the Saturday before Presidents’ Day. He entitled his comments, “George Washington: Strong Man, But No Strongman.”

Scott Simon said, “The American Revolution triumphed with General George Washington’s victory at Yorktown in 1781. Throughout history, a lot of conquering heroes — Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Fidel Castro — have used great victories to seize unlimited power.

“But George Washington went home to Mount Vernon and farmed. Read more…

RETHINKING ST. VALENTINE’S DAY

February 8, 2020

Clare and I recently heard of an adventure our granddaughters had experienced. On most afternoons after school, these two girls go to Miss Maggie’s home. Miss Maggie is a young mother who is an artist. Creativity and imagination are among her many strengths. The activities she plans for the children under her care reflect her love of life and her love for people.

When the children arrived at her home on a warm day last week, Miss Maggie had a brilliant plan. “Today, we are going on a Mission of Compliments!” Miss Maggie announced. It was named by one of the children. Miss Maggie explained that they were going to leave messages of encouragement for strangers. Providing paper and crayons, she had the children write love notes.

The children traveled with Miss Maggie in her van to strategically place the notes where people might find them. One of our granddaughters taped her note to a library box near a local church. The other placed her note on the grave of one of our family members at Greenlawn Cemetery. These notes were not intended to be Valentine cards. However, the girls said they drew hearts and flowers on the cards along with the words “I love you.”

Miss Maggie’s idea prompted this column.

The National Retail Federation reports that in 2020 the average United States consumer is expected to spend $196.31 on Valentine’s Day gifts, meals, and entertainment. That represents a twenty-one percent increase over last year’s record of $161.96. In the United States alone, spending on Valentine’s Day is expected to total $27.4 billion. Most married Americans with children will spend money on their spouses. The remainder will go to Valentine’s Day gifts for their children, friends, co-workers, or pets.

Greeting cards will be the most common Valentine’s Day purchases. Fifty-five percent of American consumers plan to send at least one. According to the Greeting Card Association, 195 million Valentine’s Day cards will be sent. That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of cards school children exchange.

Giving your sweetheart a Valentine’s Day card is a tradition. The first Valentine’s Day card was sent in 1415 from France’s Duke of Orléans to his wife when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Valentine’s Day cards were originally handwritten notes. They gained popularity in the U.S. during the Revolutionary War. Mass production started in the early 1900s. Hallmark produced their first Valentines in 1913. Since then, the market for Valentine’s Day cards has blossomed.

The National Confectioners Association estimates that nearly one-half of U.S. consumers will exchange Valentine’s Day candy, totaling a sweet billion dollars in sales. About 75 percent of that billion will be from sales of chocolate. Chocolate has been associated with romance since Mexico’s Aztec Empire. Fifteenth-century Aztec emperor Montezuma believed that eating chocolate made him more virile, a priority for a man with an extensive harem.

Valentine’s Day, the lovers’ holiday, traces its roots to a raucous annual Roman festival. In ancient Roman mythology, Juno was the goddess of love and marriage. Her feast day was celebrated on February 15. Each year the Romans conducted a three-day party called Lupercalia, which was, in essence, an early version of the “Dating Game.” Eligible young men and women, who were single but old enough to be married, gathered for the celebration, complete with plenty of food, wine, and the inevitable matchmaking.

Couples brought together during Lupercalia were often struck by love at first sight. The Romans believed that fluttering invisibly in their midst was a lesser god, Cupid. Cupid fired his arrows indiscriminately. The common belief was that an unsuspecting subject struck by Cupid’s arrow would fall in love with the very next person who came into view. Interestingly, marriages often resulted from the matchmaking at Juno’s feast.

The pagan festival remained popular well into the fifth century A.D., years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Christian church changed the festival to the feast day of St. Valentine.

In the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. A young priest named Valentine disobeyed the ban by performing marriages in secret. During the persecutions of Christians under Claudius, Valentine visited those who were in prison, giving them comfort and consolation.

Because of his defiance of the emperor, Valentine was beheaded on February 14, 270, during the Feast of Lupercalia; Valentine was martyred on the altar of the goddess Juno. Later canonized by the church, he became known as Saint Valentine.

St. Valentine’s Day in our culture has become a time to express romantic love with chocolate, flowers, and heart-shaped cards.

But there is more to genuine love than candy and roses. That love is defined beautifully in the Bible in I Corinthians 13.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails….And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

In the spirit of St. Valentine, February 14 ought also to be a time to express a deeper love, love for all people, especially those who are suffering.

On this Valentine’s Day, we might all borrow Miss Maggie’s idea. Each of us can find ways to share a kind word of encouragement with people who need a lift. By all means, give your sweetheart a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, or a carefully selected card. But in the true spirit of Saint Valentine, also consider making a contribution to TOTAL Ministries, to the Soup Kitchen, to St. Luke’s Free Clinic, to Greater Spartanburg Ministries, to Miracle Hill Rescue Mission, to the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, to Habitat for Humanity, to Hope Center for Children, to Mobile Meals, to The Children’s Advocacy Center, to the public library, or to any one of the many charities that care for those in need.

This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate, not only our love for those special people in our lives, but for all people that God loves. That includes everyone.

So how will you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day?

EULOGY FOR A GROUNDHOG

February 2, 2020

One cool day in the early fall several years ago, Clare discovered a dead groundhog. The animal was lying near our mailbox next to the four-lane road in front of our home. Though I am not a crime scene investigator, the immediate cause of death was apparently a close encounter with a motorized vehicle of some sort. My best guess is that a truck hauling petroleum product dealt him a blow.

The plump fellow was flat on his back. His small feet were tucked into his body.

Using a shovel, I scooped the groundhog from the pavement and carried him to a large field next to the railroad tracks behind our house. The next day, I noticed several crows and two buzzards circling his carcass.

Reflecting on this drama, I wondered why our calendars include a special day, February 2, commemorating the groundhog. Why not have special days named for other critters subject to becoming roadkill victims? Don’t possums and skunks also deserve days named for them? What about deer whose casualty rate is certainly on the increase? What about cur dogs and feral cats that come to a no-good end on a paved strip of asphalt? Why has the groundhog been the only creature afforded this honor?

On February 2nd, the Christian holiday of Candlemas is observed. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the day marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season. It was on this day that Christmas decorations were to be removed. Consider these four lines from “Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve,” by Robert Herrick (1591–1674):

Down with the rosemary, and so

Down with the bays and mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivy, all,

Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall:

The name Candlemas refers to a priest’s practice of blessing beeswax candles for use in churches and homes during the coming year.

February 2nd is the midpoint of winter, falling halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. If on Candlemas, the weather was cloudy and overcast, it was believed that warmer weather was ahead. If, however, the sky was bright and sunny on that day, cold weather could be expected for another six weeks. Hence the rhyme:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,

There’ll be two winters in the year.

Therefore, if a hibernating animal emerging from his den casts a shadow, winter would last another six weeks. If no shadow were seen, according to legend, spring would come early.

The question remains, why the groundhog? Surely other furry animals cast shadows. Why should the groundhog be singled out for a special day? Maybe this is rodent discrimination. What about gophers, or squirrels, or rats?

Each year on February 2nd, the population of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, swells from 6,000 or so to well over 10,000. Visitors travel to the small town sixty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh, not for the blessing of candles, but for the celebration of Groundhog Day.

Maybe the groundhog was chosen because these animals enter a true hibernation period. Maybe it is because they have such a wide range of habitation – from Alabama to Alaska. Maybe it was chosen because they are so plentiful, reproducing in numbers like rabbits and rats. Indeed, farmers in some areas consider these marmots to be varmints.

Maybe the groundhog received this designation because, when frightened, he holds absolutely still, hesitates, and then scurries into his burrow. This might explain the legend that the groundhog sees his shadow, becomes afraid, and returns quickly to his den.

The groundhog (Marmota monax) is known by several names. The name woodchuck, which comes from an Algonquian name for the animal, wuchak, has been made popular by a well-known tongue twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,

If a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood

That a woodchuck would chuck,

If a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Another name for the groundhog is whistle pig. Outside their burrow, these furry animals are alert. When driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I have often seen several of these critters standing erect on their hind feet, motionless, watching for danger. If alarmed, they give a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony.

Of course, the one Clare found by our mailbox was also motionless. He apparently didn’t hear the warning.

Groundhogs usually live two to three years. Common predators include wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, hawks, and owls. Big trucks are also a hazard.

Country folk sometimes eat groundhog for supper. Stews with plenty of onions, garlic, and hot peppers seem to be the preferred ingredients.

The groundhog has found his niche. Doc Watson and Pete Seeger have memorialized him in folksongs. Bill Murray and Gaffney’s own Andie MacDowell starred in “Groundhog Day,” a 1993 comedy film directed by Harold Ramis.

On February 2nd, businessmen, wearing top hats and tuxedoes, will coax Punxsutawney Phil, the most celebrated of all groundhogs, from his stump. Phil will whisper his prediction to a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle representative, and the translator will reveal the forecast to the national news media. Approximately 90% of the time, Phil sees his shadow. Phil’s ancestors started making predictions in 1887. Residents contend that their groundhog has never been wrong.

Meanwhile, in Lilburn, Georgia, Phil’s southern cousin, General Beauregard Lee, will also emerge to see his shadow or not. He will then give his prediction for the states below the Mason-Dixon Line.

What about the groundhog that died near our mailbox? Did he see his shadow? I don’t know. I do know though that he did not see the eighteen-wheel truck that hit him.

On this Groundhog Day, may he rest in peace.

THE GARDEN IN WINTER

January 26, 2020

One mild winter day, I took a bag lunch to the gazebo at Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve. The ten-acre public space within the city limits of our town was quiet. The conifer planting near the gazebo displayed an stunning collection of small trees and shrubs of various shapes and colors. I took a deep breath, offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving, and allowed the peace and calm of the garden to enfold my soul.

Two men were busily working near the entrance 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 in several areas of the garden. The staff and volunteers are always busy with one project after another.

After lunch, I strolled through the beautiful landscape, a gift to our community from Harold and Josephine Hatcher. 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. I have officiated at weddings and conducted memorial services in this space. But on this winter day, I felt as if I were in a secluded sanctuary. 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 place of contemplation and prayer for me.

I told a friend who has a passing interest in gardening about my winter afternoon visit to the public preserve. She commented, “I’ve never thought of going there in the winter. What is there to see?”

“Try it sometime,” I said. “I’ll bet you find plenty to see, to hear, and to enjoy.”

One of my friends does not like gardening at all. Yard work for him is just one more thing on his honey-do list, usually the last thing. The only plants he admires are the grasses on fairways and putting greens. His philosophy regarding his yard is: if it is green and growing, leave it alone. He knows that I do not play golf, but he also knows how much I enjoy tending my plants. Last week he commented, “I play the links all year long, but I guess there’s not much for a gardener to do in the winter.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. There is never an off-season for a gardener. In fact, gardening in winter is one of the delights of those of us who love tending plants. Here is a list of a few things that winter gardeners might consider.

  1. Study your garden. Now you can see the bare bones of the landscape. Winter provides an opportunity to see where the gaps are that need to be filled. You will also notice branches and limbs that overhang paths or crowd other plants.
  2. Pruning is a winter chore. However, some plants, such as azeleas, should not be cut back until after they bloom in spring. If in doubt, check with the Clemson Extension Service or your local garden shop.
  3. Plan now for new garden projects in the spring. Much to the dismay of my wife, I have a stack of gardening magazines and nursery catalogs piled next to my favorite chair. Whenever I have a few minutes, I read and make notes about interesting plants that I would like to add to my garden.
  4. Visit your local full-service garden center. Browse through the shrubs and trees. Look for plants that have colorful berries, pleasing shapes, or attractive bark. Consider adding some of these to your own winter landscape.
  5. Keep a garden calendar that can also serve as a journal and a notebook. Take note of when certain things bloom in your garden. On my visit to Hatcher Garden, I not only enjoyed the solitude, but I also recorded which plants and features I would like to add to my own yard.
  6. Compost organic matter. I have a tumbler bin that receives vegetable and fruit scraps, dead leaves, and grass clippings. When these materials decompose, they yield rich soil that can be used to mulch plants or amend the flower beds. Making compost is one of the smartest things a gardener can do in any season.
  7. After a heavy rainfall, weed a flowerbed and turn the soil. Mix in some compost to get a head start on spring.
  8. Repair arbors, trellises, fences, and other structures while nearby plants are dormant and can be pruned or trained without disturbing the roots.
  9. Cold weather is the time to try your hand at propagating hardwood cuttings. This method of creating additional plants for your garden is both useful and enjoyable. The extension service can provide detailed information.
  10. Buy some year-end bulbs for half price. Don’t worry that it’s a bit late in the year to plant them; they’ll do just fine.
  11. Cool weather is the best time to add hardscape to the garden. Place rocks, sculptures, and garden whimsies in aesthetically pleasing locations. Prepare raised beds, walkways, and other features so you’ll be ready to plant at the first hint of spring.
  12. Take a day to clean and sharpen all your garden tools. An old-fashioned grinding wheel is just the thing for the task.
  13. Transplant shrubs. They will resettle best in winter. The relocated shrubs will awaken in spring far less shocked, barely realizing they’re in a new spot.
  14. Feed the birds. Clean and repair birdhouses. Just last week, I saw a pair of bluebirds flitting around one of the cedar boxes that are ready and waiting for spring occupancy.
  15. Most important of all is to enjoy your winter garden. Look at the night sky through bare tree limbs. Take time to appreciate the simple beauty of mosses and lichens. Winter-blooming perennials are a special delight. Lenten roses are in full flower now. Crocus and early jonquils will soon be dazzling.

Two winters ago, late in the season, we were graced with a light snowfall overnight. In the early morning, I walked through my garden. The last few flakes were drifting from the sky. Hungry birds crowded the feeders. Bright berries of holly, pyracantha, and woodbine were touched with white frosting. Rising above the snow, happy faces of pansies and violas danced in the cold breeze. Then I saw a bright red cardinal chirping a winter greeting from his snowy perch.

The garden is a joyful, calming retreat for all seasons!

PRISONERS OF HOPE

January 18, 2020

Nine 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 writing and sign copies of my books.

While I was in this quaint shop, I looked through the section of old books, one of my favorite things to do. I love to browse through the used volumes in old bookstores. A title caught my eye, Prisoners of Hope. I recognized immediately that the author had lifted this phrase from the prophet Zechariah. It is one that I have paid attention to before in my devotional reading. I had not read this book, written in 1900 by a woman named Mary Johnston.

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 have a new beginning. People who were prisoners settled much of the colony of Georgia. Most of them had been transported from the debtor’s prisons of England.

One branch of Clare’s family came to Georgia. Her family is quick to say their immigrant ancestor was not in debtor’s prison but was a member of the Royal Guards. The Royal Guard were British soldiers on the ships bringing 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 ever again look at 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 found 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 the 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 thirty-nine, 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.

On Martin Luther King Day, I recall some of the most profound words that have been written from behind bars. King was one of the most influential civil rights leaders in modern times. After initiating a nonviolent protest against racial segregation on Good Friday in 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.

King responded with 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. He 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, 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 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?”

That is what it means to be a prisoner of hope. It 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 improbable 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.