The Tennessee Democratic Party and Mark Clayton

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The Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed its own candidate for the United States senate in Tennessee, Mark Clayton. The party claimed that Clayton was a member of “an anti-gay hate group,” Public Advocate of the United States, based in Falls Church, Virginia. Now Clayton is a member of Public Advocate, but there is nothing I have seen when looking over their website and Facebook pages that indicates this it is a “hate group.” It defends the traditional view that marriage is between one man and one woman and opposes the agenda of the homosexual rights groups. While to the liberal elite, those may seem to be extreme positions, much of middle American and the majority of Evangelical Christians would accept them. However, numbers do not make a position true or false. The problem is that the left labels any group that opposes the homosexual agenda to push accepting their lifestyle as morally acceptable as a “hate group.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group composed of Marxists and radical leftists, has a history of labeling legitimate organizations as bigoted. The SPLC has labeled Public Advocate as a hate group, but it does not follow from their labeling that it is a hate group. There is no evidence that Public Advocate hates homosexual people. They do believe that practicing homosexuality is morally wrong, which was the position of the Christian Church from the beginning until the late twentieth century–and even now, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Evangelical Protestant would agree that homosexual orientation is unnatural and its practice sinful. Is the SPLC willing to label the Roman Catholic Church as a “hate group”? What about the Orthodox Churches? Evangelical Protestant churches? In the case of Public Advocate I would take the SPLC’s condemnation with a grain of salt. “Hate” has become a political tool to try to silence opposition to the radical left’s attempt to reconstruct society in its own image. The Tennessee Democratic Party has become part of that radical leftist agenda by condemning Mr. Clayton. I am a registered Republican, but if I lived in Tennessee again, I would vote for Mr. Clayton above the Republican candidate Mr. Corker, not just due to this issue but due to Mr. Clayton’s consistent small government position. It is a sad day when a major political party can slander a man and an organization due to the party’s radicalism.

On Looking through Time as Well as Through Space

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English: Lipscomb University in Nashville, Ten...

We are temporal creatures, living in a world of time as the measure of change. When we experience the world, we experience it in terms of space and time–Kant was correct in at least that portion of his philosophy. People do not experience time in the same way–some people focus on the present, others are future-oriented, and still others live in a world of images of the past. All human beings consider past, present, and future in their experience. Now science tells us that when we look into the night sky we are looking back through time as well as space. If I see Sirius, I am looking 8.6 years into the past, since it takes 8.6 years for the light from Sirius to reach the earth. Most stars are far more distant, and telescopes can peer billions of years into the past.

The past two days I have been attending the Christian Scholars’ Conference at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, my Alma mater, from which I graduated with a degree in Biblical languages in 1983. Although my parents live thirty miles from the school, I am staying on campus to avoid rush hour traffic. The campus has grown so much that parts of it are difficult to recognize. The older buildings remain–Sewell Hall, where I stayed in the dorm during the week, driving home to Smyrna every weekend; the parking lot by the dorm where I would return from Sunday dinner at my grandparents; the old Student Center; the auditorium where I attended chapel; the Burton Building, which houses health sciences today, was where I took my Greek class under Dr. Harvey Floyd. As I looked at the buildings and the parking lot, the experience was so emotionally overwhelming that it brought me to tears. As I looked at the campus, I was gazing through time and space, and memories from the past flooded back in a series of photographs and moving images. I felt the extreme loneliness I had felt as a student, socially awkward and from a working class family, among students who were more socially astute and from very different backgrounds. All I had wanted was to find a good Christian woman to marry, and I was so awkward that dating, such as it was, was not a successful venture. Thank God I have a wonderful wife now. I remembered the walk I would take from the side of Sewell Hall to go to class, to the Student Center, or to the Tuesday night singing led by Mack Wayne Craig. The parking lot was poignant, which may seem strange, but the memory of driving home to find Granddaddy worse every trip, and worst of all, driving back to school after his funeral in late November of 1982, was so vivid that I was reliving the event. Perhaps that is an Asperger’s trait–to have such a vivid memory that the past seems as present as the present moment. That can be both a blessing and a curse. I had also had some good times and met some friends for life, and for that I am grateful.

I have quoted Peter Kreeft on this blog before on memory–that memory makes past events sacred, and I added that it can also make past events more difficult to bear due to the pain of loss. Even if you have not experienced time in this way, this experience illustrates why a good God would create a Heaven for people to live forever as embodied creatures. Perhaps one reason that human beings live in time is for them to learn how precious relationships are. Once this lesson is learned and we have nurtured virtue, then living forever without worrying about loss will not make us take relationships for granted. We will remember, I think (although God only knows) the pain of loss on earth so that in the New Earth, the heavenly realm, we will appreciate what is restored and praise the God who grants the gift of transcending the limitations of time. Perhaps looking through time as well as through space will be accentuated for all people in Heaven, but only what is good in human relationships will be in memory to be recalled as a whole whenever we meet a loved one. Now love of God is always primary, for it is only through His grace that we are granted eternal life in the first place. The hope of orthodox Christians is that through our primary love we can love those people we lost in life more deeply than before. We will never lose temporality entirely, but redeemed temporality will transcend the fabric of losses peeled from our earthly lives. Thinking of looking through time and space in this way makes that ability a gift rather than a curse.

One Year Later in a Journey of Grief

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Last May my best friend died after a six-year battle with breast cancer. Karen showed great courage in facing her disease and lived life to the fullest, remaining asymptomatic over most of the course of her disease. I visited her in Hospice a couple of weeks before she died, and tomorrow I return to the city where she lived to meet with some of her beloved friends to reminiscence. The deep sense of loss remains palpable, an ache in my heart, and it remains difficult to face the fact that she is gone, at least this side of eternity. I believe in the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” but emotionally that promise often seems too good to be true when facing the finality of a loved one’s death. I long for a “visitation” from her, as may loved ones of the dead have experienced, but then I feel guilty, remembering Jesus‘ words that “an evil and corrupt generation seeks after a sign.” I wonder if I received a visitation, such as a few days ago when I was at a stream near the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, and two butterflies kept landing on me–Karen loved butterflies (which are also a traditional symbol of the resurrection), and her boyfriend released some after her funeral. But then I doubt since butterflies like to drink the sweat off people. Rage at God taking her away all too soon fights it out with guilt at my own lack of faith, and fear that that lack will separate me from God–and from her. Soon my journey in grief will be a literal journey, and I pray that God will grant all of us who visit places of fond memory that we will rejoice in those memories while realizing the extent of loss, realizing that grief for a loved one only eases but never ultimately comes to an end. If God be so gracious that we sense her presence with us, thanks be to Him; if not, we should still thankful for her life and the promise that this life is not all there is.

I marvel at those individuals who believe in God but deny life after death. St. Paul said in I Corinthians 15 that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” This is not egotistical; it is an acknowledgement of the value of others, a value that can only be truly sensed by love. I have hope in Christ. I have doubts. “Lord, I believe; pardon Thou my unbelief!” When the veil is parted and reality in its fullness is finally revealed, may those of us who knew and cherished Karen embrace her and speak with her once more. For those reading who mourn loved ones, I pray that you discover the hope beyond all hope, that “this body of death” will “rise in newness of life” in a world where love never dies, and neither do those we love.

The Homeless, Brentwood, Tennessee, and the Arrogance of Wealth

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If the sin of the poor is envy, the sins of the rich are arrogance, snobbery, and a lack of compassion for those less fortunate. No where has then been more in evidence recently than in Brentwood, Tennessee‘s treatment of the homeless from the Nashville area. The Nashville homeless have an innovative program in which the homeless sell a newspaper, The Contributor, produced by the homeless and formerly homeless. The paper costs a dollar and the vendor can keep most of that dollar plus any tips. Not only has this initiative empowered the homeless, it has led to many of them finding homes and jobs. In Nashville, most people have no problem with the homeless selling papers at intersections.

Not so in Brentwood, Tennessee, a community known for its wealth. The town of Brentwood has given tickets to several homeless vendors, claiming that their actions violate city law. The ACLU is supporting a lawsuit against the town of Brentwood. Even though the legal issues are an interesting topic, I would rather focus on the ethics of the rich who do not want their community “stained” by the poor and less fortunate. People who are taking responsibility and engaged in a legitimate business are banned because Brentwood believes such will lower the quality of life within its sheltered community. The upper middle classes and wealthy are becoming more isolated from the rest of their local communities, often living in self-contained gated communities with their own shops for groceries and consumer goods. They are, in effect, hiding from the real world. But no one can ignore poverty except at great moral cost. Too often the rich, like those rich condemned by both the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, the author of I and II Timothy, and the epistle of James, either exploit the poor or ignore their plight, desiring to hide behind a facade of wealth and McMansions. Such a denial of reality has gone to the extreme in the past of one North Carolina town banning death–the town passed a law that no one could die in the city, and the body was taken out of the city before death was pronounced. While this law was later changed, it illustrates the unnatural desire of some of the wealthy to ignore unpleasant facts of life–poverty, disease, and death. The latter is the lot of all people–but the rich can at least reach out to help those who are poor and homeless. Surely paying a dollar to a homeless person for a paper is not a blight on Brentwood’s quality of life. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to Heaven.” Jesus’ statement does not absolve other classes of moral responsibility, but it does point out that with greater blessings come more, not less, responsibility to reach out to the less fortunate. This is not to say that every person in Brentwood lacks compassion for the homeless, nor am I claiming that Brentwood has no programs for the homeless. But banning sales of The Contributor cannot but reflect an underlying attitude in at least a good portion of Brentwood.

Memories of Murfreesboro, Tennessee from the 1960s and 1970s

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If you are from Murfressboro, Tennessee or from Rutherford County, see how many of these you can remember:

1. Cooper & Martin in Mercury Plaza Shopping Center

2. Going to the grocery store in Jackson Heights.

3. McCrory’s in Jackson Heights–does anyone remember the poster of The Beatles in the window?

4. Sullivan’s.

5. The barber shop and putt-putt golf in the basement of Jackson Heights.

6. Teenagers cruising in the 1970s at Jackson Heights.

7. The Tuesday-Wednesday flea market at Mercury Plaza.

8. Harvey’s at Mercury Plaza.

9. Going to Roses to get TV tubes tested.

10. The Santa Claus trailer outside the Roses.

11. The “rocking chair theater” behind Mercury Plaza–I took a field trip there in 1976 to see the musical “1776” and saw Stars Wars there when it came out in 1977.

12. Old men whittling on the Courthouse lawn.

13. Mr. Aubrey Weatherby, the blind candy salesman, inside the courthouse.

14. Commerce Union Bank.

15. The Rebel Maid.

16. Shoney’s Big Boy where the ladies would bring out the food to your car.

17. The Phillips 66 next to the Hardees on Broad Street.

18. The gas station (Texaco? American?) at the corner of Broad and Memorial.

19. Linebaugh Public Library in its old location where the Arts Center is today.

20. The old J. C. Penny where jeans were piled on tables.

21. Fred’s on the square–two stories, and classic novels there for a quarter.

22. Brown’s Shoe Store on the square with the Buster Brown sign and logo.

23. Mullins’ Jewelers on the square (which just moved last year).

24. Tip Top Barber shop (still there!).

25. A large JFG Coffee sign on West Main (?).

26. Byrn Motor Company–I worked there briefly on Saturdays one summer.

27. Flora’s Thrift Store on Church Street (or is it maple; in any case, near the current library near the square. I don’t remember the exact name, but I went there quite a bit with my grandparents).

28. The old IGA store on Memorial.

29. The Kroger store at the corner of Memorial and Clark.

30. Readmore Book Store–in “The Mall” and later in the Kroger shopping center on Northfield.

31. The health fair at The Mall of Murfreesboro in 1978.

32. General Electric.

33. International Paper Company.

34. The original Jackson Motel design with the large sign.

35. Firestone near the square (still there!).

36. Martin’s Drug Store on the square.

37. Goldstein’s on the square.

38. Clark’s department store.

39. Big K (the original company, not the brand now owned by K-Mart).

40. Lamb’s Restaurant and Truck Stop off the New Nashville Highway near Florence Road.

41. Pruitt’s Grocery at Florence and the New Nashville Highway.

42. Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen.

43. A little store where Yesteryear is today–I remember the penny mini-Tootsie Rolls back in the 1960s.

There are more places I remember, but I don’t remember their names. I hope this brings back some memories for folks from the Murfreesboro area–if anyone can name more places, you’re welcome to.

The Reality of Middle Age and Nostalgia for the Past

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I’m in my upper 40s but do not subjectively feel that differently from the time I was in my 20s. Yet there is much evidence of increasing…. “maturity.” I know I’m older when:

-The first president I remember on television is Lyndon Johnson. The first president the students remember is Bill Clinton.

-I tell my students the first house I lived in as a child had no running water, an outside well, and an outhouse.  They stare at me. And stare.

-I find that women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s are more attractive to me than women in their 20s.

-I remember my granddaddy telling me of days when there were still horses and buggies and blacksmith shops (as there were as late as the 1930s in parts of rural Tennessee). My granddaddy had met some veterans from the War Between the States. History touches me at every turn. For my students, there is no history before their birth–reality began with them.

-I remember using my first typewriter, a manual. My students do not know what a typewriter is.

-Before I was in college, my parents did not own a color TV.

-I worked getting up hay. Everyone who worked with me could speak English.

-In my childhood church hymns were the old 19th and early 20th century gospel songs such as “Sweet Bye and Bye,” “There’s a Great Day Coming,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” We actually used hymn books. The notion that church should turn into chaos with contemporary music was foreign. Today…. God help us.

-No one was offended by someone calling them “sir” or “ma’am.” Today, in the bizarro world of academia, some people get bent out of shape by being addressed with these terms. Perhaps for these individuals we can find substitute terms such as “Yes, a..hole.”

-In my youth the Democratic Party was the conservative party in the South. Today the tables are turned.

-My favorite shows as a child were “The Red Skelton Show,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and the Bob Hope specials. Today I like “The Simpsons,” “Southpark,” “Family Guy” and “House.” I suppose something has been gained, but I also consider the simplicity and strong sense of right and wrong that has been lost.

-As a child one of my favorite things to do was go to the Sears on Lafayette Street in Nashville with my parents. We’d stop by my great-uncle’s Texaco on the way. Today that area is a wasteland.

-I remember the days that people would say “Merry Christmas” to perfect strangers near Christmas time at shopping centers.

-I remember when almost all store clerks were polite.

-I remember when the mini-tootsie rolls were a penny apiece.

-I remember when gas was under 30 cents a gallon.

-I remember when Cokes were a dime, and any store had RC Cola and Nehi Grape or Orange.

-I remember a rock building, a store, where old men would sit and talk.

-I remember the whittlers on the courthouse lawn in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

 

Of course we’ve advanced in some ways–I am grateful for what contemporary medicine, for example, has done to help family members and friends. And I know we tend to idealize the past. But to me, a time when I could play outside as a child and not worry about a pervert kidnapping me or someone cursing at me from the highway was a better time. It was simpler, less hectic (at least in the rural south), and relativism had not yet poisoned the minds of most people. We may not be able to turn back the clock technologically, but if we could focus on family, friends, sitting on the porch shelling peas or beans and talking–all those wonderful, simple things that held people together–I believe the world would be a better place. The fact that this sounds sentimental reveals how far our society has sunk, but what sinks can rise once more. I am glad to be middle-aged since I can remember that simpler time in rural Tennessee. Thanks be to God for the small, precious things of life.

Tennessee, LSU, and the Agony of Defeat

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I love American football. I am not a fan of “that European game,” soccer, most likely to the chagrin of rabid soccer moms who naturally foam at the mouth in reaction to any attack on their religion–but I digress. I grew up in Tennessee and grew up, like my Dad, as a Tennessee Vols fan. Even though I received my Ph.D. from Georgia, and believe it to be a very good university, I still am torn when UGA and Tennessee play, and my loyalty to my home state usually wins out. It was back in 1971 when I watched my first Tennessee game on television, when Tennessee defeated Penn State 31-11 (I think that was the score, but I’m willing to be corrected). In all these years I have never seen an ending like the one at the game today between Tennessee and LSU.

This series has a long history, and Tennessee has been known to be a team that has brought heartbreak to LSU. It did not happen this year. LSU had poor time management at the very end of the game, and the snap was fumbled. It seemed that Tennessee had pulled out a 14-10 victory. But a few minutes later, the referee penalized Tennessee for having 12 men on the field (actually Tennessee did one better–it had 13 men on the field). Why the assistant coach in charge of substitutions would make so many when LSU was obviously in distress is beyond me–but in time pressure, it is easy for things to go wrong–and both teams were out of time outs. The heartbreak of the Vols players must be beyond belief, especially given the excellent game they played. The press can point out that Tennessee should have stopped LSU on a 4th and 14–and they should have. But that will not ease the pain of this loss. It is a test of their ability to recover from an event like this that will bring out the character of the Vols players.

Football is a mirror image of life. Coaches make elaborate plans, study film for hours–the intellectual demands of Division I NCAA football or the NFL are probably as great as those in chess. But chance plays such a big role since real people are playing, and real people fumble, make interceptions, and fail to leave the field when they are supposed to leave. In our lives, we make the most elaborate plans–and time and chance wreck those plans. The real challenge is to overcome defeats, to keep trying in the face of disappointments, even when those disappointments are our own fault.  I was heartbroken at the end of today’s game, but that feeling did not last for long–football is, after all, only a game. Life is infinitely more serious. But the hardest lessons in life, as in football, are too often learned through the agony of defeat–but just as Tennessee will not repeat its end of game mistake (I can almost guarantee it), hopefully we will learn from our mistakes in life.

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