Monday, April 11, 2016

PTSW: Abraham Lincoln was a poet

My Childhood-Home I See Again

by Abraham Lincoln
Our melancholy sixteenth president wrote wonderful prose that verged on poetry: the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural; the Cooper's Union speech. But years before that he had a friend publish this poem anonymously. It is part of a series, of which only one other has survived. Not bad for a politician, huh?

    My childhood's home I see again,
        And sadden with the view;
    And still, as memory crowds my brain,
        There's pleasure in it too.
    O Memory! thou midway world
        'Twixt earth and paradise,
    Where things decayed and loved ones lost
        In dreamy shadows rise,
    And, freed from all that's earthly vile,
        Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,
    Like scenes in some enchanted isle
        All bathed in liquid light.
    As dusky mountains please the eye
        When twilight chases day;
    As bugle-tones that, passing by,
        In distance die away;
    As leaving some grand waterfall,
        We, lingering, list its roar—
    So memory will hallow all
        We've known, but know no more.
    Near twenty years have passed away
        Since here I bid farewell
    To woods and fields, and scenes of play,
        And playmates loved so well.
    Where many were, but few remain
        Of old familiar things;
    But seeing them, to mind again
        The lost and absent brings.
    The friends I left that parting day,
        How changed, as time has sped!
    Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray,
        And half of all are dead.
    I hear the loved survivors tell
        How nought from death could save,
    Till every sound appears a knell,
        And every spot a grave.
    I range the fields with pensive tread,
        And pace the hollow rooms,
    And feel (companion of the dead)
        I'm living in the tombs.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Job I Love

         It was not a stellar beginning. I never intended to be a teacher.
Mumps had put me in the college clinic the last two weeks of my senior year. I was quarantined and took my final exams in bed, completing my bachelor degree with majors in history and English and absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do the following year. 
One afternoon a good friend showed up at the door to the clinic with an application to the Peace Corps, which I had requested, but also a Teacher Corps application. I had never heard of the Teacher Corps. This federal program offered a master’s degree in education, he said, in exchange for spending two years teaching, taking classes at Marshall University, and doing community service in the hills of West Virginia. It sounded like a hoot to me, and a good way to spend my time while I searched for a vocation. So I filled out the application and sent it in. I wonder if I have ever licked a more consequential postage stamp in my life.
So a few weeks later I drove my brand new Opel Kadette to Huntington, West Virginia as a freshly minted National Teacher Corps Intern. After a summer of graduate classes and NTC training and orientation, I was placed in a small school on the banks of the Kanawha River where the mines had played out and the residents were mostly poor. I found myself drawn to the most desperate children: "Mike" whose closest brother had just been killed in an accident. "Leon" whose academic struggles required some after-school tutoring. His Mom would serve me supper in exchange for an hour of tutoring. "Paul" who lived in a one-room unpainted shack with a yard full of stove wood and rusting cars, and a magnificent fifty mile million-dollar view across the mountains. And tough "Jake", who turned out to have the same uncertainties and needs as the little guys, and he became a real leader in the boy’s club I organized in the community.  That was after I broke my resolution not to use corporal punishment and used the "Black Dragon" paddle on Jake's backside.
The second year the Teacher Corps expanded to a more remote site and I volunteered to join that group. Soon I was team teaching in a mountain school with only 56 children. My primary responsibilities were those six sixth-graders, but I also taught social studies to almost a dozen fifth-graders, and handled the physical education for the whole school. The cows grazing just outside the classroom windows could be a distraction. At lunch I could eat in the school cafeteria or I could take a dirt trail from the playground to the general store down the hill and buy a wedge hoop cheese and some crackers. When it rained hard the creeks were too deep at the fords for the bus to run and only half the students could make it to school. Once again I did some tutoring, this time for a homebound little girl who was battling leukemia.
I discovered over the course of those two years that I love working with children, had a talent for teaching, and that it was indeed a good way to pass the time until I could find my true calling. 
So when a principal, Judson Frost, called me up to offer a job in Rome, Georgia, I jumped at the chance and arrived at McHenry Elementary with a new degree, a new apartment, a new bride, and two-thirds of a classroom filled with 25 students depending almost entirely on Terrell Shaw for their fifth grade education. The other third of the classroom had been partitioned off for the reading teacher, who must have been frequently frustrated by the  interruptions from my noisy classroom by the total lack of sound insulation. Nor was there any other kind of insulation: we sweltered in August and, even though there was ice on the windows in January, because ours was first on the steam heat system, and to warm the last classroom ours had to continue to swelter.
When Pepperell Junior High took our assistant principal and our seventh and eighth grades, Mr. Frost called me into the office and offered me the post of assistant. I was surprised. I said I'd never considered getting into administration and asked what the job would entail."Well," he replied, "you receive a supplement of $400 for the year." That sounded good to me. Then he got to the nitty gritty. "You'll need to watch the late bus every day." Not a great duty. "And if you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you could lead the prayer at PTO meetings." Well, I'm a Methodist preacher's kid. I could handle that. And $400 is $400. I accepted.
          I soon learned that Judson had neglected to tell me a few things:
• that every time the principal leaves the campus a child breaks a bone, or a parent gets upset with a teacher, or some unprecedented matter of discipline erupts.
• that the principal often leaves campus for meetings.
• that the principal takes a one week leave of absence each spring.
• and, most neglectfully, that he would die suddenly during the fourth year.

I spent six years teaching at McHenry, four of those as the teaching assistant principal. Add one year teaching sixth grade at Pepperell and eleven years roaming from school to school as a teacher of the gifted, and I had nineteen years in a profession that was not yet my calling. I liked teaching. At McHenry I had led a county wide study of teachers’ suggestions for improving the system. I was chosen as the school's Teacher of the Year. As a gifted teacher I had helped plan Sea Day at Floyd College, Quiz Bowl at Berry College, study trips to Savannah, Anniston, Huntsville, the World’s Fair, and Washington D.C. As a teacher of the gifted I was one of the first in our county to use computers regularly. 
With a background in writing and new-found skills with computers, I decided to try my hand at desktop publishing. My wife and I founded a local interest magazine and soon decided that we needed to give it full time, so I finally left teaching after nineteen years for my “real” calling. I spent eleven years with my struggling business, enjoying parts of it, but finally realizing that I missed the daily contact with children, hearing their laughs at the antics of the Foolish Frog (part of my storytelling repertoire), seeing pre-teen eyes light up at smelling a crushed wild ginger leaf, hearing the wows when I hold up a Lion’s Paw shell at the climactic moment in Robb White’s wonderful book, watching parents’ cameras flash at the end-of-year honors program.
So in 1999, at the age of 53, I made a profound decision. I decided my calling is to teach. I was fortunate to be hired to teach fourth grade at Armuchee Elementary. What a grand fourteen years I had knowing I was where I wanted to be. At 60 I had so many projects going that were I able to retire right away, I wouldn’t. I wanted to see them through. I enjoyed teaching. But in 2013, after agonizing indecision, I took the plunge and retired. And at my retirement party I was approached about the part-time job that has become my dream retirement occupation -- storyteller/naturalist at Arrowhead Environmental Education Center.
Whatever success I have had comes from my sincere love of students, my enthusiastic approach to living and learning, and probably a little from the incorrigible show-out in me.
As a teacher, every August a crisp new agenda book awaited 180 new entries. A couple of dozen freshly scrubbed nine-year-olds passed by the eight-by-ten glossies of their predecessor stars hanging on the wall outside our classroom. Bright-eyed, ready for a new start, these were my new stars. I loved them already. I relished the opportunity to tell them the stories of our wonderful country and help them explore the wonders of our beautiful world. And I was determined to be true to them, to be the outstanding teacher I aspired to be. I was determined to help them discover the star within themselves and to help them make it shine. I was truly blessed for more than a total of three decades to have a job that I loved.
In the third year of this new chapter I pinch myself occasionally. Am I dreaming? I haven't graded a set of papers in three years. I have no bus duty or cafeteria duty. No parent conferences. No standardized tests. They pay me, not much but they pay me, to lead young children through gorgeous woods and fields and by wetlands and lakes and streams and tell the stories of our glorious Ridge and Valley flora and fauna. I'm a lucky man.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Where's Debbie?

Last Sunday, as I sat with my wife and youngest daughter in the beautiful sanctuary on Turner-McCall Boulevard where my family has worshiped more than anywhere else since February of 1962, I had the much-too-rare privilege of hearing my favorite preacher.

I listened as the Rev. Ruth Baird Shaw​, my mother, preached what was on her heart this Christmas season. Her sermon was titled “What Child Is This?” and used the story that “Dr. Luke” tells of Jesus “amazing” the priests with his understanding, while his poor, surely frantic, parents searched for their missing (to them) Son.  We then chuckled with the congregation as my mother told of the incident that helped her understand the distress that Mary and Joseph must have felt when they realized Jesus was not with them on their homeward trek from Jerusalem to Nazareth.
You can read my mother’s sermon as a footnote below, but here is the tale from my own memories ---

In 1960 our family purchased a beautiful new car. It was a bronze colored sleek Chevrolet nine-passenger station wagon with a marvelous innovation: the rear bench seat faced the rear. My sisters and I fought over the privilege of sitting with a panoramic view of where we had been.

That fall we took a camping vacation through Kentucky, where my sisters were attending Asbury College (now University.) The presidential election was in full swing and (I apologize) my sisters and I were adament supporters of Ike’s young vice president. We’d lower the electric rear window at strategic locations to express ourselves in song:

“Here comes Nixon,
our man Nixon
We want Nixon
to be the President
Merrily we roll along,
roll along, roll along
Merrily we roll along,
one hundred million strong.”

Unfortunately the design of that sleek vehicle funneled fumes from the exhaust pipe directly in that rear window if one opened it while the car was moving.

The part of the story my mother told happened in Louisville, right at the banks of the Ohio River. My daddy pulled into a Texaco staion on the Kentucky side and we all piled out to find the advertised clean restrooms.

Mother was occupied with David the toddler when we all began to climb back into the car. She didn’t notice when Debbie slipped back out of the car to rescue her hair barrette she’d left in the restroom. Having paid the nice man who had cleaned our windsheild and checked the oil while filling the tank for us, Daddy cranked the car and pulled the big Kingswood wagon out of the station onto US 31 and almost immediately onto the multilane bridge over the big river. Carol spied a tug pushing a huge line of barges approaching below us. “Look at that ship!” she cried, “Look Debiie! --- Where’s Debbie?!”

Anyone who knew my Daddy knows that --- had there been a way --- he’d have wheeled that long Chevy in a U-turn and skidded back into that gas station in no time flat. Mother says she wanted out of the car to run back. But those were not practical alternatives, so we went with the flow of heavy city traffic across the bridge.

As Daddy pulled over at the Indiana shore, there, pulling up beside us, was a Texaco pick’em-up truck driven by a very serious station owner with little Debbie waving from the passemger seat beside him. The filling station man seemed as frantic as my parents. We wondered if he figured my parents had planned to rid themselves of a child at each staion they passed. I was not in that truck, but given my sister’s penchant for storytelling, that “Man Who Wears the Star” might have been a little “amazed” himself --- though he was no priest and, it goes without saying, Debbie is no Jesus.

Mother said she had “lost” Debbie for just five minutes. Mary and Joseph were without Jesus for three days.

Mother also mentioned how Debi (she changed the spelling of her nickname to differenciate her unique self from the myriad Debbies in sixties classrooms.) was surprized when she moved south with her family in 1989 and was greeted her first Sunday back at Trinity with the question: “Are you the one that got left at a service station?”

It’s a tale I had embellished in many tellings during two-decades of teaching elementary school.


What Child is This

a sermon by Ruth Baird Shaw 

December 27, 2015, 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 am
Trinity United Methodist Church
Rome, Georgia

Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)

The Boy Jesus in the Temple

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and also the book of Acts, was said to be a Medical Doctor.

In today's scripture in Luke 2, Doctor Luke puts down his Medical bag and picks up his pen to write down for us the amazing and blessed story of Jesus!

We are only two days after Christmas Day, and this is the last Sunday of 2015. In our important scripture today, we have the first recorded words of Jesus. This brief scripture of the boyhood of Jesus is the only record about Jesus between his birth, his babyhood, and his adulthood.

In todays passage from Luke 2, we have the family of Jesus making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the feast of the Passover . The Passover was important! The Passover was the Hebrew festival celebrated each Spring in commemoration of the Exodus account in the Bible, telling us about when the Lord God “passed over” the Israelite babies at a time when all the other babies in Egypt were being killed.

The last supper that Jesus had with his disciples was a “Passover meal.” It was at Passover time that Jesus instituted our communion service.
So we see in today's Scripture lesson, Jesus had gone to the temple for Passover with Mary and Joseph and other neighbors and friends and kinspeople.

In today's church, as then, we dedicate and baptize babies, testifying that they are “saved’ until they reach the age of accountability, the time they become old enough to make their own decision about whether or not to accept Jesus as their Savior and become a Christian. The christening part of the ceremony, as you know, is when the church names the baby. So we refer to our given names as our ‘Christian names.”   For example, my Christian name is Sarah Ruth, which was given to me in the church where I was baptized as an infant 92 years ago.

Today we see the pastor taking the baby in his or her arms and saying, “What name shall be given to this baby?” After the parent tells the pastor the name this given name is used in the baptism.

In today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus is 12 years old and is claiming for Himself that special relationship to God which was symbolized at the dedication of Jesus as an infant, earlier in this same chapter. This we do in today's church. When our 12-year-old boys and girls, who were dedicated and baptized as babies, accept Christ as personal Savior and thus become members of the church

In todays Scripture lesson, when the feast of the Passover was ended Mary and Joseph traveled in a caravan back to their home, thinking that 12-year-old Jesus was in their company. This was not as unusual as might be thought. Usually the women in the caravan went ahead, so Mary thought 12-year-old Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought He was with Mary.

One of the most amusing stories in our family is about the time that we left our daughter, Deborah, at a service station in Kentucky!  Debi said that when their family moved to Rome in 1989 and came to church here at Trinity, a woman who was introduced to her said, “Oh, are you the one they left at a service station?” Our son Terrell and his wife Sheila had been members at Trinity for several years before Debi and Gregg moved to Rome and had told this story to some of the people here.

This Major Family Happening was when my husband and I and our five younger children were on a brief camping trip from our parsonage home in Ellijay to Kentucky and Indiana.
We stopped for gas at a station in Louisville, right at the bridge that crosses the Ohio River.

All the children had been to the bathroom were back in the station wagon. I had settled our 4 young children in their places on the back seat and was feeding baby David in the front seat.

Deborah, about 6 years old at the time, suddenly realized she had left a hair barrette in the rest room, so she very quietly slipped out of the car to get it.

Charles came back from paying the bill and started the car and turned the few feet onto the long bridge that spanned the Ohio River! Carol, 2 and a half years older than Debi, saw a huge ship on the river and said, “Look, everybody. Look, Debi! Mother! Where’s Debi?”

I panicked. Charles panicked. It was panic time for all of us, but we could not make a U-turn on the bridge. If there had been any way to turn around on that bridge, all of us who knew Charles Shaw, know he would have found it. I was ready to get out of the car and run back to the Service Station, but we could not even stop on the bridge because of the heavy traffic.

Finally we got across the bridge into Indiana and Charles pulled our 9-passenger Chevrolet station wagon into the first place to turn around.

Then, much to our joy and relief, not far behind us, was the service station owner bringing Deborah to us.

Deborah later liked to tell the story at “story telling time” in her own dramatic way. She says that the man in the service station thought, “These people have probably been dropping off children all the way from Georgia; but they are NOT leaving one here.” Anyway, whatever the man thought, when Deborah came out of the restroom to see us crossing the bridge, he put her in his pickup truck and brought her to us.

I have forgotten many things in my long life, but that Ohio River Bridge experience is forever etched in my memory.

It is scary in today's world to think of how tragic this story could have ended.

I will never forget the relief and joy of seeing her little head in that truck, and our thanks to God, and our deep appreciation for the kindness and help of this dear Service Station man.

Children, as we all know, have a way of keeping us on your toes, and apparently the child Jesus was no exception in this.

In the hymn “Away in a Manger” one of the phrases we remember is; “The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” But one of the glorious truths of the Christmas message we have just celebrated and are continuing to celebrate today is that the Infinite God so loved the world of finite human beings that Jesus, our Savior, came into the world as a helpless baby, unable to hold his head without the help of finite human beings.

So I think Jesus as a baby developed his lungs by crying as other babies do.

Our Bible lesson today is about when Jesus also went missing one day when he was a child. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus missing, they turned around and went back; and they found 12-year-old Jesus talking with the learned men in the house of God. The reply of Jesus to Mary and Joseph was that he must also be about the business of his Father in heaven

This has gone down in history as Jesus expressing, at age 12, an early awareness of his special identity as the only begotten Son of God, as we read in John 3:16.

Doctor Luke tells us in Luke 2:51 that Jesus went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them, then adds that his mother Mary kept and treasured all these things in her heart while Jesus continued to develop in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people.

This lesson in Scripture teaches there are times in life when all of us who are called of God must submit to the discipline of preparation and of studying the scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We see this even in the life of the great apostle Paul, who was already well-versed in scripture and the classics, but was led into the wilderness for three years to be taught by God after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.

As I was studying this Scripture lesson, I thought about how often many of us tend to put our minds and thoughts on the minor events of life and ignore the life changing and eternal life things. 2015 years ago, the world was watching the Roman Empire in all its splendor. All eyes were on Caesar Augustus, who demanded that a census be taken so that taxes could be enlarged.

Who noticed Mary and Joseph making their 90 mile journey to Bethlehem? If there had been television then, the television anchor men and women and their crews would have run over Mary and Joseph to put their microphone in the face of Caesar.

Today Caesar is only a small paragraph in the life of Jesus. And all the great schools in the Western world were built to study every single word that fell from the lips of Jesus. And every single word written about the deeds of Jesus have been poured over and translated into every language, and people by the thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem and stand in awe at the spot history has marked as the birthplace of Jesus.

I served as pastor of East Point Avenue UM Church for four years after I reached mandatory retirement age.

One of the visits I often made there was to a elderly couple who were bedridden in their small home. They had very little help so when I would visit, she would have me do a few little things for them like bringing in their paper and mail, getting them fresh water, etc.

One day when I knelt down to pray with them after a visit... the elderly lady, speaking for both of them said to me, “We are so blessed. We are so much better off than many people and best of all, the Lord is with us.” Without realizing it, this elderly lady was quoting what is reported to be the last words of the great preacher, John Wesley, as he lay dying: “The best of all, God is with us.”

I also bear this same witness. Whatever else is going on in my life: “The best of all, God is with me.”

Today is the last scheduled service of 2015. So as we stand a the gate of a brand New Year. Let me close with this familiar quote that is a blessing for all of us:

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better to you than light and safer than a known way.'"   - M. L. Haskins

As we come to the closing days of 2015, I hope, each one of us and all of us will put our hands and our lives in the keeping of Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Then, whatever the New Year brings, it will be a blessed and happy new year 2016!