A Trip To 1776 With A Stop In West Virginia

July 4th, 2017  |   

The Fourth of July is my ticket back to 1776. Getting there, however, I must pass through 1976. You might find that trip interesting, so travel with me. We’ll stop here in Charleston, West Virginia.

Judy and I, along with our four children arrived here in August 1974. We’d come from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where I spent the summer writing a book, before becoming the minister at St. John’s Episcopal Church. When school began, all hell broke loose in our new hometown, as a countywide battle raged over recently adopted kindergarten through high school language arts textbooks. The battle, on more than one occasion, turned violent when shots rang out and schools were bombed.

Today is no day to delve into what is now labeled, The Kanawha County Textbook War.

All that need be said, from my vantage point, is that by 1976 the struggle still persisted when new history textbooks were introduced. Having played my part in the battle, which included threats from opponents, including the Ku Klux Klan, and police protection for my family and me, friends advised me to take time for some fun.

I had never taken part in a musical, but what the heck, I showed up at the Charleston Light Opera Guild tryouts for the play, “1776.” Judy, so very musical, had stacks of printed music, but that wasn’t any help. I don’t read music, so I took a hymnbook to the tryouts and sang, “O Come O Come Emanuel.” Tom Murphy, then the director of the Guild, and who became a dear friend, gave me a puzzled look, and a choice comment when I sang the last verse. “What the hell is this, a religious revival?”

That’s how I got the part of Thomas Jefferson, died my hair red, and fell in love with the marvelous cast, and this musical rendition of the events surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Daughter Elizabeth accompanied me to every rehearsal as I totally submerged myself in this delightful play. Aside from the performances, the cast performed at the 1976 bicentennial celebration on the city dock in downtown Charleston. Today, thinking about the performances back then, I listened to some of the music.

The play is fun, serious, light, heavy, sexual, spiritual, giddy, and ominous. In other words, a potpourri of Americana, for better or for worse, with all that was included in our history, and all that was ignored.

Listen to one of the songs from the film version, “The Egg,” in which Jefferson, Adams and Franklin argue about which bird should symbolize the new nation—a turkey, dove or eagle. Contemplating the birth of our country as the hatching of an egg, hear Jefferson say, “If only we could be sure of what kind of a bird it’s going to be.”


Here we are, 241 years later, asking that question, as we must do every Independence Day: What kind of a nation are we going to be? Perhaps Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, joining their voices at the very end of the song, point us in the right direction.

“The eagle inside belongs to us.” That’s right, don’t you think? Not a king or a president, a dictator or a demigod—all of us—we the people.  

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Remembering June 14

June 13th, 2017  |   

It’s June 13th, and I am alone in a motel in Bloomington, IL, on my way back to Charleston. I have been on the road for almost two weeks.

I have been spending grandfather-granddaughter time. You see, I drove to Asheville, NC, to perform the wedding ceremony for Granddaughter Katherine, and then went on to Minneapolis for Granddaughter Eva’s high school graduation.

Tomorrow is June 14th, the last leg of my trip home. It is also an anniversary date linked to June 14, 1958, the day Judy and I were married.

I can’t help but smile when I think that these two granddaughter’s I have been with, and their mothers, and the entire Lewis family, would not have been around, if Judy and I had not been married fifty-nine years ago.

On top of that, I have to laugh out loud every time I tell someone the rather amusing way Judy and I met.

In 1954, both of us were college freshman, and seven men were paired up with seven women for a big blind date night. The woman who arranged the evening was responsible for deciding the pairing. As Judy would tell it, this woman was actually practically blind. Almost nose to nose with Judy, she said, “I think you would be good for Jim.”

Two weeks after Judy and I were married, we found ourselves in Quantico, Virginia. Leaving Judy in a nearby motel, I reported for basic training, with an eventual deployment to Southeast Asia as a infantry platoon commander. As I think about the precarious state of the world back then, there is a stunning similarity to what is taking place today.

While driving tomorrow, I intend to stay away from radio news. There will be plenty of time for that when I get back to my routines at home. While driving today, I listened to Jeff Sessions ramble on about what he can’t recall. Tomorrow, I will listen to music and think about that wedding 59 years ago, and certainly feel grateful for that woman with poor vision who somehow could see which woman would be good for me.

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A Lesson In Glassblowing

June 2nd, 2017  |   

A couple of weeks ago, daughter Debby and I took to the road and went to the Shenandoah Valley. We were there to do some studying, while sightseeing. In Staunton, Virginia, we visited the Sunspot Studio and watched a glassblower. Back and forth to the blazing kiln, he blew, caressed, pounded, fired, and shaped a piece of glass. The finished product was a lovely glass mushroom, a popular item for sale in the adjacent shop,

I asked the glassblower what he enjoyed making the most. Mushrooms? Not really. I was delighted by his answer. He said that he loved to create something new, because it caused him to get back in touch with the reason he had become a glassblower.

Creating something new reignited the passion that was at the heart of his artwork.

I have been thinking about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three men whose story is depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the book of Daniel we read about how Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, threw them into a fiery furnace because they would not bow down and worship the golden image he had created.

The flames, however, did not consume them. The furnace, if you will, became a refiner’s fire, not a crematorium. The furnace became a kiln. Hardened, rather than destroyed, the men walked free from the flames.

Historians view Nebuchadnezzar as having been insane. There is good circumstantial evidence that President Trump is mentally ill. He is our very own Nebuchadnezzar, putting us, and the world we live in, through a fiery ordeal. Could there be any more outward and visible sign of this than his denial of global warming?

With that story in mind, I see life moving about in the midst of this holocaust. There are numerous signs, not only resistance, but creative efforts to thwart, circumvent, override, and defeat Nebuchadnezzar, who can be seen more and more as a tragic, lonely, isolated, disturbed man in a sheltered tower. There is a creative spirit making itself know among individuals and community efforts, despite his presence.

The play that Debby and I saw in Staunton was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” It is a marvelous testimony to the indomitable power of human beings. Yes, often ignorant of what’s going on around us, blind to the indestructible eternal realities that are readily present, and yet we are still capable of loving mercy and prizing justice, and putting it to work.

Wilder’s words are better than mine: “We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4