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no atheists in hell
It was hard to resist the Morganton Baptist Church marquee headline I saw a couple of weeks ago during my Sunday bike ride: “There are no atheists in hell… they believe.” How could a pagan agnostic not walk into that one? Was it going to be feet first into a cauldron of fire? Dante’s Inferno, I wondered?
So last Sunday, I ditched the bike ride because of rain, took a shower and put on my Sunday best to blend in better with the congregation.
When I was twelve, my first regular job was working in Dad’s saw shop on Saturdays. Back then the shop was a tin building with no insulation. Summers broiled its tin. Winters chilled its concrete floor. Neither heat nor cold stopped pulpwooders from bringing their dead and dying chainsaws to Dad’s shop where he and Bobby Cooper revived them. Before they could work miracles with vices, screwdrivers, and wrenches, it fell upon me to remove the gummy black pine resin from covers protecting the saw’s inner workings. They couldn’t work on the saws until I cleaned and dismantled them…
can't go home again
Dudley Snodgrass, called “Duddy” was a very intelligent boy. He learned to talk and walk at a young age, and in school his grades were perfect. His mother adored him, his teachers were constantly bragging on him. The other kids called him “Einstein” and “Brain” and some secretly resented him. Some not so secretly.
Painful, crippling shyness was the only chink in Duddy’s armor. When called on in class, he would turn beet red and stammer a stuttering answer. He would get physically ill when he had to stand before the class and give a book report…
By the fourth or fifth grade I knew I wanted to be a school teacher. Before then I had known only women teachers and the thought hadn’t yet taken shape. But after having Mr. Phelps and Mr. Taylor as role models – although nobody was calling them that back then – I was pretty much convinced. They could make English and history seem happy. Besides, I was finally planning to do what had been predicted for me earlier by my kinfolk. I was born a school house; they said I was marked to teach. Predestined, I guess.
the monster – its alive
The seeds of a new revolution are in the ground. If they get enough water in the November election, there’s no telling what will happen. Pundits, who often only seem to talk to each other and read pointy-headed reports and memos written by peers, appear totally confounded about what’s going on in the electorate as tanking GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to foment disarray and discontent. Just when the talking heads think they’ve got Trump figured out, he does something new that bewitches them more – to the delight of his followers.
Twenty years ago this summer, America was rocked by a terrorist attack. A religious fanatic radicalized by fundamentalist ideas planted a bomb at a crowded location during a major sporting event. The device he built killed one person and injured 120 more. The death toll could easily have been in the hundreds.
That same terrorist planted three more bombs that injured and killed over the next two years; bombs targeting places he arrogantly linked to the causes he felt were worth murdering innocents for…
Riding my bike up and down the hills of old highway 76 in Morganton, GA, in the North Georgia mountains, I come across six churches within a six mile stretch of the ride interspersed between pastures of grazing horses and bovine cows and hills and meadows decorated with farm houses and log cabins. I wonder what the services are like, who the people are, what they believe in and why they survive in our secular age.
It is not unusual to see a church on every street corner in Georgia.
My house is starting to look like Mom’s. Here’s the painting the late Jim Harrison signed for her. Here’s my portrait as a young man that long hung in what we called the “Christmas room.” Over there on the sofa is a shimmering gold, green, and red throw I gave her for Christmas before illness plagued her. By the TV console is her end table and blue china lamp. Beneath the lamp stands a beautiful milky white vase with a pair of partridges painted upon it, and by it are matching blue porcelain music boxes.
social equality and justice
In the wake of the gruesome events of the past few weeks between police officers and black civilians, it’s worth noting that the black community is not alone in their anger and sorrow. In fact, I stand by you and though I don’t and can never understand what you’re going through, I do sympathize with you. My heart and soul hurts when I see the news of yet another young black man being fatally shot by police. The continuous murder of young black men by police officers MUST CEASE. For this to be happening in this day and age in the US is deplorable.
That being said, when we look at the history of America, these events are not isolated ones.
Okay, get the handcuffs ready. I’m about to confess:
By day, I am Robert Lamb, famous author of great novels. No, wait! Make that “relatively unknown author whose books were best-sellers in certain quarters,” namely my mother’s bridge club.
But by night I am, by design, mind you, the equally unknown author whose nom de plume is (drum roll, please) Cooper Riverbridge …
no free pass allowed
Yesterday, President Obama said this:
“I think what’s been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans,” he said in a press conference. “The question I think they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party …
our collective narcissism
Let me first try to make sure I’m not misunderstood. I am not saying that I wish the Democrats had done anything different at the convention. As many observed, the Democrats were smart to occupy the upbeat, patriotic, American-exceptionalist, morning-in-America space that Trump’s GOP abandoned with its fear-mongering dark picture of the state of the nation. Those chants of “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” may help some Republicans and Independents, unhappy with Trump…
not so great
Today, in his third act as President, (the first two are too embarrassing to mention) Donald Trump ended the treaty with the SunGod. He felt that others were not contributing their fair share of sacrifices to the SunGod. At today’s press conference, which was held in the complete dark due to the lack of a sun, Donald stated “America is for chumps if we are going to pay too much for sunlight! I’m not going to sacrifice one more smoking hot virgin that I could use in the Miss America pageant to some SunGod who isn’t an American…
threat to our democracy
For millions of Americans watching the 2016 Republican Party Convention in Cleveland, disbelief and dismay have given way to bemused contempt. They see a GOP in a state of extraordinary disarray and unable to prevent a likely electoral train wreck. Many of its heavy weights simply refused to attend, including two former presidents, six governors, and 21 U.S. Senators. David and Charles Koch are notably absent.
embrace equality ideal
Abraham Lincoln, were he alive today, would quibble with only one word in the trumpeted slogan, “Make America Great Again,” but it would be a vehement, demagoguery-shattering quibble. He would insist that the sentence be ended after Great. America has, he would solemnly remind us, in practice NEVER been great, only struggling slowly and painfully toward greatness.
In theory, of course, it was another matter. He famously paid homage to “the last best hope of earth” that the truly radical American experiment in democracy …
until the struggle is won
Fear is a powerful weapon. For centuries, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods has proved an effective means of suppressing protest and maintaining injustice. Fifty years ago this month, James Meredith’s March Against Fear sent a ringing message to oppressors everywhere: their tactics would not work! As mentioned in my earlier article, last weekend, a viciously anti-union company, Nissan Canton, whose workers call it an “architect of fear,” tried to appropriate the anniversary of Meredith’s march to suit their own purposes. Their financial sponsorship of this commemoration was clearly an effort to sever the civil rights movement from the battles of labor …
mexico might take them
In cities across America – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New Orleans – in stunning, giddy numbers, millions of Americans streamed into the streets to celebrate President Barack Obama’s executive order Wednesday calling for a “Texit” vote to expel Texas from the union.
The executive order came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas law to limit the legal rights of women to abortions, and a week after the shocking “Brexit” vote in Great Britain to sever ties to the European Union.
getting through it
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way.
You probably recognize that verse from Jingle Bells — But it’s those last two lines, O’er the fields we go, Laughing all the way, that have always been for me a powerful image for having fun and living life to the max.
satire on the campaign trail
My brother and sister Americans, let me introduce myself: my name is Arturo Tad Semple. Fearing someone might think I liked longhair classical music, or read books, or attended foreign movies, or watched PBS, or was born in Italy or France, or god forbid, Kenya, I dropped the “Arturo” years ago in favor of just a simple, less confusing “A.” I hope this information makes it easier to understand why I am known as A. Tad Semple.
I prefer it that way. It is an unique name and is easy to remember. And it fits me.
echoes of wild raggedy sun-crazed children
Wherever it was, it’s not there anymore. . . .Then again, maybe it is.
Rising up out of the water were three enormous white towers. I’m sure of that. Three. They looked like very tall rectangular scaffolds made of wood with ladders leading up to platforms near their tops from which people jumped off. One of them had a diving board, but the other two were more in demand among the more daring and were unlike anything anywhere else in the city and were the reason so many people like us came from so far to swim here.
Almost a year later, the remarkable words of family members in pain still ring in our ears.
“I forgive you,” one said in a crowded courtroom. “May God have mercy on you,” another added. “Hate won’t win,” said a third.
One after another, five people squeezed by turmoil forgave an accused killer, who stood pancake-faced in shackles in a separate room and watched his bond hearing on a television screen.
angry bernie birds
I didn’t think it would happen to me. I thought I was so open minded; basically a wild-eyed radical gently easing into being a nice liberal.
Live and let live. Well, no more.
I like to think that I am an informed, conscientious world citizen. On Twitter as @hidingunderhere I follow 930 news feeds and supporters for all types of candidates and issues from places all over the earth. The feed has been my loyal companion when I want to find the truth, because recently the mainstream media #MSM has failed to cover almost everything, choosing 24/7 McTrumpNews instead…
Hope y’all gits bit by a rabid ’coon
Johnny Depp has been generating a lot of free publicity back home in the US. Free for him that is – Australia is paying for it. You might remember that in April of this year Mr Depp and his wife, Amber Heard – or is it “then wife”, I don’t really follow what passes for the lives of film and TV stars – brought their two pampered mongs, Pistol and Boo, on a little jaunt to Australia where their daddy was filming yet another blockbuster aimed at children and adults under 15. Problem was…
Last week in Charleston a large mural of Rev. Clementa Pinckney was unveiled. It was done by 28-year-old Columbia artist Tripp Barnes. It is big and colorful and covers the whole outside wall of a building on St. Phillips Street, a few blocks from my house and from Emanuel AME Church.
In addition to his likeness, the mural also has a short but powerful quote by Clem: “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history – we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”
keeping our kids safe
Vehicles passing stopped school buses is much more of a problem than most of us realize. At least where I live, Gwinnett’s school system is taking steps to address this situation, at no cost to your school tax bill. But only about 10 school systems in Georgia are participating in a new technology which improves school bus safety.
Gwinnett is partnering with Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Ariz. in having traffic cameras on its buses.
Red and yellow, black and white
The summer I was fifteen, my goal in life was to get a good tan. In those days, you were nobody if your skin wasn’t bronzed beyond belief. That was before we knew how much the sun harmed our skin. Everyday at the public pool or in my own backyard, I’d slather up with a mixture of baby oil and iodine – trying to encourage the maximum exposure. No wonder my skin looks like sandpaper now and probably explains why, last Mother’s Day, my daughter looked at my arm in a sleeveless dress and said, “You look like a lizard.” What more could a mother want?
something of a dilettante
Forty-five years ago today (1971), I was graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a Ph.D. in English (Dissertation: Dickens’ Use of Language for Protest). I am grateful for the counsel which Professor James McMillan, then chair of the department, gave me in the hall after I had defended my dissertation: “Up until this point you have been rewarded mainly by writing what experts know. Hereafter, to be taken seriously, you must write what you know which experts have not yet discovered…
brought it on ourselves
You must admit that social media has been a mighty contributor to this 2016 political season.
In another way of saying this: look what we have done to ourselves.
We couldn’t get enough of Trump, or Bernie, and every so often, some of the other presidential candidates. So we turned inward, creating more bizarre buzzing for the political year.
Sometimes, in the still of the night, I think I hear the American culture coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it’s the popping of a stitch. Other times it’s an alarming rip. But the culture is definitely showing signs of strain. I don’t think this is normal wear and tear. I think the culprit is zeal connected to bad ideology, zeal fueled by ignorance often masquerading as enlightenment.
A moment’s thought, for instance, reveals that Political Correctness undermines the most precious provision of the Bill of Rights: free speech.
bigotry still king
I’m planning a road trip to see America with two of my sons. We are mapping out an itinerary circling the country and finding well-known, quirky, and interesting destinations. The hardest thing so far has been planning the trip without passing through states that have jumped on the deny people’s rights to get elected bandwagon.
I know Tennessee recently passed legislation making the Bible the state book, but the governor vetoed it. Georgia is waffling on their version of discrimination in the name of religious liberty and safe restrooms after several major businesses in the Peach State protested.
part three of lilian's wish
Emmett never let go of his dislike of dogs. He showed it with muffled and incomprehensible grumbles about Bobbie. He never forgave her for growling at him when they first met. He said he would rather have a snake in the house than a dog. And no damn dog had better ever climb up on his sofa if they managed to get inside his house. Bobbie was a big ungainly soul who had been Lilian’s companion. She was used to having full reign of my house. Emmett never had a clue that she was much cleaner than he was…
part two of lilian's wish
Emmett had made his grand entrance into my house in January. By the time spring had arrived, he’d started showing up at my doorstep whenever he felt like it and would blow his horn from the driveway rather than come up to the door. At first, I thought something might be wrong, but he would tell me later that he was just an old man who didn’t walk well so he thought I should come to him. He didn’t vary his greeting much and usually said, “Hey, young fella, where you been? It’s hot out here…
part one of lilian's wish
Retaining her sense of humor to the end, she asked to be buried in Montreal for several reasons. First, she had developed a keener sense of family, and her uncle and most of her aunts and cousins live in that beautiful city. Secondly, she said she wanted her husband and daughter to pay a proper pilgrimage to see her rather than just pop in occasionally at a more convenient local cemetery. Thirdly, she recognized that Montreal was a European city and after all she was at heart a European. And finally, to all who knew and loved her and would have enjoyed her reasoning, it added to her mystery.
on the surface
I don’t understand race. An anthropologist colleague says, “Louie, race doesn’t exist as a scientific category. At best a race is just ‘a breeding community with unstable boundaries’; and you and Ernest knock the hell out of that one, don’t you!” I see what she means.
Yet racial categories so pervade my life that I cannot hope to understand myself, much less the world, without sensitive and difficult vigilance regarding pitfalls and opportunities.
sweating the sermon
On March 22, I journeyed across Georgialina to Washington, Georgia, to speak to the Kiwanis Club. Prior to speaking, Mr. Steve Blackmon gave me a tour of seven historic homes that had something unique in common. All had been moved in total or in part to their current location. Expect a column on that soon.
Steve reads my columns and he knows that I often write about things that are no more, and so he gave me six unique gifts: vintage handheld fans that had been used long ago in my hometown. You just don’t see fans in church anymore…