. . . to go on speaking – like Al Davis.

The mentor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a little book of great ideas not long before he died, The Fruit of Lips, or Why Four Gospels.  In the chapter called “The Cross of Grammar” he wrote:

A word may be true as to content; it may be true enough to be verified in its own author’s actions; finally, it may be so true that it compels the next speaker to respond and to go on speaking.

These words came to mind as I read the good words in the Marshall News Messenger about a friend to many and civic servant from Marshall, Al Davis.  Al was a longtime attorney and former assistant district attorney, and husband to Jane Ogden, our university colleague in psychology, now retired.  A faithful churchman and choir member at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Al died of a heart attack this past Saturday.  We shall all miss him.

Rosenstock-Huessy (R-H) wrote of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that “They are sound as wells of speech.”  He meant that they are all authentic responses to the message of the life of Jesus in relationship to his disciples, Father God, and the World, and that each Gospel contributes uniquely to the same story.  The Gospel writers complemented each other.   R-H writes,

What is the end and the beginning of speech?  The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of this particular act of the spirit.  End and beginning bring an inspiration down to earth.  End and beginning of any book declare whether it is true or not.  But this truth is a threefold truth.  A word may be true as to content . . . .

And so it is, and was, and shall be, relating to the life of Al Davis among us.  Our newspaper carries the eulogies – the good words – of Al’s colleagues, coworkers in the community, his friends, and many he helped.  If a man’s life is a book, and his words are text for his life, then Al Davis finished well – he completed a good, admirable book.  We know this because so many already have been inspired to speak further good about him, and in the days to come others will speak in a similar way.

The life and, to us, untimely, death of Al Davis bereaves us but also inspires us.  His life, actions and words should remind us that in each of us, in our communities, we have the resources to overcome the wrong, to organize our efforts so that our intentions and plans succeed, to speak encouraging words to each other so that each person is inspired to contribute his or her own words and book in the time available, to make our relationships, community and society more what they can and should be, and to bring more music and joy into everything we do.  I believe Al Davis would like that!  After all, that was so much what he was about while he lived and served among us.

Now, what about us?  One more word from E-H – a word for pondering:

The Gospels were true enough to compel the next speaker to go on speaking above and beyond the last word of the last speaker.  Each one had to step in where the last speaker left off.  They were imparting the concrete time and scene of their speech so vividly to each other that they touched each other off, to the next move.  They sing, over forty years perhaps, one Gospel, each in his own key, on his specific wave-length, according to his lights, in handing the joyful and arduous task over to the better man, one after another.  In this act, then, the “Four Gospels” became a continuation of Jesus’ life through the minds which were made over by their office of Evangelists.  They were created into the Lips of the Word.

Let’s all be like Al Davis, “the better man.”


References all from pages 81-82, The Fruit of Lips.



Comments and Reflections on the Love Cemetery Project as related to ETBU and the LFN Small Grant Initiative.


During this academic year the Lilly Fellows Network Small Grant Initiative has allowed many of us to become more aware of continuing and new opportunities related to human rights, reconciliation, restorative justice, and many other related themes.


On Monday, April 7, at the invitation of Professor China Galland, I took part in a mid-day meeting of individuals who would discuss Love Cemetery and the “Writing History Project”—an initiative at Wiley College involving Lisa Taylor.  The ongoing Love Cemetery initiative is the subject of Dr. Galland’s book, Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves (HarperOne, 2008); a documentary film, “Resurrecting Love”, also is in production.   The persons present were:


Professor China Galland–Affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, formerly Professor in Residence at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education, and occasional adjunct faculty member; author of multiple books; member national Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation.


Mrs. Doris Vittatoe—President of the Love Cemetery Burial Association; from Waskom/Scottsville.


Ms. Cristina Balli—Team Member, Texas Folk Life, Austin.


Mr. Archie L. Rison, Jr.—Cemetery restorer, amateur archaeologist, Nacogdoches, Texas.


Mr. Estrus Tucker—International consultant, speaker, storyteller, poet and master facilitator; board of Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at U/Mississippi; Tarrant County (TX) Workforce Development Board; International Association of Human Rights Agencies Board; the National Center for Courage and Renewal Board; Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Brite Divinity School Board of Visitors; ordained minister; Vietnam-era veteran; 2012 recipient, International Association of Human Rights Agencies Individual Achievement Award “for his work and leadership in support of creative civic engagement and transformational leadership in Mississippi; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Cape Town, S. Africa, and Texas.  Native and resident of Fort Worth, with three generations before born and resident in Marshall, Texas.


And I, Jerry Summers—The Sam B. Hall Jr. Professor of History, and Dean, School of Humanities, ETBU.


My purpose in attending the discussion session was to honor an invitation that came as a result of East Texas Baptist University’s Lilly Fellows Program Small Grant initiative, “Human Rights, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice: East Texas and the World.”  That initiative for the academic year was to give opportunities to evaluate further involvement in or attention to the broader range of human rights issues locally and worldwide.  The initiative resonates strongly with the mission and purpose of our university.


The involvement of ETBU in the Love Cemetery cleanup and celebration day in April had begun in the previous academic year when our director of the Great Commission Center, Dr. Melody Maxwell (now at Howard Payne University), had organized student, staff and faculty participation in the event.  Wiley College students, including the Wiley College choir, and faculty also participated, along with townspeople and visitors, some who came great distances in order to take part.  Others who were responsible at that time are unknown to me.  The program was held again on April 5th this year and featured Ysaye Barnwell of Honey in The Rock, the Wiley Choir, students from Wiley and ETBU, and others.


The April 7th meeting about Love Cemetery and the Writing History Program was, in China Galland’s words, to be informal and a discussion of “our work to preserve this fragile, potent history and build a stronger, more resilient community around Love.  This 1.6 acre cemetery is emblematic of a history almost lost, paved over or denied all over the United States.”


Our discussion, which was being filmed for possible inclusion in an updated documentary, ran for approximately an hour.  My singular impression was that the discussion and the themes it addressed connected vitally with those of the ETBU grant initiative, with the work of many people and organizations on our campus and in the community, and with my own teaching and research.


The efforts surrounding Love Cemetery help us to focus on the theme of past, present and future, where interethnic relations and the need for reconciliation are connected so strongly to our society’s segregated past.  An African-American cemetery typically reflects the segregation of black from white both in life and in death.  It is the surviving evidence of that segregated past.  Yet that same cemetery can be the focus of efforts to remember a broken heritage and to mend relationships among the living descendants of a divided society.  The point of Love Cemetery and others like it is that its potential as an instrument to evoke memory and provoke reconciliation is lost if it is inaccessible and forgotten.  I need only  mention that Love Cemetery is but one emblem of the same problem around the world, where the first tendency is to avoid the pain of remembering and thereby to pass by the prospect of healing.


I should not say much more.  The Love Cemetery discussion came during late winter and early spring when several campus and community organizations and churches sponsored programs that emphasized our shared interethnic and faith heritage through traditions, food, music, worship, and community service.  Evidently there is considerable good will among and around us.  That same good will is and should be gathered and directed toward more comprehensive, intentional acts of caring, attention, reconciliation, and redemption.


Here are some related links:


http://www.etbu.edu/spiritual-development/gcc/ –Great Commission Center

http://guides.etbu.edu/lfp-humanrights  and  http://www.etbu.edu/school-humanities/lilly-small-grant-initiative/

http://www.resurrectinglovemovie.org/ — Wiley and ETBU students at work at Love Cemetery, 2013


Close to, but not always on, Tornado Alley

There is a Dear One who lives in Washington D.C. and who would move back to Texas but for a few things, two of them being “Texas has tornadoes” and “D.C. has lots to offer.”  True, very true.

Surely there are many delights for folk who live inside the Beltway.  But one of them, certainly, is simply that there are many delights Beyond the Beltway, in many most sociable and historic locales, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, just to start a list, one rather long as you know.

Far from the Beltway, perhaps far enough to gain treasured perspective about matters within and without the fabled, enchanted, fantastical Beltway, lies the Great State of Texas.  As Mr. Tubb used to sing, “There’s a Little Bit of Everything in Texas.”  Yes, more and more, I say, a little bit of everything for most everyone. Again, as Ernest Tubb put it, ” . . . and a little bit of Texas in me!”

And, yes, even tornadoes, twisters, cyclones, what have you.  But is there one for everyone?  I think not; no, not enough tornadoes for everyone.  Why, a fella or a gal might live to be ninety-nine in Texas and never see, or hear, a tornado, at least not “up close and personal” as some like to say.  It’s true most folk want to avoid that type of encounter.

The topic brings to memory a story about a Kansas girl swooshed up in a tornado to the land of Oz.  Oz was L. Frank Baum’s fantasiacal, allegorical double for the Good ‘Ol U.S.A., and the Emerald City for Washington, D.C., the enchanted capital where the Yellow Brick Road ended.  I refrain from recapitulating the adventures of Dorothy and her companions in Oz, and her disenchantment upon learning that the Wizard of Oz was just a man like any other.  Baum’s Wizard stood in for the Gilded Age American presidents, according to one interpretation.  I agree with it.

We have a love-hate relationship with our capital and the doings in the Capitol chambers, the presidential and congressional politics, and the profound weight of bureaucracy in service to our Republic.  Asked how much of the bureaucracy we would like to keep, we would have to admit that much of it seems to meet more than a few of our needs. And asked whether we would do away with our government, we might pause long enough to ask how we could replace it. We will settle for improvements.  And we will accept that our government is as humanly limited as any other institution, it’s just bigger.

From the founding of our republic, indeed before that, presidents, congressmen, civil servants, students, interns and others have come to the point in life’s journey when they know it is time to “go home,” to “come home.”  Their work is done, able to do no more, they leave what is yet to be done to others.

Dorothy, once delivered to OZ by tornado, finds her way home (after having helped others out in her sweet, Kansasy-American way) by clicking her silver shoes together (in Baum’s reference to the Silver Crusade of the late 180os).  In the cinematic version, her heart’s deepest desire does the real work while she clicks the heels of her ruby red slippers together; no balloon ride for her!  She wakens as from a dream and finds herself at home, among her loved ones.

Such is the allure of the Emerald City, but no match for the allure of home.  It cannot replace the thousands of other places that Americans call “home.” Yes, Dear One, Jen, there’s no place like home.  Home is where one’s “people” are.  That being so, the real question becomes who one’s people are, and the where can become secondary.  That’s more the truth among us Americans wherever we land in the world.  Or, as is the case, wherever  the peoples of the world land among us!  At the end of it all, we are all sojourners in far countries.  We may not actually be far from home, for even our home can be for someone else a foreign land, a far country.

In reflection on Jim and Cathy’s experiences lately, I have been reminded that our own communities hold and keep great distances between individuals.  Economic status, religious groupings, social identity, ethnicity, in-group traditions and settled attitudes make it seem as though our neighbors live great distances apart from us, and we from them.  There are all kinds of distances. Some of them we should be impatient to do away with; it should not be that way among all us locals.  These kinds of things make it hard to feel right at home.  What could be more important than that?

Legacy with Legs — A McFarlin Story

The comments below are “borrowed” without permission, but it is on a semipublic blog at CaringBridge and is worth sharing.  Randy McFarlin last week was released from ICU (from November 28 and the car crash) and is in onsite rehab at East Texas Medical Center, Tyler, Texas.  He is a career teacher and presently head football coach at Whitehouse High School.  Our daughter-in-law, Crystal, recently posted this observation about her father:

Lesson #4 from ICU: Legacies with Legs

Wherever a football coach goes, he leaves a papertrail: wins and losses, offers or championships, the numbers tell the story of a season.  Sometimes the paper trail makes him a hero, and sometimes it runs him out of town.  When others measure the quality of a football coach, his wins and losses lead the way. 

Over the past 6 weeks, we have had the privilege of seeing not the paper trail, but the people trail that my dad has left behind in 30 years of coaching.  Men and women that he has known and cared for at every stage of his career have called, visited, and left messages for my dad.  This is not the legacy that will be printed in the paper.  This is not the legacy that prompts a promotion.  But this is the only legacy that reaches beyond his lifetime.  This is the legacy that lasts.

Now don’t get me wrong, when the final buzzer sounds, my dad wants to win the game.  But the way he plays, he already has.

His legacies have legs.