Juneteenth is an American Holiday!

Galveston, Texas, has from the time I was young has been a special place to me. My dad regularly took us to visit his father’s family in Galveston. Galveston held something of a magical, mythical place in my mind. Dad’s family came from Sicily, Italy, and Milos, Greece, in the late 1800 and early 1900s. Coming through the port of New Orleans, a port of immigration at the time second only to New York, the various families finally found their way to Galveston.

I knew about Galveston first-hand growing up spending time with my cousins, going crabbing or just playing on the beach. Oh, and there was that one time when my Maw Maw’s keys got locked in her VW Beetle on the beach in Galveston while the tide was rolling in. So, on Galveston beach I learned the importance of being able to unlock a car with a coat hanger. Of course, I loved Glenn Campbell’s hit song “Galveston” about a solider off at war dreaming of his home and love in Galveston. Like the solider in the song, “I still hear [the] sea waves crashing” in my mind.

I also know a bit about the history of Galveston and that those sea waves crash against a seawall that was constructed after the Great Strom of 1900 that decimated Galveston. In 1900, Galveston was home to many affluent citizens and was a popular up-scale vacation destination. But a hurricane made landfall on September 8, 1900. The death toll for the hurricane numbered in the thousands, but they could not be buried because the land was saturated from the flooding. Burial at sea was attempted. But the bodies floated back in on the tide. Eventually as this became a public health crisis, martial law was declared and men at gunpoint were forced to burn the decaying bodies of family, friends, and strangers. According to my dad’s cousin Benjamin Franklin Biannos, Mitchell Biannos, who was his grandfather and my dad’s great-grandfather, was among those who were required to under take this horrific task.

From Louis Ciaccio, another of my dad’s cousins, I know a more lighthearted story about the family’s “store on three corners.” It was a store run by Louis’ father Vincent with the help of my dad’s Uncle Nick, who was a young man at the time. The building that it occupied was physically moved three different times to three different locations on Galveston island. I know where my dad went to school at Stephen F. Foster Junior High in Galveston. I know where my precious Aunt Catty Mencacci lived just a few blocks from the beach. Though the last time I saw her I was young, I still remember her standing in the yard waving goodbye to us as I suppressed the urge to run back and hug her one more time. In fact, one of my few regrets in life is not running back for the one last hug.   

Another though different type of regret is that as much as I romanticize, love, and know about Galveston, until a few years ago I did not know about Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery initiated by African Americans in Galveston on June 19, 1866. To be fair, a “few years ago” in my convoluted memory could be two years or two decades. But even if it is two decades ago, that is still late in life for me to learn about such a significant event, not just in the history of Galveston, but in the history of my country. I have been a history buff (OK, geek) since I was a kid. I remember much from my history classes. But I absolutely have no memory of Juneteenth being mentioned in elementary, high school, or even college.

Though it should have been recognized long before, Juneteenth is now an official American holiday, and rightfully so. It is a day that we – collectively – recall that what was wrong with America began at long last to be put right. I am not a fan of many of President Binden’s policies. But I applaud him, the Senate, and all but fourteen members of the House of Representatives for making Juneteenth a national holiday as of June 2021.

For those who do not know, here is a brief history of the date. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation  (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/299998), a wartime executive order, declared that effective January 1, 1863, slaves were free in the states in rebellion against the Union. The eventual military defeat of the armed forces of the Confederacy enforced this act battle by battle and mile by mile. Texas, the most remote extent of the Confederacy, was last to give way to Union advance. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order No. 3 (https://catalog.archives.gov/id/182778372) that announced the end of slavery in accordance with the provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation.  

But slavery still legally existed in a few states that had not seceded from the Union, and slavery ultimately could have been reestablished across the South. However, the ratification of Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865, declared slavery at an end in America. Then, on June 19, 1866, the anniversary of Granger’s General Order No. 3, African Americans in Galveston publicly celebrated the end of slavery on what they called Jubilee Day. (The term Jubilee, of course, was taken from the Old Testament of the Bible as it was the year that Jehovah commanded the enslaved in Israel were to be set free.)   

I do not care whose granddaddy owned slaves and whose granddaddy did not. The fact is slavery is America’s original sin. As a nation we were born with this deformity. The Declaration of Independence‘s lofty ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” stand in stark contrast to the Constitution’s measurement of slaves as “three-fifths” of a person. This stain on the soul of our nation was excised only by the sufferings of generations of our brothers and sisters held in bondage and by the blood of hundreds of thousands in the American Civil War (as if any war could be civil). At great cost this was accomplished. Then should not we – regardless of race or creed or political inclination – exult in this together as one people. 

No, we have not arrived. There is much yet that can be done. Yes, we are very divided. We are divided on what to do and how to do it. But on this date, let us as Americans all celebrate, not what has not been accomplished, but rather what has been. On June 20th, we can again debate a host of things. But today is a day of remembrance, a day of Jubilee, a day of celebrating the end of the enslavement of one group of Americans by another.

Juneteenth is an American holiday!

I watched history today with my children. (January 20, 2009)

This is a social media post I made in January 20, 2009. With the exception of a few grammatical corrections, it is exactly the post I made at the time. This many years later, I’m sad at the division instead of unity in my country. Step back in time with me.

*******

Nothing I say below is necessarily eloquent or different from what millions of other Americans are thinking, saying, and blogging. But maybe that’s the point, we as Americans have the right and even the responsibility to speak. On this so very significant moment in American history, I feel the need to engage in this conversation.

I watched history today with my children, along with more Americans than had ever watched a Presidential inauguration in person and via all forms of mass communication. This alone was historic. Beyond that, on the platform were only the second father and son Presidents. Of course, the obvious reason so many were watching, not only was the son of an immigrant being sworn in as the 44th President, but Barak Obama was our first African-American President.

I say “our” President, yours and mine alike. He was not my candidate, but he is my President. I smiled with him as he and Justice Roberts got out of sink during the swearing in. It was poetic. I could see the excitement and restrained nervous anticipation in his face as this happened. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly acceptable. It added just that touch of humanity, flawed and imperfect, amongst all of the practiced precision of the military honors afforded the outgoing and incoming administrations.

I was opposed to him during the election because of his politics, not his skin. But I, like many of his supports, must confess a sense of … well, of I’m not sure what, a mixture of emotions. Tomorrow, or maybe next week, I’ll do battle with his political ideas, I’m sure. But today, I celebrate a fuller meaning of “we the people” than ever before in America’s history.

So many commentators said it today that it may begin to sound passé, but it is true, nonetheless, only in America could we watch and celebrate today’s events, the peaceful, and in fact, gracious transfer of power of arguably the most powerful nation in history. This alone is amazing enough that it should cause us to stand in awe, let alone witness the inauguration of a man, as President Obama pointed out, whose father would not have been served at a lunch counter in the city because of the color of his skin. But today we as a people – not a race, not an ethnicity – but a people created by an idea that “all men are created equal” turned a page in our collective history.

In 1903, W. E. B. du Bois declared that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”  Another historic thing about today is that we are facing a financial crisis that if left unchecked could rival that of the Great Depression. So, I hope that we in the Twentieth-first Century have solved, or at least greatly addressed, “the problem of the color-line” because we have many problems facing us in this century.

As I write this, Denzel Washington is announcing the President as they enter The Neighborhood Ball in Washington, D.C., tonight. I’m watching the ball with my daughter and son. I’ve discussed with them that skin doesn’t matter; rather, it’s the person’s character. Maybe their kids won’t even have to have that discussion.

As I said, tomorrow or sometime soon I’m going to have an argument with my President. But, he’s my President. He works for me now, even if I didn’t hire him. I guess it’s OK to argue. After all, it’s all in the family. But tonight I’m going to enjoy the parties and the celebrations and being an American.  

How much polish does God’s altar need?

During the initial stay-at-home orders associated with the COVID outbreak, there were a number of things that went around social media “to keep us busy.” Now that my college is fully virtual for the foreseeable future, believe me, I’m busy! Teaching online takes lots more time. But I digress. One of the activities keeping me busy at the time was the twenty-day music challenge. The idea was to post one album cover per day for twenty days. Each album cover was from an album that was significant to me. So the twenty-day music challenge had me digging into some music deep in my memory and record bin. I even pulled my vinyl out of storage. But replaying some of the albums, I returned not just with nostalgia but a more seasoned musical ear. It was interesting and enlightening.

Since much of my musical life was in church music, I returned, hopefully, with a more mature theology also. My son, who is interested in church music, and I often discuss current songs, their musicality or lack thereof and their theology. I had those same conversations internally also as I returned to the music of my youth. (Stop laughing, yes, I was young once.)

I hear now the nuance and ever so slight deviation from Biblical truth in well-framed and well-intended songs that I grew up listening to. Now to be fair, song lyrics are often analogy or glosses of scripture. So it isn’t fair to overly criticize them. (And I split the infinitive on purpose – This is English, not Latin). Gross error cannot be ignored, but near misses may be the nature of encapsulating a message in a pop song genre or even a hymn, though hymns generally do a better job.

On the other hand, error, even slight, for the sake of art would not have passed muster with our American (OK, English transplant) Puritan forebears in their Bay Psalm Book who for the sake of truth over artistry boldly proclaimed that “God’s altar needs not our polishing.” While a caricature of the Puritans is that of backward and ill-educated, in fact, many were well-educated, enough so to take on a translation of scriptures from Greek and Hebrew to create songs for their new home in America. But they refused to sacrifice doctrinal purity for the sake of meter or rhyme.

So what’s my point?

Lots of things, including we old timers need to get the musical log out of our own eye before we criticize the youngsters… although our music was clearly better.

But more importantly for believers, if you’re getting your theology from your songs, you’re courting disaster. Read the Word, search it, study it, know it, and “hide it your heart.” Why hide it in your heart?

That’s an allusion to a passage of scripture. Look it up! Then go back to singing, but not before.

English Garden – Well, Maybe Not

There is nothing like Facebook to provide a forum for arguing with someone on the other side of the country or the world whom you will never meet in person.

My interests are varied: history, writing, music, and gardening. I’m a member of a number of Facebook discussion groups corresponding to my interests. In these groups, we have cordial and sometimes spirited discussions. But akin to those whom Stravinsky referred to as “arbiters of cultural taste,” there are some group members who believe it their job to correct the manners, politics, or in this case spelling, of absolute strangers. Normally I keep scrolling. Today my better angels did not prevail. I knew my response would be deleted by the administrator of the gardening group, as it eventually was, yet I could not resist the temptation for a tête-à-tête. (Yes, I know that technically a public post is not a tête-à-tête. But doesn’t it sound cool… and pompous.)

Let the snark begin!

The following is my sardonic critique for the group member who felt a need, in her words, to provide “this week’s lesson in English,” as she explained how to spell tomato and potato. (It’s not like Dan Quail is in the group.)

i no sum people dont no grammer as good as other’s. Butt i wood jest ruther leaf things along then other’s think im been a no it awl. 

Indubitably, the essential quality and nature of the English language is ne’er strained by one’s use of dialect, non-standard spelling, grammatical faux pas, or the garden-variety typo. 

I have a freaking PhD, but my great grandmother could garden circles around me. So there’s also that.

And that, gentle reader, is your life lesson for the day. You’re welcome.

Y’all come back now, ya hear.

From Lexington and Concord to Bagdad, thank you.

I can stand on the courthouse steps and criticize my government or gather with fellow believers and worship God openly without fear because from Lexington and Concord, to Fort McHenry, to Belleau Wood, to Iwo Jima, to Chosin, to Bagdad, and in thousands of other battles, large and small, for more than 200 years soldiers have put on American military uniforms and all too often have given their lives. Thank you!

Banana Heads

I enjoy cooking, and since I’ve been sheltering in place because of the threat of COVID-19 on every door handle and shopping cart, I’ve had more than enough time to cook. Throwing a handful of raisins into the sauce today, my mid drifted back to my undergraduate days. (Don’t be shocked at the raisins. They balance the acid and bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.)

My first degree was in music from Jacksonville State in the middle of rural Alabama. Ironically, it was there in the foothills of the Appalachians of all places, I met a petite Italian (Sicilian)-American, Mr. Giovanni Maltese, who has remained special in my memory. He taught music appreciation, music literature, and class strings. He was a particular pleasure to be around, though if you talked during class he would keep you in line by admonishing, “Shut up, you bunch of banana heads, and listen to the damn music.”

Beyond his passion for music, one of the things that endeared him to me was how he welcomed his students into his home. As with the Maltese family, my dad’s family came from Sicily. Dad tells stories from his childhood of his father cooking spaghetti sauce overnight and of big family lunches on Sundays at Aunt Katti’s after she had spent half the night cooking. In similar family style, Mr. Maltese invited his classes to his home at the end of each term.

The memory of an evening at his home, as one friend said, is like a dream now, just yesterday and yet forever ago at the same time. That night his students arrived to find several small tables set around. Sauce was simmering. The smell, oh, the smell. He placed the sauce and pasta on the tables, along with bowls containing various meats. We sat. He bowed his head and offered thanks. As the meal began, he lamented “a rude student” who some years before had wandered around “looking for God under the tables” after grace. Then I tasted his sauce for the first time, biting down on a raisin plumped with sauce. Ever since, raisins have been in my own sauces. Beyond this, the details of that evening fade to shadow, except for the feeling of welcome and home that permeated the evening and has followed me for forty years.

A few years ago before Mr. Maltese passed away at the age of 95, I contacted his son John for the recipe that I recall enjoying around the table, after thanking God for the meal of course.  

I share the recipe below and hope you enjoy it, as well as the love of family and friends around the table again soon. I pray we will recall how being apart from each other felt and allow that to make each meal and each moment all the more special. I think Mr. Maltese would agree, and I think he would also remind you to thank God for your meal… and your health.   

In John’s words and shared with his permission, here is the sauce that Mr. Giovanni Maltese learned from his mom from Trapani, Sicily.

It’s very easy. Use cans of tomato paste (two cans of water per can of paste) as the base. I usually add a can of tomato puree. You can make as much or as little as you like, but if you add a lot of meat, you’ll need a fair amount of sauce (for this pot I used 16 ounce cans of paste – remember to add the two cans of water per can of paste) and one 28 ounce can of puree. That’s quite a bit of sauce, but I’m cooking for a lot of people, and I want leftovers (the sauce freezes well). Simmer. Peel a couple of large onions and add 8-12 cloves of garlic (leave them whole) and brown them in olive oil and add them to the sauce. Then brown some sweet Italian sausage and add it. I do the meatballs by feel: ground beef, Italian bread crumbs, grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, lots of finely chopped garlic, parsley, pepper, garlic salt, and enough eggs so that the meat won’t fall apart. Brown the meatballs and add them to the sauce. Sometimes I add breaded chicken or veal cutlets (also browned in olive oil before being added), pork chops, even chopped zucchini. Add a couple handfuls of raisins. Simmer over low heat for about three hours. It tastes best if you refrigerate it overnight and simmer it again for about an hour or so the next day before serving. Believe it or not, there’s no other seasoning – the garlic, onions, and meat add plenty of flavor. Mangia!

Forsake Not Assembling Together, especially if there are pork chops with gravy

I had lunch today with a long-time friend who had come up because of the death of another Christian brother. As we broke bread, actually chips and salsa, I shared some thoughts that had been running through my head for several months regarding “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (sorry, I think in KJV). Of course, the current situation with the COVID virus and prohibitions on public gatherings has sparked more than one social media conflagration about whether churches should hold services or not. And I’ll sheepishly confess I have been caught up in the machinations, going so saw far as to use the term whack-a-doodle. Yeah, that was mature of me. Anyway….

My thoughts really have little or nothing to do with whether my local congregation will hold worship services this Sunday or next. Instead, they go back to an article I read by a minister some months ago. In it, he discusses Hebrews 10:25. He commented that even when he took his family on vacation he made sure that they were in a worship service somewhere. While there is nothing wrong with this, I’m not convinced that’s exactly what the writer of Hebrews had in mind.  

I attend worship services weekly at my local church. We have numbers of gifted teachers who spend hours in preparation for their classes and deliver lessons that uplift and edify. My pastor’s sermons are biblically sound, culturally relevant, and frequently entertaining. The music pastor and his wife are the most musically gifted couple I have ever met, and they lead a choir and band that I would stack up against anyone. The services are powerful and moving. But for me, the most spiritually nourishing time, if you’ll pardon the pun, is the fellowship supper we share on Wednesday evenings.

Turning to scripture for a moment, consider the Acts 2:46 description of the gatherings of the first believers. They met daily at the Temple, probably observing the Jewish times of prayer, and in homes sharing meals with gladness. Far from the austere stereotype many have of believers, these first century brothers and sisters delighted in each other’s company.  This, likewise, is how I delight in the Wednesday evening fellowship suppers.  

I like seeing Michelle’s beautiful and welcoming smile when my kiddos and I walk in.

I enjoy verbal jousting with Wayne, the guy who keeps the kitchen humming. His dad Marvin and my grandfather were friends. In fact, his dad was instrumental in my grandfather hearing and responding to the gospel. Rita, his sister-in-law, and Pam work the serving window. Pam’s daughter Autumn was my work study when she was eighteen or nineteen. She was and is THE gold standard for being a conscientious young adult. This year I had her daughter in one of my college classes. She is a sweetheart like her mom.

I enjoy chatting with Lisa. We’ve known each other for about ever. Her dad was a minister with my dad. Back in the day, I served with her late husband as his music pastor. Our sons are about the same age and friends. We share memories, the struggles of single parenting, and hopes for our children’s futures over loaded baked potatoes or meatloaf.

I’ve known Johnathan, our young adult pastor, his entire life. His dad and my Uncle Allen were extremely close growing up, and over the last four years, Johnathan and I have grown close.  He’s my accountability partner. Since I am a single adult Christian, I hold myself accountable to him, and he inserts humor when he checks on me. His wife Tammie is mission focused! I like to pick at her, telling her that she’s one of only two people in this world I’m afraid of. (My Aunt Susie is the other.)

I enjoy chatting with David, a new friend, who should have his own food-on-the-go blog. The man knows food and how to enjoy life! He knows sorrow, too, a type of sorrow we share.  

Finally, my pastor and his wife eat with the congregation. He’s not a celebrity; he’s one of us.

Lest it seem I’m viewing life through stained glass colored lenses, I’m not buds with everyone. Sometimes we have disagreements. (Remember my whack-a-doodle comment. Yes, I’ve repented for it.) We may disagree, but we’re still family. We love each other, even when we don’t like each other so much.

THIS is “assembling together.” This is communion and community. This is where iron sharpens iron. It is also where wounds are bound and healing takes place. This is where we share our joys and sorrows.

Though it is important to spend time together in corporate worship expression, it is equally and maybe more important to share our lives intimately with each other, to strengthen and support each other, “especially as the Day approaches.”

Oh and yeah, pork chops with gravy are my favorite.

To Sing or Not to Sing: A Theological Conundrum

My son Nick is graduating high school and looking toward college and career. While he is not likely to go into music as a vocation, he is considering taking music classes and using his musical talent in church music. He’s already active in our local church’s music ministry and is musically gifted…. plus he practices, which is vital. But, that’s a conversation for another day.  Anyway, we have been having discussions about appropriateness of music, lyrics, etc., for different worship settings. Those conversations with my son have me reflecting on an event in a church service from a few years back.

When working on my master’s degree in music at Samford University, I took a course in its Beeson Divinity School. I was required to take two courses outside of the school of music. I chose an education course, a mistake, and a religion class with the head of the school and a fantastic instructor, Dr. Timothy George. In one of the classes, he recounted how in seminary as a student he noted that in chapel professors would not sing on certain verses of hymns because they disagreed theologically with the content of the verse. As an aside, this says something about hymns. Hymns, true hymns, are traditionally storehouses chocked full of theological “stuff,” which is one reason among many that I bemoan that my church tradition actually sang few historic hymns of the church and why I fret that even those churches that once included them have begun to drop their hymns by the wayside. But this is not about my regret at the dearth of hymns. It is, however, about bad theology set to catchy tunes.

A few years back I found myself in a church service where Dr. George’s anecdote came home to me in a visceral way. As I was participating in the congregational singing, the worship leader led a song that troubled me. Two things stood out. For one, it used the first person pronoun I ten times in the chorus. (Now, to be fair, it was a contemporary praise chorus, so it’s not like it had that many different words in it anyway). Still, as the song progressed I found myself unable to join in singing, not unlike those seminary professors who found themselves faced with a theological impasse. I could not go forward. I would not sing the lyrics.

Two things about the lyrics troubled me. First, the emphasis on I seemed at odds with the idea that we were engaged in corporate worship. Of course, I understand that individually we must have a relationship with Christ. But the emphasis was not about an individual relationship with Christ but sounded more about me… my… mine. This was reinforced, not only by the profusion of first person pronouns, but by the remainder of the lyrics.

My son, fifteen years old at the time, was in the same service. After church, he said something about how the song bothered him because of the emphasis on being so blessed and blessed every day and everyway sounded to him too much like Joel Osteen (his words, not mine). It was very much a sentiment that “I’m a winner. No worries. It’s all going to be rainbows and sunshine.” I cannot help but wonder why no one has set Romans 8:36 to music for a contemporary praise chorus: “For your sake we are killed every day, and we are accounted as sheep for slaughter.” (For the record, Romans 8:36 quotes Psalm 44:22, so it has been set to music at least once by our ancient Jewish forebears.)

I have to wonder, where is our sense of sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the gospel? How would our brothers and sisters facing persecution and martyrdom at the hands of Islamic extremists in the Middle East or at the hands of a communist government in China respond to the I-I-I-am-blessed-and-blessed-the-best songs that we glibly sing? Or what of Hus, Polycarp, or the Apostle Paul? What would they who willingly laid down their lives say about our we-are-all-winners-everyday theology?

I wonder if they would sing along or remain mute.

Ten Tips for Moving to Online Instruction with Short Notice

With school closings from elementary through university across the country as a response to COVID-19, many are opting to use online learning options and often doing so on short notice and with limited experience in online instruction. I don’t mean to be presumptuous with this blog. I don’t claim to be an expert. But since I teach online and face-to-face classes, I’ve been contacted by friends who are new to online instruction and are having a baptism of fire. Here are a few tips I put together. This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is a good start for those moving to online instruction on short notice.

I keep an ancillary page for all of my face-to-face classes. I seldom use it for instruction. Still, it is great to hang handouts in, etc. However, it can quickly be turned into an instruction page, for example, when I have to attend a conference or go to an offsite meeting or am out sick. So that’s a good idea for the future.

For now, KISS. Keep it simple, except none of you are stupid.

Your institution likely has an adopted online learning management system and a basic template for it. Find out and use it. If not, there are free versions such as Moodle, which happens to be one I’ve used.

1. First, communication is paramount. Decide how you will communicate and announce this to your students repeatedly. (You know why.) Use it frequently. This reinforces and reassures. Also, post contact information prominently. Communication is half the battle.

2. Put all important documents and handouts in one folder/module/unit, even if you duplicate in other instruction areas.

3. Take some time and decide how best to organize your instruction. Then construct folders/modules/units for each topic or lesson in whatever online platform your school uses. REMEMBER TO MAKE CONTENT PUBLIC/VISIBLE.  But don’t go for whistles and bells at this juncture. Make life easy for your students and yourself.

4. Make SHORT instruction video/audio recording with free software. I use Screencast-O-Matic. But there are several. Divide your lecture/discussions into 10 minute or shorter snippets. (Shorter snippets work well in live instruction also, but that’s a pedagogical discussion for another day.)

5.  Use free stuff like Screencast-O-Matic, Skype, Freeconferencecall.com, Zoom. Also, most major publishers are opening up their online resources for free. Yes, it’s a way for them to show off their wares, but so what. Use it. Contact your local rep for more info. And there are lots of open access resources, Youtubes, etc. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use a free one.

6. Devise alternative forms of assessment. A scantron test shouldn’t be the only method you’re using anyway. Be creative. There are lots of ways to determine if your students are learning.   

7. Finally, be patient. Reassure your students. Many of them are panicking. Also, others think it’s a vacation, so get their attention.

8.  Social media might also be a valid part of your online plan. If you decide to utilize social media, however, be cautious of privacy issues.

9. Move forward without panic. You’ve got this. You’re a professional. You’re going to be fine.

10. I couldn’t really think of a tenth tip, so I’ll just add wash your hands frequently and sanitize your keyboard. That’s good advice anytime.

L’Dor V’Dor

I was at the college recently chatting with my colleague Jimmy and his English class. I don’t recall the specifics, but he commented something jokingly to the class about Dr. Rizzo’s great-great grandfather. Knowing I’m something of a family historian, he confessed he was trying to stump me. So I rattled off about two hundred fifty years of one of my family lines: my father Fredrick “Bucky” Rizzo, his dad Fred, his Nicolo, his Matteo, his yet another Nicolo, and his yet another Matteo, and finally back to the 1700s to Calogero Rezza in Contessa Entellina, a small village in the mountains of Sicily that was settled in the mid 1400s by Albanian refugees fleeing Islamic armies. (Like I said, I’m the family historian.)

But the significance of generations struck me in a different way last Sunday when I saw two smiling faces singing during the altar service.

My pastor, Victor Massey, had preached from the book of Ruth. (Incidentally, if you’ve never heard my pastor preach, you should. He’s good.) In the closing of his sermon, he referenced Ruth 4:21 & 22: “And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.”

The David mentioned is King David, who was the first king of Israel and the ancestor of Jesus. But there’s much more to unpack. Salmon’s wife was Rahab, the woman who hid the Israelite spies in Jericho and in doing so saved herself and her family. Of course, Ruth was the wife of Boaz. She was a Moabite, descended from the incestuous relationship of Lot and one of his daughters, yet because of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law after her father-in-law and husband died, she ultimately became the wife of Boaz. Both women, who otherwise were outside of the covenant between God and Israel, nonetheless, became ancestors of Jesus the Messiah. Their actions not only affected their lives, but their families and successive generations.

L’dor V’dor  is the Hebrew term that translates “generation to generation.” As Pastor Massey expounded on the passage, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of generation to generation, particularly as I noticed those two smiling faces singing together. The two smiling faces belonged to my son Nick and my cousin’s daughter Ashlyn. Both Nick and Ashlyn do, indeed, have beautiful smiles. Both have also dedicated their lives to serving the Lord, leading worship in song each week at the Sumiton Church of God. In that moment in my mind’s eye, however, I saw not only their smiles but envisioned the generations that came before, all a part of this one congregation.

Nick and Ashlyn share great-great grandparents Travis and Gladys Burton, who were members of the Sumiton Church and served faithfully some seventy plus years ago, which is a conservable part of the congregation’s history of just under one hundred years. Counting Ashlyn’s beautiful kiddos, there are now six generations of my family who have been part of this congregation – L’dor V’dor! Of course, you can’t bequeath salvation like you can a farm or a car. Still, it is each generation’s responsibility to pass on the faith, to live an example, to teach the scripture, from generation to generation.

What would have happened if one generation had failed in the charge? That’s something, frankly, I don’t want to think about because the potential consequences are too disconcerting. At the risk of invoking syrupy echoes of “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” I cannot emphasize too much how this is a charge that is our responsibility to the next generation, whether family or friend.

So from Boaz, to Obed, to Jesse, to David…

Or the Apostle John, to Polycarp, to Irenaeus…

Or from Travis and Gladys, to my Grandfather Buel and his brother Lowell, to my mother and her cousin June, to my cousin Kevin and me, to our children and grandchildren and generations to come…

L’dor V’dor!