The Nobel Prize

A man driving down a country road spotted a farmer standing in the middle of a huge field of grass. Sensing something was wrong, he pulled the car over to the side of the road. As he watched, the farmer just stood there doing nothing and looking at nothing. 

Curiosity got the better of the motorist and he climbed from his car and approached the idle man. “Ah, excuse me mister, but is something wrong?”

“No, no,” replied the farmer, “I’m fine. I’m just trying to win a Nobel Prize.”

“You are?” asked the puzzled motorist. “But how?”

“Well, I heard they give the Nobel Prize . . . to people who are out standing in their field.” 

(If you were expecting my humor to get better, I’m sorry to disappoint.)

It’s true that few of us will ever win a Nobel Prize. But that’s okay, because being the world’s best is not the point. Let me ask a different kind of question.

According to John Gardner, founding chairman of Common Cause, one cheerful old man asks a fascinating question of just about everybody he meets for the first time. Once they exchange names and they get to the part where one is sure to ask the other where they work or what they do for a living, he turns the conversation in a different direction. He asks his new acquaintance an unusual question. He asks a big question – an important one. He asks, “What have you done that you believe in and you are proud of?” 

The question is direct and a little unsettling. It is not as easy to answer as, “What do you do for a living?” It requires some thought. When asked why he likes to pose that question, the old man responds that he doesn’t care how they answer. He just wants to put the thought into their minds. He thinks everyone should live their lives in such a way that they can have a good answer.

“What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?” 

As I search for an answer, my mind goes first to family. We’ve raised healthy and productive children who want to make this world a better place. Not that I’ve been a model parent – far from it. But I’m proud of them. I also believe in the life my spouse and I have tried to put together with one another. We both chose to work hard on our relationship from the beginning.

What else have I done that I believe in and I’m proud of? Several things, I hope. But one especially is the creation of Life Support System. For me it’s always been about reaching out, and I’m gratified when others in our Life Support System family write and tell me how it has made a difference. In a small way I think we’re helping to bring the world together.

How would you answer that intriguing question? It may not be a big thing. Perhaps it’s something that nobody but you cares about. But it cost you somehow … you’re invested in it. You probably will never be awarded a Nobel Prize for your accomplishment, but it was important enough to do.

I think this can be one of the most powerful questions we can ever ask ourselves. It causes us to look deep inside and, like the old man says, prompts us to live our lives in such a way that we can have a good answer.

Now it’s your turn. You may want to close your eyes and give it some thought. “What have you done that you believe in and are proud of?”

Grace and Peace

I Dream A World

Poet: Langston Hughes

In honor of John Lewis I wanted to add this poem recited today by John’s 91 year old professor Reverend Doctor James Lawson.

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Ole Ebenezer

A Buddhist monk strode into a Zen pizza parlor and said, “Make me one with everything.” The proprietor appreciated the Zen humor and, when the monk paid with $20 bill, the guy pocketed it.  

“Hey,” asked the monk, “where’s my change?” 

“Change,” replied the owner inscrutably, “must come from within.”

And it’s true: we can wait for things to change or we can change ourselves. One way rarely works while the other rarely fails.

I have a friend who used to teach literature to high school students. He once told me how maligned the name of Ebenezer Scrooge has become. “Dickens never meant for Scrooge to be a villain,” he once said, speaking of Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol.” Yes, Scrooge was a miser and disliked by pretty much everybody. But my friend reminds me that the story doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end with Scrooge dying a miserable and lonely death. The point of the story is that Scrooge WAKES UP. After the restless night of ghost visitations, he wakes up and decides that things truly can be different. He can choose to be compassionate, generous and happy. He understands that he can behave toward others in a different way. He can look at things differently. His miserable past does not need to determine his future. His life story illustrates the words of George Elliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” 

“To this day,” my friend says, “the name of Scrooge is synonymous with somebody stingy and selfish when it should be just the opposite. Scrooge woke up and made different decisions. He lived the rest of his life a model of generosity and joy and goodwill toward all. Nobody ever “kept Christmas,” Dickens tells us, like Ebenezer Scrooge.

I regularly remind myself that it is not too late to be what I might have been. And I’m learning that anything can happen…when I wake up and make different decisions.

Grace and Peace

Old Hickory – 30th Division U.S. Army WWII

Noah and Stephen Martin

My son and grandson have been a World War II re-enactor for several years now. The unit of his liking is the 30th Army Division who was a North Carolina National Guard unit serving in WWII from D-Day+3 through the end of the war.

The 30th Infantry Division was ‘nick-named’ after Andrew Jackson, who was a tough old Indian fighter and backwoodsman of the Revolutionary War era, and was consequently popularly called “Old Hickory”. Later, his decisive victory as Major General of the U.S. Forces in the Battle of New Orleans against the British, then, storming Pensacola (Florida), and driving the British permanently out of this area, gave him great national recognition and popularity.

Immediately after the purchase of Florida from Spain, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson was appointed the first Federal Territorial Governor of Florida, then went on to become a U.S. Senator in 1823, and then became the 7th President of the United States, including Florida in 1828, and was re-elected again in 1832.

The 30th Division was created on July 18, 1917, and was formally activated into Federal service in August 1917 at Camp Sevier, South Carolina, and was composed of National Guard units from North and South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Division was named after the famed and illustrious soldier and President, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, who was born near the North/South Carolina border, and rising to fame in Tennessee, where he provided some regional flavor to the tightly knit group of soldiers that he led there during the Indian Wars.

The Division’s logo is an obvious link to this heritage, being represented by an “O” and “H” with the Roman Numeral “XXX” in Royal Blue on a background of Scarlet Red in the center. During World War I, the shoulder patch (logo) was worn horizontally, which actually was the incorrect orientation, which was not discovered and corrected until the mid 1920’s.

The 30th Division served overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, and on 29 September 1918, distinguished itself in the Somme Offensive by smashing its way through the famed and so called impregnable ‘Hindenburg Line’, a victory that hastened the end of World War I. It also participated in the Battles of La Selle, St. Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne, and during these battles, its men were awarded twelve (12) Congressional Medals of Honor.

After World War I, the 30th Division was deactivated from Federal service and reverted back to its National Guard role in its respective States.

Again in September 1940, the 30th Infantry Division, composed of the National Guard troops of North & South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, was inducted into Federal service at Ft. Jackson, S.C., also named after Andrew Jackson. Here it spent over one year in organizing and preliminary training.

Later, the 30th Infantry Division received a major part of its advanced training at Camp Blanding, near Starke, Florida, to where it had been transferred in October of 1942, and remained there until the summer of 1943, after losing most of its trained Officers and Men to cadre new divisions throughout the country. After receiving replacements from nearly every State in the union, the Division continued its training during 1943 at Camp Blanding, Florida, Camp Forrest Tennessee and Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where it made its final preparations prior to moving overseas up until February of 1944.

Old Hickory Poster

On 12 February 1944, the 30th Infantry Division sailed for Europe, and settled on the south coast of England to participate in further training for the coming invasion of the Continent “at some time in the future”.

In June of 1944, after being fully trained and prepared for the greatest invasion of all times, the 30th Infantry Division started crossing the English Channel to France on 6 June, D-Day, to replace some of the units of the 29th Infantry Division which had become almost immediately lost during the initial attack of the invasion, and then the balance of the Division went into the beaches of Normandy, Omaha Beach on D plus 4, the 10th of June and up through the 15th, and was almost immediately committed into combat against the experienced German Army.

During combat, the 30th Infantry Division was known as the “Workhorse of the Western Front”. It was also familiarly known as “Roosevelt’s SS Troops”, so named by the German High Command because of the consistent vigor and terrific pressure the 30th Infantry Division brought to bear on Hitler’s ‘elite’ 1st SS Division. The German ‘elite’ 1st SS Division was the main force of resistance just prior to the breakthrough at St. LO, and again at Mortain, which the 30th Infantry Division literally tore to shreds, thereby allowing Gen. George Patton’s armored forces of the U.S. Third Army to go forward and race across France, thereby shortening the war by many months. The German 1st SS Division was then reorganized over the next few months, and was again faced by the 30th Infantry Division in the “Battle of the Bulge”, during the great Ardennes-Alsace Offensive, near Malmedy, Belgium, during the winter of 1944-45. Again the 30th Infantry Division tore to shreds this ‘elite’ enemy division, which was never again to return to battle.

The 30th Infantry Division was initially organized and engaged in its early training under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry D. Russell, followed by Maj. Gen. William Simpson, who later became the U.S. Ninth Army Commander, to which the 30th Infantry Division was attached. Later, the division spent the rest of its training days under the command of Maj. Gen. Leland S. Hobbs, and it remained under his command throughout the entire war, including the days when the link-up was made with the Russian Army at Magdeburg, Germany on the Elbe River in April of 1945.

Immediately following the end of the war, the 30th Infantry Division spent the next two months in Occupation on the border of Czechoslovakia and Germany.

Shortly after the end of their Occupation duties, in early August 1945, the 30th Infantry Division returned to the United States on the Queen Mary and the USS General Black, and was soon deactivated at Ft. Jackson, S.C. on 25 November 1945. Thus ended the illustrious service of the 30th Infantry Division in WWII.

Frank W. Towers © 1985

Pictures Below: 30th Div Shoulder Patch – General Leland Hobbs, Commanding General 30th Div – 30th Div troops march through Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge – Pvt. Paul Oglesby of the 30th Div stands before the altar of a damaged Catholic Church at Acorn, Italy, 23 Sept 1943 – Jeep at the Battle of the Bulge – 30th Div Malmedy Headquarters

This past Saturday, in Raleigh, NC, the 30th was finally recognized with the presentation of the Presidential Unit Citation for their battle at Mortain. We all need to pay a special tribute to all the folks who fought and died in battle during all wars… This year I wanted to remember those from our own state who served in the Big War… especially the ones my son seeks to emulate.

Salute to the Old Hickory – 30th Army Division for a job well done.

Grace and Peace

Learn To Love The Weeds

Are you ever frustrated with people you care about? Are you more frustrated because it seems as if they just won’t change?

A man tried everything he could think of to eradicate the weeds in his lawn. Finally, in desperation, he wrote to his local department of agriculture, asking advice and listing every method he had tried.

He received a reply back. It said, “We suggest you learn to love them!” The same could be said about marriage and friendship. We may feel exasperated by the faults and idiosyncrasies of others. We believe the relationship would be perfect if only they would change that annoying habit or correct that irritating behavior.

So we embark on a campaign to “get rid of the weeds” – to get someone we care about to change. We may nag and cajole and plead and bribe. And in the end, we feel frustrated because they are still the same.

The truth is, we cannot, and should not, attempt to eradicate the “weeds” we find in others’ lives. We can never change others. They can change, but we can’t change them. The will to change must come from within themselves. Rather, our task is simply to learn to love them, weeds and all.

Isn’t this the way we want them to treat us? And besides, like a lovely garden, they become more attractive to us when we are not focused on the weeds. We might even begin to enjoy them so much that we remember what drew us to them in the first place!

Grace and Peace


We live in an age of intolerance and extremism. 

Intolerance is an infectious social disease. It has always been prevalent and is usually spread by fear and misunderstanding. It can infect any kind of group and most any individual. Humorist Mark Twain noticed it in the religious communities of his daytime. He once said that he built a cage and put a cat and a dog in it. After a while they learned to get along. Then he added a bird, a goat and a pig. After some adjustments they, too, got along. Then he added a Baptist, a Presbyterian and a Catholic. Soon there was nothing left alive in the cage.

The disease of intolerance is not communicated only in religious groups. I’ve seen it infect racial groups, economic groups and even whole nations (where it is often cleverly disguised as patriotism). Intolerance always fences people out. It creates one group we call US. And the rest we call THEM. 

But intolerance can be cured. Let me give an example. An undated letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found in the archives of The King Center. It was written by a certain Jefferson Poland who spoke about his grandfather. Here is an excerpt of the letter and King’s reply:

Dear Rev. King:
     This is something I think you will want to know.
     A few weeks ago a man in Panama City, Florida, one Ross Mullin, sent you a poem which criticized prejudice.
     This man was my grandfather. He had been against Jews and Negroes almost all his life. When I had gotten thrown in jail for sit-ins, he had been shocked and angered. Finally, after some 60-odd years of hate, he grew to the point where he wrote you that poem. I had not had time to write him of my pride and joy before I got a telegram telling me he is dead….

Dr. King replied:

Dear Mr. Poland,
     This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of recent date. Your story was indeed moving. It is encouraging to know that it is possible to grow and change after a long heritage of prejudice. Certainly your participation contributed to this growth and understanding on the part of your grandfather….

His grandfather had been infected with the disease of intolerance. But his grandson showed him a different way and, to his credit, he was cured. As Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

There is a cure for intolerance. It requires learning a different way. A better way. The cure for intolerance is to recognize a fundamental truth about humanity: there is no US and THEM. The construct of US and THEM is entirely artificial. It is not real. There is only WE. One world. One people. One family. Only WE.

We can cure the disease of intolerance. We must do it if the world is to survive. 

No us. No them. Just we.

Grace and Peace

They Will Know Us By Our Love

Henry Drummond has said, “The moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”

Here is a story (possibly apocryphal, but powerful nevertheless) about a man who acted in the spirit of love and about what he consequently learned.

Many years ago an old man stood on a Virginia riverbank. He was waiting to cross the river and, since it was bitterly cold and there were no bridges, he was hoping to get a ride across on horseback. After a lengthy wait he spotted a group of horsemen approaching. He let the first one pass, then the second, third, fourth and fifth. One rider remained. As he drew abreast, the old man looked him in the eye and said, “Sir, would you give me a ride across the river?”

The rider immediately replied, “Certainly.” Once across the river, the old man slid to the ground. “Sir,” the rider said before leaving. “I could not help but notice that you permitted all the other men to pass without asking for a ride. Then, when I drew abreast, you immediately asked me to carry you across. I am curious as to why you didn’t ask them and you did ask me.”

The old man quietly responded, “I looked into their eyes and could see no love and knew in my own heart it would be useless to ask for a ride. But when I looked into your eyes, I saw compassion, love and the willingness to help. I knew you would be glad to give me a ride across the river.”

The rider was touched. “I’m grateful for what you are saying,” he said. “I appreciate it very much.” With that, Thomas Jefferson turned and rode off to the White House.

It is often said that our eyes are the windows to our souls. If that is true, what is it that our eyes show about us? Or let me ask it a different way: if you had been the last rider, would the old man have asked you for a ride?

A good question. For it is said that others will know us by our love. Some will see it in the things we do and some in the things we say. And a few perceptive souls, like the old man in the story, may catch a glimmer of a loving and generous spirit in the expression of kind eyes.

May we be easily recognized by our love.

Grace and Peace

Some of the Best Advice

“Let me give you some advice.” How often have we heard that? We sometimes ask the opinions of friends or experts, but I know that unsolicited advice is not something people appreciate much. Which is why it is sometimes said that free advice is worth about as much as you pay for it. Or put another way: “Plain advice is free. The right answer will cost plenty.” Personally, I want to always be open to advice, especially the advice I think I need it. And I’m careful about giving it, too. I know I’m not alone in this. American president Harry Truman once said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” At least that way your recommendation is followed.

One boy wrote in an essay on the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates: “Socrates was a man who went around town giving his advice and opinions, so…they poisoned him!” What this student lacks in historical accuracy he more than makes up for in his sense about how well most unsolicited advice is received. 

The problem is…what works well for one person may not fit someone else. Take the wisdom offered by American baseball player Leroy “Satchel” Paige. His rules on living might have been all right for him, but they don’t suit most of us. Here is his counsel. Take it or leave it.

“Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society.
The social ramble ain’t restful.
Avoid running at all times.
Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”

Don’t hear me say that all advice should be discarded. Not at all. Nor should we overlook wisdom from unlikely sources. Like the “uneducated.” Or those from a bygone era. I have learned so much from the children as well as the elderly. All people, I believe, have something good to offer… and they usually do it from their soul.

There is a faded letter clipped from a newspaper many years ago. The author published some counsel given him by his grandmother who had died some 60 years prior, and who had never attended school. She offered it printed on a slip of paper, accompanied by the words, “All the advice you’ll ever need to have a good life.” I find it worth remembering. This is what she wrote:
“Wash what is dirty.
Water what is dry.
Heal what is wounded.
Warm what is cold.
Guide what goes off the road.
Love people who are least lovable, because they need it most.”

There is lot of wisdom packed in those few words. And she said it best: “All the advice you’ll ever need to have a good life.” Do what needs to be done in the moment… wash, water, heal, warm, guide and love.

Grace and Peace

Real Beauty

Comic Phyllis Diller quipped that she once entered a beauty contest. “I not only came in last,” she said, “I was hit in the mouth by Miss Congeniality.”

Little Matthew watched, fascinated, as his mother, smoothed white cream on her face. 

“Why do you do that, Mom?”, he asked.

“To make myself beautiful,” she smiled. She then began to remove the cream with a tissue. 

“What’s the matter?” the little boy asked. “Giving up?”

What Matthew didn’t understand is that the cream has little to do with making his mother beautiful. Lasting beauty can’t be found in a squeeze bottle or cosmetics drawer.

Have you heard of Ed Feinhandler? Ed has proved many times that he is the world’s ugliest man. But others disagree because, the fact is, Ed has discovered a universal “beauty secret.”

Ed has won at least 15 Ugly Man competitions. According to the Daily Sparks Tribune (Sparks, Nevada USA), he drives a minivan with “Mr. Ugly” personalized license plates. Good looks were never important to him. But helping people always has been, and the thousands of dollars he has raised over the years from Ugly Man competitions he has donated to charity. In his spare time, Ed coaches youth sports, teaches tennis to underprivileged children and delivers Christmas baskets to the elderly. There’s nothing ugly about the way he lives his life.

To know Ed is to know a beautiful man whose real attractiveness comes from within. His secret is this: beauty has little to do with physical looks — it resides in the heart.

You, too, probably know some exquisitely beautiful people. I mean beautiful on the inside. They are kind and generous. They are happy and contented. You enjoy being around them. They may not necessarily look like much, but others see them as beautiful human beings.

When beauty lives in the heart, it doesn’t need to show up anywhere else.

Grace and Peace

Ripping The Mask Off America’s Version of Christianity

The evidence is in. The United States can finally abandon the pretense that it is a Christian nation. For most of us, this isn’t news. Since its inception, America has demonstrated many of the same strengths and character flaws as other colonial western nations.

But if COVID-19 has done anything, it’s revealed that the U.S. brand of Christianity doesn’t look anything like Jesus. 

Take up your cross… There’s a point in the gospels when Jesus reveals he’s going to die. Peter promptly rebukes him. After all, Jesus can’t die. They’ve put all their hope in him as the Messiah and they expect him to deliver them from Roman oppression. 

Jesus tells Peter to can it, but then follows it up with these words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25).

Christians sum up Jesus’ words here with the phrase “dying to self.” They love the term and use it often. But for the most part, it’s a poetic abstraction, a form of spiritual idealism. It’s a difficult conviction to hold when your cultural ethos focuses on your individual right to pursue happiness. 

In the Incarnation, Jesus laid aside his deity to identify with humanity (Philippians 2). And at Calvary, he laid down his human life to make reconciliation possible. In both actions—laying aside his deity and taking up his cross—he renounced his rights. 

In a culture and economy that operates on consumption and acquisition, it’s difficult to convince Christians to renounce anything. In fact, quite often when American Christians are asked to give up something for the sake of others, it’s interpreted as persecution. 

One doesn’t have to search hard for stories about churches who continued to meet against the recommendation of authorities, even when it put people at risk. 

Don’t tread on me… Christianity in America is so entangled with patriotism and exceptionalism. When asked to shelter in place, Christians don’t think it’s odd to deck themselves out in G.I. Joe cosplay complete with AR-15s to storm a government building and demand their rights. 

But at the same time, they’re unflinching in their support of authority being misused against others. 

When an unarmed black man or woman is shot and killed on camera, they instantly make excuses on behalf of authorities. That can look like trotting out an old mugshot to prove that person’s terrible character, or simply pointing out that they got themselves killed by not being obedient enough. 

But when asked to stay home, patriots have no problem grabbing their guns and defying orders. The mixture of Christianity and Americanism is a troubling tincture, enabling people to cite Romans 13 to get others to obey authority while they stock up weapons to fight off a potentially tyrannical government. 

Any religion that demands that others take up their cross while we take up our sword is not Christianity. 

Failing the mask test… It’s strange, but nothing reveals the rot at the center of American Christianity like the response people have had to wearing masks. It requires zero sacrifice to put a mask on—but that’s still too much of an ask for many Americans. 

Mask wearing is really the perfect litmus test for self-denial. It’s something we do for others. My mask protects you, and your mask protects me. It’s not only a legitimate way to stop the spread of germs, but it also communicates our care for others. 

So when a store like Costco or Trader Joe’s refuses to allow someone in without a mask, it’s to protect their employees (who aren’t getting paid what they deserve) and other shoppers. They’re asking people to take the health of others seriously. Because the choice not to wear a mask doesn’t communicate that you’re OK with getting sick; it communicates that you’re OK with getting others sick. 

It’s such a low bar for denying one’s self. And yet, there are people all over the country who refuse this small act of solidarity. Their discomfort and inconvenience is too big of an ask. 

Following Jesus requires sacrifice… Jesus asked us to take up our cross and follow him. Following him looks like self-sacrifice. He is our model and we are his followers insofar as we follow him.

I can imagine many American Christians reading this and saying, “Jesus chose to make a sacrifice. I’m being expected to. I should have the freedom to choose how to carry my cross.”

Let’s not forget that Jesus suffered the indignity of an unfair trial in a kangaroo court. The Sanhedrin was looking for any excuse to kill him. His life was taken from him. His attitude of self-sacrifice was a preparation for a final act of genuine sacrifice he was prepared to make–but it wasn’t like he walked into Pilate’s office, slammed three nails on the desk, and asked to be crucified. 

He was ready for the ultimate sacrifice, but he didn’t want it. He prayed for God to spare him this fate (Matthew 26:38-40). 

Following his example, every one of the disciples stoically endured horrible treatment from officials and their countrymen. But they had renounced the expectation to be treated fairly. They didn’t take up swords and demand their rights. They modeled themselves after their king. 

American Christianity makes salvation a personal commodity. It’s something you acquire through invocation–say the right prayer and you’re in. It places certain social and moral expectations on us, but it doesn’t infringe upon our liberty. No one can place expectations upon us. It’s an insurance policy we purchase that allows us to pursue the American dream without fear of our eternal future. 

We like to identify ourselves as a Christian nation, a city on a hill. But think about it a minute. What is it that separates America from every other nation on earth? We’ve become an epicenter for a disease that has killed more than 137,000 of our fellow citizens. And we’re the only country that would rather go to war with our local government to protect our individual freedom than make sacrifices for the greater good. 

I have told Shirley often in the last few years that it will take a catastrophic event to wake up America. It’s taken a pandemic to see the gulf between historic Christianity and its American counterpart. All it took was an expectation of community responsibility to tear off the mask and reveal its true face. 

Grace and Peace

%d bloggers like this: