Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Remembering 5th grade

Greetings One and All,

I had a life changing experience when I was in the 5th grade. At that time of my life I was an outgoing, friendly, and skinny kid. Small for my age is what they said. When they chose sides for sand lot baseball or some other sport contest I could count on being chosen last. Could you call this training in character building? 

Because of my small size in high school I could wrestle at 105 and 112 lbs. I ran the mile and half mile in track. These are sports that are as much more individual effort than team. You are on your own for the team. One time I did pin an opponent in 30 seconds. I ran the mile under 5 minutes, 4:55 and a half-mile in 2:30. Today at 180 pounds I can hold my own although the doctor has given me homework to reach 170 pounds.

The life changing event came on a warm spring day in 1940. I was to fight the president of the gang that could be called "the south of the tracks gang." This group was made up of kids whose fathers worked on the railroad and most  lived south of the tracks in West Liberty, Iowa. I belonged to the group. It was nothing like gangs of today. We liked to hunt for flares along the railroad tracks that had not burned out. John Mulink had a rifle that shot 22 shorts and we would use tin cans placed on a fence post for target practice. We met in a tool shed in the back of his house. The tool shed was along the tracks going north to Minneapolis. At that time West Liberty was the station where both the East and West trains crossed the tracks of the North and South trains. We are talking about the huge steam engines that pulled the trains.
The other side of the story is my relationship with another gang. They represented the more cultured society in the town. We were in the school band. We took music lessons. We read books and went to the library. We met in our homes since they were larger. Now the president of the cultured group did not think I should be associating with this other group. Therefore, to test my loyalty I was to fight my friend, John Mulink, the president of the group from south of the tracks.

There we were, two groups of kids between two houses, standing on the nice green grass in an early warm day of spring. What do I remember? I talked my way out of the fight. It never happened. What did happen? I left both groups. I became a friend to each individually. This was an internal, spontaneous decision. I do not remember giving this much thought but I do remember my response. In a few years we moved to a farm near Nichols, Iowa, but the memory and my decision continue to this day.

I would repeat this story pattern many times over my lifetime in situations where I was in the middle of two sides. The issues changed but the dynamics remained the same. 

The privilege and benefit in being a hospital chaplain for 28 years allowed for much of this dynamic.  I was relating to the most powerful and the most vulnerable in the same location. I could make a story list of opposites. I could table hop at lunch. I could sit or talk with those in white, or some other department color, or administration, a board member, or a doctor, a patient, or a family member, or people from house keeping and the kitchen crew.
Now in the second half of life I still reflect on that early experience and its continued appearance. Living with opposites, facing the paradox, acknowledging contradictions, embracing the many ways to express this is basic --- to my world view.  

This early experience and continuing encounters now, connect in my mind with the word “integrity.” In Scripture the word does not appear all that often. As a noun it often follows the word walk, walk in integrity, and it also appears before heart, our innter being. The meaning has to do with completeness and blameless. I have started looking up "integrity" in the HUB resource for the Hebrew interlinear.

The first place the word appears is in the Book of Genesis, chapter 20, in a repeat story that first occurs with the Pharaoh where Abraham says Sarah is my sister. This makes you wonder about the character of Abraham and his righteousness. My explanation for this is in seeing Abraham as a wanderer, tent dweller, without an army; so he schemes to protect himself. Unfortunate or fortunate, his wife becomes his first line of defense as well as a lesson in ethics. The story with the Pharaoh is repeated in more detail in Genesis 20 where King Abimelech described as having a "blameless heart," translated "integrity." Hebrew story tellers fascinate me, since the word first appears with someone outside the Tradition. Those on the outside, margins, inform and help from those inside.

Another place the Hebrew word is translated integrity is in Psalms 25 and 26. The word integrity is identified as an individual trait. I have more research to do.
Ps1lm 26, 1 Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

2 Test me, O Lord, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity; *
redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground; *
in the full assembly I will bless the Lord.

In other places the word appears with walk with integrity and also follow by heart. Integrity embraces both action and meaning depending on the context.

The word appears most often in the Book of Proverbs since it finds a welcome home in the wisdom literature.

Back to what I learned in the Fifth Grade. Dr. Robert Cole of Harvard
supports my experience in a series of books about children. He
interviewed children and listened to their stories. It seems a lot of
learning goes on in our figurative Fifth Grade and even lower grades. I
won't go into detail about his books in this e-mail. But I will give you
the titles: The Moral Life of Children, the Political Life of Children,
and the Spiritual Life of Children.

As metaphor, our “Fifth Grade” stories will reveal much about ourselves as they move throughout the changing context of our lives.




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