Friday, June 15, 2007

Photo of the Day - June 15, 2007 - Dad

I particularly like this picture of Dad, taken in the late 70's I would guess. He would have been a little younger than I am now. He is sitting behind the counter at Gillespie Cleaners in Columbia SC. We had to suck up to all kinds of SC sports fans, as you can tell from the wall behind him. Dad himself was a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. I have his old Chapel Hill mug on my desk right here. He would have loved too see two of his grand daughters there! I can't walk Franklin Street without thinking of him.

My dad had his stuff, but I am grateful that I grew up in a family where my father loved me and told me so, hugged me (he was a big guy and did great bear hugs), and supported some of my more hair brained adventures. I was closer in those days to my dad then my mom, maybe because I had to bear much of the burden of his problems, maybe because he was easier to talk to, and more open about himself. In the latter couple of years of his life we got closer still, talking about the bigger issues of life. He was a good man, kind hearted, affectionate, generous, and encouraging of me. Dad, I miss you. I wish we could walk over and eat lunch at the drug store, maybe check out a movie tonight, watch a game together, or play golf tomorrow. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you. Joe.

You can check out more pictures of Curtis Claunch Gillespie, Jr. here.

Thank Goodness for Global Warming

If you’re old like me, you may remember, you know, back in the day…when farmer Jones, in face of dried out corn stalks due to serious drought, or rotting fungal-infected plants due to too much rain, would have to prostrate Himself before the Almighty, and appeal to His goodness and His power, and ask either that rain would come, or that rain would abate, whatever the need may be. Then he would struggle deeply within trying to figure out the philosophical and theological mysteries surrounding the question of how a good and all powerful God would allow his crops to fail and his family to go broke. Well, those days are gone. “Honey,” his wife says at breakfast, “the corn seems awfully dry.” “Yep,” says the farmer looking over his morning paper, “global warming.” At the same time, one state over, another farmer’s wife expresses her worry over breakfast. “Honey” she said, “the crops are rotting.” “Yes dear,” he replies, “global warming,” as he goes back to his paper.

It used to be really hard to fire people, especially in academia. It’s easy now. “Do you solemnly swear, upon your mother’s grave, that you believe that the earth is warming up, and that the cause of it is CO2 emissions by human beings.” “Well, uh, my mother’s not dead.” "Damn it, you know what I mean, now do you?” “Uh, well, I am not really sure.” “You’re Fired!”

Life has gotten way easier to understand. Hurricanes grown more powerful? Global warming. Not enough hurricanes and their associated rain? Global warming. Late cold snap in New England? Global warming. Spreading deserts in Africa? Global warming.

There was a time when people in my line of work had a role to play helping people figure out the deep mysteries and complexities of life. No more. Global arming is putting us out of business. I guess that’s good really.

Where would we all be without global warming?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Open Letter to John Hammer

Dear John,

Although I am, generally speaking, a fiscal and social conservative, and thus more often than not agree with you on a range of other issues, after several years of seeing you put into print the salaries of those in the higher range of pay in our school system, I must finally offer my objections.

I want first to address my own view of your reporting of the names and salaries of these emplyees. In doing so I am going to deal primarily with teachers.

The manner in which Guilford County schools pays teachers is established by strict formula. This is published on their public web site. Anybody can find it out. There is a dismally low starting salary for a starting teacher with a college degree, and then salaries increase slowly based upon years of experience, advanced educational degrees, and certain approved extra certification processes. There is no mystery here. But to publish names and salaries as you do is, to my way of thinking, just nosiness and bad form. It would be better, if you just had to make your wrongheaded point, to publish the pay scales themselves, and perhaps the number of teachers who fit into each range of pay, say $30-40,000, $40-5000, etc. There is just no point in putting names to salaries except to create ill will, usually misguided, between people of our community and our teachers. You aren’t reporting the whole truth nor the appropriate context, so you are only half informing the public anyway. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

And, in fact, what you have published, at least regarding teacher salaries, proves the exact opposite of what you intend. We have a county of almost 450,000 people with one giant unified school system. That system has thousands of teachers (maybe you could come up with that number for us). Of these thousands, the very highest paid of all of them who is not an athletic director, is a person with 35 years of experience, a Ph. D., and National Board Certification. And she gets paid only $70,000. That is pathetic! What does that mean about the rest of the bell curve? Yes, that it is low, too low, way too low. Thank you for proving my long held contention that we pay our teachers way too little.

Look at the lower end of the scale. The entry salary for teachers, given that a college degree plus teacher certification is required, is abysmal. It is no wonder that it is hard to get college graduates to go into teaching. Yes, there are other things that contribute to teaching being a difficult field of work and which keep people from pursuing it. Again, these conditions argue for more and not less pay for teachers who must endure many indignities and much abuse along the way.

I was a public school teacher for five years back in the 1980’s. I taught physics, chemistry, biology, and physical science. My starting salary was $13,000. I had six years of college education when I started. I was rolling in the dough.

I can personally attest that teaching, if a teacher seeks to do it well, is exhausting work from morning to night. Standing up in a room and engaging five or six classes of students a day, even in good school conditions, is incredibly draining. I do not think most people have any idea what it requires in terms of energy and stamina. Then there are often conferences or tutoring times before school, and the inevitable dealing with parents who are upset because little Johnny made a C on a paper. Teachers live under a constant cloud of lawsuits in our litigious society. You would have no idea how often parents threaten court if they don’t get their way. There is endless paper work. Then one has to prepare for one’s classes. For any conscientious teacher this means hours of work at home every night, and the constant fear of not being totally on top of things. There is much anxiety and stress related to this issue of daily readiness, which accounts curiously for the almost universal nightmares that teachers have. Then of course there is the task of correcting and grading papers and often taking night classes to try to upgrade one's standing. There is pressure that never lets up. There are issues of safety, of threat, and intimidation. OK, so some readers say that I am describing their lives. Well, then they should have sympathy for our teachers.

And of course, in our system teachers must work now under the indignity of EOG’s being the be all and end all. This is sapping the motivation and energy and creativity of our best teachers, forcing them into being automatons rather than the caring creative intelligent people that most of them are.

But rather than creating good will in the eyes of the public, you are causing people, due to the lack of full reporting, to draw false conclusions about teachers who already are insufficiently paid, and in some cases causing people to draw false conclusions about particular individuals. This will only sap public motivation to provide the resources our schools and teachers desperately need. You are doing the general public good a great disservice. I do not believe that it is in the public good to continue to put together names to salaries before the face of the public as you do. There are other and more honoring ways of making your very poor point.

Add the idea that teachers have two months off is such a total joke that is does not become a man of your otherwise high intelligence. Because of their generally low pay, teachers constantly have to find work in those periods of time when they are not due in the classroom. I did this for five years. Having a ten month contract was a burden in my mind, not a blessing. What, do you think they are using all their extra money from their inflated salaries to sit on beaches in Aruba? Come on John. That “time off” is no holiday. In addition to needing to find work in the summer, many teachers must spend the two months of summer taking classes so that they can get to a higher grade in the pay scale, or, in some cases, so that they can continue to teach what they teach - or so as to have their contracts renewed.

Yes, many government employees are paid inadequately. Rather than this being an argument to lower teacher pay, maybe it should be an argument to raise general government employee pay.

John, I just don’t think you have enough appreciation and gratitude for the myriads of public servants who work hard day in and day out to make your life better and safer.

On one point I agree. We have too many assistant superintendents draining away too many resources. There is a bloated bureaucracy above the teachers. If we could eliminate jobs there, we could pay teachers a little more. I would be all for that.

And I admit to the fact that it is easier than it should be to be slack as a teacher. We have all known slack teachers (and slack lawyers, accountants, doctors, and pastors). It is hard to find a formula or a procedure for measuring true effectiveness and thereby increasing true accountability. That is an area that still needs work, but I am describing a small minority of our teachers.

Back to the one non athletic director you singled out, just listen to yourself. We have a person with 35 years of experience, a Ph. D., and a demanding National Board Certification, and you’re complaining that she makes $70,000. Let’s compare similar years of experience, education, and certification with people from dozens of other professional vocational areas. Why don’t you do that, John?

This teacher who is the highest paying non athletic director is also my friend. She is a great teacher, and she has paid her dues in 35 years of educational experience. She earns her salary. She loves her work and her students. She is a good and faithful public servant. So are the thousands of teachers below her in the salary scale, many of whom also are my friends. I wish you would find another way to make your misguided point, a way that is not intended to embarrass and disparage individuals. It is beneath you.

Joel Gillespie

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI

Every so often a book comes along that deeply moves and inspires me as a person, and as a Christian. I can never know when this will happen. Many books disappoint, and many surprise.

I am right in the middle of one of those amazing books. It is “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration” by Joseph Ratzinger, otherwise known as Pope Benedict XVI.

OK, I am an evangelical Protestant pastor. How can I speak such of a book by the Roman Catholic Pope of all people?

I remember hearing Johnny Cash commenting on the Nine Inch Nails’ song “Hurt.” His words: “Well, a good song is a good song.”

And a good book is a good book.

A few words about it...

First, this is not a book which carries in the mind of its distinguished writer, the head of the Roman church, what we might refer to as "papal authority." It is not, using Catholic language, and Benedict's own words, a “Magisterium,” which means that it does not carry the teaching authority of the Church or of the Pope as pope. It is a very personal work. In it Pope Benedict is seeking the face of Jesus. The book reflects his own personal journey over time to understand the Jesus of the Gospels. He even invites critique of all things!

Second, whatever your image may be of Joseph Ratzinger, this book will change it. In it you see deeply into his own heart, and what is there is a humble and gentle spirit, and a deep godliness. He deals gently with those who object to the traditional view of Jesus, and his interaction with the arguments in Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner’s “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus” is worth the price of the book. It should be archetypal for how Christians should interact with their Jewish neighbors, and their Jewish critics. I can’t wait to read Neusner’s book, because, from what I can glean from the sections in “Jesus of Nazareth" that relate to Neusner, Neusner understands the message and person of Jesus better than many Christians; he just does not buy it.

Third, the Pope is a superb scholar, in the very best sense of that word. He is a man who has obviously devoted much of his long life to biblical and theological and historical studies. He is well read, current, respectful, and knows what he is talking about.

Fourth, this is not “Jesus for Dummies.” Because Benedict does interact with prevailing trends, some knowledge of theological and biblical lingo would be helpful. But this is most true in the long and excellently written introduction, subtitled “An Initial Reflection on the Mystery of Jesus.” In that introduction Pope Benedict shows why even appropriate scientific historical critical approaches to the Bible cannot be the only approaches, given that the subject of the study is not only an historical figure written about in a writing subject to historical and scientific analysis, but is also the object of our faith. Even if you are not a Christian, if you know enough of the lingo to follow his argument in the opening chapter, you may well end up with a deeper respect for the manner in which Christian folks approach the Bible and its message. The rest of the book is more accessible to the average reader I would say.

Fifth, Pope Benedict is a very good writer. He is clear, and he is gentle. He also writes in a way that speaks to the heart. For me personally as a Christian, the manner in which he speaks and makes his points really speaks to me in a personal manner. He draws me into the kind of relationship with God that I desire to have.

I have always been struck by this observation – that where we as historically orthodox Catholics and Protestants agree (and that is in a very large number of the most essential matters), the Catholic writers just put it differently. I have found their way of putting things, drawn from their long history, culture, and spiritual temperament, to be refreshing. I even love the Catholic Catechism. Where I disagree with it, say about Mary, or papal authority, or justification, or the Eucharist, or veneration of the saints, or purgatory, I can read respectfully, or just skip over. Where I agree with it, I find I am blessed by the way it puts things.

Sixth, I think because of the more serious nature of much Catholic spiritual writing, as compared to so much of the mass-market driven Protestant drivel out there, I think this book provides an opportunity for people to see Jesus, the historic and living Jesus, in a new and deeper way. Benedict really is gifted at cutting to the core of the matter.

I have so far only gotten through the chapters on Jesus’ baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Lord’s Prayer. I plan to read the whole book, and then read it again. I cannot know for sure if at the end of the book that I am not going to be sucker punched by a Catholic apologetic, but nothing so far suggests that I will. Yes, there are references to Catholic teachings or practices, but mainly those are areas in which much of the historic Protestant Church agrees.

Seventh, Pope Benedict does a superb job connecting the old and the new testaments, or covenants. He shows how it is that Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment of what Christians call the Old Testament, and how the Old Covenant anticipated Jesus of Nazareth. Even if, say, a Jewish reader, did not in the end accept the Christian view, I think that this book would help him to respect it.

Eighth, every chapter so far has turned up for me fresh ways of seeing and understanding Jesus, his person and his mission. I by no means think that I am even close to understanding these matters in fullness, but it has been getting hard lately to find writers who open up new vistas. Benedict does that for me. Maybe down the road I will summarize some of those new vistas.

In conclusion, if you want to see into the heart of Jesus of Nazareth, and would like to understand better who he was (and is), or shall I say, who historic orthodox (as compared to liberal) Christians understand Him to be, I strongly recommend this book. But be careful! You may not find the same stereotypical historic orthodox Christianity and Jesus that you have loved to hate, well, if you do I mean.

Check it out. You’ll see what I mean.


Software Question

I have a computer software question if anyone wants to throw some advice my way. Do any of you have experience using one of the non-Microsoft but Windows-based e-mail programs like Opera, Mozilla, or Eudora? I am considering moving away from Outlook and was wondering if anyone had experience using one of these other options and could make a receommendation. And no, I can’t buy a Mac right now.

Photo of the Day - June 12, 2007 - Looking Up into a Fisher Park Tulip Poplar

Liriodendron tulipifera
Tulip Polar
Fisher Park, Greensboro, NC

Tulip Poplar

It’s not a tulip, and it’s not a poplar, but the tulip poplar is one of our most beautiful and important trees in Guilford County. Indeed, it is quite likely that the tallest tree we have in Guilford County is a tulip poplar, as it is generally the tallest tree found in the eastern United States, and the second largest in girth after the great lowland sycamores.

Straight and tall the tulip poplar grows. The bark is light in color, furrowed more and more as the tree increases in diameter. As it grows in height it sheds quickly its lower limbs, such that in an older mature specimen, the first limbs may not appear until fifty feet up, usually stout short limbs coming off the trunk horizontally before heading upwards.

In the winter if you see a straight tall light colored tree trunk, look to the top and you will usually see at the ends of the branches the light colored petal-like stalks of the tulip poplar’s cone still hanging on from the previous fall and shining in the winter sun above the other trees.

In May, high up in the tulip tree, well after the leaves have come out for the new season, the tulip tree blooms. It’s too bad we only get to see the flowers after they fall (unless we have very good eye sight), for they are a lovely and unusual mix of green and orange, somewhat in the shape of a tulip, hence the tree’s name. These delicate flowers coat the ground under the tulip tree, and make for lots of sweeping on driveways and sidewalks.

The flower gives way to a soft cone-like structure which houses small fruits about an inch long which mature on the tree and remain until the late fall, usually being carried away by an autumn wind. Sometimes the cone will drop as a whole, but more usually it will stay on the twig over the winter, coming apart only gradually piece by piece. These light colored cone-remains, as mentioned above, are a dead giveaway for the tulip poplar in the winter. If you do see a full cone on the ground, and it reminds you of a magnolia cone, well, the tulip tree is in the same family as the magnolia.

The leaf of the tulip poplar is also very distinctive, fairly large, about five or six inches tall and wide, and also, curiously enough, shaped like a tulip flower! Think of two wide mittens, right and left, placed on top of each other with the respective thumbs sticking out, and you have the idea of the tulip poplar leaf.

The tulip poplar is one of the very first trees to begin changing colors in the fall, usually a yellow color of moderate brightness, though sometime shining forth in more brilliant array. The turning of the tulip poplar leaf is one of the first sure signs that fall is around the corner.

As a wood, tulip poplar is light in weight, almost like a pine. Useful for many building, manufacturing, storage, and packaging purposes, it was extensively logged all over the south, particularly after the railroad made getting huge pieces to the saw mills easier, and only a few stands of virgin tulip poplar remain in the state, one of them in the Joyce Kilmer Forest in Western North Carolina.

Thankfully it is a fast growing tree, so many quite large second or third growth specimens grow throughout Guilford County.

Indians as well as early pioneers made excellent canoes from the tulip poplar, given its light weight, relative strength, and ease of working. It is said that Daniel Boone and his family left Kentucky in a sixty foot long dugout canoe made from a massive tulip poplar tree. Now that’s a big canoe!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Photo of the Day - June 11, 2007 -The View from Shining Rock, in January

On a warm summer day I thought I would give you a little breath of chill from this wintry picture taken in western North Carolina, from the top of Shining Rock, in Shining Rock Wilderness Area. It happened to be approximately 20 below Fahrenheit the day and night I was there. I like this picture because you can see the snowy trail below. I believe that that is the Old Butt Trail. Shining Rock, like Joyce Kilmer, is also a very cool place, thought the two are very different from each other, Shining Rock being much more alpine. And they are both in our state. You should go there sometime!

Visit my Flickr photostream here.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Photo of the Day - June 9, 2007 - Guilford County Farm House

I took this driving around SE Guilford County. It's still pretty rural and nice down there. This may have been on Highway 61. Well, I think. I may have to revisit that.



Thursday, June 07, 2007

Photo of the Day - June 7, 2007 - Go Ahead and Jump

A while back a group of four friends including myself did a nine day bike tour all across South Carolina. It was a blast. Somewhere between Charleston and Savannah (we stopped in at Beaufort and Hilton Head) we were riding along a very long bridge across a very large river inlet. So we stopped to take it in. The water looked very nice. We debated about jumping. There was a steel pipe running up an abutment and we thought we could climb up that. One of the guys, Bo, said he would go first to show us the way. We were maybe 20 feet above the water. Anyway, Bo jumped. He hit the water and went under. To our and his surprise he popped up about 50 feet upriver, as the tide was coming in hard. It took all of his strength to swim back to the abutment. On the way up the pole on the abutment the pole broke loose and Bo fell back into the water. There was no way for him to get up and we were a mile from land in either direction. A fishing boat came up, cursed us out for being stupid fools, and threw us a rope. We pulled Bo up by the rope, threw the rope back to the fisherman, and went our merry way. Good thing we didn't all jump.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Photo of the Day - June 6, 2007 - Joyce Kilmer Wildflowers

I took this picture on a backpacking trip in Joyce Kilmer/Slick Rock Wilderness Area a few years back. The photo pros don't seem to care much for this shot - no primary focus area, bland colors, lack of contrast, etc., but I have always been partial to it. Often when I am in the woods I like to sit down against a tree to take in my surroundings. I even have a way of slightly squinting my eyes to get a feel for the light and colors around me. I love to have a sense of my whole field of view filled with color, texture, and light. It is my way of perceiving what I think GM Hopkins was talking about in his concept of "inscape." This picture faithfully captures the inscape of that moment, and the collage effect of light and color. Plus I like the flowers.

Joyce Kilmer is an awesome place. If you ever have a couple of days for a weekend backpacking trip, this is a great place for it, a wonderful magical world with some amazingly huge trees, a grassy bald, a spur hike to an outcrop with a 360 degree view, and a beautiful forest. It's a place that would make its namesake proud. And it's in our state, barely!

To browse my Flickr site, go here.