Jots and Tittles

Jots and Tittles was a set of essays that Ed Christman wrote  during the 1979-1980 school year.  This set was a ‘blog’ before blogs were invented. The essays were distributed across the campus on colorful paper. Artwork was created by Denise Cumbee, Wake Forest class of 1980.

Ed explained the title at the top of each essay: “Jots and tittles are the iotas, the little letters and accents which help make some distinctions.   In Matthew 5:18, Jesus says that not one dot of the law will disappear before heaven and earth pass away.  Heavy.  Have you visited Dot, Virginia? “

#1  Welcome to Summer School  August 31, 1978

#2  Joyful Noises  September 28, 1978

#3  A Market Place or Two or Three  October 6, 1978

#4  Eating Apples  November 3, 1978

#5  Containers  December 13, 1978

#6  The Zapata Connection  February 2, 1979

#7  Open Hands  March 19, 1979

#8  Words  May 5, 1979

Jots and Tittles #1 August 31, 1978

Welcome to Summer School

“Did you have a good summer?”  “It was too short.  Someone said summer is fall and it’s time for classes to begin.”

When the last traditional weekend beach trip and neighborhood picnicking occurs we will be laboring, not lounging in the sun absorbing eternal tans.  But if other traditions disappear, Labor Day does too.  Of course, my reasons for longing for the beach are religious.  For if God is anywhere, the good Lord is at the beach  (spatial references to God are unacceptable in some theological circles).

My family never looks for a church at the beach; our absence from a worship service is to be present on the beach where creative and orderly power, beauty and solitude abide — unless there’s a land breeze.  God exits and mosquitoes enter, and I wish I were in church.

People wary of the ocean’s power find their level of participation, and I envy those strong swimmers out beyond the breakers at east in the sea.  But there is fun in the surf, in the sloops, strolling with someone you love and building motels  (castles are for traditionalists).  When we depart, I take a last look unnecessarily, for God will be there in that continuity and change, no matter what.  I hope to return for nourishment.

Meanwhile back in the lab and cinder-block room, can we discover beauty, power, solitude, and shared contemplation?  Are there not some surprises here which will be memorable as those at the seashore?  Indeed, are there orderly patterns that provide adequate security in times of change?  Can you find sand dollars and horizons here?  Maybe the Lord will take pity and visit.  Whatever.

Welcome to summer, fall, winter, and spring.  Welcome to a place and to people I love very much.  And if you hear about a beach trip, please let me know.

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #2   September 28, 1978

Joyful Noises

“Make a joyful noise” in Psalm 100 means singing.  Are there ‘joyful noises’ we can recognize outside the temple?  The new carillon in Wait Chapel tolled for the opening Convocation and after a football victory.  Were these joyful sounds or examples of noise pollution?

King Saul, beset by evil spirits, was released from bondage by David’s paying of the harp.  But how do we distinguish between joyful noises that liberate or inspire and those which pollute our experience?

While teaching Vacation Bible School I asked, “What did God say after creation?” “Bravo,” one youngster said.  But imagine standing and shouting “bravo” only to discover that everyone else is sitting in silence.  Imagine sitting silently while everyone else is standing, shouting, “Wow, what a performance!”

Can we distinguish between works of art, voicing approval of some, disapproval of others; or are we likely to cover our feelings with the word “interesting?”  I used that word in telling a friend about the current art exhibit at the Fine Arts Center.  There are some tinker-toy-like pieces of sculpture downstairs and some paintings, principally charcoal drawings, upstairs.  The artist of the drawings tried to allow his feelings to appear on the canvasses.  In other words, he has sought to make a joyful noise.

Recently I visited the North Carolina Art Museum in Raleigh which contains a most interesting (oops, fascinating) room.  There are handrails from one piece of sculpture to another.  The room is designed for blind people who are encouraged to touch these art objects.  I tried to close by eyes and move along the rail from one object to another, but I kept peeking because I did not trust my fingers to tell me what I was feeling.

Have you ever closed your eyes and tried to figure out a TV drama by the music being played?  Have you ever watched a sports event without the sound?  Few of us play the harp or make other joyful noises as playwrights, sculptors or painters do.   But all of us can respond to the joyful creative noises about us and to those sounds signifying nothing.

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #3  October 6, 1978

A Market Place or Two or Three

Once I told a student leader that students were not the most important people at Wake Forest.  I said students were essential persons but faculty and administrators fashioned the environment in which students seek to mature in wisdom.

While students are not on an equal footing as decision-makers, as junior partners they can and should have significant influence, asking questions and seeking information.  How else do any of us make intelligent, ethically-based choices unless we have accurate information?

At the moment, Wake Forest and the Baptist State Convention [of North Carolina[ are discussing the future of their relationship.  Last year, when this discussion dealt with a federal grant for the Biology Department, Student Government was instrumental in bringing the President of the Convention to the campus.  The ensuing forum was helpful both to students and to the president, the Reverend Mark Corts, Pastor of Cavalry Baptist  Church of Winston-Salem.  Some faculty members devoted class time to a discussion of the issues.

Last spring, three faculty members — Professor Allen (biology), Angell (religion), and Barnett (history) — expressed themselves in the Wake Forest Magazine, stating their ideas regarding the future relationship between school and convention.  This summer, Assistant Chaplain Richard McBride responded in the same publication, disagreeing with the conclusions of the three profs.  His proposal has also appeared in the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist state paper, while their ideas have not been given that exposure.

Is there a market place on campus where their views and his might be examined?  As yet, there has been no opportunity for students to ask questions and form their own opinions except on the basis of what they read in the newspapers.  Is it legitimate to give class time to such discussions?  Should there be a special assembly, possibly on a Tuesday at 11am?

Who would like to take the initiative to sponsor a live example of liberal arts learning through a forum on the future and purpose of Wake Forest?  With both the Convention and the Board of Trustees meeting soon, where is a market place or two or three?

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #4  November 3, 1978

Eating Apples

Up # 81 from Roanoke, north of Harrisburg, to # 78, we cross Pennsylvania and New Jersey to reach the Big Apple.  Along the way, apple orchards were being picked for their delicious fruit.   From the end of # 78, it was a short commuter trip to Manhattan to pick some of its fruit — hot pretzels, uniquely decorated subway trains, a flutist on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a smiling bus driver on a cross-town bus from 42nd Street to the United Nations.

Complemented by a New Yorker on his friendliness, the driver said, “You really don’t realize how much we need that.”   Not quite so helpful was the subway cashier, who told me the Path Train was one block west.  Underground, without my compass, I responded, “Which way is west?”  “That way,” he gestured, and we were off, laughing.

Then, there’s Macy’s, the “Garden,” Empire State, and Chock-Full-O’-Nuts with its tasty soups and nutty cheese sandwich.  Later, walking through Central Park, we met part of a young soccer team, strung out in small groups.  “Who won?” I asked.  “They did, but they cheated,” said one red-shirted player.

“Can’t have much integrity if you work as a stock analyst,” volunteered a brief-cased, horn-rimmed native.  We talked near the Stock Exchange.  He told us how he worked his way up in this no-win business.

One business which did win recently was Yankee baseball, and we gathered ticker-tape during the George Steinbrenner parade.  Kids darted in and out, while models were photographed sitting against the curb.  A burly photographer with the Star, asked us to let him crowd in against the wooden barricade which soon pinned us (except burly) behind it as others eased into the street.  One band and two trucks of Yankees appeared, with players George, Yogi, and Elston Howard.

Then everyone was in the streets and we were headed uptown to Riverside Church to resume participation with 1,600 ministers in a conference entitled “What Can We Say About God Today?”   The magnificent Gothic church was filled with the music of an excellent choir and an enthusiastic congregation, punctuated by a flamboyant organist playing the newly-acquired Spanish trumpets.

Former Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Riverside’s preacher, has a talent for lifting people so that they will either fly or run for cover.  A sociologist, a female religion editor, and a Liberian minister contributed to the four-day conference.  Breathless, we headed downtown and out of the City, stopping at Paddy’s Clam Chowder House for a full-course dinner featuring broiled flounder, chowder, and dessert with coffee, $5.46.  Eating apples in the Lord’s Big Orchard was most nourishing.

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #5  December 31, 1978

Containers

Once upon a time, Pandora opened a forbidden box, releasing every pestilence and sin under the sun. Quickly she closed the box, which then contained only hope.  All human activity was infected with evil — alienation, greed, cynicism, despair, hopelessness.  Does hope emerge from Pandora’s box?  How does light pierce darkness?

Once upon a time, a peasant girl birthed a child just before tax time.  Some thought this a strange event, acknowledged by shepherds and kings.  Some thought shadows crisscrossed the stable.  A certain woman poured precious ointment on the feet of a certain charismatic storyteller.

There is a picture in the foyer of Wait Chapel which asks questions.  Could a savior emerge from Bethlehem “dry ground?”  Would a messiah be acquainted with grief? Is hope born only out of death?

Once upon a time there was a marvelous collection of books, labs, bells, and people seeking truth and a job.  Weary, confused, yet intent, they persisted.  Some discovered a token, a symbol, a modest measure of truth, new wine exploded old wineskins.  Some drank what was available while others mixed new potions whose effects were matters of conjecture.  Some burst forth with strange stories about the shape of containers, boxes, curricula, etc.  Some pondered how hope emerges as a story to shape the lives of seekers after truth and a job.

I sit possible to imagine that the books, labs, and people will spill their juices, flooding the residence halls, playing fields, and committee meetings?  May we hope for “a new birth of wonder” never to be explained, contained, or consumed by mere reason?  Will faith in God emerge for some of the people?  Merry Christmas!

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #6  February 2, 1979

The Zapata Connection

There is a section in downtown Mexico City where most of the stores sell shoes, zapatas.  As we drove through “zapata-ville,” we discovered that when not walking many of the twelve million inhabitants drive brightly-colored “bugs” beeping at one another.

Bumper to bumper, during the “light traffic” of the holiday week after Christmas, we reached the National Museum of Anthropology, which was superbly designed by Pedro Ramirez Vasquez.  We were introduced to this unique and extensive collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts, exemplified here by Denise Combee’s drawings  [these would be on a SCAN version]   The Museum contains a graphic description of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.  Built in the midst of a lake, it was a metropolis of 300,000 when Cortes first saw it in 1519.  The Spanish conquistador is reported to have called it “the most beautiful city in the world.”

In Mexico City, French, United States, and Spanish influences mingle with native murals and architecture to produce stark contrasts and colorful sights.  Tragically, as Aztec ruins are being excavated, the Palace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes) and other notable buildings are sinking into the lake bed, while the murals on government buildings at the University, by such artists as Siqueiros and Rivera, offer compelling interpretations of past and future Mexico.   The Ballet Folklorica artfully portrays the varied native cultures.

And what did we learn viewing two shrines of Guadalupe?  The legend of the virgin’s appearance to an Indian is later displayed on the flag of a famous revolutionary Emmiliano Zapata.  One shrine is tottering while the other resembles a mini-Astrodome.

The most modern subway delivered us to the steps of the oldest cathedral in North America, but the sense of awe was not fully felt until we beheld the massive Pyramid of the Sun.  Five hundred yards away, the smaller Pyramid of the Moon, complements the nearly six acre place of worship.  As we climbed the 200 foot high Pyramid of the Sun, we heard songs in English, via transistor radio, and saw a young Mexican sporting a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt.

We had visited gracious relatives and had been introduced to a collection of cultures.  How did we feel?  How do any of us connect with the past? In terms of religion and philosophy, what meanings flow from works of art and technology, past and present?

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #7  March 19, 1979

Open Hands

Is it more difficult to visit those in prison or sit in a chapel alone?  More difficult to be in one’s room by oneself or at a party knowing no one?  I prefer to be in control because I’m less afraid of what might happen.

Once I visited a city jail and signed under prisoner, not visitor!  But Davis Chapel can imprison in its solitude, confronting me with duties, people, institutions.  Some are freed by solitude, measuring various options of how to live and work.  Others thrive on interaction with people.  In either direction, in solitude or in community, people can overcome a degree of fear with a degree of openness.  Is it possible there is a connection between open exploration and growth?

Whatever else we observe about prayer, we should examine old and new images, questions, commitments about God and us.  But, as one writer points out, we often approach prayer with clenched fists, holding on to what we have and demanding more.  He suggests we consider open hands as a less fearful and more helpful posture of prayer.  The time and place, the language and subject matter of prayer would enlarge; the expectations of prayer would undoubtedly change.

The same writer includes that prayer is more an interpretation of all we do than a single activity.  Biblically, prayer is sometimes linked directly to feeding the hungry, standing up for one’s legal rights, and visiting those who are in prison.  I am more familiar with prayers of clenched fists than those reflecting open hands.  I have recently begun a journey hoping to explore what praying with open hands might do to and for me.

Ed Christman, University Chaplain

Jots and Tittles #8  May 5, 1979

Words

Once upon a time, someone said, “Get an education,” and we went to college.  “Study like hell at first and you’ve got it made.”  Occasionally “wasted,” we made it, hearing people say, “Hang in there” and “have a good day.”

We told others to “take care,” and we knew people were praying for us, thinking of us, and sending us all sorts of  “bread.”  When things got heavy, we said, “Tell me about it, brother.”  Pulling all-nighters, we talked about them all day.  “Didn’t study but booked it” was a favorite line, real or fantasized.

Good mornings were offered acquaintances, and we asked friends, “How’s it going?”  “So so,”  “fantastic,”  “fair to middling,”  “super,”  “yucky.”  “What a beautiful day” lifted us, and we “caught some rays.”

We pontificated, listened, befriended, sermonized.  We were frightened, carefree, honest, devious, sensitive, cruel, excited, bored.  We said,  “Get serious,”  “play it cool.”  We were  “up tight” and “bent out of shape.”

We prayed, played, worked, and thought.  We dreamed — asleep and awake.  We were “out of sight” and “just plain dumb.”  And we hoped it was true, “Don’t worry; things will work out.”

Did we grow in wisdom and stature?  Did we love and withdraw? Did we laugh and cry, risk and conserve?  Did we discover at least one word to portray who we hope to be?

Shalom, salaam.

Ed Christman, University Chaplain


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