The need to remember


There was a gathering today outside Oswiecim, Poland, 37 miles west of Krakow. The guests of honor were a few hundred men and women, mostly in their 90s or older, who survived the Nazis’ massive labor and killing complex, Auschwitz.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. More than 1 million, mostly Jews, died there.

Rick Lyman of the New York Times wrote an article I found very thought provoking. He noted that, following today’s seventh decade commemoration of the Auschwitz liberation, the mission of one of the world’s worst crime scenes will change.

When the 80th anniversary rolls around, there will be few survivors left, and even fewer who will be able to make the trip back.

Lyman reports that administrators of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum plan to shift the mission “to explain to generations who were not alive during the war what happened, rather than to act as a memorial to those who suffered through it.”

Although I wasn’t born until 20 years after the war ended, I’m trying to remember a time when I was not aware of the Holocaust.

Yes, I’m an odd duck. I think about such things.

I think I was 12 when I picked up that first Leon Uris novel; 14 when I began learning names such as Dachau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno.

Is there really a chance we might forget to tell younger generations about the horror? Is there a chance they might not know?

The answer is, “yes.”

On Jan. 10, when much of the world was focused on the tragic deaths of 17 people in Paris at the hands of terrorists, reports were coming in that the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, was waging war afresh against civilians in more than a dozen Nigerian communities, killing thousands.

As part of its latest wave of terror, Boko Haram sent a girl thought to be about 10 years old into a crowded marketplace with explosives hidden in her clothing. The detonation killed 20 and injured at least that many more.

While there are many theories as to why the Paris attacks received more attention than the atrocities in Nigeria, the least insidious is the comparative absence of digital technology where Boko Haram is causing havoc.

Remember, many Parisians were Tweeting events and the emergency response in real time, with video shot from cellphones immediately posted on social media.

Weeks after Boko Haram attacked residents of the northern Nigerian town of Baga, the exact death toll remains unclear.

We have an obligation to tell the stories, especially the ones from the hard-to-reach places on the globe, but also those uncomfortable and downright horrific places in our past.

As he so often did in his novels, the late-Michael Crichton had some cautionary words in his book, Timeline, for those who study, and report, history:

“The purpose of history is to explain the present—to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be. It tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded. That is true power – profound power. The power to define a whole society.”

Birthplace of a president’s faith


One of the places I consider a “hometown” is the tiny town of Magnolia, Ky., located in the tiny county of LaRue. Our county’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of the 16th president. Of course, when Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809, LaRue County did not exist. We were part of neighboring Hardin County. Many people do not know that Lincoln was a Kentuckian by birth, which is understandable. The Thomas Lincoln family left Kentucky for Indiana when Abraham was just a boy. Still, I love telling people where I’m from and offering up little factoids about our most famous son’s boyhood. On the bicentennial of the president’s birth, I wrote this story which was picked up nationally by Baptist Press.

Because of the volatile times into which Lincoln was born and to which he later contributed epic volatility, the question of his faith is one that fascinates many. We know Lincoln had crippling bouts of depression and suffered terrible losses in his life even before he became president. And the burden he experienced as commander in chief during the catastrophe of the American Civil War is one few of us could comprehend. I was intrigued to learn more about what is actually known about Mr. Lincoln’s view of God and Christianity. 

As Kentucky launches a two-year bicentennial celebration of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln enthusiasts are sharing their views on the president’s spiritual journey — a journey that, like the man, began in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Born three miles south of Hodgenville on April 12, 1809, Lincoln was only 2 years old when the family moved about seven miles northeast to a farm along Knob Creek. It was here that the future president’s parents, Thomas and Nancy, took the family to Little Mount Baptist Church.

It was a Separatist congregation whose main clergyman was an abolitionist, said Gary Talley, pastor of Magnolia (Ky.) Baptist Church and retired chief of operations at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site.

“There’s always been a wide range of speculation about (Lincoln’s) faith since he was not really affiliated with a particular church,” said Talley, who worked at the birthplace nearly 30 years. “But I really think his life seemed to reflect someone God was able to use for a purpose.”

According to Ronald Rietveld, professor emeritus at California State University in Fullerton, Lincoln’s lack of church affiliation, and the controversial writings of one of his former law partners, paint an incomplete picture of the president’s views about God, the Bible and the Gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ.

“In the end, his faith is his own,” said Rietveld, an ordained Baptist minister. “It isn’t something he has parroted from any particular church or movement.”

Many historians agree that the Lincolns’ anti-slavery sentiments were cemented, in part, because they regularly saw slaves driven past their Knob Creek farm.

“Bardstown was a major slave market,” said LaRue County Judge Executive Tommy Turner, co-chairman of the Kentucky Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. “The Lincolns lived along the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike,” a major artery through the state, he said.

“Seeing people in chains, families that were driven down the road like cattle, and all the horrors associated with that,” Talley said, “one would not be able to look at something like that and not be repulsed.”

The early 19th century was a time of church disputes that foreshadowed the traumatic political and military conflict yet to come. “South Fork (Baptist Church) was quite severely divided over the issue of slavery,” Talley noted.

Lincoln scholar Louis Warren wrote that 15 members of South Fork left the church over the issue in 1805 to form the Little Mount congregation about three miles from Lincoln’s boyhood home.

In that home young Abraham experienced his greatest spiritual influence, his mother. As president, Lincoln recalled his mother’s love for the Bible and how she taught her children Bible verses. In later years, the president “said he could hear her voice in certain scriptures,” Rietveld reported.

In 1816 the Lincolns left Kentucky for Indiana. Two years later, Nancy died. A local man, perhaps a Baptist layman, “prayed over her grave,” Rietveld writes, but later 9-year-old Abraham penned a letter to the pastor of Little Mount Baptist, asking him to travel from Kentucky to perform a proper funeral service.

“For a 9-year-old boy to want the preacher to come and preach his mother’s funeral — at a time when a 75-mile trip was a big deal — shows he had a very high regard for who that preacher was and the things he would say,” Turner said. The pastor honored the family’s request.

Scholars speculate there were aspects of the Lincolns’ strict Separatist teachings that perhaps chafed on Abraham as he reached adulthood. Perhaps his dismay was best illustrated when he decided not to join his father’s church in Indiana even though he helped construct the building.

According to Frank Masters’ “A History of Baptists in Kentucky,” many Separatist churches embraced Calvinist teachings so rigidly they eventually rejected missionary endeavors. Some scholars believe Thomas Lincoln’s Indiana congregation subscribed to such teachings.

By 1830, at the age of 22, Lincoln “seems to have held unorthodox religious views when he openly expressed skepticism toward the religion of his parents,” Rietveld wrote. Among those ideas was that God was without wrath or anger; 34 years later, it was obvious that opinion had changed radically.

In Lincoln’s second inaugural address “he deals with the issue of slavery but … in the context of God’s judgment,” Rietveld said, noting that the speech contains three quotations from the Bible and 10 allusions to Scripture. Other speeches followed a similar pattern.

Rietveld’s interest in Lincoln began about 50 years ago. In 2006 he devoted six months to organizing his decades of research with a specific goal in mind: writing an overview of the spiritual journey of the president.

“I’d never seen anyone pull those things together in one article,” he said. The view that Lincoln was not a believer because he never joined a church is a shallow one, Rietveld said. “I call it ‘churchianity.’ … I see a difference in the Lincoln who didn’t join a church and the Lincoln who has a growing relationship with God.”

The opinion of William Herndon has had a great influence on the topic of Lincoln and religion, Rietveld said. Only a year after the president’s assassination, Josiah Holland, an editor and devout Christian, wrote a best-selling biography of Lincoln that characterized him as “a true-hearted Christian.”

Rietveld said the description offended Herndon, one of Lincoln’s former law partners in Springfield, Ill., who said the president “held many of the Christian ideas in abhorrence.” Herndon’s writings characterized Lincoln as “an infidel” and a man “living on the borderland between theism and atheism.”

Rietveld said Herndon’s words are “not a fair estimation at all,” of Lincoln’s spiritual views. “Herndon never knew, in a personal daily way, Lincoln’s life in the White House years,” Rietveld said. “The Lincoln of the war years is a man whose faith deepened through crisis, repeatedly.”

When the president and his wife, Mary, arrived in Washington, they already had lost a son, Eddie, to illness; in 1862, another son, Willie, died. Biographer Ida Tarbell wrote that after Willie died, Lincoln’s “personal relation to God occupied his mind much.”

His faith also matured through the fires of war and the issue of slavery. Although finding slavery morally repugnant, Lincoln attempted to compromise on the issue, rather than risk secession by the Southern states. His attitude was transformed by war and a renewed conviction about the evil trade, Rietveld said.

“Today if a politician were to change views that like, he’d be called wishy washy,” Turner observed. “When you look at Lincoln, you have to look at his life as a whole. Religion and spirituality played a very strong part in his later life.”

In his research, Rietveld found a dramatic statement by Phineas Gurley, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., that seems to support this assertion. The Lincolns attended Gurley’s church regularly during their Washington D.C. years.

The pastor maintained that after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln said he intended to make “a public profession of his Christian faith.” He died before he could make a public profession but Rietveld said he has no doubt Lincoln was “a biblical Christian.”

“I would have liked to see Lincoln make a more definitive statement about his faith,” Talley said, “but maybe he made the most definitive statement he could simply by his actions.”

Lincoln was in Kentucky less than a decade, but Talley said he believes the experiences of this “LaRue County boy,” and the family in which he was raised, had a profound effect on the future president’s life and faith. “By the time he left Kentucky, the foundation had been laid for what he was later in life.”

Feb. 12, 2008 by Dannah Prather, partnership editions editor, Western Recorder

Post now; Except when you don’t


My eldest nephew and his wife have two beautiful children, a girl and a boy. I love hearing these young parents discuss the differences between the two kids relative to teething, talking, eating, scooting, sleeping, walking. My nephew recently linked to a funny blog post that caught fire a couple of years ago about the various, and often contradictory, advice out there for new parents trying to get their little ones to sleep.  Among author/mom Ava Neyer‘s compilation of “expert” opinions:

You shouldn’t sleep train at all, before a year, before 6 months, or before 4 months, but if you wait too late, your baby will never be able to sleep without you. College-aged children never need to be nursed, rocked, helped to sleep, so don’t worry about any bad habits. Nursing, rocking, singing, swaddling, etc., to sleep are all bad habits and should be stopped immediately. White noise will help them fall asleep. White noise, heartbeat sounds, etc, don’t work. Naps should only be taken in the bed, never in a swing, carseat, stroller, or when worn. Letting them sleep in the carseat or swing will damage their skulls. If your baby has trouble falling asleep in the bed, put them in a swing, carseat, stroller, or wear them.

Opinions on when to post on social media are, at least, this consistent in their inconsistency.

Google “best times to post on social media” and you’ll see what I mean.

Rule of thumb: The briefer the article or infographic on the “best times” to post, the less useful it likely will be. It’s pretty easy to get continuity in data if the only thing the authors are tracking are high traffic times.

But consider: Do you want to post when everyone else is posting or do you want to post when your audience has time to read and respond to the information you share?

For many small businesses and non-profits, posting at high traffic times just means your message is more likely to get lost in the cacophony.

The best tips on when to post on social media begin with the words, “Know your audience.” From there, they will break down data based on which platform you are using (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), the day of the week, and traffic, yes, but also when do most people share and re-Tweet? When do most people comment on the blogs they read?

Those are the infographics that I geek out over.

But let’s go back to the magic words, “Know your audience.”

Get a compelling piece of data about your business or organization. Maybe it’s a new product. Maybe it’s a sale. Maybe it’s the release of your annual report or expansion into a new area of service. Be clear. Be excited. Be authentic. Post the news at various times during the week and weekend and on as many platforms as you currently use.

Then track comments, hits, click-throughs, pins, reTweets and shares.

Do this a few times and you will find your audience’s sweet spot. They will let you know when they are willing to give your shop, church or charity a few minutes of their valuable time.

No infographic required.

‘You’re not gonna break stuff’


Constant Contact recently posted a great presentation on LinkedIn’s SlideShare.net. Creators contacted a variety of pros in business and non-profit marketing and other fields and asked them to provide one sentence on how to get started in social media. It was interesting to see points repeated among the panel, and just as interesting to read the unique insights. My favorite came from “Joey C,” creator of “Good Morning Gloucester.”

“You’re not gonna break stuff, just get started.”

With social media platforms abundant and seemingly growing in number every day, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Sure, many of us are casual users of Facebook, Instagram, etc., but using those tools for fundraising or business may seem a tall order for someone who, until recently, was mostly interested in just seeing photos of the kids and grandkids.

Pick one platform and give it a go. Like Joey, I promise you won’t break the InterWebz.

Check out the excellent advice from the Constant Contact presentation here:

50 Tips for Getting Started on Social Media


Case could impact more than churches


This is a fascinating case well covered, as usual, by Christianity Today. It is a coup that the US Supreme Court heard arguments:

“Few cases make it through the costly and time-intensive litigation process to arrive before the Supreme Court. This makes Reed’s case unusual. But the fact that the plaintiff represents such a small religious group is not, said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Larger churches and religious organizations often have political clout that smaller ones do not.

“‘It’s not an accident that it’s [smaller] groups running afoul of the political system,’ Rassbach said. ‘In this situation, there’s no political cost to just shutting down the signs. That’s when you want the First Amendment to come in and protect the little guy.’”

What do you think?


Overlooking the obvious


Having grown up in nearby Middlesboro, Ky., the pinnacle overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is very familiar to me, but I never take it for granted. I’m sure that as long as I live, whenever I am remotely close to this area, I will detour to take in the view. A few years ago, as I was strolling around this spot that places visitors just steps from three states (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia), I saw this below:


The elevation of the pinnacle is more than 2,400 feet, so if you are having problems reading the roof in the photo, it reports “Cold Beer Here” with an arrow toward the front door of the establishment located in the Tennessee burg of Cumberland Gap.

As you promote your small business or non-profit, don’t forget the obvious: location. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never before been to your shop, church or charity. Is there sufficient signage? Do you provide clear driving directions on your website and Facebook page?

I was conducting interviews at a non-profit in Appalachia just a few years ago and was delighted to find a clear, detailed set of driving directions on their website. It ended with the bolded message: “Do not use MapQuest to try to find us!”

The couple that operated the ministry knew exactly what their donors and clients would face when trying to find their headquarters, and they knew that the handy mapping programs that were all the rage would only get visitors lost. That is an impressive level of self awareness.

When was the last time you Googled how to get to your business? Never?

Step out your door and take a fresh look at what’s around you. Is there a restaurant, coffee shop or convenience store close by that gets a lot of traffic? If so, get to know the owners and see if they would be willing to let you piggyback on their success through signage, a stack of brochures at the cash register or other means. For street signs, be sure to check local laws as well as with landowners before you post.

And if you decide to paint a message on your roof, please be careful!

It’s time to sharpen those blades


Businesses and non-profits, especially small ones, often think that the words “marketing” or “public relations” are synonymous with big budgets, and consequently are out of reach.

Not so. With a budget of very little, and I mean, very little, the spotlight can shine on your shop, church or charity. What is needed, much more than money, is a plan and the determination to follow it.

A guy once said to me that some folks are so busy cutting that they never take time to sharpen the blades. They work feverishly, not knowing that every day their productivity and effectiveness are tanking.

Wise words.

I’m a firm believer of not fixing things that are unbroken. (Pardon the double negative.) If your business, ministry or charity is plugging along on word of mouth and existing customers/supporters, it’s obvious you are doing something right! Congrats.

But if not, it may be time to sharpen the blades.

Call or email me and let me see if there’s a way I can help. There’s no charge for an initial consultation. There are so many free opportunities available today to promote your business or non-profit, let’s put some of those to work for you.


(502) 432-8725

In defense of the offensive



It happened so easily and with such “logic,” I was stunned later on.

In discussing cinema owners’ decision to pull the film, The Interview, after threats of violence by North Korea at the multiplexes, I heard myself say, “A movie isn’t worth anyone getting hurt. You gotta pick your battles.”

Yet when Sony Pictures itself bowed the knee, I re-thought the issue, with some help from a strongly worded Facebook post by a friend and mentor.

“Wait a sec. A monster like Sony’s going to let poor, repressed, frightened and doltish North Korea tell us what movies to watch?”

Grab a kilt and cue the bagpipes. It’s time for a throw down.

A bad and unfunny movie isn’t worth a stubbed toe, but free speech is a right for which to die. A lot of people already have done it. Twelve more were added to that list today.

The cold slaughter at Paris’ Charlie Hebdo magazine has been a wake-up call for me.

I enjoy good satire, but It unnerves me sometimes, and I don’t appreciate mean spiritedness. I always want to know where that line is that separates dialogue from diatribe. Often it is invisible until crossed.

Sticking up for someone expressing a view you do not share isn’t comfortable. Comedian Jim Norton told The Blaze just that last summer.

“It’s really hard to truly want people who you hate to have the right to say whatever they want,” he said.

Nailed it.

We live in an offensive world. As a reporter, wordsmith and citizen born in a country with the fundamental right to free speech, I must be more willing to stick up for those who offend me. I may need them to return the favor sometime.

Je Suis Charlie.

Standing in the gap for George


Children’s homes don’t get many doorstep babies anymore. You know, the proverbial infant in a basket or box wrapped in whatever covering a desperate, and often young, mother can find. Thankfully, many more and superior options are available today, even for those in the direst of straits. Below is the story of how a community stood in the gap for a sort-of doorstep baby, and remained there for more than seven decades. 

“Mother: deceased. Father: whereabouts unknown. Child’s condition at time of entrance: skin and bones, rickets.”

The words on the faded page tell the story of George Washington Lawson Jr.’s arrival to the Louisville Baptist Orphans’ Home in 1928. He was a little more than eight months old.

At the age of six, Lawson could say only a few one-syllable words. He never scored higher than a 42 on an IQ test. He worked as a janitor at Spring Meadows Children’s Home in Middletown.

Lawson never owned a car or a home. He never voted or took a cruise. He never married or had children, yet at his recent funeral, the service had to be moved to a larger room because of the overflow crowd.

Before the service ended, the mourners gathered around Lawson’s casket and applauded the man to whom non were related by blood, but who shared the bond of a different sort of family.

“We’ve lost a tie to our past as an agency,” said Mike Dixon, vice president of religious life at KBC, and Lawson’s legal guardian.

“It’s a tribute to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children that, for the last 72 years, George has been a part of who we are,” Dixon added.

While other children at the Louisville Baptist Orphans’ Home were adopted, placed with relatives or moved on to independence, Lawson stayed in the care of the Kentucky Baptist ministry that began in 1869.

Efforts were made to enroll Lawson in the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville to get some help with his speech difficulties. Lawson spent some time in a class for the deaf in the Louisville school district, then the home received a terse letter in 1937 from the district stating, “We can do very little to help George.”

“The school system gave up on George, but the home didn’t turn him away,” Dixon said. “ We never said, ‘We can’t take care of George.’”

Dixon said Lawson brought out the best in people. “Whenever I was with George, my smile-o-meter would go up,” he said. “I know I’d get an extra 10 or 15 smiles just by being with him. And when I was with him, I was always interacting with someone because people just responded to him. He was an accepting, wonderful individual.”

In 1949, the home moved from downtown Louisville to Middletown. Lawson worked and lived on the campus until his retirement in the mid-1990s.

“No matter who the director or CEO was,” Dixon said, “George always had his space.”

J.D. Herndon, superintendent of Spring Meadows from 1959 to 1969 remembered Lawson as an asset to the home.

“George was always busy doing what needed to be done, and there was something about him that people responded to,” Herndon said.

Kentucky Baptists met Lawson’s material needs as individual donors, as the Spring Meadows Auxiliary and as KBC staff members, according to Dixon, Herndon and Larry Dauenhauer, KBC’s former vice president for administrative services.

It was Herndon who wrote Selective Service on Lawson’s behalf when he was drafted in 1961. It was Dauenhauer who helped manage Lawson’s finances and purchased furnishings for his apartment. And, when Lawson retired, it was Dixon who became Lawson’s’ legal guardian, overseeing Lawson’s medical care and his move to the Baptist Towers retirement home.

“George is a symbol to me of what it’s all about,” Dauenhauer said. “The effort was well done. Kentucky Baptists were willing to look out for George when there was no one else.”

The channel of blessing went both ways, according to Herndon and Dixon.

“We always had George over for Christmas every year,” Herndon said. “And he always had a present for each of our three daughters. Even after we left Spring Meadows, whenever he saw me, he would always ask about my wife and our daughters by name.”

The last eight years of George’s life, most Saturdays would find him with Dixon and Dixon’s daughter, Bri, who is mentally disabled.

“No matter who you were, George always told you how pretty you were,” Dixon said. “And he would always tell people, ‘I’m older than you.’ Who wouldn’t want to be told they aren’t the oldest one in the room? He reminded us all how young we could be.”

May 22, 2001 by Dannah Prather, partnership editions editor, Western Recorder

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