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Are My DNA Results Boring?

Back in June, I sent a vial of my spit off to in order to have my DNA tested. This is an autosomal DNA test that crosses both paternal and maternal lines. It's often called "the cousin finder" test. It also specifies one's ethnicity. In their promotions, the website showed colorful pie charts displaying various percentages of geographical lineage. Their video below would have seemed like something from a science fiction movie just a few short years ago:

I was pretty excited. I knew I'd have British ancestry, but a lot of people with British ancestry also have a certain percentage of Scandinavian ancestors as well because of all the raids from the North over the centuries. My grandmother always said there was Cherokee in our lineage although no one could point to any particular person who was Native American. My grandfather, John Mansfield, stated on his Social Security Application that he was of French and Indian descent. Was this true, or was he just blowing smoke? My great great grandmother Josie Kilzer certainly had a German-sounding last name.

As I said, I was really stoked to see the results of the test. I was hoping for great diversity in my lineage. I would have embraced any race or geographical region that appeared on my pie chart. I even hoped I'd get a few new holidays to celebrate.

Then a few days ago, I got my results:

Okay, seriously--are these not the most boring results you've ever seen? 97% British Isles? Where's my multicolored pie chart? Don't get me wrong--I'm not ashamed to be a descendent of British folks, but 97%? Not even a small Scandinavian pie piece to indicate that I'm also descended from Viking warlords? Evidently when the raiders were invading, my family members were hiding the women!

I've looked at a lot of these ethnicity charts, and I honestly can't recall seeing a percentage for one group this high. I'm probably more British than the royal family and more "white" than the average bowl of rice.

Tuesday night, I was sharing my surprise at these results with a couple of my students; and one young woman, an African American, asked me, "Weren't you hoping for at least one percentage African?"

"Yes!" I said. "I've always felt a little bit of soul deep down!"

I mean, here it is the 21st century. Shouldn't we all be individual melting pots at some level?

The only real question remaining, I suppose, relates to that unknown 3%. I have no strong evidence for anything, except a gut-level hunch that it's probably a direct line of descent from the Prometheus Engineers.

Your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.


Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Four: Confronting the Abhorrent Truth

Previous posts:

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part One: The Grandfather I Never Knew

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Two: A Shooting in Phillips County

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Three: Grief Upon Grief

This past Monday, as the sun was setting, I stood at the head of the grave of my great grandfather, William P. Mansfield. I did not know that the gates of Maple Hill Cemetery in Helena, Arkansas, closed at 5 PM, but I had come this far and locked gates did not stop me—I had simply climbed over the fence a few minutes earlier.

As I stood before the paltry grave marker, making a mental note to one day replace it, I patted the top of the rough concrete slab and said, “Don’t worry, William, I’m going to make certain the world knows what really happened.”

As I have earlier recounted, around midnight on April 7, 1920, my great grandfather, William Porter Mansfield, showed up at the home of a Phillips County, Arkansas, deputy sheriff named Lester Yeager. According to Yeager’s testimony, angered over a disputed timber contract, William Mansfield started firing a gun before Yeager could even open the door. Yeager returned fire, shooting my great grandfather four times. He died the next day. There were no other witnesses to offer an alternative version for the events that took place, so although charged with first degree murder, Yeager never actually stood trial for this crime.

I would discover, however, that the truth of these circumstances were much more sinister than what Yeager described or what I ever imagined. It seemed scandalous enough that my great grandmother would marry Yeager, her husband’s killer, eight months after the event took place. And yet with what I know now, that act seems even more egregious and inexcusable.

All families have secrets. If you dig deep enough you’ll find skeletons of your own. Family hurts and scandals are best covered up and forgotten by those immediately attached to them. I would have never known what really happened in Phillips County, Arkansas, to my family had there not been a trial with significant newspaper coverage.

With a gut-level feeling that there was much more to this story than what was at face value, I traveled to Helena, Arkansas, in Phillips County earlier this week. I found this once-bustling boom town on the Mississippi River to be a shadow of its former glory. At the turn of the century there was great opportunity to make a living or even a fortune from cut timber; and after the timber was cut, many a landowner became rich from the cotton grown on his land. In fact, we spent the night in the only decent guest accommodations in Helena: the Edwardian Inn. This elaborate mansion was built in 1904 after its initial owner made over $5 million in a little over a year’s time. That’s $5 million in 1904 dollars, mind you.

Anyone alive today who still remembers my great grandmother Daisy did not know her with the last name "Yeager" or even "Mansfield." They remember her as Daisy Mooney. A vague family memory dictated that she met her last husband Sam Mooney, a railroad detective, while visiting her previous husband at Cummins Prison in Arkansas. Of course, no one in our family remembered the name Yeager, so it had been assumed that it was the Mansfield husband (no one remembered the name William either).

Yet knowing that William was killed in 1920, I knew that if there were any truth to the story that Daisy had a husband in prison, it would have to be Yeager. Yet I also knew Yeager did not go to trial for killing my great grandfather. I knew there had to be something else, so I kept looking.

Combing legal documents in the Phillips County CourthouseKnowing that the next record I had for Daisy placed her in Little Rock in 1928, I was expecting to have to go through a few years worth of records in the handwritten criminal docket book. I did not expect to find something else in 1920, but there it was.

The circuit court judge came to Phillips County twice a year--in April and in October. For the latter session in 1920, I found Lester Yeager's name again. The charge was quite alarming: carnal abuse. Earlier that morning, while sifting through records in the courthouse, I'd discovered Lester Yeager's July 1920, resignation letter from the sheriff's department. I'd wondered about it, but people transition out of occupations all the time. By itself it didn't mean anything. Now, I really started to wonder if there might be a connection.

The docket did not list the victim, but it did list the verdict: guilty with a sentence of 21 years in the state penitentiary.

It took us a while to find the actual documents for the trial because no one at the courthouse could remember how files from that time were arranged. We had the case number though: 4684. We began our "needle in a haystack" search combing through thousands of cases until we discovered it.

I wrote a few weeks ago that my jaw dropped when I learned that my great grandmother, Daisy, married her husband's shooter, Lester Yeager. My jaw dropped again when I saw the name of his victim of "carnal abuse": Elizabeth Mansfield, the daughter of William and Daisy Mansfield and the older sister of my grandfather, John.

Now, if you've read this far into this sordid tale, I want to make certain you are clear on the chronology of these events:

from the Helena Daily World, November 8, 1921December 1919: Lester Yeager (a 39-year-old deputy sheriff) begins having sexual relations with Elizabeth Mansfield (a twelve-year-old girl). This will continue until at least March, 1920, and in the process, Elizabeth becomes pregnant.

April 7, 1920: William Mansfield shows up at the door of Lester Yeager around midnight. Gunfire is exchanged and William dies a day later. Lester claims that the dispute was over a timber contract, but there are no witnesses. Based on what we now know--Aunt Beth may have possibly been starting to "show"--I think he went to confront Lester, possibly even kill him. Lester is a deputy sheriff with powerful connections. Not only does he seem to have a good relationship with Sheriff Kichena, later that year, George Yeager will be elected major (I have not yet verified a family connection, but it’s an interesting coincidence). Although Lester Yeager is arrested for first degree murder, he never goes to trial for this act--the case is dismissed.

July, 1920: Yeager resigns as a deputy sheriff.

September to December 1920: Aunt Beth gives birth to a baby that is put up for adoption. Court documents reveal that she did indeed give birth. The date span I’ve listed here is a probable guess.

October 27, 1920: Lester Yeager is arrested for "carnal abuse." The trial is postponed until 1921; Yeager is released on $500 bond.

December 20, 1920: On the day after his 40th birthday, Lester marries Daisy Mansfield, the wife of the man he killed in April and the mother of the girl he has sexually abused. Note that the marriage occurs after his arrest for sexually abusing Elizabeth.

November 8, 1921: After less than a day of testimony and a 15-minute jury deliberation, Lester Yeager is found guilty of carnal abuse against Elizabeth Mansfield and sentenced to 21 years in the state penitentiary, the maximum sentence. His lawyers immediately file a motion for a new trial, but I have found no record that this was ever even considered. More than likely, the judge simply threw it out. The last mention of Yeager I could find in the newspapers occurred on November 15, 1921. The article mentioned that Yeager, unable to pay his bond (his money undoubtedly exhausted on his unsuccessful legal defense), was sitting in the Helena jail waiting for the judge’s decision on his motion for a new trial. More than likely, Yeager never saw another day as a free man again—thankfully.

Court documents and newspaper accounts can tell us the “what” of history, but they don't always tell us the “why.” As I’ve thought through these events, outside of some incredibly forceful coercion, I can’t conceive of any reason that would justify Daisy’s decision to marry this man knowing what he did to her husband and her daughter. Of course, more than likely, Daisy may have been involved with this man, too, with one bad decision leading to another. If so, she would unfortunately not be the first wife to ignore abuse taking place right in her own home. And unless I one day discover a diary or some kind of personal correspondence chronicling these events, I doubt that I’ll ever have anything more than my own speculation for the reasons behind her actions.

Daisy and Lester Yeager, 1921, in Lexa, Arkansas.

I also think of my grandfather, John—Beth’s younger brother. His wife and my grandmother, Maurene, said that he was an extremely smart man—very gifted in regard to anything mechanical. But that description was always followed by “But he could have been so much more if he had been able to get more than a grade school education, and if he had not been so drawn to alcohol.” She said that John had told her that he had to drop out of school after the fourth or fifth grade to help support the family. Now we know why. His own father died trying to protect his family. His “stepfather” (if Yeager can even be called that) went to jail the following year. My grandfather John had to work to support his family. Like his sister, his childhood was also cut desperately short. Moreover, history does not record any positive male influence in his life during his formative teenage years.

As I contemplate these events, I wonder this: if my grandfather John had experienced a better childhood, would his adult life have turned out differently? Would he have been more responsible? Would he have not been so controlled by alcohol? Would I have ever met him?

Or would I even have been born at all?

There’s a clichéd question in philosophy that asks, “If you go back in time and kill your own grandfather, will you then cease to exist?” For me, the question is different, though—“If I could go back in time and prevent my great grandfather from getting killed, would I then cease to exist?”

The altered question pertains to my own existence because I am here because of my grandfather’s bad decisions, which I am convinced, were contributed to by an extremely disruptive childhood and dysfunctional (to put it mildly) family life. My grandfather, John, married Ena Prier, and they had four children. Then, with the youngest child only two years old, John left Ena for my grandmother, Maurene. My father, his two sisters, and I all owe our existence to the irresponsibility of this man.

And while this makes for interesting speculation about my own existence, none of my family history defines who I am. We are all responsible for our own decisions. In the end, I answer for myself; and although I make mistakes, I can’t blame them on my family tree.

If anything, my being here—my very existence—is the result of God’s grace. I am reminded of the Old Testament story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery—a horrific action when he was very young. Later after he has risen to a position of prominence in Egypt, he tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20, NIV). God didn’t force Joseph’s brothers to do what they did; they had clear intent and malice. Nevertheless, God, who could see the big picture of history, was moving in these same events, guiding Joseph so that despite his circumstances, a great amount of good would come about.

The Apostle Paul has a similar thought in the New Testament when he writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28, NIV). I sometimes hear people talk about God as if he causes bad things to happen to us so that he can then turn around and bring good from it, or so that he can teach us something from it. This idea is usually followed by the inane statement, often quoted as if it's scripture itself (it's not): "Everything happens for a reason." I believe that’s a distortion, and I refuse to accept that kind of fatalism. Bad things happen for a variety of reasons or no reason at all. Trying to find divine purpose behind every tragedy will drive a person mad or create feelings of anger and distrust toward God. Nevertheless, I know that God can take the bad events that happen in our lives and turn them into very positive and good results—on an exponential scale. This is the very essence of redemption.

Yes, my existence partly owes itself to the fact that my grandfather could be a bit of a scoundrel at times, and he was responsible for his own actions. Nevertheless, I also believe that I am here as a part of God’s purpose—not just me, but my father, his sisters and all my cousins and their children who can trace their lineage back to the Mansfields I’ve been writing about. If we open ourselves to God’s will in our lives, he will work for the good of us and for those with whom we come into contact.

I confess to being fascinated with the lives of my forebears in spite of the disconcerting details. My DNA tells me that they are a part of me, and I am a part of them. But I am also something more. In the end, I am my own person, and I am responsible for my words and my actions. I can choose to learn from the mistakes of previous generations and my own, and what I do with that information helps determine my own path.

Your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.


Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Three: Grief Upon Grief

I originally intended only three parts to this series with the last focusing on reflections of the previous two. However, in the time since I've written part two, new information has come to light which I've included here. Part four will contain my promised reflections upon these branches of my family tree. 

If you haven't read them already, before reading this post, read

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part One: The Grandfather I Never Knew

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Two: A Shooting in Phillips County

William Mansfield and his family moved to Helena, Arkansas, in search of work. They saw Helena as a place of opportunity, especially with jobs from the Solomon-Moore Land Company, which even offered its own company housing. And yet, Helena proved to be a place of great loss as well. My great grandfather William was not the only Mansfield to die in Helena in the early part of the 20th century. In 1915, five years before my great grandfather died in a gunfight with Lester Yeager, his older brother John T. Mansfield would die an untimely death—also at the wrong end of a gun.

Jonesboro Evening Sun, June 17, 1915John T. Mansfield and his son-in-law, L. L. Blaylock (no relation to the famous Texas sheriff from what I can tell) were drinking together on Sunday, June 13, 1915, when an old argument arose between them. Going home to sleep it off wasn’t enough for John T. He grabbed his gun and headed over to his daughter’s house to have a second, more serious round with his son-in-law. Supposedly, John T. opened fire on Blaylock, wounding him, but not critically. Blaylock wrestled the gun away from his father-in-law and shot him dead.

I had come across this story by accident and initially was not certain that John T. Mansfield was related to my great grandfather William or not. However, sending away for John T.’s death certificate confirmed that they had the same parents. Moreover, the personal information on John T. Mansfield’s death certificate was filled out by William himself—an irony considering William would die in similar circumstances five years later. Some people refuse to learn from the mistakes of others.

There were actually three Mansfield brothers. Thomas Mansfield was the eldest and the only one of the three who would die a non-violent death in 1940 in New Orleans. The three families had been in Boyle, Mississippi, together and had moved to Helena together in search of a better life. It was Thomas who would fill out the personal information on William’s death certificate in 1920. I can only imagine what kind of grief he experienced as he saw the violent deaths of two of his brothers in a span of five years. According to a cousin of mine, Thomas Mansfield was a serious moonshiner. Did his own product contribute to the death of his brother? I don’t know if my great grandfather, William, was drinking the night he showed up at Lester Yeager’s door, gun in hand, but it would not surprise me. Of course, for all I know, they may have all been moonshiners.

I’m still trying to find out what happened to Blaylock after shooting his father-in-law. A trial was set for the next Friday after the shooting, but I’ve yet to find anything detailing the outcome of the trial. But even if it was found that he killed John T. Mansfield in self-defense, he still had to go home to his wife, who would always know that her husband killed her father. This does not make for happy family memories. 

And I wonder what my grandfather, John Richard Mansfield, felt when at the age of seven, he saw his uncle John T.—the man he had been named after—die; and then at the age of twelve, saw his own father die. Grief upon grief, only to be compounded by the awkwardness of his mother—my great grandmother Daisy—marrying Lester Yeager, the man who had shot her husband. And you thought your family was dysfunctional?

This past Sunday at church, I taught from Joshua 7, which to me is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible for modern people to connect to their circumstances and sentiments. In this story, the disobedience of one Israelite man—Achan—lead to the death of 36 Israelite soldiers and ultimately the deaths of himself and his entire family. Rather than focusing too much on the unsettling parts of the story, I reminded those in our study that our sins never affect us alone. Sin is like a contagion—it spreads. Its consequences affect those around us, and sadly, those who look up to us often end up making the same mistakes at a later date.

History has a long line of foolish men (and women, for that matter) who thought that packing a gun would make them sit a bit higher in the saddle or somehow earn them greater respect. I remember years ago considering getting a concealed carry permit for the .38 special I own. About this time, I saw on the local news that a man had pulled a gun on another man after getting into an argument over a parking incident in a grocery store parking lot. The second man also had a gun, so he reached for his and quickly killed his would-be attacker. Loss of life—over a parking lot argument! I remember thinking to myself at the time, “There’s a reason I’ve never been in a gunfight: I don’t carry a gun.” I realize that some people have legitimate reasons for doing so, but I don’t, and I won’t. 

More to come--stay tuned. 


Your thoughts, comments, questions and rebuttals are welcome in the comments below.


"Sin is a demon crouching at the door" (Gen 4:7, REB)

A crouching gargoyle from Notre DameHaving not read through the mostly British-used Revised English Bible (1989 revision of the 1972 New English Bible) in a while, I thought I was slowly go back through it as part of my morning Bible readings. Since the REB, like the NEB before it, often has a bit more literary flavor than other, more mainstream, translations, I decided to take a few notes as I read through it this time in regard to renderings and phrases that stand out. As time allows, I'll offer brief posts here about the more interesting examples. 

This morning in Genesis 4, I noticed the insertion of the word demon in v. 7--

"If you do well, you hold your head up; if not, sin is a demon crouching at the door; it will desire you, and you will be mastered by it" (emphasis added).

The context of the verse has to do with the conflict between Cain and Abel. After presenting their gifts to Yahweh, Abel's gift is approved and Cain's is rejected. The REB reads that "Cain was furious and he glowered" (4:5). Glowered is such a descriptive word here: "have an angry or sullen look on one's face; scowl: she glowered at him suspiciously" (New Oxford American Dictionary). Yahweh responds to Cain with the questions, "Why are you angry? Why are you scowling?" (4:6), and then he states the words in v. 7 that I quoted above. 

I thought this was an interesting phrase. Without the word demon, Sin is simply personified as a generic enemy in hiding, waiting to trip us (perhaps literally) up. The REB's addition of a demon is still a personification of sin, but now it takes a much darker, malevolent tone. 

Here is a comparison of the verse in Accordance with the phrase highlighted in both the REB and Hebrew. Note also the double red underline which will apply to part of the discussion below. 

I was curious to see if there was any textual basis for adding the word demon to the text, but I initially saw nothing in the Hebrew or in any variant that would lend itself to add the word demon. Although I did not do an exhaustive search, I could not find the word demon in any mainstream translations other than the earlier New English Bible, on which the REB is based. I did, however, find it in the translation created by Speiser in the 1983 Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis:

"Surely, if you act right, it should mean exaltation. But if you do not, sin is the demon at the door, whose urge is toward you; yet you can be his master."

Speiser defends his use of demon in Gen 4:7 in his comment on the passage (p. 33): 

Now the stem rbṣ in Hebrew signifies "to couch." A pertinent noun is otherwise unattested in this language, but is well known in Akkadian as rābiṣum, a term for "demon." These beings were depicted both as benevolent and malevolent, often lurking at the entrance of a building to protect or threaten the occupants. Phonologically, rābiṣum, both noun and participle, would be matched in Hebrew by rōbēṣ. The adjective is independently attested. The noun is not; it would have to be regarded in the present instance as an early loanword from Akkadian. There can be no inherent objection to such a derivation, especially in the narrative before us, the locale of which is still in the vicinity of Eden, with the principle character settling eventually "east of Eden." It would thus be the rōbēṣ whose "urge" is directed toward Cain, but with whom Cain could still thwart if he would control his jealous impulses—all expressed with faultless syntax. 

John H. Walton (ZIBBCOT, Genesis, p. 38) offers a more brief explanation and summary of the above facts, but also offers this alternative meaning of administrator before leaning in the direction of demon:

An alternative is available if we access earlier Akkadian texts where the rabiṣu is not a demon but an important administrator who served a judicial function. In Ur III texts he was responsible for preliminary examination at trials. By the mid-second millennium, texts from Amarna and Ugarit showed the role of the rabiṣu respectively as local ruler and important witness of documents or at trials. The fact that the text mentions the desire to master Cain favors rabiṣu as a demon.

I polled a few other commentaries and found that a number of them also give credence to the possibility of a direct reference to the rābiṣum, or "crouching demon," or at least an allusion to it. Although I'm sure that certain religious groups would thrill to have an extra demon to reference in this passage, the fact remains that if this is a reference to the crouching demon, the overall idea is still used as a personification of sin by the writer of Genesis. He's telling us that Sin is like that old croucher, Rābiṣum, hiding unseen, waiting to trip us up when we don't expect it. Therefore, we have to be alert so that we master him before he masters us! I'm really surprised that more translations don't pick up on this idea. Personally, I think that would really preach!

As always, your thoughts, questions, comments, and rebuttals are welcome below.


Lifeway Stores Remove "The Blind Side" from Shelves Over Profanity--Is the Bible Next?

According to a report in Louisiville's Courier-Journal, Baptist-owned Lifeway Stores have pulled the 2009 movie The Blind Side from its shelves over profanity. 

In spite of the film's positive treatments of issues like racial reconciliation, care of the homeless, and true hospitality, a bit of swearing will keep this movie out of Lifeway Stores. Perhaps the PTB at Lifeway didn't catch the MPAA's PG-13 rating of the movie for "one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references" to begin with. Maybe if that were the only issue and no swearing was involved in the above-described scene, the movie could stay on the shelves. 

Regardless, this got me thinking... What if Lifeway were to really get consistent with this "no swearing" policy for everything they carried. Would they really go all the way and remove the Bible, too?

Wait...what? You didn't know there was swearing in the Bible? Well, if you didn't, it's because most translations tend to smooth over objectionable language. 

I should stop to point out right now that the posts on this blog have always ranged from being rated G to PG, and that's not going to change now, but I will respectfully offer three examples of profanity (or at least very strong language) in the Bible for sake of argument. 

Philippians 3:8

Let's start with Paul in the New Testament, who after offering a pretty impressive resume of his earthly accomplishments, calls them for what they are in light of what he's gained from knowing Christ:

"More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth [σκύβαλον/skubalon], so that I may gain Christ" (HCSB, emphasis added).

Paul uses a very interesting choice of words here. The Greek word σκύβαλον/skubalon could refer to garbage or excrement according to its use. However, there's very little doubt as to how Paul was using this word here. And it's interesting to see commentators attempt to explain this without using strong language themselves. Consider J. I. Packer's explanation (NIDNTT, 1:480):

The only NT usage is Paul’s in Phil. 3:8, where he says of all the natural and religious privileges which once seemed sweet and precious, and all the things he has lost since becoming a Christian, “I count (estimate, evaluate) them as (nothing but) dung.” The coarse and violent word shows how completely Paul had ceased to value them.

Spicq may have made the sense a bit more plain when he wrote, "To convey the crudity of the Greek, however: 'It’s all crap'" (TLNT, 3:265). Truthfully, though, when you think of our modern word that's a bit stronger, that's the kind of intensity that Paul probably meant. 


Ezekiel: just about any time he refers to idols

Ezekiel is not alone in this in the Old Testament, but he has a preferred word when referring to idols: גִּלּוּל/gillul. 

Daniel Block explains it best in his commentary on Ezekiel (NICOT, Ezekiel, vol. 1, p. 226):

idols. The word gillûlı̂m...represents Ezekiel’s favorite expression for “images.” Although he did not coin the term, the fact that 39 of its 48 occurrences in the OT are in this book indicates its usefulness for his purposes. The word appears to be an artificial construct derived from the verb gālal, “to roll,” but vocalized after the pattern of šiqqûṣı̂m. The adoption of this word as a designation for idols may have been prompted by the natural pelletlike shape and size of sheep feces or, less likely, the cylindrical shape of human excrement. The name has nothing to do with the shape of idols, but it expresses Ezekiel’s/Yahweh’s disposition toward them. Modern sensitivities prevent translators from rendering this expression as Ezekiel intended it to be heard, but had he been preaching today, he would probably have identified these idols with a four-letter word for excrement.* A more caustic comment on idolatry can scarcely be imagined. Yahweh’s treatment of these images will involve not only their “smashing” (šābar) and “obliteration” (šābat), but their exposure as powerless figments of the human imagination. The destruction of the images testifies to the deities’ impotence to defend themselves, and the slaughter of the devotees to the gods’ inability to defend their worshipers.

In the original of the above, there are actually a number of footnotes that I'm not reproducing here. However, I will reproduce (with apologies for those who might be offended) footnote 45, which I have replaced with an asterisk above. It reads: "Bodi (RB 100 [1993] 481, 510) captures the intended sense with 'shitgods.'" You can read Block's explanation of Ezek 16:36 in the second volume of his commentary for an even more harsh use of this imagery. 

Hmmm... based on this example and the one from Paul, I'm noticing a biblical theme not covered in most topical treatments of the Bible...


1 Samuel 20:30

“Then Saul became angry with Jonathan and shouted, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you are siding with Jesse’s son to your own shame and to the disgrace of your mother?” (HCSB)

Now, you probably think that I'm referring to the phrase, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!" (בֶּן־נַעֲוַת הַמַּרְדּוּת/ben-na‘awat hammardut) which would certainly have an equivalent modern expression not fit for mixed company, but I'm not actually referring to that phrase. While not specifically swearing perhaps, Saul is using language that is quite strong and forceful in the second half of his sentence. The more literal New American Standard communicates it differently (but not necessarily more clearly): "Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness [עֶרְוַת אִמֶּךָ/‘erwat ’immekha]?" (emphasis added).

David Tsumura explains (NICOT, p. 520):

The term nakedness (ʿerwat), which may refer euphemistically to genitals, is used in a curse: to the disgrace of your mother’s nakedness. Here the emphasis is on the disgrace or shame which Saul thinks Jonathan has brought upon himself and his family rather than “his mother’s genitals, whence he came forth.” Note that the nakedness itself is disgraceful to anyone.

As an aside, it is well known that, in regard to the first phrase, when the Living Bible was first completed in the early 70s, Kenneth Taylor, did in fact use the modern expression "son of a bitch." It even appears that way in The Children's Living Bible that my grandmother gave me in 1973. In all later editions of the Living Bible, the phrase was altered to "You fool!" which is probably too weak. The current New Living Translation reads "You stupid son of a whore!" which like the original Hebrew, is pretty tough language if you're the recipient of it. 


Honorable Mentions

  • Although not offensive in 1611, reading 1 Sam 25:22, 34; 1 Kgs 14:10; 16:11; 21:21; 2 Kgs 9:8; 18:27; Isa 36:12 in the King James Version would not be seen as appropriate in many churches today.
  • And while not containing actual profanity, in my mind "Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite” (Ezek 16:45, HCSB) is an example of real fighting words :-)


My apologies to my mother, for all the language, if you are reading this post. 


As always, your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome in the comments below.


...And a Poem (Kathy's New Book)

Kathy's new collection of Bible poetry, ...And a Poem, is now available for the Kindle, Nook, and in paperback

The title is borrowed from that old stereotypical preacher's formula, "three points and a poem." Often Kathy will take sermon notes by putting a message to poetry, and some of her best are collected here. 

For instance, here's her poem about Eutychus, based on Acts 20:7-12:

The Apostle Paul often spoke
For hours upon end
And sometimes went past midnight
When he caught a second wind.

One such night this happened
While Eutychus sat perched
High upon a windowsill
When meeting with the church.

A yawn, a crash, and chaos!
Eutychus fell fast,
The fall was down three stories
And he knew it was his last!

The people crowded round
While Paul ran to his side.
He wrapped his arms around him,
Poor Eutychus had died.

“Alas! He isn’t hurt!”
Was Paul’s excited shout.
He had raised him from the dead—
There wasn’t any doubt!

Paul preached on ‘til dawn
While the people sat in awe
After seeing this great miracle
Of Eutychus and his fall.


Seriously--where else are you going to find a poem about Eutychus? She even has one about Zerubbabel, believe it or not!

...And a Poem is the first of hopefully many books from This Lamp Press (you read that correctly). This first volume contains 45 poems, and watch for a second book of Kathy's poetry later this summer, tentatively titled Pictures on the Fridge.

We've tried to price these books inexpensively because we're more interested in people actually reading them than making money. The Kindle and Nook editions are 99¢ and the paperback is $6.99, which is about as low as we can make it. 




Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Two: A Shooting in Phillips County

William Mansfield's simple grave marker in Maple Hill Cemetery, Phillips County, ArkansasSupposedly, my great grandfather shot first. 

However, we only have the testimony of his killer for this fact. There were no other witnesses, so ultimately we’ll never know what really happened. All we know for certain is that on April 8, 1920, William P. Mansfield died of four gunshot wounds he received the previous day in Lexa, Arkansas. 

Believe it or not, learning that my great grandfather died in a gunfight is not what shocked me most. The more startling revelation relates to what my great grandmother did afterwards. 

William P. Mansfield was born in Kentucky in 1880, the son of a Scottish immigrant who married an American girl from the bluegrass state. I don’t know a lot about William, and I know even less about his parents, but I’ve learned enough to piece together his movements for the last fifteen years of his life. 

In 1905, William married Daisy Julian, a young woman whose families had settled a couple of generations earlier in the northwest corner of Tennessee in Obion County. Daisy had grown up in Union City, right on the border with Kentucky, where she no doubt had met William. They married on Saturday, April 22, in Alexander County, Illinois. I’m not certain why they went to Illinois to get married, but it’s actually only 70 miles north of Daisy’s hometown.

By 1909, they were a family of four living in Helena, Arkansas: William, Daisy, Mary Elizabeth (age 2) and John my grandfather (age 1). William worked for the Solomon-Moore Land Company, and they all lived in company housing on the south end of town. 

William moved the family wherever he could find the best work to provide for them. The very next year, the family crossed back over to the other side of Mississippi River and settled in Boyle, Mississippi, roughly seventy miles south down river. 

The details surrounding the next few years are sketchy, but by 1920, the Mansfield family had moved back to Helena, Arkansas, where they show up in the 1920 U.S. Census, taken in January of that year. They were no longer living in company housing, and William seems to be working as a freelance carpenter.

Daisy (my great grandmother) and her son, John (my grandfather), 1957 in Memphis, TennesseeIn my previous post, I wrote about John Mansfield (William’s son), my grandfather who died a few months before I was born. John was intelligent and charismatic, but ultimately, his life brought with it much tragedy. In the course of less than two decades, he abandoned two separate families--two wives and seven children combined. In the end, as an alcoholic and diabetic, he died alone in a flophouse of gangrene poisoning because he would not go to the doctor regarding his infected leg. 

I also noted that my grandmother (John’s second wife) felt like her husband could have accomplished more in life had he not had to drop out of school with only a grade school education in order to support the family. 

Why, though, did John have to drop out of school? When I started researching my grandfather and his family, I initially got stuck in 1920 because there were a number of unanswered questions. 

Although I found the family intact in Phillips County, Arkansas, living in the town of Helena in January, 1920, I stumbled upon a marriage record for December of the same year in which a Daisy Mansfield married a man named L. E. A. Yeager. Assuming that there weren’t multiple Daisy Mansfields in Helena, Arkansas, in 1920, I had to wonder what had happened to William Mansfield? Did they divorce? Did something happen to him?

So I dug a little deeper and came across a listing in the Arkansas Death Index for a William Mansfield, who died on April 8, 1920, in Phillips County, Arkansas. Was this my great grandfather? Could he have died at less than 40 years old? To know for certain, I sent off for his death certificate. After I received it, I discovered that it was indeed the William Mansfield of my family tree. 

If not some kind of terminal illness, I halfway expected to discover that William died in some kind of accident--perhaps a misstep in his line of work as a carpenter. I did not expect to see “gunshot wounds” as his cause of death. I was a bit shocked. Part of me, which has no real emotional attachment to this man, thought it sounded a bit exotic to have an ancestor die in a gunfight. 

Nevertheless, I knew there had to be more to this story. How did my great grandfather get into a position in which he died of gunshot wounds?

Assuming that such an event would be big news in a small town in 1920, I contacted the Phillips County Library, which I had learned housed the archives of the local newspaper. After I described the event to one of the local librarians, she told me she would look in the newspaper around the days surrounding William’s death to see if there were any accounts of what happened. 

When I talked to her later that afternoon, the librarian told me that she had found two articles regarding William Mansfield’s death. One was written soon after he had been shot, but while he was still alive. The second one was written after he had already died. She told me she would send the articles to me in the mail.

After I thanked her and was about to hang up, she said, “Oh, and I now know the name of your great grandfather’s killer, if you are interested.” I was certainly interested but had not really thought about it. I assumed that the killer would just be a name to me. Out of curiosity, though, I said, “Yes, please, tell me the killer’s name.”

From The Helena Daily World, April 8, 1920You hear of people’s jaws dropping when hearing shocking news, but it seems like more of a cliche than an actual physical reaction. Yet, I can promise you that my jaw literally dropped when she said that the shooter’s name was L. E. A. Yeager. 

Yes, this was the same man my great grandmother, sweet Daisy, married later that year!

There were no eyewitnesses to what actually happened. The events reported in the paper on April 8, 1920, were based solely on the story of Lester Elgin Archer Yeager, a Phillips County sheriff’s deputy, and the shooter of my great grandfather. On the evening of Wednesday, April 7, 1920, my great grandfather, William P. Mansfield, traveled from his home in Helena fifteen miles to nearby Lexa, Arkansas. 

According to Yeager, the quarrel between the two was over lumber contracts. Yeager also claims that William fired a gun twice before he could even open the door (a little detail that still sounds odd to me--was he trying to shoot through the door?). Then, Yeager returned fire shooting William four times. He died the next day. 

Of course it’s tragedy enough that Daisy lost her husband in such a violent manner. Yet it absolutely blows me away that eight months later, she married her husband’s killer!

There is obviously much more to this story, and it will require an eventual trip to Helena, Arkansas, to look for more answers. In the meantime, though, I have lots of questions. For instance, I don’t blame Daisy for marrying so quickly. That was common in those days for means of support, especially when there were children involved. But why would she marry her husband’s shooter? Was William Mansfield a really bad man and Yeager seen as a savior? Were Daisy and Yeager involved in an illicit relationship? Did Yeager have some kind of power over Daisy and the rest of the family?

From The Helena Daily World, April 9, 1920And what about my grandfather, John? Even if his father was a bad man, such events had to have taken a terrible toll on a 12-year-old boy. To lose a father at such a formative time in a young boy’s life would have long-term consequences. And what did John think about his mother marrying his father’s killer? 

I will always want to be clear that I don’t want to excuse my grandfather’s bad decisions in life. He made poor choices and they were his direct responsibility. And yet, with the knowledge I have now--even if still incomplete--I have to admit that I judge him less harshly than I did before. 

Is it any surprise that someone who had experienced such tragic loss at such a young age might have trouble maintaining long-term relationships later in life? Again, even if William was not a nice guy, young boys often want to look up to their fathers, often overlooking their flaws. What kind of feelings were inside 12-year-old John when his mother married his father's killer? When she brought him into their home? Is it surprising at all that as an adult, he might try to futiley escape these memories in a bottle? 

In my next and final installment, I’ll offer some closing reflections on these events and my grandfather’s life. And I may even throw in a little bit of philosophical speculation in regard to this very enthralling section of my family tree. Check back in a few days.


As always, your thoughts, questions, comments, and rebuttals are welcome below.


Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part One: The Grandfather I Never Knew

John at 49 in 1957, ten years before he died. I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died five months before I was born.

John William Richard Mansfield (one of many variations of his name) died during the first week of July (we don’t know the exact day) in 1967. Estranged from the family, he died alone in Memphis, Tennessee, as a result--according to his death certificate--of septicemia. 

If you’re not familiar with septicemia, I’ll save you the bother of looking it up: it’s blood poisoning. My grandfather, John, had two conflicting maladies; he was both diabetic and alcoholic. The two do not go well together because consumed alcohol converts to sugar in the digestive system. Moreover, John was not one to faithfully take his insulin injections. 

About a week before he died, my father’s older half-brother, Johnnie, paid his father a visit. John had a wound on one of his legs that looked badly infected. Actually, it was gangrenous. Johnnie told his father that he need to go to the doctor, but John wouldn’t go. He knew they would remove his leg, and he felt that he just couldn’t live as an amputee. Very true, but I'm sure not as he meant it. 

I’ve heard hushed stories about my grandfather, John Mansfield, all my life. As I said, I never knew him. I also heard that I had aunts and uncles I’d never met--as well as cousins--all from a marriage my grandfather had to a woman who was not my grandmother.  

My grandfather was born on March 17, 1908, somewhere in Kentucky (we’re not certain exactly where). His parents were William P. Mansfield (born Nov 4, 1880) and Daisy Dean Julian (born sometime in August, 1882). There was also a sister, Mary Elizabeth, about a year older than John, whom the surviving family knew as “Aunt Beth.” I’d never heard of any of them except for John until a few months ago.

Frankly, John Mansfield was not an overly responsible individual (and that’s being very kind). In 1931, he married Ena Prier, and they had four children--two boys and two girls. But sometime around 1938, John started seeing Maurene (yes, that spelling is correct) Fowler, my grandmother, in Little Rock, Arkansas. When Maurene found out John was married, she broke things off with him. She told him she was not the kind of woman who would date a married man.

Maurene was nearly 30 years old when she had started seeing John. I have very distinct memories of my grandmother, but they all come about three decades after these events and beyond. When I remember her, she’s at near saint-level in my mind. She was a pillar of her church when I knew her. I’m sure she could have told you her sins, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I never saw them.

Therefore it’s hard to imagine a man like John being willing to leave a wife and four children for my grandmother. And even after he came calling again in 1939, with the ink still fresh on the papers of his divorce from Ena, it boggles my mind that Maurene would have anything to do with him. Perhaps it was her age. I have no idea how many suitors had come calling in her younger days, but I’m sure that by the age of 31, the number had drastically dwindled.  

And yet history has a funny way of repeating itself. In late 1939, John and Maurene got married. After they had three children, one of whom is my father, John simply disappeared one day. I believe it was around 1947, but I could be off a year or two. By the time he came back about half a decade later, begging Maurene to take him back, she simply wouldn’t hear of it. She’d worked three jobs at times to support herself and three children. Maurene was college educated (a rarity for women in those days) which allowed her to teach elementary school, but an Arkansas teacher’s salary in the 1940s and 50s was not enough to make ends meet. 

The charismatic John Mansfield at 20 (1928). On the left, a family friend, Aubrey; and on the right, John's sister, Beth.I don’t blame my grandmother for not taking my grandfather back. I have no doubt she probably loved him even years later. From everything I can tell, he was an extremely charismatic individual. But his increased drinking had brought chaos into her life years before, and now she had to think of what would bring the greatest stability for her three children. John and Maurene never divorced, but they would never live in the same house again either. John moved to Memphis where much of his family from his first marriage lived. 

In spite of John’s faults, there were some positives. My father tells me how smart his father was. And this information comes not from his own memory, but from the testimony of his mother, Maurene. She said there wasn’t anything mechanical that he couldn’t figure out. He could take any device apart, fix it, and put it back together again. My grandmother told my father that she really believes he could have been something more if it weren’t for the fact that he had to drop out of school after about the fifth grade to help support the family.

Also, I’ve recently met some of my “half” first cousins--that is, grandchildren of John and his first wife, Ena--who are a bit older than me and remember him. Although John’s wives and children had great reason to be wary of him, his grandchildren who knew him seem to have fond memories of their brief experiences with him. They describe John as kind and funny, even if he did tend to always smell a bit like tobacco and whiskey. One of my cousins told me that she really liked her grandfather, but her father didn't let him come around much.

It’s easy to judge my grandfather harshly. Certainly no one can excuse the abandonment of not one, but two separate families. But where did John’s life first take a turn for the worse? 

No one living now seemed to know the exact circumstances that led to my grandfather’s disadvantaged childhood, vaguely described years ago by my grandmother. As I began digging into the past, I discovered a family scandal that is not only shocking to me--even weeks after I first discovered it--but still sounds like something more the stuff of fiction than real life. Nevertheless, I have the historical records and newspaper reports that prove what happened on the night of April 7, 1920. 

I’ll provide the jaw-dropping account of those events in my next installment. 


As always, your questions, thoughts, comments or rebuttals are always welcome below. 


Go See Tyler Perry's Good Deeds and Support Homeless Youth through Covenant House

I haven't had a chance to see the movie yet, but I was contacted a few days ago with a request to alert my readers to the opportunity to see Tyler Perry's Good Deeds and at the same time support Covenant House, which provides food, clothing, shelter and support for homeless young people.

Here is a brief explanation from the correspondence I received:

Essentially, Good Deeds: Great Needs is an initiative to provide support for Covenant House, a non-profit organization that provides hearty meals, warm beds, and safe shelter to homeless youth.  We are partnering with Gift Card Giver, an Atlanta-based organization that collects unused gift cards and distributes remaining balances to non-profit organizations, will be donating all gift cards collected through Good Deeds: Great Needs to Covenant House. Also, in support of the initiative, Lionsgate has agreed to make a financial donation in support of Covenant House each time the Good Deeds:Great Needs video is shared through 

I'm certain Good Deeds is worth seeing, but I've followed Covenant House for many years, and I know for certain that this ministry is worth your support. So go see Good Deeds (it opened this weekend) and support the good deeds carried out through Covenant House. 



I Cannot Write a Review for Safe House

I saw most of Safe House today.

I say most because in what I think was the final scene (Ryan Reynolds was sitting in Sam Shepard's office), suddenly the screen went white. The final scene (if it was the final scene) did not conclude. No credits. Just a white screen and then the advertisements that play between showings. 

There were only about eight of us in this screen, but my buddy got up to alert someone from Shelbyville's [Not So] Great Escape 8 Theater regarding what had happened. A representative of Shelbyville's [Not So] Great came in to inform us that they would correct the error and someone would come back in a moment to update us on the situation. 

Two people left, but the rest of us waited for about 10 minutes until another representative of Shelbyville's [Not So] Great came back into our screen. She told us that unfortunately, they would not be able to take us back to the point in the movie where we were when the movie ended. In fact, we would not be seeing the end of the movie at all.

This also meant we would not be watching the credits either.

Now...I did take my so-called "free ticket," but honestly, I was a bit put off. I mean, who knows if I'll ever see the end of Safe House. I'm not going to take my free ticket and sit through the whole movie again just to see the ending. I'm not going to rent the movie in a few months just to see the ending. Who would do that? 

I guess that means that I think Safe House was a bit too tedious to watch again so soon. But overall, did I like it? I don't know--I didn't see the ending. And an ending can make or break a movie, but that was taken from me, and evidently the crew on duty was not competent enough to fix it.

But I know this: I definitely don't recommend Shelbyville [Not So] Great Escape 8.