Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Marshall, TX

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Gladly lerne … gladly teche

An exceptional man, a scholar and a gentleman extraordinary, Maverick Marvin Harris graduated from his earthly journey on May 16, 2017.

Many of us appreciated his scholarship and academic accomplishments in teaching, writing and editing during his long tenure at East Texas Baptist College/University. His friendship and fellowship will always be appreciated and remembered. I would like to honor him and his wife Sandra in this column by reviewing one of the best books on life, teaching and stories from Harris’ pen.

A person’s story is important. Marvin Harris’ story is exceptional and inspirational. It is good reading. Harris’ book (“Gladly Lerne … Gladly Teche”) is good because it is well-written, interestinglystated and graciously-expressed. His arrangement of the material is helpful and understandable. In justifying an additional book in the autobiographical genre, Harris asks and answers the question “Why go to all the trouble (and expense) of recounting the life story of one whom only a few now remember and will soon forget?”

In his answer to this question, Harris says, “Perhaps it is because I am vain enough to desire not to be forgotten— at least among my close friends and family, for a few years at least. But the very truth of the matter is that this book is for my children, their children, their children, and all those who follow, i.e., my descendants.”

There is another truth in this story. This book is for anyone who enjoys interesting and gripping stories. This book is full of good stories from which all of us can gain much. Harris’ book will always be worth reading and remembering.

An important aspect of Marvin Harris’ teaching, conversing and writing is his emphasis on stories. He recognizes that human beings are captivated and convinced by enjoying and benefiting from stories, especially stories well-told. In discussing his genealogical research and collection, Harris discusses the data— the dates, names and other vital information.

He writes, “What is lacking are stories. That which makes family history come alive in the telling is his story. Someday one of my descendants will become interested in the history of his family heritage — thus this book, which will allow him or her an insight into the life and setting of one in the many lines that

converged to create him or her. These pages are meant to provide a glimpse into the character, desires, lifestyle, and cultural environment of an ancestor who desperately hopes that what is revealed herein will encourage, guide, strengthen, and, perhaps at places, amuse.”

Harris uses a statement that gives us a framework for considering our own lives and for considering his life and work. Commenting on his book, he said, “thus this book, which will allow him or her an insight into the life and setting of one in the many lines that converged to create him or her.” That is what we need to consider when thinking about ourselves or others.

We are studying “the many lines” that have converged to make a person what he/she is. We should consider some of those “lines,” indeed some of the words that compose those lines, and the stories that they present for us.

There are two things that Harris’ book emphasizes— learning and teaching. He has devoted his life to both these tasks. The most important thing I have come to believe is the effort to make learning and teaching enjoyable and beneficial. In the classroom, in the office, in personal conversation, and in both personal and professional relationships, Marvin Harris emphasized the positive and productive. He wrote, “My desire is to be helpful without being unforgivably pendantic!” As one reads this book he will experience the helpfulness of a practical scholar.

Harris uses many tools to bring truth and consequences to light. He confesses his literary approach clearly, “I make no attempt to avoid the vernacular. In fact, I even exploit it, and slang even creeps in at places.” He uses analogies, facts, lists, quotations, pictures, and common sense in making his points and telling his stories. Woven throughout this readable book one will find wisdom, intelligent observations, valuable lessons, incarnate truth and sometimes down-right humor, at times even unavoidable laughter.

Not only does Marvin Harris speak to the point, he writes to the point. He is brief and concise in what he presents. He tells a story with real action and a constructive attitude. He makes his point in powerful and purposeful ways. His chapter “An Old Man’s Wishes” is worth the price of his book. In this chapter there is common sense and simple wisdom from a life of experience and association. The practical insights in this chapter are valuable. Just the main points in the chapter on “wishes” are helpful to reflect on.

I wish I had told my father that I loved him.

I wish I had learned to read well as a child.

I wish I had started an investment program earlier in my life.

I wish I had served God more faithfully.

I wish I had participated more overtly in efforts to eradicate racial prejudice.

I wish I had preached better sermons and taught more interesting classes.

Then he closes with some exceptional negatives, such as: I wish I hadn’t spanked my children — ever.

I wish I hadn’t called a student a “gob of spit.”

I wish I hadn’t spoken ill of people on occasion.

I wish I hadn’t been a perfectionist.

In closing this chapter, he says, “Perhaps this list will prove beneficial to the reader. If so, it has accomplished its purpose. See — I’m ever the teacher.”

The fact is all of us are “ever the teacher.” We cannot avoid teaching and influencing those with whom we associate. What we are and say will be remembered. For this reason we need to be thoughtful and reflective about what we do and say.

So I would encourage you to remember Marvin Harris in our “community conversation” and to seek out a copy of his very good book. It is worth reading many times in our personal effort to “gladly learn and gladly teach” in our own families and communities.

From the Marshall News Messenger

Share with me your own thoughts on this subject or a memory of Harris or someone else special to you. You can reach me through, or by snail mail at P.O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671.