By Art Toalston
WHITWELL, Tenn. – Every day is a Holocaust remembrance day at a middle school in the former Appalachian coal mining town of Whitwell, Tenn.
A Nazi rail car is the centerpiece of the Childrens’ Holocaust Memorial open to the public. It had carried 80 to 100 or more Jews per trip to the Auschwitz and Dachau death camps in a space 8 feet, 9 inches wide and 25 feet, 1 inch long.
Inside Whitwell Middle School, a library room encompasses an array of donated artifacts, including a drab jacket from a Nazi prison camp and a display of postcards by imprisoned Jews written mostly in Polish and now being translated for any family members who can be located.
The library, open by appointment, also houses a sweeping collection of Holocaust histories and survivor biographies and autobiographies and a century-old Torah from Lithuania.
Year-round — and especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27 — the backstory of the middle school’s memorial can be seen in the 2004 film “Paper Clips.”
The documentary-style film recounts what the school’s eighth-grade students and teachers began to accomplish in 1998 in an initiative to foster respect for others.
As Linda Hooper, now the school’s former principal, commented in the film, “We really have no diversity. There are no Jewish people, no Catholics, and in our school we have only five black kids and one Hispanic child. We’re all alike. And when we come up to someone who is not like us, we don’t have a clue.”
The Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews and 5 million others were put to death, was chosen as the initiative’s focus. Paper clips became its symbol after a student learned that a Norwegian invented them in 1899 and Norwegians wore them on their lapels in solidarity with hundreds of Jews who were removed from their midst by the Nazis.
Soon the idea to collect 6 million paper clips was sparked by another student trying to fathom, “What is 6 million?”
An influx of paper clips started after a 2001 Washington Post article led to a NBC Nightly News segment and a Holocaust survivor in her 90s bringing Whitwell Middle School to the attention of filmmakers. More than 100 three-inch binders in the library contain 30,000-plus letters from individuals who sent paper clips – many of them Holocaust survivors or their relatives – from across the country and from each continent.
Film production began in the spring of 2001, when three Holocaust survivors from New York, now deceased, came to visit the school. The 180 hours of filming over two years of visits to Whitwell (pronounced WHIT-well), 120 miles southeast of Nashville, was edited to a 1-hour and 23-minute release for theaters.
“Paper Clips” merited nods from Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and A.O. Scott of The New York Times and was named by the National Board of Review as one of 2004’s top five documentaries in addition to receiving Audience Choice Awards at the Washington and Atlanta Jewish film festivals and other film festival honors.
Today, “Paper Clips” remains a key part of Whitwell Middle School’s ongoing efforts in Holocaust education while underscoring what students are capable of achieving.
Taylor Kilgore, as a fifth-grader, helped count the flood of paper clips and saw the rail car’s arrival in Whitwell. As an eighth-grader, she was a tour guide for the memorial. In college, she majored in history, returning to Whitwell Middle School to teach in 2015.
She’s now finishing a master’s degree in Holocaust and genocide studies at Gratz College, a small college in Philadelphia that has offered Jewish studies since 1895.
In high school Kilgore decided she wanted to teach history, “and it was because of everything I learned in this project. … I’ve been learning about the Holocaust since I was literally 10. I read any book I could get my hands on when I was younger.”
Even with her master’s studies, she said, “You’ll never hear all the different stories that some of these survivors have experienced. It’s amazing how much information is out there that people don’t know about.”
Sandy Roberts, one of the initiative’s original teachers, began providing interactive Skype tours of the rail car memorial and library through Microsoft in Education last fall, conducting several dozen tours since mid-September, including one class in India.
Roberts has taught from a book, “I Have Lived a Thousand Lives,” since the Holocaust study began at Whitwell. The author, Livia Bitton-Jackson, was 13 when she saw her father taken away after Nazi forces invaded Hungary in 1944. She and her mother subsequently survived the horrors of Auschwitz.
“It’s my job to make that book come to life,” Roberts said. “To be able to give them the truth, to let them see it, experience it, understand it is so powerful.”
Roberts had the opportunity to meet Jackson during a 2018 trip to Israel. “I literally laid my head in her lap and cried … because she was and will always be one of the main reasons that I do this project.”
At the outdoor Childrens’ Holocaust Memorial, the renovated rail car contains 11 million paper clips in memory of Nazi victims. A steel monument topped by images of two playful children contains another 11 million. The paper clip count by students, teachers, parents and others in the community came to a close when the number reached 30 million. None of the paper clips have been discarded, but are being supplied to schools studying the Holocaust and given to visitors at the memorial.
Two-day teacher training is offered free of charge each June and July through an outgrowth of the initiative, the One Clip at a Time Foundation. Attendees spend a day learning a five-day Holocaust curriculum, which has been used in 35 states with the film, and a day at Whitwell Middle School interacting with Hooper and Roberts and another of the initial Holocaust study instructors, David Smith, now principal of Whitwell Elementary School.
Joe Fab of Vienna, Va., who scripted “Paper Clips” and was one of its two directors, said Whitwell’s Holocaust studies fuel his lament that young people often are seen “as human beings who will one day be ready to do something of value. And that’s completely wrong.”
“Children that age and other ages are absolutely capable of doing things that have great meaning,” Fab said. If their potential isn’t tapped until they finish high school or college, “think of the years of human contributions you are wasting.”
The middle school has occasioned a powerful symbol, said Peter Schroeder who, with his wife Dagmar, befriended the school in the fall of 1999 as Washington correspondents for a group of German newspapers. A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor had learned of the project through its registry with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and insisted that the couple visit Whitwell.
The Schroeders later located the rail car in Germany and raised funds for its journey to Whitwell.
“This car will not transport people anyone,” Schroeder, who now lives in Canada, said in “Paper Clips.” “This car will be a symbol. Symbols make us think. Symbols can change the world. And sometimes symbols are all we have to help us maintain our resolve even on our darkest and our most tragic days.”
Art Toalston is a writer based in Nashville.
For information about visiting the Childrens’ Holocaust Memorial in Whitwell, Tenn., email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about teacher training through the One Clip at a Time Foundation, email email@example.com.
Are you up for an adventure?
It’s not like seeing the Grand Canyon, nor is it like going to an acclaimed restaurant for the first time. This is an adventure of the soul.
You can venture into it wherever you may be. It’s an adventure into the supernatural, into wholesomeness.
If it knocks your socks off, so to speak, it will only be in a tender, quiet way. This adventure takes place in your mind and heart and in Scripture. It begins when you pick a passage from the Good Book, as they call it, whether one verse or several, and read it from time to time, perhaps daily or whenever you have a moment. Start with the first phrase or sentence. In a few days, or longer (there’s no hurry), you may be able to repeat it in your heart. Then add the next phrase, then the next until the passage begins to become part of your consciousness.
As the adventure unfolds, you may notice a word., or a few words, or a thought in the passage that begins to affect your life and connect you to the heavenly Father. As you become intimately familiar with the words of the passage, the Holy Spirit may begin to use it to enhance your thoughts, your relationships, your endeavors.
Some time later, you may gain another revelation or two from the passage. You may sense that it is helping to undergird your life, as if helping you to stay afloat amid the flow of your daily experiences.
You may be stirred to repeat this adventure with another passage, then another, perhaps on different topics such as prayer, your integrity as a person, your hurts and struggles, the quality of your friendships, your readiness to help others.
At some point, whether early on or later in the journey, you may be stirred to know how all this relates to God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, how faith is a core dynamic in human well-being.
Far different than the Grand Canyon or an extraordinary meal, this adventure can be ongoing, transforming you into a precious child of God, a tender soul always ready to venture into new revelations of divine, eternal significance.
Let’s talk in our families, in our churches, in every venue where we spend a portion of our lives.
Let’s talk about God’s Word. Let’s talk about it personally, deeply, and frequently.
Let’s select a Scripture passage, perhaps one per month, and seek to memorize it, meditate on it, internalize it, and speak about it with our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.
Let’s make Scripture a part of our daily conversation, sharing how this passage is enhancing and transforming our lives by God’s supernatural power through His Word.
No, you don’t have to achieve perfect recall, especially if the passage entails two or more sentences. If you forget how it starts or some of the key words and phrases, just work at memorizing it anew. Quite possibly, it will speak to your life anew.
Here are some passages that we, together, could talk about:
Colossians 3:12-14 – a marvelous statement on human relationships — how we as Christians are called to extend grace to one another.
Romans 10:8-10,13 – life-saving words that you needed and I needed, monumental and eternal words we must convey to folks we know and to literally billions of souls around the world.
1 Peter 3:15-17 – significant yet winsome instruction for speaking of Romans 10:8-10,13 to whomever we encounter.
Psalm 19:7-11 – an enjoyable, poignant description of the extraordinary sensibility of our ages-old faith.
1 Peter 2:9-12 – a firm reminder of who we are as God’s people and the divine calling upon our churches as the body of Christ amid the world’s brokenness and lostness.
1 Peter 3:7 – a powerfully succinct exhortation to husbands as leaders of families that must form the bedrock of our churches and our society.
Galatians 5:22-23 – a way of daily introspection and communion with Christ, or a checklist, to review our godliness, our need for repentance, and the vibrancy of our faith.
James 3:17 – a highly useful passage for weighing the extent to which godly wisdom is affecting our thoughts and actions.
Philippians 4:4-7 – special instruction for trusting God amid life’s hardships, emotional struggles, doubts and fears, a spiritual “antidote” to lift our spirits in times of worry, sadness and depression.
Philippians 2:14-15 – an unparalleled call for maintaining a good attitude in every realm of life.
Ephesians 3:16-19 – an absolutely glorious reminder of the supernatural work of God in our lives when we live with Him as our Lord and Savior.
Pastors, Bible study leaders, fathers and mothers, let’s add a new dimension to our relationships.
Let’s add God’s Word.
If this idea seems familiar, perhaps it’s because you’ve read it from God Himself, in Deuteronomy 6:7-8: “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (CSB).
Let’s turn to each other, then, and talk about what God has been showing us through His revelation in Scripture, what He is calling us to be and to do in a hurting world.
Granted, there will be plenty of other things to talk about with our loved ones and friends — God’s blessings, church activities, workplace challenges, teachers and homework, illness, financial strain and troubled relationships.
But even in these, the Scripture in our hearts can be a conscious and subconscious catalyst and an answer to the apostle’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11: “And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can determine what really matters and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that [comes] through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
I’m finding the Ten Commandments more refreshing than ever. There’s no other word for it — refreshing.
No, there’s not much refreshing about the ancient-looking granite or picture-framed depictions of the Ten Commandments in public places.
The noble array of enduring truths in the Ten Commandments — that’s what is refreshing. Would that a modern-day commercial artist capture their power from the Old Testament book of Exodus, chapter 20, with colors that might be bold, or subtle, lettering that might be gripping, or winsome.
Amid today’s cultural demise, the Ten Commandments are like a hand-warmer on a frigid night. Or an ice-cold soda on a steamy day.
They are like a witness making a stunning revelation in a court case that seems hopeless.
The “shall not” instruction in the Ten Commandments is not a killjoy but a soul-satisfying source for honorable living. See their vibrancy in Psalm 19, verses 7-11, their uniqueness for “reviving the soul,” “making wise the simple,” “giving joy to the heart” and “giving light to the eyes.”
The Ten Commandments need not be shouted. They are perhaps optimally spoken in a soft voice rooted in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is their crowning touch. See His words in the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 17-19, and chapter 22, verses 36-40.
Amid America’s innumerable festivals celebrating books and music, strawberries, pumpkins, beer and wine and, yes, gender abandonment, it would be a novel idea to hold a festival for the Ten Commandments. Let community organizations and businesses set up booths to reflect how they give wholesome nurture to the citizenry as reflected by the commandments. Let the faithful among rock-n-roll, jazz, country and bluegrass performers sing of their hearts’ yearning for clear consciences and godliness.
Let us ask ourselves such questions as:
Do we stop at trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior without heeding the morality of our Judeo-Christian heritage?
Can anything else nurture one’s conscience better than new birth in Christ and a Holy Spirit-infused Bible awareness that includes the Ten Commandments?
Do we think the Ten Commandments are too outdated yet works by Plato, Socrates and Aristotle aren’t?
Are we bigoted toward the commandments’ Jewish origin but not wary of the influences of paganism, hedonism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism in culture?
Are we too “entertained” or too high-minded to give the Ten Commandments traction in our lives?
Are we afraid of how the Ten Commandments might change our souls?
What might happen if we spent a few weeks, or months, memorizing the Ten Commandments?
Could they be a cornerstone for revival in our nation?
Maybe you care deeply for someone to whom this parable might speak, someone who is not yet pondering God’s grace and redemption. Pray about sending your loved one or friend this link to the late British preacher’s parable and the following counsel for turning to Christ for a new life on earth and in eternity.
“A certain tyrant sent for one of his subjects, and said to him, ‘What is your employment?’ He said, ‘I am a blacksmith.’ ‘Go home,’ said he, ‘and make me a chain of such a length.’ He went home; it occupied him several months, and he had no wages all the while he was making the chain, only the trouble and the pains of making it. Then he brought it to the monarch, and he said, ‘Go and make it twice as long.’ He gave him nothing to do it with, but sent him away. Again he worked on, and made it twice as long. He brought it up again, and the monarch said, ‘Go and make it longer still.’ Each time he brought it, there was nothing but the command to make it longer still. And when he brought it up at last, the monarch said, ‘Take it, bind him hand and foot with it, and cast him into a furnace of fire.’ There were his wages for making the chain. Here is a meditation for you…. Your master the devil is telling you to make a chain. Some of you have been fifty years welding the links of the chain; and he says, ‘Go and make it longer still.’ Next Sunday morning you will open that shop of yours, and put another link on; next Saturday night you will be drunk, and put another link on; next Monday you will do a dishonest action, and so you will keep on making fresh links to this chain; and when you have lived twenty more years, the devil will say, ‘More links on still!’ And then, at last, it will be, ‘Take him, and bind him hand and foot, and cast him into a furnace of fire.’ ‘For the wages of sin is death.’”
Excerpted from Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermon “Meditation on God” preached in 1858 at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England.
If you need some help for encountering Christ to embark on a new life, go to the “New birth” tab at www.arttoalston.com.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 letter from the Birmingham jail stirred Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd to write last fall:
“When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963, he noted he had never written such a long letter. Reading this letter recently, the words in his final paragraph penetrated my heart. Dr. King wrote, ‘Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.’” (www.bpnews.net/45804)
I was prompted by Ronnie Floyd’s reflection to read MLK’s letter. I regret that I got no further, in the press of life, than printing it out. This morning, I took about 15 minutes to read it. You can read it as well at http://stanford.io/1OrT1J0. Certainly it is an apt activity for Martin Luther King Day, especially for those of us who have the day off in his honor.
It remains a soul-shaking document.
And now, in 2016, it retains its prophetic power, both in the ongoing yearning for racial reconciliation and, now, in the erosion of religious freedom at the hands of our new culture-shapers. We Christians may find ourselves compelled to engage in peaceful protest, in nonviolent action, perhaps within a few short years, as we’re increasingly told to keep our faith to ourselves.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail will be a gripping primer, theologically, philosophically, for the days ahead. Hopefully, too, our culture-shapers will be enlightened by King’s masterpiece of human rights.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon practiced meditation long before there was a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Here’s some of Spurgeon’s meditation counsel, from 1874:
“It is an admirable plan to fix your thoughts upon some text of Scripture before you leave your bedroom in the morning—it will sweeten your meditation all the day. Always look God in the face before you see the face of anyone else. Lock up your heart in the morning and hand the key to God and keep the world out of your heart. Take a text and lay it on your tongue like a wafer made with honey and let it melt in your mouth all day. If you do this, and meditate upon it, you will be surprised to notice how the various events of life will help to open up that text. If that particular text does not seem suitable to some special occasion, steal away into a quiet place and get another one—only let your soul be so full of the Word of God that at all the intervals and spaces when you can think upon it, the Word of God dwelling in you richly may come welling up into your mind and make your meditation to be sweet and profitable!” (From Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s “Loving the Law of the Lord,” Sermon #3090, preached at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 10, 1874.)
For a 21st century look at meditation, I’ve written — with much help from on high — two e-books: When I Meditate and Meditation & Morality setting forth an evangelical/biblical perspective. See descriptors at www.arttoalston.com. Hopefully, Spurgeon would have enjoyed these. Difficult to imagine what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s reaction would have been.
Now there are two books on prayer and meditation by Art Toalston, senior editor of Baptist Press:
When I Meditate: Recovering a Key Facet of Prayer
and now – Meditation & Morality: Praying for a Better Way
* When I Meditate points to Scripture as a key source of prayer and meditation for optimum transformation of our lives by Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit.
* Meditation & Morality can be a gracious gift book for any friend, co-worker, neighbor or relative facing moral challenges, yet it also can be a source of reflection for any of us who struggle with spots of immorality in our lives.
Both books – available at eBookIt.com (http://bit.ly/WhenIMeditate & http://bit.ly/Meditation-Morality) Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online sites – can nurture a reader’s intimacy with Scripture and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Both books also can introduce a yearning soul to Jesus.
Go to @arttoalston on Twitter for regular reflections on prayer, meditation, and Scripture (and other gleanings); toalston4prayer on Facebook; and arttoalston.com on the Internet. I’m happy to visit on the phone, 615-438-3332; email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below, this post also contains:
1) Added descriptions of both ebooks from eBookIt’s site
2) A personal statement from Art
3) Brief bio of Art
4) Paper copy information
*When I Meditate conveys this central message: It’s good to pray and it’s good to meditate.
Some Christians find this hard to believe. They know that meditation is mentioned in the Bible, but they tend to think it is a practice that belongs in other religions. When I Meditate: Recovering a Key Facet of Prayer sets forth a winsome alternative — a Scripture-based, you-can-do-it understanding of meditation as a life-changing facet of prayer. Within a biblical context, When I Meditate relays an array of insights and illustrations for an enlivened readiness to pray — and to follow Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, into tender communion with the Father and to live out his message of redemption in a world of needy souls.
Compared to religions and techniques that center on meditation, mantras, and physical postures for emptying one’s soul into an impersonal cosmos, Christian meditation, in its all-important uniqueness as described in When I Meditate, entails God’s use of Scripture to transform our minds and hearts. The riches of Scripture, when set in motion by prayer and meditation, can address any human need or yearning. Even one Scripture passage when memorized — and re-memorized as need be — and then internalized through meditation can be a catalyst for personal renewal and for conveying God’s grace by word and deed to anyone, near or far, who yearns for a vibrant faith.
* Meditation & Morality can provide gentle, inspirational counsel if you have been unkind to your soul or unkind to another person.
And it can do the same for a loved one or friend.
Misguided attitudes and actions can be offset. The grip of pornography, drug abuse, greed, or any other tarnish on the human soul can be loosened. Whether a person’s struggle with immorality is monumental or only a bit troublesome, a yearning for morality can be fully worth pondering. Drawing from the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” Morality & Meditation: Praying for a Better Way can help hurting souls in our contemporary world envision a winsome morality that is wholesome, redemptive, and celebratory.
(To give Meditation & Morality to a troubled soul, go to Amazon’s page for this book, http://bit.ly/Amazon-Meditation-Morality, click Give as a Gift.)
From a personal standpoint….
I have been memorizing Scripture since around 2000, stirred to do so by a speaker at church. I started with the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23, and have since focused on several new passages a year, about 75 in all, ranging from one verse to multiple verses. When they have slipped from memory, I have re-memorized them, repeating the process numerous times. As various realizations came to mind during times of prayer, I wrote down as many as I could, yearning to share these gleanings with others. While new birth began an extraordinary transformation of my life when I trusted Christ in my early twenties, each Scripture now is making my relationship to God all the more wondrous and purposeful.
Art Toalston has worked more than twenty-five years in Southern Baptist communications — as an editor of Baptist Press (1992-present) and as a writer for the International Mission Board (1985-91). He also has worked ten years in newspaper journalism and education in Mississippi and Ohio.
After being raised in a United Presbyterian church in northeastern Ohio, Art converted to Catholicism as a young adult and later was baptized in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. After moving to Mississippi in 1977, he joined a Southern Baptist church. Art holds a Master of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has studied at Bowling Green State University in Ohio; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas; Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Virginia; and Wesley Biblical Seminary in Mississippi.
Art is on the Internet at arttoalston.com; Twitter, @arttoalston; Facebook, http://bit.do/arttoalston; and email, email@example.com. He is available to lead Pray As Never Before Conferences. More information is available at www.arttoalston.com under the Events tab.
At eBookIt.com, you can download When I Meditate and Meditation & Morality to your computer as a PDF file to print a paper copy to read or share with a loved one or friend. As a PDF file, it can be printed at home (about 50 pages) or sent to a printer at an office-type store (FedEx Office, Staples, Officemax, etc). At either book’s site – When I Meditate (http://bit.ly/WhenIMeditate) or Meditation & Morality http://bit.ly/Meditation-Morality) – use the “Delivery Format” option to select PDF (reading on PC/Mac). For e-book reader use, meanwhile, eBookIt programming entails a separate purchase for each format.
Several thoughts on Psalm 51:
At least ten of the nineteen verses are 24/7-relevant.
Verse 1 – repentance: Who doesn’t need the tender mercies of God’s unfailing love and great compassion?
Verse 4 – “For I know my transgressions”: It’s tough to examine ourselves, yet it’s ultimately cleansing, invigorating.
Verse 6 – There is much more to Psalm 51 than repentance: “… you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Think how that happens.
Verse 10 — “pure heart … steadfast spirit”: Purity is foundational to steadfastness.
Verse 14 – a relevant word even to careless/distracted driving: “Save me from bloodguilt, O God…”
At some point in life, your mental faculties may decline into dementia of one form or another. Or a head injury suffered in an accident may leave you in a vegetative state. Or, whatever the cause, you may be at the brink of death. Certainly Jesus will be with you if you have entrusted your life to his care. No one knows what will be transpiring in the deep recesses of your mind when, to the world, you are seemingly incapacitated. But the Scriptures you have memorized and re-memorized — even just a sentence – could become beacons of light in the jumbled mass. Deep in your subconscious, they may flower forth into an extra measure of holy serenity. Most importantly, in eternity, they will have a special place in the heart of God. (Excerpt from Art Toalston’s new eBook, When I Meditate.)