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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday's Thoughts
February 15, 2018

I hardly know where to begin these lines today.

One moment, I have what some of my “guy friends” in Northern Virginia called “sweaty eyes,” with tears running frequently down my cheeks. And the next, it’s rage and anger and blinding determination to stop the mania by eliminating the easy accessibility to ownership of an obscene array of “weapons of mass destruction.” And in the next, it’s a dose of an old Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song from the 1970’s, “Teach your children well....” As you know by now, just yesterday morning, as Valentine’s Day was emerging, nearly a dozen and a half school children were killed in south Florida by another student bearing a gun. It was the 14th or 15th time in this scarcely 6-week-old year that lives had been taken by the flash of a barrel spraying bits of lead, copper, and steel into the hearts and lives of innocents.... in their classrooms, trying to learn about math and science and history and literature and all of those things that will help them become adults of substance, stature and, perhaps, even heralds of hope.

I spent more than a few hours over the last two weeks “talking” with the local folks in Playa del Carmen.... as much as my mangled, “marketplace Spanish” would allow us to converse. There was a lot of gesturing and grunting and laughing and “how do you say....?” as we tried to ask elemental questions or understand each other. “Are you in school? Where is your family? When was your last meal? Do you have brothers and sisters? How do I get to Cozumel?” and a hundred more things. And my heart was broken more than once by Anna and Miguel and Roberto and the children from Chiapas, some 2 hours by bus to the west, who were “trafficked” into the resort area to sell trinkets and toys and shiny things on the Main Street or along the beach. As often as I could, I would give the 8, 10, or 12 year-olds a handful of my extra “pesos para escuela,” (money for school) and ask it if might take a selfie with them, so that I might remember them. It was usually redundant, for their faces, their touch, their affection is the burdensome thing I seem to have brought home, just like so many times before.

And then, just last evening, Dr. Patricia Riggs and I stood in front of a couple of lines of folk from our congregation, smudging ashen crosses on the foreheads of more than 5 dozen of you, saying over and over “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.” This morning, I saw one of the simultaneously terrified and relieved parents of the school in south Florida hugging her child, who had escaped the horror of the gunfire taking the lives of her classmates, and clearly visible was a sooty cross on the mother’s face.... “Remember....”

And I do.

Memory is “funny stuff,” in that it resides in both the heart and the mind, with each complementing and completing the other’s reservoir of sights and sounds and touches and smells and sensations, bringing the Other back into present reality in startling clarity. On the desk of the Pastor’s Study in Tabernacle Church is an old black and white photo of half a dozen Cub Scouts (including me) standing in a line in front of our Den Chief and the pastor of our little Church, the Rev. S. K. Emurian.... he was at that time in the early 1960’s nearly “250 years old,” or so it seemed to me at the advanced age of 7, maybe 8! I don’t remember a single word he said, any great sermon he preached or prayer he offered, any building he built or tour he led. But I do remember that he came to Cub Scouts once a month, and to Childrens’ Choir every Tuesday afternoon to sing some funny song and pray with us, muss up our hair and hug every last one of us. And he was there on Sundays, calling us by name and turning away from whatever “adult” business he was engaged in to wink or blow a kiss in our direction. And every time I see that wrinkled photo of Bobby and Ken and Darryl and the others with me, I’m transported to that springtime-1963 moment, and I find myself surrounded by those saints, plus quite an array more, whose names and faces are still tucked away in my heart.... and I am grateful to have been raised, formed, started on my Christian journey and life-pilgrimage in such a wonderful, extended, “bonus” Christian family. I remember them in heart and mind every time I open our “family’s Book,” every time I put on the robe that is the symbol of my office, every time I sit down with our congregation’s children and muss their hair, and wink at them, acting as if there were something “secret” afoot. There is, you know!

That’s the world I want to live in, and in which I want our children, near and far, to be nurtured and raised.

But the realist in me, the part that can’t deny the daily scream of the radio and TV news, the broadsides of the printed press, and even the ubiquitous, colorful publications of social media, knows that the world has changed.... remarkably, undeniably, perhaps even permanently into a place of greater fear, greater risk, and even malevolence that says, “It can happen to you, even in the protected enclave of your little town.” I carry with me the Morse Code pounding of the sailor with a sledgehammer on the wall of the sunken USS Squalus on the steel hull of his submarine in the late 1930’s, “Is there any hope?!?”

Maybe that’s the question that’s most pressing for our hearts and minds, just now: “In a world in which violence and destruction and death seem to be the readily chosen answer to our unhappiness, is there any hope for another way?” In a word, Yes. Yes, there is another way. But it’s not a way laden with words, or with air full of speeches or televised “sound bites,” or even easy social media memes, full of kittens or puppies or flowers, or even giggling Minions. It was an American poet, perhaps Edgar Guest, who suggested that the way is that Christians “preach great sermons.... and use words if necessary!”

It strikes me that the formation of our children’s hearts and minds - as well as those of our peers, and even utter strangers - might be most successfully accomplished by the way we treat them, and help them to treat others.... with love and grace and peace-making as our “hidden hand of grace,” played at every turn and opportunity. Maybe the ways of peace-MAKING could again be taught in homes and schools and in social gatherings more forcefully than those of the use of political clout and collective bargaining. It could be that the determination to form and shape others in the gracious arts of risk-taking and service and “agape’ love” (that of the self-offering kind) might bear a more palatable fruit both now and well into the future than instruction in how to gain strategic advantage over others so as to impose one’s angry agenda on them! Perhaps instead of stories, movies, TV shows, and video games whose primary agenda is found in “winning and losing,” even at the cost of other, “meaningless lives,” we might be modeling vulnerability, remorse, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

As I recall, it was Mohandas Gandhi, who said, “You must remember that ‘an eye for an eye’ soon leaves the whole world blind!” Friends, I believe whole-heartedly that we must begin to do more than dig more deeply the trenches of our political persuasions, hoping that somehow, the “other side” will miraculously see the error of their ways and join our side of the matter readily and willingly. It requires that we gather around the Table of One who took up a cross and said, essentially, “If this is the worst you can do, then bring it on.... and I’ll love you still.” It takes a few folks willing to teach reconciliation and conflict-resolution by taking the risks of modeling the grace upon which they are predicated. The kind of world in which children can attend school without having to learn the drills of “how to survive an active shooter” is possible, but it will require thoroughgoing determination to “teach [our] children [and each other] well”... and use words only when necessary. It may be the most important thing you and I can do. Model, embody, incarnate grace, and hope, and love.

Grace and peace.

Jim Earley

Responses? Send me a note via RevsRUs@cox.net asap!


Last update: February 18, 2018 9:14 AM