In the Company of Others

Creation of Eve in Gen_02-22 by Michelangelo

  The Creation of  Eve by Michaelangelo

Several children’s lives remain in peril in the wake of a stabbing spree in a suburban Pittsburgh high school.  On April 9, a 16 year old male student, for reasons still unknown, randomly stabbed a school guard and 21 fellow students as he quickly moved through the school’s hallways wielding a steak knife in each hand. Miraculously, no one has died from his wounds.

The incident is yet another chapter in a string of senseless acts of  violence in American schools that includes mass killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Co.; Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. (2007); and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Ct. (2012).  Unfortunately, there are several others I have not listed here.  In almost every case there is a common thread—the perpetrator was a loner. Whether this was the case in the attacks in Pittsburgh has yet to be determined.

Medical studies abound indicating that loneliness and isolation are health risks.  Social interaction, on the other hand, can improve health.  It has been scientifically shown to decrease the likelihood of premature death, improve the immune system’s response to infection and decreases inflammation in the body.

Regardless of the task at hand, be it raking the lawn, preparing a meal, searching for a new job, or simply going to see a movie or museum, it is usually a better experience when done with another.

There is also plenty of Biblical evidence indicating isolation is not good.   In Genesis chapter 2, God declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  He then creates Eve to be Adam’s mate, companion and friend.

In Exodus chapter 18, Moses is extremely weary because he tries to govern the Jewish people by himself.  His father-in-law Jethro advises Moses to appoint judges to help him with his tasks.  Moses wisely takes the advice, relieving him of the heavy burden of trying to go it alone.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV), tells us, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”  There truly is strength in numbers.

Isolation is particularly risky for Christians.  Pastor Paul David Tripp discusses the perils of isolation for the clergy in his book titled, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. According to Tripp’s research, many pastors feel lonely and isolated.  A study by the Schaffer Institute showed that over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Eighty percent of believe their pastoral work has negatively affected their families.  However, feelings of loneliness and isolation are not limited to members of the clergy.

Christians are all members of God’s church on Earth.  1 Corinthians:12 describes how individual Christians, each blessed with different gifts from God, are necessary for the proper functioning of the church. Each body part serves the others.  Christians were designed by God to function best when working with and in the presence of other Christians.

Acts 17:1-2 says it was Paul’s custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Luke 4:16 tells us it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.   When Paul won new converts to the faith, he gathered them into small churches, which usually met in private homes.

With so many examples before us, how can Christians do otherwise?  Yet many choose not to attend church, insisting they can worship God on their own. Many have turned sour towards the church because of some sort of hurt they experienced there.

On the night when he was betrayed by Judas, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-34, ESV)  Obeying this commandment requires reaching out to other people.  It cannot be done living in isolation.

Hebrews 10: 24-25 (ESV) tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

If you’re a Christian, attending church isn’t simply that you need the church; the church needs you as well!  Fellow believers can be blessed by your participation in ways you’ll never know. Likewise, you will be blessed by just “hanging out” with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  A church is not a building; it is a collection of people who gather together to seek God.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It will lead to loneliness and isolation.  Choose to participate!

“Despite the slowness, the infidelity, the errors and sins it committed and might still commit against its members, the Church, trust me, has no other meaning and goal but to live and witness Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                     —Pope Francis

Easter 2014 – Resurrection Sunday

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

 Resurrection of Christ by Raphael

The resurrection of Christ by Raphael

 

1 Corinthians 15 (ESV)

The Resurrection of Christ

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

 May God bless you and keep you on this holiest of days!

Good Friday, 2014 – The Passion of the Christ

 

Jesus on Cross

 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

 

Isaiah 53 (ESV) - The Prophet Describes the Coming Messiah

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Luke 19: 41-44 (NIV) - Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem    

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Luke 23: (NIV) - The Crucifixion of  Jesus

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”  39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Death of Jesus.  44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Jesus is Buried. 50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.  55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.56   Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.  On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

 

Where do you turn for help?

Mountain Trail

 

Life is like a long journey along a rough trail traversing a lush mountain range.  There are the inevitable bumps and holes, twists and turns, and peaks and valleys along the way.  Storms come and storms pass, as do periods of clouds and darkness, clear skies and sunshine, cold and warmth.

The journey is filled with an ever-changing mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration, danger and peace, ugliness and beauty, sadness and happiness, fear and hope, death and birth.

Like Jesus’ disciples on the mount of transfiguration, we would prefer to remain high on a mountain peak, enjoying the splendor of the experience.  But after reaching each of life’s peaks, we must eventually descend back into the valley to the toil and dangers of everyday existence.

Every person experiences trials and tribulations along life’s way.  Some turn to friends and family for help; others turn to drugs, alcohol or sex to numb the pain; some turn to counseling or medical treatment; some try to deny their problems and end up mired in deep depression. A few turn to God. How trials and tribulations affect a person ultimately depends upon where he or she turns for help.

In the book of 2 Chronicles, chapter 16, the kingdom of Judah is threatened by an invasion led by Baasha, king of Israel.  Asa, king of Judah, realizing his army has no chance against the powerful army of Israel, seeks help from an old ally.  He sends an envoy bearing silver and gold to Damascus to beg for military support from Ben-Hadad, king of Syria. Ben-Hadad accepts the offer and Invades Israel, capturing a number of cities and forcing Kin Baasha to withdraw his army from Judah in order to defend his own kingdom.

With his kingdom secure, Asa begins repairing the damage wrought on Judah by the invaders.  It is at this time that he is visited by a prophet named Hanani, who tells the king he has displeased God because he chose to rely on Ben-Hadad instead of God:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.  You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”  —2 Chronicles 16:7-9 (ESV).

Despite the fact God had rescued Asa’s kingdom in the past, when Baasha made war against Judah, Asa chose to trust in his own abilities more than he trusted God.  As the profit foretold, the remainder of Asa’s reign was filled with turmoil.

Even if you are not facing trials and tribulations today, you will eventually encounter troubles in life.  It might be losing a job, receiving a grim medical diagnosis, going through a divorce, losing a loved one, or some other troubling situation. God does not promise to solve each problem you face, but He does promise to strengthen you and enable you to endure each problem—if only you will seek Him and allow Him to work in your life.

Jesus said,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” —Matthew 11: 28-30 (ESV).  

Just as a child relies on its parents, God the Father desires that we rely upon him for all of our needs.  It is during our times of weakness that God’s strength can be put on display in our lives—if we acknowledge our weakness and seek His help. As 1 Peter 5:6-7 charges us,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

Where do you turn for help?

                Psalm 121 (ESV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.                    

St. Valentine’s Day 2014

Valentine Heart

Millions of dollars are spent on St. Valentine’s Day in displays of “love.”  Candy is purchased by the tons and flowers and cards by the millions. Many Valentine’s dinners are purchased and lavish gifts like diamonds and jewelry are given. It would be so much easier if people would only dispense with the copius spending and instead try to focus on applying these brief words of wisdom in their daily lives:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Be sure to show your love today and always!

Peace through Weakness

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USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69

As someone who served 24 years in the military, I naturally favor a strong national defense.  But I have to ask, just how much defense is enough?  Practically every day we hear one politician or another warning there’s not enough money for Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, job creation and a host of other programs.  Even worse, there’s not enough money to help feed hungry Americans, so many children go to bed hungry every night.

The popular TV comedian Stephen Colbert, who is also an outspoken Christian, said of America, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”  Among the needy I include those who lack the health care, education and jobs that are essential to growing self-sufficient, productive citizens.

Despite our country’s perilous economic condition, some politicians wail and moan that we need to spend more on defense.  They warn that China is going to overtake us in military capacity.  Iran and Syria are threats to the world.  North Korea has the ability to strike America’s west coast with a nuclear missile. And the list goes on!  These are the talking points of the war hawks—and the hawks aren’t limited to those on the political right.

Many liberal politicians have joined the war hawk ranks on the premise that growing the defense industry can help bring jobs to their respective districts.  Perhaps that’s true, but manufacturing televisions or a host of other products that are no longer made in America would also create jobs.

According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in 2012 (the last year for which full records are available), the United States spent 4.12 percent of its GDP ($645.7 billion) on defense.  China spent 1.24 percent ($102.4 billion).  In fact, the United States outspent all Asian countries combined, which had a total defense expenditure of $314.9 billion, less than half of America’s total.  In 2012, the United States accounted for 41 percent of global defense spending.  How much is enough?

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”                                                                                                                                                           —Dwight D. Eisenhower

I believe we need a strong national defense, but we have to balance defense with domestic needs.  If we can’t maintain a healthy, well educated, well nourished and self-sufficient population, then what is left to defend?

America is truly threatened from many directions, but the greatest threats stem from internal problems, not foreign countries or transnational groups.  Perhaps the biggest threat is our ignorance of history.  American society seems to have lost site of a key historical fact—the farther a nation separates itself from God, the more imperiled it becomes.

The Bible is full of examples validating this.  Those who don’t care to read the Bible should try reading Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and fall of the Roman Empire.”  The similarities between Rome’s decline and what is occurring in America today are astonishing.  (Sharie Pyke comments on this topic in an informative piece titled, “Is America like Rome in decline.”  http://goo.gl/7BgZFS)

“God is present in the places where our fears live.”   —Randy Kilgore, Our Daily Bread

Just as our nation is imperiled by pulling away from God, the more we humble ourselves before God the stronger we become.  1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (ESV)

Chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Judges provide a wonderful example of this. The Midianite people had impoverished the land of Israel through constant raids and pillaging of the countryside.  God chose Gideon to defeat the Midianites at a time when they were encamped in the land of Israel with a large Army.  From across the land, Gideon raised a great Army to defeat them.  But God had other plans.

God knew that Gideon’s army would overwhelm the Midianites, increasing their confidence in their own abilities to take care of themselves.   God wanted to teach Gideon’s followers to trust in Him, not in their own abilities.  He had Gideon select 300 of his best men and instructed him to have them surround the Midianite encampment.  With these 300 men and through a clever ruse God enabled Gideon to crush the Midianite force.  God delivers strength from our weakness.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  —Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

Just as God wanted the Children of Israel to trust in him, he also wants us as individuals to trust in him. The law given under the Mosaic Covenant does not consider the moral weaknesses or infirmities of humans in their natural, fallen condition.  God’s law is absolute, demanding absolute morality and obedience before Him.  The law accepts no excuses.  When a person comes to this realization, his life seems an inescapable, fatal tragedy.

St. Paul describes this in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”  (ESV)  This is the powerful conviction of sin—a person coming to grips with his or her absolute weakness and inability to please God through works.  The cross of Christ is just a foolish notion to anyone who has never come to this realization. To believers, however, the cross is the only logical remedy for sin.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”  —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Likewise, the cross of Christ is a foolish notion to anyone who believes our nation can prosper without God. Jesus doesn’t command us to have a strong national defense, but in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he does say He will bless us if we are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and hungry and thirsty for righteousness.  He also tells us to give to the needy, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

The best form of national defense is unquestioning trust in God.  God will allow us to push him away from our government, schools, businesses, social organizations, sports teams, televisions, movies, homes and lives.  Unfortunately, those pushing God away do not understand that every vacuum created by God’s departure is filled by something less desirable.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. – 1964 at the Jasper city pool

???????????????????????????????   Waiting Room for Colored only

I grew up in Louisville, a beautiful city situated along the Ohio River in north-central Kentucky.  Kentucky was a border state during the Civil War.  As such, it shares characteristics of both the north and the south.  Louisville is more Midwestern than southern and has much in common with the Ohio River cities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  From Louisville, traveling only 80 miles eastward to the city of Lexington, where I attended the University of Kentucky, transports one into the Deep South.   The contrast is remarkable.

My parents divorced when I was five.  Shortly afterwards, my older brother went to live with mom’s parents in southeastern Kentucky.  I stayed with mom, whose earnings as a nurse’s aide barely kept us afloat.  During the summer, when school was out, I was shipped off to spend several weeks with family. My summers were split between visiting my grandparents in southeastern Kentucky and staying with family in northern Alabama.

In the little town of Jasper, Alabama, I could enjoy time with my cousins under the loving eye of my mom’s older sister, Aunt Bette.  I have many fond memories of the warm summer days there, fishing, digging in the large vegetable garden, playing ball and frolicking with my cousin Philip.  Philip and I spent  many a day at Jasper’s city swimming pool, only a few blocks from Aunt Bette’s house.  To me, life in Jasper was something akin to living in television’s fanciful town of Mayberry.  The image will resonate for those who remember the Andy Griffith Show.

Traveling to Alabama was a fascinating experience for a young boy.  I usually went by train on the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad.  My maternal grandmother Myrtle would accompany me back and forth.  My granddad Jim was a locomotive engineer for the L&N, so he and granny enjoyed free travel by rail.

Union Station in Louisville was a behemoth mixture of wrought iron,  granite, polished marble and stained glass—a magnificent structure. There we boarded the Pan American express for our journey.  The ride to Alabama took us through Nashville to our final stop in Birmingham.  Aunt Bette’s husband, my dear Uncle John, would meet us at the Birmingham station.  From there it was a short drive to Jasper and my summer residence.

The contrast between Midwest and Deep South was remarkable, even for a young lad.  It was immediately evident upon entering the train station in Birmingham.  Unlike the station in Louisville, Birmingham’s was filled with the signs of a racially segregated south.  There were separate drinking fountains, restrooms and waiting areas marked “whites only” and “colored only.”  The first time I walked into the Birmingham station, my Midwestern mind didn’t get it. Granny tried to explain to me what segregation was all about, but the cruelty of what I was seeing didn’t register with my young brain.

Outside the station was more evidence.  There were cabs for “coloreds” along with movie theaters, restaurants, bars, barber shops, benches at the bus stops, and dozens of other examples.  As I would later find out, there were also schools and yes—even swimming pools designated for “colored only.”

Unbeknownst to me, the city pool in Jasper was for white people only.  At least that’s how it was during my first two summers there.  This changed on July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.  I was much too young to understand the full impact of what was going on, but I was fortunate to witness firsthand a piece of history in the making. I still remember it clearly.

I was at the city pool when the first test of the new Civil Rights Act occurred.   On a sunny afternoon in August, a lone young black man wearing a t-shirt and swimming trunks entered the pool area.  With many of the whites staring in various states of confusion and disbelief, the man walked to the grassy area at the deep end of the pool where he spread out his towel on the ground

No one knew it at the time, but the brave man who dared venture into the formerly whites only swimming pool was handpicked for the task.  After removing his shirt and sandals, he headed straight for the high dive.  He climbed the ladder, confidently walked towards the end of the diving board and proceeded to perform a perfect one and one-half somersault into the water.  Swimming to the ladder, he exited the water and made another beeline for the diving board.

Over the next few minutes, the young man put on a mesmerizing display of diving, with each twisting and turning dive seeming more difficult than the preceding one.  While the young man was performing, everyone watching (myself included) seemed unaware of the dozen or more young blacks entering the pool area. Everyone was enjoying the show.  When the show finally ended, everyone simply went back to what they were doing before.  Amazing!

It was in this simple way that segregation peacefully ended at the city pool in Jasper, Alabama.  At least that’s how I remember it.  Unfortunately, desegregation didn’t occur as smoothly in many other places.  Fifty years later, I’m glad to live in a country where a person’s color isn’t as important as the “content of their character.”1 We still have much room for improvement, but we have steadily advanced the cause that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave so much for—even his life.  May our nation never turn back!

“We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight.”  —Oswald Chambers

1”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”   —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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