At my first job in Rome, Ohio there were two sisters I used to visit every week. Iva Callicoat and Edna Sowards lived together in Iva’s house just a few blocks from the church building, and I would walk over in the afternoon. They were a real-life Mary and Martha – Iva was practical and wise, Edna was quiet and wise. I learned so much from them. I was really blessed by my first work. I had five elders who were true shepherds, a pulpit minister who wanted (for the most part) to mentor me, and a loving congregation which treasured my wife and me. It was an idyllic situation, and a rare one – especially for the Ohio Valley which is notorious for congregational strife. My home church seemed always to be arguing about something, and split while I was in college. In fact, two generations ago our entire sisterhood of congregations seemed to have that reputation. Members of the churches of Christ seemed always ready to give an answer (or at least engage in debate) but with no gentleness, and little reverence (see I Peter 3.15).
We weren’t like that at the Rome Church of Christ. There were points of controversy now and then, and a few persistent scriptural disagreements, but none that disrupted family harmony. It was amazing to me that a church family could be that way. What we did have at Rome was a long prayer list. Although a large congregation for the area (we averaged around 325 on Sunday mornings) it was an aging congregation. We averaged 15 funerals a year during my time there. It was not unusual to spend three full days visiting hospitals during a work week.
I was commenting on this to Iva and Edna one summer afternoon. I was bemoaning (complaining is probably a more accurate word) the fact that so many were ill and so many had died. “I guess I should be thankful we aren’t fighting amongst ourselves the way most churches are. We just have so many to worry about,” I remarked. “That’s why,” Edna replied. I didn’t understand. “That’s why what?” I asked. “We are so busy worrying and caring for each other that we don’t have time to fight. That’s why,” she explained. Of course, of course, that was indeed why.
I remembered her words this week as I watched the folks who live around Baton Rouge take care of each other. Just a few weeks ago Louisiana was wracked by racial tension. Police shootings, the candidacy of David Dukes, and the presidential campaign seemed to be splitting the state wide open along racial lines. After the Storm-With-No-Name dumped more water on the state than did Hurricane Katrina the citizens of Louisiana now (for a time) seem to identify themselves not as black and white, but as wet.
I have often quoted Fred Rodgers’ advice to children, given in the wake of 9-11 – to “look for the helpers” in any disaster, because they are always there. His words remind us of the truth of the beatitudes. They who mourn are blessed, because they will be comforted.
The challenges we face we have created ourselves. God gave us a garden home, each other, and a perfect relationship with Him. We have ruined it all. We have fouled our planet, fought each other, and forsaken God. He has not forsaken us. What a blessing God has given us – that in the face of the gravest challenges we find the greatest gifts – unity, benevolence, altruism, selflessness, brotherhood, love.
The greatest gift we receive in crisis is experiencing of God’s goodness in the goodness of others. We experience this gift more purely in the wake of crisis, than at any other time. How wonderful that God has arranged for this to be so even in this sinful world we have made. Thanks be to Him in all things.