October 17, 2016

In Sunday morning’s Adult Ed class this fall, we have been working through Adam Hamilton’s DVD series, “The Call” on the life of the Apostle Paul.  In this Sunday’s study, Hamilton highlighted Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians,

 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Preparing for Sunday’s discussion, I researched this passage from Philippians, and was struck by the issues in translating the Greek word, epieikeia, which the NIV translates as “gentleness.”  William Barclay comments on this translation issue,

“The word (epieikeia) translated moderation is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words.  … The Greeks themselves explained this word as “justice and something better than justice.” They said that epieikeia ought to come in when strict justice became unjust because of its generality. There may be individual instances where a perfectly just law becomes unjust or where justice is not the same thing as equity. A man has the quality of epieikeia if he knows when not to apply the strict letter of the law, when to relax justice and introduce mercy.”


With some further research, the word epieikeia appears three times in the New Testament – all in relation to Paul.  Its first occurrence is in Acts 24:4, where the Jerusalem leaders have hired a lawyer to present a precarious case against Paul before a Roman governor.  The lawyer, Tertullus, appeals to the governor’s “epieikeia” in hearing the case.  One might imagine the lawyer arguing, “we don’t really have the facts in this case, but you still have it in your power to deliver a verdict in our favor, and we would be appreciative if you would do so.”  One might further imagine the feelings this argument would trigger in Paul.


Its second occurrence is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, likely written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, reminding the Philippians to rejoice, and to make their quality of “justice, and something beyond justice” known to all.  Paul has taken the word used by Tertullus in Caesarea, and turned its meaning around.  What might have been a vice is now a virtue.


Its third occurrence is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where in chapter 10 verse 1, Paul lists epieikeia as a virtue of Christ, and exhorts the Corinthians to adopt this virtue for themselves.  Not only is epieikeia a virtue, it is a Christian virtue, and one which Christ himself displayed.

Barclay further comments on this,

“The Christian, as Paul sees it, is the man who knows that there is something beyond justice. When the woman taken in adultery was brought before him, Jesus could have applied the letter of the Law according to which she should have been stoned to death; but he went beyond justice. As far as justice goes, there is not one of us who deserves anything other than the condemnation of God, but he goes far beyond justice. Paul lays it down that the mark of a Christian in his personal relationships with his fellow-men must be that he knows when to insist on justice and when to remember that there is something beyond justice.”


While it is a Christian virtue, and I think perhaps a virtue which is unique to Christianity, it is also a virtue which must be cultivated.  Knowing justice, and knowing when to go beyond to “something more than justice,” comes from a lifetime of experiences.  For the Christian, it also comes from prayer and study of the Bible.

In this election season of unusual bitterness, let the cultivation of the virtue of “epieikeia” become a personal goal of ours.  Perhaps that will allow us to keep our sanity in the years which will follow which ever candidates should prevail in November.


John McMillan

October 10, 2016

Psalm 131


O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.


O Israel, hope in the Lord

from this time on and forevermore. (NRSV)


I came up dry as I thought to write a ‘Faith Matters’ this time

but then a daily devotional I receive from Fourth Presbyterian

Church in Chicago struck me.


So often, too often I am ‘busy’ with the numerous daily tasks

and responsibilities that fill our lives. I am blessed with good health.

Now that ‘it’ is over, and I am fully recovered, it strikes me that over

the past several years my energy levels, my enthusiasm for life, have been slowed.

I recall thinking that it felt like I was swimming against heavy water.


Why?  Because of these two grape sized parathyroid adenomas which

it turns out, have been growing for the past 5-8 years! Fortunately a

‘rare’ and benign condition, which God, in His wisdom, seems to have

planned for.  We each have 4 parathyroid glands, the size of a grain of

rice placed on the back side of our thyroids. We can function with only

a part of one.  Their function is to regulate the calcium levels in our blood

which allow all of the electrical functions in our bodies to work.


What a blessing to have a diagnosis! What a particular blessing to have

medical members of our immediate family research and find a specialty

center in Tampa, Florida that only deals with these issues. What a revelation

to make a decision to seek treatment there and to go to have the procedure

without a qualm or concern about the whole process.  Purely logical and

scientific?  NO!


“Oh Lord… things too great and  marvelous for me. ..I have calmed

and quieted my soul.. hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore”

and sing praises and gratitude for ALL of His blessings.


Pat Sheafor, Author

October 3, 2016



Everyone Welcome?


I can’t tell you how many churches I have driven past with the words “Everyone Welcome” on their sign board and my guess is, most of them mean it.  They really would like to believe their church is open to everyone and that everyone would feel comfortable there.  Of course, we know in reality it simply is not possible.  One size does not fit all and every congregation can’t meet everyone’s needs.  The church which welcomes everyone is not going to very comfortable for the person who believes there need to be more precise requirements and expectations. At the church I served in Birmingham, MI, we used to say, “We baptize anyone, we marry anyone, we bury anyone”…and we lost a few members because of it.  St. Andrews wants to welcome everyone, assuming of course, that you like traditional worship.  Since we can’t do everything well, we choose what we do and as soon as we do, there will be some folks who won’t be comfortable here. As I always say, that’s why they make different kinds of wallpaper and that’s why there are so many Christian churches around. But the deep, abiding value which matters most is the desire to make everyone who comes through these doors feel welcome.

In September, 28 of us spent a week at Cass Community Social Services in Detroit.  Cass grew out of Cass Community United Methodist Church and is now independent and ecumenical with support from a broad base of religious and philanthropic institutions yet still maintaining a connection with its roots at Cass Church.  Each Wednesday they hold “Warehouse Worship”, so named because it was originally held in the warehouse.  Pastor Anne can attest to that since she preached there last year.  They now meet in a new space, but it is still called “Warehouse Worship”.  The bulletin for worship offers this stunning welcome:

We extend a warm welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor and knuckleheads.  We extend a welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Beyonce or like your pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.  You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up or just got out of jail.  We don’t care if you’ve been sprinkled, dunked or if you’re afraid to wade in the water.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and teenagers who are growing up too fast.  We welcome single moms, distant dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians and junk-food eaters.  We welcome those who are in recovery or still using.  We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion” because we’ve all been there.

If you blew all your offering money at the casino, you’re welcome here.  We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, or are here because grandma conscripted you to come.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now.  We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts…and you!

Now that’s a welcome for everyone which everyone except folks who can’t deal with that kind of welcome can appreciate. End of the day, of course, the truth is we may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, but the commitment to welcome all persons in the spirit of Christ is central to what it means to be the church.  The warm, faithful, sincere welcome really matters because everyone means everyone.

Ya’ll come on in now….everyone is welcome.

Jack Harnish, Author

September 26, 2016

“Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”  We sang that during our first morning devotional as we prepared to get to work at Cass Community Social Services.  Twenty-six of us then went to different sites to tackle our various “assignments.”  I don’t know about the others on the Mission Team, but I found that simple song became one of those “ear worms” that keeps the song continually running through one’s mind. So as I spent my first day of work breaking down boxes to be fed into the baling machine prepping the recycled cardboard for sale, my brain kept singing, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”  It was a hot, dirty, and sometimes smelly job in the Cass Warehouse, but the Lord was there with our small team of cardboard box smashers and the group of adults with developmental disabilities who worked at their job of document destruction on the opposite side of the large room.  Their job coach, Kevin, told us how he “accidently” went to church at Cass United Methodist Church twenty years ago and he has been part of their mission to these special-needs adults ever since.

The next day, hotter yet, I joined the painters on the third floor of the Scott Building getting it ready for supportive housing for homeless individuals.  The dozen or so rooms had already been painted and beds and simple furniture placed in each.  Our job was to paint the hallway and all the door frames. The rhythm of the song, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place” kept my paint roller moving up and down each wall while sweat dripped down my face in that hot, stuffy hallway.

The cover of the Cass Community Social Services’ 2015 Annual Report says, “Fighting Poverty   Creating Opportunity.”  Inside the pages the four key elements of its program are described:  fighting “Hunger” with “Food”; “Illness” with “Health Care”; “Homelessness” with “Housing”; and “Unemployment” with “Jobs.”  When you observe what folks are doing there, you realize how many have truly found opportunity to give back.  At Wednesday Worship the choir that had visited St. Andrews this past summer, The Ambassadors, sang “God’s Been Good to Me” and thanked our Mission Team saying, “When you help us, it allows us to help others.”  My ear worm kept my mind singing, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this Place.”

Dianne Stephenson, writer

September 19, 2016


On September 4, 2016, nineteen years after her death, Mother Teresa became Saint Teresa.  I’m having difficulty adjusting to this change, because I identified with the Mother in Mother Teresa.  She seemed almost within reach.    When tending to one or all of my four children during the “endless” flu and cold season, exhausted, I would say,

“Phew, I feel like Mother Teresa.”  My children would understand, and give a  sympathetic smile.   Saint Teresa just isn’t the same.   Regardless of my concerns, she has gone through the lengthy process of canonization and has been heralded a saint.  With her unwavering mission of helping the poorest of the poor, she was an inspiration to many.

Mother Teresa never gave birth to her own children but she had hundreds of children.  She saw children and adults ravaged by war, by disease, by disfigurement, by emotional alienation. Rather than being angry with God for their hurt, she became more loving, more focused on her children of “pure light.”  She found those close to death to be the pure of heart.  Open hearted they yearned to see the face of God. They were deeply grateful for her care and keenly felt the love of Jesus Christ through her.  Mother Teresa’s mission was to turn their souls to Christ, so they too could sing His praises.  She was Christ’s instrument, and referred to herself as “the little bride of Christ.”  At one point, Saint Teresa said,

“By blood, I am Albanian, by citizenship, Indian.  By faith, I am a Catholic nun.  As to my calling, I belong to the world.  As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. “

She was born and baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia on August 26, 1910.   Being born into a devout Catholic family, meant  she learned from a very young age to share what she had to feed the hungry.  Drana Bojaxhiu, her mother had a deep commitment to charity.  She once told her daughter,

“My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”  Quite often their household fed the sick and the homeless since their dinner table was frequented by the less fortunate.   Mother Teresa gave her mother credit for her generosity.  After the unexpected loss of her father, Agnes became even closer to her mother.  At age twelve, while on a school pilgrimage to the church of the Black Madonna, she received a call to religious life.  Her journey took her on a circuitous route first to Dublin, Ireland to train with the Loreto Sisters.  She took the name of here favorite saint, Saint Therese because it symbolized entering a new phase in her spiritual life.  Saint Therese was also known as “the little flower” and was given the title of “the sacred keeper of the garden” by Pope Paul XI.   It is easy to understand why she chose the name of this saint.  Once that decision was made to take the oath of poverty and the vows of the religious life, she never saw her own mother again.

The next part of her journey was spent in Calcutta, India.  Here she taught at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls.  She learned to speak Bengali and Hindi and her mission was to alleviate poverty through education.  Six years later she took her Final Vows to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.  It was at that time she added the title of Mother to her name.  After teaching at St. Mary’s school for girls in India for seventeen years, she received a “call within a call.”  This  took her life in a new direction. On September 10, 1946, on a train ride from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills bound for a retreat, Christ spoke to her again.  He told her to abandon teaching and care for the poorest and sickest in the slums of Calcutta.  Listening to the call of Jesus was the easiest part because convincing those in authority over her was a tall order.   Since she had taken the oath of obedience, she could not venture out on her own without permission.  She had to lobby the authorities, which she did tirelessly for a year and a half.  Finally, in 1948 it was approved and she developed a new order called The Sisters of Charity.  She donned a blue and white sari, which became the trademark of her order, and she headed for the streets of Calcutta. Her mission: to care for the unwanted.  Her order established a hospice for the dying, new centers for the blind, aged and disabled, as well as, a leper colony.  This venture had an enormous worldwide impact.  She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.  The Sisters of Charity continue to carry on her work around the globe today.  Mother Teresa was awarded the Jewel of India, the highest honor given to an Indian civilian.  The Soviet Union bestowed on her the Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee

The discovery after her death is what made her a saint in my eyes.   To those she served, her eyes were filled with light and love.  Her delightful sense of humor was playful especially with the children she cherished.  At times she doubled over with laughter, and people remarked on the glow of peace on her face.  However, after her death, those close to her revealed that she suffered for fifty years with what St John of the Cross described as the “dark night of the soul.”  Although she heard Christ’s call on the train to the Himalayas, she felt the misery of being abandoned by God.  Some liken this experience to a soldier who leaves his beloved behind to go to war.   The warrior is confident that his lover will be faithful, so he continues doing what he must without any contact with the beloved.  This describes Mother Teresa as she faithfully and slavishly served Jesus Christ while tending to the needs of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and around the world.   She reported a brief period of relief in 1958 when Jesus touched her heart.  He came to her during a Mass celebrated shortly after the death of Pope Pius XII, the person who gave her permission to leave the Loreto sisters to work among the poor.

“Today my soul is filled with love, with joy untold with an unbroken union of  love.”  But, just four weeks later, she again described the pain of abandonment to her spiritual director. “He is gone again, leaving me alone.”  She lived in this darkness until the end of her life, and her secret life was a living hell. Some speculate that this profound sadness helped her empathize with those who were unwanted and alone.  Whatever the reason, Saint Teresa soldiered on giving the world her best, which was a full measure of Christ’s love.


Peace always,

Kathryn Den Houter

September 12, 2016



For the past five years, the Presbyterian Church has designated the weeks leading up to World Communion Sunday as a Season of Peace.  We are encouraged to use this period from now until October 2 as a time to learn about, to pray about and to act on “the things that make for peace”.  This a surely a challenge, fifteen years after the catastrophic events of 9/11, when we see so much anger and fear-mongering, fighting and conflict in our communities, in our nation and around the world.


In thinking about the work of peace, I return often to the words of Doug Baker, a long-time PC(USA) mission worker with years of experience in peace-building in Ireland.  A few years back, Doug wrote:


The word “peace” is often used in a primarily negative way, meaning the end of war or the absence of fighting.  But when peace is spoken of in the Bible, it derives its meaning from the Hebrew word, “Shalom”.  That word includes wholeness, well-being, and harmony.  Shalom is experiencing true prosperity and salvation.  It has to do with the state of relationships between individuals and God as well as between different people and groups.  It is the intended order for creation and for human beings’ relations to one another.  Such peace, according to scripture, is both God’s gift and purpose”   (From Doug Baker, Living Toward a Culture of Peace).


If that is God’s plan for this world, what are we called on to do, as we seek to live peace-focused, faith-filled lives?  Responses can come on many levels.  They include the ways in which we respond to difficult neighbors or family members with whom we always seem to be at cross purposes.  They include the officials we elect and the policies we support, as we struggle to establish laws and institutions that confront evil with restorative justice, seeking responses to violence that are not built simply on the use of overwhelming force.  Further afield, we resist the temptation to turn our backs on the tens of millions of people (yes, that reads TENS OF MILLIONS) who have been displaced from their homes and who now find themselves adrift in a world where they have lost their sense of community and sources of income.


I offer stories from two faithful friends who seek to put these ideas into action.  The first comes from Rev. Shannon Beck, an ordained Presbyterian minister with long experience in peace work.  Shannon shared some notes about a recent encounter:


4-hour delay lead to breaking up a fight at the airport.  Two young men.  I focused on the man who was throwing swings.  We sat, I talked, had him look in my eyes, reminded him that he had what he needed and that he would get to his destination if he could calm himself down.   The police who worked with him were awesome.

We don’t know people’s stories.  It’s not so complicated to open up a space for someone to trust themselves a little.  They are empowered by it.


A second story comes from Elmarie Parker, a Presbyterian mission worker base in Beirut, whose area of work includes Syria and Iraq.  Her latest newsletter tells about her friend, Rev. Mofid Karajieli, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Homs, Syria.  Rev. Karajieli had the opportunity to emigrate with his family to Sweden, but chose to stay in Syria and continue serving in Christ’s name, as a “visible reminder that God has not abandoned the people of Syria or Christ’s church in Syria.”  Elmarie wrote:


The young adults of the Presbyterian Church in Homs have developed a program called “‘Space for Hope.”  They are old enough to remember life in Syria from before the war, where they as children played in the streets with friends of other faith traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Alawite, and Sunni.  They went to each other’s birthday parties and shared life together.  Their first concern was NOT: are you Christian or are you Muslim.  But the proxy sectarian fighting in Syria has torn this social fabric apart, leaving behind suspicion and mistrust.  So during “Space for Hope,” these Presbyterian young adults now bring together young children who have only known this time of war; who have only known sheltered play in their own yards, away from kids who are different from them.  The children come from Christian and Muslim families.  They meet at the Evangelical School – a trusted location.  Together they play team-building games – the context for meeting the “other” and beginning to learn how to see God in the face of the other.


May our own faith be informed and inspired by such stories that remind us that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the midst of conflicts, large and small.  May God give us wisdom and persistence for our own faithful, shalom-guided living.


Written by Don Mead

September 6, 2016

Life isn’t Fair


Jesus tells one of his parables that has been a source of confusion and frustration for the modern church.  The story went something like this.  A farmer needed to hire some help to pick his field of strawberries.  He hired ten young men, and promised to pay them $100 to pick strawberries through the day.  The men were happy with that.  At noon, the farmer saw he needed some more workers, so he hired five more.  The weather was turning threatening for the next day, so the farmer hired  more workers at 3 o clock and again at 6.  By the time it was dark, the fields had been picked and the farmer was happy.  The workers lined up for their pay, and each received a check for $100.

Whoa!  Once those who had sweated through the 12 hour day found out that the latecomers received the same pay, they felt they were cheated. The $100 that seemed good enough at the beginning of the day turned out to be not enough.    “That’s not fair!”  A common lament!  Life does not treat us fairly.  We don’t receive what we deserve.  Others get all the breaks.

Where do we get the idea that our life together on earth should be fair? I look at the variety of situations and circumstances into which a child is born, and do not see fairness.  I consider the losses so many people experience throughout their lives, and do not believe they are fairly distributed among us.  We hear of the huge disparity in our nation and our world between a few who have and the many who have not.  That is not fair.  Illness and tragedy do not come because we deserve suffering.  Nor do the benefits of good health or a happy life come because we deserve good health and happiness.

For us as disciples of Jesus, there is a need to take seriously that life is not fair.  We cannot blame the poor for not being responsible.  We cannot take offense that those who are struggling to have a decent life are taking advantage of tax payer money. I wonder why that would bother us more than all the efforts we make to have the tax payer money work for us.  As I often say, we are all on welfare.

Because life is not fair, we need a generous God who often provides us more than we deserve.  Don’t you think the parable points in that direction?  To a gracious God who enables us to cope with what can be unfair? And beyond that, to forgive what is unfair?  As servants of Christ, we move beyond complaining to forgiving what is a reality in life.

We welcome God who surprises us with gifts that we consider more than we deserve.  We worship the God who does not seem to be motivated so much by fairness as by love and grace, paying more attention to the least and the little ones.

I think of this parable as a story to consider in this season of stewardship when we are reminded we are “blessed to be a blessing.”  That some of us have “more” is to have us consider how unfair that can be and what we are able to do to make up the difference.   As I write, the flooding in Louisiana is creating thousands of victims and untold suffering.  That is not fair!   But from the safety and security of our homes, we have been blessed to give what we can to help.



Bob McQuilkin

August 15, 2016

There were six of us piled into our rental car.  We had just hiked on some of the most arid land I had ever seen.  To make matters worse, we had one of those friendly guides who kept saying, “oh, it’s just a little bit farther” and would point to a hill in the distance!  When we had survived the hike and were finally back to the car, all we wanted was water and something for lunch!


Following the directions from our enthusiastic guide, we headed off to a get food and a drink,  and we made a wrong turn!  But, as I look back on that mistake, I can hear the end of the Robert Frost poem that says “that has made all the difference”.  For we came up over a dune, and as far as we could see, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cairns stretching across a wide beach and down to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.


A cairn/kern/n is a pile of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark.  I had never known what the stone towers were until a friend talked of building one as part of a retreat.  She said that for her it marked a time of renewal of her faith.  


The six of us found individual rocks on the beach and a piece of beach glass.   We built a cairn  together on that day when we got lost.  At the time, for me it represented our friendship and love for each other.  As I have thought back on that day, the cairn also represented something else for me.  It had been a hard few months for many in our family circle.  I needed something to build, to see, to touch..  I needed a reminder that it is God who is faithful.  I put some stones from that beach in my pocket.  With some of my favorite stones from other beaches, I built a little cairn on a shelf in my kitchen.  Every time I see that little pile of rough stones, I am reminded of that day, of those dear friends and of our God who does not fail.


Judy Harnish

July 25, 2016


As I ponder the ways in which Faith Matters, my mind is drawn to another pair of words: Faith Communities.  These days, Carol and I live in two different worlds: we spend about half of our year in Louisville, Kentucky, the other half in Michigan.  When people in each place ask us about what we like about the other, our answer always centers around the faith communities which welcome, encourage and sustain us in each place.


I am convinced that faith is like that.  Lived alone, it tends to shrivel up and dry out.  It is the several  communities of which we are a part – our physical neighbors, those we see on a regular basis, often at church, as well as those we see more rarely and interact with mostly electronically – with whom we share our worries and concerns, who enrich our lives not only with joy of spending time together but also with their reminders of the faith-based roots that sustain our energies and our hopes.


This thinking leads me to deep gratitude for those who are engaged in those faith communities along with us, for the institutions that provide the framework in which they operate, and for the work of the Holy Spirit, which  provides the bedrock, the lubrication, the energy and encouragement driving and sustaining those faith-based relationships.


I well know that it requires a commitment of time, energy, and yes, also of financial resources, to sustain the institutions and relationships that keep those communities of faith strong.  In these early days of this year’s stewardship drive at St. Andrews, I am glad to add my words of support in reminding people of how blessed we are to be part of a church that is itself a community of faith and that provides the context in which many of these relationships are established and sustained. I am thankful for each of the friends with whom I am able to share those relationships, for the church that provides the context in which many of them grow, and most of all, for the gift of the  Holy Spirit, an active participant in each of those communities.  What a blessing these communities of faith are for each of us.  May we do all we can to nurture them and keep them strong.


Don Mead, Author

July 11, 2016

bible faith

“Carefully Taught”

The year was 1949.  In post-World War II America, new hope was rising and new vigor was inspiring the rebuilding of the world following the devastating death and destruction of the war.  My Dad had returned from the Pacific theater and started his family with twins–and since I am the second born, I will be forever grateful!  I was only two years old and knew nothing of the underbelly of American society at that time, the ugly remnants of racism, the injustice of Jim Crow in the south, the plight of African Americans who had risked their lives for their country in the war but still couldn’t sit at lunch counter or use the toilet in many parts of the country. (For a chilling account of the treatment of black Americans in Florida all the way up into the 70’s, read “The Devil In the Grove” by Gilbert King.  The distrust of the police by African Americans has deep roots.)

Rogers and Hammerstein understood. So they used their incredible talent to set a story in the context of a celebration of those who had served in the war; a story which would intentionally confront the racial divisions of the nation long before the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s or the Black Lives Matter movement today.  Of course, they called it “South Pacific” and it remains one of the most beloved American musicals of all time. Even 66 years later, it still challenges us with the lingering prejudices which bedevils our society today. In what must be one of the shortest songs of the American musical stage, they satirically identify the problem:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year,

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,  You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made, 

And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. 

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, 

To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught!

In some ways, Benzie County is not unlike the small town where I grew up in the post-war ‘50’s. With relatively little ethnic diversity, it would be easy to pretend that the pain of Dallas doesn’t reach us in our pleasant corner of the world. But the deeper issue is about the attitudes we carry and the lessons we pass on to our children. Even in our corner of the world, the church is called to give witness to God’s all-inclusive grace and the sacred worth of every person. That’s the lesson which needs to be “carefully taught” today.

Jack Harnish