Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Miss Arnold, Mrs. Estes, and Mrs. McKinney were my first-, second-, and third-grade teachers. They brought me all the way from a basic understanding of words—courtesy of Dick and Jane—to a command of long division. That is quite a journey. They were responsible for us from the minute we set foot on the school grounds until the minute we ran out of the building at 3:00 p.m. at the sound of the bell. They knew Mr. Ingram, the principal, had their back when it came to discipline. They supervised our play time, our lunchtime, and every minute of the school day. Their only break was when Miss Red took us off for music and quickly brought us back.
In the last few months, we have experienced too many tragedies involving elementary schools. I am not sure our old school nurse would have been up to the kind of injuries we see now. What has really stuck with me are the stories of teachers shielding their students from wind or bullets with their own bodies. I think we know that teachers care about children. I think we know that they are heroes to us for managing thirty very active people all day. But I don’t think we often acknowledge that they are willing to lay down their lives instinctively for the life of a child.
It is not just the teachers. I had a bus driver who also owned a tavern. Some mornings he looked pretty rough. Whenever any driver ignored the bus stop sign, he jumped into action and educated that driver in the clearest—and bluest—of words. We learned language from lots of places.
We acknowledge at baptism that the whole church community is needed to raise a child. That community also includes people beyond the church, who—while they did not make a vow that day— nonetheless care about the welfare of our children. As we wind down our eventful 2012–2013 school year, let us give thanks for all of those people. And let us ask God to help us to be those people, too.
It was a generational moment. I had just baptized my grandson and was now presiding at table with my newly ordained daughter. Three generations intersecting in the historic Sacraments of the church. On the table was the freshly baked loaf of bread and the cup full of wine.
If you date a generation by roughly twenty years, sometime in this century we will approach the 100th generation to tear the bread and drink the cup. We should probably pull a committee together to work on that anniversary, because—for me—it marks one of those rare occasions that call us to pause and take stock of the life of the church. It has been a long journey since the first Christians met in small house gatherings throughout the Mediterranean to the multi-continental collection of the people of faith we are today.
One sure sign of spring in my hometown was the return of the old men to the benches outside the courthouse. I was never certain where they went in the winter. It was not entirely clear what they did for a living. But they would appear yearly some time after the arrival of the robins and before the trees leafed out.
Upon seeing a Facebook photo of me holding my newborn grandson, one of my friends wrote that I looked “smitten.” To which I replied, “I am.”
Smitten is a word you do not hear used much anymore. The fact that its root is the verb “smite” makes it all the more interesting.
Ashes are the remains of a fire. Any fire. Whether a warming fire from logs burning on a cold day or a raging fire that results in the destructive loss of a home. The ashes before us this month originate in the fires that consumed the palm leaves from last year’s celebration of Palm Sunday.
No matter the fire, the results are the same. Ashes. The palm ashes are the remains of a fire. It is a long time from Easter’s celebration to the cold, winter day when we step forward to have our foreheads smudged on Ash Wednesday. The fire of Holy Week has dimmed. Many of the extra Easter faces have retreated. Sanctuaries are cold, the pews never quite warmed up by the furnace.
Moving into a new year is that simple, but the getting there is never simple at all. The things you planned to accomplish in 2012 are either done or they’re not. The new, improved you has lived another year and become ever so slightly improved but nonetheless older. For those of us who still write checks, we have to constantly remind ourselves to write 2013 on the date line. Even though it is a new year, it starts out very much in the same old ways.
Because it was one of those years when Christmas fell on Sunday, our church decided to have an informal worship service with the general theme of “come in your Christmas sweater.” Sunday was cold, but the sky was clear. People arrived in new sweaters, ties, and one very nice mink coat. The prize in my eyes went to the seven-year-old who rushed down the aisle in his brand new football uniform complete with helmet and pads.
October 15, 2012, marked the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, one of the classics of children’s literature. National Public Radio reported on the struggle E. B. White had recording the audio version of the book. When it came to describing Charlotte’s death, it took the author seventeen takes before he could get through it without showing emotion in his voice.
My neighborhood is a great place to be these days. We are reaping the benefits of dedicated home gardeners in our midst. The bounty of produce is amazing. But what amazes me even more is the level of trust that is displayed.
The gardeners put their crops of tomatoes on untended stands in front of their homes. You pick your tomatoes, weigh them on a nearby scale, and put your money in a metal box. I have never heard of anyone stealing either tomatoes or money. It is really kind of remarkable in our gated, alarmed, and locked-down world.