Archive for the 'Perseverance' Category

THE NEXT STEP/ACT OF FAITH

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”—Hebrews 11:1-2 MSG

I’ve just discovered ancestors I had no idea existed. No, I haven’t been on Ancestry.com.  I read about George Houser who died last week at 99. He was identified as the last surviving member of the first Freedom Ride. I expected to learn about his participation in those integrated bus rides through the south that began in 1961 to test the Supreme Court ruling in Boynton vs. Virginia which had declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional.

George Houser didn’t ride one of those buses in the early ‘60’s. He rode the very first bus—in 1947. He and fifteen other men (eight white, eight black) took a bus trip through the south to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Irene Morgan vs. Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1944 Irene Morgan was returning to her home in Baltimore after visiting her mother in Virginia. When the driver asked her to give up her front-of-the-Greyhound seat, she refused—eleven years before Rosa Parks! The police were called. Mrs. Morgan was cited and fined. She appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1946 the court held that segregation in interstate commerce was unconstitutional. Southern states mostly ignored the ruling.

George Houser and some other early civil rights activists set out to test (expose?) the strength of the Court’s ruling. In April 1947, they set out on a journey they called the “Journey of Reconciliation”. Their bus trip wound through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  Black men sat in the front of the bus, and whites in the back. They all violated equally the (now unconstitutional!) segregated seating laws. When one of them was asked to move, he would explain calmly to the driver and/or the police, “As an interstate passenger I have a right to sit anywhere in this bus. This is the law as laid down by the United States Supreme Court.” Sometimes they found support for their position. Other times they were arrested, jailed, and sometimes beaten. In North Carolina black riders Bayard Rustin and Andrew Johnson were arrested and sentenced to thirty days on a chain gang for violating the state’s segregation laws–which the Supreme Court had already declared unconstitutional! Many consider that “Journey of Reconciliation” the very first Freedom Ride.

But the Journey of Reconciliation was only part of George Houser’s human rights legacy. In 1940 he was among a group of theological students who refused to register for the military draft begun by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. The law exempted theological students , but they felt called to protest the system for peacetime military conscription. Houser and seven other students were sentenced to federal prison. George Houser served a year in a federal prison, and then set out to complete his theological education at Chicago Theological Seminary. When he and a (black) fellow student were refused service in a Chicago restaurant, their search for constructive action led them to become founding members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). George Houser served as the group’s first executive secretary. In the 1950’s, Houser’s focus shifted to South Africa and the struggle against apartheid. His activism for various soclai justice causes continued in some form until very shortly before his death at 99.

George Houser’s story reminds us that we all stand on someone’s shoulders. Dr. King and other better-known figures stand on the shoulders of George Houser and Irene Morgan. All who are working today to eradicate the poisonous racism that infects our society stand on their shoulders and on the shoulders of King, Bayard Rustin, James Farmer, Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, and many more. Their “…act[s] of faith…set them above the crowd.” The energy builds as Hebrews 11 tells the stories of ordinary people who engaged in heroic acts of faith: “…by faith…”, “…by an act of faith…”, “…acting in faith…”.  Faith goes beyond simply believing the right things to betting your life on them. People of faith live as though that barely-visible promised reality is already at hand.  We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us because of their “acts of faith”.

In 2007, a New York Times reporter interviewed 90-year-old  George Houser. How did he keep on working for difficult and often  unpopular causes when progress was often so long and hard? He referred to the hymn “Lead Kindly Light”, particularly the words that say:  “…Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene — one step enough for me.” “I believe that,” Houser said. “I believe one step is enough and you take it, as long as you have faith you’re doing the right thing to begin with.”

George Houser’s  “one step” acts of faith helped transform our society. Today George, Irene, and all our spiritual ancestors who’ve stood on their shoulders ask us: “What’s the next step? What’s your next act of faith?” It’s probably not a headline-grabber. It’s more likely a conversation with a neighbor, a co-worker, a child or grandchild. It might be a gentle, peace-full response to a harsh, aggressive word or action, or a series of lifestyle choices that say, “Here’s a different way for us to live together. Want to join me and try it out?” All our “one step” acts of faith in the right direction lead finally to the “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) envisioned by the prophets, Jesus, and others who’ve caught that vision.   

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.”—Hebrews 12:1-2 MSG

 

Going Home–Flood Journal 5

Yes, I’ve been silent for more than a month. But I’ve hardly been loafing. As April ended, so did the lease on our temporary housing. We moved out of the rental and back into our home.  The same strong hardworking friends from Chino Valley UMC who’d helped move us into our temporary quarters in early December helped us move back home. For the next few days we did a dance with the builder’s crew as things like sinks and kitchen counter-tops were finished. It was good to be home, even though we knew we had a mountain of work ahead of us. (If you missed previous installments, “Flood Journal” chronicles our return from a trip to China in mid-November to discover that a “water incident” (broken pipe) had flooded our home.)

Carson, the four-legged member of our family, may have been the happiest about going home. We had traveled the three miles back and forth between our home (The Jobsite) and our temporary housing (The Cabin) almost daily, often multiple times. Carson was always glad to be “home” (at The Jobsite). But whenever we told him to get in the car because we were leaving (for The Cabin), he would give us a look—“Are you nuts? This is our home.”  He had a point, but we left anyway.

Carson finally got his way as April ended. We moved “home” and got completely out of our rented house. The next Thursday the crew that had packed all our possessions into three 8’x20’ storage containers after The Flood came and moved everything back in. They left us with hundreds of boxes stacked (sometimes ceiling-high) approximately in the rooms where their contents had been. The next day the furniture restorer employed by our insurance company delivered the truckload of furniture he’d lovingly and skillfully brought back to life. It all fit (sort of) among the ceiling-high stacks of boxes. My sister and brother-in-law spent the weekend helping us start unpacking. By late Sunday I’d taken two pickup loads of flattened boxes to the recycler, along with a load of 12 40-gallon trash bags stuffed with packing paper from fragile items.

On Monday morning we still faced cold, harsh reality–mountains of boxes packed by total strangers! We’d needed their help, they’d done their job well, we appreciated it, along with God’s provision of the material resources to buy the house and the insurance that came through when we needed it. BUT– the boxes were labeled generically, often cryptically, hardly the way we would have done it in order to find stuff easily. After three weeks we found our silverware! A few days ago a box labeled “Office Supplies” yielded a computer printer. The printer was in perfect condition. It had all the pieces—except the power cord. It looks great sitting in my study, but it has yet to print its first page! This process has been a graduate-level course in PATIENCE! (Yes, in BOLDFACE ITALIC CAPS!) I don’t see that learning curve flattening out any time soon.

Diana and I have had a running conversation about what “Enough” means for us. As we unpack, we ask, “Where was all this stuff hiding?” and “Do we still need it?” Our present household is the product of numerous “mergers and acquisitions”. We worked and lived in different places about half of our last twenty working years, so we maintained two households. My mother lived with us for her last twelve years, so we have her things. After Dianna’s parents died (both within the last five years), we acquired some of their substantial lifetime accumulation. When I retired two years ago, we lost a room—my study at the church. All those books, papers, etc., now live at home. To make this all more interesting, Dianna’s a keeper and I’m a tosser—except when it comes to my tools! So “Enough” is an ongoing dialog.

We’re also learning endurance and perseverance. “Move-in burnout” strikes often. We don’t care how tall Box Mountain is. (Parts of our house look more like The Cardboard Range than a single peak). We’re just mentally and physically DONE! Of course those mountains don’t shrink while we’re on strike. They loom as large as ever. A couple of rooms have become choke points. The contents of those boxes came from those rooms and the movers put the boxes right back where they went. But they’re so full there’s no room to work, no room to put up shelves or bring in furniture to hold what’s in those boxes, no room even to shuffle stuff into the hall or another room to relieve the congestion. So we work through one box at a time. One of these days, we keep telling ourselves, we’ll reach the “tipping point”. Our “home-reclaiming” process will gain conclusive momentum. Then we’ll really and truly be “home”.

What is God teaching us through this process? That depends on how teachable we are. Some days, not very!

  • A) I’m learning a ton about patience. One can wait when one has to wait. Sometimes waiting improves the timing in a way we never imagined. But sometimes one has to act. The balance between waiting and acting can be tricky.
  •  B) “Enough” is a continuing dialog. Friends engaged in similar conversations in their own lives contribute to our conversation, and we to theirs.
  • C)  Endurance/perseverance grows with practice, and I’m getting tired of practicing! In our case, I’m also looking for ways to work smarter as well as harder. Some solutions we haven’t thought of, or been willing to try, may provide the break-through we need.
  • D) We’re newly appreciating friends and family who’ve helped in so many ways throughout this process. And we’re appreciating letting each other survive as we worked through a very difficult period in our life together.

We’re home. But we’re trying to get all the way home. We’re not there yet, but we’ll make it. Meanwhile, as that car commercial said, we’ll “Enjoy the ride!”


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