Bishop Mack Stokes, Associate Dean of Candler School of Theology and
Professor of Systematic Theology, when I was a student there, has died
just short of his 101st birthday.
Upon his election to the Episcopacy, he was assigned to Mississippi. The strides he made there in support of integration, the merging of the white and black conferences of the church, the setting of a Christian example in the secular world, and demonstrating a Bishop can still be a pastor are legendary.
I remember the day when I challenged
him in class by saying, "But Dr. Stokes, Dr. Mallard said ...." He
replied, "Dr. Mallard; I presume you mean Bill Mallard. That man is
marvelous. He possesses an exceptional brain. Wonderful man. We are
fortunate to have him on our faculty. He has some tremendous theories.
Unfortunately, some of those theories lack the perfection of being true."
became a better church because of his leadership.
The church finance committee was discussing the fiscal problems of the congregation. The parson was listening.
problem facing the committee was that the church was obviously not
going to meet its budget asking for the year. All the bills had been
paid, the parson had been paid, the denominational obligations had been
really concerned that we never seem to meet our budget,” said Franklin
Lansing. “For the last ten years this committee had worked hard to make a
realistic budget and for the last ten years we always fall thousands of
but we've already said that we've met all our obligations,” countered
Maynard Sinclair. “What's the point of worry. We're doing what needs to
doing that only because of the parson's constant attention to
finances,” remarked Harry Potter (Yes, that's his name.). “We owe him a
debt that he keeps the spending down when the giving is down.”
right,” said Margaret Conner, “we do owe the Parson some thanks. But
the truth is we need more generous givers like William Miller. Without
his generous weekly giving we'd be in a world of hurt.”
“What do you think, Parson?” asked Harriett Abbott.
think Margaret is right in a way,” said the parson. “We do need more
generous givers. But we don't need givers like William Miller. We need
givers like Bobby and Susan.”
“Bobby and Susan?” echoed Margaret. “Bobby and Susan. Who are you talking about?”
talking about the Simpson's kids,” said the parson. “Bobby and Susan,
when we sent out the request for folks to bring an offering to help the
victims of Hurricane Sandy answered the call. Bobby, who's in the fifth
grade brought a jar of coins that totaled $18.53. Susan, the second
grader, brought another jar with $22.40. Those totals represented the
contents of their piggy banks,” the parson continued. “The emptied their
There was silence for a few moments. Finally Harriet spoke. “You're suggesting we empty our banks.”
“No, I'm not,” said the parson. “I'm just suggesting the people in this church should give with the faith of a child.”
goes without saying. One should, if one desires to derive the most,
engage the services of a competent guide when exploring unfamiliar
wilderness. I desired to derive the most, and, consequently, I took
advantage of a local guide service while exploring a portion of the
western Connecticut wilderness the week of Thanksgiving. Luck was
with me as two brothers, both familiar with the area I was to explore
agreed to lead me through the forest.
know some of us Southern folks, when thinking of those New England
places, don't imagine forests populated by mighty trees with streams
tumbling over rocks downward into quiet deepness through the fertile
valleys. It's difficult to realize that just a hop, skip, and a jump,
or more precisely a two hour car ride, from New York City there could
be a postcard like rural, picturesque setting. Even in our most
imagined historical scenes of colonial American farms with the rock
walls bordering the pastures, we don't get the feel that today, in
this 21st Century, there remains in that place a
wilderness to explore.
Housatonic River is majestic as it flows south to southwest through
western Connecticut. In the wilderness that borders its banks in
various places the rock outcroppings are spectacular. The occasional
erratic rock, one that doesn't belong where it is but was carried
there by a glacier, gives hint to the massive forces of nature that
carved these valleys eons ago. The trails through these gifts of
nature are not all that difficult, but it takes a guide to enrich the
journey with commentary.
so, last week Sam and his brother, Owen, led me up the mountains and
down into the valleys, through the rock formations, beside the
flowing waters of the river and around the occasional hint of a
previous human occupation. Both were familiar with the area, having
walked these trails previously. Both were at home in the wilderness,
and both, apparently, were delighted to have me sharing this
experience with them.
seemed to be more concerned for my well-being, in that, I, obviously,
was a senior citizen. Often he'd move ahead of his brother and me,
scouting out the trail that all was clear ahead. On more than one
occasion he advised me of some difficult terrain and suggested
alternative routes that would avoid them. He seemed at home in the
forest as though pumped by the fresh air, the chilling breeze and the
raw smell of nature.
seemed particularly intent on pointing out the various
characteristics of acorns that were evident along the trail. At one
point we reached a rock out cropping overlooking the Housatonic
River. The view was spectacular. Down below a lone soul paddled his
kayak up the river. History says we were sitting at the spot where
the Native American daughter of a chief and her lover leaped to their
death. Sam, undisturbed by the sacred spot, took time to point out
the various aspects of an acorn.
he stood up and proclaimed. “I've got to pee.” He dropped his
pants and proceeded to do so, oblivious of any others who might pass
by on the trail. At that point Owen spoke up without any concern at
his brother's dropped pants, and exclaimed, “Hey, Daddy Guy, come
pulled up Sam's pants and with his two-year-old hand gripping my
finger followed the older guide up the trail.
season for counting our blessings has arrived. It's good this time of
year rolls around. Truth is, we don't count those blessings and we don't
give thanks for them without this annual time set apart. The shame of
it is we have more to be thankful for in these present days than any
Gracious how the world has changed in the last twenty-five years. My daddy would never believe it.
other night I was traveling down the highway, just enjoying the
journey, not in too much of a hurry to get to my destination. But I was
hungry. I didn't really know where I was; I mean I knew I was between
here and there and would soon arrive at there if I remained on this
particular highway. But I didn't know where I was in terms of relieving
the hunger pangs now wrestling in my stomach. No problem in this day and
pulled out my smart phone, held the menu button down then said aloud,
“Food.” Within a few seconds the phone spoke to me, “I found fifteen
restaurants; thirteen of them are fairly close to you.” Glancing down at
the phone, I touched the name of one of those restaurants. A map to the
establishment appeared on the screen. So in this season I'm giving
thanks I can always know how to get where I need to be.
of that phone, I called my grandson in Connecticut the other evening.
He's a few months short of being five. After speaking to my son for a
few moments he then called the grandchild, informing him I was on the
phone. The grandson took the phone, looked at the screen and said, “He
must have hung up.” Most of the time when I talk with him and his
brother we do it via a video call. When he didn't see my face he assumed
I wasn't there any longer. I'm giving thanks today that my
grandchildren, even when we live a thousand miles apart, still know what
I look like.
thankful today the rising generation is not wasting their lives away on
video games. They may be playing them non-stop, but they're not wasting
their lives. Ever heard of Adrien Treville? He, a university professor,
was frustrated at the slow place of solving some of the mysteries of
AIDS and HIV. The university computers had been working on the problem
for years with no positive results. He put the problem online in a video
game format. Within days 300,000 kids were working on the mystery. It
has something to do with the way protein molecules are folded. One of
the top players was a ninth grader named Michael Tate. He and other
players solved the molecule mystery within three weeks. Look at the
power of this technology, not just a few scientists working on the
problem but hundreds of thousands of kids.
thankful for this age where, wearable, external robotic skeletons are
making it possible for paraplegics to walk, where we are finding ways to
control machines with our minds, and where I can watch, live, my grand
kids in another city or state perform in their dance recital.
I'm so very thankful it will be the ethics and values my generation
teaches that will allow them to use this new technology for the common
good and the betterment of all humankind.
sixteen now. Back when I was her pastor she was six. Even then she had a
confidence that only a child for whom the future waits possesses. She
was then, and is now, precocious, extremely intelligent, with a
personality that quietly insist that one pay attention to her lest one
miss out on what she may contribute.
denomination has a rule. That rule says, “When you move, move.” That is
to say we are not to try and keep relationships with former church
members because they have a different pastor now. When she was six, she
didn't care about the rules. She began writing me. Since she was six, I
made an exception and I answered her letters. They have come almost
weekly. Through her I have been able to keep up with who was doing what,
who's sick, who died, who had left the church, who joined, and even,
over the last three years, who was the latest young boy to deserve her
of that correspondence I did get to be there at significant stages of
her life. I was there when her mother fought her cancer. I was there
when she sang the National Anthem at a sporting event. And this last
week I was there when her new niece was baptized in a private ceremony
where the local priest was gracious enough to include me in the liturgy.
the ceremony, after everyone was picking up and cleaning up the parish
hall, she and I found ourselves sitting on a bench outside the
“So, what's new in your life?” I asked.
new? You saw what's new. I'm an aunt. I don't understand my sister.
She's a junior in college. She could have waited a couple of years
before getting pregnant. But, then again, I love that kid. And it's kind
of neat to be an aunt.”
“Besides being an aunt, what's new. School? Boy friend? College plans? Catch me up on things.”
school's good. Boy friend is out of the question right now. I've
decided I have enough adolescent mood swings all by myself. College?
Well, maybe Duke or Emory, although I'm considering going ahead and
applying to Yale. The worst they could say is 'no'. Right?”
“Right,” I said.
“How about your Mom and your Dad?”
“My Mom and my Dad. Oh, my goodness. I just hope things will change now that the election's over.”
do I mean? Just be glad you're not the pastor here any longer. I'd have
called you over for some pastoral counseling so many times you wouldn't
believe it. Mom was for Mitt Romney. Dad was for President Obama. You
would think that after all the years they've been married they would
have learned to talk nicely to each other. Oh, my goodness, you should
have heard them.”
“Who were you for?”
no, I spent the whole year not telling anyone that. If either of them
knew what I thought … Well, there's no way I could win.”
“But the election's over. They should be okay now, right?”
now, are you kidding? Did you read the news stories that Senator Marco
Rubio is speaking in Iowa this week? It's already started again.” She
took a deep breath and said, “You know, I wish they'd quit running for
office and run for America.”
wanted to write and let you know about something I just did, something
that was really important. I voted. Yes, I voted once again. I've been
making a habit of doing that since 1960. Every two years beginning that
year I've marched myself off to the polling place and cast my vote for
the candidates I thought would best serve the interests of our country.
The last seven times I voted I also cast a ballot for the candidate that
I thought would best secure your future. Yesterday was significant.
It's significant because the next time there's an election for the
President of the United States, you, too, can vote to secure your
why I'm writing. I've never asked much of you over the years of your
young life. In fact, your mother says all I do is give things to you and
your sisters. It's time for you to give me a little payback. You can do
that by taking out your smart phone right now. Click on your calendar.
Go to August, 4, 2015. Make a notation on that day that reads: Register
to Vote! On that day you will be old enough to register to vote in the
next presidential election. And vote in that election you should do.
is important, Ansley. By exercising your right to vote you can have an
influence on the path of this nation in our relationship with other
nations, in the manner this country provides for the unfortunate as well
as the fortunate. By exercising your right to vote you determine who
represents your interest in the halls of Congress, at the state capitol,
and in the county commission meetings. By exercising your right to vote
you have something to say about the war making powers of the country,
the speed limit on the roads, whether or not the pot holes on those
roads get patched. By exercising your right to vote you determine the
quality of education your children, my grandchildren, receive. In short,
sweetheart, by exercising your right to vote you will be making your
mark upon the future your children will possess.
you will be doing me a great favor if you will mark your calendar now
to register to vote in 2015. Getting you to promise to vote is the best
thing I can ever give your children.
do have to warn you, however, that voting can sometimes be frustrating.
Sometimes the person you vote for does not get elected. Sometimes the
other candidate gets elected. Don't let that discourage you. Even if the
other candidate gets elected, that candidate will know you're watching
every move and you'll be back at the polls the next time around. In that
way voting is a brake on the excesses of that other candidate.
should your candidate win, do not gloat. For the winner is also the
representative of those other voters. That's the beauty of our system.
Once the candidate is elected that candidate becomes the representative
of us all.
I write this, I don't know whether my presidential candidate won or
lost. I won't know that for a few more hours. But I do know: Whomever is
elected will be my President as well as the President of the others.
And giving allegiance to the one elected is the American way – one
nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
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