Shaped to Serve
By Charles Rush
October 31, 2010
Job 10: 8
(mp3, 6.7Mb) ]
ese days, I have the wonderful pleasure of witnessing the simple but important ways that we shape the rising generations. My grandson Charlie and I are eating breakfast at the Summit diner. Charlie is like 2 and some change. We are sitting at the counter, spinning on the stools. I pull up a section of the New York Post- no one reads the New York Times at the Summit diner- I pull up a section of the New York Post and open it to the sports, fold the paper, so I can glance at it and talk to Charlie. Charlie canít read, of course, but he gets a section of the Star Ledger and folds it the same way I do, and glances at it.
I do the crossword puzzle because my grandparents and my
parents did them every day. Now, Iíll be sitting in my chair working a puzzle
and my granddaughter Natalie will get up in my lap, pull out a pen and start
making xís in the squares on my puzzle. Iíve noticed
that I fill in the letters with the same little formal letters that my
grandfather did. When he was done, the puzzle was perfect, like a little art
If your children have been to my office, and they all have,
you will know that I keep a couple little bowls of candy, not for me, I
actually donít notice them hardly at all. I started
doing it completely subconsciously. My great grandfather,
was really old when I knew him. But I would walk back to his study, a room in
my Grandmotherís house in Memphis, and the first thing he would do is motion me
over to a great big glass bowl with a metal lid on the top of it from the 30ís, and Iíd reach in for
a piece of chocolate. I donít have many memories of him but they are warm. I
must have made a note to self that he was a smart guy. And now, all of your
kids, they may not remember much from church, but warmer memories at least
about the Ministerís Office.
We pause, today, to remember the Saints in our lives, the
people who shaped us, gave us the values that shaped us positively. Who are you
thinking about right now? I want you to call to mind, in the next few minutes
one of those people who developed you.
For a lot of us, we think of a parent. Representative John
Lewis, the long-time Congressman from Georgia, said this about his father.
"My father, Eddie Lewis, was a hardworking man who loved his family. He
gave me a sense of pride and responsibility that I carry with me all of my
days. I still remember in 1944, when I was 4 years old, my father paid $300 for
110 acres of land in Troy, Alabama.
He worked that land from
sunrise to sunset, raising cotton, corn, peanuts, hogs and chickens. When the
land was too dry or too wet, he took on extra work at the
sawmill or driving a school bus. Looking back, I do not know how he was
able to purchase that land, raise a family and survive the cruelty and
injustice of racial segregation. But he did it. My 88-year-old mother still
lives on that 110 acres of land.
My father was so proud
that I was part of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1958, as a college freshman, I
decided to attempt to desegregate Troy State University. I wrote to Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. about my intentions, and Dr. King responded by sending me a bus
ticket to Montgomery so that he could meet with me. It was my father who drove
me to the Greyhound bus station for my first trip to meet Dr. King. I only wish
he were here today to experience the distance we have come."
So many of us, especially those right around retirement age,
had the experience of parents that gave us skills to develop a better way of
life than they had, and we got educated and oriented because our parents wanted
for us what they couldnít have. Dr. David Satcher,
the former United States Surgeon General, said this, "My
father was Wilmer Satcher. He never finished first
grade, but he was one of the wisest people I've ever met. He cared enough to
make sure that we all had an opportunity to get an education, even though he
didn't have that opportunity.
He was also a very religious man. The only office my dad
ever held was in the church--he was a deacon and believe it or not, he was
superintendent of the Sunday school for almost 25 years. My mother, Anna,
taught him to read, and he was really looked upon as a Biblical scholar.
I often tell a
story about when I was getting ready to leave for Morehouse College, and he
took me to the bus station to catch the bus. And I remember thinking,
I wonder how he feels, because he was always giving me advice. And now, I'm
going somewhere that he's never been. He doesn't know anything about
college--he's never been to a college campus and he's taking me to the bus
station to go to Morehouse.
I was ready to
get on the bus and he said, 'David' I said, 'Yes, dad: He said, 'I want you to
promise me one thing: I said, 'What's that?' He said, 'Where you're going,
you're going to meet people who have much more than you have. And you might
even meet some people who have less than you have. But promise me that you're
going to treat everybody with respect, regardless of what they have. Promise me
that you're going to treat everybody the same and you're going to treat everybody
with respect.' And I said, 'I promise you, dad. I'll do that'
received any better advice in my life. I've tried to do that. Whether I was
surgeon general or president of the Medical School at Morehouse or just out in
the street, I've tried to treat everybody with respect. And it pays off. So
without question, the faith of my father and my mother, and their deeply held
belief in education, shaped my life."[i]
education, and of course, you really need that value of respecting each and
every person if you are the Surgeon General. We hope you canít be a Surgeon
General without it.
I think of
that tremendous gift that some people have to make others feel accepted. Some
parents and grandparents are just very gifted like this and what a blessing
they are. Melissa Blake wrote a piece about growing up disabled from a rare
bone and muscle disease that required her to have 27 surgeries in the first 28
years of life.
She says, ďYou see, my mom planted the seed in
me at a very young age that I could do anything I wanted and that I should
never let my disability define me. I think this is what made me reach for so
many things in life. In high school, I was a member of the National Honor
Society, and in college, I was editor-in-chief of my school newspaper. I don't
know if I would have had the confidence to push myself if my mother hadn't been
there, cheering me on and always willing to give me a reality check if I ever got
down on myself.
Yes, I soon discovered my mother's secret superpower lied in
her ability to teach me about life as I was in the midst of living it. She's
sneaky like that. Mothers aren't just people who shake a stern fist when you
track clumps of mud on the porcelain-white living room carpet. And they're not
just people who lecture until their face turns a blazing red when you leave
heaps of dirty clothes piled in your room. They shape who you are, and they
must get you ready to go out into that big world.
And that's why to my sister and me, she's Ms. Bear. Not
because she's a towering, aggressive creature. To us, she represents a
larger-than-life figure, a protector who takes care of her baby cubs. When my
father died from suicide, I knew she not only lost her husband but her soul-mate.
But instead of retreating into despair, she continued to take care of us -
comforting us, hugging us, being our anchor during the storm of grief. I wish
all mothers knew how important they are to their children, especially their
daughters. We know you're always watching over us like a mother bear watches
over her cubs.Ē[ii]
Even today, you hear so many people remember what it was
like moving to a new country, a new culture, a new language. So many people
have originally come to our country as political or religious refugees or as
immigrants from the Old World.
ďMy parents, my aunt and I left Cuba
under bad circumstances. We entered the United States as refugees.
We came with one change of clothing and each other. That was it.
I cannot point to a particular event
where I learned gratitude and love of country. Though I was always told about
the Cuba of old, the love of country was for the country that took us in; the
country that gave us opportunity; MY country -- the United States. Along
with this love, came the value of being thankful -- gratitude.
Through my parents' and my aunt's daily
examples, I understood that I had to be thankful for our very existence.
As I grew, I often wondered what I could do when I grew up to thank my country,
to give back for all it had given us. Somewhere in my late teens, it
dawned upon me...join the military and give service to my country.
Needless to say, my mother had never thought that this is what I would do; she
was afraid for her only child's safety.
Years went by as I went to college,
became a teacher and worked at Elizabeth High School. My mother probably
thought that I had forgotten my military service desire...but I had not.
At the age of 26 I enlisted in the US Army Reserve. She cried out of
sadness and fear when I left for basic training, and she cried out
of pride when I graduated from basic training. She worried when my
unit when we were activated. However, throughout my military career (9
years) she never missed an opportunity to tell people that her daughter was in
the Army to give back to this country.
Similarly, love of family just became
part of me as I grew up. We were there for each other in good and bad
times. When my aunt's business burned to the ground, my parents gave her,
not only emotional support, but monetary support --
even though we had very little ourselves. When my parents had a car
accident, my aunt came from California to stay with us and help us. There
was never any doubt that we would always be there to help each other for life.Ē
Of course, not all of our homes are so
anchored. I got a note from a man that described his family as very limited in
their emotional life. His father, in particular, was just not very close to
other people, a fact that he was aware of as a child, but not entirely as is so
often the case when we are growing up. We donít entirely understand what we
arenít getting. So he remembers a couple of his High School teachers, men who
encouraged him, and his football coach in particular.
He was a junior in High School and the team was reviewing the film from the
previous game, after which the Coach would hand out decals for great plays that
you could add to your helmet. They get to a piece where he intercepts a pass
and runs it back almost the whole way down the field. The coach plays it,
rewinds it, plays it, rewinds it and says out loud to the whole team, ďjust
look at him, he runs like a gazelleĒ. It is funny how those blessings can
reverberate down the course of time. Twenty years later, he is still blessed by it.
Someone believed in him and told him so.
I got another quick note from someone
that said that grew up in a home that just didnít have any love in it. As a
result, he made many mistakes in relationships and was really miserable as a
young man. He said something like Ďeverything Iíve learned about love, Iíve
learned from my wife.í She had been a healing for him, at least in this
This is what we do for each other. It
is one of the principal reasons that we actually wake up on a Sunday morning
and drag ourselves to Church. There isnít any magic bullet on a given Sunday,
but the cumulative effect, we are building a channel for blessing the next
generation and it works in ways small and probably profound.
I was talking to Rev. Yarborough and
she mentioned that her son has started playing the trombone. I have to believe
that he was influenced by Tom Nazelli marching the kids into church, playing on
his trombone ďWhen the Saints Go Marching InĒ.
You would be surprised, like we are
routinely, when we ask our 8th graders to identify people in the
congregation that they might like as a Mentor for the year. They usually list a
couple of names. Even if they donít know you well. They are watching.
When we make those baptismal vows and
promise to be there for each otherís children and together create the fabric of
a substantial enough spiritual community that they get some remedial guidance
on how to live and what kind of character we need for them to develop. Those
are important promises.
Iím grateful for the people that put
together our lunches, our Advent Workshops and Chili Cookoffs
so that our kids collectively are able to experience this community as a safe
Iím grateful for everyone that
volunteers for crowd control teaching Sunday School.
In our own halting way, something important is being communicated, quite in
spite of appearances. More than that, a few of you will be beacons in their
lives in the future, directly or indirectly, they will look to you to find the
way home to safe harbor.
Iím grateful for everyone that works
with our teenagers and helps them stay connected through High School with other
kids that are a bit more spiritually grounded, so that they can return their
focus to the things that are important, the things that matter. And a few of
you will have the great privilege one day, of watching them get married, have a
first child, and seeing this more difficult phase blossom into something
becoming. A few of you will know them then.
Iím grateful for everyone that has
raised our budget and helped us build the building and the Nursery School next
door, so that we can have a context to bless the rising generation so much more
effectively, we pray, than the previous generation.
We need you, and some of us here,
because of the Church, will actually find one of our most important blessings
in the future, when get to watch the character of the rising generation of
people connected to your family become women and men of substance. That is what
we are all about.
We really are compassed about by so
great a cloud of witnesses. Hebrews says, ďSeeing as how you are surrounded by
such a great cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin that
clings to us so closely, and run the race that is set before us, looking to
Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.Ē Amen.
Our Gracious God, we remember before you those
that laid down positive values for us that we could follow, people that shaped
us for the better. Bless them with all of the gratitude that is within us, bless them with all of our soulÖ We remember them before
you right nowÖ.
Fill us with that same Spirit that we
might look to the future with the promise and courage that is within us. Grant
that together, we might imprint the rising generation with love, character, and
a more substantial way of being in the world. Bring us together in your
guidance, we pray. Amen.
Both of these were in an article on Fatherís in Ebony Magazine, June, 2003.
Melissa Blake in Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/disabled-and-thriving/200911/the-sneaky-ways-your-mother-shaped-you
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