It affected me in more ways than I had expected.
I suppose the way the funeral meshed into my week gave it all kinds of things to spill over into.
Yesterday I went to the funeral of Ben Speer, sat on the back row, listened to songs I hadn’t heard in years sung by the Gaither Homecoming crowd and the Stamps-Baxter choir and found myself deeply moved. Why?
I think it is more than nostalgia. I think it is all the other things floating around in my life these days.
A few nights ago, I went to the Trevecca Undergraduate Student Research Symposium and heard bright young scholars make presentations on topics like producing a documentary film, anxiety in undocumented students, reforming girls of the 19th century England, and the massacre of African-American Union soldiers at Fort Pillow. These were just a few of the 30 presentations.
I saw young minds creating and discovering, then sharing their findings with standing-room only crowds. The Fort Pillow massacre report connected me to J. J. White Memorial Presbyterian Church in my hometown. He was the founder of my birthplace, but I had never heard the story that he had served time for war crimes committed in the massacre at Fort Pillow. And he has a church named after him a hundred plus years later.
My cousin Andy and I talked late last night about growing up in Mississippi and all that was going on there that we did not know then and how we are responsible for the worlds we are making now.
Then, yesterday morning a committee of the Tennessee legislature failed to recommend a bill to allow DACA students to pay the same in-state tuition as the same kids they went through TN K-12 schools with. They have to pay out-of-state tuition, which makes college practically unaffordable for them. And my DACA friends are heartbroken.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to get AT&T U-verse installed at my house. Today will be their third trip. I forget how dependent I am on wireless connections to be omnipresent.
Then in chapel this week at Trevecca, students and professors shared about their trip to Israel and the film they are making, Thy Kingdom Come. Our chaplain asked the students on the panel a question: How did this trip affect how you know Jesus? When people travel to the Holy Land, we usually ask if they read the Bible differently after being there or if their faith seems more historically grounded, but Shawna Songer Gaines asked these students if they now know Jesus differently.
Their humble responses made me grateful for professors who do life with students and for the Jesus that is knowable.
And then, I’m navigating two worlds with the recent decision to serve as president of two schools, one in Nashville and one near Boston. I know the Nashville school well having served 12 years as president of Trevecca Nazarene University, six years as its campus church pastor, and four years as a student. Its history is entwined with my own and that of my older friends. But the role of president of Eastern Nazarene College has me learning a new history. I’ve been reading the 2-volume work of Dr. James R. Cameron detailing the history of the college. Founded in 1900 and surviving against the odds, this school is my newest challenge. It is a gem worth bringing back to stability and strength. I am humbled that they would let me try (along with several friends who are smarter than me at what they do).
And finally, we have 20-30 people coming for Easter weekend. Our own gang is approaching 20, and then we have friends from lots of places. Our celebration will include family and friends of all ages, from 1 to 90. We’ll attend Good Friday service with one daughter’s family and Easter Sunday with another daughter’s family. It’s Holy Week.
So I went to Ben Speer’s funeral yesterday and found myself in a quiet place reflecting on the timeless Christ and the frail time-marked humans that I live among. For the grandkids in my back yard this weekend and the college students making discoveries in the lab and the Holy Land, my musings make little sense … because when you’re young, you can’t look back far enough to wonder.
And for the long-dead founder of my hometown who slaughtered Union soldiers because of the color of their skin but got his name on a church sign anyway and for Mom and Pop Speer who welcomed Ben home, it is too late to do anything different about anything. We live with the world they created, good and bad.
And for the AT&T installer, the state legislators, and the friends coming for Easter weekend, I pray grace over what they do.
And if the Lord tarries, what we’re doing now at Trevecca and what we will attempt at Eastern Nazarene College will be history of some kind. And we will live with that.
I suppose it was the songs we sang at Ben’s funeral: “In a Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” “Time Has Made a Change,” “Sheltered in the Arms of God.” You can Google those lyrics if you’d like, but these are the songs I grew up singing. They still mean a lot to me, but now, all these years later, I think I’m really beginning to understand them.
The common denominator in all of this is the timeless Christ, who wastes nothing, preserves everything and rises from the worst we can do. Jesus seems very near this week.