By RAHN ADAMS
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 30, 2020) – Imagine gathering in person with a group of people—some you may know, some you don’t—on a Saturday afternoon, maybe at 3 p.m., if that’s convenient, in the Aldersgate Chapel of the First United Methodist Church on King Street. You can park for free in the church lot behind the building or in the public lot across the street behind the News Herald building.
Though it isn’t handicapped-accessible, the church building entrance nearest Aldersgate Chapel is on Queen Street. The church’s main entrance—in front on King Street—includes a ramp that handicapped individuals may use for access through the narthex to the church sanctuary. If you enter that way, walk down the aisle toward the chancel, notice the cross on the far wall, then exit the sanctuary to the right.
Walk down that hall (you’ll pass restrooms on your right, if you need to take care of biological needs), then turn right and continue a short distance past the Queen Street door to the chapel, where a limited number of chairs will be turned toward the chapel’s permanent, wood-paneled altar and green stained-glass windows from the old Methodist Church building. Notice that there’s no pulpit. I’ll bring my own.
Now, keep in mind that all of this that I’m getting ready to describe is imaginary. It hasn’t happened yet and won’t happen until the time is right. And then you’ll see the announcement in The News Herald and be given time to clean yourself up a bit, throw on something comfortable—don’t forget sensible shoes—and plan to spend a couple of hours with some old and new friends. No need to worry. It’ll be painless.
GATHERING – Good afternoon, folks. Have a seat but don’t get too comfortable. We’ll get the service started here, and then we’ll go somewhere you can settle back and relax a little better—not that church isn’t a place where you can relax, mind you. But take me, for example. I live under a big rhododendron in Rahn and Timberley Adams’s side yard in Rutherwood. It’s always shady there, and cool—except in the winter, of course. Rahn met me for the first time in late July of 2017 after they had been gone for a whole month during Timberley’s surgery and hospitalizations. They’d driven up the mountain one day to check on their Boone house, and Rahn happened to spot me under their big rhododendron. They’ve checked on me ever since. But that’s where I’d rather be right now—at home under that rhododendron.
As people gather in the chapel in the minutes prior to the service, a pianist quietly plays the following hymns from The Broadman Hymnal: “Trust and Obey,” “He Keeps Me Singing,” and “Where We’ll Never Grow Old.” The hymns are not sung, just played softly in the background. The service begins:
THE WORD OF GRACE – “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst’” (Luke 17:20-21, NIV). The kingdom of God, the reign or realm of the Holy Spirit, the universal consciousness that keeps the flame of life burning … is within you.
GREETING – Welcome to the Aldersgate Chapel of Morganton’s First United Methodist Church. I’m Jack, and, no, I’m not the pastor here. In fact, I’m not even a Methodist. I’m not really sure what I am now—a Unitarian, maybe? No. Or a Transcendentalist like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau? Well, maybe, maybe. They believed that God and Nature and Humankind were linked, and that a person had to go out into nature to transcend society’s artificiality in order to experience divinity. Yeah, I guess so. But, actually, I think I’m just an existentialist. I’m here today and gone tomorrow, and that’s how it is for each of you, too, if you stop and think about it. That, after all, is why we’ve gathered here today—to celebrate life in the kingdom of God. The song we’re going to sing now, “He Has Not Promised An Easy Way,” was written by Nellie D. Adams and Madge M. Sachs. Nellie, a teacher here in Burke County for many years, is the mother of Rahn Adams, a member of this church. Sit or stand, as you wish or are able. Our pianist will play the song one time all the way through to familiarize you with the melody before we start singing the first verse. Sing out and do the best you can, even though this is probably the first time you’ve sung this song. This is our first lesson: It’s OK not to be perfect.
PSALM – Again, that song—the music, anyway—was written by Morganton native, Nellie Adams, whom some of you know. I mention that again, because these verses that I’m going to read from the 118th Psalm have personal significance to Nellie and her son, Rahn. Back in the fall of 1976, Nellie stayed a number of weeks at North Carolina Baptist Hospital with her 10-year-old son and Rahn’s little brother, Ken, who had been diagnosed with cancer, neuro-blastoma. He underwent two major surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy over a three-and-a-half-month period before his death on January 17, 1977. But on the morning of the second big operation to remove a large tumor from Ken’s chest, Nellie and Ken had devotions together in his hospital room. Without a copy of their usual family devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, they decided to simply open their Bible and read whatever passage they saw first, and this was what they read together on that dark morning in Winston-Salem:
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The Lord is my strength and song, / And He has become my salvation. / The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; / The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. / The right hand of the Lord is exalted; / The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. / I will not die, but live, / And tell the works of the Lord. / The Lord has disciplined me severely, / But He has not given me over to death (Psalm 118:14-18, NASB).
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Actually, they read those verses in the King James version, because that was the only translation that Nellie and her husband, the Rev. John O. Adams, both graduates of fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University, allowed in their house. It was also the version of the Bible that 17-year-old Rahn read by himself that same morning before he drove to Winston-Salem to be with his little brother and their parents. You see, Rahn did the same thing that Nellie had done—he opened his Bible to a random spot and put his right index finger on a single verse to read, one that his mother and brother were reading at the same time 75 miles away—the 118th Psalm, verse 17:
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“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17, KJV).
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Rahn thought, Man, that verse sure does hit home this morning. Let me try that again. And so he closed his Bible, flipped it back open and put his finger down once more. Without trying to do so, it landed on the very same verse. When the same thing happened a third time, Rahn decided that someone—God, maybe?—was telling him something about the outcome of Ken’s surgery later that morning and about his best friend’s prognosis overall. So Rahn took that Bible verse as a promise from God. And his belief was underscored later that morning when Nellie told him that she and Ken had randomly selected the very same passage to read before Ken went into surgery, which he did, in fact, survive. As things turned out, though, the number 17 just kept popping up for poor Rahn over the next 10 years, in particular, and its appearance usually accompanied life-changing events in his personal and professional lives. Finally, Rahn went to a local jeweler and bought himself a small, silver medallion inscribed simply with “17” to wear around his neck. When people saw it and asked what it stood for, Rahn declined to tell them. The explanation was too complicated and too dark—that whenever the number 17 popped up, Rahn knew to pay close attention, because something big was about to happen to him. “I’d rather not say,” he would demur. Without fail, the inquirer would grin knowingly, maybe wink, and say something like, “Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.” Rahn never did figure out, though, what they’d been thinking. They never said.
PRAYER – That’s really all I have to say to you here in this setting. Since I ordinarily spend all my time outdoors, I thought it might be nice to get a little fresh air together and to notice the beauty of nature all around us this time of the year before going back inside for the next part of this observance. We may not be able to see the beautiful old Blue Ridge for all the buildings, but we can be assured now and forever that Table Rock and Hawksbill always look down upon Morganton, the Mimosa City, from the western horizon. Once again, the sun is headed in their direction, and the moon and stars will soon be rising to light our dark night with reflections from the sun.
PROCLAMATION AND RESPONSE
Now, imagine leaving your car at the church and taking a short walk together—slowly so that no one falls behind—from the chapel to a local brewery, bottle shop or coffeehouse in downtown Morganton, like Catawba Brewing Company on South Green Street, Fonta Flora Brewery on North Green Street, Brown Mountain Bottleworks on East Union Street, the Upper Wine Room at the Grind Cafe on West Union Street, or some other establishment, where one keg of cold beer, two urns of hot coffee, regular and decaf, a case of bottled water, and sliced loaves of home-style, gluten-free breads and sugar-free spreads await you. No nuts. Remember not to double-dip your spoon. Go ahead; fill up on the bread. After 30 minutes—the number 30, after all, looking much like the mystical symbol for Om or Aum—reconvene so that Jack and an acoustic guitarist who can also sing may continue with the following:
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON – Well, hey again, y’all. Let’s get going, but you’re welcome to move around as you need to, and, by all means, go back to the refreshment table if you like. Enjoy the food and drink. … Based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in the Old Testament, folksinger Pete Seeger and later the folk-rock band The Byrds sang these words in the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!”—words in the refrain that I’ll start out with and then that we can say or sing together a cappella after I read each verse by myself:
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TURN! TURN! TURN!
By BOB SEEGER
To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn) / And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die / A time to plant, a time to reap / A time to kill, a time to heal / A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn) / And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down / A time to dance, a time to mourn / A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn) / There is a season (turn, turn, turn) / And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate / A time of war, a time of peace / A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
A time to gain, a time to lose / A time to rend, a time to sew / A time for love, a time for hate /A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.
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PSALM 23 – That song is so familiar and we’ve heard it over and over and over so many times through the years that I’m sure you could hear the melody in your head and in your heart. It’s the same way with this next tune that our guitarist will play and sing for you:
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON – The first truly American fiction writer was Mark Twain. There are so many stories from the eight days that Timberley and Rahn lived in the old farmhouse at Quarry Farm outside Elmira, N.Y., back in July of 2008. That was where Twain—Sam Clemens, rather—and his wife Olivia and their three girls spent about 20 summers with Livy’s family while Sam wrote his best books. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s masterpiece, was one of those books. Rahn taught that novel to high school 10th graders—yes, as controversial as the book was, with all those N-words—for about 20 years. Of course, when he read it aloud, he always changed the N-word to “slave,” because he’d been taught from childhood not to say that bad word. Isn’t that how it is with almost everything? Our values are molded and shaped when we’re young, and then we hold onto them the rest of our lives.
A favorite passage from Huckleberry Finn comes at the end of Huck and runaway slave Jim’s raft trip down the Mississippi River. Jim has been recaptured, and Huck, who has been struggling with the warped evangelical Christianity of the antebellum South—a religion that allows and even supports racism and the brutality of slavery—decides to ask God for help in deciding what to do about Jim:
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Excerpt from ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
By MARK TWAIN
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that [slave]’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway [slave] Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. [Signed] HUCK FINN.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell”—and tore it up.
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Whenever Rahn taught Huckleberry Finn to those teenagers—especially that part—he always tried to point out that Huck thought he was doing something wrong—because helping a runaway slave was, in fact, legally wrong in the South then. But helping Jim was morally right and, in fact, was the truly Christian thing to do, even though most of the Christians around Huck wouldn’t have agreed. But those Christians were wrong then, just as many of them are wrong now about various things. Rahn thanks his mother, Nellie—a native North Carolinian and a life-long Southern Baptist, by the way—for teaching him to respect people of all races, whether they were rich or poor, famous or not.
PSALM, CANTICLE OR HYMN – When Rahn’s family moved back to North Carolina from Illinois in the mid-1960s, not long after schools here were desegregated, his mom accepted an English teaching position at Oak Hill High School near Morganton. Oak Hill had undoubtedly the most racially diverse student body in Burke County, and as a child Rahn enjoyed getting to know her students regardless of their skin colors or how well off their families were. Something else he enjoyed about his mother’s job at Oak Hill and later, after county schools consolidated, at Freedom High was that she would bring home paperback books for him that she had ordered with her classes’ book orders. A while back Rahn was going through his bookshelves, and he found one of those paperbacks, one that he wondered if he ever opened even once after Mrs. Adams brought it home. It’s a slim volume entitled Sports Poems, and it includes this poem, “Fishermen,” by Phillip Booth, a page of verse that even ol’ Mark Twain would like, because it says something about God and Nature:
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By PHILIP BOOTH
Under hawk-watch / over the river, / quick-schooled minnows / riffle the shallow / where I wade.
Fingerlings rise / in the pooled jade / at amber flies, / but only fish-hawk hover / or kingfisher eye / can see below / the current-run / and river-race / to the legend / lying dark / in slow-finned grace.
And I, who lost / the rainbow risen / in the torrent / of my need, / cast and cast / again where he / lies deep while / his torn gills bleed.
And the dreamer hawk / high over that pool / in the streaming air / cries high and cool.
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GOSPEL LESSON – In this modern world of ours, we’re used to hearing bad news. Well, I have some good news for you today from one of America’s greatest thinkers, Henry David Thoreau. This passage I’m about to read comes from the last manuscript he was working on before he died in 1862 at age 44. These paragraphs from the opening chapter of the book Wild Fruits deal with our experiences and how we assign value to things, also with how we identify what’s important and what’s not in our lives.
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Excerpt from WILD FRUITS
By HENRY DAVID THOREAU
The value of any experience is measured, of course, not by the amount of money, but the amount of development we get out of it. If a New England boy’s dealings with oranges and pine-apples have had more to do with his development than picking huckleberries or pulling turnips have, then he naturally and rightly thinks more of the former; otherwise not.
No, it is not those far-fetched fruits which the speculator imports that concern us chiefly, but rather those which you have fetched yourself in the hold of a basket from some far hill or swamp, journeying all the long afternoon, the first of the season, consigned to your friends at home. …
It is a grand fact that you cannot make the fairer fruits or parts of fruits matter of commerce; that is, you cannot buy the highest use and enjoyment of them. You cannot buy that pleasure which it yields to him who truly plucks it. You cannot buy a good appetite, even. In short, you may buy a servant or slave, but you cannot buy a friend.
The mass of men are very easily imposed on. They have their runways in which they always travel and are sure to fall into any pit or trap which is set there. Whatever business a great many grown-up boys are seriously engaged in is considered respectable, and great even, and as such is sure of the recognition of the churchman and statesman. …
Do not think, then, that the fruits of New England are mean and insignificant while those of some foreign land are noble and memorable. Our own, whatever they may be, are far more important to us than any others can be. They educate us and fit us to live here. Better for us is the wild strawberry than the pine-apple, the wild apple than the orange, the chestnut and pignut than the cocoa-nut and almond, and not on account of their flavor merely, but the part they play in our education.
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Did you hear that echo of Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden, in this excerpt from Wild Fruits, his last manuscript, that I just read? “The mass of men are very easily imposed on,” Thoreau wrote toward the end of his life. In Walden, five or six years earlier, he had written, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” pointing out in both quotations that many of us often aren’t true to ourselves and that we often let society take advantage of our better natures.
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SERMON – An hour before high noon on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, Rahn and Timberley gathered with friends and neighbors—some they knew, but most they didn’t—for a short graveside service at a Baptist church near Morganton. It was the first gathering of any sort that they had attended since March 12th when the pandemic response started closing things down here in North Carolina. The elderly Baptist preacher who gave the eulogy opened his remarks by saying he wasn’t there to preach a sermon about the devout gentlewoman who had passed, because she had already preached a sermon about herself with every day of her life. It’s a familiar statement that preachers make at funerals—right before they go ahead and preach a sermon of their own. But, on its face, the statement is true, which is that by our “fruits” we are known, as Jesus says in the New Testament. I’m not here to preach a sermon, either. But, like Henry Thoreau, I’d like to talk about fruit and also about the flowers that make all those fruits possible.
NAMING – The preacher of Ecclesiastes said, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Do you remember the two special trees in the biblical Garden of Eden? Well, Rahn and Timberley have two very special trees in the backyard of their Morganton house—a small Japanese dogwood that Timberley’s stepmother had planted in the worst place possible before she moved away and later died, and, also, a small Gala apple tree that Rahn and Timberley bought and planted in what appeared to be a nice, sunny spot. Around 2010 when they started spending more time in Morganton, the Japanese dogwood was all but dead, and Rahn even considered cutting the tree down so that mowing would be easier, but he didn’t. Meanwhile, they planted the apple tree and then watched as it struggled to live over the next couple of years. They were afraid that they’d have to cut that tree down, too, but they let both trees stand and even propped them up and did what they could to nurture them—and now … both trees have flourished and have borne fruit.
WITNESS – Life is a mystery, isn’t it? And so much in life is serendipity, not just bad luck, but good fortune—if we stay on the lookout for it. Again, I can give you two quick examples of that from Rahn and Timberley’s house, her home place, in Morganton. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, two mysterious flowers bloomed at their house, two flowers that they hadn’t planted and had no idea who or what had planted them—a small flower that grew in a planter box on their back deck and a huge plant that grew all summer long like Jack’s—the other Jack’s—beanstalk in the front yard until it was at least 12 feet tall. It turned out that the fragile little blue flower was something called Love-in-a-Mist and that the huge plant was a common sunflower, a wild one, not the domesticated type. Both flowers brought unexpected joy and beauty into Rahn and Timberley’s life together. I’d like to think that I and some of the other flora in Rutherwood—the purple beans and blueberries, maybe—made their life better, too.
HYMN OR SONG – You’re welcome to sing along as our guitarist plays and sings this next song.
CREED OR AFFIRMATION OF FAITH – I’m going to close this service not by asking you to recite or read a corporate creed—I don’t believe in “one size fits all” creeds and prayers. Instead, I’ll simply tell you what my religious or spiritual beliefs are at this point in the humble existence of one little old Jack, not what you or anyone else should believe, wherever you happen to be right now in your blessed lives:
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ONE BELIEVER’S CREED
I believe in God, a holy spirit, a universal consciousness that is within me and without me; and in the Galilean teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was born of Mary and Joseph, christened by John the Baptist, accused of blasphemy by the Jewish religious authority in Jerusalem, crucified for sedition by the Roman occupation government in Judea, deified and worshiped by Christian sects, both Catholic and Protestant, for over two thousand years. I believe in the sanctity of all life; in the personhood of all people around the world; in truth and justice, but also in tolerance and forgiveness; and that loving God and loving my neighbors are the same act, the only holy sacrament that truly matters on this good earth. Amen.
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Imagine then going to an informal gathering at Fonta Flora Brewery’s Whippoorwill Farm facility, or maybe at a picnic site at the Fonta Flora County Park or Paddy’s Creek section of Lake James State Park, both located on N.C. 126 north of Morganton. On your way there, notice the trees, any flowers that may be in bloom then, as well as Lake James, the Linville River, Shortoff Mountain and the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Buy yourself a beer, glass of cider or soda to drink, or fill a bottle with water that you can sip. If you’re hungry, buy yourself something to eat or, if you’re thrifty, grab the sandwich, bag of chips or pack of Nabs that you packed for yourself before leaving home. This is “small-group time,” so you all can eat, talk and listen. Wherever you may decide to go, you can catch Jack’s closing comments on Facebook Live or Instagram Live, or maybe on an interactive platform like Zoom or Google Meet.
Ideally, no one drank too much in Morganton to prevent them from safely making this drive to the lake. But we’re all responsible adults, right? In fact, it might be kind of fun if some musical friends decided to stay downtown and finish off the keg, and then they grabbed their guitars and shared their original songs, as if it were just another singer-songwriter night. Maybe Kevin and Sharon Leftwich, who as a duo call themselves Love Like This, could play a short set; then J. Patrick and Karen Warren, who go by Two Crow Moon; then Mary Ervin, David Williams and Mike Ramsey, who appear as Butterbeans; then the other regulars, Patrick Crouch, Chad Bowden, Michael Knowles and Jeff Johns; and maybe even cousin Phil Shirley, and everyone’s mentor, Michael Reno Harrell. Of course, Phillip Epley would be the night’s MC.
But wherever you go and whatever you do, think about the importance of loving your neighbors and of realizing that we are all neighbors to one another, whether we’re rich or poor, outgoing or introverted, progressive or conservative, smart or not, this or that—despite whatever label has been attached to the clothes we wear, both figuratively and literally speaking. And think about what you want to do with the rest of your life, however humble or noble it has been so far. Taking stock of one’s life can be sobering.
PRAYERS – After all you’ve heard this afternoon, here’s a question for you to consider, either silently or in discussion with your friends: What’s something that you still need to experience so that you feel that your life is fulfilled? In other words, what’s left on your spiritual bucket list? What are your goals?
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING – Here are two more questions: Whether or not you attain your goals in life, who and what are you thankful for right now? Also, what have you learned from your failures so far? Let’s take about 15 minutes to contemplate those questions and talk about them amongst ourselves. Then I’ll close this special time with a special prayer. In the meantime, feel free to go visit the restroom.
After 15 minutes, Jack asks for the gathering’s attention again and then reads the following prayer:
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THE OTHER DAILY PRAYER
God’s realm empowers the nature of life within us: / Limited, changing, and connected to all other life. / As our needs are met, we can meet others’ needs; / As we care for others, we can accept others’ care; / And we can live together in peace and personhood. / Let it be.
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HYMN – Life is often compared to a river or to a highway. In this closing song, life is like a long and winding road—like N.C. 126 here in Burke County, which you just traveled, or N.C. 268 in Caldwell County, N.C. 179 in Brunswick County, or—maybe my best example yet—the Blue Ridge Parkway in Burke, Avery and Watauga counties. Again, feel free to sing along, if you wish.
DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING – Thank you so very much for participating in this celebration of life in the kingdom of God. Like Nellie, and like Rahn and Timberley, who were teachers, I’m a teacher. In fact, we—you and I—are all teachers in one way or another, whether we want to be or not. So I want to give you a homework assignment—an exercise to reinforce all the lessons we’ve learned today. Former Beatle George Harrison believed in chanting the many names of the Lord and in visualizing Them as he meditated. In fact, he wanted to be chanting God’s name when he died, he said. Here’s a song for you to learn—another one by Nellie and Madge—one that asks us to imagine the visage of God in our lives. If you’re a musician, the music shouldn’t be difficult to learn. If you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you can just read—or chant—the words of the song’s three short stanzas, which ring like the bells of the Trinity.
And, finally, this traditional benediction was used throughout the ministry of Nellie’s beloved husband and Rahn’s late father, the Rev. John O. Adams: “To him who is able to keep us from falling, to present us faultless before his presence with exceeding joy; to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forevermore. Amen” (adapted from Jude 1:24-25, KJV).
[Author’s Note: If you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward, as well as an explanation of what I was doing in this concluding essay. To answer the obvious questions up front, no, I am not suicidal; and, no, I do not to my knowledge have a terminal disease—other than life itself, of course. But then, we are living through a pandemic, and if the coronavirus doesn’t kill us, two more months of wall-to-wall political attack ads on TV most assuredly will. Actually, as morbid as it seems, I’ve wondered for some time about my own obsequies, probably from having reached the age when I’m attending more and more funerals and am taking a greater interest in the daily obituary pages. All too often, the fallen have been friends and former classmates who died too young for whatever reason. I’ve also wondered, as any insecure person might, whether or not anyone would attend my funeral other than Timberley, the undertaker to carry my ashes and the gravedigger, not even the number of Jay Gatsby’s mourners. So this final essay was an exercise in preaching my own funeral sermon and—like Tom Sawyer in Chapter 17 of his eponymous adventures—seeing how well it plays with the home folks. I don’t want to die anytime soon. But as I noted in Chapter One, I’ll be keeping an eye peeled for bread trucks and damn brown Buicks. As Huck Finn might say, “I been there, and I need to light out for the territory”—or back home to Rutherwood while the getting is good. Where there’s life, there’s hope. And where there’s love—especially my dearest Timberley, the love of my life—here, there or anywhere, even on the run, will do just fine.]