Thursday, May 27, 2004

Taking a Stand

“Open your mouth for the …rights of all who are left desolate and defenseless; Open your mouth, judge righteously, and administer justice for the poor and needy.”

~ Proverbs 31:8,9

Now Daddy didn't like trouble, but if it came along
Everyone that knew him knew which side that he'd be on
He never was a hero, or this county's shinin' light
But you could always find him standing up
For what he thought was right

He'd say you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything
You've got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what's right and uphold your family name
You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything

“You’ve got to stand for something” ~ recorded by Aaron Tippin

“To say what you think will certainly damage you in society;
but a free tongue is worth more than a thousand invitations.”

~ Logan Pearsall Smith, writer, c. 1930

Last Monday, May 17th, I was one of the thousands of people who had the privilege of attending the grand opening of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine. Several dignitaries also attended the ceremony, including President George W. Bush.

It was a fitting celebration for the landmark case which clearly established that separate educational facilities were “inherently unequal", thus violating the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law.

Later that evening, Keen and I attended the powerful production of “Now Let Me Fly” at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. The play was written by award winning Topeka playwright, Marcia Cebulska and depicted various scenes in locations such as a barbershop, school auditorium, burned down church and a courthouse during the years leading up to the Brown v. Board decision. “They were regular, most of them were working-class people," Cebulska said of people involved in the case. "They stood up for what they believed. They took extraordinary risks. I think that's inspiring for us." (The Topeka-Capital Journal, February 13, 2004)

“Courage means going against majority opinion in the name of truth.”
~ Vaclav Havel, Czech playright, 2000

Ordinary people – just like you and me – changed the way an entire class of people would be treated. They knew in their hearts that they weren’t any different than their white neighbors. They knew in their hearts that it was inherently wrong for their children to be forced to walk clear across town past other schools to attend a dilapidated old schoolhouse. They knew that their facilities were not separate and equal, as the law required, but rather separate and unequal. But most felt powerless to do anything about it. Those few who took the risk and fought for what they believed in made a huge difference – not just for their children, but for black children everywhere.

Barbara Rose Johns from Farmville, Virginia, was one of those courageous teenagers who led a student strike in the fight for integrated schools. “It was something I just had to do,” she explained. Death threats later forced her to leave the state. The following is an excerpt of Barbara’s thoughts taken from the script of Now Let Me Fly.

Every morning I get on a bus thrown away by the white high school on the hill. I sit on a torn seat and look out a broken window. And when my bus passes the shiny new bus that the white high schoolers have, I hide my face 'cause I'm embarrassed in my raggedy bus. And when we get to R. R. Moton High, the bus driver gets off with us, 'cause he's also our history teacher. He comes in the classroom and fires up the stove and I sit in my winter coat waiting for the room to get warm. You know the rooms, the ones in the "addition" as they call it. We call them "the tar paper shacks" because that's what they are, am I right? I'm embarrassed that I go to school in tar paper shacks and when it rains I have to open an umbrella so the leaks from the roof won't make the ink run on my paper. And later in the day I have a hygiene class out in that broken-down bus and a biology class in a corner of the auditorium with one microscope for the whole school. I'm embarrassed that our water fountains are broken and our wash basins are broken and it seems our whole school is broken and crowded and poor…

But my embarrassment is nothing compared to my hunger. I'm not talking about my hunger for food, though it would be right nice to have a cafeteria with lunch instead of just sticky buns like we get. No, I'm hungry for those shiny books they have up at Farmville High. I want the page of the Constitution that is torn out of my social studies book. I want a chance at that "Romeo and Juliet" I've heard about but they tell me I'm not fit to read.

Our teachers say we can fly just as high as anyone else. That's what I want to do. Fly just as high. I said, fly. You know, I've been sitting in my embarrassment and my hunger for so long that I forgot about standing up. So, today, I'm going to ask you to stand with me. Before we fly, before we fly just as high as anyone else, we gotta walk just as proud as anyone else. And that's what we're going to do! We're gonna walk out of this school and over to the court house. Do you hear me? We're gonna walk with our heads high and go talk to the school board. Are you with me? We're gonna walk out in a strike, yes, I said strike, and we won't come back until we get a real school with a gymnasium and library and whole books. And we will get them. And it'll be grand. Are you with me? Are we gonna walk? Are we gonna fly?”

The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one else has ever been.”

~ Alan Ashley-Pitt, author

By Eileen Umbehr

When right is wrong
and wrong is right
Do you run and hide,
or embark on a fight?

If you run, you avoid
a prolonged struggle
No conflict, no worries
no lawyer bills to juggle.

But change doesn't happen
when your head's in the sand
It takes courage and commitment
to take a stand.

What would have happened
if Rosa Parks had backed down?
Would we all be equal,
black, white & brown?

Sticking your neck out
indeed, has it's price
It is rarely popular
and involves sacrifice.

Your critics will be many
your supporters few
But hold on to your dreams
and one day they'll come true.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew....Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

~ Protestant minister Martin Neimoller reflecting upon Germany’s fall to the Nazis

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing " ~ Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Death’s Sting

“Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep in death, that you may not grieve for them, as the rest do who have no hope beyond the grave.For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep in death.”

~ I Thessalonians 4:13,14

When old folks die
I don’t cry
It’s time

But when the young ones go
It grieves me so

Who can count the cost
Of a young life lost?

The sharpest sorrow
Is for what might have been

Author Unknown

Although I did not know the 29-year-old man who was tragically killed in an auto accident near Alta Vista last week, I do know that he was somebody’s son…. and husband…. and father.

My condolences go out to this young man’s family. It grieves me to think about the depth of their anguish and pain.

I would like to share the following poem which I wrote exactly one year ago in honor of several people from our area who left this world far too soon.

Too soon gone
By Eileen Umbehr

This is a tribute
to those who’ve passed on
Before their time
Too soon gone

No one was ready
To say good-bye
Because they were all
Too young to die

Anthony, Jason and Tracy, too
How will your families live without you?

Javier, Ted, Dickie and Veryl
Why did they have to leave this world?

Jack, Norman, Galen and John
Why are they too soon gone?

There is still a void
where you used to be
An empty spot
on your family’s tree

But even though
you were too soon gone
In our hearts
your memory lives on

You are not only missed
by those who loved you
But by those of us
in the community, too.


He Listened
By Joseph Bayly

(Written after he laid three of his sons in the grave)

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly; he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.

From Stories of the Heart ~ by Alice Gray

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you His peace… at all times and in all ways – under all circumstances and conditions, whatever comes. The Lord be with you all.”

~ II Thessalonians 3:16

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Like Mother, Like Daughter

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her; “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
~ Proverbs 31:28, 29 (RSV)

One day shy of eight years old
My grandma passed away
I was a broken hearted little boy
Blowing out that birthday cake

And how I cried when the sky let go
With a cold and lonesome rain
Mama smiled said "Don't be sad child
Grandma's watching you today."

Cause there's holes in the floor of heaven
And her tears are pouring down
That's how you know she's watchin'
Wishing she could be here now

And sometimes if you're lonely
Just remember she can see
Cause there's holes in the floor of heaven and
She's watchin' over you and me

“Holes in the floor of Heaven” by Billy Kirsch and Steve Warner

I’d like to dedicate this column to my mother, Margaret (Peggy) Van Kirk, who died from breast cancer fifteen years ago on May 7, and to my sister Peggy, who was named after her. Sadly, Mom passed away one day after Peggy’s 40th birthday.

We all miss her terribly, but as the mother of nine (six girls and three boys), she left us the greatest gift of all…..each other.

Moms – God’s Angels on Earth
Author Unknown

The child asked God, "They tell me you are sending me to earth tomorrow, but how am I going to survive, being so small and helpless?"

"Your angel will be waiting for you and will take care of you."

The child further inquired, "But tell me, here in heaven I don't have to do anything but sing and smile to be happy."

God said, "Your angel will sing for you and will also smile for you. And you will feel your angel's love and be very happy."

Again the child asked, "How am I going to be able to understand people when they talk to me if I don't know the language?"

God said, "Your angel will tell you the most beautiful words you will ever hear, and with much patience and care, your angel will teach you how to speak."

"And what am I going to do when I want to talk to You?"

God said, "Your angel will place your hands together and teach you how to pray."

"Who will protect me?"

"Your angel will defend you even if it means risking her own life."

"But I will always be sad because I will not see You anymore."

God said, "Your angel will always talk to you about Me and will teach you the way to Me, even though I will always be with you."

At that moment there was much peace in heaven, but voices from Earth could be heard and the child hurriedly asked, "God, if I am to leave now, please tell me my angel's name."

The Lord leaned down and whispered softly in the child’s ear. “You will simply call her Mom."


The Anchor
By Eileen Umbehr

The Anchor of our family
sadly passed way
in 1989
on the 7th day of May

She was our dear mother
Peggy was her name
And ever since she left us
We’ve never been the same

She loved all nine of her kids
And she loved all their kids, too
Mom never stopped giving to others
It was all she ever knew
But the cancer took her from us
After seven years of pain
We grieved, but then we knew
She would never hurt again

Now our family has a new Anchor
Her name is Peggy, too
She is our oldest sister
Who loves us through and through

She’s always there when we need her
To lend a helping hand
She’s so much like our mother,
She truly was well named

Even when we were little
She was kind and never mean
And every year on our birthday
She took us to Dairy Queen

Now that we are older
She never misses a chance
To do for us what our mom would have done
No matter the circumstance

When one of our sisters got cancer
Peg was the one to be by her side
And when our very first grandson was born
She came to see him and share in our pride.

Now that her birthday is upon us
I think I can safely say
Everyone in our family
Thanks God for our Anchor this day.

My Mom with Jared – 6 days old & my sister, Peggy with Jared’s firstborn, Asher