Freedom Haven

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 17th, 2007 filed in Village Half-Wit

"…And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations."
Rev. 22:2b

It was a sweltering hot, Georgia day. The elders and deacons were early in formation: two at every entrance, two in the parking lot, two on the sidewalk down on the street. The First Elder was determined to maintain control this day. He had always blamed Revelations for the "loss" of his daughter, who had converted to Islam a few years back. His regret was that he had not "ruled the day" instead of letting her confide in this so called "man of God."

The church was packed. They were all there to mark the passing of an era. Today was to be Revelations' last sermon in the church that he had grown up in and later pastored. Whether they were for him or against him, most somehow knew this was a day to be remembered.

The First Elder made it his business to personally escort Revelations everywhere he went that morning, accept to the bathroom where Revelations stopped him at the door and said with a smile, "I haven't needed help in here since I was 4."

The 11 o'clock service had a definitively different feel to it. For one thing, First Elder felt the need to MC the entire program. For another, the music selection seemed such an after-thought and was saturated with "Jesus & Me" songs (love me, care for me, protect me, bless me, etc.—"God bless America… and nobody else"-type stuff), both of which were pet peeves for Revelations. Also, everything seemed so somber. Of course, the First Elder and his small yet vocal group of supporters felt it was a much needed return to more dignified proceedings.

First Elder was very formal in his introduction of "Pastor Sentinel St. Common;" he made a point of avoiding the title 'Reverend'. He was also quite cagey, some might say diplomatic, in his official explanation of why Revelations was leaving. It tickled Revelations to think of all First Elder was trying not to say, and in the spirit of the whole 'dignified' affair, Revelations stepped to the lectern, which he had not used in years, with the gravity becoming a 19th century abolitionist of great renowned…


“Thank you for having me today. My name is Malcolm Turner. I am just an old country preacher, a Reverend in the AME tradition. I do, however, bear a more dubious distinction. I am the only grandson of Nat Turner.

“For those of you who have forgotten (or may have never learned) this part of your history, Nat Turner was the leader of the largest, most effective slave insurrection in US history. He was born and lived in Southhampton, VA. From a young age, he took great interest in spiritual things. He was known to have seen visions and dreamed dreams. So powerful were the messages he spoke regarding the reign of God that many called him “The Prophet. ” As such, he could never reconcile himself to the injustice of the physical state in which he found himself: the peculiar institution of chattel slavery.

“Early in 1831 there was an eclipse that my grandfather took as a sign that the time had come to end, by any means necessary, the horror of slavery. A second eclipse later that year only served to confirm his conviction. Initially, his plan for rebellion was set for July 4th, Independence Day. Notwithstanding the symbolic significance it may have had if executed that day, it was postponed for a short time. Then on 21 Aug 1831 in the fullness of time Nat Turner and his fellow freedom fighters—which eventually numbered more than 50 slaves and free blacks—rose up and threw off the chains of their oppression. In sadly ironic fulfillment of words inked earlier that year by yet another abolitionist prophet, William Lloyd Garrison, within 48 hours 55 white men, women and children were dead. My grandfather and his collaborators may have proven successful in taking the town of Southhampton if it were not for the fearful in their mist. A confidant betrayed them to his master who was able to rally a militia to douse the spirit of freedom just before it set the countryside ablaze.

“I must admit that I find myself ambivalent about grandfather’s actions though I refuse to speak of his freedom-fight as if it were a crime. What was criminal was the enslavement and dehumanization of people, and perhaps only the force of arms would bring it to certain death. He only initiated the armed resistance that was continued with the war between the states. What other political recourse is available to those denied any political rights? Had I been born and old enough, I would probably have fought right alongside him. Nonetheless, I harbor mixed feelings, for I was privileged to grow up in a different world, at a different time.

“I was born into the world of Freedom Haven. Freedom Haven is a small town nestled in a forgotten valley on the boarder of W. Virginia and Pennsylvania. It was founded 1845 in collaborative effort by Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth and others. Almost immediately it became refuge for runaway and otherwise freed Negroes, dislocated natives and formerly indentured persons of color from other parts of the world, but it was predominately Black, with an elders council that was Black with one native. During the 20 years that the peculiar institution remained intact, Freedom Haven was a depot, and for Tubman a turnabout, of the Underground Railroad. It was an unfathomable secret for most, a secret kept sacred by the Society of Friends whose own village hid the only trail leading in and out of the valley of Freedom Haven.

“Freedom Haven was a special yet complex place to grow up. As you might imagine, not everyone there had the same story. Some were former slaves and remembered all too well the brutal inhumanity of not just the lash, but it all. For them freedom walked hand in hand with fear that the emergent village we were cultivating could be snatched away without warning. Often these had tried so many times to escape slavery and had suffered in ways too painful to recount for every attempt. They had lost loved ones as punishment upon recapture or as the bitter reward of success. I suppose it was difficult for them not to cling to resentment and distrust as the only safeguard against reoccurring exploitation.

“Then there were those like I, next generation free ones, who had never known anything else. For us freedom, equality, possibility were values never in question. I knew no other way to relate to another, even a white person, except as an equal. Deference was never conceptually a necessary act of fear, but a chosen expression of respect. My gaze never fell unless I thought there was something of interest on the ground, and I did not think it disrespectful for one my junior to look me in the eyes to express their opinions. Our generation’s sense of unassailable self-efficacy, though sometimes seen as arrogant and reckless, and at times rightfully so, made new things possible.

“These and other dissimilarities that lived in vibrant tension with one another made the turn of the century an exciting time to live in Freedom Haven. It wasn’t until 1865, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the war between the states, when the Freedman Bureau was finally being established, that the elders of our community thought it safe to incorporate as a recognized township. It was only then that our existence became general knowledge. Still, we were so far off the beaten path that few came our way except family and Southern Blacks who were tired of traveling north. That didn’t stop the folks from Freedom Haven venturing out, and it didn’t take long before there were all kinds of interaction between us and neighboring towns, particularly with the nearby Quakers. After the abolition of slavery was secured, they immediately set about helping us establish commerce with the outside world. Several in our group, the more ambitious of us, did pretty well for themselves. Most of us chose to get along like we always had, growing enough for our families to eat and for us to sell or trade for necessities we couldn’t manufacture ourselves and giving the rest away. I was just a schoolboy at that time, but by 1900 I had grown into my vocation and was now pastor of the Freedom Haven First AME Church.

“As the town had matured, prominent community members began to itch for the trappings of other more broadly known communities. Eventually the Great Oak in the center of town under which we used to meet was cut, and its wood was used to build a town hall in its place. Around it other little proprietorships began to pop up. Pete Fisher’s butcher shop. Jimmy Ambishon’s blacksmith shop. Doctor Tom Seer’s office. A small trading post and diner run by Maggie Alabaster. I remember my father lamenting the centralization of everything. In his declining years he used to say it was only “the beginning of sorrows:” something about power coalescing and building on itself for itself. If he had only known.

“Around 1902 the most pressing desire became to establish a school. The truth was we didn’t so much need one as a few wanted one. Up ’til this point children had been educated at home. Parents with children around the same age would often team up together and do things. There was no set curriculum. Education in Freedom Haven was a real organic process that had as much to do with life skills and virtue as it did with academics and trades. The formality of it all changed with the rhythm of the seasons, with children spending more time in books during the winter. Intellectual pursuits were rightly appreciated, but an honest day’s work was the most valued learning experience, so spring, summer and early fall provided more hands-on opportunities. However this was not enough for some.

“They were a small yet vocal group. One would often hear comments such as, ‘In Pittsburgh every child goes to common school every day. They’re thinking about making attendance compulsory.’ Or ‘even Allentown has it’s own schoolhouse.’ This is how the seed of discontent was sown, in the most unassuming way. But it didn’t take long before the “need” for our own schoolhouse became a topic of paramount concern.

“The community had most the resources to do it. Pete Fisher had proposed the use of his land and barn since he ran his business in town now. His brother Andy, who had continued in the family business, offered to provide all the fish, beef and poultry the students would need for meals as long as the students would tend what they could on Pete’s land and learned how to raise livestock. Matt & Marti who ran one of the most productive farms in town guaranteed all the needed vegetables, again, provided the students would make the effort also to grow their own. Maggie offered to cook, even though lunch was often her busiest time of the day. Johnny Ambishon, Jimmy’s brother, a master carpenter, said he would lead out in the necessary renovations of Pete’s barn. Jimmy made plans to build what he called a ‘jungle gym’ adjacent to the barn, some new-fangled contraption he and his wife had seen on a trip to Philadelphia. He said it was the latest thing in the promotion of physical fitness among young people. Of course the project was supported by sundry others in the community, those with and without youngins. They asked Doc Tom Seer to chair the process, and called a meeting to discuss plans for making their hopes reality.

“The meeting came together easily enough. We all gathered at the Old Oak Tree (the new town hall). After a large potluck, we settled down to hear about it. After a review of all those who had committed their means in addition to their money to the project, Doc Seer rattled off what remained to be secured in terms of facility and how much it would cost out of pocket if the community were to pay for it. It wasn’t as much as one might think. Then he turned his attention to the two most significant of our deficiencies. What we were still missing were a teacher and adequate textbooks.

“Now we had multiple options as it related to the textbooks. It would be a matter of patience and ingenuity, but we felt we would be able to gather enough older McGuffey Readers and the like for classroom use as well begin a little library. As for a teacher, we were at a loss. Though most everyone except for the very oldest in Freedom Haven could read and figure, the specter of being responsible for the learning of all the kids in the community intimidated just about everyone. Very few of us had been privileged to a formal education, and all of those who had were active in a career.

“The first suggestion made was that I or one of the other formally trained pastors might split our time between the classroom and the pulpit. That idea didn’t last long. Once the pastors began to articulate what would have to be sacrificed in terms of clergy duties, the people took the suggestion off the table. I didn’t mind exploring the idea, but it was a certainty that I could not teach full-time. Yet I wouldn’t mind partnering with someone. Doc Seer suggested the community hold onto my offer as one possibility.

Next, someone suggested Marti’s sister, Marie, who would have been perfect for the job except she was in the south teaching at a former plantation now owned by the Freedman Bureau. At that point someone suggested that we run an add in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia newspapers, but with so much going toward getting the school off the ground, Doc Seer doubted we would be able to entice a stranger to relocate for what we might be able to afford to offer by way of salary. For a moment we were left with nothing.

“Then something occurred to me. ‘We’ve been over-thinking our situation and ignoring what’s right in front of us,’ I said to the group of about a hundred assembled there that evening. ‘Why don’t we invite a teacher from the Society of Friends to partner with me as co-teacher?’ It seemed most reasonable to me, and I thought I saw most heads nodding in consideration as I surveyed the crowd.

“However, from over my shoulder Ol’man Zebedee curtly responded, ‘Absolutely not.’

"I have always loved the name 'Zebedee.' I like the way it rolls off the tongue. Mr. Ambishon's name was actually Zedekiah, but when he was a boy, his baby sister use to pronounce it 'Zebedee,' and it stuck. In my entire life I had never heard him referred to any differently.

"I didn't really understand his flat-out refusal so I inquired, 'Why?'

"'Because you can't trust white folks.'

"I didn't understand what he was saying. Yes they were white, but this was the Society of Friends, the abolitionists, we were talking about. 'What are you talking about?' I respectfully demanded. 'The Quakers have always been kind to us. They protected the secret of our existence for over a generation,' I said overlooking the impact of his words on the rest of those gathered.

"In response to the suspicion I knew his words were conjuring in all of us I continued, 'It's okay if we choose to live as the free people we are. Otherwise, why be free? Just to remain cloistered off to ourselves? Is that all our freedom is worth to us? Is it just for our own well-being? We're so busy thinking about what might benefit us. What about what might make us better neighbors? What about what might create different possibilities for our children and for the other children that surround this valley? There are poor whites, more than what the current Friend's school can accommodate, who live within a few miles of here who could benefit from a school as much, if not more, than we would. And if we partner with the Quakers we could draw them in.'

"Let them see to themselves," Zebedee countered.

"I should have known I was skating on very thin ice. Only a very few of my fellow parishioners appeared to be tracking with me now. The rest seemed visibly distressed by the alternative view given, yet I resisted the impulse to relent.

"'In fact,' I pressed thinking I could excite the town's collective imagination, "If we're going to do it, why not do something that's never been done before? Why not create a multi-racial, egalitarian board of trustees with equal representation from each of the races represented among the students? You know, something like 3 Blacks, 3 natives, 3 Orientals, 3 whites, wealthy and not, formally educated and not—equal numbers, equal power. No one group would hold sway. The setup would force all involved to learn to relate to each other as equals. It could establish a whole new model for cooperation between the races.

"An audible murmur rolled through the room. My fellow community members looked astonished. Doc Seer tried to brush it off as a 'fanciful notion,' and to turn the group's attention toward more 'sensible' suggestions, but it was out there now, and I wouldn't let them off the hook.

"'No, no, I'm serious. I've been thinking about something like this for a while now. Let me explain—' I began to say when Ol'man-Zebedee interrupted, 'That's quite enough. We know exactly what you are saying. Your grandfather would roll over in his grave to hear you talk like that.'

It was then that Pete Fisher took the floor. He and I were life-long aquaintances, but there had always been this intense competition between us. He had a commanding voice and loved to move a crowd. 'Hold on now preacher. You would have us to give our children over to white folks to be subjected to be subjected to whatever notions they have, latent or overt, of their 'natural' superiority? Abolitionist Quakers or no, this is a white man's country. Privilege is his right. And even if he has no desire to see Africans in chains, that does not mean he wants to see us enjoy and revel in what's his.'

"'What are you talking about?' I protested, 'These are not just any white folks, not just any abolitionists. These are the Quakers, our allies, remember? If we cannot risk with them, who might we ever risk with? Besides, there would be no "giving our children over" to anything. I would be right there every step of the way partnering with the other teacher.'

"'Yes, but with the way you're talking, how can we trust you would be there protecting our interests?' he quipped.

"'I wouldn't!' I fired back. 'I would be—' but before I could assure them of my goodwill to all—no matter black, red, yellow or white—I felt the sentiment in the room turn decidedly hostile. I had lost them.

"In the moment, I couldn't make sense of it. I now realize that what I was saying was so radical that it scared them to their very core. I'm sure they were thinking, 'Why ever give power to white folks?' The challenge was that they couldn't see the difference between giving power away and giving themselves over to the power of another. You see, power always accrues to the dominant culture or group in any situation and creates a predictable inequity, which in human affairs inevitably leads to injustice. Thus, it is incumbent upon the powerful to divest themselves of that power, if they are to correct the inequity and avoid the injustice. This, we know, was the example of Jesus.

"In Freedom Haven, unlike your average American town, the dominant group were Black folks—more specifically educated or wealthy Blacks. Because of the way the rest of America functioned, we were tempted to believe that power was a thing to be grasped tightly, for fear of becoming exploited. Giving power away was wholly absurd to most of us.

"Notwithstanding, giving power away is not a bad thing, if it is done in a environment of trust. First of all, to give power away assumes that it is yours to give and, consequently, yours to take back, if necessary. Secondly, inequity suffocates cooperation, limits possibilities and thwarts our ability to live at peace with one another long-term. Inequity is an unsustainable proposition that must be structurally overturned. If one continues to live in the same patterns or systems that have at any point proven hostile to herself or others, then one will perpetuate the same injustices. Thus is why I proposed we alter the pattern from clutching to giving and put in place a more equitable system—a prescribed board composition—to create a new power dynamic. This is something totally different than giving one's self or one's children over to the power of another.

"Well, things all slid downhill from there. I remember hearing someone in the crowd shout, 'What are you a white-folk-sympathizer or something?" 'Naw, he's a cracker-lover, that's what he is,' another answered. 'Don't they have enough that you would want to give them what little we do have?' came an almost plaintive cry. And then came an older voice that said as cold as stone, 'Other traitors have been hung for less.' And like a match to a pile of tinder, the flame was struck.

"'Hang him,' sparked the whisper. 'Hang him' came the hiss of a response. 'Hang him,' crackled the worst fears of everyone's heart. 'Hang him!' it sang as it burst into open flame.

"'What?' I muttered, as six or so strong arms grabbed me and hoisted me off of my feet. The blaze of frustration and fear spread. No one jumped to my defense. I'm almost certain that not everyone was committed to this act of ironic rage, but who in his or her right mind would try to resist the mob in their moment of madness?

"Did I forget to mention I was a Black man, and these were Black people? The native people and other colored folks among us had long grown accustom to having little voice, so they seldom came to community meetings. These were my people acting out a script that was not theirs in the writing, but had found it's way into their psyches through years of unprecedented abuse. Never mind the absence of such oppression in their immediate environment. It had still become a part of their rationalization of the world in general.

"The fire of emotion swept me out the door and into the street, onto a wagon, down the road a piece and up a small hill into a clearing near the river where we use to gather as a community for recreation and parties. There was a large tree there upon which was hung a rope that the children often used for swinging. Pete stopped his wagon, climbed over the seat and kicked me out the open back into the dirt. Dust and blood filled my mouth. Some the others who had followed quickly wrestled me from the ground as I coughed and spit and tried to make sense of my surroundings. It was country dark.

At this, Revelations quickly ducked down behind the lectern only to reappear with a noose around his neck and his hands apparently tied. A half earnest gasp went up from some in the crowd and a look of utter disgust fixed itself on the First Elder's face.

"Only after those carrying more torches caught up and a bonfire lit could I look into the faces of my fearful accusers. By then I had been stood up back up on Pete's wagon and a noose formed around my neck out of the children's swing. There they were: my friends, my loved ones, my fellow parishioners, the only home I had ever known. There they were: Matt and Marti, Jean and Bertha, Alfred, Eagle Joe, Johnny and Jimmy, their father, Andy, Doc, Delores, Gregory an a host of others—about 30 or 40 total, maybe more. All had fear in their eyes. Fear of change. Fear of past harms. Conjured fear. Fear of what might happen next.

"I don't remember much of what Pete Fisher was saying standing on the podium of his wagon leaning on his rifle beside me speaking down at those gathered. I was too drunk with the surrealness of it all. (Pete, his brother Andy, Jimmy, Johnny and I had all grown up together.) More than likely Peter was laying out the case for why my type of 'disloyalty' could not be tolerated. (Wasn't it Pete who had dived into the river during flood season, when we were in our early teens to save Jimmy from being swept under?) For the sake of our children… for the sake of preserving all that was sacred and safe about Freedom Haven, the community had to be purged of such a 'divisive' element. And with that, he moved toward the front of the wagon to drive it out from under me. But as he moved someone shouted from the shadows (I did not catch the voice, but I will always be grateful to whomever it was), 'Doesn't he get to say last words?'

"Pete paused in thought for a moment. Then said, 'Why certainly,' relishing the de facto authority that had accrued to him in this of all moments, 'Let's hear what parting words he has to say.'

"Hush enveloped the crowd. In the brief seconds of that eternal pause, I felt the chill of the night air for the first time; I heard the rhythmic screech of country crickets; I tasted the smoke of the blazing bonfire embers; I smelled the intermittent wafting of early honeysuckle in the breeze; I sensed the rising flood of the river. And as I stood before these my people, it came to me how very much like the crucifixion this moment must have been. Then it dawned on me that the crucifixion was very much an ol' fashion lynching. I have never felt closer to God than at that moment.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble…
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

"It was a glorious and frightful thing. I stood there wondering what to say in my final moments. I wanted to speak to their hearts, not their heads. 'What might reverberate in them long after I was gone?' I asked myself.

"Then something came to me. 'I hope you don't mind if I share one final Word with you since I won't be here on Sunday morning. I am reminded in this moment of the story of a fig tree. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem according to Mark's gospel in possible anticipation of the Passion. On the way from Bethany to the holy city, he and his disciples got hungry, and seeing a fig tree whose leaves were showing early, ran over to it to partake of its fruit. To their dismay, the gorgeous green tree was empty. Not one fig to be found. And in response to its uselessness—as if the tree owed him something—Jesus pronounced the shortest blessing over a meal, or lack there of, in his life. "God, damn it!" he says in disgust.

Some in the crowd winced at the audacity of those words.

"'Get to the point, Reverend,' Pete not so gently urged with the butt of his riffle. 'Let him speak!' someone responded, and the crowd seemed to be in agreement. So Peter backed off.

"'He continues on into the city and into the temple where, in ironic repetition to his uncommon display of vehemence along the way, he starts turning over tables and causing a stampede, a riot in reaction to the injustice he finds there. He just could not bear the sight of moneychangers cheating peasants in converting their Roman coins, which were not permitted in the temple, into Jewish coin, which did not bear the image of Caesar. He could not stand to witness merchants baiting two days' wages from subsistence farmers for a pair of spotless turtledoves that were then switched for birds that were blemished while the buyer was settling his account. Jesus could no longer abide seeing priests denying those same farmers God's forgiveness because they were found guilty of bringing blemished sacrifices, which meant they would have to pay a penalty of 40 days wages in order to come again before the Lord. Jesus knew that the priest were not only the adjudicators of debt to God but also of debts owed to the wealthy landowners on whose land these sharecroppers farmed. Thus, many acts of denied forgiveness were simply attempts for priest to enrich themselves through the crooked financial arrangements they had with their moneychanger, merchant and wealthy landowner accomplices.'

"'As he had done with the fig tree, Jesus rejected the self-serving nature of the temple system. He cleaned house with a proclamation from the prophet Isaiah, "'My house shall be called a house of worship for all nations,' not a den of thieves!" And for at least that day, the temple in Jerusalem was a place where all could benefit from the grace and goodness of God.'

"'On the way back home that afternoon, Jesus and his disciples came across that fig tree from the previous encounter, or should I say what was left of it. There was only left a shriveled trunk, scarred almost beyond recognition. It astonished the men traveling with Jesus, for they had not expected it. And when they asked what had happened, Jesus, as he was apt to do, seemed to answer a different question.'

"'He said, "Have faith in God. For with faith, you can tell this mountain to get up and find its way to the bottom of the sea, and it will. And also be sure to forgive, for your Father in heaven has forgiven you much. That is the only way to be sure that he will hear you."'

"'Now I don't know about you, but to hear a pronouncement about faith and forgiveness in response to the question, "What happened?" would be very confusing to me, very confusing indeed, and it has been. Was Jesus asking his disciples to begin reorganizing the topography of Palestine by casting mountain and mole-hill, tree and bush this way and that? Me thinks not. But what metaphoric mountains was he looking to move?

"'It is only in this moment that this scripture begins to make an inkling of sense to me. You see, what was happening in Jerusalem at the temple was for most intents and purposes a crisis of faith. Yes, the temple system had become corrupt, but I do not believe it had done so out of complete contrariness to God. Much of it was more than likely certain priest feeling that if they were just a little more exacting, a little more pure, a little more discerning about who was allowed in and who was kept out, then maybe God would finally be pleased and deliver Jerusalem from Roman occupation. Other priests groaning under the weight of oppression themselves, seeing the temple deteriorating and the things of God despised, were possibly trying to generate just a little more revenue to keep the house and ways of God as they understood them from falling into absolute disrepair. Of course there were those who were just seeking their own benefit at the expense and exclusion of others, but not everybody was this way. For most I believe it was a crisis of faith. The just couldn't see what God was doing or seeking to inspire.'

"'Faith is the eyes to see and hands to create new possibilities beyond what already is, and that's what the priests in Jerusalem were missing. It is what Jesus traveled through the countryside giving people when he would say, "The kingdom of God is at hand. It is in your mist." And in Jerusalem he also wanted to awaken the same new possibilities. "My house shall be a house of worship for all people," but moving the impediments to this divine hope becoming reality would be like moving a mountain. And where might one find faith that could move mountains?'

For verily I say unto you, scripture records, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

"'And where on earth does one find faith that can move mountains? Well, it's all about where you look. The biggest faith can often be found in the smallest acts, 'cause faith is nothing until enacted. So Jesus pairs this big, complicated idea of faith with the simplest of acts: forgiveness.'

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any, Jesus said, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

"'Forgiveness is an act of grace. Grace is the act of giving—as in forgiving—more than one can ever expect in return. God forgives us and invites us to forgive each other, and somehow in the process of joining God in this seemingly small act of giving more than we're looking to receive—miracle or miracles—in faith our eyes are opened and our hands strengthened to see and create new possibilities for the good of not self, but others. On the other hand, choosing not to give to others in appreciation of all God has given you preempts new possibilities and, according to Jesus, eventually ends up cutting you off from God's life-giving grace to you. And this is much of what Jesus saw happening in the temple system; hence the physical parable of the fig tree.'

"'So Jesus' answer to Peter's question about what happened to that ol' fig tree was that it was real good at soaking up all the nutrients in its soil for its lush, green, pretty leaves, but that was completely for its own benefit. You all know that fig trees don't usually show their leaves until their fruit is ripe for the picking. Ripe fruit would have been for the benefit of others. Instead this ol' tree—so fittingly located beside the main road leading from Bethany to Jerusalem—had hoarded to itself the nutrients God had provided, and when strangers, neighbors, travelers, anyone in need of sustenance happened by in hopes of food to fill their empty, churning, achy stomachs, there was none.'

So I leave you with this:

Woe unto thee,
If you like that fig tree,
Show only leaves and no fruit to eat.
For always indeed
Others will need
And yours is the grace to feed them.

"Now that's absolutely enough, Pastor St. Common! Enough! Do you think us too thick to know what you're saying? I will not have you attempting to chastise this congregation any further. You're the one in the wrong! You’re the one who tried to bring sin into our mist," blustered the First Elder who had been sitting on the pulpit patting his foot impatiently throughout Revelations farewell sermon. "If I had had my way we would have thrown you out on your ear the moment—"

"Now wait a minute, young man," interrupted Deacon Ezekiel Jenkins (also on the rostrum), one of the oldest members of the church who had held office for almost 60 years. "When I was a boy, my daddy, whose name happened to be Zedekiah," he said with a smile and a nod at Rev. St Common, "couldn't read, but he had nonetheless memorized long passages of scripture. His favorite passage—"

"Sit down Deacon Jenkins. We have no more time for stories," announced First Elder wrenching control back. "It's time for you to go, Pastor St. Common. No more fanfare. It was your own doing. Good-bye." Then directing his attention toward two deacons hovering close by like Secret Service, he motioned, "Gentleman…"

The men escorted Revelations off the pulpit. He offered no resistance. He marched down the stairs and on out the door.

There were those, including Deacon Jenkins, who made their way out the church behind him to say good-bye. There were those confused and saddened and hurt by the whole sorted affair. There were even some who stood and clapped in solidarity with him. But what was done, was done. Rev. Sentinel "Sent" St. Common was no longer pastor of the Ralph David Abernathy All Kindreds Cathedral.

While chatting outside, amid good-byes and well wishes, Revelations asked what it was that Deacon Jenkins had been trying to tell about his father.

"Simply that what you had said reminded me of his favorite scripture, Revelation chapter 22 verse 2. Something about a tree growing up from both sides of the River of Life in the earth made new, it bearing fruit and it's leaves being 'for the healing of the nations.' I believe that's who I, even at my old age, am supposed to be in the world, and I owe that realization to you."

"Thank you, elder. That means more to me than I could ever say."

"Where will you go?" someone else asked.

"I don't know," Revelations smiled, "but know that this is only the beginning of the adventure, not the end."

One Response to “Freedom Haven”

  1. bRaYtOwN » 3/5 of a Memory Says:

    […] you get to celebrate Confederate aggression without apology for slavery, then I get to celebrate Nat Turner’s Rebellion without […]

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