Stories for the Journey…
As my family has grown, I’ve moved the place where I study to various parts of the house. I started in a corner of my bedroom, then we were able to remodel & I got an actual room to myself (the smallest in the house of course). Then my son moved out & I was able to move into his old room. Now my daughter has ventured out on her own & I’ve just transitioned into her old room. I think I’ve reached my final destination!
At each stage of the game, I’ve gone through files & books, reading & remembering, reorganizing & discarding. The other day I came across an excerpt that my father sent me from one of his books. He had come across it in his own reorganizing & wanted to make sure I knew the story & that I passed it down to my kids as well.
Stories shape us. Our family stories. Our faith stories. We need to know our stories. This is a small one that shaped my father & me. It’s taken from his book Be Your Whole Self which was written in 1970:
…our deeds usually emanate from our values.
In a folder of precious keep-sakes I have a Drew Pearson column entitled A Rabbi’s Kindness Didn’t Pay in Mississippi. It was written at Christmastime, 1964. The article begins,
Christmas being the anniversary of a Jew born in Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago, I write the story of a Jew who lives in Mississippi today. His name is Rabbi David Ben-Ami of Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg, and his trials and tribulations began when he befriended ministers of other faiths and incurred the wrath of modern money changers.
Drew Pearson goes on to tell the story of how Rabbi Ben-Ami visited clergymen who had been thrown in jail for their demonstrations against racial injustices, of his befriending a white Presbyterian minister who had been involved in the struggle for racial justice, of his assistance in distributing turkeys to needy Mississippi families of all races under the Dick Gregory “Christmas for Mississippi” program. This was too much for the Rabbi’s congregation. They insisted that he leave. They were not ruthless, as were the money changers of Jerusalem with another Jew nearly 2000 years ago. They were polite and sympathetic – but they pointed out that they had heavy investments in Hattiesburg which could be bankrupted by boycotts. Since the Rabbi had no investment in Mississippi, it seemed simpler for him to look for another congregation.
Dunnam family circa 1963 - clockwise from bottom left: Kerry, Jerry, Freddy Davis, Maxie, Kim
That article is meaningful to me because of an incident that occurred at Christmastime, 1963. We had two children then. With them, my wife and I were driving from Gulfport, Mississippi to Richton, my parents’ home, about 100 miles away. It was an unusually cold night. Ice was on the road and it was sleeting.
We had left Gulfport following a church meeting where a lot of angry feelings had been expressed about the racial situation and my involvement in it. It was close to midnight out on a dark lonely highway when our car stalled. There was little traffic. The children were getting colder and we were getting anxious. After what seemed to be an endless time (and the passing of numerous cars) we were getting to the point of desperation, when an old model car came to a screeching halt beside us.
I told the driver our plight, and without asking any further questions, he invited us into his car, helped us transfer luggage, and went out of his way to take us to a friend’s home in the nearest town where we could spend the night and attend to the car problem the next day.
This man had an accent different than mine, and I knew he was not a Mississippian. I surmised, as we often wrongly do, that he was a Jew, and his warm ministry of love reminded me of another Jew and a story he told about a Good Samaritan. Before we reached our destination, I learned that I was right. He was a Jew. His name was David Ben-Ami, rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg.
It was this man that Drew Pearson wrote about a year later. Not only to the disinherited and dejected of the Negro race, but to a desperate white Anglo-saxon Protestant Christian Minister and his freezing family, this man expressed love. I don’t know where Rabbi Ben-Ami is today, but wherever he is, I have an idea that he lives effectively with the nitty-gritty. He has experienced values that transcend religion or race, social or economic boundaries. His synagogue in Hattiesburg may have rejected his witness, but they couldn’t annul it. Mississippi and the world is different today, because of men like Rabbi David Ben-Ami.
This is one way meaning comes – through experiencing values. That’s what religion is – the search for a value underlying all things. When we experience certain values – i.e. the value of persons, the relationship of love, the meaning of self-integrity – life takes on meaning, and we can live with the nitty-gritty.
People may reject our witness, but they can never annul it.
Stories convey values. Values provide meaning. Meaning empowers us to live with the nitty-gritty – whatever that nitty-gritty might be. What are your stories? How have they brought you meaning? Are you sharing them with those you love?