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ON BEING STUNG

April 23, 2022

Last Friday, Good Friday morning, our nine-year-old granddaughter burst into our bedroom. The child was terrified.

“I have just seen the largest wasp in the world!”

“Where did you see it?” I asked through my early morning fog.

“In the lamp at the bottom of the stairs!

“Did you see it or hear it?”

“Both. I saw it and heard it. Papa Kirk, I am not exaggerating. This thing is huge!”

Clare hugged our granddaughter and assured her that everything would be alright. Together they went to the pantry to retrieve a flyswatter. Now fully armed, Clare stood guard at the bottom of the stairs and sent the girl back upstairs to finish getting ready for school. The intruding insect was nowhere to be heard or seen. It stayed incognito throughout the day.  

That afternoon, when our grandchildren had returned home from school, our seven-year-old was reading in the living room. She heard a loud buzzing sound above her head. The critter had shown itself again. It was caught behind the sheer curtains in front of a large bay window. Obviously, the giant bug was trying to escape.

Our youngest granddaughter called for Clare, who went to the rescue. Clare enfolded the insect on the sheer curtain and sent the child to find Betsy, her mother. Like her father, Betsy is allergic to stings. She came with a plastic cup and a magazine. She and Clare worked together to imprison the interloper. Once the capture was made, I was called to identify the insect. While I am certainly not an entomologist, I immediately knew these brave women had managed to corral a giant hornet.  

What to do now? From an insect collecting science project, Clare remembered that fingernail polish remover would euthanize these varmints. Betsy slipped a gauze pad soaked in the elixir under the cup. The hornet died. No one in the family was stung during this encounter.    

In the year 1918, more than 100 years ago, a group of illegal aliens entered this country unnoticed through the port of Mobile, Alabama.  These immigrants, stowaways on a ship arriving from South America, soon became migrants, spreading throughout the South.    Moving north, east, and west, they eventually reached South Carolina. They were a prolific lot, producing many offspring.  

I have suffered many unpleasant, close encounters of the third kind with these unwelcome invaders. Several years ago, I had a painful meeting with these aliens while I was in my garden. As I was planting daylilies that I had divided, I disturbed a colony of these pesky intruders. Immediately, a swarm of Solenopsis Invicta, black fire ants, boiled up out of the ground, covering my left arm.

Fire ants are nasty little critters. They lock their jaws into your flesh and inject venom from the other end, biting and stinging simultaneously.  

The United States Army recommends using bleach as first aid. I keep a bottle in my tool shed.  I poured Clorox on both arms, waited a few minutes, then rinsed it off with cool water. I took Benadryl every day the following week and used a lot of cortisone cream. A week later, I was still itching from the attack.

A sting is an occupational hazard when cutting grass, hiking, camping, and fishing. As a boy, I was stung by honey bees, sweat bees, or yellow jackets ten or twelve times every summer. My grandfather offered a folk remedy for stings.  He would bite off the end of his cigar, chew it, and then slather the tobacco juice on the wound.

Over time, I have developed an allergy to stinging insects.  As a precaution, I now carry a sting kit that includes Benadryl and a prescription hypodermic of epinephrine, a form of adrenaline. The kit also contains a regular shaker of powdered meat tenderizer, which neutralizes the venom of a stinging insect by breaking down the protein.

Insect stings can be deadly. Every year, more people die in the United States from insect stings than poisonous snake bites or shark attacks.  

An allergy to stinging insects keeps you on your toes. A general rule is to expose as little skin as possible and to use insect repellent during the warm months.

I completely gave up using aftershave when my allergy was diagnosed. Instead, I use unscented rubbing alcohol, which doesn’t attract anything. I also gave up short-sleeve shirts and short pants. Believe me; the world is better for it.

More than fifty years ago, I traveled with a group of twenty-three men on a rafting trip down the Nolichucky River. As I stepped out of the van at the outfitter in Erwin, Tennessee, a yellow jacket stung me on the leg even before we started down the river.  One of the men, who happened to have a wad of chewing tobacco, applied the familiar poultice.   It didn’t help at all.  

It was then that I began to experience my first severe allergic reaction.  There in the remote Blue Ridge, by a mountain river, I was in trouble! My whole body turned fiery red, golf-ball-size knots developed beneath the skin on the back of my head and neck, and my breathing became labored.

Fortunately, my family doctor, a cardiologist, an anesthesiologist, and two pharmaceutical representatives were among the twenty-three men.   The cardiologist, family physician, and anesthesiologist all recognized that I was having a severe anaphylactic reaction. Before I could turn around, they had given me a dose of Benadryl.

The three physicians and I climbed into a four-wheel-drive vehicle and rumbled along a rugged logging road over a mountain to a drugstore in Erwin.  We were a motley crew, dressed as we were for a day of rafting. When my physician demanded the appropriate medications of cortisone, epinephrine, and two hypodermic needles, I am sure the pharmacist thought it was a holdup.  The pharmacist only blinked until my family doctor pulled out his wallet and presented his medical credentials.  The cardiologist monitored my pulse, and the anesthesiologist my breathing. Spread out on the drugstore floor, I received a cortisone shot in one arm and an injection of adrenaline in the other.  Soon, I was just fine.  

The anesthesiologist revealed how relieved he was when he saw that I was recovering.  He chuckled, “We had drawn straws to see who might have to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  I got the short straw.”  

By the time we made our way back to the river, I was all revved up for the trek. I don’t believe the three doctors who had jumped in the raft with me had to paddle much at all. I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I rowed nonstop all day long.  I had so much cortisone in me that I never felt sore.

The last time a yellow jacket stung me was moments before I was to conduct a graveside funeral service. The yellow and black insect was nestled inside a floral wreath, an expression of sympathy to the family of the dearly departed. The insect nailed me on the bottom lip as I stood close to the casket.

The funeral director and the soloist, both aware of my allergy, wondered if I might resign my role as pastor and join the ranks of the deceased. A good friend stood close by with my emergency shot. It had been more than ten years since my last sting. The one at the funeral was what allergists label a free sting. That is to say that after a long time between stings, the next one is unlikely to cause a severe reaction.

At the funeral, I read a different scripture passage than the one I had planned. Instead, I read I Corinthians 15: 54-55.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.

  Where, O death, is your victory?

  Where, O death, is your sting?”

I told a story. Three years after our experience on the Nolichucky River, the anesthesiologist and I were regular fishing buddies. Early one warm spring morning, we headed to a trout stream that held great promise.  As he drove his old Jeep on a back-country road in North Carolina, an insect flew into the open window and lit on the dashboard in front of me. It looked like a yellow jacket on steroids with its long distinctive black and yellow markings on the abdomen. Though I didn’t know what the insect was, I did realize that it was not a good traveling companion.  

My friend quickly pulled the Jeep over to the side of the road and stopped.  He reached out his hand and grabbed that insect, which immediately stung him.  He then threw the critter out the window, scraped the sting with his pocketknife, and applied some ointment to the spot.  

“Why did you do that?” I asked.  

“Listen.  I barely avoided giving you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation three years ago.  I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again.  Besides, I really want to go trout fishing today. If you get stung, it’s a big deal.  If I get stung, we can still fish.”

My friend took the sting for me. That is the point the Apostle Paul made in the scripture passage. Through his death, Christ has taken the sting of death for us.

Fire ant stings are, so far, not nearly as severe for me as those of yellow jackets. Still, those tiny ants pack a wallop and deliver several days of discomfort.

Recently, I learned that pyramid ants and fire ants are natural enemies. The pyramid ants thrive in sunny, open spaces, usually near the nests of other kinds of ants. Their nests – small craters that resemble tiny volcanoes – are easily recognized. In fact, the favorite food of the pyramid variety is fire ants.

I have decided to be more selective in using ant killers, eliminating only the stinging fire ants. Pyramid ants have an open invitation to my place. The buffet is always available. Come and get it!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Miracle Hill Rescue Mission, 189 North Forest Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29301, (864) 583-1628.

RETHINKING NOTIONS ABOUT EASTER

April 16, 2022

Eostre was the name of a fertility goddess of spring. She was the goddess of the dawn celebrated by the ancient people of Northern Europe. St. Bede, an English monk, and historian from the 600s, wrote that the Christian celebrations of spring took on many of the traditions of the pagan celebrations of Eostre. The Christian holiday of Easter has held on to its pagan name for centuries, along with other fertility symbols such as eggs and rabbits. Who among us does not enjoy a Cadbury Egg, a chocolate bunny, or jelly beans? Those confections do not define Easter.

Christians gather to worship on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is so easy for us to lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the reason for this season. The truth is that some Christians do not attend church very often. Most know that Easter Sunday is a special day in the Church year. Declaring that Jesus is the risen Lord is right at the center of all that Christians believe.

We often become preoccupied with the timing of the Easter season. I do not know how often I have heard people say, “Easter is late this year.” Gardeners have said, “My…Easter comes late this year, and it has messed up my spring planting.” 

Sometimes conflicts arise between the dates selected for spring break in the school systems and the observance of Holy Week. I remember one year when Easter came toward the end of April. The director of District 7 orchestras scheduled the finale on Maundy Thursday.

I called the director and said, “We have a real problem with this date for the finale. Some of your students in the program have parents who will be serving in our church that evening. Other families with students in the orchestra will also want to participate in Maundy Thursday services.”

The director asked, “Why did they move Easter so late this year?”

Determining the date of Easter is tricky. Easter is observed on Sunday, which follows the appearance of the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year, that full moon appeared yesterday, April 16. The Jewish celebration of Passover and the Christian observance of Easter usually align closely because they both follow the lunar calendar. This year Passover began on April 15, which was also Good Friday.

The earliest date on which Easter can occur is March 22. Easter last happened on that date in 1818. Easter will fall again on March 22 in the year 2285. The latest date on which Easter can occur is April 25. That happened in 1943 and will occur again in the year 2038. This year, Easter comes on April 17.

Martin Luther King was assassinated during Holy Week of 1968. Dr. Charles Bodie, the distinguished president of the Peabody Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, was the guest preacher during a series of Holy Week services at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. On the night of King’s assassination, the church was at capacity with people wondering what this outstanding African-American preacher would say. I shall never forget his opening words when he stepped into the pulpit: “This year, Easter comes just in the nick of time.”

Easter always comes right on time. For my family, Easter is not one bit late this year. We have been through a period of grief following my brother’s death, and we need to celebrate the resurrection.

Some people fail to hear or share the Easter story because we assume everybody knows the story. Dr. Fred Craddock, a professor of homiletics, said that we have a bad habit of overhearing the Gospel. We hear the stories so often that we do not listen to them anew. We need to listen to this story of Easter with fresh ears. We need to read this story with fresh eyes. Maybe it would help if someone read the stories to us so that we could study them anew.

Several years ago, through the season of Lent, our son Kris recently displayed fourteen paintings of the scriptural Stations of the Cross at the Oxford Chapel at Emory University. Eight of those works were painted on canvas and six on lumber wraps, pieces of sheeting wrapped around lumber to keep it dry during its shipment from the west coast.    Kris and the chaplain of Oxford Chapel developed a guide for viewers, including references to the Scriptures.

Kris learned that among the many viewers of his display were a woman, who was very sick, and her seventeen-year-old daughter. The woman had wanted her daughter to become involved in a church and its youth group. The girl was resistant and did not want anything to do with church. The mother had convinced her to view these paintings because of her interest in art. This teenager slowly moved from station to station, stopping to read the guide and to look at each image.

The chaplain noticed that the girl was crying when she reached the last station. The chaplain asked, “Are you alright? Is there anything I can do for you?”

She answered, “I just don’t know why nobody has ever told me this story.”

This seventeen-year-old girl lived in Atlanta, Georgia, and she had never heard the Easter story? We need to make sure that our children and our grandchildren hear this story. Please read it to them around your table. Do not just assume that you know this story. Read it yourself from the Scriptures during your own time of devotion.

You have heard people say, just as I have, “In Christianity, I have trouble with the first and the last, with the incarnation – the idea that the human Jesus was somehow God, that there was a virgin birth – and trouble with the resurrection – the very idea that somebody can come back from the dead.”

Some regard the resurrection as a mystery that must be solved. In our western way of thinking, we look at the empty tomb as a crime scene – CSI: Jerusalem. We want to gather all the evidence and understand what happened there. We want to make sense of this case of a missing body.

One problem is that each of the four Gospels gives varying accounts of what the eyewitnesses saw. One Gospel refers to two angels, but another mentions only one angel. The Gospel of Luke tells a beautiful story about the road to Emmaus, but not one of the other Gospels mentions that episode. The Gospel of John speaks of Mary Magdalene’s coming to the tomb alone. Other accounts differ. Trying to synchronize all of these stories would drive a crime scene investigator crazy.

The point is not to make sense of all the accounts and get the stories aligned. The fact is that the stories all agree that Jesus rose from the grave. Christians serve a resurrected Christ, a living Savior.

The Gospel of Matthew reveals that some individuals questioned the resurrection experience. They suggested the existence of a Passover plot, signifying that the disciples had concocted a story about this resurrection when they had removed the body of Jesus from the tomb and hidden it in another location. 

When I was in seminary, the controversial book entitled The Passover Plot by Hugh J. Schonfield was published.

If these resurrection accounts were a plot, these disciples would have said, “Let’s get our stories straight. We cannot have any discrepancies here.” The fact that the resurrection accounts all differ provides proof against a conspiracy. 

They did not do that. The single best evidence for the resurrection is what happened in these people’s lives. We are not to solve the mystery. If we do anything, we are to restore the mystery. We are to let it stand as a reason for awe, for reverence.

 We tend to jump too quickly to the joy associated with Easter. I know that notion sounds strange. I first came across this idea in Dr. Edmond Steimle’s Easter sermon “Disturbed by Joy.” This distinguished Lutheran pastor said that we should pay close attention to the responses of those involved in the resurrection accounts.

My grandfather was finally convinced to go to a presentation of Handel’s “Messiah.” I cannot imagine my grandfather, who never had a class in music appreciation, sitting through that lengthy oratorio.

After the presentation, my grandfather went outside and lit up a Tampa Nugget cigar. When somebody asked him what he thought about the “Messiah,” he responded, “It wouldn’t have taken so long if they had quit repeating themselves.”

Can we sing too many hallelujahs? Can we be too overcome with joy during the Easter season?

Let’s consider those first Christians. They should have been prepared for the resurrection, not surprised because Jesus had told them what to expect. When the resurrection occurred, they were not filled with joy. They were frightened. The dead rising from the grave was spooky. Their emotions were more appropriate for Halloween.

We read that they are amazed, confused, and baffled. They are astonished. The word fear appears six times in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection.

In the days that followed, these same Christians began to take in what had happened. As we continue the story into the book of Acts, their lives have changed significantly. Instead of hiding in an upper room, they became empowered by the Spirit of God. Acts 17 tells us that they had turned the world upside down, bringing many converts to Christianity. They were convinced that with the resurrection of Christ, the vicious circle of sin and death had been destroyed. The last enemy – death itself – had been put under the feet of Jesus. He was victorious.

Another assumption is that the resurrection is all about heaven and the hereafter. Yes, I do know that paradise is wonderful. We have much to look forward to, but the resurrection is not only about heaven.

I did not fully understand the concept that resurrection requires some impact on life until I read Mill Hands and Preachers by Liston Pope. Though the book was written about religion in Gastonia, North Carolina, it helped me understand religion in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as well as anything I have ever read. The idea is that mill hill communities always had a church. Often the mill owners selected the church pastor, who preached about faith in heaven, belief in the “sweet by and by,” faith beyond the oppression of this life.

Billy Sunday, a former baseball player who became an evangelist, was well known for his “sawdust trail” campaigns or revivals, which ended with an altar call. In his sermon “The Ideal Christian Life,” Sunday said that the ideal Christian life would consist of walking down this sawdust trail, getting on one’s knees to repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord, walking back up the sawdust trail, stepping out into the street, getting run over by a Mack truck, and going straight to heaven.

Is that the “ideal Christian life”? It seems that something must happen between accepting Christ and going to heaven. That “something” is this life we live. Resurrection is about this life. Our faith walk is about living the resurrection now.

Eternal life is not just what happens after death. It is life with an eternal quality. It is life that is qualitatively different than the life we lived before we knew Christ Jesus. Eternal life, the resurrected life, is life here on earth now.

The resurrection is not about immortality. Only God is immortal. Humans are mortal. To affirm that Jesus was human is to know that he was mortal. Jesus did not pass away. He died. He didn’t vaporize or dematerialize as in a science fiction movie. Jesus was as dead as the proverbial doornail. 

The Gospels proclaim he was dead and is now alive!

John’s Gospel gives us the upper room scene, but it is bracketed by the personal encounters of two early disciples –a woman and a man-Mary Magdalene and Thomas.

Mary Magdalene was a marginal person, a woman for whom Jesus had cast seven demons. I do not know whether that meant that she had a terrible mental illness or that her life was pock-marked by sin. Regardless, Mary had been redeemed. The Gospel of John tells that she came to the tomb and recognized that Jesus was the resurrected Christ.

Thomas said to the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thomas was from Missouri. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Doubting Thomas. But only for one week. Doubting Mary? Doubting Peter? Doubting John? They all doubted. Then they all believed.

Then Jesus gave Thomas the last beatitude. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”                       

We all have our doubts. Gaps in our faith. Faith is never perfect; it is always a work in progress. Like Mary Magdalene and Thomas, our doubts enable the growth of our faith. Kathleen Norris in The Cloistered Walk says that doubts are the seeds of faith.

My Easter greeting to all of you comes from an old hymn.                  

You ask me how I know he lives.

He lives within my heart!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a storyteller, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to the charity of your choice or to the religious organization where you worship. As a retired pastor, I can assure you that your contributions are always appreciated.

HOLY WEEK: FROM PALM SUNDAY TO GOOD FRIDAY

April 9, 2022

Most readers of this column know that I am a retired Christian pastor. In my tradition, this week is the most sacred week of the calendar year. That is why it is called Holy Week by many Christians. I write knowing that my readers hold diverse faith orientations, or some have none at all. Some Christians do not observe Holy Week. I offer these thoughts to offend no one, but to help all of us understand each other a little better.     

I was looking through an old file and found a clipping from the bulletin of a church in Lexington, Kentucky. The article was entitled “The History and Meaning of Holy Week Observances.” I had used the explanation of the events of Holy Week in my column for the church newsletter to help us better understand the worship experiences offered during this special week.

Holy Week is the final week of Lent. It commemorates the events of the last week in the earthly life of Jesus. Holy Week, the remembrance of the death and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most sacred time of the Christian Year.

Palm Sunday services usually begin with a joyful procession. On Palm Sunday, we remember that Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, entered the city of Jerusalem in triumph. An enthusiastic crowd greeted Jesus by spreading palm branches along the road and shouting “Hosanna!”, a Hebrew expression meaning “Save us.” The crowd hailed Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah promised long ago by God.

The Jewish Passover often falls within Holy Week. Passover provides the foundation for much of our Christian observance of Holy Week. The Lord’s Supper grew out of Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Passover meal. For Christians, Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Though Passover is not to be confused with a Christian observance, there is a clear Biblical link between the two faith traditions.

Maundy Thursday is the evening when Christians recall the events that took place the night Jesus was betrayed. The word Maundy is derived from the Latin phrase mandatum novum, meaning new commandment. It refers to the Lord’s words to His apostles as recorded in John 13:34: “A new command I give you:  Love one another.” Maundy Thursday worship is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This night is the anniversary of the final Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples before his death.

Tenebrae, or Service of Shadows, takes place following Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening. It derives its name from the gradual extinguishing of candles and lights during the service. The darkness is a symbolic recreation of the gloom that covered the land when our Lord died and the fading life of our Lord as He hung on the cross. Scripture readings and hymns direct our meditation on the cross.

Good Friday is the day of the solemn remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross. The English designation of Good Friday is a fitting one since the Lord’s death was for our eternal good. Despite the solemnity of Good Friday worship, it is not a funeral service for Jesus. Instead, it is a time of quiet and serious contemplation on His great saving work.

On Friday, January 17, 2014, friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Bruce Cash in a funeral service designed precisely the way Bruce wanted it to be. Those who attended had a meaningful experience, remembering Bruce as a kind and faithful man whose life touched many others.

Bruce was my brother-in-law, married to my sister Kitty. She is the youngest of eight; I am the oldest. When she was born, I was in junior high school.

Having a younger sister is good for an older brother. I saw myself as her guardian, her protector, not as a parental surrogate. That role was strongly activated when Kitty began dating. I thought my responsibility was to keep the creepy guys away, which I did. In time, Kitty met Bruce when both were asked to sing at a wedding. Before long, we welcomed Bruce Cash into the Neely family, and I have thanked the Lord for him many times. Bruce was the perfect husband for my sister and the perfect father to their six children.

Many remember Bruce best for his work as the pharmacist and owner of Ford’s Drugs. Many others remember him best for his music. From the songs of James Taylor to the hymns of faith, Bruce had a magnificent voice.

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, First Baptist Church secured the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium for the presentation of “The Passion of Christ.” During this musical drama scheduled for Holy Week, Bruce portrayed Christ, and rightly so. Not only did he have the voice, but he also possessed a deep humility. The role fit him, and he fit the part.

To prepare for the Passion play, Bruce began letting his whiskers grow after Christmas so that he would have a full beard before Easter. Customers in the drug store noticed the facial hair and anticipated the drama to come.

One morning following the presentation of “The Passion of Christ,” I walked into Ford’s Drugs and exchanged greetings with an older gentleman. He said, “I saw the Passion play for the first time last night. The production was very well done. I had considerable trouble going to sleep though, because I just couldn’t get the story out of my mind. I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing like walking into a drugstore to pick up a prescription and having Jesus hand me the medicine.”

Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, centers on an up close and personal encounter with Jesus. Each year, Christians remember the events that occurred during the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. Seeing the images of Jesus depicted in Renaissance paintings or even in motion pictures can create a profound experience. But hearing Bruce quote the teachings of Jesus and seeing him kneel in the garden was deeply moving. Then seeing someone I know and love on the cross was heartbreaking. I was always moved to tears when I heard Bruce utter that excruciating cry from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

Except for John, the beloved disciple, and Jesus’ first cousin, the other disciples were not present when Jesus died. A common interpretation of the fact is that they were fearful for their own lives. That explanation may very well be true. I think it is also possible that they just could not bear the horror of seeing someone they knew so well and loved so dearly die such a painful death. To those first followers, Jesus was the teacher they had heard speaking to the multitudes, the healer who had touched so many lives, the friend and companion who loved them. They simply could not witness the cruel death on Golgotha. When I saw Bruce on a cross, even in a Passion play, it hurt me and moved me deeply.

Bruce taught me a significant truth about the primary reason to observe Good Friday. The one crucified on that old rugged cross is not a chiseled icon, a depiction of one distant and anonymous. This is no generic sacrifice on a hill far away. This is an act of personal self-giving love. More is required than a passing nod or slight reverence. Christ is the Savior who loves us and desires a personal relationship with us. What happened that day was the supreme act of divine and human love. Bruce knew that in every fiber of his being. His representation of Christ was genuine because it came from his heart.

In the words of Isaac Watts:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down….

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Bruce Cash, my brother-in-law, my brother-in-love, hanging on a cross, comes to mind every Good Friday. For me, it makes the experience of this event, at the very core of the Christian faith,  intimate and personal. I am eternally grateful.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a storyteller, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to the charity of your choice for relief for the people of Ukraine. There are many options. Locally, several churches and religious groups are collecting gifts for those suffering from war. Please help if you are able.