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Pause, Sign, Ponder, Reflect

"Pause, Sign, Ponder, Reflect" by Frank Ramirez
"Reunite Refugee Children and Parents" by John Sumwalt

Pause, Sign, Ponder, Reflect
by Frank Ramirez
Psalm 4

When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. (v. 4)

It’s a crucial moment in the musical Hamilton. In the midst of a failing revolution, a paternal — and mentally anguished — George Washington counsels a cocksure Alexander Hamilton that leading soldiers into battle is not as easy as it looks. He tells what it was like to watch men die right and left in battle because of his mistakes, and warns Hamilton that, in the words of Lin Manuel-Miranda, “History has its eyes on you.”

Was Washington right? Did the world have its eyes on him when he himself was an unproven colonial thrust into an international incident that turned into a world-wide conflict?

Kind of. Yeah.

There was no question that the British looked down on the American colonials like Washington who, if a DNA test had been available, would have proven no different biologically. Nevertheless, there was this prejudice based on birth, and not on ability, that clearly rankled Washington throughout the French and Indian Wars that may have planted the seeds that made revolution possible a couple decades later.

In 1754, the Virginian George Washington was in the right place at the right time when he was sent out with 160 untrained, raw recruits to the Ohio Valley to address and potentially confront trained French soldiers and their Indian allies. The French and the British had both been building forts along the Ohio frontier and a conflict was starting to seem inevitable.

On May 28, Washington’s forces, if they may be called that, led by Native American guides with their own agenda, came upon a small group of French soldiers that had been stalking them. In Europe, armies lined up and met in mass attacks where there was no place to hide. Thanks to his guides, Washington’s soldiers had the advantage of shooting behind trees and taking advantage of the terrain. Indeed, they were in the position of shooting fish in a barrel. They came through the fifteen-minute battle largely unscathed. Washington would later write to his brother, “I can in truth assure you, I heard bullets whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound.” This letter was later published in Britain leading to the arch remark on the part of King George II that, “He would not say so if he had been used to hear many.”

However, during the surrender negotiations something went awry. Some claim the Indian guides violently murdered the French prisoners while others insist it was Washington who ordered his troops to execute the survivors. Regardless, the incident was the spark that led to the French and Indian Wars. As one writer in England noted, “The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.”

Weeks later, on July 3, it was Washington who found himself at the wrong end of a massacre. He dug in with his troops at the poorly designed Fort Necessity, open to the elements and indefensible on many grounds, as a driving rain drenched his starved troops’ gunpowder, leading to a debacle that should have ended his military career. Mud, blood, and bodies mixed together in a horrifying scene as over a hundred of his barely three hundred troops died. The subsequent surrender was humiliating, and Washington believed his military career was over.

As it turned out Washington was not kept out of battle long, and circumstances continued to thrust him into roles of leadership, in which at last his reputation was made to such a great extent that when the United Colonies looked for a general to lead them, there was only one real choice — George Washington.

At the time, though, there were many questions? Why didn’t he retreat instead of advance? Why did he insist on remaining at such an indefensible spot? What made him think he could defeat trained French troops who had all the advantages? Why had he driven away his Native American allies? There were many critics, but the most perceptive critic of Washington’s actions was Washington himself.

One thing Washington proved capable of was honest self-reflection. In Psalm 4:4 we are admonished: “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” Washington had a saying. “Errors once discovered are more than half amended.” Washington learned that European strategies were useless in America. Strategic retreat, avoiding battles unless everything was in your favor, was far more effective that brave and useless charges. And in later battles during the French and Indian War, he witnessed the famed British regulars panicking and firing into the backs of American colonials. From that he learned that the British were just as fallible as anyone else and that the British army could be defeated.

The JPS translation says, “So tremble, and sin no more; pondering it on your bed, and sigh.” Pause, sign, ponder, reflect — and change!

(This StoryShare installment is based in part upon “Washington: A Life” By Ron Chernow, “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America,” and “When Young George Washington Started A War” by David Preston, Smithsonian Magazine, October 2019).

* * *

Reunite Refugee Children & Parents
by John Sumwalt
1 John 3:1-7

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  …when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  (vv. 2-3)

When our children were in school there was a crossing guard near one intersection, an African American woman in her sixties, who was a fierce protector of children.  She always greeted Jo and I warmly when we passed that corner on our morning walk, always glad to see us, always had something to say, asked where we’d been if she hadn't seen us for a while. But let one little one appear and she was all business. She was out in the middle of the street with her sign until they were safely across. And if someone didn’t stop or slow down soon enough, she let them have it.  You could hear her a mile away. You know what I'm saying? You didn’t want to mess with that woman -- and if you did anything to threaten a child while she was around, she was going to get you! She was one of Jesus' own. She took care of little ones.

One day, when Jesus’ disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest, they watched in amazement as the master teacher took a little child in his arms and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me… ."

What a beautiful image that is, but lest we are tempted to revel in this lovely thought, remember that just a few verses later the gospel writer quotes Jesus as saying, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."

Jesus is serious about taking care of little ones. There are severe consequences for those who cause hurt to little ones. And I'm not just talking about children. The key word in both of these passages is "great." True greatness is found in humble service, in caring for little ones, all of those among us who are without power or influence.

Who are the greatest in our community?  Whoever looks out for the well-being of children, and the elderly, the sick, the poor, the dying, the handicapped and the oppressed -- all of the little ones among us — are great. In daycare centers, they are the ones that the children run to and hang on to. 

Columnist Colleen O'dea tells about a little one who was separated from his mother at the U.S.- Mexico border:

“Following an arduous two-week journey that included walking, buses and a boat ride, in May 2018, Andrea and her 3-year-old son José arrived at the U.S. border port of entry in Rio Grande City, Texas; she was seeking asylum because she feared the wrath of the MS-13 crime gang. Four days later, immigration officials made her place her son in a truck. Then she could only watch as he cried and scrambled to get back to her as the vehicle drove away.

After spending about six weeks in a detention facility in Texas, 2,000 miles from her son, Andrea was able to reclaim José from an immigrant children’s shelter in New York. At first, he wouldn’t look at her or talk to her. Later, after they settled in New Jersey, he was afraid to be away from her for more than a few minutes. Andrea said it took almost a year for José to fully trust her again… .”

O’dea adds, ”Numerous mental health officials have said the separations have traumatized both children and parents, and that some may suffer the effects for the rest of their lives.”

Several hundred little ones like Jose are still separated from their parents, and our government, though under a court order to reunite them, has no record of where the children or the parents who were deported to Central America are located. It will take a massive undertaking to find these children and return them to their parents.

None of us should rest easy until every one of these little ones is home.


StoryShare, April 18, 2021 issue

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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