By Frances Stebbins
This is a memory from the six decades the author has spent writing about faith communities in daily, weekly, and monthly news publications covering the western third of Virginia.
It’s been 244 years since our Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia to cite their grievances with the mother country of England and, as a result, declare their Independence. The national celebration has come to be known simply as the Fourth of July. It’s now gone for another memorable year that has been likened to a major war for the effect it is having on every American.
I take away from the holiday period these observations of change:
- People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington—let alone Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson that I was taught to revere as people who loved their country enough to risk all and die for it –are now smeared with a tarnish of being part of a world now long gone.
- Yet those of us representing so many national and ethnic groups, being made aware of the continuing sin of feeling superior to someone else, may be growing in our tolerance as we learn. It may take a lifetime, but let us not tear down one group to elevate another.
- When I moved around the corner in my East Salem neighborhood to a street with narrow lots and smaller houses, my son said he couldn’t imagine my wanting to live so close to neighbors. On leaving home to work in heavy industry in Roanoke, he purchased five acres and a manufactured home in rural Botetourt. Still a bachelor, he is master to stray dogs and cats and a country guy to the core. He bears his Confederate great-grandfather’s name, as do several in our family.
Like his late father Charlie and me, he’s an introvert as measured by a test, popular 35 years ago named for its counselor developers, Myers and Briggs. Such folk find other people best in small doses compared to extroverts who gravitate to groups and activities and tend to find their place in the business or education worlds. It has been interesting to me to see how adults like my daughter and son—seemingly so different in childhood—have matured into greater balance.
- Not only did my husband and I find the test valuable in our lay ministry as trained leaders in the Marriage Enrichment movement but members of the board of my Salem church took the Myers-Briggs test to better understand how to work together. In addition, a Roman Catholic clergyman, who supervised a retreat center near Charlottesville, adapted the test to define the ways seekers after God learn best. Some, he suggested, like the style of St. Francis of Assisi based on nature while others are comfortable with the scholarly.
- During the last 40 years of the past century, Charlie and I, for different reasons, benefited greatly in our personal mental and spiritual growth by a close relationship that at that time existed between the world of liberal religion and that of psychology. I was reminded of this as I read that members of churches affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are marking 50 years since the ordination of Lutheran women. One of those women, Janet L. Ramsey of Salem, served both as a parish pastor and a professional counselor especially to senior adults. I wrote of her work and my husband was helped through a difficult time by her care.
Where is all this reflection going? For me, no doubt, it comes about from hearing pastors’ messages and their written reflections on lessons we can only hope are being learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the ever-present need to accept people different from us for what they are—in a worn phrase, Children of God.