Rachel Jane (Clark) Seat (1852 ~ 1941)

[This is a document was written by my Aunt Mary Seat about her grandmother and my great grandmother. I annotated Aunt Mary’s manuscript in 2015 and made some slight revisions and updates in March 2021.]

My Grandmother – Rachel Jane Seat

By Mary Rachel Seat

Rachel Seat was the only grandparent I ever knew. She was not more than five feet tall, but had a lot of energy. She was the daughter of S.R. and Elizabeth Clark.[1] They came [to Missouri] from Du Quoin, Illinois, during the early part of the Civil War. Rachel was about ten years old at the time. There was a boy two years younger than Rachel whom she always spoke of as Willie. There was another girl only two at the time.[2] Some of the stories Grandma told us had to do with this journey.

The Clark family crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry which was pulled by horses on the Missouri side of the river. They were traveling by covered wagon pulled by horses and made camp at night. As they got farther into Missouri, they became more aware of the tension of the times. As they were eating breakfast one morning before starting the day’s journey, they were visited by a group of men on horseback. The men demanded that Grandfather Clark stand up on the tongue of his wagon and yell, “Hooray for Jim Lane!” The name meant nothing to Grandfather Clark, but he thought it best to comply. So he said, “If I must, Hooray for Jim Lane!” That seemed to satisfy the men, and they rode off without any further demands.[3]

I think the Clark family already had relatives in the area to help them get settled. There was a small trading post that was called by a variety of names—Fairview or Grant’s Hill—before they finally decided to name it Denver. Great-grandmother Clark was a very devout woman. Since they didn’t know any religious services to attend, she decided they should set aside a day of rest and worship. She asked grandfather to go to town to get some supplies. When he came home, he reported that the store was closed because it was Sunday. Grandmother Clark was very embarrassed because she thought people would think they were heathens. She went ahead with her plan to observe a day of rest and worship but took pains to adjust her calendar so they would not make the same mistake again.

When Rachel was about 18 years old, she married William Seat. His family had first lived in Virginia, then in Tennessee.[4] They had been slaveholders in the eastern states. There is a family record that two little boys in the family had been killed by a teen-aged slave. I don’t know if they brought the slaves to Missouri or not.[5] Franklin Seat gave the land on which the New Hope Church was built. William was the oldest of his five sons.[6]

In September 1880, William died of what they called dust pneumonia. He was 31 and his wife Rachel was 28. He died on his daughter Isabel’s ninth birthday; daughter Annie was seven, Elvis was five, George was not quite three, and baby Rella was born the following January.[7] Among Rachel’s papers was what was called a coupon bond. It had been signed by William and Rachel on January 1, 1880. It was a note for $300.00 to be repaid within five years. It called for interest of nine percent to be paid every six months. Their 40-acre farm was listed as security for the note.

I feel sure that Grandmother Seat had a cow or two to furnish milk for her family, some hens to lay eggs, and that she probably raised some chickens for them to eat. No doubt she raised a garden and probably picked wild berries. I think it likely that her parents and her husband’s parents helped with clothing for the children. She told us of cutting cockleburs out of a farmer’s fields for something like fifty cents a week. She also told us of taking baby Rella to the field with her and putting her on a blanket at the end of the row under a tree where she could sleep while her mother worked. I don’t know if the older girls looked after the little boys or if she had other help.

Daughter Isabel married a local farm boy when she was about 18. His name was Jake Williams. He became their farmer for a couple of years. They had a baby boy whom they named Leslie.[8] Isabel developed an infection that the doctors of that day could not treat effectively, and she died. Rachel took care of baby Leslie for about two years until his father married again. They moved to Montana, but when Leslie was grown, he often came back to visit our family. He was 12 years younger than George.

Rachel was a devout Christian, and the New Hope Church was near her home. They walked the quarter mile or so to church, but sometimes little boys’ legs got tired. Rachel cut stick horses for the little boys to ride, and that helped a lot. When Isabel was burning up with fever, she asked for different people to come to see her. She said she was going to Heaven and asked friends to join her. Some of Jake’s brothers were the ones she spoke to. She made such an impression on several people that when another church was built in the neighborhood, they named it the Isabel Church.

George was my father and he told us some stories of their life when he was a boy. Grandfather [Franklin] Seat gave Elvis and George each a sow so that the boys might raise some pigs. Unfortunately, the sows got cholera and died. As the boys dragged the sows off to a ditch where they could make a fire to burn the carcasses, Elvis cried because the sow was heavy to pull. He didn’t want to admit that he was crying for the loss of the sow. One summer when George was 12 or 13, he went to stay with a farm family that he didn’t know very well. He was to be a chore boy. I don’t think he was to get any wages, just some new clothes for school. He wondered if he did enough work to pay for the clothes, but there was one less mouth to feed at home.

Dad [George] used to tease Grandma [Rachel] about the widowers who came to court her. She said one man was so persistent that he told her she would be sorry if she didn’t marry him and that he would give her a new dress if she wasn’t sorry. She replied to Dad’s teasing by saying, “He never gave me the dress, but I was never sorry that I didn’t marry him.” Some of the grandchildren thought she was reluctant to remarry because she didn’t want any more children. Grandma lived to be more than 88 years old, and she was a widow for more than 60 years.

I never saw the house in which Grandma had raised her family. George had bought more land and that was not as close to the church as they had lived. Grandma told us about how she would toll the church bell when someone died. She would ring once and then wait till the sound died before she rang again. She rang the bell to indicate the age of the person who had died.

George was 26 when he was married in 1904. His mother had been his housekeeper before that time. He moved his bride into the house that was on the farm that he had bought.[9] I know that Dad had worked away from home as a young man. He probably went to school for about six years. He told us that he got as far as interest and that he had been paying interest ever since. He could help us with our problems when we needed help. I think Uncle Elvis had dropped out of school earlier.

Grandma sold her small farm in 1914. She thought we should have a car so proposed to George that she would buy the car if he would be the driver and pay all expenses on the car. That was how we got our first Model T Ford. Grandma was very popular as a woman who was available to help any family who had a new baby. When I was a freshman in high school in Grant City, she took a job caring for an old woman. The house had several rooms. Grandma slept downstairs close to the old woman’s bedroom and my sister [Florence] and I had a room upstairs. I am sure my folks furnished food for us to eat, but Grandma did most of our cooking.

My sister was two years older than I. She had graduated from the eighth grade before the folks wanted to make arrangements for her to go to high school, so she went back to the country school for a year.[10] Grandma’s grandson, Leslie Williams, had been wounded in World War I and was in the army hospital in Fort Snelling, Minnesota.[11] Grandma wanted very much to go to see him, so Florence was elected to go with her. When Leslie was released from the hospital, he came to visit our family.

Grandma was a restless sort of person. We lived at least three miles from the church. When we went to church to practice for a Children’s Day program, we had to walk since Mama didn’t drive.[12] It was a relief when Florence learned to drive. On Sundays, Grandma would get ready and start out to walk. Sometimes a neighbor would give her a ride. When we caught up with her, Dad would pretend that he wasn’t going to stop for her and act surprised that she wanted to ride.

Grandma never wanted to see anything go to waste. Vera is brother Curtis’s widow, and she has good memories of Grandma.[13] She would go to pick gooseberries in the pasture, stop at Vera’s and suggest that they stem the berries which she picked for Vera. On some land that Dad had rented, one hillside was covered with wild blackberries. I didn’t like to pick them because of the thorns. Grandma would pick a huge bucket of the berries, but she expected someone to come and meet her with the car to bring the berries back to the house. She climbed a small apple tree when she was 80 to get a nice apple so it didn’t fall down and get bruised.

The sudden death of my mother in 1937 was a shock to my grandmother, as well as to the rest of the family. Florence was teaching in the high school in Gower, Mo. I was teaching in a country school near Allendale, Mo. My brother Curtis and his wife were living on a farm not far from our parents. My brother Hollis and his wife were living in Grant City, Mo. Hollis was working in the lumberyard with his father-in-law. They had bought an old house and had done a lot of remodeling. They had a baby boy on September 16.[14] On the morning of September 21, Dad and his hired hand were preparing to go to a pasture where Dad had cattle to fix some fence. Mama was fixing some lunch for them to take along. Grandma was eating her breakfast. The hired man came into the house, and found my mother lying on the floor. He called to Dad who had not come into the house, then quickly phoned Curtis’s wife. I think they got to my parents’ house almost as soon as Dad got into the house.

Dad sent the hired man to get me. I had not yet started to school. When he gave me the message that my mother had died, I said, “You mean my Grandma, don’t you?” After all, my mother was only 56 years old, and Grandma was more than 80 years old. Hollis and Helen’s baby boy did not seem to be doing well, and Hollis took him to the hospital in Maryville. The doctor who examined him said his liver had ceased to function, and Hollis brought back a dead baby. He was buried in our mother’s casket.

We were able to hire an elderly woman as a housekeeper. However, she had a grandson whose wife died in childbirth, so she had to leave us and keep house for him. We tried to keep a housekeeper, but some of the young girls were not very reliable. Curtis and Vera moved our Maytag washer to their place, and Vera did the washing for both families. When I came home on weekends, I did the ironing as well as other work. We didn’t want Grandma to be in the house alone because we burned wood in the stove, and we were afraid she might get herself on fire. I offered to resign my job and come home to keep house, but Dad would not hear of it. He was not very well himself and needed a man to help him. Dad was not a very good cook and depended on fried eggs for most of his meals when we didn’t have anyone to do the cooking. He was a good hand at washing dishes though, and I knew there would not be a lot of dirty dishes when I came home on the weekend.

Florence taught for 14 years and decided to take off a year. At the end of that time, she married a widower who had a son who was about 16 years old.[15] Hollis and Helen had another baby boy who was a precious child, very smart.[16] In the meantime I encouraged Dad to marry again. I guess I helped him pick out his wife. She had been a widow for a number of years and had a daughter who was a senior in high school and a son who was in the eighth grade.[17] I readily turned over the home duties to her. She was very good to Grandma who had now passed her 88th birthday.

Grandma enjoyed having her grandchildren around her. Her daughter Annie had married Noah Williams, who was a brother to Jake Williams who had married Isabel. I never heard her mention Noah much, but she did say that he was mean to Annie. Annie died young.[18] Rella married Frank Campbell. People were going to the West in those days. They first went to Canada but then moved to the state of Washington. They had two children, Marie and Walter. Their mother died when they were young. Grandma had made one trip to visit them before Rella died.[19]

Uncle Elvis and his wife had four daughters and one son. The girls were all older than I was. Lawrence was several months younger than I.[20] He was about four years older than my brother Curtis, but they were good friends. When their older girls were old enough to go to high school, they moved to Albany. Uncle Elvis could not get work there so when our house was remodeled in the summer of 1916, Uncle Elvis came up to work on the house, and went home on weekends. Later, they came back to the farm and Uncle Elvis put in a corn crop. This time, they moved to Grant City and Grandma kept house for Uncle Elvis until he got his corn harvested. George and Elvis then rented more land together, and the Elvis Seat family moved into a larger house there. Their two older girls were married by then, and didn’t finish high school. One of my great nieces asked what a girl did if she didn’t go to high school. My best answer was that there were always younger brothers or sisters for her to help with. If she was one of the younger girls in the family, she would have older sisters who were married and she would help with their children.

Grandma was free to admit that George was her favorite child. She thought it too bad that poor George had to work so hard to send the girls to high school. Florence was a better student than I was because I was sick quite a bit. When we were in high school, they offered a class in teacher training. After taking the course and taking an examination, we could get a certificate to teach for two years. For the next few years, we taught in the winter months and went to Maryville to take college classes during the summer.

Florence taught three years in a country school and then went to college two years to finish getting her degree.[21] She then got a job teaching in the high school in Hopkins, Mo. She then went to Gower, Mo., and taught there three years. She insisted that I finish my degree and loaned me money to finish. The years of the 1930s were hard times on the farmers. Florence loaned our father money. Many of the farmers in that neighborhood lost their farms as they had borrowed too much money that they could not repay. Dad said that he would have lost the farm if Florence had not loaned him money.

When Grandma was past 80 years old, if someone asked her age, she would say, ”I’ll be 84 on the second day of October.” Then she would ask if that was right. She was past her 88th birthday when Dad married Alma Parsons. She was still fairly active. However, one day she stepped off a step outside the kitchen door and sat down rather hard. We got her into bed and called the local doctor. She didn’t have any broken bones, but her 88-year-old body had received quite a shock. Dad, Alma, and I watched over her the night she died. It was June 14, 1941. She had outlived my mother more than three years. I felt sure that her greeting in heaven was, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant enter now into the joy of the Lord.”[22]


[1] Samuel Robert Clark was born in Perry County, Illinois, on August 27, 1830, and died in Worth County, Missouri, on May 23, 1907. He and Elizabeth Ramsey married on January 3, 1851. She was born in St. Clair County, Ill., on January 3, 1832, and died in Worth County on January 25, 1916. Rachel Jane, their first child, was born on October 2, 1852, in Perry County.

[2] William Alva Clark was born on August 27, 1854, and died on August 14, 1896, and is buried back in Du Quoin, Ill. Emma Rebecca Clark was born on February 21, 1861, and died on March 22, 1937, and is buried in New Hope Cemetery in Worth County, Mo., as are her parents and her sister Rachel.

[3] At this time, James Henry (Jim) Lane (1814~66) was a U.S. Senator from Kansas and also a brigadier general of volunteers for the Union. Lane was the target of the event of August 21, 1863, that became known the Lawrence Massacre (or Quantrill’s Raid). It was largely in retaliation for what is known as the Lane-led Sacking of Osceola (Missouri),  on September 23, 1861. The Clark family’s encounter with the Lane supporters was sometime between those two events.

[4] William Littleton Seat was born on October 15, 1849, in the part of Gentry County, Mo., that later became Worth County. His grandfather, Littleton, was born in Virginia in 1788 and around the turn of the century migrated with his birth family to Davidson County, Tennessee. Then around 1820, Littleton and two of his brothers migrated to Cooper County, Missouri. He died in what was still Gentry County, Mo., on July 25, 1845. Grandson William Littleton and Rachel Jane Clark were married on November 5, 1870.

[5] Two years and a half before Littleton was born, on April 13, 1786, Henry and Miles, his older brothers, were killed by a 13-year-old slave boy named Clem. Henry was nine and a half years old, and Miles would have turned five the next day. It seems quite certain that the Seat family brought slaves with them when they migrated to Tennessee. But there is no indication that Littleton or the two brothers who came to Missouri with him brought any slaves with them. Later on, Littleton’s nephews in Cooper County became Union soldiers.

[6] Littleton’s first child was named Franklin Wadsworth; he was born on March 21, 1818 and died on June 21, 1905. The land for the church and the adjoining cemetery was given in 1877, and the first person to be buried there was Franklin’s mother, Elizabeth (Montgomery). She was born on June 19, 1795, and died on March 8, 1878. Franklin’s brothers were James Thomas (1851~1919), John Henry (1855~82), Joseph Riley (1863~1942), and Samuel Jasper (1865~81). Franklin also had threesisters: Sarah Elizabeth (1845~58), Mary Ann (1848~81; married John Alder), and Icyphena Jane (1860~1901; married a Kent).

[7] Isabel Tempe was born on September 9, 1871; Anna (Annie) M. was born in February 1873; Elvis Irvin was born on August 1, 1875; George Sylvester was born on January 20, 1878; and Rella Ruemma was born in January 1881.

[8] Isabel married Jacob Theodore (Jake) Williams (1867~1951) on February 7, 1889. Leslie Ernest was born in1890 and died in 1969.

[9] George married Laura Magdalena Neiger (born in Worth County on March 24, 1881) on April 28, 1904. Her father was Christian Leopold Neiger (born in Switzerland in 1840) and her mother was Margaret Abplanalp (born in Indiana in 1840).

[10] Florence Margaret Seat was born on March 30, 1905, and Mary Rachel Seat was born on May 30, 1907. Their parents’ farm was a little over four miles southeast of Allendale in the Dry school district. It was about eleven miles to the county seat town of Grant City—which was quite a distance when the dirt roads were muddy.

[11] His was a serious leg injury that resulted in amputation at the knee. Leslie sustained that injury on the first morning he was sent into battle. When someone remarked about his unfortunate injury happening so soon, he replied that he was actually fortunate, for those who were not injured that morning were killed that afternoon.

[12] Actually, the distance from the Seat home to New Hope Church was less than two miles, but it must have seemed like three miles when they had to walk there. And the church was not as far away as the Dry School that the Seat children attended.

[13] Curtis Neiger Seat was George and Laura Seat’s third child. He was born on April 8, 1912, and married Vera Clarabelle Hardy (1913~2008) on April 8, 1934. He died on June 12, 1981.

[14] Hollis Clark Seat, born on March 21, 1915, was the fourth and last of the Seat children. He married Helen Lena Cousins (1914~2008) on May 12, 1935. She was the daughter of Ray and Laura Cousins. Their baby boy was named Gary Louis. Hollis died on July 26, 2007.

[15] Florence married LeRoy Houts (1893~2953) on September 23, 1940. His son was James Lyle (1925~2016).

[16] Leroy Kay Seat was born on August 15, 1938.

[17] George married Alma Parsons (1893~1958) on February 18, 1941. Her children were Elizabeth June (1922~92, married Donald Hartchen) and Robert Roy (1927~2005).

[18] Annie married Noah Richard Williams (1869~1958) were married on March 17, 1892. Annie died on January 12, 1905, and is buried in New Hope Cemetery.

[19] Rella and Frank Arthur Campbell (1882~1971) were married on August 10, 1903. Their daughter was Marie Edna (1904~76), and their son was Walter C. (1906~83). Rella died on February 26, 1912.

[20] Elvis and Matilda A. Hill (1879~1959) were married on September 30, 1897. Their children were Sidney Vera (1899~1987; married Henry Delroy Dickey), Averil Inez (1901~82; married Herbert Everett Morris), Annie Martha (1903~92; married William Kenneth Spreckelmeyer), Lillian Violet (1906~2000; married Allan Harold Barringer), and Lawrence Littleton (1908~88).

[21] Florence’s first school was the Neiger School, two miles east of Denver, Missouri. That school was named after her maternal grandfather, Christian Leopold Neiger, and near where her mother lived as a girl. Florence died on November 8, 1976.

[22] Mary Rachel Seat died on April 4, 2000, and is buried in New Hope Cemetery as are her mother and father as well as Grandma Rachel and Grandpa William.

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Memoir Pages

 

The following articles were first posted as blog articles. However, in order to arrange them in chronological order, I have now put them on “pages” and linked to them below. There were a few comments, and they have been copied and pasted under the titles.

Retirement Commemoration – 2005

Last Lecture — July 15, 2004

“Certificate of Commendation” – 1999

Dozier Film – 1986

ABGTS Trustees Meeting – 1986

Hayama Seminar – 1978

First Japanese Sermon without a Manuscript – 1970

On Top of Mt. Fuji – 1967 

Baptist World Alliance – 1965

“Ocean Closed” – 1965

Beginning a New Pastorate – 1959

On Jan. 15, 2017, my daughter Kathy wrote, “It sounds like you have been living an organized, methodical life your whole life! I am glad to have had your example of a disciplined life as an example.” Then about an hour later my son Keith commented: “It’s touching to see this and think of all you’ve done since! Fun to see your actual entry and recognize your handwriting, despite how young you were!” Then the next day my daughter Karen wrote, “You & Mom were so young! Wonderful to have records of all of this.”

The Life of a Young Pastor – 1958

Student World Missions Conference – 1956

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Happy New Year 2017

{Here is the text for our New Year’s Greeting. To see pictures with the text, click here.}

Dear Family and Friends,

As the beginning of the New Year, we are sharing some of the highlights of our year in 2016.

Our Daily Life: We enjoy our lively Rainbow Mennonite Church, where Leroy serves as a deacon and June is chair of the Welcoming Committee. We are part of some discussion groups that gives us a good chance to read and share ideas with friends. Being near Kansas City and also the Truman Library, we have many interesting learning opportunities, more than we have time or energy for. Leroy spends much of his time researching and writing his blog articles. June still enjoys her flowers and writing family history stories. In the spring, with the help of Kathy and Tim, she started a new butterfly garden, and is still growing milkweed and other flowers to encourage the monarchs on their trips north and south.

February: June spent two weeks in Silver Spring, Md., with Ken, Naomi (12), and Natalie (6), while Mina was with her family in Japan. She enjoyed baking with the Girls for their birthdays. She also loved being with Keith, Brenda, and with Lauren and her Jeff. It is very nice that our two sons and their families live so close together.

March: Luckily for us, David von Drahle, an editor-at-large of Time magazine, lives in Kansas City, and we had the opportunity to hear him speak three times this year. The first time was at William Jewell College’s Achievement Day Dinner, just after he had interviewed Donald Trump on his airplane for a cover story for Time.

April/May: On April 23 we set out for Japan. We landed in Tokyo and then flew up to Sendai where we visited our beloved Kaneko family. They pastored Hirao Baptist Church during our early years in Japan. A local pastor drove us to the scene where the devastating tsunami occurred five years ago. It is heartbreaking to see the long list of people who perished. Red tulips had been set out and were blooming inside the empty foundations of former homes: a sign that life will go on.

Our friends Ron and Lydia Hankins again graciously shared their home with us during those wonderful days in Fukuoka. A blur of happy gatherings with old and new friends occupied our time for the two weeks we had there.

June enjoyed being with Active Parenting leaders and friends during that time. June taught the first AP group in 1986, and is very happy it is now available across Japan. Leroy’s Toishikai, an alumni group of Seinan students who have kept in touch through the years had a lovely gathering for us. Then the big event was the 100th celebration for the founding of Seinan Gakuin, the school system where Leroy served for 36 years as professor, including eight years chancellor. We so appreciate the precious memories our friends in Japan helped create for us.

We arrived back in Liberty just in time to welcome our Kids and Grandkids from Maryland and Arizona who came for the wedding of Kathy and Tim’s daughter Katrina to Ryan Hlousek. Leroy was honored to perform their meaningful service in a lovely outdoor setting.

June: On the 6th we set out for Maryland, stopping in Indiana to visit Tootsie Lamkin, a friend we first met in 1959 when we moved to Ekron, Kentucky. She was a leader in our church there, besides being a great encourager to a young pastor and his family (us!). In Washington, D.C., we met up with Karen and Carl where she was attending a conference. Then we joined the rest of the family to celebrate the wedding of Keith and Brenda’s daughter, Marian, to Chris Mulligan in a sweet service at Seekers Church near Silver Spring. This was the first time all seven of our grandchildren had been together, so we are happy to have a snapshot of that.

July: We watched both the Republican and Democratic Conventions, and were thrilled to welcome our first woman candidate for the Democratic Party. We went to Rondo, June’s childhood church to attend the funeral of a long-time friend, Connie Baldwin, who was the victim of a tragic car wreck.

August/September: For the second year we were bothered by the oak mites in Liberty and others places close by. We attended a Democratic meeting and began to think of November.

October: Leroy’s Uncle True Cousins passed away, and we drove to Huntsville (near Houston) for the funeral. It was good to be with his wife Esther and to visit with Leroy’s cousins and many of their children and grandchildren whom we had never met. Then we headed toward Tucson, where we spent a week with Karen, Rob, and Carl (9). Highlights were: some time with Karen; June baking cornbread and cake with Carl, who really enjoys cooking; and visiting Rob’s wonderful art room where he teaches in a Tucson high school. His students had done beautiful work which he had on display around his specious room. On the 18th we met Karen and Carl at his school, had a treat with Karen at her favorite Starbucks, and then headed back to Missouri, where we continued in our campaigning efforts for Hillary.

November: We enjoyed having Kikuko Fukuoka, our long-time friend from Fukuoka, visit us—and we enjoyed visiting an Amish community together. On November 8 we cast our ballots for what we thought would be the first woman President. June thought about her Grandmother Ethel and others who had worked so hard to win women even the right to vote. Needless to say, we were shocked by the results.

December: We had a fun Christmas Day with Kathy and Tim and their wonderful children. Katrina and Ryan came from Springfield and David from Rolla, Mo. Katrina and Ryan graduated from Southwest Baptist University in May. She is now a teacher at Carthage, Mo., and he is a counselor for business students at Missouri State University in Springfield. David is in his second year at Missouri University School of Science and Technology where he is an electrical engineering major.

We look forward to being cozy under our new blanket, warmed by the love of our children and grandchildren, whose names you see on it. Our hearts are also warmed by your friendship, and we pray that 2017 will be a year of peace and good will for you and yours.

Love,

Leroy & June

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Swords into Plowshares

[The following is the manuscript for the short (8 min.!) sermon I gave Sunday, Jan. 13, at Rainbow Mennonite Church. The Bible readings to which the message was related are Isaiah 2:2-4, Matthew 5:38-45a; Romans 12:17-18.]

We have been blessed this morning by the stories our fellow church members have shared about their journey to and/or for peace.

I was asked to share along the same lines, but I don’t have much to say in that regard for when I was still in high school, partly influenced by Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the 18th century German Pietist, I decided that because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings as found in the Bible (such as what was read this morning) I should be a pacifist. And that has been my position for more than 55 years now.

Considerably before my 18th birthday I responded to what I believe was God’s call to become a Christian minister, and I was so employed after my first year of college, when I was still 17. Thus, I received a ministerial exemption from the draft and was never subject to the possibility of entering military service.

It was only in the early 1970s, though, that I became significantly aware of the Anabaptist tradition of pacifism. That was largely through reading Arthur Gish’s book The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970). Through the years I became more and more an admirer of the Anabaptists, partly, but not entirely, because of their position on pacifism. That admiration culminated with my becoming a member of this church, and a Mennonite, in July of last year.

The Scripture reading this morning from the prophet Isaiah about turning swords into plowshares is a particularly apt one for Mennonites, who have historically been primarily an agrarian people. I can identify with that, too, for I grew up on a farm, and the Seat family in Missouri were mainly farmers ever since they migrated to the state around 1820.

Less than two years ago, in April 2011, I saw a very impressive sculpture on the top floor of the Court House in Liberty, where I live. It is the “Plowshare Sculpture,” done by Arlie J. Regier and presented to Clay County in 1990. Little did I know then that the following year I would be a member of the same church as Arlie.

This Tuesday is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and a week from tomorrow is the national holiday celebrating his birth and life. I have recently read the essay about King titled “The Inconvenient Hero.” That essay was written by Vincent Harding. Many of you probably know of Harding, an African-American who was born in Harlem in 1931: he is a scholar, a writer, an activist—and a Mennonite.

Two years ago, in May 2011, Dr. Harding was in a panel discussion at the University of Arkansas. The topic was “Turning Swords into Ploughshares: The Many Paths of Nonviolence.” The other two panelists were the Dalai Lama and Sister Helen Prejean, whose story is told in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking.”

When he was in his early 20s, Harding was drafted into the army. In his talk at UA he explained how he “was taught how to slash out another human beings’ bowels.” He went on to say, “I kept hearing the song ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.’” But, he lamented, he and other soldiers were being trained “to cut their guts out because that is what your government tells you to do.” “At that point,” he said “essentially I became a conscientious objector.”

While King is best remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he became more and more vocal in his opposition to the war in Vietnam as well as in his advocacy for those living in poverty in this nation.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, King spoke at the Riverside Church in New York City. Harding is said to have been the ghost writer for that powerful speech, which was titled “A Time to Break Silence”—and he was talking about breaking silence regarding opposition to the war in Vietnam.

I don’t remember having read that speech before doing so this past week. I also found myself a bit chastised, for among other things King said, “I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors.” Of course, I was already living in Japan at that time; but even though I was opposed to war, and especially the war in Vietnam, I had never considered doing that.

Just twelve days after his noteworthy speech at Riverside Church, King preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Please listen carefully to the ending of that marvelous sermon (and this brief meditation). King declared,

I have not lost faith; I’m not in despair because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. I can still sing “We Shall Overcome,” because Carlysle was right. No lie can live forever. We shall overcome because William C. Bryant was right, truth crushed to the earth, will rise again. We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell was right. Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the Bible is right, you shall reap what you sow.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to go out to transform the jangling discord of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lay down together. And every man will sit under his own pine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, because the word of the Lord has spoken.

With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at Last, Free at Last, thank God, almighty, we’re free at last.” With this faith . . . . Men will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not rise up against nations; neither shall they study war any more.”

May it be so!

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“The Long Walk Home”

The Long Walk Home is a 1990 film starring Whoppi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. Friday evening June and I watched it for the second (or maybe the third) time, and we thoroughly enjoyed it again.

The film is set in Montgomery, Alabama, during the 1955 bus boycott in that city. The title of the movie comes, of course, from the fact that Odessa, Whoppi’s character, and all the African-Americans in Montgomery refused to ride the buses after the Rosa Parka incident, so for many of them every way involved the long walk home after work.Image

The movie is partly about the growing sympathy for the African-Americans in Miriam, Sissy’s character, for whom Odessa worked as the maid (like those in “The Help”). That, of course, caused tension between Miriam and her husband.

As we were watching the movie, I asked June why we didn’t have more knowledge of, and interest in, the Montgomery bus boycott when it was going on. But we were college freshmen then, and we had other things on our minds–like each other. (The fall of 1955 is when we stated dating.)

If you haven’t seen this film, or seen it recently, I would highly recommend it. It is perhaps especially meaningful to watch right at this time in memory of Treyvon Martin, the black teenager in Florida who was recently shot and killed.

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“The Orthodox Heretic”

Parker Artz, an outstanding student at William Jewell College, spoke in Chapel there last month. Thanks to Parker, whom I have the privilege of knowing personally, I learned about the Irish theologian Peter Rollins.

Rollins (b. 1973) is lecturer and theologian/philosopher who is associated with the emerging church movement and postmodern Christianity. He is also the founder of the experimental collective Ikon.

A couple of days ago I finished reading his thought-provoking book The Orthodox Heretic (2009), and just today I started reading his How (Not) to Speak of God (2006). I have just purchased his book called Insurrection: To Believe is Human To Doubt, Divine (2011) to read soon.

The former book is a collection of 33 parables/stories followed by a commentary. They all have a bit of a different twist from what Christian writers usually say. For example, Rollins’ 13th chapter is “The Prodigal Father,” an interesting twist where it is the father that goes missing; it deals with the problem of people who feel abandoned by God.

“The Unrepentant Son” is a bit of a different “take” on the parable of the prodigal son. Rollins writes, “Religious groups have always loved repentant sinners. After all, there is nothing quite like parading a repentant sinner in church for inspiring the faithful.
“But what if Jesus had an infinitely more radical message than this? What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would forgive before some condition was met?” (p. 147).

With so much emphasis on story-telling in preaching now, The Orthodox Heretic should give preachers, youth workers, and other speakers some good stories to consider and perhaps to use.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Rollins writes, but I highly recommend his thought-provoking book.

 

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“Thurgood”

This evening June and I watched the delightful one man play “Thurgood,” made for HBO in 2011 and released last month on DVD. Laurence Fishburne does a wonderful job portraying the life story of Thurgood Marshall (1908-93), who was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991.

Marshall, pictured on the left, was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. Before serving on the Court, he was best known for the victory in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

On the front of the Supreme Court Building are the words, “Equal Justice Under Law,” and according to the movie that was Marshall’s lifelong quest for the African-Americans in the U.S.

As this is Black History Month, if you haven’t yet seen “Thurgood,” I would highly recommend that you try to see it this month, or whenever you can manage to do so. It is well worth seeing at any time.

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A Good Word for Paul

This morning I have posted “A Good Word for Paul” on my The View from this Seat blog. The link is http://theviewfromthisseat.blogspot.com/2012/01/good-word-for-paul.html

Today, January 25, is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, and the decisive vision of Paul is graphically depicted in this painting of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610):

 

 

 

 

 

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Amish Novels

Since we have started attending a Mennonite church, I have become more interested in learning more about the Amish, the Mennonites’ conservative cousins. In that connection, I have just finished reading a second novel, in the last two months, with Amish characters.

I picked up Sarah’s Sin (1992 by Tami Hoag) on the exchange bookcase at Rockhurst University last month. It turned out to be a romance novel, the kind of book I don’t usually read, but I was impressed by the sensitive way the differences between the Amish Sarah and the “English” doctor she fell in love with was presented. And the beliefs and practices of the Amish community were treated quite respectfully, too.

Then a couple of days ago I finished Mindy Starns Clark’s Shadows of Lancaster County (2009). While it may not be great literature, I found it to be a very enjoyable read. And, again, I was impressed by how respectfully the Amish characters in the book are treated. (The central character in the book is not Amish, but several others are.)

Although a novel, Shadows has a couple of direct references to the tragic shooting in the Amish schoolhouse several years ago.  (Last year we watched “Amish Grace,” 2010, the made-for-television movie about that shooting, and thought it was quite well done.)

It is interesting to see how in recent years the Amish, who have long been widely considered such a oddity, are making more and more of a positive Christian witness in American society. Maybe they are being like salt of the earth, just like Jesus said his followers are to be.

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“The Work of Christmas”

My new posting on The View From This Seat blog is “The Work of Christmas,” about the poem by that name written by Howard Thurman, the distinguished theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. I invite you to read and to reflect on Thurman’s poem posted at http://theviewfromthisseat.blogspot.com/2011/12/work-of-christmas.htm.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

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