What's Tony Thinking

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning


“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” is one of the great gospel spirituals. It has also been recorded by a number of blues and blue grass groups, including the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

It is based on Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1 – 13). In that parable half of the bridesmaids prepared enough oil for their lamps and the long, midnight wait for the bridegroom’s arrival. The other half did not. Their lamps burned out. The parable takes an interesting turn when the five who have run out of oil ask the other five to share theirs.

Sharing is good, right? Christians are supposed to share. Not here, not in this parable. The wise ones say no. They respond to the demand of the foolish by telling them to go find an oil dealer and buy their own. Which suggests to me that there are some things in life we have to take care of for ourselves, some things we can’t depend on others to do for us. We each have to do our own work.

Anyhow, the spiritual based on the parable is a great song of encouragement for the long haul and the dark night. It’s a call to keep faith and hope alive when it’s not easy to do. Generally pertinent for living in the present times, wouldn’t you say?

For one reason or another, this spiritual has been echoing in my mind and heart as the gun debate unfolds with new urgency after the Parkland, Florida shootings. Thank heavens for the new generation of leadership emerging from a generation with a terrible, but true moniker, “The School Shooting Generation.”

Making progress on this issue is going to require a combination of urgency and patience. Urgency — we got to get on this right now. Patience — this is going to take time. (That U/P combination applies to almost everything worth doing, by the way.)

From my reading and listening there appear to be three essential measures to focus on: outlawing assault rifles (which was done once before with good results), requiring universal (not “comprehensive”) background checks for gun purchase, and eliminating high-capacity ammunition magazine sales. Just this morning news arrived that Dick’s Sporting Goods has taken two of these three steps on its own.

I agree with those who have said the right approach on this issue is that of public health, not a culture wars, blue vs. red showdown. As a public health issue the point is not to try to eliminate guns and their legitimate uses, but to make us all — and particularly schoolchildren — safer.

Trump’s repeated suggestion to arm school teachers, besides being fundamentally obscene, is a classic of the band-aid solution genre. In the old story, bruised and battered people keep floating down the river. Their wounds are bandaged by those who find them. More and more keep coming. Then someone has the bright idea of traveling upstream to see who or what is causing the injuries and change things there. Don’t give guns to teachers in classrooms, head upstream and keep people from having assault rifles.

Nationwide, “March for our Lives” are being planned for March 24. The Seattle March will start from Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill. The marches are important, and yes the adults do belong in back. The kids in the lead. But it will take more than marches. It will take long-haul persistence. It will take Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning. In the meantime, here’s another version I like from the women’s blue-grass band, Red Molly. Enjoy!


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