What's Tony Thinking

Places in the Heart


Do you remember the 1984 movie, Places in the Heart? Sally Field was the lead as a young widow trying to keep a farm going with two small kids. The cast also included Danny Glover and Ed Harris.

In the movie there were a number of incidents of violence. As I recall, most but not all racially motivated. At the end of the film the closing scene is a church service. The minister preaches on I Corinthians 13. “Faith, hope and love abide; but the greatest of these is love.” Then there is communion. As communion is shared the people in the pews are joined, one by one, by those who in the course of the story had been lost or killed. A very powerful cinematic moment.

I had a kind of Places in the Heart moment this morning as I preached during our daughter Laura’s service, at Bethel UCC in White Salmon, Washington. The congregation included many people dear to us, from Plymouth Church in Seattle and Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu, as well as others across the country, and newer friends and faces in the Bethel congregation itself.

On “gallery view” I kept seeing the faces of loved ones, near and far — not to mention the gift of leading worship with my daughter. Moreover, the musician at Bethel is Tim Mayer, son of Don and Lynnea Mayer. Don is a longtime colleague. He and Lynn are friends and members of Plymouth for some years, since moving into town and to Horizon House.

So it was a precious moment that no one saw coming. Who knew that we would be gathered in this way by a newish technology — ZOOM — in a time of pandemic, of grief and uncertainty? The faces of loved ones seemed to keep appearing, much as they re-appeared in the pews in Places in the Heart. There, in the film, holy communion transcended time and overcame evil. Ours (it was also communion Sunday at Bethel) transcended not only time, in a sense, but place and the pain and uncertainty of these days. A precious, precious gathering.

This was the second Sunday in a row that I have been a guest preacher via ZOOM. The week before I was at Riverside Church in Hood River Oregon. I’m adjusting to the close camera on the speaker/ preacher, learning to rely less on my manuscript.

That a preacher should prepare a written manuscript was sort of drilled into me long ago. “It’s a sign of respect for your congregation, that you have thought your words and message through.” So we were told. It’s not the only way to do it. I’ve heard some great preachers in more recent years who worked from an outline. But I have noticed that some preachers who don’t prepare a manuscript can wander around quite a while trying to find a place to end and dragging us along until they do so.

Anyhow, there are many moments of grace and beauty amid the current time and its challenges. Another that came our way today was a lovely song, “This Too Shall Pass,” performed by the local musician, Carmen Ficarra, and his daughter, Ivy. Give it a listen, you won’t regret it.



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