High and Lifted Up

Road Leading to High Mountains

Isaiah 6:1: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

I don’t know that many of us think about escalators and elevators. They’re there and we use them, and a few people aside who have claustrophobia or a fear of falling, most of us think they’re convenient. Evensong Bells thinks an elevator in this building would be a gift from God, and while God’s time is best, my hope as someone who plays bells and, as part of the job, schleps cases around when we play in the front of the sanctuary or take our bell songs on the road. It takes either two bell players to carry one of the two largest cases, but Jim Harris can carry both at once. He is one strong man. And here ends the commercial from Evensong.

I’ve always been fond of any device that can transport me to a higher level be it airplane, funicular, ski lift, rescue basket, and of course escalator and elevator. (I’m talking physically being lifted up here–hold on for the spiritual transport. You’re on your own for the emotional version.

Now, if you’re claustrophobia and must avoid elevators, I can’t help you much. But I can do something about fear of an elevator cable snapping as it seems to in the movies and a car packed with people falling to their horrible demise. In our local writing group, Write by the Rails we had a visitor one evening who was an elevator inspector. Normally we go around at the end of the meeting and talk for a few minutes about what we’re doing and what help we may need, if any. When our guest’s turn came up, someone asked about falling elevators such as those we see in disaster movies. His answer was that it’s physically impossible for an elevator in good repair to fall because of the way they’re designed. Think about—how many times is there a story about an elevator falling with multiple fatalities on the news? I can’t ever remember seeing one. Not that that proves anything, but if you find out about such an accident, please let me know.

Escalators fascinated me from an early age. If I had to choose between them and elevators, I would choose the moving steps. The engineering is fantastic, and while you’re more likely to be injured on an escalator, if you tie your shoes, watch where you’re putting your feet and hold on to the handrail, you’ll be fine. (The preceding announcement was brought to you by your mom, who also wants to remind you to wear a raincoat, eat healthy food and not talk to strangers.)

On teacher workdays in elementary and intermediate school, our mom would take my brother Ron and me to what was then called Parkington and now Virginia Square. Parkington was so called because of the large multi-story parking garage behind the multi-story Hecht Company building, whose façade was made up of large glass windows. It was an imposing sight and sported escalators which, while new and made of steel, lacked the soul of the ones in a store at our next stop, McCrory’s in Clarendon. For most of my pre-high school career, they had wooden escalators. I wish I could tell you what kind of wood they used, but I didn’t develop an appreciation for different kinds of wood until high school. The escalators at McCrory’s were old and funky, and our mom would leave us to ride the escalators up and down while we shopped. We would have ridden all day had she not threatened to leave us and see how much we would enjoy walking the thirteen miles to our house in Fairfax. Somehow, we managed to never make that walk, which would have spoiled a nice day of riding elevators.

Now, it seems to me that sometimes God lets us carry the heaviest hand bell cases over all kinds of terrain, including high mountains. At other times, he provides a nice wooden escalator to take us to new heights. And at other times, we have those rapid breathtaking ascents as we do in one of those glass elevators that pop out from the building and we feel there’s nothing holding us up but the floor. All these experiences are part of the journey we’re on, and whether we’re toiling up the mountain on foot or riding in style to the top the God who created us and loves us so much is there with us and ahead of us. Thanks be to God for God’s eternal presence and care!

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A City upon a Hill

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I suppose everyone at this point within listening or viewing distance of mass media has heard about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin fourteen months ago. So much has been written about this case and this trial. I find it difficult to add much to the conversation, except to note that it has been marked by polarization and widely differing opinions and interpretations. Again. We seem to go through this sort of thing every so often, and this makes me sad.

So, what to write? First, I think it notable that most people (myself included) gain their information and draw their conclusions based on mass media, which invariably has some sort of bias. Some outlets claim no bias, but in this world, that’s not possible. I used to tell my students that the important thing was not finding an unbiased source, but being aware of the bias and adjusting one’s conclusions accordingly.

So, we are left with the questions: was George Zimmerman a wannabe cop, an overzealous Neighbor Watch member, a stubborn, irrational young man who lost it on a child? Our younger daughter went to school with him and his brother Robert (she knew Robert better than George), and said they were nice guys from a solid, religious family. Was he a conscientious citizen trying to keep his neighborhood safe who was threatened by a menacing young fellow up to no good? What happened to George, and why?

And, was Trayvon Martin a gangsta thug in a hoodie up to no good? Or was he a child innocently walking home, in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. We will never know the truth of what happened that night. George Zimmerman knows, but he is unlikely to tell all he knows. And Trayvon Martin cannot speak from beyond the grave. More’s the pity.

It seems to me that both young men in this case are victims. Trayvon is more obviously a victim of violence and misplaced anger, but they both are in another sense. Mass media has a tremendous impact on how we see ourselves, and it looks as if both young men bought into some media stereotypes and roles for their age and gender. Perhaps Trayvon was acting like the kids depicted on television, in movies and in video games and music: bad dudes who prize violence and breaking the law. Maybe George had seen one too many Chuck Norris program and saw himself as a citizen upholding the law when the authorities wouldn’t. These are only my theories: the reality is one young man is dead and another’s life has been irreparably chhnged for the worst. And I do mean “worst.” Our daughter days the whole ZImmerman family has received death threats and are afraid to return to their homes.

So, what are we to do?

I think we need to be aware of the influence on mass media on our lives. We need to teach our children how to think critically about what they are exposed to, to make good decisions, and to reject those who counsel paths that lead to destruction. We need to treat each other with respect and love, regardless of our perceived differences. It is possible to have a just and righteous society: it takes a lot of work, and we’re obviously not there yet.

The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony spoke of establishing “a City upon a hill” in the New World, one in which people would live in harmony and peace, with “liberty and justice for all.” In the nearly 400 years since that colony was established, we have made progress toward that ideal. The case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin shows that we still have a way to go. May we continue together on that journey.