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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Ebenezers for our age

Another Angle.Ebenezers for our age during a weekend of remembrance was first published 28 May 2006 in the Hart County News-Herald.
To see other articles by this author, enter "Rev. Joey N. Welsh," or "Another Angle," in the searchbox. The next earlier Another Angle: Small book, brief life, big meaning

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

Verse two of the hymn, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," begins with a biblical citation: "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come..." The Ebenezer of the song is a biblical site referenced in I Samuel 7. The Bible story there describes how Samuel leads the Israelites in sacrifice and prayer for God's help as the forces of the Philistines bear down upon them. God frightens the Philistines into disarray with a barrage of divine thunder; the panicky Philistines are then routed and utterly defeated by the Israelites.

I Samuel 7:12 tells us that Samuel responds in gratitude to this divine intervention by placing a large stone on the spot as a sign of remembrance. He names the place Ebenezer, a Hebrew term meaning "stone of help," saying as he does it, "Thus far has the LORD helped us." Robert Robinson, who wrote the text for "Come, Thou Fount," also felt grateful for God's forgiving guidance in his life, and the words of the hymn were his symbol of remembrance, his stone and reminder.

If people in our own age encounter the word Ebenezer at all, it is as a man's name. The knowledge that an Ebenezer is a remembrance makes it appropriate that Charles Dickens' character, Ebenezer Scrooge, serves as a signal and reminder of Christmas hope and generosity.

An Ebenezer for us in the 21st century need not be a stone or even an individual person. An Ebenezer in this era can be an organization that serves to remind us of vital things. Two such organizations trace their beginnings to May 28, and today is a good time to remember them and the concepts of surpassing merit they uphold.

John Muir (1838-1914) was, among other things, a naturalist, explorer, writer, inventor, and geologist. He was an early advocate of natural preservation through the establishment of parks and the care of river systems and wilderness areas. Born in Scotland, he came to North America and became the best friend that America's natural wonders have ever had. He took long walks -- and I mean LONG. Right after the Civil War he walked 1000 miles from Indiana to south Florida, recording his impressions in his journals all along the way.

Muir visited Horse Cave and Mammoth Cave on that trek. He described Horse Cave as, "...a noble gateway to the birthplace of springs and fountains and the dark treasures of the mineral kingdom." During his lifetime he championed the protection of natural settings across the country, from Kentucky's cave country to California's Yosemite Valley and beyond, even to Alaska.

118 years ago, May 28, 1892, he helped to organize the Sierra Club in San Francisco, where he was elected its first president. Ever since the Sierra Club has served as an Ebenezer to America, reminding us all of the importance of our nation's natural heritage, as well as our responsibility to preserve and protect it.

Several generations later, a British lawyer named Peter Benenson (1921-2005) was stunned to read of the case of two Portuguese students who had been sent to prison. Their crime? They had raised their glasses in a toast to the concept of freedom. Benenson corresponded with David Astor, editor of The Observer newspaper, then wrote an article, "The Forgotten Prisoners," that was published in that paper on May 28, 1961, 49 years ago.

Benenson invited concerned readers to express their reactions. Public response to the article was overwhelming, and the piece was distributed widely, well beyond the readership of the newspaper. Within months, groups of people around the world were writing in support of and advocacy for folks who were viewed as being unjustly imprisoned. This informal network was soon organized into a new structure, Amnesty International (AI). Since then AI has been an Ebenezer, reminding the world of people who are discriminated against or behind bars and often tortured. (Horse Cave native Elizabeth Matera worked in the AI London office in the early 1990's.)

Throughout the years, AI has criticized governments around the globe: the Afghani Taliban, Britain, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Israel, The Democratic Republic of Congo, both Koreas, Russia, Sudan/Darfur, the United States, and Vietnam, among others. Predictably, almost every nation mentioned by AI has accused the organization of bias. Most nations assert that the cases of injustice cited against them have been evaluated unfairly, though few of the countries seriously claim to be as pure as the driven snow. For its efforts, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1977, and it has been vilified by numerous governments.

This is a holiday weekend in America, a time of picnics, gatherings, patriotic observances, and cemetery decorations. It is a sort of Ebenezer time, a national symbol of remembrance and a reminder for us. This weekend is an excellent time also to be reminded of the values of natural conservation and preservation, as well as the call for simple human justice and dignity.

The two organizations that were birthed on May 28, these two latter-day Ebenezers, remind us of ideals that we should cherish, principles that are not only worthy of recognition but also very, very patriotic. Have a happy Memorial Day. In this weekend of remembrance, let's not forget our modern Ebenezers and the truths they illuminate for us.


This story was posted on 2010-05-30 10:13:51
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