If a tree falls in the forest
and there is no one around to hear it,
does it make a sound?
If the forest is Sequoia National Park
and the fallen tree is a Giant Redwood,
then someone heard it fall.
Rev James Cleveland
w/ I Don’t Believe He Brought This Far (To Leave Me)
THE FALL OF A GIANT REDWOOD TREE
by Kendall F. Person
So much has happened since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck, containing 4800 pounds of explosives in downtown Oklahoma City. Much has changed since, technology being most prominent, yet the evolution of American politics into imaginary fiefdoms, that carry real life bounty and consequences, is gaining ground. And with a list of atrocities, compiling with intense velocity, perhaps a moment of silence and a reminder, that we lost a war we had no idea we were fighting, even though the assailant was born of the type of homegrown hate, that threatens to spiral out of control today.
The bomb’s explosion was felt some 16 miles a way in Norman and was tantamount to a 3.0 earthquake. It took out 16 downtown city blocks, causing $635,000,000.00 in damages, injured nearly 700 people and of the 168 confirmed dead, 19 were children. But it was the Civil Servants, employed by the US Government, thereby employees of the people, that were truly under attack. The White Nationalists that backed McVeigh, scored a direct hit on nearly a dozen of our Federal Institutions and Agencies: 3 branches of the Armed Forces: Army, Navy and the Marines; 3 branches of Law Enforcement: the FBI, Customs and Drug Enforcement; along with Housing, Agriculture, General Services, Transportation and Social Security, all suffered casualties. Combined with the civilians the skyrocketing death toll rocked America to its core. And lest we forget the undercurrent, how vulnerable and raw and exposed we felt, that the bullseye was in the heartland of America. Yet many of us do not sense the immediate dangers of an American President, raging an internal war.
The bombing was so devastating, that an international community – including the PLO, Iran and Russia – messaged in their condolences and offers of help. It was a collective American heartbreak. The suspect had been arrested for speeding only 90 minutes after detonation, so since there were no boogeymen to blame and give false chase, we were allowed to grieve and heal as one nation in mourning.
The televised memorial was must see tv, but not in the today’s-choose-a-side-ridicule-and battle-type of way. OKC was a National Tragedy, that actually was treated accordingly. And while the politicians were there – the Governor and President & First Lady Clinton respectfully front and center – it was not the politicians who were tasked with or looked upon for leadership or spiritual guidance. Many believers – for the first time – began to question “Why God?” and the responsibility to help heal a nation, by fortifying its faith fell on the shoulders of The Reverend Dr. Billy Graham.
“There are lessons to be learned in the suffering….
but I have to accept by faith, that God is a God of love.”
– Billy Graham, Oklahoma City Memorial
He was an old man by then, but even watching from the television screen thousands of miles away, and either because of or in spite of an unapologetic delivery, based on the teachings of his Christian faith, I could feel his conviction as his words washed over a grieving nation. There was neither condemnation nor judgements. He spoke with both compassion and fortitude, but it was also clear his message was to everyone, as the underlying thread was of humanity, kindness, community and that no man can rightfully claim the moral authority.
He was well-respected and world renowned as a man of true conviction and continual faith, but I had never heard a speech or a sermon from him until that very day. I had changed religions and churches frequently, in a mostly sincere search for answers. But it was Billy Graham that taught me, those answers may never come, but it was neither a measurement of His grace nor a testament of my faith. In those 8 minutes, Dr. Graham was the shepherd, whose only mission was to lead his flock toward a self-realized salvation. But while the fire of his youth was not on display, he was never far from the brimstone, a controversial building block of ministers that preach the gospel. In a clear and bible-scripted warning, he noted, that we could either find comfort in a shared loss through God or further demonize one another in the acceptance of a false prophet.
Billy Graham neither claimed nor possessed the moral authority. His message of inclusion and love, based on the Gospel of Jesus never altered, regardless of a political or social stature. But it was his views on race that still sets him apart, as he often drew scorn for ministering to mixed crowds.
“Billy Graham inherited a faith in the
American South that had accommodated
itself to white supremacy, but he demonstrated
a willingness to change and turn toward the truth,”
– Rev William J Barber II
We will never agree on the origins of mankind, but we stand on common ground that to believe or not to believe and to what degree – and to follow those beliefs – is based on free will which we all possess.
The magnitude of his respect is best defined when in 1973, during the height of South Africa’s brutally oppressive Apartheid regime, he gained a government concession – a one day lapse of the strict segregation code – allowing him to deliver a sermon to a rare multiracial congregation in Africa. After listening to hours of his sermons, I consider it the most influential by way of bare-knuckles, southern preaching.
The death of Billy Graham even at the age of 99 is seismic, but with so much noise, I nearly missed it, and that would have been a shame. But I realized, when a Giant Redwood falls, it may be its final performance, but it does not define the memory of a purpose driven life. Billy Graham’s legacy and lifetime of service to mankind is akin to the falling of a 2000 year old, 300 foot tall Giant Redwood Tree, whose time at standing guard has passed. Even if his death made no sound, the joyful noise made while living, will forever last.
this is… The Neighborhood
Evil exists and a man’s heart is capable
of almost limitless evil if good does
not pursue the battle. – Billy Graham
A Giant Redwood fell the other day. Rest in Peace Billy Graham. His death leaves me, however with a burning question: Will a spiritual leader rise above the clouds or will societal evils burn the stage to the ground?