Undivided

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Listen to “Undivided” by Fred Smith

 

Two devoted friends and brilliant minds — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — fell out with each other over politics, personal slights and both feeling betrayed by the other. The feud not only embittered both, causing them to abandon all correspondence and relationship of any kind for many years, but divided friends and admirers. What a loss to the country.

In 1809 a mutual signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, had a dream about the two former Presidents, wrote it down, and sent it to both men. In the dream he saw the alienated statesmen renew their friendship and begin corresponding with each other. John Adams, again in the dream, addressed a short letter to Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson responded. These two brief letters were “followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country.” Both Jefferson and Adams politely but separately acknowledged their friend’s account of the dream and thought no more about it.

Three years later, at Rush’s urging, Thomas Jefferson sent a very tentative letter to John Adams who responded with a guarded reply. One letter followed another until John Adams wrote to Jefferson on July 15, 1813: “Never mind it, my dear Sir, if I write four letters to your one; your one is worth more than my four…You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

I am still moved when I read those lines. Bitter enemies prodded by a friend’s dream are brought back together for the last several years of their lives until they die  – both on the same day and only three hours apart: July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Reverend Edward Everett, the president of Harvard, delivered an oration in remembrance of the two in which he noted the great impact on America of their influence, both before and after their reconciliation: “Forgetting the little that had divided them and cherishing the communion of service and peril and success which had united, they walked with honorable friendship the declining pathway of age; and now they have sunk down together in peace into the bosom of a redeemed and grateful country…They were useful, honored, prosperous, and lovely in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided.”

The Tie That Binds

The most moving communion scene I know is the closing of Robert Benton’s “Places in the Heart.” Set in rural Texas during the Depression, the film ends with people passing bread cubes and tiny cups of grape juice down the pews. Following the sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 and then accompanied by the hymn “In the Garden” a woman passes the elements to her cheating husband. Ku Klux Klan members share bread and juice with a black man they assaulted. A sheriff, killed at the start of the film quietly passes the bread and cup to the young black man who shot him, saying, “The peace of Christ.”

Yes, it is only a movie but there is truth buried deep and beyond words in that act of communion. There is something fundamental we share that cannot be destroyed by our sinning and being sinned against. There is a tie that binds whether we recognize it or not.

I attended the funeral of a man deeply respected and loved by everyone in our community. I realized something similar was happening to us that morning. Maybe it is the nature of a small town but we all sat there together in spite of our differences, racial divisions, histories of broken relationships, years of political rancor and falling out over trivial and serious misunderstandings. There were people in the same pew who had not spoken to each other in decades. Former partners and ex-spouses. Disgraced leaders and pillars of the community there together. In that moment I thought perhaps reconciliation and redemption is possible, if only for a short time. Maybe there is something to the power of a dream and the necessary hope to wait and prod and believe as Dr. Rush did that there is still a chance to “discover the magnanimity known only to great minds” that will heal our wounds so that in our deaths we will not be divided. Maybe there is someone for each of us to whom we might say, “You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

I know there is for me.

Photo by Fred Smith

”Where The Light Divides” can be purchased here

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Showing 14 comments
  • Avatar
    Doug Birdsall
    Reply

    Beautiful! The reconciling power of the gospel.

    Thank you, Fred.

    “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Doug. It’s nothing short of a miracle, isn’t it?

  • Avatar
    Doug Stepelton
    Reply

    AMEN FRED..

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Doug. I trust your family is safe and together.

  • Avatar
    Walter Hansen
    Reply

    Thank you, Fred, for your encouragement to seek healing in broken relationships torn apart by my angry responses to loved ones when we disagree about issues that are ultimately insignificant compared to the eternal love of God that binds us together forever.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Walter. Paul said it all in Philippians, didn’t he? “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.“

  • Avatar
    David Spence
    Reply

    Loved your photo of the full church. What church is that?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      That is Marvin United Methodist in Tyler.

  • Avatar
    Kim Beckham
    Reply

    Beautiful and powerful post. I too have sat in a funeral service that contained members of opposite sides of a earlier church split. I remember marveling about how “those people” who we couldn’t begin to understand, would be the very people we would someday be together in eternity. I am going to try to have the courage to reach out to those I need to explain myself too before I die.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Kim – As soon as I hit the “send” button I thought about the danger of this blog sounding “preachy” and being prescriptive. I didn’t want people to feel I am pointing a finger at them. That said, any shred of the peace of Christ you, me and others can encourage is a good thing. No other peace really matters. Thank you for being an agent of peace in our community.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    This story is one I have heard for years, and pondered several times. It’s almost too good to be true, particularly the end of the story, with the two dying almost simultaneously, on the Fourth of July, for Pete’s sake. Disneyesque. But the real power is that most all of us have been there, in conflict with someone we both love and hate, torn apart by circumstance or dispute.
    A pastor’s life is filled with a list of those folks, people you love but the heat of battle has torn the fabric of connection.
    In a much less dramatic way, we all have folks that we love and are connected with through bonds of affection that have simply drifted away.
    I have been prompted to use this odd time of Corona to reach out to those folks and reconnect. My small efforts have yield much fruit, for me, and I hope, for them.
    Places in the Hearts final scene is transformational. The way the scene is shot accentuates the surprise of the Gospel when it occurs. I used that movie in youth retreats for years, with the drama piercing the budding cynicism of the captive adolescents. I also used To Kill and Mockingbird, Cool Hand Luke, and Godspell to bring the message of love and connection to these kids. I don’t play fair in such matters.
    Thanks for the reminder, Rabbi.

  • Avatar
    Julie Sulc
    Reply

    Yes, one of the greatest miracles of all is the unity that God can bring, reconciling us to himself and one another. Thank you for that vision, inspired by a trip through recent and farther distant history.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Julie. It is one of the best stories in American history.

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