Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


"O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from your place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen."

--Prayer for the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, from "Holy Women, Holy Men, p. 527.

"I'd take a bullet for you."

That's a phrase we toss around now and then when we want our friends to know how much we care about them. But on August 14, 1965, Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Daniels took a 12 gauge shotgun blast in Ft. Deposit, Alabama, for 16 year old Ruby Sales, as she walked into a grocery store to get a cold drink. Daniels was there because he felt called to be in Alabama to help African-American residents to register to vote. A man named Tom Coleman threatened people outside the stoor and leveled his 12 gauge shotgun on Ruby Sales. Some accounts say Daniels pushed her down and stepped in front of her; others say he pulled her away. At any rate, the end result was that Daniels got the full force of a 12 gauge shotgun blast to the chest at close range, killing him instantly.

In the beginning, this definitely did not have a happy ending.

Coleman was acquitted by an all-white jury for manslaughter. Ruby Sales was so traumatized by the experience she could not speak properly for seven months, but did manage to speak at Coleman's trial.

But over time, a miracle evolved.

If Ruby Sales had been traumatized forever for what had happened to her, it would have been understandable. But instead, she was transformed by this experience of a stranger laying down his life for her. You can read her biography here. She ended up spending a lifetime in civil rights. I also recommend reading an interview she did in 2005 here. Ruby herself had a calling. It's obvious she was a precocious young woman when you read her bio. She was already enrolled at Tuskeegee at age 16. She was already participating as an organizer in the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee. She was willing to lay down her own life, as well, I believe. But as time passed, as tragic as this episode was on August 14, 1965, it seems it turned out to be what it needed to be. Eventually, Ruby attended the Episcopal Divinity School in MA--the school Jonathan Daniels attended, ultimately choosing not to be ordained, but obviously being called to do all the things that she has done in her life as a called lay person.

I don't think at the time this all happened, Jonathan Daniels had a clue what this moment would do in the life of Ruby Sales. In all honesty, I don't think he thought anything except a man hat pointed a shotgun at a teenage girl, and I think he reacted with that same knee-jerk reaction that many adults would do if a child or a teen were threatened.

It's paradoxical. I believe Jonathan Daniels was called by God to go to Alabama in 1965. But I don't believe he was called to do THIS. I think he just did it out of instinct--the instinct that adults have when caring for their young or any young person in immediate danger. It was just a bigger version of sticking your arm out when you stop quickly at the stoplight with a young passenger in the seat beside you.

Granted, in 1965, it would not be the typical young white male who would have done that for the typical teenage black female. But I don't find it surprising at all, given the sense that he felt called to be there. Once he had submitted to his call, to do what he did, was God-supported instinct.

I think about sometimes how one of the oddities of life is that if a person happens to be in the right place at the wrong time, poof! You're a martyr.

What I am saying is not to denigrate the events that led to his death into nothingness. Far from it. What I am saying is there is something deep within the recesses of human nature that is there that tells us to protect the weak. When you look at photos of Daniels, it's pretty obvious he's no Arnold Schwarzenegger. I doubt he went to Alabama to kick butt and take names. I doubt he had heroism on his mind. I doubt in that split second it took for him to replace Ruby Sales in that line of shotgun fire, he was thinking, "I'll save this black child." I dare say he barely knew what color she was at the moment. I doubt he saw himself as a hero. I doubt he was brave, fearful, or thinking even one second ahead. I imagine that really, he didn't think anything--everything was simply brain-stem reflex.

What always intrigues me about the saints and martyrs, is that really, they are simply no different than us. All of us, at one time or another, try to hide from God our fears that we are "cowards" of some sort. We often are, really, when we have time to roll things around in our head, and stew about them, and compare them to our past misdeeds, and try to make up for them. But then there are times where the heart of a hero or the soul of a martyr just flies out of us. Unfortunately, when this happens in a certain place at a certain time, the results can be tragic. But they are there. When we read about the story of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, I don't think it's useful for us to think "I could/I couldn't do that." We don't know, really, and perhaps we should simply pray that we can live in a world where the question will never be put to the test.

2 comments:

and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen."

You make me cry sometimes...yes you do and your ¨ways¨ of seeing...

L,
L

I'm happy to cry alongside of you, Leonardo. I'm one of those folks who can hold back the tears until someone else lets go, and then we're both a blubbering mess!

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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