Outside the Oklahoma National Memorial Museum is the children’s memorial to honor the children killed. The wall tiles and courtyard were designed by other children. This Jesus statue has its back to the memorial site. A “Survival Tree” at the Museum is about 15’ tall. Some shoots from this tree were given away to a limited number of persons.
By the Rev. Paul Graves
“Why would you want to go to Oklahoma City?”
“You’re going where?”
These questions betrayed a certain attitude about Oklahoma City when some people first discovered that OKC was our destination in March. We went there primarily to visit friends from our seminary days of 50 years ago. But the trip became more in many ways. It seems my eyes, mind and spirit were open to being impacted.
Reflecting on that week, I can identify three “signposts on a journey of woundedness.” Each signpost connects to a place we visited. At some level I found myself touched deeply by what I both saw and realized — “Awareness”, “Vulnerability” and “Solidarity”.
- AWARENESS was my first experience. I found it at the Oklahoma History Center. I discovered that 38 American Indian tribes are connected to Oklahoma in complicated and amazing ways. I don’t know how long it has taken for the history of these indigenous people to be shared more fully within a now dominant white culture. But the extensive and outstanding permanent exhibit in the Oneok Gallery took my inner breath away. Each time I have a chance to learn more about the tenacity and creativity of Native Americans through one another, I become more deeply aware of how our country owes so much of its spiritual strength to an ethnic people who have been disrespected and displaced over and over again. We live with great shame and too little gratitude.
- My next signpost, VULNERABILITY, came at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum — the site of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah Building. I sensed a general vulnerability as we walked among the stylized chairs on the actual bomb site that represented the 168 adults and children who were killed that day. But the particular power of that vulnerability came in waves as we walked through the museum’s dramatic depiction of that horrible day. Sounds of horror and frantic rescue efforts mixed with displays filled with pictures, actual objects retrieved and videos of eyewitnesses. Even as a visitor, I couldn’t wait to get through “that day”, to find somewhere calmer, where I could breathe in longer breaths, where I could feel less vulnerable for myself and the thousands of people who were deeply impacted on April 19, 1995. Yet my spirit was encouraged because of the resiliency and powerful compassion I also saw represented in the survivors and the first-responders. Feeling vulnerable also allowed me to identify as an Oklahoman for those moments.
- On the Sunday we were with our friends, I embraced a signpost of SOLIDARITY. We attended worship at Mosaic UMC. Mosaic is one of three Reconciling Congregations in the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church; plus there are several reconciling classes in various congregations.
I experienced as meaningful and vibrant a worship service as I have in a very long time. We also felt genuinely welcomed by persons of various sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds. We were welcomed as fellow human beings! Isn’t that a novel concept?
A side benefit was to re-connect with an Oklahoma-raised man I hadn’t seen for over 50 years! We were in seminary together for one term; then he transferred to another seminary. He did go into parish ministry for a time, but stepped away when he “came out” as a gay man.
He and his partner happily became members of Mosaic UMC when it became a reconciling congregation. I wondered for 50 years what had become of him. Now I know.
The late Pope John Paul II spoke of SOLIDARITY this way: It is “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people…On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
I suspect he wasn’t ready to officially or easily embrace homosexual persons in solidarity. But I certainly am! And I hope many who read this column are as well.
Well, those are my signposts I discovered on our vacation. What signposts do you discover as you travel — or simply live every day?
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair of the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.