The Passions of Our Tribes
The congregation had worked out a system of entering and leaving the church house without having to confront one another. One week the Lacern clan would come early and when the service was over they would wait inside until the Tolands and their supporters left. The following week this would be reversed, with the Tolands coming early and leaving late. The system worked well, but it made it necessary for the members to attend every week; if a family missed more than one Sunday they would lose track of their turn. Since everyone pretended that no such system existed, a person couldn’t just go to his neighbor and ask.
On this Sunday Hugo was not at the top of the steps to welcome the worshipers. In his place was Bryson Lacern. “I'll be delivering the sermon this morning,” he said to each member as they filed in.
When they were in their pew Jamie leaned over to Rachel and said, “Ain't it bad enough we've got to listen to a Lacern in-law every Sunday? Now we've got to listen to a real one?”
“Maybe you'd like to take up the call,” Rachel said.
“Very funny. If he starts preaching about what awful folks us Tolands are I'm getting up and walking out.”
“He won't. And you'll stay right here until the service is over.”
“You got me confused with one of your boys.”
Bryson began the service with a prayer. It was much shorter and to the point than Hugo's would have been and the congregation began to be a little more optimistic. Serina sang two songs and Bryson was ready to deliver his sermon.
He took his place behind the pulpit, aware of every face staring at him. Some faces were friendly, some hostile, some surprised by the sudden turn of events. He reveled in the pride he saw in his mother's face but his joy was tempered by the knowledge that she would judge every word, and that she would not be happy with the theme of his sermon. Love thy neighbor.
“I would like to start with a reading from The Book of Luke, chapter eleven, starting with verse twenty-seven.” A few members of the congregation opened their Bibles to the passage but most kept them closed on their laps, being unable to read.
“Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thy self.”
“But you know, you've always got to be careful when there's a lawyer in the crowd.” There was general laughter and a look of disapproval from his mother. “Lawyers are always trying to weasel out of things. So one of them asked Jesus, 'and who is my neighbor'?'”
He scanned the congregation, keeping Hugo's warning in mind, 'Look on all people equally so they don't think you're singling them out.'
He turned his eyes back to the Bible and read them the story of the Good Samaritan. When he was done he looked up at the crowd.
“So here was this man laying by the side of the road, beaten, robbed, stripped of his clothing. 'Half dead,' is the way the Bible puts it. And who's the first man to come along? A priest. A man of God. And what does he do? He passes him by. So does a Levite, also a man of God. Ain't looking too good for my chosen profession is it?”
There was laughter among the listeners. Bryson didn't dare look at his mother. “Now these were not just men of God that passed him by. These were Jews. His own people. But they just left him there to die like a dog.
“But then there came a Samaritan, a man looked down on and hated by the Jews. A man who was not his friend, not of his blood, not of his faith. But a man of compassion. And he bound the poor man's wounds, took him to an inn and took care of him, paying for all of this out of his own pocket. And the passage closes with the words from our Savior, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”
He paused so that the words could sink in.
“Now up here in the hills we take care of our own. I don't care if you are a Lacern, or a Toland, or Branson, or Lott, or Pratt, we are all the same. We take care of our own. But how many Lacerns would take care of a Toland or a Pratt? How many Tolands would spend their own money for someone who was of another tribe, someone who their family looked down on, maybe hated, like the priests and Levites hated the Samaritan. Would any of us be the kind of neighbor the Lord Jesus instructed us to be in this passage?”
He scanned the congregation. “We have all lost so very, very much over the last few years. There ain't a family in this room that ain't felt the chilling hand of death reach into their family and take out a loved one. And it seems to me like it's always the kindest, the sweetest, the ones who wouldn't never think about hurting a soul on this earth that has to pay the price for those among us, on both sides, that would keep the violence and hatred going.
“I know exactly what's going through your mind right now, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'. That's what the good book says. And you're right. It does say that. But think about just what the words say, and not what you want them to mean. God is limiting the revenge you can take here. If someone takes your eye you have a right to take his eye, but no more. If someone takes off your ear you have a right to take off his, but no more. And you only have the right to take the eye of the person who took yours, or your kin's, not just anybody that happens to have the same last name as the fella that did it.”
The crowd was getting restless and hostile now, shooting looks at one another.
“But this is what God allows. This is what you can get away with. But it ain't what he wants.” He turned quickly to his next verse, knowing that the congregation would not hold still much longer. “Jesus said,” his voice booming, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if a man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. Bless those that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you. For if you love them that love you what reward have you? Do not even the publicans do the same?”
Bryson closed the large Bible, picked it up and let it drop to the pulpit surface, causing a loud cracking noise that made the dozers jump. He spoke in a soft voice, forcing his audience to pay close attention. “Lacerns, Tolands, there is no virtue in loving your own. The meanest, most ungodly among us do that. But to love thine enemy is to follow the will of God.”
The Civil War is over.
The men of Blue Mountain return home to find their farms burned, their possessions stolen and family members murdered by raiders from both sides of the war.
They throw away their tattered uniforms, blue and gray, but keep their Colt Revolvers and Enfield Rifles close at hand.
Both clans stay locked in their cabins, that first harsh winter after the war trading war stories, each clan blaming the other for their hunger and loss. Each side waiting for spring, and planning their revenge.