A Personal Testimony
Kevin J. Coughlin
This EMAIL list is made up of almost 300 addresses. You are a geographically dispersed and eclectic bunch. I know you from various aspects of my life; work, family, Service organizations, global travel encounters, and church. You practice (or not) a wide range of spiritual beliefs, or none at all. Many of you have honored me over the years by reading, commenting on, and some even forwarding to others, my previous writings. I am sending this missive because you have each touched me in some way.
I actually sat down to write it for three reasons.
I have found that journalizing my life experiences enriches and clarifies them.
I have read several major newspaper accounts of the event. Even the most "balanced" (if "balanced" is described as presenting all views regardless of how well informed they may be) were written from the viewpoint of a non-involved observer; Objective (purportedly) and impersonal. While reading some of the not-so balanced ones, I found myself wondering if I had attended the same event as the author. I thus became convicted by Ephesians 4:15, "But speaking the truth in love". It is not my objective to argue with distinguished journalists. They were doing what they were trained to do. Many did it quite well. My intent is to be personal and subjective. To give an eyewitness account from an involved and affected participant.
In conformance to 1 Thessalonians 2:8, "So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear unto us."
By sharing this, my most fervent hope is that this experience, which for me is most dear, would have some positive impact on your life. Maybe you can in some vicarious way feel as though you had been there. This was my participation in "Stand in the Gap" -- A Sacred Assembly, in Washington D.C. What is "Stand in the Gap"? The theme verse is:
"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none."
A partial extract of founder Coach Bill McCartney's letter inviting us, from the Promise Keepers WEB site:
"Dear Brother in Christ,
During the past 18 months, we have been calling tens of thousands of men to come to an event of historical magnitude in Washington, D.C. on October 4th. It's called Stand In The Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men.
In the six hours we will have together on our nation's "Independence Mall," we will confess our sins and repent before Almighty, Holy God. We will seek His face and pray that He might pour out His Holy Spirit to heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Our dream is to have men of every race and color, every social and economic background, and every geographical corner of our country gather together in the spirit of reconciliation and unity."
What is a "Sacred Assembly"? A partial extract from Promise Keepers WEB site:
"But mark this; There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness, but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:1-5 )
Almost two millennia ago, the apostle Paul wrote of a world that was a spiritual and moral wasteland. Sadly, today's society is often described the same way. Crime, divorce, materialism, immorality and continuing racial strife threaten to destroy the spiritual and moral foundation on which our country was built.
We as God's people are to be the vital "salt" for arresting our nation's moral and spiritual decay and the penetrating "light" to dispel the darkness. Yet we speak with an uncertain voice, a voice weakened by cultural compromise, disunity and spiritual apathy. It is time for God to shake us awake and for us to turn to Him, with one voice, in humble confession, repentance, and obedience. This is the reason for Stand In The Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men.
I left California on Saturday, 9/27/97 for a one-week journey which was wonderful! I was a bit tired upon awakening due to having spent the previous evening in the San Jose Arena with Billy Graham. That experience alone was the culmination of lots of prayer, meditation, and going to classes during the Summer. The Arena was overfull, and promised to be so for the next two days. I had the privilege of sharing the message of Salvation with Jeremy and Jacob. Please pray for them. They came down to the floor in response to Dr. Grahams prayers. Jeremy, the oldest at 21, unemployed with a child by a 18 year old, and freshly out of jail for the third time said he wanted to change. Jacob was there primarily because he follows his older brother. Billy Graham will be in S.F. Cow Palace and finally in the Oakland Coliseum on the weekend of October 24.
This trip has been planned and prayed about for several months. Those who know me well know that "planning" is not my forte. It all began last Spring, with a suggestion that I go to the Promise Keeper's "Stand in the Gap" in Washington. I have been involved with Promise Keepers for three years now. They have been largely responsible for the wonderful relationship I have with my son-in-law. Amongst the other literature they sent me prior to the Stand in the Gap event, was a little brochure which encouraged us to "pre-prayer" our hearts. I thought that was quite wonderful!
No sooner had I decided to go, but two opportunities presented themselves to "make amends" for past behavior. In cleaning up the wreckage of my past, I was led first to Madison Wisconsin, to spend some time with Lola Gregg, a woman most dear, who had been severely hurt by some of my past. We were blessed to see some incredible hues as the foliage was changing in a drive up the middle of the State. My attempts to keep my slim waistline were hampered by a string of Frozen Custard stands which I was only partially able to resist.
On the way back to Madison, we encountered a tremendous gathering of towering cumulus clouds, dark and heavy with moisture. They dumped their contents upon us. This has to be lived to be believed. Folks who have never been further East than Tahoe would be hard pressed to understand a rain system which has large raindrops close together, interspersed with glaring daggers of lightning and claps and ripples of thunder. On the "Left Coast" our "rain" is more of a single gray mass moving in from the Pacific, some 1000 to 8000 feet tall. It sits near the ground, and a "leeching" effect takes place until the cloud is either gone, or lightened enough to travel East to the Sierra Foothills.
Out of the storm we were dazzled by a breathtaking display of a stunning pair of Rainbows. Full 180 degree, glaring neon semicircles. They were on our left. As the road bent left, we drove through the arches. It was stupendous!
On to Baltimore Washington International, where, thanks to Southwest Airlines' phenomenally low fares, I got the chance to fly to Providence, Rhode Island, where my brother-in-law, Larry, picked me up. We went to the home he has built with my older sister, Carroll, and their 5 children. Their children are all either out of college or going for advanced degrees. The last two are still at home. After a discussion with Carroll about the past, she invited me to go visit my Uncle Bill, a man who had befriended me, at some considerable cost to himself, in the late '70s. We had a great visit, and then off to a most awesome event, "Stand in the Gap".
My return to Washington was on Thursday. Early Friday morning I arose to catch the Metro. I was staying with my old friend and former choir-mate Nick Adams, in Arnold, Maryland, near Annapolis. He took me to the RFK Stadium where, some 2500 of us were bussed to a local "middle school" which has a capacity for several thousand students. It was in sad repair. The original plan drafted by the School Board, Operation Blessing, and the Promise Keepers called for some 5,000+ volunteers to work with some $300,000 worth of donated materials and to "spruce up" some 147 schools. A local judge (ironically enough surnamed "Christian") told them on Wednesday that they could not do that until she saw more detailed plans. At least partially as a result of that decision, the group was trimmed, delivery of material was rescheduled, and some chaos ensued. Nonetheless we trimmed, cut, mowed, cleaned, painted, changed light bulbs, stacked books, ripped up rotten flooring, cleaned windows, installed rain spouts, replaced toilets, mended and painted cyclone fencing, sang, prayed, ate bag lunches, and did it all some more for a total of some 8 hours. At the end, the mounds of garbage in the back of the school were some 20 feet wide, 5 feet high, and 70-80 feet long.
Upon returning to Nick's I was warmly greeted by Manny and Dean, two of my PK buddies from church. We went to dinner together with Nick's adult daughter, Julie, and had a marvelous time. We then retired to his home to pray and sing together for an hour or so. It was so heartwarming to see Nick and Julie together, and how their relationship has been restored. It was so reflective of the healing and reconciliation that has been wrought in the last few years in my home with my adult daughters, Amy and Melissa.
Saturday was an early rising, and gathering at Nick's church, where 3 school buses waited to take their contingent to the Stand in the Gap event. When we got to RKF Stadium Metro stop, there were some 5,000 buses and some 3,000 motorcycles. The Metro had been clogged since 6:30 AM according to the local news, so we just made a right-turn and strolled the remaining 3 miles to the mall. The parade was some 6-10 wide for the entire 3 miles. It streamed for some 4 hours. The Metro folk tell us that some 600,000 guys went through the turnstiles. It was an incredible experience to be walking, singing, and praying with these guys, and that was just one of the many "feeder" stops that were turning guys away because they were unable to accommodate them.
We walked up East Capital Drive to the rotunda, around to the South, and down the Northern Stairs to the Mall. The vast panorama was crowded with guys at 10:00 when we arrived. We had the dickens of a time finding a spot. The major boulevards on the side of the park were full of guys. The grassy areas were full. The areas under the trees were overfull. We settled for a spot on the North about one quarter of the distance between the stage and the Washington Monument. We were on a wide, dusty, clay and gravel path near the trees. We were about 10 feet from any grass. The 10,000 volunteer "Crowd marshalls" kept asking us to move closer together to make more room for the incoming throngs. While PK has long claimed that they will not enter into a "numbers game" and the Park Service no longer gives out counts after the controversy surrounding the "Million Man March", crowd estimates vary between 500,000 and 1,200,000 from "unofficial" sources". There were 12 Jumbotrons (TV Screens) placed down the center of the mall, several hundred yards apart. They were so huge, I could clearly see the one behind the one immediately in front of us.
By the time the event started, we were shoulder - to - shoulder, many of us with sufficient room to sit, but not enough to stretch out our legs. The event was slated to start at 11:45 with the blowing of the Shofar, the Ram's Horn of Jewish tradition. There are many Jews in the Promise Keepers organization. Several of them took some 15 minutes to explain the meaning of Rosh Hoshanna (various spellings) which had occurred started the previous Wednesday evening, and Yom Kippur, which starts this Friday evening. As was brought out in the introductory remarks, the date of this event was worked out long ago with the National Park Service, without a clear understanding on the part of the leadership that these dates would be so serendipitous.
We then had the welcome at 12:00 by several dozen Native Americans from several different tribes, the first being the Seminole. While he made no mention of it in his opening remarks, as a kid in Tallahassee I learned that the Seminole were the only Indian Nation to have never signed a Peace Treaty with the US. I thought it quite fitting that a ceremony that has Reconciliation as one of its themes should start thusly. Each tribe member was dressed in representative regalia, and some had representative housing erected on the lawn. They presented a leather fighting "shield" to Promise Keepers. It was round, with red, black, brown, white, and yellow handprints representing the various tribes of man. They were surrounding a cross, representing the crucifixion of Christ, with red lines flowing from it to each, representing the blood of His atoning death shed for all. Above this was a cluster of tepees on a sky-blue background representing eternal life for those who believe. One of the touching opening remarks by one of the Chiefs was, "I know I'm a couple of hundred years late, but as an original American, I'd like to welcome all you Pilgrims here today. I am proud to be an American Indian by race, and even prouder to be a Christian Indian by Grace."
Jack Hayford served as M.C. This wonderful man has been a dynamic teacher, lyricist, musician, and pastor for many years. He is a "local", known to many of us in the Bay Area, as he was raised in Oakland Ca. Joseph Darlington, a Pastor and marvelous musician from Pittsburgh was the worship team leader, and conference speaker. There were some 40 men who took the podium from 3 minutes to 40 minutes, representing various denominations and non-denominations. The prayers, Bible-based teachings, and sermons were excellent: Powerful, pertinent, poignant, personal, and passionate. The men on the mall were various shades and mixtures of color and congregations. The majority were white.
The lyrics of the old hymn used for an opening song have stirred my heart since I first heard them several years ago.
"Oh Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder,
consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the Universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great Thou art."
Included below are only a few of the many messages that had a powerful impact on me. Were I to include all of them, I would probably never get done writing. In addition, I must confess, it is more than a little intimidating to write down all the things that were exposed to me as weaknesses in my life. After all, once they have been written down, and are in circulation, I am fair target for anyone who sees my behavior differing from that which I have already put in print. I do beg your forgiveness ahead of time for those instances. I am dead certain they will occur; Primarily because I am convinced that when I am perfect, I will be perfectly dead.
From the book of Isaiah, one of the many scrolls found intact in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and matching today's copy in the Bible, are the words, "I saw the Lord seated on His throne, exalted. And the train of his robe filled the Temple with Glory. Ö. And I said, 'woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips'". I have certainly been a man of unclean lips. Many men around me confessed the same. Our lips have been used to praise our God, and then soon afterwards, used to belittle, insult, or detract from our loved ones and neighbors, who are nothing less than another of His creations.
In the New Testament it says, "For now there is neither Jew not Gentile, Slave nor Free, for all are one in Christ". Well, the lines of distinction were much more rigidly and clearly defined then than they are now. We have intermarried and blended our beliefs so that it is sometimes very difficult to ascertain where one "race" or "belief" ends and another begins. For instance, what "race" is Tiger Woods? What "race" am I? If the dictum was true then, how much more so now?? If there is any line of distinction left today, it is between "Christ" and "not Christ". And that line is drawn in the heart.
"We have not come here to demonstrate our power, but rather our poverty, asking Almighty God to empower us so that we may do His will instead of our own. That we may align ours with His." "We have for too long held an increasingly high view of the abilities of man, and too low a trust in the Sovereignty of God."
" We have come, not to declare our rights, but to confess our wrongs"
We were in many different ways encouraged to speak to our brother before speaking about him.
In the days of the gun-slinging Midwest, there were two terribly notorious brothers. When Tommy died, his brother Bob went from pastor to pastor seeking someone to say final words. Many recoiled because of the stipulation from the survivor that they had to refer to the deceased as a "Saint". Finally he found a pastor who was willing to accept a large donation to say the final epitaph, complete with the stipulation. Many folks were horrified that such a thing could occur, and gathered to hear just how this was going to happen. The pastor said several words about God's Grace, Mercy, and Judgment, and then said, "We all know that Tommy here was a low-down, rotten, mean, no-good scoundrel, full of the Devil, who never did anything of value for the community". But compared to his brother Bob here, he was a saint". Well, you might be a "saint" compared to me, or I might be a "saint" compared to the next guy, but we all fall short of the Glory of God. We need a Redeemer.
(This story reminds me of something that was told to me many years ago when I was complaining about the injustice of my second divorce. My older friend Tony, told me, "Don't pray for Justice, because if she gets Justice so will you. Do not pray for Mercy either. Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve. You had best pray for Grace". And now I can testify that every time I need about a teaspoon full of Grace, he backs up a dump-truck full.)
"Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows, that he shall reap". (Galatians 6:7)
"Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your hearts that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved". (Romans 10:9)
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that those who would believe in Him might have eternal life". (John 3:16)
"This I hold against you, that you have forsaken your First Love". (Revelation 2:4)
As any given sermon or teaching would lead, we periodically split into small prayer groups of 3 to 6, and the formations were dynamic which meant that I was often in groups with new faces. From all over the globe I prayed with men who joined in confessing the sins of mistreating our parents, spouses, children, employers, neighbors and other belief systems. We asked forgiveness from God and our fellows immediately at hand, and vowed to seek forgiveness from those we had offended at home. We had told jokes that demeaned our brothers and sisters of differing beliefs and colors. We had deprived fellow children of God of time, emotion, fellowship, and money which were not ours to withhold. We had struck them, and worse, to force them to conform to our wills. We had used others, especially women, to satisfy our lusts, needs, and desires while giving little or no attention to theirs, much less considering the effect our behavior would have on them. We hugged, prayed, and wept.
After several hours of this, "Pastor Jack" told us that the planks of the foundation had been built, and now what was needed were two small but very difficult steps. He quoted Neil Armstrong, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". He told us that the next season was going to require our personal attention and commitment to tear down the walls of the horrible sectarianism within the Church of Jesus Christ.
To confront and attack the horrible demon of Racism.
Max Lucado, a wonderful author and pastor, came to the podium and asked all of us to, on the count of three, to name our church. It was an incomprehensible babble. Then he asked us to name of our Savior. It was amazing to hear so many clear voices as one saying "Jesus Christ". It was an incredibly impressive demonstration of the power of sectarianism to destroy us. That we need to stick to the Truth, which was made incarnate over 2000 years ago. He reminded us that while none of us who believe that Jesus is Lord would even remotely think of cutting off a finger of His body on the cross, it is precisely the sin of sectarianism which mutilates the Body of His Church.
Several pastors with differing skin tones came to describe their legacy from their ancestors. How they had been treated and mistreated. How we, and they, continue to mistreat others as though we weren't all created equal by the same Father. Between each of them we split into small groups and prayed. It was very convicting and poignant. The tears flowed. We then all sang two of the Promise Keeper theme songs, "Let the Walls Come Down" and "Let us be a generation of Reconciliation and Peace".
According to a Monday Washington Post Story:
"About 900 people were treated at seven aid stations on the Mall, said Greg Blalock, an emergency medical services captain for the D.C. Fire Department. The ailments ranged from complaints about heat to minor cuts and sprains.
In comparison, the much smaller crowd (10% this sized.) at a typical rock concert at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium will yield 1,200 calls for treatment, he said."
"After the rally, the Promise Keepers unveiled a garbage management system that impressed National Park Service managers. 'They went through and bagged everything,' said Gerry Gaumer, deputy site manager for the Mall, who said he had never seen another group leave it as clean after a big event."
These are certainly not words to describe the kinds of folk I used to be or used to hang out with. Now, how do I end this missive, when the event is just a beginning? I can tell you that I have been deeply affected, but that won't be very evident unless my behavior changes. I must confess, this truth makes me quite uncomfortable. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "I have come to comfort the afflicted. And to afflict the comfortable".
In chapter 6 of the book of Numbers, a very old and dusty book, there is a rich blessing I would like to invoke for you. "May the Lord bless you and Keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you Peace."
In His Perfect Love