This week, Jana and I celebrated our 47th anniversary by having dinner and staying overnight at the Century Inn in Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania. 

The food was wonderful, our room was charming, and the atmosphere was special. We give it five stars.

The Century Inn first opened as Hill’s Tavern in 1794. It’s hosted people like Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

But what impressed me most was the character of the owner and innkeeper Megin Harrington and her family.

You think the pandemic has been hard on the hospitality industry?

In 2015 Megin and her son Gordon barely escaped when an electrical fire destroyed the place. The only thing they were able to save was the Whiskey Rebellion Flag, the only one known to exist. Thank goodness there were no guests at the time. The fire burned for eight hours. Firefighters from 28 companies responded, and some of them were seen crying at the loss, which included priceless furniture, art, and antiques.

If you visit today, you might never know any of this. You’d just think you were in a 200-year-old inn. There are no before and after pictures; nothing describing the herculean two-and-a-half-year struggle to completely rebuild.

Of course, insurance didn’t cover it all. How could it?

And satisfying the requirements of keeping the restored inn on the National Register of Historic Places was a feat in itself.

Megin served us breakfast, and I wanted to know what kept her going in the face of such an overwhelming challenge. She was too modest to share the secret of her character. She wanted future generations to experience something timeless, something that mattered.

Not rebuilding was simply not an option.

The many people who rallied to help her felt the same way.

So many places struggled during the pandemic, and many closed, never to reopen. The Century Inn had to endure all that too.

And so, the place matters more today than ever.

Not just because you can get a great meal, enjoy a great stay, and not because of who visited there a long time ago.

But because of Megin and all those who live and serve there today.

Free to worry

Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M, was widely quoted recently for saying, “The great resignation is coming.”

Klotz has interviewed hundreds of people about why they left their jobs. He says there are many “pent up” resignations that didn’t happen over the last year. Millions of people had “pandemic-related epiphanies” about things like family time, commuting, working remotely, what they’re passionate about, and where to find meaning in life.

Maybe this helps explain why there are “help wanted” signs everywhere.

A friend who works for our denomination’s pension fund says that pastors are retiring in unprecedented numbers, and for the ones who stay, the denomination can’t keep up with the demand for mental health counseling.

Shouldn’t we all be feeling better now for having survived the pandemic?

It seems there is as much stress coming out of the pandemic as there was in it.  

What has shaken us so badly?

Jesus was speaking to people whose faith was wavering. He said, “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Greek phrase translated “hold to my teaching” can also be translated, “make your home in my word.” Most of us don’t do that.

We get meaning from what we do and who we know.

We tell ourselves something is true if it works for us. 

And we call that freedom, and in a sense it is.

We’re free to worry about everything.

Psyche rattling

Rising crime across the US made the news again this week.

The pundits on both sides were quick to blame the other.

What you might have missed was a story in the New York Times about a series of murders in Iran. It wasn’t just the details of the crimes that were so shocking, it was who the murderers were: an 81-year-old man and his 76-year-old wife.

The couple was mild-mannered and respected; no one could have imagined they were capable of killing their own adult children by drugging, stabbing, and then dismembering them. Surveillance video shows the man carrying garbage bags to the dumpster while his wife held the door for him.

But the couple was not only unrepentant, they were proud of what they did.

The Times said, “The case has rattled the psyche of the Iranians.”

What does it take for something to rise to the level of “psyche rattling?”

Jesus Christ had that effect on some people. In John 8:12, he told the religious insiders, “I am the light of the world.”

It rattled them.

Light gives life, but it also exposes evil, even in the places you’d never suspect, like in the hearts of religious insiders, or in the hearts of an elderly couple.

Jesus Christ came to deal with what’s wrong with the world deep down, the sin in the hearts of us all.

But he’s got to rattle us all first.

Stone catchers

Bryan Stevenson grew up in a small town in Delaware where his family attended the Prospect AME Church. He experienced segregation. When he was 16, his grandfather was murdered.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Bryan moved to the south to help poor blacks, children, and the mentally ill who’d received unjust sentences. He tells his story in the bestselling book, Just Mercy.

Once Bryan was in a courthouse in New Orleans, having won the release of two men falsely convicted as teenagers. They’d served at hard labor for nearly 50 years. Brian noticed an older black woman, who he assumed was a family member of one of the defendants.

She said, “No, no, no, I’m not related to nobody here. I come here to help people.  This is a place full of pain, so people need plenty of help around here.”

“That’s really kind of you,” Bryan said.

“No, it’s what I’m supposed to do, so I do it. My 16-year-old grandson was murdered 15 years ago, and I loved that boy more than life itself.”

Bryan wasn’t expecting that. She saw the look on his face and grabbed his hand.

“I grieved and grieved. I asked the Lord why he let someone take my child like that.  He was killed by some other boys. I sat through their trials and cried every day for two weeks. None of it made any sense. The judge sent those boys away to prison forever. I thought it would make me feel better, but it actually made me feel worse. 

“I sat in the courtroom after they were sentenced and just cried and cried and cried. A lady came over and gave me a hug and let me lean on her. We sat there for two hours. I’ve never forgotten that woman.

“You never fully recover, but you carry on. About a year later I started coming down here. I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it. All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other like they don’t care. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast on each other.”

Bryan had once come to the aid of a black man wrongly convicted of murder. The man had had an extra-marital affair, so some of the man’s church friends thought that made him guilty. Bryan had reminded the congregation of what Jesus had said to the accusers of a woman caught in adultery. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Bryan said, “Our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion.

“We need to be stone catchers.”