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Posted: May 28, 2017 5:00 a.m.

Irwin: Standing for Something

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If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

I grew up hearing this saying from time to time. It was often quoted at Boy Scout meetings, patriotic events, and church youth gatherings. It bids us to pay attention, to think, to form convictions and stand by them. (Interestingly enough, it does not tell us which convictions to hold.) 

Last week I had reason to recall this artful little civics lesson, so I dug around for the person who coined it. It is difficult to pinpoint the original source, but I was gladdened to learn that the phrase was brought to its highest fame when it was employed on April 18, 1947 by the then Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Peter Marshall. 

(Now, watch this contrivance.)

This keeps my column local and personal with a Covington connection (required of me for my writer's wage), because The Reverend Marshall’s first ministerial charge was at our very own First Presbyterian Church.  And – a little-known trivia fun-fact – Mr. Marsall resided for a time in the Hotel Delaney. That's the brick building in downtown Covington that reads “Troy University." The hotel was built in 1905, the first brick of which was ceremoniously placed by the eleven-year-old Sallie Mae Pickett (Cook), who lived next door on the very spot now occupied by People's Home Medical; formally the old library; formally the old post office; fictionally-formally Chief Carroll O'Connor-Gillespie's Police Station in "In the Heat of the Night."

Sallie Mae was my grandmother. She and my grandfather, Will Cook, raised my uncles and my mother in the house directly behind the hotel, in what is now Lester Lackey and Sons Funeral Home. My grandmother often invited the young, single preacher from Scotland to their table for supper. My mom, Tootsie, would have been around ten at the time, and I recall her boasting a bit about knowing Mr. Marshall. Toots, not the most pious little girl to ever don an Easter bonnet, was a great admirer of the Reverend, as was my grandmother. 

Another trivia fun-fact: In the 1955 movie about Mr. Marshall titled, "A Man Called Peter," the exterior shot of the First Presbyterian Church is actually the First Methodist Church. Sorry, my Presbyterian pals; in order to score that “Best Cinematography” Oscar® nomination, the filmmakers required Greek Revival, not Tudor. 

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On that rather hot and humid Spring morning in 1947 in the United States Senate chambers, Mr. Marshall offered the following prayer:

“Our Father, we yearn for a better understanding of spiritual things, that we may know surely what Thy will is for us and for our Nation. Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for—because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”

This a is wise and simple prayer, and I think, as with all true things, in its timelessness, it is perfect for our time.

A Word on Words

Words are not disposable. At least they shouldn't be. (Trust me, your humble servant has uttered many words he would like to retract.)  Words – whether spoken or written – count

If you doubt my assertion, consider:

"You have me at my word…"

"Word to your mother…"

"In the beginning was the Word…"

"The word of God for the people of God…"

(Uh-oh, here goes.)

Recently, during an interview, our nation's top leader was asked about something he had written – on social media – that was accusatory and insulting towards his predecessor. 

"Tweet" was once a light-hearted onomatopoeia for the sound of a bird. Now, it's a term for a short piece of (sometimes impulsive) electronic tap-typing; it is a word that sounds diminutive and inconsequential. "It's just a tweet." 

When my president was asked if he stood by his tweet, he quipped:

"I don't stand by anything."

At that, I felt a shudder and a particular sadness. I thought of Sallie Mae and Tootsie and all our foremothers and forefathers, our sons and our daughters. 

•  •  •  •  •  •  • 

Let us all strive to "yearn for a better understanding,” as we seek 

"the better angels of our nature.”

  ~ Andy

Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller singer/song writer who lives in Covington.

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