Reformation Day 2015 – The Just Shall Live by Faith

For by it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. – Romans 1:17

We’re coming up on October 31, not only a day for kids to dress up and go door-to-door in search of free candy but also the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, setting off the protestant reformation.

Many issues were debated during the Reformation but the keystone issue was justification – how can sinful man be made right before a holy, righteous God. In honor of Reformation Day 2015, here, from the late John Gerstner, is one of the best explanations of justification I’ve ever seen – as well as a clear explanation of the differences in the protestant and Roman Catholic approaches:

I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful for Christ’s righteousness for I have none of my own.

Happy Reformation Day!

Spring in Atlanta, 1958

Spring in Atlanta, 1958
My grandfather working in his garden, spring, 1958.

Some time in late 1957 or early 1958 my father bought an Argus C3 Rangefinder camera. This began a life-long love affair with photography.  His father loved gardening. He grew beautiful flowers and plants. I remember him having nursery beds behind their house. These were frames he built out of lumber and then filled with coffee cans. Each can had a cutting he’d taken from a plant that was being prepared either to plant in the yard or give away to family and friends.

I enjoy both of these things. I love to take pictures and I love to garden. I guess I come by them honestly from my father and grandfather.

So, when I began looking at slides dad made with his new camera in the spring of 1958, I was excited to see these two passions intersect. Though faded with time, here are some pictures of my grandfather’s flowers that year:

Spring in Atlanta, 1958 Spring in Atlanta, 1958 Spring in Atlanta, 1958 Spring in Atlanta, 1958 Spring in Atlanta, 1958

Occupation: Schoolgirl

Dorothy Gideon & Siblings
Dorothy Gideon (left) with her brother, my grandfather (center), and their sister Grace.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve pursued genealogy is that deaths of children were more common in years past than they seem to be today. While researching my family history, I’ve come across at least one ancestor who died as a child in almost every family. Some died as unnamed infants soon after birth, others lived longer but never made it out of the single digits.

One of the latter, who would have been my great aunt, was Dorothy Gideon. She was my grandfather’s older sister and died in 1920 at the age of nine. One of the more poignant pieces of family history I’ve come across is Dorothy’s death certificate. After seeing my great grandfather’s signature at the bottom of the document, I realized it was his writing in the personal information section as well. I hurt for him as I thought about how he must have felt filling in these details about his young daughter who’d just died. Under “Occupation,” he wrote “schoolgirl.” How sad and unnatural that must have seemed. Even in 1920, it’s clear death certificates were assumed to be for adults – people who grow up, get jobs and live many years, not nine year old girls.

My grandfather never talked about Dorothy; he and Grace were very young when she died. Nevertheless his sister occasionally did. We called her “Aunt Grace” and usually saw her a few times a year. I remember once at Christmas she talked about “our sister who died” and teared up, even after all those years. Since she was so young when Dorothy died, most of her memories of her sister probably came from her parents, which means the sadness probably did too.

I’m sure they carried the memory of their daughter with them the rest of their days. My great grandfather, John Hardin Gideon, died in 1948. “Mama Kate,” my great grandmother, died in 1965 when I was four years old. She had lived to be a great grandmother but had, I’m sure, never stopped being a mother to that schoolgirl, forever nine years old in her memory.

Atlanta History – The Winecoff Hotel Fire

On the fifth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7 1946, Atlantans awoke to Atlanta Paper Winecoffnews of another tragedy. The Winecoff Hotel at Peachtree & Ellis in the heart of downtown had caught fire during the early morning hours. When the smoke cleared, 119 people were dead, including W.F. Winecoff original owner of the hotel. To this day the Winecoff fire remains the worst hotel fire in the United States from the perspective of loss of life.

The Atlanta Fire Department received a phone call alerting them to the fire at 3:42 A.M. The initial responders quickly realized the seriousness of the situation and a second alarm was issued minutes later. By 4:00 A.M. a general alarm was raised calling for all Atlanta fire fighters, on duty and off, to respond to the Winecoff. Pleas were also sent to surrounding communities for help and fire departments from Fort McPherson, East Point, College Park, Decatur, Avondale, Druid Hills, Hapeville, Marietta and the Naval Air Base rushed to scene.

The fire had begun on the third floor. It progressed so rapidly that by the time the fire department reached the hotel, guests on the upper floors were cut off with no chance of escape from the inside. Rescue operations were conducted from outside using life nets and a ladder bridge spanning the alley between the Winecoff and the Mortgage Guaranty building. Guests began to tie bed sheets together and string them from windows in an attempt to climb down to the fire ladders which, at 85 feet, were not tall enough to reach the upper floors. Eventually, as panic set in, people began to jump.

Arnold Hardy’s photograph taken during the Winecoff Hotel fire.

Georgia Tech student Arnold Hardy was returning from a dance when he heard the sirens. Taking a cab to the scene, he used his last flash bulb to capture the horrific fall of Daisy McCumber. His picture was picked up by the AP and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1947. Incredibly, Ms. McCumber survived the fall.

One of the most tragic stories of the fire was of the 40 high school students from across Georgia who were staying at the Winecoff. They were some of Georgia’s most talented students and were in Atlanta for a YMCA sponsored event. Of these 40 young men and women, 30 died that night.

As a result of the tragedy, a national convention on fire protection was held in 1947. Out of that meeting came much more stringent fire and building codes, eliminating such things as unprotected stair openings which had contributed to the quick spread of the fire at the Winecoff.

The building that was once the Winecoff Hotel still stands at the corner of Peachtree and Ellis and looks much the same as it did in the 1940s. Today it is the Ellis Hotel described as “Atlanta’s Premier Boutique Hotel.”

For additional information on this historic event, including interviews with Arnold Hardy and some survivors of the fire, watch this short segment produced by TBS:

An invaluable resource for this post was the book “Prompt to Action: Atlanta Fire Department 1860-1960” which was passed down to me from my grandparents.

An Unexpected Reminder of God’s Faithfulness through the Ages

Ellen Cherry & Nancy Aiken Cherry - Tintype
My great, great grandmother, Ellen Cherry Hammock Lawrence and her mother, Nancy Aiken Cherry circa 1879.

Recently, while at my mom’s, we revisited family photos. I’d not seen many of them for years, in some cases not since my grandmother died in 1985. Since my mother is an only child, the pictures from her side of the family have all ended up with her and there are many of them, some very old. Luckily there’s been a couple of relatives over the years interested in preserving family history who labeled them with names and sometimes even dates. The oldest one is a tintype of my great, great grandmother when she was only ten years old. She’s standing beside her mother holding a doll. Based on her date of birth, the picture would have been made around 1879.

As interesting as the photographs are, tucked in a worn envelope I found something even more interesting.  Aunt Maudine (she was really my grandmother’s aunt but we all called her “aunt” as well) had saved scores of newspaper clippings related to family members, mostly obituaries.  Going through the yellow, fragile sections of newsprint I found genealogical gold: when someone died, what they died of, family members who survived them, etc. I was able to match all but a few of these documents to people in the pictures we have.

However, what impressed me most about these old obituaries was the overtly Christian nature of many of them. Sure they contained the facts we’re used to in obituaries today but they went beyond that, boldly acknowledging God’s sovereignty, the fleetingness of this life and the hope of the life beyond. Here’s a sampling:

My great, great grandfather, William Henry Hammock who died in 1901 at only 40 years of age:

Wednesday evening Mr. W.H. Hammock departed this life after an illness of twelve days. That dread disease pneumonia cut him off in the prime of life and usefulness, in spite of the best medical skill and tenderest and most constant attention of loved ones and friends. Only a short time before his death he told his wife not to grieve for him, but prepare to meet him in a better world…may the Father of life and love comfort the bereaved ones.

James David Cherry, one of my great, great uncles who died in 1923:

…He bore his illness with uncomplaining resignation and felt no fear at the thought of death. Christ to him was real and precious. God’s promises were his delight…To you who love him, knew his wife, sister and friend, this is the message he would send; Not dead, ah, no, dear friends, he is not dead for his life is hid in Him who said the resurrection and the life am I, He who believes on me shall never die.

My great, great grandmother (the girl in the picture above) who died in 1933:

…She was a faithful member of the Baptist church and was a true Christian…It is hard for us to give her up, hard for us to understand why she had to go. Yet we can see now in her life and in her death some of the unfolding of God’s plan

In her final years she was blind and very ill. Here from another paper:

…Her beautiful Christian character was exemplified by her unwavering faith through many years of patient suffering…Affliction had blinded her eyes to the beauties of this world, yet her face was ever radiant and her heart illuminated by the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, and faith…(we) meekly bow in submission to the will of our Father, believing that death for her meant only a message of love to come up higher where her blinded eyes will be opened to enjoy the beauties and glories of Heaven.

I have mixture of emotions as I read these. On the one hand, I mourn for the small town life my ancestors knew. Where the church was the center of the community and trusting Christ was something to be praised rather than derided. When the most significant thing about a person’s life was their relationship with Christ rather than their worldly accomplishments – even in the public square. Those days have gone.

On the other hand, I rejoice that, though times have changed, the God of my ancestors has not and He offers the same hope to those of us living today as He did then. I also thank the Lord for these godly men and women who are part of my heritage and look forward to one day talking with them when, as one obituary put it, we “meet in the sweet by and by.”