It had been an undeniably tough week in Athens, Alabama. It seemed that Mayor Ronnie had been to non-stop funerals, several of whom were the parents of staff members, and then there were three horrific deaths: a boy, his grandmother, and the suicide of the perpetrator of the other two deaths. He happened to be the boy’s father as well as the grandmother’s son. Ninety-nine percent of the time the mayor bounds into the office, but today his steps were understandably more measured.
The mayor spoke with compassion about the tragedy, and later we moved to a discussion on public safety; but in between time, he knew he had a trusted source of inspiration in the form of a self-published book with the simple title of Stop, Look, and Listen: Thoughts For Living. He first told me about the author, and then proceeded to read to me. As is always the case with God’s wisdom, no matter how timeless it is, when it is anointed, it is always “fresh manna,” and our flagging spirits began to rise as he read.
Stop, Look, And Listen was written by a man named Dr. Curtis D. Coleman, an ordained Methodist minister who was a greatly beloved Emeritus Dean and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Athens State University. He wrote for the Athens News Courier for several years, and the book is the compilation of those articles. They were full of practical, godly, sound advice, wise perspectives, and genuine hope. When the book was published in 2006, Mayor Ronnie went to the book-signing and purchased a copy, which Dr. Coleman autographed. It was apparent that Dr. Coleman was experiencing some discomfort in his back and mentioned to Ronnie that he knew he needed to get it looked into.
Not long after the book-signing, Dr. Coleman began his last journey in the form of a battle with cancer, and he passed in 2010. It was during that time that the things he had written were to be put to the test. Do they hold up when you are facing death? According to those who knew him, they did, and once again they were being put to the test as we were grappling with the recent tragedy in our own town. As is always the case with the books that are the weapons in the mayor’s arsenal, the pages that speak to him the most are dog-eared at nearly a 45 degree angle, highlighted, starred, and underlined; most often there are comments written up the sides of the page. Page 187 was no exception:
“Prayer is not merely for the weak; it is the strength of the strong. Prayer is not an emergency button we push when life seems to close in upon us. It is not a last resort. It is a daily resource which gives us strength and guidance for living victoriously. Prayer is bending God to our wills, but it is a bringing of our wills into conformity with God’s will so that He may work in and through us. Prayer is not bending the universe to our wills, making God a cosmic bellhop for our purposes, but prayer is cooperating with the purposes of God to do things we never dreamed we could do. Prayer is not an occasional exercise to which we turn now and then; it is a life attitude. The persistence of prayer in some form among all the peoples of the earth reveals much about the human creature. To pray is to be truly human—man being man in relation to God.”
Then we did what we always did: we prayed. We prayed for our town, our nation, and I prayed for our mayor. Then it was time for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner