Friday, October 12, 2001

Tragic courage

Minister's message endures

        As American troops go into their first full weekend fighting the war on terrorism, many more Americans will go to worship.

        The words heard today, Saturday and Sunday in churches, temples, synagogues and mosques just might mirror what was said nearly 60 years ago inside a modest little church in Augusta, Ky.

        The Rev. Harold Maish, all of 23 years old then, was preaching in Augusta's Church of the Nazarene on Dec. 14, 1941. It was the first Sunday after Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

        The world was at war.

        Now 83, semi-retired and living in Xenia, Rev. Maish cannot recall the exact words of his sermon that day. Too many years have passed. But he can remember his message.

        What he said then holds true for today.

        “God is love and he wants his people to live under the law of love. To love our families also means that we will protect them.”
       Rev. Maish told me he doesn't recall the precise scriptures he cited.

        But he does remember using “some of the Old Testament accounts where the Israelites had been attacked and God worked miraculous things to give them victory over their enemies.”

        His memory remains clear on where he was when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Church had just let out. He was standing with some parishioners when a member of the congregation ran across the street with the news.

        He remembers the man's name: James Robert Martin. His occupation: Riverboat cook.

        He'll never forget the look on people's faces.

        “Stunned disbelief.”

        The next Sunday, Rev. Maish stood in the pulpit and saw those faces looking up to him, searching for answers, wondering why Pearl Harbor was attacked.

        He asked for comments. “That's one of my trademarks, getting people to open up.” He heard the same question he has heard repeatedly since Sept. 11.

        “What if we're attacked?”


        Every Wednesday, Rev. Maish leads a discussion group of financial planners in Beavercreek, Ohio. The group met the day after the Sept. 11 attacks. He heard some of the same sentiments that were voiced in 1941.

        “Both times,” he said, “there was a lot of subdued anger. But this time” — because of terrorism's vicious unpredictability — “there was a lot more fear.”

        Since the attacks began on terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Rev. Maish has thought about what he would say if he were preaching Sunday.

        He would title his sermon: “Tragic Courage.” And stress three points.

        • “Individuals do not retaliate.”

        • “Government has the authority to punish evil and protect good.”

        • “We need tragic courage.”

        People need such courage, he said, to behave properly as individuals — “turn the other cheek” — and citizens.

        “Working under the authority of God and government,” he added, “we're called upon to do things that are repugnant, such as shooting people and destroying property.”

        Performing these acts takes tragic courage. But it has its rewards.

        “We avoid allowing evil to triumph.”

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail


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