Frankly, my dear ...

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” 

The final words of Rhett Butler in ‘Gone with the Wind’ to fickle, faithless Scarlett O’Hara. The end. And yet...There was a real Rhett Butler, less romantically named Rhett Turnipseed, scion of an old South Carolina family who loved and lost, not Scarlett, but Emelyn Louise Hannon, when he joined the Confederate army. After the war, he became a gambler, a drunk and a drifter. But in 1871 in a Methodist church Rhett gave his ruined life to Christ and became a new man. He went Vanderbilt University to study theology and ended up as a Methodist preacher in Kentucky. And that’s not all. Worried about the sudden disappearance of a young woman from his church, he traced her to St Louise and found her in a brothel. He told the ‘Madame’ he was not leaving without the girl. But he realised something shocking, that the woman running the brothel was none other his old lover, Emelyn. He challenged her to a hand of cards for the girl and won. The girl came home, was welcomed, forgiven and married well. After her encounter with Rhett, Emelyn left the brothel, gave her life to Christ and joined the Methodist church. She opened an orphanage for Cherokee children and died in 1903, loved and mourned.

I wonder what he said to her? What pastoral guidance did he give? The American monk, Thomas Merton, said that God is mercy enfolded in mercy enfolded in mercy. No condemnation. Just fathomless love and compassion and understanding.

‘Come to me’, Jesus said. ‘Those of you who are worn out carrying life’s heavy load and I will give you rest’. Not penance. Not another task. Not religious stuff. Rest – tender acceptance and an embrace. I remarked recently to an Anglican priest, ‘Maybe we should preach the gospel more’.

‘What do you mean?’

‘That it doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter who you have been, it doesn’t matter who you have become. You are and always will be, the beloved child of God. To whom He wants to say one thing. Yes. Yes.’

This is the heart of everything we do. It separates human religious activity from something which comes from outside of our frame of reference. The Love that is pressing in on us from the other side of our self preoccupations. It is our privilege to tell it, proclaim and preach it. The love that changes everything.

Tim Marks
11th November 2013