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3/30/2013
Perspectives: A message in six words

By W. Terence Erbele

I like the story of the woman who had the following six words inscribed on her tombstone: "I told you I was sick."

The online magazine, "Smithmag.net" invites people to distill their lives down to six words. There are also several books of six-word collections such as "Not Quite What I Was Planning" and "It all changed in an instant." Notice the titles have six words.

Many entries are humorous. One teenager wrote, "Four words: my dad found out." Another person wrote, "I am turning into my mother." One writer came up with "Dad was Santa. Downhill from there." Stephen Colbert said, "Well, I thought it was funny." Maybe you can identify with the person that summed up her life this way, "Never really finished anything, except cake."

Other memoirs pack powerful images of sadness: "Bumped down to best friend understudy." "Named me Joy, didn’t work out." "I still make coffee for two." "Followed yellow brick road. Disappointment ensued." "Never should have bought that ring." One veteran wrote, "Joined army, left legs in Iraq."

Yogi Berra will always be known for his wisdom, "It ain’t over ‘til it’s over." Shakespeare wrote, "To be or not to be." Chef Maria Batalis came up with, "Brought it to a boil, often." According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words so he wrote, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." A youth struggling with peer pressure might comment, "I keep trying to be me."

I can imagine Adam and Eve saying, "Apple looked good. Regretfully took bites." Noah could have said, "It rained 40 days and nights." Sarah’s memoir: "Strangers came. I laughed. Isaac born." King Darius might have noted, "Partied late. Saw handwriting on wall." Daniel: "Ate porridge and slept with lions."

There are many possible six-word memoirs that Jesus might have submitted. "Loved you unto death, on cross." "I am here always for you." "Started out carpenter, significant career change." "Died for you, keep in touch." "Never threw one stone, liked riddles." "From manger to cross for you." "Died on Friday, rose on Sunday." "From Mary’s womb to borrowed tomb." "I love you, go do likewise."

There are about 775,000 words in the Bible depending on the translation used. Can all those words be condensed down to six? Here are some attempts: "Jesus loves me, this I know." or "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound." "With God all things are possible." "Hosanna to the Son of David."

For all the trillions of words used to explain the Christian faith, it can be explained in only six words. Just think: available in a handy travel size that is easy to remember, easy to access and easy to share. These are the words that the women carried from the empty tomb and have been passed from person to person every day since then. It is these six words that have found countless individuals whose lives were broken by doubt and confusion, by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness — and given them new life.

These are the words that have been forbidden by governments but cannot be stopped. The martyrs sang these words as they burned at the stake and were fed to the lions.

The six short words declare God’s grace and power. This sentence removes fear, says you are never alone, that light is shining even when you believe all is darkness. It says evil will not triumph.

"Jesus is risen from the dead."

I add one more: "The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

The Rev. W. Terence Erbele is pastor of Ketchikan’s United Methodist Church.