Prayers4Peace: Palm Sunday of Lent 2024

Our Balcony People, Palm Sunday of Lent 2024
Written by Rev. Ronald Shive

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2

In 2008, I was elected to be a commissioner to the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in San Jose, California. I was assigned to the International Relations Committee, where one of our major tasks was to deal with several overtures concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. There were some on the committee who felt that it was too controversial and that the issues were too complex for us to approve any positions calling for justice and peace. There were others who were convinced we needed to pass some much-needed statements. I returned to my hotel room very late one night after a full day of committee discussions, and as I processed the events of the day, I heard someone from my “great cloud of witnesses” whispering in my ear.

Carlyle Marney was a Baptist minister who has been described as “a preacher that shook the foundation of the powers that be… an intellect, author, and country boy from East Tennessee.” He was the Pastor of the Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte from 1958 -1967. He referred to the people in his own great cloud of witnesses “the balcony people.” Our balcony people are those who have left us to find a new home in the presence of God, but who lean over Heaven’s balcony to cheer us on as we continue to run the race of life.

One of my balcony people is my Dad, Lowell Shive, who passed away some years ago. I grew up in Chattanooga during very difficult days. Racial turmoil abounded. Riots tore through the streets on a nightly basis; schools were closed for days and weeks at a time. Our old, immoral societal structures were dissolving, and God was trying to give birth to a new way of living—a way of living that would bring justice and equality for all citizens and make us kinder and more true to our faith.

Dad was asked to serve on a committee formed by the Chattanooga City Board of Education. The committee was tasked with asking difficult questions about desegregation: “What should we do? What can we do?”

I remember one night when Dad came home from a committee meeting. It was late when he walked in the side door. He collapsed on the sofa in the den from emotional, physical, and, yes, spiritual fatigue. The evil forces that gripped our culture were not bowing down without a fight. I looked at my young but beaten dad and asked him, “Well, what do you think? What should we do?” And he said to me, “Ronald, it’s a complex situation. There are such divergent opinions. Some people say that we should do nothing!” 

But he knew– like I know now– that we could not do nothing.

Dad is still in the balcony whispering to me that I don’t have the option in life, particularly in complex situations, to do nothing.

So, who are your balcony people? If we are going to be faithfully resilient, we need to listen to their words of encouragement.


Take a moment to reflect. This Lent, the young are dying with the old in Gaza. Walking from one building to another at the Catholic Church where they were sheltering, Nahida Anton was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in December. When her daughter came to her aid, the sniper shot her dead too. Reports are pouring from Gaza of whole families taken from this earth en masse. And a parent whose spouse and children are dust. And a child whose grandparents, parents, and siblings are dust. And…and…and…

Every hellish combination of untimely death and familial bereavement.

Losing loved ones is difficult, but having balcony people from your family and your community is also a rich blessing. This Lent, consider listening to your balcony people on behalf of all those suffering in Gaza with the present devastation of natural generational change. What are they telling you?


About the author: Rev. Dr. Ronald Shive is the recently retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, North Carolina, and is a member of the Board of Voices for Justice in Palestine. Ronald has made repeated trips across Palestine-Israel over the past 16 years and has regularly led study trips to Palestine-Israel. Ronald is currently the owner of Spiritus Mundi Travel, which allows Ronald to lead trips, especially to Israel-Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean, through the lens of church and biblical history and to engage with locals and their stories. Rev. Shive serves as a CMEP Regional Coordinator in North Carolina.  

About the author (reflection): Dr. Benjamin Norquist is an Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow with Churches for Middle East Peace. Ben is a researcher and public organizer. Ben holds his Ph.D. in Higher Education from Azusa Pacific University (Los Angeles) and his M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College (Annapolis). Ben’s dissertation is a qualitative project exploring adaptive Palestinian approaches to pedagogy. 

Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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