By Rodger Weems
Special to the E-T
Not long ago, the Empire-Tribune reprinted a Washington Post article about guns in church. The article was prompted by the shooting at Fort Worth's West Freeway Church of Christ. The shooting was over in six seconds because a church member fired at the shooter, killing him, but not before the gunman murdered two church members. No doubt there would have been more deaths if not for armed church members protecting the congregation.
That event and the ensuing debate brought to mind a most unlikely but fitting figure: Tillet S. Teddlie.
Teddlie was a devout hymn writer in the Church of Christ, but his songs found a place among many religious groups, because many of them were published by the well-known Stamps-Baxter Music Company of Dallas. To this day, hymns with a country-western flavor are nicknamed "Stamps-Baxter songs." Tillet S. Teddlie hymns have simple, heartfelt lyrics combined with equally simple, easy-to-sing melodies.
Like many boys of his day, Tillet was "farmed out" at an early age. But in Tillet's case, he was "cowboyed out," a genteel euphemism used by parents with more mouths than they could feed. Still, Tillet was excited by the prospect for adventure and travel afforded by life on the range.
Of course, all cowboys carried guns to protect themselves and the herd from snakes and predatory animals, but there is no indication that Tillet ever pointed his gun at another human.
But life was not all adventure and travel. Once at the age of 17, he was so broke he couldn't even buy a 2-cent postcard to write home for money. That incident, either directly or indirectly, provided the inspiration for one of his best-known hymns:
"Earth holds no treasures that perish with using/However precious they be./Yet there's a country to which I am going/Heaven holds all to me.
"CHORUS: Heaven holds all to me./Brighter its glories will be./Joy without measure will be my treasure. Heaven holds all to me."
There is no question that knowing want in his teen years had a major impact on Teddlie's life. One version of the story behind the hymn has Teddlie writing the hymn then and there at age 17 as his direct response to the poverty he experienced, a tangible expression of faith in God. Doing without was real, but he would get over it. He did not lose his faith.
A likelier version has Teddlie returning to his boyhood home as an adult and finding it vacant and deteriorating. Even allowing for the ravages of time, Tillet could see that the homeplace was never as grand as he remembered: "Earth has no treasures but perish with using." Everything in this world is destined to decay, including the childhood home he once had known.
Either way, it's not hard to see the connection between deprivation in his formative years and another important career in Teddlie's life. He was an early superintendent of Boles Home for Children in Quinlan, Texas, now called Arms of Hope.
Doing without makes some people bitter. It made Tillet S. Teddlie better. He wanted to dedicate at least a portion of his working life to helping boys and girls who, like him, too often did without.
So how do guns in church figure into Teddlie's story? When he was ready to be baptized --- by immersion in a creek because almost no churches in those days had indoor baptisteries --- he was reminded to remove his gunbelt before wading out in the water. Ours is not the first generation to need good guys with a gun in church.
Rodger Weems was minister of Graham Street Church of Christ from 1991-2001. He now lives in Grand Prairie.