This is a reprint from August 2013. Why this one? Because we need not ever forget the character and love that this man possessed. What happened to him went beyond his circle of friends, to touch a city, county and state. This was never his intention. He never sought the limelight of fame. He simply loved his God, and the people he came in contact with.
I never had the opportunity to meet Emory Boggs, but my life was touched by those who knew him. I saw in them a hunger to know more of God. To not be satisfied with what they were hearing in church but to ask "How can I know God better?"
You have to remember, at that particular time, the Jesus people movement sweeping across our nation and, yes even here in Etowah county we felt the impact. We were a generation looking to express God in a way that was uniquely us. We had been labeled a generation of rebellion...a generation that wanted to bring down the status quo..but now, we wanted to be known as a generation whose voice and purpose belonged to God.
What you are going to read was written by my good friend, David Finlayson.
If the truth be known........
we all need an "Emory Boggs" in our life. That one individual who seems to walk a different path...walks at a different rhythm.
Even though I never met you, Emory....thanks for all the lives you touched and how they touched me.
See you soon, my friend.
Emory Boggs death was a blow to us all. I still to this day have a difficult time sorting through the debris of memories. I remember walking down the school halls in a daze after mother phoned with the news that Emory was dead. I remember passing the classroom doors, hearing the dull drone of teacher's voices, rustling paper and the sounds only a school desk could make on a dirty tile floor. Each room was like a capsule filled with life,unaware of my sur-reality caused by a terrible grief. I paced down those long halls, and leaned into drab green walls that kept me from crumbling to the floor. Emory was dead. Emory was dead.
It's a shame that he suffered such a violent end. A life so good, so sweet does not need be remembered with such bitterness. Emory got the Zippy Mart job so he could work his way toward seminary, become a preacher and marry my sister Irene. The sixteen year old black kid didn't know that.Who knows why he threw gas on Emory and lit a match. This was long before Rodney King, the L.A. Riot, and so called Black Rage. It was during a time when an incident of this nature still shocked people. The boy said he was just trying to scare the clerk. He said that he didn't think the fumes would ignite. He said he didn't mean to.
It still grieves me to think what Emory must have gone through during those hours left alone and in pain on the cement floor of that back room. Two young children heading for school early the next morning heard Emory's cries. They found his charred body and called for help. Mom woke me up with the news that Emory was badly burned and had been sent to the Birmingham Burn Center. It sounded bad but I was an optimistic kid. I wasn't expecting to be called out of class. I wasn't expecting the telephone call waiting for me in the school office later that school day.
My brother Brooky rode down with Emory in the ambulance. He could tell the story better and with greater accuracy. Emory lay talking and praying. Brook said that Emory was very calm and talked to Jesus as if he were sitting beside him . . . I believe He was. He said. "Lord, please don't hold that boy accountable for doing this. Please don't hold this against him." It was a sad yet beautiful thing. That black, charred, unrecognizable twenty two year old man who could love as Christ in his final day. It was Jesus saying "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." You had to know Emory. For Emory, that was not a hard story to believe. His prayer kept me from hating the kid with the match. It kept me from years of hard feelings. If Emory could love and forgive his murderer, I could too. Here, the very essence and compassion of Christ bled through as Emory's final witness.
I remember my dad not liking Emory around the house at first. He didn't like the idea of that long hair rock and roll hippie hanging around his precious virgin daughter. Personally I thought Emory looked more like a bubble gum Bobby Sherman type but to my dad's generation they were all pretty wild looking. Things changed dramatically one week when Emory tagged along on a family trip to camp meeting. He went along to spend time with my sister Irene. He thought he would spend days romantically romping along the shores of Florida with her. I think everyone misperceives their first experience with camp meeting. Emory had never been to a holiness camp before,the sinners spiritual death-camp. Two hours into the first day and you're dreading the next nine. Call it love or call it stranded,but Emory stayed and was eventually and dramatically saved. Emory testified later that God literally pushed him out from among the pews and into the aisle during the alter call. I can attest to his testimony because I was sitting in the pew behind him.
The neat thing about his salvation experience is that he gave everything to the Lord. He really did. Most of us (myself included) hold onto crap that we think we can't live without. Emory did what few people do. He took God's Word literally. He was truly born again. He got rid of the old wine skins. He took up his cross and followed. It made perfect sense to him, that if he was to be saved, he had to empty his cup completely in order for it to be filled by the Holy Spirit completely. God didn't straighten Emory out,He bent him forward. When Emory's life changed,so did the world around him.
Emory had a desire to know everything he could about his Savior. He wanted everyone around him to experience the forgiveness and compassion from God that he had experienced. It wasn't long before Emory was called to preach. His sermons were as sincere and simple as his daily walk. I am sure that he would be the same fellow if he were alive today. Emory would've kept his faith real and warm. I never knew anybody that could love folks into the kingdom like Emory could. He loved people everywhere he went. People seemed to gravitate toward him.
My father quickly grew close to Emory. He was eventually loved as a son, and in death he was mourned as a son. The whole family loved him for that matter. He was my other brother and it took years to deal with his loss. So many lives touched in that short time. His coffin was surrounded by so many strange faces. It amazed me that this young man could touch so many lives within such a short span of time. If it were not for immediate family, I would have thought I was at the wrong service. The numbers bore witness to the fact that it was not just I who thought this life precious.
The last fragment I'll write is this. Emory was part of a fellowship. We had a coffeehouse that he named F.R.E.E House. I remembered some of his friends sitting around consoling each other. There were less than a dozen that day. We were talking about him and I remember a friend saying something to the effect that "God knew Emory would die young and that's why God gave the life such an unusual faith." I disagreed. I told her that I thought Emory had such a simple theology of letting go completely . . . so God could do His work completely. Do we not all have that very potential when we are surrendered as instruments?" To say that it was impossible for me to live and die the same way was something that I would not accept. I won't let anyone take that hope from me.
His death was over twenty five years ago and he still steps into conversations from time to time. A few weeks ago I was treating my nieces to pizza when they asked me about him. I was around their age when he was killed and thought it neat that he was being remembered by those who had never met him. I was surprised that they knew just as much as I did. There wasn't much that I could tell them that they didn't already know. They, I think, remember Emory mostly because of the tragic story of his death. I think those who knew him could agree to the following thought. Here is a great example of what God can do to a surrendered heart. If we could let go, our lives would be as fragrant too.
-David B. Finlayson