CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

July 20

Punjab! Curry! Curry!

So, it’s the final leg home and I’ll be writing today on the fly. I’ll do my best. We shall begin with last night…I had to return the rental car this evening. I dropped Jan at the Airport Motel run by some nice folks from India. Once I dropped the car off, I had to figure out a way to get back to the motel. There was a shuttle from the rental agency to the airport. From there I figured I could then catch the motel shuttle that swung by the airport every 30 minutes. Easy peasy.

I jumped into the Alamo shuttle to the airport and it was just the driver and me, an enthusiastic Cardinals fan. Sensing a baseball soul-mate, I said, “I’ll pay you $20 to skip the airport and take me to my motel.” I was thinking it would save me a long wait and was cheaper than a cab. He bit. Off we went in his gigantic shuttle. He didn’t have a clue as to where he was going. He is used to driving long lazy loops around Lambert Field. Once more, Siri was of no help. She kept shouting orders for him to get on the Interstate. However, his type of shuttle was banned from the Interstate. Siri wouldn’t listen to this line of reasoning or oaths. My driver finally gave up and took me back to the airport. I paid him $10. We were both dejected.

I waited around for a bit. A lot of smokers in ‘ol St Louis. It was hot. It was humid. I said, “Bah!…I’ll just get a cab.”  So, off to the cabbie stable I went. The fella from the first cab in line launched himself in my direction, I handed him a card from the motel and off we went. I discovered he was from India because I asked him: “Where are you from?” he said, “Punjab.” “India?” I asked? He nodded. I thought that a lovely coincidence since my motel was owned by the nice people from India and even had an attached restaurant called…India. I tried to make conversation. All the English he seemed to know, which wasn’t really English, was the word, “Punjab.”  I can’t bear the thought of not being able to communicate. I was trying hard to think of some common ground, a cultural marker, anything to break through the silence. Finally I remembered that spice from India that my assistant, Shiela, is so fond of. I smiled and blurted out, “Curry!” That was it. Nothing before. Nothing after. Just a loud, lonely and aggressive noun. He looked in the mirror at his grinning passenger. He seemed perplexed. Perhaps he thought I was speaking of Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Maybe I wished to speak of “the American basketball?” Regardless, the “Curry” eruption gained us nothing. Awkward silence. Then for whatever “heaven only knows” reason, I said it again: “Curry!”  Why? I couldn’t tell you. It had to be one of the most peculiar and boring cab rides in history. “Punjab!”  “Curry!” “Curry!” The politically correct set would be horrified at my clumsy, cultural appropriations. I was horrified.

It didn’t improve. He dropped me off by a massive gate behind the motel. When I say massive, I mean 10 feet tall with punji sticks on top for good measure. I was literally fifty feet from the back of the motel but I saw no way in. I began to hike. The fence worked its way back to the frontage road, about a mile in length.  To make matters worse, the only way to get around the fence was to follow the road back that my friend, Punjab, had taken to get me to this dead end. That was about a mile as well. Was he offended at my curry query? Did he not like curry? We’ll never know. I called Jan and had her haul the phone to the front desk where I explained my dilemma. They said that they would send the Hotel Shuttle. Sigh. Just then, a confused looking couple drove up to the same dead end. I waved them down and blurted out my predicament. I asked them if they were staying at the motel. They said yes. I asked if I could hitch a ride. They seemed hesitant. I said I understood. By this time I was pouring sweat and looked a bit crazed – a rat in a maze. The husband finally said, “Jump in.” The wife gave him a dirty look. I thanked them profusely and then helped them navigate their way back through the labyrinth to the motel.

It was hardly worth the effort. The motel was a stinker – literally. I usually don’t bother to fill out the survey forms from whatever travel site I happen to use. It feels like gossip. However,  I thought it my duty to alert the general public. Even though it was billed as a non-smoking motel, it seemed to be a suggestion. I wrote in my remarks, “Smoker’s Paradise!”  “Perfect place for college partiers and man outings!” It was a brutal review. I smugly hit send. A few moments later I was sent a “Thank-you” notice for my review of the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis – a first-rate establishment we had lodged at the previous night. Whoops. Thankfully, the lies I had told about the wrong hotel are untraceable. But now you know. Blessings…CJ

July 19

Meet Me In St Louis
We’ve crossed out of Illinois into Missouri. Our dear iPhone assistant, Siri, is confused. She is calling out streets that do not exist. She is panicked. We’ve gone the wrong way! “Turn around! Abort! Abort! We’re losing power!” Or some such. But all is well. We can roll with analog from here. It is difficult to miss the looming and iconic structure of the St. Louis Arch. It is also difficult for me to enter St. Louis and not have bits and pieces of that ribald song from 1904 sounding off in my head:
Meet Me In St. Louis, Louie
(Pronunciation guide! Louis is pronounced as Louie)
 
V.1 When Louis came home to the flat
He hung up his coat and his hat
He gazed all around
But no wifey he found
So he said, “Where can Flossie be at?”
A note on the table he spied
He read it just once, then he cried
It ran, “Louis, dear,”
“It’s too slow for me here,”
“So I think I will go for a ride…”
Chorus
Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Anyplace but there
We will dance the “Hoochie-Koochie”
I will be your “Tootsie-Wootsie”
If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
 
The song was written in limerick style, so I suppose I can make some claim to it with my Irish roots. By verse 5, poor old Flossie gets taken in by a ne’er-do-well. Something happens in a church with a bank robber rejecting the faith in verse 7. It truly goes off the rails. The lyrics, written by Andrew B. Sterling with music by Kerry Mills celebrates the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair.  
 
One more day and we’ll be winging it home. A Civil War Museum and other peaceful tourist sights are on today’s itinerary. I’m not sure if we’ll get around to dancing the Hoochie-Koochie but the day is young.
 
As I mentioned yesterday, I am a downstater. I grew up with more of an affinity to St. Louis than Chicago. The latter was scary big. St. Louis was homey and home to my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. The very first ball game I can recall going to was in the old Bush Stadium also known then as Sportsman’s Park. I can remember the future Hall of Famer, Lou Brock, trotting out to left field. It was the springtime of his long career. Before kids sang, “ I Wanna Be Like Mike”, I was an early adopter and wanted to be like Lou. Never mind the fact that he was African-American and left-handed and I was of Celtic hue and right-handed. Didn’t matter.
 
That stadium would be torn down to make way for Busch Stadium II. It opened about the same time that the St. Louis Arch opened. We visited both in 1967, the year that the ride to the top of the Arch began operations. We rode it. It was like climbing into a clothes dryer with five little seats and all the occupants sitting knee to knee. We rode it again this go round. Not much had changed in those 50 years between rides. It took about four minutes to ascend the 630 feet. I was sitting next to a Girl Scout Leader who was absolutely terrified. The little Girl Scouts were not. They jabbered the entire way up. I told the leader, whose head was bowed over as if in fervent prayer (or something more ominous) to just rub one of her wrists. She did. It was fake medicine on my part but it did the trick. She rubbed them until they were almost smoking and thanked me at the top. We all peered out of the little windows for about 20 minutes with one set overlooking the city and the other the mighty Mississippi. (I spelled that without spell-check by the way. I learned it from a song my mom used to sing about Steamboat Billy Boy. Next time you see me I’ll be glad to belt it out for you. I never learned a song about Massachusetts, thus, sp.check).
 
It is hard to believe that Busch Stadium II was knocked down in 2005 and has been replaced by yet another Busch Stadium – the III – I suppose. I could see it from the Arch as the sun set. The Cardinals were out of town so it sat empty and dark and a little sad.
 
The Arch was built with the theme, “Gateway To The West.” That certainly proved true for me. In 1979, I set out for Durango, Colorado in my Ford Torino with the Landau roof. It was bean dip in color. I was no less excited for my new adventure than Lewis and Clark of old. I just got there faster. And tomorrow, if all goes well with United Airlines and temperamental Colorado weather,  I will get there faster yet. ~Blessings, CJ

July 18

Not Chicago

In a couple of hours it will be wheels down and time to say goodbye to my hometown. It’s been a nice visit. We’ll say goodbye to our host. He is a lovely friend. He doesn’t deserve a mere mention, he deserves a book. He divides his busy life between a couple of homes in Florida, a place in Kentucky, and a couple here in Illinois. He has business concerns strung out between the three. While here, we chauffeured him about in his Mercedes because he just wanted us to. It sure beat the economy rental we had from Alamo. He’s always on the go, always on the phone, always working deals. He is the guy with the great Florida tan, the gold chain, the stylish clothes, the unbuttoned shirt, the money clip holding the big bills – gregarious and hilarious  – and…he is my friend. He walked about his spacious home, where we stayed, in his gym shorts, carrying on, making sure we had everything we needed, showing off his brown skin and yakking at us in his short clipped way like we were one of his sub-contractors. We see through all his fuss, cuss and bluster to a very kind and generous heart – a softie even. He would curse me to reveal that last bit about him, but there you have it. It is pretty much public record.

After lunch it is south to St Louis where we’ll catch a ride from United Airlines and wing it back to Durango. As soon as we begin to head south, it will feel like home for I am a “downstater” in Illinois parlance. I root for the St. Louis Cardinals, not for the Chicago Cubs – those aberrant World Champions of 2016. To put it bluntly, to be a downstater means “Not Chicago.”  A downstater used to be defined as anyone south of Joliet, a city just past the southside of Chicago. A few years ago the Chicago encroachment had made its way to Champaign~Urbana. Now it has broken through to the entire state with only pockets of resistance left standing. The dysfunction of the state has been noted and even decried by the normally friendly Chicago press. The powerful boss of the super majority party machine is Mike Madigan, the Speaker of the House. Even those newspapers occasionally refer to Illinois as “Madiganistan.” Clever. They’ve come to realize, only lately, that not everyone in Illinois can work for the government and have cushy, defined benefit pensions. You actually need a robust business community to supply the necessary fuel for the tax furnace. Yet the political powerbrokers continue to flog and fleece with abandon. Many have fled the state for such reasons – about 100 a day in 2016 – the most in the country.  I am fleeing in a few hours.

I know the last few days have been more autobiographical in nature than manifestly spiritual. No apologies. I’m not one to make or see a great distinction between the sacred and the secular. The whole Christian enterprise seems to me hinged upon the constant churning and tension between the two. If the faith doesn’t mix it up and work in the real world, it is not a faith worth having or promoting. You now know a bit more of where I came from. That may not be important to you, but it has been important to me. We all come from somewhere. The past can help define us, but it need not confine us. I hope you’ve seen that much in our time together in the Land of Lincoln. Blessings…CJ

 

July 17

Hugs

After two nights of meet and greet with old classmates, we were off to visit those not from my class. I was able to hook up with my old friend, Brad. He is one of those buddies who you might not see for a decade but can pick up right where you left off. Brad tends to the rich soil around Marshall, Illinois, keeps a bit of livestock, raises and trains race horses, and manages an auto parts shop. He was a bit gimpy from a small horse wreck but none the worse for wear. We always laugh for a few hours – really hard laughter. It is good for the soul. I’ll not mention all that we laugh about.

Our next stop was to an elderly gent who put a brush stroke or two on my canvas. His name is John. He is the man that taught me to hug. That doesn’t sound like a big deal but it has turned out to be so. Over the years lots and lots of people have needed a hug. Had it not been for John, I would have been bereft of a gift that has expressed itself much better than words. Many people feel un-huggable. John taught me that was a load. Everyone deserves one. With John, everyone got one. Moreover, a hug once saved my life.

Our family lived just down the street from a single mother – a bit of a rarity in my youth. Her name was Rovene and she worked with my dad at the printing factory. One day Rovene found her true love in this big, gregarious guy by the name of John. He made sense from day one. He was fun loving. He liked to eat. He was a mechanic. He liked boats. He was a hard worker. He was a wicked smart businessman. He liked going to church. And, he hugged people. He hugged at both hello and goodbye. Sometimes he hugged in between.  And because it came from a big jolly chap with grease under his fingernails, I was okay with it.

Rovene passed away on Christmas Eve of 2016. I wrote a small obituary for her. But I couldn’t talk about her without mentioning John. The two were a match made in heaven and for earth. And I couldn’t talk about John without mentioning his hugs.

So, it was with these thoughts in mind that we made our way to the home he has lived in since 1969 that he bought for $14,000. I had heard he wasn’t doing too well. I didn’t know what to expect. As we wandered about outside I heard his booming voice: “Come in through the garage.” We did.  He didn’t have a clue who was coming to visit. He just seemed glad that someone was coming for a visit. I turned the corner through his familiar kitchen and into his living room. He was propped up in an easy chair with large compression devices on both legs. He didn’t look very well until we locked eyes. Immediately those big arms were up in the air reaching for me and I went in. Then it was Jan’s turn. We both got thoroughly hugged. We talked for quite some time and got caught up. He talked with such tenderness about Rovene’s last years with Alzheimers – four years of her not really knowing for sure who he was. Sometimes she was scared of him – a complete stranger to her spotty and failing memory. But he would gently talk to her and sooth it all out. He was so happy to share that a day before she passed she was squeezing his fingers in the familiar way of their lifelong love. It was God’s little signal that a pathway had been cleared just long enough to let John know that she knew whose hand she was squeezing. Of course he cried through the whole story and I joined with a bit of that. We ended the visit with another round of hugging. I’m a bit of realist. I realize that it is most likely the last hug I will give or get from that very good man. But it’s okay. He taught me well. He gave me the courage to hug the world.

As I mentioned earlier – one time it saved my life. In my driveway was a distraught man who had lost a son in a terrible accident. He was drunk and he was angry at God. Since God wasn’t handy to answer for what he considered Divine neglect, he thought that offing a preacher might do. As I stood listening to him, it became quite clear that this was not heading in a good direction. He pulled out a .357, pointed it right between my eyes and basically was ready to give God some payback through his very lesser of servants, CJ.  I had only one thought, and that I believe from heaven. I went under the upraised weapon and crushed the grieving father in a John hug. And it wasn’t a short one. I held him until the sobbing began and it until it subsided.

_____
As we left John’s, I noticed a hand-crafted sign hiding behind a hedge near his front door. I pulled it out, brushed it off to have a peek, and it turned out to be another one of those God moments. Here’s what it said:

John Hayward & CJ

July 16

I Was Born In A Small Town
My hometown, as Midwestern as they come, was once a prosperous mix of agriculture, manufacturing and state largesse with its 10,000 student population at the local school, Eastern Illinois University. For those of you in the football know – this is the University that produced both Tony Romo of Dallas Cowboy fame and Mike Shannahan the erstwhile coach of the Denver Broncos. It is a proud town with an interesting heritage.

Yet, like so much of the Midwest these days, the manufacturing base has dried up. Moore Business Forms, the Brown Shoe Factory, Addressograph, Trailmobile – once booming concerns and providers of a solid income to the locals – packed up years ago. Moreover, because Illinois fell prey to the most dysfunctional of political gerrymandering, the local University has suffered as well. Once endowed by the state to the tune of about 52 million a year, that fell last year to around 16 million. Student enrollment is down to 7500. I’ve a good friend who is fighting hard to right the ship. He remains optimistic. Property taxes are eye-popping. A five acre plot outside of town, with a decent sized home on it, gets fleeced for between $15,000 and $20,000 per year. In town those rates are even more confiscatory. And the state recently had to suspend the lottery for a bit because the supposedly sacrosanct and sequestered funds were in question.  The answer from the political betters is always: “More taxes.” And so it goes. The ravenous, machine politics of Chicago have slowly devoured a once prosperous state.

And you feel it everywhere. The beautiful downtown square, once home to storied, generational family businesses, is mostly shuttered. I counted a jewelry shop, a music store, a used book nook and a few law offices. The moniker “rust belt” fits the situation quite well. Charleston seems to have become the buckle of the rust belt.

There are still pockets of prosperity. I’ve friends in various service industries, particularly food and beverage, who manage mini-monopolies. People still eat and drink. There is a solid private banking concern. And as always, the farmers remain. They built this town so many years ago – long before the University or the factories. The loamy, black soil of Illinois continues to produce bumper crops of soybeans and corn. For what Illinois lacks in mountain vistas it makes up with boundless tracks of lush, green cornfields. There is a satisfying beauty to the symmetry and vastness of the fields. I recall Whitman:

O Earth, that hast no voice, confide to me a voice!
O harvest of my lands! O boundless Summer growths!
O lavish, brown, parturient earth! O infinite, teeming womb!
O theatre of time, and day, and night!
A verse, to seek to see, to narrate thee.
~Walt Whitman, A Carol of Harvest

I graduated Charleston High School in 1977. I moved to Colorado in 1979. I’ve never looked back. I’ve only come back. I nevertheless am grateful to the good Lord for this town and how it helped stitch me together. In a couple of hours, I will go to meet up with some of the folks who were a part of that quilting party.  We’ll listen to the boys who were part of a long-haired garage band back in the day. Some have  long since “parted” ways with their golden locks. Bald is the new plush. Yet, they can still crank out covers of the 60’s and 70’s with the best of them. They are good lads. They’ve asked me to sing a tune, but I might defer. I’m not sure what I would do with an electric guitar. I don’t rock. I celt. Without the security blanket of my own wee Celtic band I would feel rather naked. However, if they ask me to jump on a mic to help them sing Free Bird  I’ll be all over that. If it does happen I’ll include the video tomorrow! May the Lord bless richly your Sunday.  ~CJ

July 15

Bob’s Bait Shop
 
A thunderstorm in the Midwest is something to behold. Weather systems from the south, north and west often hook up for a brief tête-à-tête in Illinois. When the cold of the north meets with the warmth of the south the clouds begin to spin. The Western wind, still angry at having cut its mountain vacation short, nudges the gyrating pair to the east. Sometimes the wild tryst crashes to the earth and we witness their wild passion in the form of tornadoes. I observed a number of them growing up. It’s one of many things I do not miss about the Midwest.

Not all storms brought tornadoes. Most of them brought out little boys exploring the rivulets of the temporary floods. Makeshift damns were formed to contain the deluge. Chunks of wood lifted from the workshops of fathers were launched into these mini-seas. Rock bombs poured down on the helpless flotsam. Long before cool basements, gaming and a thousand channels lured a generation to vegetate before the one-eyed god, we knew how to have fun the old fashioned way. And, we knew how to make a buck.

If the rains continued into the evening, we would grab a flashlight and a bucket and go out to the yard to harvest the night crawlers who were escaping their flooded confines. In the morning we’d haul our catch just a few houses down to Bob’s Bait Shop. There, the kindly old man, Bob, paid us a penny per worm straight up – no hassles, no taxes. Most of us put our earnings toward our “accounts” which he kept track of in a spiral notebook. Very few actually pocketed the money because Bob had a fridge full of pop and candy bars. We bartered our worms for sweets. It was heady stuff for a 7 year old to saunter in like John Wayne to Bob’s Bait shop, open the fridge, grab a lemon-lime soda and a Hershey Bar and say, “Take it off the books.”  That was 20 cents for the pop and 20 cents for the candy bar. I had just spent 40 worms. It was simple math. Organic. Fair trade.

How many life lessons can you count up in that brief snapshot from my childhood? Honesty. Hard-work. Thrift. Reward. Trust. Fairness. Respect. Friendship. Honor. I was getting blasted with character formation and didn’t even know it – the best way, by the way, to get blasted with character formation.  But I think Bob knew it. While many adults would be overwhelmed with a tiny bait shop full of sweaty boys counting out their worms into containers and jostling one another to get to the candy – Bob just sat there and smiled and attended to the worm ledger. And eventually things would quiet down and it would be just me and Bob and Sunday School would begin. But I didn’t know it was  Sunday School and that’s the best kind of Sunday School. Bob would tell story after story – as many as I wanted to hear – from his long life. And I wanted to hear a lot. He had a thin, scratchy voice and a fine white stubble on his head and face that never seemed to grow longer or shorter. He always wore his old fishing hat. Each story was freighted with a spiritual lesson of how to treat people, to be the guy that stood up, did the right thing, was courageous in spite of intimidation or popularity. These were real stories told against the backdrop of his long life – so much wisdom and kindness reserved for one little lad eager to linger.

Yesterday, much to my delight, I discovered that the Bait Shop still stood, some 50 years later. It was like some spiritual shrine. I knocked on the door of the house of the new owner but no one answered. I felt awkward about going to the back of the driveway but Jan did not. She wandered back there and began snapping pictures. That got a response! The new owner, himself an old war vet, charged out and asked what was going on. I quickly gave him the story and immediately all was fine and we had a lovely chat. As I drew close to take a couple of shots of my own, I could just make out part of the word that had brought Bob and me together those many years ago…

July 14

Cruising
It was an uneventful flight from Durango to Denver to St. Louis. Other than running three hours late out of Denver, there was nothing much to report.

To be on time out of Denver – now that would have been an event. Weather delays are the norm when connecting through DIA. The weather is still making up its mind about what it wants to do when it comes sweeping down the plains. It has enjoyed its time in the mountains and seems angry about having to head to the Midwest – not unlike many of our tourists as their vacations wind down. The nice thing about coming home from vacation is that I’m returning to a vacation hotspot. As always, I will rub that bit of topographical cachet all over the faces of my classmates throughout the weekend. Those who’ve made the choice to live out their days in humidity, heat, gnats, chiggers, wicked winters, and to pay confiscatory taxes on top of it, deserve a bit of the Rocky Mountain happy dance.

Two topics always come up from Non-Coloradoans: 1. Do you ski? And, 2. Does everyone out there smoke weed? I mentioned a couple of days ago that most of my former classmates are now well along in the Christian faith. I assume the second question is innocent, morbid curiosity and not a hope that I had managed to bring along a few samples.

As to the first question: “Not so much anymore. I used to. It’s pricey. I’m no longer nimble enough to avoid the Texans hoo-rahing out of control in their Spandex ski suits with Bud on their breath.”  (That last bit is a true story. My daughter was smashed by one such a few years back and suffered compound fractures in the radius and ulna of her right arm). As to the second question: “No. Not everyone.” (Note: I just noticed that the answer I gave to the first question would work for some of my friends as an answer to the second question. Read back through it. It’s kinda funny).

So, after a 4 hour drive we arrived in my hometown. I drove by the old homestead on 20th Street. Farmer Milton’s house from 19th  is no longer there, nor the garden where he shot my dog, Wig, nor the giant cornfield where we once made mischief. As we cruised down 20th I was trying hard to remember the names of all my neighbors and which houses they had lived in. I mentioned to Jan that there used to be a little shack just a few doors down from us that was known as Bob’s Bait Shop. I will tell more of that story tomorrow. I had no hope that it still stood these many years later. It was old and somewhat run-down 50 years ago. But, hidden behind one of those pop-up, temporary car garage/tents, I could just make out the words: “Fishing Bait.” I smiled, got out of the car and went and knocked on the door…

July 13

Stayin’ Alive (ah, ah, ah, ah)
If all goes well we should be touching down in St Louis late Wednesday night by the skilled hands of a United Airlines pilot. After watching all of the viral videos of customer care this past year by said airline, I plan to keep a low profile. On the other hand, if I get beat up by a flight attendant I could become a millionaire. I think the odds of winning the lottery and getting accosted by a stewardess are roughly the same.

I will enjoy seeing the friends I wrote about yesterday. We’ll pull old memories out of the box, dust them off, have a laugh or two, and then put them away for another 5 -10 years. Those hoary tales never get old with the telling. In fact, they get better with the telling.
 
I trust there will be less sizing up than in past reunions. The manic need to get a fake tan, just the right haircut, hitting the bottle (i.e. hair dye), losing vast quantities of gelatinous, gluttonous, glutinous mass, getting buffed…all that is losing steam by ones 40th. You are what you are. If you’ve not yet reconciled yourself to it then you never really graduated from high school or into adulthood. Vanity and maturity have never really gone steady – they’ve never even reached first base.
 
I hold the dubious distinction of having one year been voted: Prince Charming without having secured a date for the big night. I suppose someone would have been willing to step forward for an evening with high school, agrarian royalty, but it seemed that all the ladies were already spoken for. At the last second, a nice young upperclassman lady had a cancellation and became available. Out of pity, my friends set us up on the blindest of blind dates. We barely knew each another. It was an awkward evening of strained conversation with me pulling on the collar that was supporting my gigantic bow tie. She married a local hot head. He gave me dirty looks every time I saw him. He yelled at me once at a gas station and told me to stay clear of his woman. I did. I couldn’t quite remember her name. Shortly thereafter I moved to Colorado.

I promised a short break from the Gospel of Saint John a few days ago. It actually makes my brain squeak to crank out theological devotions each day that do not put the readers to sleep. It is a lot of work. However, this free-association drivel comes quite naturally. It almost writes itself. We will return to our more meaty offerings sometime next week. Until then, for your amusement, I shall take you along on a ride to the reunion of the Class of 1977 and the home of the school with the unfortunate moniker – the Charleston Trojans. Believe me, our rivals had just as much fun with it then as they do today. And here’s the list of the top tunes that played on my AM radio back in the day, as I cruised main street in my Galaxy 500 listening to 89 WLS, Chicago.
 

CJ’s Top 10 list from 1977ish…
 
“Stayin’ Alive”
“Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)”
“Best of My Love”
” Keep It Comin’ Love “
“Margaritaville”
“Hotel California”
“Fly Like an Eagle”
“Handy Man”
“Don’t Stop”
“New Kid in Town”

July 12

Delayed Response
I became an aware, attentive Christian sometime in high school. Shortly after the whole Watergate affair that helped dismount President Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon from office, a book came out by one of his co-conspirators, Chuck Colson, entitled: Born Again. Colson served a bit of time in the pokey for his hijinks, and while there, came across the book Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. He mentioned that it was Lewis’ book that brought him to faith. I remember very little of Colson’s book; however, I’ve put great tracts of the latter to memory. I credit my father with sitting at the dining room table with me and reading through Lewis’ cheerful, brilliant and diminutive work about the historical Christian faith. Not a great many fifteen year olds were blessed to cut their spiritual teeth on the likes of an erudite Oxford Don. I was. It opened the door for hundreds of other good reads.

Speaking of doors, I loath having mine knocked on by eager proselytizers on Saturday mornings. It is annoying. It feels not unlike a vacuum cleaner salesman. I don’t much care for those either. When I try to explain that my soul or my carpet is doing fine, they do not believe me. They continue to press their point. Thus, the clichés surrounding the word evangelism, at least in the cultural milieu from which I emerged, was framed as: “Be aggressive! Be bold! Don’t take “No!” for an answer!” etc. Quite to the contrary, what I found in Lewis was a gentle, congenial, and equitable style. He trusted both the intelligence and the goodwill of his readers to make a reasoned choice when the evidence was presented. I’ve tried to do likewise.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t wish to have the ability to give the other a go. I just never did, or never could. It felt false. I’m no Billy Graham. However, what felt very real then and still does to this day is the love of both heaven and earth. I love the Lord. Not in the way he told us to mind you – you know, with that whole business about the heart, soul, mind and strength. If I said that I did love God in that way it would only be to impress you and I would be telling a lie. I don’t think I’m there at all. A million competing loves and likes and even hates crowd to the front of the queue each day. Yet, bits and pieces of my heart get overtaken and won over more and more – and it runs deep. I know I will make it to the end of my days as a follower of Jesus. And I trust wherever I’ve gotten to by my last breath, he’ll be there to carry and help me finish that last bit of my imperfect and incomplete mission. I will feel bad for what could have been, what I might have accomplished. There is a reason that Scripture tells us he’ll be busy wiping the tears from our eyes as we first make purchase with heaven.

I also mentioned a love for earth. That includes people – people with all of their wild beauties and unique horrors. Right out of the gate, as a young believer, I took a great interest in the souls of those around me. As  a young Christian, I prayed each day for the folks in my high school yearbook. Yet, I saw no fruit…no results. My ineffectual efforts were saddening and maddening.

And then, the years began to pile up. I would return to a class reunion and a person or two would come up and mention something about having come to faith and that I had played some small part in it. A few more years would pass, another class reunion and the same report. I smiled. People joined the journey at that perfect convergence of heart, circumstance and understanding. What I find most remarkable as I head to my 40th reunion tomorrow is that it seems that nearly the whole lot of my former classmates have crossed over to faith. There were just a handful of believers when I turned the tassel in 1977. Today there are very few unbelievers.

I’m not sure why I wrote all of this other than to tell you to remain encouraged. This delayed response to the fervent prayers of a sincere fifteen year old was not a: “No.” It was rather a: “Wait.” We’re to allow God the time to marinate a soul. It was not my place to rush another’s journey. Nor is it yours. Just register your love for another with heaven and things will move along nicely.

July 11

Front Porch Worship 
I love to sit outside in the evening and strum the guitar and sing to my attentive audience of stars and planets. As the evening cools the insects give up their blood-lusty ways. I enjoy these fleeting summer nights to serenade both heaven and neighbor with an impromptu worship service. Not once have the authorities been alerted nor the hounds released.

During one evening’s vesper service I was joined by a friendly herd of deer that came up the driveway toward the music, two by two. It was nearing the last few traces of twilight when I heard some shuffling on the driveway. Soon, I had a congregation of ten or more “deer” souls in attendance.  I offered refreshments to my guests in the form of un-mowed grass and dandelion greens. I exhorted them to leave the garden alone. They grazed a few feet away. Together we worshipped.

I have had a number of these close encounters with creation over the years.  A few summers ago, as my father and I were loading up our clubs after a round of golf, I sensed a presence at our feet. I looked down to see, I suppose, a teenage fox sitting quietly a foot or two away. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. And since he didn’t – we didn’t. He was so beautiful with his red coat, black feet, and huge foxy grin. I have had similar encounters with elk, bear and a mama moose with her calf. Somehow, a timeout was called by heaven from that untrusting enmity between nature and man. For a few moments we experienced the joy of Eden.

We ache for this. If we’re really honest we ache to reconcile with all creation. The Apostle Paul discloses to his readers that nature aches as well. In Romans 8 he speaks of all creation groaning in eager anticipation of the reconciliation of man to beast and then of all creation to heaven – an Edenic reset. Lambs will snuggle up to lions and young children will play with vipers.  For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, these whispers of a reconciled creation  – i.e. a yard full of peaceful deer congregants – are meant to encourage and attract. It is the picture of how it once was and how it shall once more be.  One day, as Lady Julian of Norwich prophesied, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  Until then, I pray God grant you a brush and a holy hush with His creation and yards full of furry worshippers.

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