Have you ever watched a Locomotive from a long way off? At first it seems so far away and that it might never arrive at its destination. Many years ago, when I was a lad…my friend, Dennis, and I would attend movies at the Orpheum Theatre in Eldorado, Illinois on Sunday. The Orpheum had served as my church for several years…and after watching whatever flick was showing at least a couple of times…we, at certain select times, made our way to the Dairy Queen to purchase a pack of Marlboro Cigarettes for the old gentleman who took and tore the tickets. One day as we were walking to the DQ we had the brilliant idea to buy a pack of Marlboros for us as well. We further ruminated that to mask the odor of the pungent tobacco…we would each get a pack of barbecue potato chips. There was another old man who waited on us at the store where we usually enjoyed Dilly Bars…and he smiled in a wicked knowing manner when he took our order…and we were sore afraid… So we dropped off our friends smokes and then proceeded to the train tracks where we Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn wannabes could enjoy the full impact of our forbidden pleasure. The plan was to each smoke 20 cigarettes as rapidly as possible and then return to the theatre and wait for mom to pick us up in about an hour.
‘Smoke curled around our heads like a wreath.’ My stomach churned and Dennis took on a most interesting a lemon yellow glow. There were Little Egypt Mosquitoes and birds and squirrels and a train whistle in the far off distance…almost like a whisper… We were at the height of our smoking adventure and in the middle of a train trestle. The jump from the trestle was about 20 feet. We began to run as if our lives depended on it…and they did. We threw the Marlboros so they would not be found on our crushed bodies…and coughed like the steam from the coal fired furnace of the runaway train. When we reached safety and off the trestle of death…we hid in the poison ivy. No train came. We returned to the movie…a bit ill and scratching.
Holidays are a bit like waiting on a Locomotive. Due to our Pandemic we have waited on a trip to Maine for 16 months. It has seemed so far off and then we heard the phantom train whistle…but it was a specter…so we continued to wait. Once the train arrives for holidays or happy occasion I have discovered that I had better snap a photo…as it will be over almost before it starts.
‘Please don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth.
Life is fleeting.
And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night.
And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day…make a wish and think of me.
Make your life spectacular.’
As I launched on my magnificent Monday I first stopped at our church office to obtain a book for MJ for her participation in the Presbyterian Women Group. There was our Administrative Professional, Barb, to greet me and help me look for the hiding book. Each time that I think about going to the office…I am happy…because Barb is there. Also, Pastor Kerry was present with his sunny disposition and genial good humor. After spending some time and a text to MJ…and waiting for additional information…I left for a little walk on Campus before retrieving the Walmart groceries.
In the popular movie, The Sixth Sense, the youngster that was portrayed by the actor, Haley Joel Osment, had a secret that was not revealed until almost the conclusion of the movie. He whispered to Bruce Willis’ character…’I see dead people.’ Now this statement had weighty meaning as Bruce Willis character was dead…and did not know it… So, since the beginning of fall semester at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale…I have seen more students on Campus than I have witnessed for the past few years. Mark Twain said regarding a rumor that had arisen while he was in London that he was dead, ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration.’
An old saying that I love is, ‘The world is your oyster.’ We may think that certain opportunities are dead to us. It may seem that our ship has sailed…and we were not on it. It is somewhat easy to believe that life’s road is irreversible and thus our fate is already written… Not so…says SIUC!
As you may be aware…I love Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. I have spent much of my life there. I arrived as a young man of 20 years old…with the knowledge that I could do better if someone would assist me in accessing the tools that would enable me to increase my abilities. The University became my home. My mother had suggested that I become a barber and offered to pay my tuition to barber school. Now I respect barbers…but I never had a desire to become one. SIUC taught me that the sky was the limit…and that I could become anything that I desired to be. I thought that I was limited. I had been told that there were limitations. I accepted that there were smarter people and more gifted people and people who were earmarked for greatness…but not me. I had so many thoughts and plans and intentions…but wondered if I would ever fulfill the dreams of my heart.
After a 43 year association with Southern…I love it more than when I first began! I realize, at my almost 64 years of age, what SIUC gave me. It afforded me, a boy born in Chicago and reared in Southern Illinois, an appreciation for the diversity of Gods Creation. I was always a thinker…but I learned to question what was told me…at University. I learned to not accept what was told to me as truth…without research and never at Face Value. I found that all humanity is beautiful…and that travel is essential to read and understand…Gods Book…
The Great Spirit created us equal…we have made ourselves…unequal. The fleeting and gossamer wings of perceived power and prestige and importance is a ‘snake oil sold us by a carnival barker,’ that we are special and better than our…lessers. Committees…programs degrees…and resources…have convinced us that somehow we are the rulers of the less fortunate and the needy…when in the stark reality…’We are of all men…most miserable.’
Chin Water is not all created equal. I have waded in the clearest of emerald green water at Miramar Beach, Florida…and I have waded in my childhood neighbors pond…that was brown. The murky and troubled waters of our Pandemic and the rabid insurgence of the Delta variant…has altered many of our post-pandemic plans. I find myself wanting to, through force of will, force the Pandemic back into Pandoras Box. The threat that we are facing, once again, seems a bit like suffering double indemnity or being found innocent once…and then tried again…with new judicial rules. We did not think that it was supposed to be this way… We wore our masks…we social distanced…we eschewed restaurants and bars…we physically shunned our extended family…our friends…
Our 100 year Pandemic did not care about the sacrifices that we religiously kept. It did not care about our political affiliation or our creed or color. We find ourselves, in Little Egypt, in dark water that is up to our chins…and the only real answer is prudence and a circumspect realization that we are at the mercy of a world wide catastrophe and humility is in order. Because we can speak loudly and portray passionate emotions on both the ‘Wear a Mask’ side…or the ‘Don’t Wear a Mask side,’ our rhetoric will not produce the reality that we feel justified in asserting.
Pastor Kerry spoke in christian boldness and from his heart today as he noted that one of our sister Carbondale churches may be considering the temporary closing of their physical buildings doors and renewing their all Zoom Worship due to the Pandemic Crisis that is occurring in our county and our city…and the plain fact that our local hospital beds are full…thus…where will go if we become ill… Kerry went on to suggest that if he were making the decision he would return to Zoom worship and consider having outdoor worship services once the weather becomes cooler. I served until recently on the governing board of our local church…the Session. If I were still a member of this group I would call for a meeting today to vote on doing exactly what our pastor suggested.
A friend suggested to me that I would never find a perfect church. Thank God for that truth…as I am among the most imperfect christians that I know. After 23 years…First Presbyterian Church @ Carbondale is my home…
A friend asked me a pertinent question regarding a blog that I wrote recently. I often write about the need for change in several of our human institutions. Among those is one that I have been a member of for the past 52 years…the church. He inquired if I desired change in the church…should not the change begin with me…’Christ in me?’ The inquiry is so thought provoking that I have pondered it for several hours. First, I think, that each of us who are christians are the church. The building is only where we gather to meet. Indeed, our church has met for the entirety of the Pandemic by Zoom…and yet had a thrilling faith experience. When I consider the church…I consider the founder of the faith…Jesus Christ. What did he visualize to constitute his community of disciples? What have we, subsequently, translated the plan of Christ…as our institution that we fondly call the church?
During my half century of attempting to follow Jesus…I have been changing from the beginning in 1969…until today. I have been a member of 4 separate churches…2 non-denominational and 2 denominational. In each of those churches I was both humbled and honored to be asked to be involved in church government. I continue to have a stone in my shoe and sadness at my inability to affect positive change. This is not an inditement regarding my christian colleagues…as they are the inspiration that propels me forward. In fact I think that each of them have the same ‘stone in their shoe,’ when it comes to being satisfied at living the faith that Christ left for us.
If we believe and accept that the comfort of faith and the vision of Gods love is not high on the suffering masses of our world…we are of all women/men…most miserable. If we do not inspire the person who is contemplating suicide due to their extreme life reversals and their abject mental suffering…we have missed the mark. If the countless millions of human beings who are suffering under our Pandemic and the economic downturn of our nation…and the fear of uncertainty…do not have checking out a church and its message of love and inclusion and safety in the midst of the storm…what are we doing?
Actually…when I write of the need for change in our churches and the renewal of desire for hurting people to want to attend…I am writing to myself…
It feels like 102 degrees in Mr. Brooks Neighborhood. It is uncomfortable for sitting and miserable for working. With the aid of my ceiling fan and the powerful flow of my floor fan…I am climatized and surviving. As Global Warming progresses each year…when will be our human breaking point? The politicization of the change in our Earth’s climate as well as the COVID 19 Virus…has resulted in devastation for our species and our planet. While we fiddle…Rome burns.
Sunny days and cloudy ones visit us all. Often our reactions to each… chart our course of life. Much of life is reaction. In stormy times we can choose to either throw rocks at God…or learn to make lemonade out of lemons. We can feel that the world is set against us…or we can identify with our mutual struggle.
Our Pandemic seems to have no end. Yet our reactions to it are a bit like the person who maxes out all of their credit cards and rails at no one in-particular regarding their massive debt. If we continue to ignore science and common sense…perhaps we will be fighting about wearing face-masks for the foreseeable future.
We mourn and debate the causes of the diminishing of congregants in our churches. We wonder, aloud, if we need new programs and classes…finally we say in exasperation that people seem not to be that in to church…anymore. I finished the excellent Netflix Series ‘The Chair’ in the early hours of this morning. The wonderful actor, Sandra Oh, gave a speech in the last episode that described The myopic view of universities in todays precipitous decline of enrollment. She noted that the only class in the English department…which was not suffering from declining enrollment…was the class that a brilliant female African American Professor was teaching that utilized ground breaking instruction that involved all of he students in her class. She cautioned that Academia was going to have to stop worrying on their endowments and change their teaching pedagogy or suffer the obliteration of the Academy.. So it goes for our churches…we are going to have to change and embrace new forms of worship and fellowship and ministry…or stay firm in our intransigence and hope that the organization does not die…before we do…
Shadows fascinate me. I think that they are illustrative of our time in this life. One of the most interesting cinematic experiences that I had lately was watching the movie ‘The Night House’ and its use of shadow in depicting what the main character perceived as a ghost. Each time that Rebecca Halls character saw the malevolent silhouette…the camera would back away and show that what she had seen could be explained by cut outs in the wood of the house and a combination of them with other physical features of the dwelling. Often what we see is an optical illusion of what our mind tells us that we are seeing.
Paul told us that, ‘We look through a glass darkly.’ We have an imperfect vision of reality. Shadows are a part of our daily life. Dwelling in the half-light of our human existence is mysterious and compelling…it drives us to be truth seekers. When people report that they have had a visit from a deceased relative or friend…it is not like having a beer together. Spectral would best describe our understanding of the after-life.
Understanding is a bit cloudy…even when it is sunny and clear…in this life. Everyone is looking for their significant other…or as we kids said in jest, ‘The best mate for you is in a cage.’ We all seek happiness…in the shadows. Our nation is almost evenly divided between Conservatives and Liberals…and both believe that they are right…in the shadows. We seek to know God…in the shadows.
I have spent 52 years of my life as a christian. Over that time my feelings regarding what Jesus considered to be a follower of his…have changed. I have learned that all God Seekers are of honest heart and clear desire to find the meaning of life. God does not have a favorite few. He did not create a world of 6 billions people and care for only an infinitesimal group of his creation. Our lives in the shadows of our limited human understanding and existence is an enjoyable discussion as we walk with each other….back to Jerusalem…
It is 90 degrees in Little Egypt and it feels like 100. Yet with the aid of two fans the writing porch is comfortable enough. I was talking with my good friend the other day and something she said reminded me of the plethora of political pitfalls and sudden cliffs and 10 foot hurdles that an honest hearted person must negotiate in the workplace. During my 32 year and 2 months and 3 weeks career I experienced so many traps and snares that I became a bit of a person to watch in the escaping of bear traps. It has been said that some people speak out of both sides of their mouth…when in reality they often have multiple masks that they adorn themself with…as the occasion calls for. Dealing with hidden agendas and doublespeak is exhausting….and much the more so if you have to do it for many years.
I watched 3 episodes of ‘The Chair’ on Netflix last night. I not only laughed on several occasions but it reminded me of my time at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale. I had several faculty friends and my dear friends, Peter and Jo Ann, that MJ and I spent countless hours with. University life is different than regular life. Being a member of the University Community was like living in a village within a city. Academia has norms and structures that are unique to their members. Yet when I see a movie or television series about academics…I feel like that I am a member of the group….I assume due to my lengthy association with them during my career. I think that I was a bit of a sponge in that I soaked up much
The Chair reminded me of the daily political games that are played on university campuses. In fact there are so many variants of what is expected from the members of the Campus Village that it is a wonder and somewhat of a miracle that the primary mission of the school, the teaching of students, ever gets accomplished. I have often said, and to my friend Jo Ann, that perception is 90% of reality in university life. One person may be working terribly hard and be extremely productive…while another may be a canny communicator and a great promoter of…themself.
All too often I have witnessed the self-promoter…and the excellent story teller…receive the promotion and the corner office.
University is the pantheon for truth. It is the enclave of free speech…and free thought. It is Sanctuary for the dispossessed intellectual and the shunned thinker. Academia is the refuge for Conservatives and Liberals as well as people of faith and agnostics and atheists. It is the place for speech that I do not care for or find offensive. What it is not is a place that puts people and position and power before those who have no voice.
All that I have to do is think about autumn and the cooler weather…and the Pumpkin Spice Coffee, which I am already drinking, and and I am as happy as the child with, ‘Sugar plums dancing in his head.’ Few natural phenomenon create in me a more clear sense of purpose and peace and contentment than the ‘BER’ months. Often I am prone to writers block in the summer…but not so in the fall. If reincarnation is real I am certain that I must have been a teacher or librarian or author…as I love books…and a lot of them. Our friend, Jo Ann, told MJ and I many years ago when she was giving us a tour of her and Peter’s home. that when she was in the middle of her library…with books shelves on each wall from the floor to the ceiling…that she felt safe and hidden. I think that books have much the same effect on me….the fall makes me think of books.
Bon Fires are a staple of the season that we are coming upon. I recall the exhilarating and frightening Bon Fire that we had in Chicago…so many years ago. Steve, Ivys son, had decided to have a Bon Fire and a marshmallow roast in his backyard in Sauk Village. Mom had hot dogs and potato chips as well as beer for her and dad and Choc-Ola for me. Ivys husband, Bob, had placed tiki torches around the perimeter of their backyard and Susie, Steves sister, had acquired bales of hay for us to sit on. Steve brought his marionettes out and performed a Marionette Ghost Show that was replete with Jack-O-Lanterns and a Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane. There was JFK and Jackie…who appeared amazingly lifelike for puppets. Danny and Pauly had been invited…and Pauly cried when the Headless Horseman made his appearance. Dad laughed as I had never heard him laugh before as he asked for another Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. He and Bob talked about how lifelike the Kennedy couple looked…and Bob remarked that he had just seen a newsreel of them arriving in Texas for a campaign tour.
Out came Steve with a pumpkin mask that completely covered his head. He was wearing, strangely, a business suite and a white shirt and tie. The Bon Fire was ablaze and creating many sparks. Mom said that she truly considered President Kennedy a great President and that his wife was simply lovely. Susie was holding me on her lap and hugging me…which I throughly enjoyed…as I had a bit of a crush on her. Soon the adults in the Halloween festivities began to do the Twist. Ivy had brought a portable record player outside and ran an extension cord into her house for power. As Chubby Checker sang, ‘Grab me by my little hand…and go like this…’ Steve with the full pumpkin mask on his head began to Twist at a manic pace… Out of nowhere came a shot…then another…and another. and the pumpkin mask was gone from Steves head…and he was not Steve at all…He was JFK…with a perplexed look on his face…
Celebration was the order of the day this past Saturday as we traveled to Paducah, Kentucky for a Congratulatory dinner for Jonathon. We roamed Lower Town…where MJ and I have visited more times than I can remember. A decade or more ago…we visited the Lower Town Artistic Community at least once a month…and often more frequently. It was there that we met the extraordinary artist, Nancy Calcutt, who is the finest portrait painter that it has ever been my privilege to know. Also, Keyth Kahrs, who is a master in landscape art. On Saturdays and especially second Saturdays each venue had complimentary wine and cheese…and a lovely mood enhancer for purchasing art. We have pieces from Stefanie Graves and her husband David Lucht….and we love looking at them on a daily basis. Also we are great fans of Char Downs…and we love her painting of the Three Bulls.
Paducah is intriguing with its antique architecture and horse drawn carriage rides. Alben William Barkley, from Paducah served as Vice President from 1949 – 1953. MJ and I visited the Artistic Colony in Lower Town so often and became acquainted with the artists…that for several years I felt like a visiting member of the group. MJ reminded me of our carriage ride not long before Christmas…with our friend, Nancy, and Santa Claus was driving the sleigh. That day we purchased our first pastel from Nancy.
Freight House is a wonderful restaurant. We have eaten there twice and both meals and drinks…were to die for! Each time that I am in Paducah I am reminded of all the wonderful visits that we had at the Executive Inn, that is no longer there, as it offered two for one weekend stays where you paid for one night and got the other one for free. They had a lovely large swimming pool and many shops and delicious food. Also, there was a ballroom for live entertainment and we saw both Loretta Lynn and Boots Randolph there. When Aaron and Jonathon were young lads we would make a weekend of the Paducah Experience and our dear friends, Faye and Steve, accompanied us. We enjoyed going to the Kentucky Oaks Mall…where everybody congregated on the weekend. There was a multiplex theatre next to the Mall and we enjoyed seeing a flick there before returning to the Executive Inn.
Yesterday MJ and Aaron and I went to the AMC Theatre for only my second time in over a year and one half. I must explain that attending the movie theatre was one of my primary goals upon my retirement…and I subsequently attended 2 – 4 movie openings per week for many years. Going to the movies is one of my premier pleasures since I was a child. And…so…we saw The Night House. It is the kind of picture that causes you to wonder what it was that you saw on the silver screen… Extremely well done with Rebecca Hall as the main character. She is an actor, like all of the great ones, who can say more with her facial expressions…than with words. It has been so long since I have pursued my passionate pass-time…that I am out of practice. I am an AMC Stubs Premier Member…and I have re-installed their AP on my phone to keep abreast of my $5 rewards that accrue on a regular basis.
So…we christians believe that we are alive in the mind of God…even though we may have been dead for thousands of years. Many of us believe that God sees the panoply of our lives…from beginning to the end. So, is God watching the video cassette of our childhood…or is he watching it in real-time?