Note: Light, life and Allied Road updated on August 31 to restore material â€œcutâ€ from the original. The restoration was inspired by the fact that my yellow lab puppy, â€œGrace,â€ missing for several hours, and the subject of a multi-person hunt, was discovered yesterday morning in the vicinity of 7th Street and Allied Road. Grace was born on September 3, 2006, about three weeks after my mother’s death.
Last Spring, as the church I was likely to be appointed to was described to me, I was very excited. I didnâ€™t know the name of the community or its location, but I could tell that it had some solid leaders and an appetite for ministry. Finally, I was told the communityâ€™s name: Stroud, Oklahoma, one of the sites of Oklahomaâ€™s devastating series of tornadoes in 1999. The storm eliminated many jobs, and the community had strugged somewhat economically and perhaps, even with its sense of identity.
I knew Stroud as the site of an overwhelming personal crisis. On September 14, 2005, in a driving rainstorm, my beloved nephew Bart Betow presumably lost control of his Honda Civic on the Turner Turnpike (I-44) and hit the bridge at mile marker 181, which carries Allied Road over the Interstate. My nephew, though likely brain dead from the moment of impact, survived until the next day, which also happened to be my sister and brother-in-laws wedding anniversary. An organ donor of his own initiative, numerous of Bartâ€™s organs were successfully harvested to allow for new hope for many.
My first Sunday at Stroud I did share sentiments of prayerful thankfulness for the Stroud EMS. Unfortunately, due to inadequate financing, the Stroud EMS closed its doors on November 10, 2006. We are now served out of Chandler. In addition to driving Iâ€™ve been walking or biking around Stroud to get acquainted with the roads and stores. A few weeks ago I set out on my bike from the parsonage (corner of West 4th St. and North 2nd Ave.) by going north on North 2nd Ave., turning right onto West 7th Street and then left onto Allied Road, a distance of 1-1/2 miles from the parsonage. Much of Allied Road is a narrow, beautiful and serene country lane that crosses above/over the Turner at mile marker 181, with the marker sign clearly visible. In an instant a Scripture came to mind from the first chapter of the Gospel of John: â€œIn Him (Christ/logos) was life, and that life was the light of all peoples. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it.â€ At that moment, I saw my nephew basking in the light, even as our family feels moments of darkness, loneliness, and emptiness, while still proclaimig â€œItâ€™s a Beautiful Worldâ€.
My nephew was Catholic but had served as camp counselor at a Presbyterian-affiliated camp. A few times I saw him reading theology at my parentsâ€™ home, including that of John Wesley. Iâ€™ve wondered what Bart would think, in theological terms, of an article mailed to me by one of his relatives. That mailing seemed to treat this life as merely the place we hang around or endure until we get to heaven. If preparation goes well, fine, if not, then it was always about some other place instead of a transcendent world. From my understanding, we are already resurrected with Christ and are â€œdoingâ€ as much as waiting. One of the old-time favorites for hymn-sings or southern-gospel concerts is J.R. Baxterâ€™s â€œThis World Is Not My Home.â€ (Emphasizing the worst aspects and/or dangers of Neihburâ€™s Christ Against Culture. My own view is that if I canâ€™t feel at home on this earth, I wonâ€™t feel home in heaven, for I will neither have understanding of a transforming God, nor avail myself of Godâ€™s grace. I will repent but not change. I will desire the Kingdom of God but not seek it for others or myself.
If I donâ€™t feel at home here, how could I, by Godâ€™s grace offer to hope to assaulted by grief, overwhelmed with mental illness, dying of starvation, or homeless? Am I to tell them that their purpose on earth is to suffer? The theme of the â€œsuffering servantâ€ is tempered by jublilation. I am not denying that the joys and triumphs of the life to come are important, nor that for the cause of Christâ€™s transformation, we must take up the cross. But the cross is the way of the present as well as the future, joined in fact with the past in transcendent Creation. This life brings times in which endurance and perseverance is all we experience. And it is true that we are told we will know (future) the truth and the truth (will) set us free, but that should be seen in the context of ongoing spiritual growth, remembering of course that spirituality lived out in community, which then relates to holiness, which is both personal and social/corporate.
To that end, consider these three quotes of the late George Bernard Shaw:
“You see things; and you say, â€œWhy?â€ But I dream things that never were; and I say, â€œWhy not?â€
â€œChristianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.â€
â€œIf this is Christianity, Iâ€™m an atheist.” (His reaction to the typical kind of Christian revival.)