1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
I don’t know if you have occasion to do much by yourself, including eating at a restaurant alone. Some people don’t like to do anything alone and have problems being themselves, while others, of course, prefer to be alone. As someone like that, I would still have to say that I don’t like eating out in public by myself. It feels awkward, even if I take a book. I do see people regularly come in to eat by themselves carrying a book. I try to see what they’re reading or even ask them what the book’s about because I can be nosy like that.
We were at Aston Avenue Diner for lunch Tuesday, and I saw three people come in alone with a book. Now, I didn’t have a chance to quiz them on their reading preferences, which I found disappointing, but after all into every life a little rain must fall. The people sat down and contentedly read their books after they had ordered. I’m always glad to see people reading. Readers are, after all, good-looking, intelligent and kind to small animals.
As we were leaving, I had an idea: I’m sure there are people who sometimes find themselves having to eat alone, and maybe they would like to go to a nice restaurant from time to time. My idea is that the restaurant could offer what the railroads call “community seating.” If the table seats four and you’re with someone else, you’ll be seated with someone you don’t know. My dad and I experienced this the summer we took a train to San Francisco. Even a shy person like me found it a good way to meet some interesting people. Of course, we also met some people I didn’t want to see again, but you pays your nickels and takes your chances. Anyhow, the restaurant could offer community seating for people who want it. Or, to make it work, they could require everyone to sit with someone else. I have to confess that I wouldn’t want to go to a restaurant which required me to sit with someone I didn’t know, but that’s just me. Some of you might like that, especially when the choice is between sitting with someone you don’t know and sitting with a book. Come to think of it, don’t look for this concept to be implemented any time soon.
The spiritual application for this is, I think, that as Christians, we are never alone even when we are. God is always with us, and we are part of a community of believers. So, while we may feel alone at times, we never truly are. That is part of the great Good News and part of being the family of God. Praise God for his presence and for his placing people in our paths to bring us company and comfort!
Members of our bell group joined others at Nationals Park on August 29 to form a 541-member handbell choir which played the National Anthem before the Nats-Marlins game. This link is to a story in The Religious Herald by Barbara Francis about the event. (The Herald is the Virginia Baptist state publication.) Enjoy!
I don’t know if you have a sense of déjà vu after the terrible shootings at the Navy Yard Monday. We have been through all this before as innocent lives are lost in a senseless slaughter. After all the tragic news of a deranged individual throwing his life away and those who suffered so much as a result of his actions, I thought we would do well to consider a life well lived, and that was the life of Mary Agnes Mullaney.
Here is what her family wrote about her:
Mary Agnes (known as “Pink”) entered eternal life on Sunday, September 1, 2013. Her spirit is carried on by her six children, 17 grandchildren, three surviving siblings in New Jersey, and an extended family of relations and friends from every walk of life. We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.
If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.
Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say your prayers while you walk them.
Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Give the sandwich to a homeless person after the service.
Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone. When you learn someone’s name, ask them to share their story. Invite new friends to Thanksgiving dinner. If they are from another country and you have trouble understanding them, learn to “listen with an accent.”
Never say mean things about anybody; they are poor souls who need our prayers, bless their hearts.
Put picky-eating children in the box at the bottom of the laundry chute, tell them they are hungry lions in a cage, and feed them veggies through the slats.
Correspond with the imprisoned and have lunch with the cognitively challenged.
Do the Jumble every morning.
Keep the car keys under the front seat so they don’t get lost.
Make the car dance by lightly tapping the brakes to the beat of songs on the radio.
Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or summer heat.
Help anyone struggling to get their kids into a car or shopping cart or across a parking lot.
Give to every charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online.
Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctors’ office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label. As Pink said, “If someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.”
In her lifetime, Pink made contact time after time. Those who’ve taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the overheated garbage collector and mail carrier, every baby will be kissed, every nursing home resident will be visited, the hungry will have a sandwich, the guest will have a warm bed and soft nightlight, and an encroaching possum will know the soothing sensation of a barbecue brush upon its back.
Above all, Pink wrote — to everyone, about everything. You may read this and recall a letter from her that touched your heart, tickled your funny bone, or maybe made you say “huh?”
She is survived by her children and grandchildren whose photos she would share with prospective friends in the checkout line, siblings, and many in-laws, nieces, nephews, friends and family too numerous to list but not forgotten.
Pink is reunited with her husband and favorite dance and political debate partner, Dr. Gerald L. Mullaney, and is predeceased by six siblings.
A life well lived indeed.
I don’t know if you’ve ever changed drivers while driving. Now, I’m not talking about changing drivers when you stop for a meal at a Cracker Barrel and spend about an hour eating the Southern fried special and then another hour shopping for oddments in the conveniently located store section. Nor am I talking about changing drivers at a pit stop even if you just get gas and visit the restroom. No, I’m talking about changing drivers while driving. I don’t necessarily advocate this and I don’t think I could do it anymore, but I’m here to tell you it is possible. I asked Becky if she had ever changed drivers while driving and she allowed as how the thought had never occurred to her and probably never would. But, as Monk says, “Here’s what happened.”
I spent the first two and a half years of my college career on an all-male campus. I’m not sure why I chose this option: I liked women and still do as a group of people and as individuals. I think they’re pretty cool. Anyhow, we wanted to find women to date, and it would have been beneath us to date any of the ladies in the town (affectionately referred to as “townies”) so we had to range far afield to attempt to find companions. A guy on my hall had a big old 1962 Chevy Impala with bench seats and a column-mounted automatic shift lever (These are important details in the story of changing drivers while driving). As we struck out closer to home we had to go further and further away to find new prospects. I think by our junior year we (three buddies and I) were driving four hours one way to New England women’s colleges. Probably moving in a pack like that lessened our chances but that never occurred to us. One of my buddies finally resorted to standing in the middle of a quad surrounded by four dorms at some now-forgotten women’s school and shouting at the top of his voice “Does anybody want a date?” That didn’t work either.
As our trips got longer we had to split up the driving. Now, as guys we hated to stop until we got where we were going. Sometimes we had to for gas and a bathroom break, although I think if we could have refueled from a moving tanker truck we would have. And I’m sure we could have figured out the other part of that problem.
For times when we didn’t have to make a pit stop we worked out a way to change drivers while driving. I’m almost appalled we did this but we were full of the foolhardiness of youth (with an emphasis on fool). We’d get to a straight stretch of road without much traffic around. The driver replacement would slide over underneath the driver who would raise up to allow his buddy to sit underneath him. It’s worth noting we all weighed about 120 pounds so this was possible then. The replacement driver would reach around and grab the wheel; at the command, “Switch,” the driver would slide to the right and the new driver would press on the gas and continue on. We got pretty good at this. It would have been easier with cruise control. The process reminded me of a double play and some snakes, beautiful but also dangerous.
I don’t switch drivers any more but I was thinking about it on our trip a few years back to North Carolina. We went to Greenville, the home of East Carolina University where Becky went to school. A highlight of the trip was our visit to her college piano teacher, Eleanor Toll, who is 94 and in a nursing home. Mrs. Toll taught at ECU from 1942 until 1976. She met her husband there, who was also on the music faculty. Mrs. Toll taught thousands of students over the years, some of whom called her “Ma.” She had no children of her own, but thousands of the musical kind. She is still alert and active and a delight to talk to.
We also met with Fonda Smithwick, who was Becky’s chorus teacher in high school and also taught by Mrs. Toll. Fonda looks in on Mrs. Toll several times a week since she has no relatives. Just think of a taller Wanda Boley and you have a good idea of what Fonda is like. She and her husband had a chicken farm in North Carolina until they were bought out by Frank Perdue. I think they also sheltered wolves at one point. I could envision the wolf pens next to the chicken yard as a sort of Gary Larsen “trouble brewing” cartoon. Fonda drives a great huge Cadillac at warp speeds and also pilots a Piper Cherokee. After trying to follow her to a cafeteria for dinner I think she is sometimes confused as to which one she’s in.
Sitting there in that nursing home room with those three women I was thinking about how the torch of music had been passed from Mrs. Toll to Fonda and Becky. There were three generations of a musical family present, and if I considered our daughter Amy whom Becky taught and the students in the choruses Amy sometimes accompanies and the children in the choir she works with, there is a line stretching through five generations.
This is how what is important is passed on—through hard work, dedication, passion, personal contact and a large measure of love. And if we think about it, it is how our faith is passed on—from person to person, from generation to generation. I would suggest that our faith is transmitted not so much by statements of belief or institutions or hierarchies of the church but through, as Joseph Martin says, holding the hymnal—a parent showing a child a hymn, passing on the legacy of the faith. John begins his letter this way: ”We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” Faith is caught, not taught, passed on like changing drivers, like a love for music in those four generations of women. And may we all be instruments of God’s love, playing the sweet song of new life to a world yearning for holy music.
I don’t know if you have much of an opportunity to be at our church (Manassas Baptist in, strangely enough, Manassas, Virginia) during the week other than on Sundays and Wednesdays, but if you do, I think you’d be surprised and pleased at how busy it is and how many volunteers are bustling about. We have a number of ministries and programs that operate during the week, among them the church preschool, the Counseling Center, several AA groups, a Montessori School, a Catholic school, ESOL classes, home schooling groups, sports leagues through the year, support groups, clothes and food closets, and probably several other things I’m not aware of.
I had occasion to be out here quite a bit last week as I was trying to finish rehabbing a screen door. I must have seen dozens if not hundreds of people moving through and about the campus, and many of them were volunteers, willingly giving of their time. It struck me that this was a picture of the Kingdom: servants of God using their talents to build up the body of Christ. It seemed fitting that we finished (or began) the week with a church-wide picnic which showed the diversity of our people, their good will and their willing spirit. From painting the building to maintaining the grass, the servants of God are about doing good. Praise God for talents and energy used in the cause of the kingdom!
A while back, someone shared with me a book by Erik Larsen called The Devil in the White City. I had been impressed by Larsen’s Isaac’s Storm , which was an account of the September, 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas. Larsen is a meticulous researcher who draws a fine portrait of people and places in his books, so I anticipated this new book. It is about the Columbian Exposition (The White City) celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first expedition to the Americas in Chicago in 1893 and the parallel story of a mass murderer operating in Chicago at that time (the devil).
Larsen makes it clear that Chicago badly wanted to host this World’s Fair, vying against New York for the honor. Internationally acclaimed architects, including Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park and Biltmore, led by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, designed and built a glittering city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Some historians mark the opening of the twentieth century from the Exposition. and it does indeed seem to belong to the twentieth century, \perhaps because it was over budget, behind schedule and initially did not make as much as projected. But it eventually did attract millions of people from May through October to see things they had never seen before, not the least of which were thousands of brilliant electric lights, powered by the Westinghouse alternating current system. Westinghouse was in direct competition with Edison’s direct current system, and the success of the fair established Westinghouse as the dominant electrical system in the country. The Fair also had complete villages from all over the world, exotic restaurants, marvelous shops, and the first ferris wheel, a huge device 264 feet high with cars as big as Pullman coaches.
Everyone who was anyone came to the fair—Susan B. Anthony was there, as well as President Cleveland, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Baum, Paderewski, Houdini, Thomas Edison, Scott Joplin, Clarence Darrow, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, and Buffalo Bill Cody, who wanted to bring his Wild West show to the Fair and was told it was not dignified enough. He leased fifteen acres next to the fairgrounds and had a wildly successful run. Visitors saw for the first time the zipper, an all-electric kitchen including a dishwasher, the first pancake mix in a box under the name of Aunt Jemima, a new snack called Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit Gum and Shredded Wheat, which had less than enthusiastic reception, earning itself the nickname, “Shredded Doormat.”
At night the city gleamed like a vision from another world. The old city of Chicago, dark with soot and reeking from the slaughterhouses and horses, became known as the Black City. Visitors saw a vision of the future, and some took that vision with them. Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by the architecture, and the classical structures set the pattern for towns and cities all over the country. One of the carpenters who worked on the Fair was named Elias Disney. His son, Walt, born in 1901, heard tales from his father of the wonderful city on the lake and went on to build wonderful cities of his own. Poet Katherine Lee Bates visited and later wrote in “America the Beautiful” about the “patriot dream that sees, beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!” The Exposition was largely responsible for starting the City Beautiful movement in which architects and planners recognized the importance of parks and landscaping and public spaces as a part of city life.
The builders of the Fair dreamed of the perfect city which of course it was not, but what they built was far beyond what anyone had ever seen. I like to think that they were influenced by a book called Beyond the Gates which was a description of heaven which appeared in 1871 and was enormously popular following the horrendous losses of the Civil War. Included in that description was the portrait of heaven as a shining city. While there is no direct evidence of this, I think that the architects and designers of the fair would have read the book and perhaps had the description in the back of their minds. Heaven is, of course, the perfect city, the one to which we all aspire. While we are here, though, we can create the Beautiful City of God to the extent that we worship God, serve each other, help those who are downtrodden, share the Gospel, and pray for each other. Perhaps the City of God is most built not by hands but by prayer, prayer both prayed and and felt. In choir we have sung an anthem, “Somebody’s Prayin’” which begins, “Someboy’s prayin’ : I can feel it.” Somebody is indeed praying, and someone’s building the City of God.
Jeremiah 9:12-13: Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
I don’t know if you’ve ever looked for something and it turns out it was right there all the time, but not where you expected to be. Let me explain. I was rehabbing the screen door on the Rock cafeteria at our church last week, and wanted to replace the hardware cloth that protects the screen portions of the door. If you don’t know what hardware cloth is, it’s neither hardware nor cloth, kind of like the children’s string figure game, cat’s cradle. I did that for a child once, and she said, “I don’t see a cat or a cradle.” In truth, it doesn’t look much like either one. I’m pleased to report that Jacob’s Ladder does look like I imagine the real one did, except it is made of string. Not much climbing on that ladder.
Anyhow, hardware cloth is a kind of minor-league fencing material, made from wire (the hardware part) which are welded together in a lattice pattern (that’s the very loosely woven cloth part). It’s used to present a barrier to small things like rabbits or ducks. It won’t stop a tank, but few things will, other than another tank. Mercifully, we don’t have too many of those coming at the Rock kitchen door.
So, since hardware cloth comes in rolls, my first task was to unroll it. It’s very stiff, and the roll is held in place by a wire wrapped around it. I could see the wire, and surmised that it had a beginning and end somewhere (most things do, except for those that are eternal, which wire is generally not). I further supposed that the ends of the wire were twisted together at one end of the roll, which was a reasonable supposition. It was also incorrect. I couldn’t find the closing at either end. So, not wanting to take all day to open the coil of hardware cloth, I started cutting the wire at various places with some metal shears. Soon I had bits or wire flying through the air. ( I was wearing safety glasses while I was doing this, and so should you when you are cutting wires or using a striking tool. Everyone loses when we play games with safety.) As the hardware cloth, freed of its restraining wire, started to uncoil, I noticed the juncture of the wires was in fact not at either end, but in the middle, where I had not been looking for it.
All this, I thought, had to have a spiritual dimension. And it doesn’t. Sometimes we are looking for fulfillment or happiness or meaning and we think we know where to look while, as I found out, we don’t. It is when we are engaged in the work of the Kingdom that we find what we are seeking, and that is the presence and spirit of Jesus Christ. As Albert Switzer famously wrote near the end of his book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus,
He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Amen. Seek and you will find.