Saturday, April 30, 2011

Urban Farming

Chickens, we were told recently, make wonderful neighbors. There was a move afoot (or perhaps on the wing) to allow city residents to raise chickens in their houses and yards. The idea sounded pretty cool to some who had never lost their chewing gum while cleaning manure from under a chicken roost. But to those used to thinking of chickens, hatched and raised to fryer stage in long, low, tin structures with windows running the length of the building and incandescent bulbs glowing bleakly at night, the idea seemed a bit bizarre. Perhaps, proponents countered, they had never awakened to the rooster’s call or enjoyed the quiet murmur of hens settling on the roost at night clucking softly and shifting their weight to achieve a good balance. And so, the debate raged on for a few weeks. It may yet be unsettled.

Chickens were common in the neighborhood where I grew up on the fringe of town. It occurs to me just now that they were less common in the “nicer” parts of town, which may say something about the part of town I lived in. I suppose it could mean that when chickens move in, the nicer people move to another part of town. Some people are like that.

Dad attempted to keep our chickens penned and their wings cropped so they wouldn’t be a nuisance to the neighbors, or end up on their dinner table. Not everyone was as considerate, so it was not unusual to have chickens roaming the neighborhood unchaperoned.

Our chickens had a proper “hen house” in one end of the low shed that stretched two-thirds of the distance across the back of our yard. At the back of their section of the shed a roost had been built of slats elevated two and a half or three feet off the ground. The shed had only a dirt floor. The roost provided a dry, safe place for the hens to sleep at night; the slats allowed most of their nocturnal droppings to make their way to the ground under the roost. Over time, though, the roost itself became encrusted with the droppings and needed to be scraped. Worse yet, the area under the roost was periodically harvested for its rich nutrients. Lucky the boy who got the job of cleaning under the chicken roost.

Several little box-like cubbies, built around the edges of the hen house provided nests which the hens could use at their pleasure for laying their eggs. They were free of course, as hens everywhere are, except those poor modern creatures forced to live their entire lives in egg factories, to lay their eggs in other unpredictable places. We soon came to know how many eggs to expect each day and if the formal nests did not yield something close to that quota we were required to conduct an ad hoc Easter egg hunt. Certain hens became very protective of their nest and the eggs they sheltered under them there. I presume they knew somehow, or perhaps merely hoped, that they were hatchable eggs, and their mother instinct made an enemy of any boy who came to rob them of their posterity.

Since our flocks were started from hatchery chicks we had no interest in keeping roosters around longer than it took to fatten them for the pot or skillet. Hens were dual purpose birds, providing eggs until they either ceased to be productive or were needed to feed a hungry crowd. Hens that had long been “layers” were likely to end up as stewed chicken, the younger birds, and most of the roosters, as fryers.

But, back to the issue of their neighborliness. Do chickens make good urban neighbors? Like many other practices from the past, the raising of chickens, in town, makes for wonderful reminiscences. But neighbors? No. I’m content to buy my eggs at the dairy counter and get my chickens from the freezer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tale of Three Pastors

One out of eleven isn’t bad; one loser among ten winners. I’ve had a total of eleven pastors in my seventy five years. I’m fortunate to have sat under only one who deserved the designation, “loser.” His name shall go unmentioned. Let’s call him Pastor L. His tenure at the Clinton Assembly of God church was brief and stood between that of two other pastors who served the church in my youth.

Pastor L. was a large man with a large voice and very definite ideas about church life. He was only the second pastor of which I have a memory. I was too young to know the circumstances of his “call” to our church. The congregation was quite small and destined to grow smaller while he was there. I have wondered if the Board of Deacons knew, when they called him, they were getting his wife as an equal partner, equal in church policy, equal in doctrinal authority, and equal in pulpit ministry. My memory is that Pastor L’s wife actually preached more often than he. Pastor L’s most egregious sin was his judgmental, unyielding attitude, epitomized in his insistence that married couples, one or both of whom had been divorced and remarried, must leave their present “adulterous” situation and seek reconciliation with their first mate or, failing that, remain single. In a congregation hardly large enough to fully staff a Sunday School, he insisted that no one, not a member of the congregation, could hold a teaching position. He had the temerity to suggest that parishioners with older vehicles might want to park them farther down the block rather than directly in front of the church. The closest he came to showing concern for the youth of the church was to put their programs under the guidance of his soon-to-leave-for-college son whose idea of mentoring was to pass on to the boys under his “care” the off-color stories he had learned. It was only in the nick of time that Pastor L and his family moved on.

Pastor L’s tenure was sandwiched between two “winners,” Pastor Byers and Pastor De Pringer. Pastor Byers was a short, broad shouldered, man with a serious demeanor but a genuine love for his congregation. He is the only pastor I recall visiting our home. The purpose of one of his visits was to talk to my brother Donald and I about instituting a “scouting” program for the boys of the church. Of course we were eager to participate and a few meetings were conducted. At least one convened in our cramped basement. I was too young to know the reasons for the Byers’ departure but with their leaving our “scouting” program ended.

Pastor De Pringer followed Pastor L, inheriting a significant debt for a new heating system that had been installed in the basement tabernacle where the church met. He also inherited the diminished congregation, ravaged by the dictatorial tenure of Pastor L. Pastor De Pringer and his wife were young, perhaps no more than seven or eight years older than I at the time they arrived. His outlook on life, and on the prospects for the church was unfailingly optimistic. The first goal he set for the church was to pay off the furnace debt by the end of his first year. Having accomplished that, he challenged the congregation to complete an upper structure for the church. That goal was achieved before I left home to attend Bible College. In succeeding years he led a program to expand the building and eventually to construct a new modern church on the south edge of town. All the while, the congregation was growing steadily and the De Pringers were making their mark on the lives of young and old alike.

The greatest tribute to Pastor De Pringer can best be conveyed with a story. Through all the years that he pastored in Clinton, Pastor De Pringer, with his young daughter’s assistance, faithfully and without fanfare, mowed the lawn of a widow who lived across the street from the tabernacle. The widow was not associated with the church and never set foot in it as long as she lived. I’m sure it was Pastor De Pringer’s hope that he could bring her to faith in Christ through the kindness shown to her. He never got to see that result, but years after he left to serve another congregation the widow passed away. Her estate, it turned out, was large and most of it was distributed to various institutions in the community. However a generous gift, nearly $400,000, was left to the Assembly of God church to be used to build an educational unit in the new facility the church had built at the south edge of town.

I’m sure it must have pleased Pastor DePringer to hear that his and his daughter’s labors had been remembered in the widow’s will. I’m equally sure he would rather have known that his kindness had led the widow to faith in Christ. Only time will tell about that.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Monday after Easter

We have it “pretty good” as they say. When Easter is over and Monday arrives we proceed into our next week knowing (believing) that Christ’s resurrection guarantees everlasting life. We can face whatever difficult or joyous situations lay before us, knowing that the power of the resurrection is the hope and strength of those who put their faith in the risen Lord.

It must have been so, as well, for those first century followers of Jesus . . . the second “Monday after” – a year and a day after they learned of Jesus resurrection.

But, what about that first “Monday after?”

Anyone who has awakened the day following a great tragedy knows the dread that bids one stay in bed. To awake, and rise, is to enter a new, uncertain future. The day following a marvelous joy – the taking of a bride, the birth of one’s firstborn, the winning of a grand prize – can often feel much the same, a postpartum-like depression, bringing with it a dread of circumstances now and forever changed, a fear that the coming days will not hold the same familiar joys as the ones just let go.

Those first century followers of Jesus must have awakened, overwhelmed, that first Monday morning after Jesus’ resurrection. Three days of oppressive grief, guilt, and loss, followed by a day of confused hope, unbelievable reports, and surrealistic experiences, would drain the strength of anyone. Who could blame them if they chose to pull the covers over their heads and let the day pass by?

The record we have tells, with brutal honesty, the pain Jesus’ followers endured in those days following his resurrection. It is a record of the disciples ridiculing the women who reported Jesus resurrection, of Peter owning his denial and being reconciled to his master, of Thomas demanding to see proof that Jesus was alive and “in the flesh,” of the disciples uncomprehendingly seeking to return to their pre-Messianic occupations, of one of the followers asking, just moments before Jesus ascended into the heavens, if he was now going to restore the kingdom to Israel.

They were a confused and conflicted body of “believers.” No amount of miracle was sufficient to clear the haze that shrouded their minds. A lifetime of hope for a Messiah, and three years of intense association with Jesus had fixed their minds upon a result that now seemed impossible to realize, the overthrow of the hated Romans and the establishment of Jesus on the throne of David. Not long before Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving 500 of his followers standing on the Mount of Olives, Matthew tells us, “Some still doubted.” Jesus returned to heaven, still not having made all of them, “believers”.

Still, in a uniquely counterintuitive way, the confusion of the first “Monday after” validates the reality of Jesus resurrection. Those first followers were not simple, gullible, impressionable men and women who, in their grief, accepted any proof given to them that their leader was indeed alive. They struggled to believe, almost insisted on not believing, laughed at claims of Jesus’ resurrection, demanded proof, and only after Jesus had “opened their minds” to the Scriptures that spoke of him; only after the Holy Spirit had been given, as Jesus promised, to enlighten their minds, and embolden their spirits, only when the evidence was too great to dismiss, truly become believers.

But, a year later – by the second “Monday after” – things had changed. A new hope had dawned in their hearts, and in the world. Death had lost its sting, been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus’ resurrection. A kingdom, not of flesh, but of the Spirit, was beginning its march through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. He was risen – risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking a day off

Easter Sunday was a wonderful day. Alice dressed up a notch above her usual elegance for church, and I donned a suit coat for the first time in weeks. I would guess that perhaps five percent of the men in church were suited (most of them ushers or pastors), the rest clad in jeans or casual slacks and a variety of shirt styles. I saw at least one Easter bonnet and complimented the wearer on it.

So times have changed. We’ve become a very casual society and it even affects our times of high and holy celebration. But the message of Easter was still the same – He is risen! He is risen indeed! A wonderful choir sang, the sermon was both inspiring and challenging, I went home renewed in the faith I’ve professed for nearly seven decades.

But then, what to do with the rest of the day. When I was a child there would have been a big noon-time dinner, followed by a brief afternoon spent in some kind of contest – or conflict – with my siblings, followed by an evening service at the church.

But times have changed. And so have I. My weary bones welcomed the comfort of my recliner. My mind took a vacation. Well, it might be more accurate to say that I turned it loose to do what it would wish to do. And what it wished to do was create some silli-serious verse, a few short poems that must have been trapped behind all the serious stuff I’ve been thinking about, waiting for a chance to break out and make their, sometimes silly, sometimes serious, points.

So I present some poems written on a day off:

              Pierre’s Discontent
                  (or Pierre’s Poor Pick)

I saw Pierre the other day
furtively searching the surgeon’s book.
Both he and I had looked away,
taking each other off of the hook.

Pierre had blushed to have me see
him publicly picking his nose,
though Pierre was certainly free
to have any nose that he chose.

I’ve seen him since, new nose installed,
and think now, it wasn’t the nose.
I hear Pierre was even appalled;
wished, new ears, was what he had chose.

         (After a conversation with Shawn)

Don’t you suppose when God said “Let!”
and set His power free,
He knew the myriad worlds He’d get;
knew, too, ‘bout you and me?

            The Power of Affirmation

Many a man I’ve declared
“a man and a quarter,”
may only have been one and one-eighth.
Still, if by my saying, he dared –
at least I can say for starters,
my “lie” carried some good weight.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brothers and Sisters (Part 4)

All teaching is a challenge. The Epistle of James warns that one should not seek to be a teacher; teachers, he says, bear more responsibility than those who do not presume to know all that a teacher professes to know. But responsibility is not the only hazard of teaching. There are students to face and, from the youngest nursery tike with toy in hand, to the most wizened codger with a cane to thump, they can test the mettle of the best teacher.

I have only vague memories of my pre-junior-age Sunday School teachers. They were all, I believe women. One may have been my own mother. I remember well, only the gentle and sincere voice of Sister Westlake and her use of words of endearment, honey, dear, etc. She may have been the last female Sunday School teacher I had until I had left home. For some reason men taught the junior age through high school age classes. It could have had something to do with discipline although I honestly do not remember trouble makers in our classes. There were three men whom I remember.

Brother Enloe was a farmer, not a farm owner, I gathered, but rather a farm hand. And his hands were always of interest to me. They were large, weathered, and appeared disfigured, whether through arthritis or accident I never knew. They seemed to be his principal instrument of instruction, clumsily turning the pages of his “Teacher’s Quarterly” and seeking the Biblical texts referred to in the Quarterly. His teaching method consisted of reading portions from the Quarterly, having us boys read the Biblical texts, and then going on to the next section of the lesson. If students are allowed to grade their teachers, I’d give him a “D” for method, a “B” for sincerity, and an “A+” for his use of those wonderful hands.

Our next teacher was Brother Stauffer. He and his wife Pauline had recently come to our church, “converting” from another “dead” denominational church. They were young, though not in the eyes of junior-aged boys. Brother Stauffer brought the enthusiasm of youth, combined with a naturally joyful disposition, and the freshness of new spiritual discovery to his task. He was a farm owner and therefore had some freedom to schedule his time, allowing him to host outdoor picnics at his farm and even, on one occasion, a field trip to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago. It is unfortunate, although not too surprising, that his “extracurricular” experiences have mostly obliterated any memory of his technique as a classroom teacher. My guess is that he was sincere and competent but as dependent upon the quarterly as Brother Enloe had been. An overall grade of “A+” is appropriate. He has not ceased to be a friend to this day.

The final teacher I recall was Brother Ralph Pear. He was a farm hand, as were many of the men in the congregation. He was slight of build with a permanently sun and wind weathered complexion. He too had the hands of a working man. I’m not sure that I ever saw him without a smile on his face. He and his wife, Margaret, began their family soon after I knew them, producing three daughters by the time I had left home. My impression was that resources were meager in the Pear home. Our classes still consisted of readings from the Quarterly interspersed with Biblical passages. Donald and I were required to have read the Student Quarterly before each class so we could generally answer any questions asked. It seemed that the teacher must have had some questions suggested in his quarterly that were not in ours. On those we were frequently stumped, allowing Brother Pair to be the expert. Like Brother Stauffer, Brother Pair was faithful, week after week, and sincere in his desire to give us an understanding of the Scriptures. He too deserves an “A+”.

On my most recent visit to the home church Brother Stauffer and Brother Pair were there, seated side-by-side on a foyer bench, long since farm owner and farm hand, now just Brothers, rather frail but smiling at me as though I were a teenage student again. Brother Enloe slipped away many years ago without my knowing about it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Brothers and Sisters (Part 3)

My parents were very solicitous of Sister Hall after her husband died. They had not been close friends as far as I know. I have no memory of my parents establishing a close friendship with any couple or family in the church. In the latter years of Mom’s life she developed a correspondence with Inga Jett, a woman in the church, severely disfigured by some childhood disease, and a close and a solicitous friendship with her hair dresser, Becky Moore, also a member of the church. But in neither case was there any visitation in their respective homes and certainly no sharing of “coffee” at a restaurant or even at church. God forbid, not at church: “Have ye not houses to eat in?”

Mom and Dad exhibited friendship by the sincere respect with which they spoke of (and to) their brothers and sisters in the church, and by intruding as little as possible into their affairs – until they sensed a need. They knew their resources were meager but a bag of groceries could be managed at any time, and Dad could provide transportation or assistance in maintaining a yard or garden. Mom was most likely to respond in writing, sending cards and letters of encouragement and cheer with a small amount of cash tucked in, perhaps even a specially crafted poem. And, in the summer, flowers or vegetables from their garden were shared with the living and the dead. (They made an annual Memorial Day tour of Central and Southern Illinois cemeteries placing flowers on the graves of friends of family members.)

So it was typical when they took Sister Hall under their care after Brother Hall died. The assistance consisted mainly of transportation to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment and periodic calls to see how she was doing. The Halls had been almost invisible to me as I grew up in the church. They were both quiet folk and certain “signals” indicated that Brother Hall may not have risen to full “Brother” status. I remember detecting what I thought was an unchristian aroma on his breath while working together on a church project one day. It could be that the “burden” Sister Hall had carried through her marriage made her an object of my parent’s pity after she was widowed. Or it could be that any “widow indeed” was worthy of their Christian concern.

Quiet was not a characteristic of Brother and Sister Hammer. Sister Hammer was a flesh and blood sister of Mrs. Willoughby, of street wrestling fame. There were similarities of personality as well as physical appearance. I recall the Hammers appearing and disappearing in our church services numerous times. I don’t recall their ever becoming members. There may have been some question of Brother Hammer’s ability to resist tobacco that made him ineligible, and consequently, kept them on the run. Revivals were most likely to lure them back; what eventually and inevitably turned them away is still unknown to me. But when they returned it was with enthusiasm. Mrs. Hammer often took over piano duties from Nellie, or later, when the church bought an electronic organ she would play that in a style popular in evangelistic circles, a sound that reminded me of a calliope, or a roller rink. Brother Hammer was “used” in the “vocal gifts”, most often prophecy. The fervency of his messages impressed me, the content left no trace on my memory.

An so, Sunday after Sunday the quiet and unassuming gathered with the excitable and uninhibited to declare the goodness of God and enjoy the fellowship of brothers and sisters. So it has always been, so it will always be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Robbie (Mr. James Robertson) – Easters I Remember

I believe I can say with some confidence that few Easters have come and gone in which I have not thought of Robbie, leading our high school choir at the community Easter sunrise service. All the guilt is gone now, only the joy of remembrance remains.

In the 1940s and 1950s, students did not address their teachers by their familiar names. I witnessed the violence one student suffered when he dared call our Jr. High Phy Ed teacher by his nickname, Rocky. But there was one exception to the rule, Mr. James Robertson, the High School and Jr. High band and choral director. Though I seldom – perhaps never, to his face – addressed him as “Robbie”, it didn’t seem inappropriate to hear others do so. There was never reason for discomfort while in his presence. Even when he scolded the band or chorus for inattention, the students responded, not in fear of reprisal, but in respect for a friend. It was a high honor to ride to a music contest, packed tightly in his Pontiac. Issues of liability seemed not to trouble Robbie, nor slow his speed. It is a good bet that he received neither reimbursement for his expenses, nor pay for his time during those excursions.

One of my best memories of Mr. Robertson involved Easter sunrise services. Robbie assumed no one would object to the High School choir performing overtly Christian songs at a community religious event. It was probably a safe assumption at that time. The nation was about to add “under God” to its Pledge of Allegiance. But in retrospect, I realize that there were students whose participation, or whose reluctance to participate, could well have created conflicts for them. It created some for me. Our school community was composed of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and non-religious students, perhaps also Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who knows what else. Protestants were a multifarious and by no means theologically homogeneous group. As far as I know no one concerned themselves with the feelings of students from Jewish, Catholic, or non-religious homes. The sunrise services were a Protestant project, mostly a project of the “mainline” Protestant churches.

But, in my blissful ignorance of the feelings and rights of minorities, I found great pleasure in singing the marvelous Easter Hymns in a joint service, preferably at Weldon Springs Park if the weather permitted, just as the sun was lighting the eastern sky. If Easter came early, or the weather was bad, we sang from the choir loft of the stately Presbyterian Church across the street from the High School. If Robbie had not volunteered his choir to sing at those events, I would not have participated in them. Churches like the one I attended spurned such joint gatherings, having reached a deeper understanding of spirituality, depreciating “written” prayers, instead of prayers, spontaneously uttered, skeptical of sermons carefully crafted, instead of extemporaneously delivered. After participation in the early morning community Easter service, I attended “real worship” at our church, feeling a little sullied for having consorted with “nominal Christians.” But even in our church we sang, Christ Arose, and Were You There on Easter Sunday. I didn’t “advertise” the fact that I had, earlier in the morning, sung those songs with sinners, indeed had been led by one. (I never knew Mr. Robertson’s religious affiliation. I knew that he smoked cigarettes so it was immaterial what church he attended.)

Mr. Robertson’s concerts, even at non-religious seasons, were heavy with religious music, but not of the “camp meeting style” sung at our church. Rather, they were the stately choral pieces from earlier benighted centuries that “restorationist” churches deemed too formal to constitute real worship. A few years would pass before I fully appreciated the gift that Robbie had given me in those wonderful hymns and anthems of the Church.

But one event, more than any other, cemented my appreciation for Robbie. The choir had prepared a concert for the community and, among the songs we were to perform, was a rollicking folk song that seemed to cast aspersions on the revivalistic traditions subscribed to by many of Clinton’s Pentecostal, fundamentalist, and holiness churches. It contained the lines, “Cindy got religion / she got it once before / but when she heard the old banjo / she was the first one on the floor.” I might not have registered any objection to the song if my good friend, David Phelps, whose father was the Free Methodist Pastor, had not come to me with his concern that the song was disrespectful of his religious tradition, if not outright blasphemous. David was a very sincere and sensitive Christian whom I highly respected. We decided to go to Robbie and ask permission to step out of the choir for that song. Though we knew that Robbie was an approachable man, we were apprehensive, nonetheless. When he heard our concern he immediately said, “Oh, I never thought about the song that way. We’ll just take that one out of the concert so you can sing all of the songs.”

I thought that was downright Christian of a man who smoked cigarettes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brothers and Sisters (Part 2)

Some of the hardest working volunteers at a churchmen’s work day were the “hangers on” and the “holders back.” I remember wondering, as a boy, what motivated them. They must have known – their demeanor at and during services seemed to make it clear that they understood – that they did not rise to the level of spiritual acceptability enjoyed by the other men, to say nothing of the leading women, of the church. They could not have escaped the persistent message, declared weekly, and reinforced at every revival service – perhaps at home, too, by their solicitous wives – that they could not earn, by good works, the salvation that is obtained only through faith in Christ and a life lived free of the sins of the flesh.

It was the latter, the “sins of the flesh,” that held them at arm’s length from full acceptance in this life. Ironically, it was the first half of the equation, their “faith in Christ,” belatedly recognized, after death had stripped away the sins of the flesh, that allowed them what they had been denied in life, a Christian memorial service and burial as full “bothers” in Christ.

Sherman was a “hanger on”. He and Maud seemed to me a dour, humorless couple, seldom seen in close proximity to each other. I hope that is a misperception. Everyone deserves more joy in their life than either of them displayed. The story is that they had been members of a Baptist church, and that Sherman – always careful with and proficient in the use of money – had been the treasurer of the church. Through some disagreement they had left the Baptist church and Maud had become a member of our Assembly of God congregation. Sherman hung back, attending only irregularly and occupying a back seat when he was there. Despite his infrequency of attendance, his association with Maud, or his prominence as a local banker, must have weighed heavily enough to trigger a designation of “Brother B_”, but not enough to keep him off the “less-than-adequate-husband” prayer list.

Maud served in the church services as a counterweight to Nellie, always there, always seated toward the front, but quiet except for appropriate “amens”, and frequent messages in “tongues” or a “prophecy.” She was a faithful worker and, until age disqualified her, a Sunday School teacher. He husband’s reticence regarding the church set her apart from Nellie, giving her the aura of a pseudo-widow. Having never known her to work outside the home, I assumed Maud conveyed to the church whatever support Sherman consented to give. I had no reason to believe he gave it with a joyful heart. Maud’s “amens” to all sermons, including those on tithing, would lead one to believe that she had convinced Sherman to tithe from his reputedly considerable incomes. If so, it was a testimony to the power of wifely persuasion. Sherman was not easily parted from his money.

Sherman (Brother B_) was my first remembered employer. He was a farmer and landlord in addition to his day job at the bank. Paying at the rate of pennies per hour, he hired me to follow him and his horse down the rows of turned up potatoes, putting them in a wagon, pulled alongside us by another horse. When that task was done I was given the onerous job of pealing several layers of wallpaper from a small rental house he owned a few blocks from our house. At the conclusion of those jobs he paid me, out of pocket, in coin, most of the two or three dollars I had earned. However he lacked the full amount. He asked if I was willing to wait for the rest. What is a boy supposed to say to his first employer . . . who happens to work as a banker? After waiting several weeks, I reminded him of the few pennies he still owed me – seventeen remains in my memory – and he seemed rather surprised that I would want full payment. Fortunately the change he pulled from his pocket was sufficient to pay his debt. Needless to say, I joined Maud in questioning the quality of his religion.

I had graduated from high school and left home before Sherman passed from this world. I don’t know if he was given a proper church funeral and raised to the status of “full Brother,” but I would expect that he was. I think he would have expected it too.

I’m hoping to see him someday and hoping, too, that he and Maud are seeing eye to eye, expressing some modest amount of joy, and that he has moved up front to a seat next to her, Nellie and Brother M_.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Brothers and Sisters (Part 1)

The real “spiritual leaders” in our church were women. From the perspective of a young boy they were, if not “old”, at least “older” women. They sat in the front few pews (benches in the earliest years) and were the most vocal members of the congregation, especially so during the sermon. Their “amen” was so automated, and consequently likely to occasionally affirm that which should not have been affirmed, that it often provided comic relief too good for even the preacher to pass up. Unfazed, perhaps uncomprehending, they continued their chorus of encouragement through announcements, prayers, sermons, and songs. God was good and it was good to praise him.

Nellie was a large woman with an indomitable spirit who practiced, literally, the admonition to praise the Lord in all circumstances, more so when things were at their worst. In church and out, her, “Well, praise the Lord,” punctuated all that she did. One of her sons tells of his chagrin that a high school friend was present when a tire went flat on the pickup truck in which Nellie was transporting them. Without missing a beat, Nellie was out directing the repair – perhaps doing most of the work herself – all the while praising God for his goodness.

Nellie was the pianist for most services. Her style consisted of a bombastic use of chords, played “by ear,” held together with a single line of melody. Most of the hymns sung were “camp meeting songs,” lively and perfectly suited to Nellie’s style. It is interesting to contemplate, from this distance of seventy or more years, what she would have done with the “Doxology.” I’m sure she could have handled it but a Methodist or Presbyterian present would have felt the hair rising on the back of their neck. Choruses abounded in that day just as they do today, except that those sung then were simple rhyming pieces, easy to recall without the aid of books or electronic projection. Often they were sung to the tune of a well-known secular song. Nellie could evoke a rousing spirit of worship, accompanying a chorus sung to the tune of “The Old Grey Mare,” or “Old Black Joe.”

Interestingly, I don’t recall Nellie’s husband ever speaking a word in church, though I have a clear picture of him in my mind, a moderately tall, slender man, quite bald, and quiet by nature. Like many of the men in the church he apparently didn’t have a first name, unless it was “Brother”. Nellie’s husband was different than some of the other brothers in that he sat up front with his wife – I was never once tempted to think of it the other way around – and seemed fully in accord with her faith and exuberance, though he was not himself at all demonstrative. Nellie drove the pick up when they came to church.

It was my impression that the designations, “Sister” and “Brother,” were reserved for women and men of orthodox Pentecostal faith, but considerable fudging was necessary in the case of some of the “brothers.” More than a few were the subject of continual “requests for prayer” regarding their spiritual state, which I took to mean that they had not yet been freed from the use of tobacco or perhaps, God forbid, an occasional “sip” of alcohol. In other cases they had not yet received, or were not seeking to receive a “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” None the less, those who frequented the services, even if they chose to occupy the back row, away from their wives, were afforded, publicly at least, the courtesy of being called, “Brother.”

Those “hangers on” or “holders back” have become a source of curiosity for me in the ensuing years. Invariably, as they passed away, their status was upgraded from suspect, to certain brotherhood, sometimes, but not always, attested to by a “death-bed” confession of faith to a pastor, friend, or spouse. I’ve wondered . . . if a full embrace was possible after death, would it have benefitted them and the church to have embraced them more fully while alive? Perhaps there were good adult reasons to do it the way it was done which escaped the awareness of a young boy. If so, they escape me, still, at this late point in life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Four Ways to Kill a Chicken

In the latter years of my teaching career, I was privileged to accompany some very bright (and delightful) students on trips to Washington, D. C. under the auspices of the Close Up Foundation. I’m a little embarrassed to say that one of the more memorable aspects of those trips, even more memorable than an audience with Sen. Kohler, was the ubiquitous chicken dinner. Undoubtedly, the Senators and Representatives eat fare a notch or two above chicken when their constituents aren’t looking, but for the rest of the population, and certainly for any constituents being feted at a “banquet” of any type, chicken is the main entree.

It makes my heart glad to know that the humble bird that adorned our Sunday dinner table (for only as long as it took the six of us to “un-adorn” it), has made the big time. I can only imagine the lightning speed with which chicken factories across our great land produce the fertilized eggs, hatch and incubated the chicks, feed them to maturity, slit their throats and pick their feathers, cut them into breasts, thighs, wings, and drumsticks, package them, and send them off to Washington to feed the waiting thousands. Surely the chicken species must hold us in high regard for giving life and purpose to so many millions of their kind.

There was a chicken processing plant in our town when I was a boy. It was owned and operated by Jacob Tick, the same man who ran the local junkyard where Dad sold the baled paper, rags, glass, and scrap metal, he collected in the latter days of the Depression. It was old Jake Tick who patted my brother Donald and me on the head and gave us each a nickel, telling us we were “good boys” when we tugged our overloaded wagon of scrap iron in to sell to him. To this day, I don’t know if he was overpaying us or taking advantage of us. It was the consensus around the Rapp table that he got the better of the deal.

However, his chicken slaughtering operation was interesting and quite automated for its time. I was only able to see the first part of the operation and had to imagine what happened beyond that. The live chicken was hooked, upside-down, by the feet onto a conveyor chain. A man at the head of the operation slit its throat just before it was plunged into a vat of boiling water to aid in the removal of its feathers. As it came out of the vat another man unhooked it from the conveyor and held it against a spinning wheel with rubber tines that pulled the feathers off as he turned the chicken one way and another. Then it went onto a conveyor belt that carried it away out of sight. My assumption is that it was dead before they removed its entrails and cut it into pieces but if so it had died very quickly; the whole process had taken less than a minute or so up to that point.

Gramma Shehorn, my mother’s mother, processed her chickens one at a time, cautiously approaching it, catching it up by the feet and laying its neck across a stump so she could sever its head in one stroke of her axe. She then flung it aside to flop around, or even sometimes run a few steps before its heart stopped pumping blood. Gramma was thorough in cleaning her chickens; every part of the chicken that was useful for food or some other purpose was preserved. She especially liked the gizzard, eating it with such relish that I had to try it once . . . and only once.

Mrs. Burns had the most interesting method of killing her chickens, grabbing them by the head and whirling the chicken around until its head came off. The headless chicken often covered quite a bit of territory before it discovered what had happened to it.

Dad generally followed Gramma’s practice of severing the head with an axe, but one day he concluded that was cruel and unusual punishment and decided to use a “firing squad” approach. He should have used a shotgun for the execution but didn’t want to ruin any more of the meat than necessary so, instead, chose to use a 22 caliber rifle. Dad’s aim was usually pretty good but the rooster he was trying kill was uncooperative and Dad’s bullet only penetrated the rooster’s comb. Now there was a highly excited rooster on the loose, bleeding profusely, and very difficult to catch. Eventually he was caught and died in the tried and true fashion with his head on the chopping block.

All the chickens Dad killed ended up in Mom’s kitchen where their feathers were removed, their entrails carefully pulled out, the pin feathers singed, and the carcass cleaned and cut up into its traditional pieces. There is much more I could say about the process but let it suffice to say that, after several years of observing the process, it took me an equal number of years to become comfortable again eating chicken.

From such humble beginnings, the noble chicken has now achieved the pinnacle of political notoriety; it has moved past the Depression era promise of “a chicken in every pot and an automobile in every garage” to, at least in the nation’s capitol, “a chicken on every platter and another 535 in the Legislature.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Déjà vu – Creeping Clintonianism

When I compare living conditions in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I have lived for the last 35 years, to those I knew as a child in Clinton, Illinois, I have to be thankful for the forward thinking men and women who made this a good place to live.

I know, of course, that “living conditions” aren’t the only criteria for a good place to live. Many choose to live where the amenities of life are spare and find great fulfillment there. But generally speaking the health, safety, and wellbeing of a community is a reflection of the kind of men and women who built it; a reflection of those things they value for themselves and their children.

I know, too, that there are limits to what any particular community can afford to do to make itself a safe, prosperous, and pleasant place to live. I just saw a bumper sticker that said, “No nation has ever taxed itself to prosperity.” Well, that is just not true, of nations, cities, or states. Often, in fact, prosperity is a “chicken or egg” proposition; if little is spent to improve a community there will be little incentive for innovative people or businesses to move there and help improve it and thus it remains stagnant, or worse, declines even further. Taxes, well used, are the main way we build strong and prosperous communities.

I wish I could say that conditions in my old home town have improved over the decades and that it is now a bright and progressive community like Eau Claire. It is sad to return to my home town and find whole sections of it just as it was, or more often, sadly diminished from what it was, when I lived there. It is easy – even somewhat enjoyable – to wax nostalgic about a rustic place where you once lived but no longer must endure. I have few regrets about the course of my life but I’m keenly aware that my start in that neighborhood on the north end of George Street determined much of what the remainder of my life would be; it set restrictions on my perception of who I am and my vision of what I could become. That may have implications for all the generations that follow me. Admittedly, I have had advantages not available to my parents. Sadly, my “advantages” came, not because I found opportunity to improve my lot within the community in which I grew up, but rather because I chose to leave that environment.

New neighborhoods have developed in Clinton built by those who are fortunate to have decent incomes and “respectable” employment. They can live in isolation from the decaying parts of town. Meanwhile little has changed in the neighborhoods I wandered through as a youth. Sidewalks crumble, streets are still uncurbed, houses sag and yards are filled with debris. Children living there have little incentive to raise their sights above that of their parents. At best, many of them will eke out a living, working for pay barely above minimum wage, and arrive at old age, sick and unprepared for retirement, requiring that society support them. At worst some will never even reach that level of sufficiency, requiring some measure of community support all their lives.

I don’t want to imply that Eau Claire, where I now live, has none of the problems my childhood town has in abundance. I do see, though, both a quantitative and qualitative difference in the life style of the two communities. I can’t help but attribute the better living standard in Eau Claire to the consistent willingness, over the years, of its residents, and the residents of Wisconsin in general, to provide the good schools, the well maintained streets, the sanitary systems, the progressive public policy that promotes good living.

I have almost no hope that fresh winds will ever blow again through the small towns of Middle America. There is instead, an anti-progressive spirit there that says, “Leave us alone, we’re doing fine. We don’t want the government to tell us how to live. No nation has ever taxed itself to prosperity.” Ironically, massive government subsidies, of which they are oblivious, support their fragile lives. Without free or subsidiesed school lunches, Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, WIC, Earned Income Tax credits, and more, many would be totally destitute.

But more frightening, the stale winds that have blown through the decaying towns of Middle American for decades are sweeping into formerly progressive places like Wisconsin. The politics of austerity is taking hold, convincing thousands that they are being robbed by the government to support unneeded public services and the greedy public servants who provide them. And so we see social safety nets shredded, public institutions threatened with reduced funding or even extinction. One politician recently declared that for years we’ve been content with requiring our public institutions to do more with less. That is no longer enough, he declared; now we must do less with less. “We’re broke.” He lied.

I may not live long enough to see Eau Claire, and similar progressive communities, decline to the level of poverty and cultural deprivation I saw, and still see, in my hometown. It takes time, even after the source has dried up, for all the water to drain out of the system. But the path we are on is a sad and dangerous one. If it is not reversed by progressive and far-sighted leaders, future residents of Eau Claire may find themselves reminiscing, as I have done, about their upbringing in the backward and deprived neighborhoods of a rundown community. That would be, though, the least harmful result of such neglect. The real tragedy is that our community would deprive its current and future residents of the opportunity to thrive, here in our midst if they so chose, or to go on to other places where their talents and skills could build useful things for the future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Obit Awakening

J.B. is dead. I accidently came across his obituary while looking for something else in my hometown newspaper. Memories flooded in.

J.B. was being an arrogant jerk the first time I met him. Fifty years later, when I saw him for the last time, he was still being an arrogant jerk. Everyone learns as they age; some learn humility, wisdom, empathy, others refine the obnoxious behaviors of their youth, becoming champions at the evil that they do.

I don’t want to be too hard on J.B. I may have caught him at the two or three worst moments in his life. I remember little about him other than a couple of personal incidents during the time we were in high school together. Oh, and that his breath reeked of garlic. Even his sweat smelled of garlic.

J.B. was one of several sons of an Italian family who owned and operated an “establishment” in our town. It was thought – though, looking back, I wonder – that the ice cream they sold was produced at their facility. Regardless, I have a clear memory of my brother buying their “bulk scooped” ice cream as a treat for our family, and a faint memory of enjoying a fountain soda there on one occasion. What else they served, if anything, I don’t recall. I just know that after meeting J.B. I never visited their “establishment” again.

I first met J.B. in the boys locker room after a session of Phy Ed. I was a freshman, trembling through the school year, expecting any moment to be accosted by an upperclassman who would demand some humiliating thing of me. Hazing was almost an approved sport at that time. (I have no memory of any disciplinary action being taken by the school or any teacher against a hazer; certainly not in the incident I’ll recite below.) Hazing went under the name of “Freshman Initiation.” Freshman Initiation reached fever pitch during homecoming week and any unlucky boy (I never heard of girls being hazed) whom an upperclassman wished to humiliate had no choice but to do as he was commanded, even to the point of surrendering his trousers, which he might have to retrieve from a tree. More commonly he would be given a “shampoo” in a toilet bowl, or forced to spend the day with one shoe on and one off, one pant leg normal and the other rolled up. The “fever” receded somewhat after Homecoming week but one was not immune to humiliation until one passed from the freshman class. Of course, by then, ninety percent of those who had been hazed, or lived under the fear of it for a year, were eager to perpetuate the “tradition” when they could be the hazers. Thus are traditions passed from generation to generation.

But back to the locker room incident. The gym class was over and we were toweling down after our showers, dressing for the rest of the school day. J.B. noticed, to his great, derisive delight, that I had tucked the tail of my undershirt into my jockey style shorts rather than leaving it outside as he had done. His booming, demeaning laughter brought the attention of everyone in the locker room to my “stupid” faux pas. He then proceeded to challenge my manhood (in fact, I had not lived long enough to have anything but adolescence-hood) ending with a challenge to a fight after school. I have no memory of how I evaded a fight with J.B. that day but I know that, however I managed to escape, there was no assistance from either of the “coaches” (Phy Ed teachers) present. They had neither eyes nor ears. Three human beings lost my respect that day.

But sometimes – not often, actually – well, seldom, to be exact – but, sometimes the fates bring sweet revenge to gladden the hearts of the oppressed. At the opposite end of life’s hierarchy – J.B., you must understand, held forth as the king of forest – was Richard, a poor, hapless boy whom no one picked on. He came from such a dysfunctional family – once going to his beleaguered mother’s aid when she was being beaten by her husband, attacking his father with a cast iron skillet and biting him – that everyone gave him a pass when he came to school. His bulb shined much duller than most.

So it was that, in a Phy Ed class in which we were playing volleyball, J.B. was teamed with Richard, the hapless young man. As it turned out J.B. was covering the net and Richard was positioned in one of the middle posts between the front and back row. The ball came over the net headed for Richard’s spot. J.B., undoubtedly knowing that Richard would muff the return, lunged into his space intending to return the ball over his head. But just as his hand reached ball to flip it artfully across the net (J.B. was nothing if not artful) Richard attempted to send the ball back with a mighty uppercut motion, fist clenched. Richard’s uppercut missed the ball but caught J.B. squarely in the face. As J.B. made his way to the locker room a number of us congratulated Richard on the precise timing of his return.

Fifty years passed before I had anything more to do with J.B. I knew that he had married the prettiest girl in my graduating class, a sort of Helen of CCHS. They had two sons, divorced, re-married, and were in attendance at my (and Helen’s) fiftieth class reunion. A time was given during the program for members of the class of ’54 to rise and give a brief description of where their life had led them. J.B. chose to speak for Helen. He was not a member of our class but who besides he could convey the great privilege she had enjoyed, being married to him all those years – minus a few? He proceeded to regale us with the great success he had achieved and the prestigious universities from which his sons had graduated, one becoming a lawyer, the other a doctor. When he finished no others rose to speak. J.B. undoubtedly interpreted the embarrassed hush as confirmation that his performance had made all other comments superfluous.

And now he is dead. I didn’t expect the feelings that discovery brought me. I was surprised by the sorrow I felt. It made me think that all jerks do eventually die. And then they are supposed to get what’s coming to them. I’ve been a jerk a time or two myself. I wonder if those whom my words and deeds have wounded are waiting to read my obituary and know that, at last, I’m getting what’s coming to me. I’ve been hoping for something better . . . for some forgiveness . . . and some understanding.

R.I.P., J.B.

I hope the mortician did your underwear just the way you like it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On Tax Day - 2011, An Ode To Taxes

Taxes sure get a bad rap! I’ve finished filing our taxes for 2010. According to my best calculations, our combined taxes, Federal and state withholding, state sales tax, gasoline tax and local property taxes amounted to 17.3% of our adjusted gross income.

That represents a lot of money, especially for a couple in the league we play in. It is NOT, though, the 35% or more that is bandied about in anti-tax e-mails or parroted on certain radio talk shows. And “tax freedom day” came last year for us, NOT in late April or early May, as claimed by the anti-tax crowd, but near the end of February.

But after calculating our taxes I thought I should list some of the things we bought with that 17.3% of our income. It was not all purchased for our use. Some of it was purchased for the use of people with incomes far greater than ours; some of it for people who have very little income at all. Of course, I know it isn’t just our taxes that provide those benefits either, but together we taxpayers do a pretty impressive job with the money collected from us. Look at this:

Our local taxes buy:
• police and fire protection
• emergency ambulance service
• pre and k-12 schools
• libraries
• parks
• roads
• water and sewer services
• road maintenance services
• government services
• government buildings
• administration of elections
• hundreds of salaries and benefits
• tax incentives to businesses who move to the city or promise to stay after threatening to go to Mexico because their local workers want a pay raise
• And our taxes allow millions of dollars worth of property to remain tax-free so charities and churches can have more money for the good work they do

Our county taxes support:
• highways
• parks
• police protection
• court systems
• jails
• social services
• government structures (You can probably add to the list.)

At the state level taxes provide:
• roads
• police protection
• emergency services
• social services
• prisons
• schools (from pre-school through technical and university graduate level)
• a state branch of the national guard
• subsidies to businesses to bring them into the state or keep them from moving to Mexico in a fit of spite because their workers ask for more pay
• tax breaks for all kinds of businesses for all kinds of reasons
• welfare payments
• unemployment compensation
• salaries and operating expenses for state government ranging from the Governor on down
• staff and per diem expenses to support legislators and other elected officials
• and on and on

And at the federal level our taxes provide:
• highways
• parks
• museums
• memorials
• military training
• salaries, equipment, and money for military adventures around the world
• veteran’s benefits, pensions and healthcare
• military cemeteries
• military precision flight teams
• military bands
• military aid for friendly foreign autocrats
• subsidies for real farmers and legislators who own farms but don’t operate them
• police services (FBI, CIA, homeland security, border patrol, customs officials, etc.)
• federal prisons
• federal emergency relief in times of flood and famine
• foreign aid in times of disaster
• government regulation of food and drug production
• grants to states for various projects
• medical services for the poor
• financial and food services for the poor
• grants to support scientific research, medical research, and product development
• tax breaks for airlines, oil companies, and people, rich and poor, who need or want some government pork
• And on top of that our taxes support a necessarily large Federal Government (executive, legislative, and judicial branches) with salaries, benefits, staff, equipment, pensions, healthcare, and more
• And, of course I’ve missed a lot

All that, and more, for a mere 17.3% of my salary. If all those government services were to suddenly go away, as some seem to say they want them too, how far would my 17.2% go in buying for myself the services I need and want? Not far. Granted, I don’t want or need all those services. I could gladly see those that benefit the other guy reduced or eliminated. But the principal of shared responsibility, shared cost, and shared benefit is part of what makes us the United State of America.

Taxation will never be popular but it is a wonderfully efficient way to get a lot of good (and granted, some unfortunate foolishness) done. But we need to quit fooling ourselves. My 17.2%, combined with all that my fellow taxpayers contribute, isn’t enough to provide the benefits we demand. We’ve been piling up debt for years. We have been under taxing ourselves and now we are feeling the results. Taxes, fairly levied, and wisely used, are an ancient and potentially beneficial boon to a society. I just wish our politicians, most of whom eat at the tax-supported-trough all their lives and into retirement, would stop bashing taxes – stop telling us we are over-taxed – and honestly explain to their constituents the benefits we all get from government through taxation.

Most citizens don’t want to give up the benefits THEY receive. I don’t! Consequently, I don’t think it is fair for me to take my benefits and deny my fellow citizen those he/she legitimately needs. So, we have to agree to pay for them. Or quit whining about our “massive national, state, and local debt.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Marvin Glenn Rapp – Nominated in the Category of: “Best Big Brother”

I run the risk of offending my only living sibling, my brother Donald Gene, 15 months my senior, when I declare our older brother, Marvin Glenn, “Best Big Brother.” There are reasons why Donald does not qualify. I will not get into those now. Perhaps another time. Mostly we were so close in age that Marvin could be “big brother” to both of us simultaneously and fairly even-handedly.

Marvin was always tall. I don’t know his length at birth, but from the earliest diapered pictures right on through to his college cap and gown, he was long and lanky. At his prime, he was six feet, five inches tall. I don’t think he really liked his red hair, a gift to him, exclusively, from Mom’s Scotch-Irish heritage. I know he did not allow Donald or me to call him “Red” as many of his peers were allowed to do. However, before he died suddenly, at age 71, of a massive heart attack, he had lost some height, gained some girth, and added much grey to the red hair of his youth.

Memories of Marvin include the relatively rare occasions when he would take one or the other of his eight or ten year old brothers along hunting rabbits. He preferred to take a buddy his own age, Dick Summers, or Donald Hawkins, but if they were not available he “suffered” us – or one of us – to go along. He seldom bagged anything when he had us to look after, so it was an act of generosity, which I think we dimly appreciated even at that early age. Sometimes we were allowed to shoot the 22 caliber squirrel rifle, but most of the time he hunted with a 12 gauge shot gun and the recoil was too much for our young shoulders to endure.

Later when Marvin began to work – at the John Warner Bank, and at the Clinton Pure Ice Company – he generously shared his new-earned prosperity with the whole family, stopping on the way home on hot summer evenings to buy a quart of “bulk-scooped” ice cream at the Greek Confectionary or Bianucci’s Ice Cream Parlor. Mom divided the quickly melting treat between those who were there – five or six of us – and it seemed an adequate treat to my still-tiny tummy. If there was any left, Dad, to the amazement of Donald and me, could always “finish it off.” Our “Ice Box” would not have kept it frozen, so it was a practical gesture, no more I’m sure, to consume it before it melted entirely.

Donald and I especially enjoyed spending time with Marvin during his evening shift at the “Ice Plant.” It was a fascinating place. The ice was “pure ice,” not sawn from a lake or river. Huge rectangular steel forms were filled with water and lowered into a recessed pit, capable of holding scores of the forms, producing thousands of pounds of ice in a shift. Ammonia cooled air circulated around the tanks, freezing the water into 300 pound cakes of ice. The frozen forms were lifted with an overhead pulley system, and moved to a ramp that sloped down to the entrance of a large refrigerated storeroom. Hot water was applied to the outside of the form, releasing the ice cake to slide down the ramp and through a “scoring” machine that marked it into 100, 75, 50 and 25 pound divisions. Then it slid on into the sub-freezing storeroom to be stacked in tight rows until the delivery men loaded it on their trucks or a customer arrived to buy it directly from the loading dock. In those pre-OSHA days, the “Ice Plant” offered many adventures to Donald and me. It was a complex building filled with dark, spooky hallways and mysterious rooms that (or should I say, “which” – they seemed alive) groaned at night, their pipes contracting and expanding, clacking unexpectedly. Perhaps there was more than brotherly generosity back of Marvin’s willingness to share our company in such an environment. I marveled at his courage, staying there alone after dark.

Marvin’s willingness to allow his two young brothers to tag along on his trips to the city square, where he would hang out with his buddies, more than qualifies him for the title: “Best Big Brother.” Many high school-aged boys would have resented the nuisance of having their grade school-aged brothers tagging along on their night out with the boys. There were evenings when we were not allowed to go, but, as often as not, if was Mom or Dad, not Marvin, who forbade us. On the occasions when we did go with him, we could expect to be treated to a cup of coffee at the Railroad Depot Cafe, surreptitiously enjoyed, of course. (Coffee was not “sinful” in the view of our parents, but it was forbidden to boys our age whose growth could be stunted by drinking it. Both of us, it should be said, grew to exceed six feet in height and 200 pounds in weight.) It was the honor we valued, more than the taste, so we drank our treat with a heavy helping of sugar and cream (the real stuff) and just enough coffee to color it a light brown. Five cents per cup and one refill only.

More could be said in support of Marvin’s candidacy for title of “Best Big Brother,” and fairness would require an admission that he was not always gentle and kind to us – nor were we to him. But it would be hard to imagine any other qualifying more completely for the title: “Best Big Brother” than our brother, Marvin Glenn.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unmentionables (Part 3)

Political discussion was serious business, but it was also fun, not quite sport, but something akin it. Religious discussion was vital; it touched the deepest vein in Mom and Dad’s character, defined who they were, and helped to shape who they hoped to be. There was never any stated purpose for our religious discussions, in aggregate or any particular one. They just happened, usually in response to a meeting at which we had recently been in attendance. Sometimes they arose as the family was preparing lessons for Sunday School the next day.

Our parents attended and supported, with tithes and offerings, the same church for well over fifty years, yet never became official members. Seldom, though, was there a Sunday service (morning or evening) at which they were not in attendance. Though they had moral (and Biblical) objections to eating in the church buildings, they attended nearly all outdoor church picnics and events. If there was a work day with which Dad was free to help, he was there. Mom was active in various women’s ministries, even teaching Sunday school, until a pastor decided that only members should be allowed to do so. Neither of my parents ever professed to having received a “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” nor did either of them claim to have “spoken in tongues.” As far as I know neither claimed to have been “used” in the exercise of any of the classical Pentecostal gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14. Yet they spent their lives, and raised their family, including six grandsons, whom they faithfully took to church and Sunday School, in a Pentecostal church.

The question has to be, why did they devote themselves so completely to a church, whose doctrine and practice often elicited from them intense scrutiny and discussion, sometimes dissent? I can’t answer definitively. It is one of those questions that should have been asked forthrightly. My guess is that they found, in the Pentecostal church, a sensitivity to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit that they believed to be a true Biblical pattern of worship and Christian living, and did not feel they found that elsewhere. However, they also found there, doctrines and practices, which they could not give honest assent to, certainly could not affirm, and would not gloss over, simply to gain the privilege of membership. They resisted claiming experiences or giftings that they could not honestly attest to. On the other hand, there was fellowship there with people they loved and respected. They felt loved in return, cared for, and “fed” by – with one major exception – Godly pastors and their wives. Without even knowing it, they found an outlet for a life-long “ministry” (they never would have called the things they did a “ministry”) of compassion and giving, offering themselves and their resources unstintingly to “believers” and “un-believers” without distinction.

Looking back it seems the religious discussions in the Rapp parlor were of two very different natures. One was primarily negative and most often related to the periods of revivalism. I never heard my parents call anything they heard or saw, “extremism,” but their digging in the Bible to confirm their suspicions of fraud or faulty doctrine, spoke volumes about their discomfort with much that was being claimed as a “work of God.” Other discussions were primarily positive, focusing on the subject of a Sunday school lesson, a youth program that Donald or I was preparing to participate in, a sermon that had been preached an hour before in church, a message by a radio pastor or evangelist, or something Mom or Dad had encountered in their Bible reading. From this distance, it seems likely that the thing that held them to their church was the day-to-day, week-to-week, fellowship with sincere folk, sensitively working together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The “times of refreshing” – the revivals and special meetings – were, for them, times of intellectual turmoil and challenge in which they struggled to maintain the integrity of their convictions and Biblical understandings without becoming uncooperative, obstructionist, or divisive.

Neither Dad nor Mom engaged in what Evangels call “personal evangelism.” They freely discussed their faith, however, or the faith of one they were conversing with, if they sensed that the other person desired a discussion. Mostly, they bore witness to their faith in the integrity and generosity with which they lived their lives. Their religious discussions were mostly restricted to the theater of the home. I doubt if they “staged them” particularly for our instruction; they simple talked about that which was vital to them and they let us listen and participate to the degree that we wished to do so. Not a bad plan.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Unmentionables (Part 2)

“Politics and religion must never be discussed in polite company.” We’ve all heard it! Alas, both subjects dominated conversation in the Rapp parlor, regardless of who the “polite” participants were – immediate family members, more distant relatives, neighbors, or even the local pastor. The company was usually truly polite; the argumentation might have appeared to observers to be otherwise. Though the topic was not invariably religious in nature, it was most likely to be so.

Neither Mom nor Dad had a particularly strong religious upbringing. Dad’s mother was Baptist and Dad told of attending a Baptist church, as often to meet someone and “settle a score” in the church yard, as to engage in proper worship. His father was killed in a logging accident when Dad was eleven years old and it is doubtful if there was much religious instruction in the fractured and scattered family that remained under his mother’s care. Mom’s mother did not seem to me to be religious in any personal sense and I never knew of her affiliating with any church. So, to a large degree, both of my parents, in their earliest years, were “heathen.”

Mom, and a friend of hers, found their way to Christian faith through association with a Nazarene church when they were in their mid-teens. For both girls it was a life-long commitment. Mom remained faithful to her commitment until her death at eighty-seven years old. Her young friend died in her late teens of tuberculosis. Dad did not come into real relationship with Christ until the late 1920s. A devastating house fire, and the subsequent death of their third child in an automobile accident as they were searching for new housing, shocked Dad into a realization of his need for a Savior and guide for his life. It was a transforming experience for him, one from which he never looked back. Symbolic of his immediate and total surrender to Christ, he summarily, in the presence of the two female Nazarene pastors who led him to faith, burned a carton of cigarettes that his brother had given him as a “get well” gift. The brother, who died years later, after suffering terribly with emphysema, never forgave Dad for not returning the cigarettes to him. One can be forgiven for getting crazy about religion, throwing away perfectly good tobacco is another matter.

By the time I was old enough to know, the folks had migrated to a start-up Assemblies of God church that was meeting in a basement Tabernacle on the south side of Clinton. Originally a very small congregation, it grew throughout the years, built an upper structure, added an annex, and eventually moved to a new, contemporary structure where it still meets.

The Assemblies of God is an Evangelical Pentecostal denomination and its church functions at that time reflected a particular stage in that heritage. The church’s weekly round of Sunday School and worship services, Bible Studies, prayer services, and the annual Vacation Bible School, differed little from many other Evangelical Churches in town. Most years, though, the church distinguished itself, hosting at least two “Revival Meetings,” often one of them, in the summer, in a tent, on a large vacant lot. The meetings varied in focus, depending upon the emphases popular at the time, and the peculiar “ministry” of the evangelist who came to town to hold the meetings. It seemed that one primary goal of the meetings was to be able to declare them so successful that another week or two would be added to the planned two-week revival. A few of the revivals emphasized Holy Spirit Baptism and the imparting of Spiritual gifts. The larger share was billed as “Divine Healing” meetings. Touted weeks in advance, and advertized with dramatic posters bearing testimonies of amazing healings in the evangelist’s previous meetings, these were times of high expectation for the church. All of the Revival meetings professed, as their primary purpose, to offer attendees opportunity to “receive Christ as savior.” In practice the “invitation” was often given less emphasis than the real interest of the evangelist, which might be lengthening short legs, filling teeth, improving sight and hearing, or “discerning” and curing terminal diseases. Often the more difficult healings – blindness, physical deformity, mental retardation – were put off until the last night of the revival, allowing the evangelist and the attendees to “increase their faith” through what they saw and experienced in the early days of the revival. The Rapp family was almost always there, night after night . . . and especially that last night.

Naturally meetings like these were the subject of Rapp discussions during the time they were in progress and often for years afterward. Mom and Dad were not in any evangelist’s pocket and whatever doctrine he proposed, or whatever claims he made, had to pass the scrutiny of their demanding Biblical and critical analysis. Few evangelists came off unscathed. Our parents were not about to “amen” what they suspected was false enthusiasm, outright chicanery, or even sincere, but misguided, assent to an evangelist’s suggestion of healing when they saw no evidence of it. And sadly, there was often no evidence of it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unmentionables (Part 1)

The rules were clear. Our Parents knew the rules. They taught them to their children. But we all ignored them – at least at home. The rules were: “Don’t talk about politics” and “Don’t talk about religion.” It was a wise person who propounded those rules. If there are any other categories of human discourse more likely to engender discord, even lethal violence, I don’t know what they would be.
However, at the Rapp house nearly all conversations eventually gravitated to one or the other of those subjects, sometimes combining them. Our sources of information – radio, newspapers, magazines, books, school work, church services, and of course the Bible – fed our insatiable appetite for discussion and inevitably we were drawn to religion and politics. I should not leave out the Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues and Whitney’s Automotive manual/catalogue. They were our “dream books,” offering us a look at aspects of the world that we would only gradually come to afford. But they were not intellectual sources as the others were.
And the Rapps, if nothing else, were intellectuals.
Mom completed less than eight grades of formal education; Dad may not have attended school after about the third grade. Mom had mastered the essentials of grammar and arithmetic; Dad worked all his life against deficiencies in both of them. He read and wrote painfully and “ciphered” at the most elementary level. But they were intellectual equals, Dad more likely to express himself verbally (and competently), Mom more likely to write a poem, a letter to the editor or to a friend or foe. Dad, always quiet, almost shy in public, could hold forth eloquently in a living room discussion about a current event or a recent sermon. He knew what was in the Bible and could find it for you if you gave him time. He’d rather tell you and let you look it up. Mom was also quiet – but not shy – in public. At home she often allowed Dad to “hold the floor” seconding his opinions or showing disapproval more with her face than with her voice. Her eyebrows spoke volumes.
It took almost nothing to trigger a political argument – oophs, I meant to say, “discussion.” A radio newscast could do it, or an article from the “paper” read aloud by Mom, or even a question about an assignment one of us kids was working on for school. Once started, the debate could go on several hours. A few have never been concluded.
The folks were Democrats. They never joined a political party but they had suffered, as had millions of other Americans, under the policies of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, and they believed that Franklin Roosevelt had saved the nation (and their livelihood) with the New Deal. Later in life Dad would become a supporter of Richard Nixon and, finally a “Reagan Democrat.” Not that he would use the term; he just believed, at that point, that “taxes were eating us up” and, in his opinion, Reagan understood that. No matter that, long before Nixon, and longer before Reagan, he had ceased to pay any appreciable taxes other than Illinois’ six percent sales tax.
Mom’s political ire was more likely to be sparked by something she read in the local weekly newspaper, The Clinton Journal, particularly a politically motivated letter to the editor. The Journal allowed submissions to the “letters” section to be in poetic form. That suited Mom perfectly allowing her to give vent to her ascorbic wit, and exercise her muse, at the same time. On one or two occasions the exchange went on for a number of weeks. Mostly she chaffed at the suggestion that farm owners were being disadvantaged by government policy. Her memory was that she and Dad had put in excessive hours for inadequate pay in the depths of the Depression, working for some of those same landowners who were “whining” in the local paper, declaring that they could be profitable if only the government would get off their back.
To Mom, most politics was local; Dad took on the world.
History, social studies, and civics classes, provided my siblings and me alternative interpretations of history and new ways of looking at politics. When we brought those ideas home and attempted to defend them, it enriched and expanded the range of discussion, stoking the fires of political discourse that warmed our house as long as the folks continued to live there.
Mom’s Alzheimer ’s disease eventually stilled her voice. Even before that, near-total deafness took her out of the conversation. But she continued to read, and read, and read, even after she could no longer recall the content of the previous sentence. Dad’s failing heart did not diminish his impulse to pontificate on political matters but it did put a damper on the extent to which, and the frequency with which, we kids chose to “stir him up.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Scandal of an Un-Inquisitive Mind

Most of the residents of George Street were familiar strangers to me. Children ask a lot of questions. But they are born with such a bundle of ignorance that, despite the questions asked, they lack knowledge of so much that they, someday, will wish they had known. In my twenty-seven years of teaching high school students, I was frequently surprised that a student couldn’t tell me what his or her mother or father did for a living – what their job consisted of. Many couldn’t even name the place their parents worked. And, rarely could a student from one family tell you how the parents of their closest friend earned their living. Still, they were “best friends.”

Fortunately, Mom and Dad talked to us, and to each other in our presence, about all manner of things and we thus became aware of Dad’s work, as much through the workplace conflicts he described as through a direct job description. On rare occasions, we would visit him for a few minutes during his night shift. That being said, it nonetheless surprises me to realize how many of our neighbors on that last block of North George Street remain familiar strangers to me. Of the eleven families represented, I can only tell you the occupation of four: one being my father, one Mr. Burns, whose wife made sure everyone knew her husband was “a carpenter.”  Another was a man who built a new house directly across from Burn’s house. I knew his occupation only because he was a seriously troubled alcoholic who supplied his habit out of the “Bar and Lounge” he and his wife operated downtown. The other was a couple who ran a neighborhood grocery store and auto repair service out of their house and garage respectively.

There were changes over the years. The new house, just mentioned, was built around 1950 and began immediately to seek equal status with the decaying homes that surrounded it. By the time the sad man who built it died, and his wife and little son moved out, in the mid-50s, its only claim to superiority was its architectural design, a story and a half structure with a full basement, a kitchen, dining room, bath, and living room downstairs and two slant-ceilinged bedrooms on second floor. The congregation that owned the little “tabernacle” in the middle of the block built a new brick church, not much larger but more “respectable,” a block away on Woodlawn Street. The old building became a neighborhood grocery store, raising the number of such stores in a five-block radius to six. Eventually, after I left home in 1954, three two-bedroom ranch style houses, built on slabs, filled in the spaces across the street to the west of our house. But, I only came to know the occupation (or former occupation) of one of those residents; he had worked with Dad on the railroad doing . . . something.

The families living on Alexander Street, behind us, or a half-block to our west, on the half-block-long street whose name I’ve forgotten, were less familiar strangers. I could not name the livelihood of any of them. It is no different today; those neighbors living in close proximity to one’s house, no more than two houses away, have some chance of being known. Those living farther away become, at best, familiar strangers, people we knew just well enough to either trust or avoid them.

Proximity was one mode through which we came to know our neighbors. There were three other modes: the church, the school, and work. By far, the school was the greatest influence, bringing together even the children of women who fought each other in the street, allowing the children to build bridges (and even romances) that their parents had been unable to build. The great melting pot simmered just three blocks away in a two-story brick building that housed six grades and a kindergarten. It was not always a place of perfect harmony but it was a place where children from most of the houses on George Street, and other surrounding streets, were given an opportunity to know each other in ways they would not have had if Webster Elementary School had not been there. For a few, in that day, Webster School provided all the education they would receive. Another few would “drop out” two years later after “graduation” from 8th grade. 

I have come to believe that, without public schools we would not have become the United States of America. I worry now that we may be in the process of unraveling those United States, as I watch the attacks on our public schools; the attempts to replace them with private schools, or “for profit” schools, that allow us to segregate ourselves into comfortable, familiar, homogeneous, enclaves of shared understandings and shared hostility toward those not in our group. We had only one such “choice” in my youth, the Catholic Parochial School. I’m sure it was established by well-meaning folk, with the purpose of assuring that Catholic children were not corrupted by association with Protestants, but the result was often pernicious in ways that may still reverberate through society. Catholics failed to learn, by experience, about Protestants and Protestants came to think of Catholics as those who went to school behind the high chain-linked fence. And, when one of them ran for President it evoked an outpouring of vituperative paranoia not matched again until a Black man with an “un-American” sounding name ran for the same high office.

Every now and then, I meet someone from George Street that I barely knew back then, or someone from Webster Elementary school whose background was vastly different than mine, and still is. I hardly know them. But they look more like familiar strangers to me now, than the dangerous aliens and heretics they might have seemed if we had not spent those years together at Webster Elementary School.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A “Bowl Game” Suspended

I wonder how many people, living today, could tell you where they were, and what they were doing, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I was playing in a Bowl Game on December 7, 1941, a date that might have lived in infamy even if the Japanese had not attacked. That calls for some explanation, I know.

George street was not properly paved until sometime in the early 1950’s I believe, after water and sewer lines had been installed under it, and never was it curbed, except for the fifty feet Dad had installed in front of our place, which, upon reflection, gave the place a dignity that none other on the block could claim. It also saved the yard from the erosion the other lots experienced from cars parking farther and farther up onto them. However, I digress. The point I need to make is that, through the early 1940s, George Street was an unpaved dirt road. In the latter half of the decade, a layer of gravel was spread on it and road oil applied to the gravel from a tank truck equipped with sprayers.

Traffic was sparse, and vehicles relatively slow and loud, which all worked together to make the road a reasonably safe place to play, effectively extending each owner’s yard twenty to thirty feet. That curb that Dad installed, perhaps in faith that pavement would eventually follow, restricted the space in front of our house. But, by beginning our baseball diamond, or football field, a little to the north of our lot, in front of Mrs. Addy’s house, we had sufficient space for our games.

For baseball games in summer, home plate was at the south end of the play space and the outfield further north toward the open fields in that direction. Most of us were right handed hitters. Therefore, our errant balls were most likely to go off into the field to the west of us – occasioning a delay of game while we tried to find the ball among the cornstalks or soybeans. Too often, though, they veered into Mrs. Addy’s yard, which usually meant the end of play for that day unless we had a spare ball on hand. (She was a wonderful neighbor but she let us know that she would rather retrieve our ball from her garden – in her own good time – than have us do so.)

Football games were less likely to get us into jurisdictional troubles. A football can bounce erratically and go where it is not welcome but, for the first years, we didn’t have a genuine football; instead our brother, Marvin, had fabricated one out of a bicycle tire, folded back and forth, and tied together tightly, with a length of baling twine, into a clumsy, oversize, football-like shape. It was not prone to bounce at all. In fact its heavy, hard, unyielding nature gave added incentive to catch it cleanly lest it slip through your hand and wound you so severely that you had to be taken out of the game. Most teams opted for a running game but there were occasions when passing was strategically necessary despite the risk that one could lose the receiver’s service for a quarter, half, or the rest of the game. I have no memory of any attempts at field goals, kick-offs, or punts. I think I would remember if they had been tried. It wasn’t really a football game.

Our football games became a regular feature of Sunday afternoons in Autumn. Sunday mornings were, of course, reserved for Sunday School and Church attendance. Most Sunday evenings were as well. I suspect it stretched our parents’ conscience some to allow a non-sacred activity like football to occur on Sabbath. Nevertheless, it was not “work,” and we did not travel beyond the prescribed distance, we purchased nothing, sold nothing, and it got us out of the house, a not unconsiderable consideration, from their point of view. Mom, always looking for a place to lodge one of her puns, dubbed our games, “Road Bowls” games, or, on rainy Sunday afternoons, “Mud Bowl” games.

And thus it was that, on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, our mother called to us from the front door and informed us that the Japanese had attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor. I was five and three-quarters years old, not much use to a football team, too young to be involved in the war, too ignorant, I’m sure, to even know what all it implied for the future of our family, our nation, or the world, but aware, from Mom’s demeanor, that something of greater import than a Road Bowl game was happening. We suspended our game and went in to listen to the radio. I wish I could recall what was said at church that night.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Tribute to a Big Sister I Barely Knew

My sister, Istra (Istra May), had several problems. As the oldest child, everything she did broke a mold, created discomfort, threatened the safety and honor of the family, added to Dad’s angst. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Her real problem was that she was good . . . and couldn’t believe that others weren’t. Even when she found that they weren’t good, she refused to accept the fact, believing that she could help them be so, or at least, to be better. It was a trait she retained through all her eighty-one years of life.

That is not to say that she had no “spirit.” I remember the “spirited discussions” she had with Dad as she was seeking the freedom all children eventually seek. The fact that she was nine years older than I meant that there is much about her that I don’t remember – and wish I did. Sadly, when I was old enough to begin collecting memories of her she was already in high school and soon would be leaving for college. Dad knew the hazards that awaited her and saw the naïveté with which she approached the world. She saw a world of friends who were all good people and wanted to spend more time with them. How, and when, that struggle was resolved, I don’t know. I do know that it was resolved; that they came to respect and love each other deeply, and that Istra became Dad’s most faithful and caring support in his final years.

It is ironic, since I can only think of Istra as a gentle soul, that my strongest childhood memories of Istra involve fighting, first those arguments with Dad, and then a friendly “fight” in which she took on both Donald and me in a tussle over something now forgotten. Her long arms gave her the advantage. Try as we might we could not penetrate the defense and win the battle. I’m glad that my only remembered conflict with her was a friendly fight, and that she won it.

The other incident was more serious. A disturbed young man – later sent to prison for life for raping, robbing, and killing an eighty year-old woman – had chased Donald and me because he didn’t like “the way we looked at him.” It was obvious that we were about to become victims of his violence when Istra appeared. She put herself between our attacker and us, letting him know he would have to go through her to get to us. He probably could have done so, but, for some reason, chose not to, and went on his way.

As I think about it now, Istra devoted most of her life to “fighting” for those she believed were “good”, or could made “better,” with her help. She, with her husband Don Baker, never turned away a soul (or critter) in need of help. They would not agree with this assertion, of course, but in my view, they never had a “beautiful” pet – dog, cat, bird, squirrel, etc – only wounded ones they sought to restore to the beauty of life and health. And it was so with all the human souls they touched as well.

Istra is gone and Don struggles now with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease. But I’m sure his focus is not so much on himself, but on those he is still able to help and heal.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seeking a Way Back to Eden

Writing mini-memoires, as I have been doing lately, challenges me to recall a radically different time. It was awful . . . and it was wonderful. It was a time like no other before or after. It was a “between time” – something preceded it, something followed it. Every time stands uniquely between the times, imbibing from the past, contributing to the future.

No one should imagine that I would want to relive those times. There were aspects that I think were invaluable, but the past is irretrievable except as imperfect images refracted through a fleshly prism.  The point is that it is good to remember, and it is especially good to remember once we have moved on to a distinctly new time. Perspective allows us to recognize chaff and thus cease to call it wheat, to weigh good and bad on the superior scale of retrospect, moving, sometimes, what we once put on the “bad side” over to the “good side” . . . and, sometimes, vice versa. The past comes to us through an ever-lengthening stream of life lived, revealing, if we choose to see, our many shortcomings and peculiar foibles, giving us the opportunity to grant to those we once abhorred, as much humanity as we would want granted to us. Distance, and time, and perspective, allow us to laugh at calamities past, suggesting that we might be wise to take less alarm at those we are presently living through.

It must be human nature to idealize a time that used to be; to long for the “righteousness” of a time before our generation ever set foot on earth. We hear hopes expressed for – whole parties formed to effect a return to – a golden age, as though the corrupt times we now live in were an aberration, as though there were a recent time in which righteousness had been restored to earth by wise and Godly men, only to be lost again, through the foolishness of our time.  Do we imagine that we can annul the wickedness of our time, making room for some pristine righteousness from the past? (All human righteousnesses privelge some while disenfranchising others.) No, those who harbor such hopes are like a man bemoaning the loss of solitude, who devotes his life to berating those around him who will not be still. When, at last he pauses, near life’s end, to catch his breath, a child remarks that it would be quiet in the world, if he would just stop shouting. If it were possible to achieve righteousness by laws or by decree, it would long ago have been restored. It is not for want of knowledge of the right that the world wallows in un-rightness, it is for want of individuals willing to be right – with their God and with their fellow man – without regard for whether or not others join them in being right.

The purpose of memory is not to lure us back to a previous perfect time, but to comfort us as we move into unknown times, to reassure us that no hard time is so hard that those who survive it will not look back with some measure of gratitude for the privilege of having lived through it. Likewise, memory warns us that good times cannot last forever, that in all the annals of human history no life has ever been lived, except in syrupy novels, into which no rain has ever fallen . . . nor should we be surprised when next it falls in ours.

Since the day that flaming angel turned the key on Eden’s gate, the human race has alternated between times of railing against Heaven, cursing the days that are, wondering why they aren’t like the days that used to be, blaming others for destroying utopia, insisting that it can be restored if only others will follow some man-made system.

The only compass Adam carried out of Eden is that of memory. It points only to the past, but it will not lead us back to Eden. Another must lead us there. However, memory provides the stories that remind us that Eden was once our home. The stories tell us that all have sinned – still sin – will always sin, that the debris through which humankind sifts to find clues about its destiny is a history of human failure, hopelessly bereft of saving grace. But, memory – human memoirs, penned by saints, long ages ago – tell us, as well, that we are not left wholly on our own – that the God who created, still loves – that the God we lost, seeks us – that Eden is not forever lost – that a Second Adam has passed the flaming sword, entered Eden, and seized the vial of life. That is the glorious Evangel, the Great Good News.