Over-the-Road Pondering

The pounding of the Greyhound diesel vibrated the interior, nudging Randy toward sleep as he sunk back into the softness of his seat. Once again he was charging across the Texas plains eagerly anticipating his rendezvous with his childhood friend, but this second day of over-the-road travel was beginning to wear him down. Writing in his journal was somewhat difficult with the bounce of the tires on the seams of the pavement, but something urged the drowsy Randy to keep writing . . .

Finally met the Reverend today. He exceeded all my expectations though Hank had really played him up over this past year. When someone insists I make an acquaintance, I am always skeptical. But this man Elton certainly strummed some profound musical chords deep within my psyche. And I’m grateful for today’s encounter.

The conversation was coming back now. Randy was back in the minister’s study, in genuine conversation with Elton Bauerkemper . . .

“How is it you and Hank became friends?”

“That’s an easy question. Hank Shelton, Randy Singleton. Since second grade, our class seating charts were arranged alphabetically. Hank was always in front of me. Lots of years to make mischief together during and after school.”

A smirk lightened the minister’s countenance as he eased back in his chair. He was looking less like a Man of the Cloth now. “Hank came in here about a year ago as I recall. He was on some sort of vision quest. How’s that working out?”

“I really don’t know much. He sure doesn’t want to come home to Turvey’s Corner. And I reached a point where I no longer wanted to stay. I guess I’ll know more in a day or two when I see him again.”

“How about you? Hank wrote me right after our visit and told me he had a friend who was a Lutheran minister he hoped I would one day meet. Though it’s been a year, I’ve pulled that letter from the files and re-read it several times and thought about this possibility. As soon as I saw you step off that city bus down the street with the backpack and walk this way, I knew it was either a homeless chap looking for a church handout or it might be you.”

“Well . . .” Randy was amused at the thought, “Homeless is how I’m feeling right about now. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“But you’re a Lutheran minister?”

“I was. Now I don’t really know what I am. I quit seminary a couple of months ago, went back home and found a room to rent. Worked a meaningless job, and now have cut all of it loose, even a marriage.”

“Seminary. Concordia?”

“Yeah. You too, from what Hank told me.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I guess I just tried too hard to force on a shoe that never fit. I felt lost when I went away to college. The Jesus People embraced me, made me feel like I had an identity and a real family. The ministry came over me before I really knew what was happening. Seminary came next. Then marriage. I was swept away by all the changes. And then Karl Barth happened.”

“Oh my.” The minister paused in silence, hoping he hadn’t ruptured the bond of communication and trust with his involuntary response, followed by this silence. Randy didn’t seem inclined to continue. Elton hoped he hadn’t broken in too soon or inserted a measure of disdain with his remark.

“I’m sorry I broke in. Your mention of Barth set off deep feelings in me. I couldn’t keep silent. Barth has been a real mentor to my inner life for over thirty years now. Do you want to talk about what he did to you?”

Randy just sat in silence, his expression not really downcast, just distant and pensive. Elton let it ride.

Finally, Randy looked up again, the light returning to his eyes as he began to speak. “All my life, others have told me what to do. My parents brought me up. My school told me what to read and think. My church told me how to live right. Once off to college, five hours away, I had no one directing me. But the Jesus People swept in, and they seemed so confident, so ebullient in their life’s direction, and again I let others tell me which way to go. Before I knew it, I was entering the ministry, entering the seminary and even getting married. Looking back now, it seems I just continued doing what everyone expected of me. And it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t complaining. Seminary was hard, but I met every benchmark, passed every test, completed every course. Whatever was handed to me, I handled the responsibility.”

Randy’s expression took on again that haze of bewilderment. “And then in theology class I read Karl Barth. His commentary on Romans.”

“The one that exploded like a bomb in the theologians’ playground,” interjected Elton.

“Yeah. The bomb.” Randy’s shoulders sagged at the memory. “This book didn’t read like anything I had ever read before. The language slashed like a razor. How could someone expound a book of the Bible and not sound like all the others I’d read before? Beneath his words pounded a heart of conviction, of genuine authenticity. And then . . . I read his metaphor of the crater left by a giant explosion and it suddenly happened to me. Everything I had embraced over the years suddenly was blown away as if a bomb had been dropped. And then, nothing remained. Before I realized it, my faith, my marriage, my profession, my identity—all gone. Incinerated. I suddenly felt this enormous crater, this unspeakable void that once was my life. It all sounds so bad, but I just don’t really miss it. I don’t feel that I lost anything of considerable value. I feel I am young enough that I can still start all over again and try to replace it all with something solid and real. Am I making any sense?”

“More than you think. I feel genuine pathos in what you’re saying. You’ve paid a hell of a price to get to where you are now, and contrary to your feelings of being homeless or unemployed or disenfranchised, in reality you are dizzy with a freedom that is priceless. I want you to feel confidence and adventure as you move forward, not defeat or despair. You say you lost your faith, but right now you are acting in faith. And that takes courage, my friend.”

Randy was suddenly heartened by what he was hearing. “I can’t thank you enough for what you just said. I don’t really think I’m falling into atheism. It’s just that my religious stirrings are primal and always have been. But in the church and seminary settings, I’ve felt the language and metaphors were always conventional and shallow. I’m still reading my Greek New Testament. And Barth. But the ecclesiastical language has crumbled away and I guess I’m heading west to the wilderness to see if I can find a more honest and direct way to address my beliefs.”

The Reverend offered something further: “You’ve been reading Barth’s Romans commentary. I spend most of my time in his Church Dogmatics. I read last night a passage where he pointed out Augustine’s perspective that recollection means inwardness, man’s return from the distractions of the outside world and re-entry into himself to find God there. Listening to you today convinces me that you are on that kind of track. I seem to recall Hank had a fondness for Thoreau. As you probably know, he went to Walden Pond to clean out all that conventional debris that tried to clog his understanding of life. He would never have achieved epiphany had he held down a job in Concord and avoided Walden Pond. And you, my friend, would most likely have never experienced enlightenment traveling your conventional paths.”

Elton rose and walked over to his shelves lined with volumes. Pulling down a new black hardbound book, he turned, walked over to Randy and placed it in his lap. “Here. I want you to have this. The first volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It’s like new. I bought it because I so thoroughly marked up and annotated my tattered copy from seminary days. I thought I wanted a clean copy, but over the years I keep returning to the used copy to find the passages I had marked before. This one is just gathering dust on my shelf, and I’d really like someone Special to have it now. I think it’s cool that someone drawing nearer to the Native American ethos under the open skies takes Barth along with him for dialogue and perhaps rapprochement between the natural world and the scholarly. Keep me posted. I’m really interested to see how you and Hank come out on this Odyssey. Wouldn’t it be something if you found Ithaca after all.”

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4 Responses to “Over-the-Road Pondering”

  1. doubledacres Says:

    David my friend we have discussed the very things you shared with us today. I know it was hard for you to do and I really appreciate it that you shared it with us. I know you had to have a very emotional morning. Take care and I was ll stay in touch.


  2. doubledacres Says:

    You are welcome Randy.


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