Sunday Morning with Randy in the Motel

Ozark Court Motel. Stanton, Missouri

Sunday morning rays of sunshine lanced through the slits in the closed blinds of Room 6 at the Ozark Court Motel. Randy lay with his eyes closed. It took a few moments before he realized where he was and what day it was. Hitchhiking had not fared well the day before. Driving rains soaked him to the skin and no one was pulling over on Route 66 to offer him a ride. Why would they? No doubt he carried all the charm of a drowned city sewer rat as he trudged along the muddy shoulder, his knapsack beginning to let in water as well. But this morning he was OK. A soothing shower the night before and a Jack Daniels nightcap ushered in a quality night’s sleep. But now it was Sunday. What to do?

His Greek Testament lay on the bedside table; he had removed it the night before, intending for it to be the first thing his eyes would see the morning after. Now he sat up in bed, stretched his limbs and reached for the small volume he thought he was going to discard once he dropped out of seminary. He couldn’t. Though he no longer congregated, he still woke on Sunday mornings feeling the need to reach for a text that had been his companion for two-and-a-half years, only now he no longer felt shackled by deadlines of term papers and Sunday morning sermon manuscripts. He could read what he chose.

But what to read? The Gospels crossed his mind. Always a good choice. But what did he want this morning from the Gospels? Did he want to see or hear? Seeing would include mental images of Jesus walking either along a shore or down a dusty Palestinian street. Would he be solitary, seated in the wilderness, or thronged by a clinging crowd? Maybe Randy wanted to hear. But what? The voice of Jesus resonating in a synagogue, or speaking softly inside a living quarters? Would he be strolling country lanes with disciples listening, or seated on a boulder discoursing? Or would he be sitting in a boat, his voice going out over the waves while disciples pulled at the oars?

Why was Randy reaching for the New Testament? Because it was Sunday? He wasn’t congregating. He wasn’t called upon to address any hearers. What did he want this morning?

Outside the motel, traffic was heard rolling along Route 66 along the bottom of the bluff. Randy was aware that he was seated in bed, alone, in the heartland of America. Today is Sunday, the Fourth of July, 1976. The country had been surging with anticipation for months as she edged closer and closer to this day—the nation’s bicentennial. No doubt Randy’s former seminary friends—preacher friends—had been whipping themselves into a frenzy over what to preach on this Special Sunday. Randy was glad not to be under that kind of pressure. What exactly would he say today, standing before a congregation?

Opening his Greek Testament, he let his mind drift down pleasant corridors of memory. To this day he was grateful that he had learned Koinē Greek. The first semester was strictly recitation, vocabulary and functional grammar; the class never saw a New Testament. The objective was functional literacy. As children learn to speak their language before learning to read and understand the technical architecture of grammar, so Professor Corley wished for his students to recognize and read Greek early and dissect the grammar later. And so, Randy studied his lessons and performed the daily recitations for a semester.

On the first day of the second semester, the Professor walked to the blackboard, picked up the chalk and scrawled the following:

Sitting at his desk in the third row, Randy leaned forward earnestly and read the words instantly: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The Professor turned to the class and solemnly declared: “You are now reading the New Testament. In Greek.” Sitting up in bed, Randy felt waves of warmth surging through his being as he recalled that historic morning. It was as though scales had fallen from his eyes and enlightenment had dawned. His life had been marked by so few quality moments. Opening his New Testament to Mark 1:15, he read the words afresh.

The time is fulfilled. On that historic day, Randy felt that he had fulfilled his apprenticeship to elementary Greek vocabulary and grammar. He read a Greek New Testament passage with no assistance from a teacher or book. It was a new day. A new world dawned and beckoned. He had no idea then that a ministerial life, just underway, would collapse and burn in less than two years.

Now it is Sunday, July 4, 1976. The nation celebrates its 200th birthday. Randy wondered what exactly he was celebrating, if anything. What was life offering now? Was he about to pass through another portal? Again, why was he reading the New Testament? Because it is Sunday? Because it is the Fourth of July? Because the country is now two hundred years old? What was in the air for Randy? He wanted to know.

Was he reading from the life of Jesus because he needed a mentor? Someone to guide him? Thinking back over his life, Randy realized that he had always sought direction from a strong leader. His father, his pastor, his professors, and a few years ago he had that conference with Reverend Elton in Dallas. Did Randy need a mentor now? Or was it time to think for himself? Maybe his apprenticeship to life was ended and it was time to stand up, to strike forth and find new ground under his own direction. The time is fulfilled.

Rising from bed, Randy stretched and strolled across the small room to the writing table in the corner where he had placed his journal the night before. Opening it to the pages he wrote the day he quit the seminary, he found a passage he had copied from James Smart’s The Divided Mind of Modern Theology.

There are remarkable parallels between the European mood of the twenties and the English and American mood of the sixties: God seemed to have gone into hiding; religious and theological language out of the past had become wooden and unconvincing; men felt themselves suspended between a world that had died and a new world that was waiting to be born; a church indifferent to the plight of the masses was recognized as unworthy of the name Christian; the identification of Christianity with Western civilization, and of divinity with the higher elements in man, had become highly suspect; in various forms the hunger for a new world now was felt, and some understood it as hunger for a living God. In that kind of world Barth and Bultmann became theologians whose one endeavor was to find the word that would unlock the future, the word that would bring wholeness of faith and creative power by being the very truth of the living God.

It is Sunday, Randy thought. Today, churches would perhaps be filled to capacity, no doubt to celebrate a 200th birthday. Yet, Randy sensed that the ministers would still crank out those same tired sermons, their singsong voices rasping like rusty squeeze boxes, sounding out the same two-note refrain of the deadly forces that continually threaten the vitality of our church and nation—abortion and communism.

Randy replayed from memory a line he had memorized from his reading of one of Nietzsche’s early essays:

He who has but two strings on his instrument . . . does not understand those who can play on more strings. It is of the essence of the higher, multi-stringed culture that it is always misinterpreted by the lower culture . . .

Randy’s sojourn of recent years had definitely added more strings to his life’s instrument. No doubt this is why he was not attending church this particular morning, or most mornings for that matter. Virtually everything delivered from pulpits he had heard before, and indeed was beginning to write them out in his own sermons before he quit. He didn’t need to hear them again.

Randy recalled with a smile a quote he had read from his readings in the religions of India, how the Upanishad movement was sprung partly because the general population had grown weary of listening to the traditional chants of the Vedic priests “who sounded like croaking frogs in the swamps.”

America in 1976 was sounding restless. Perhaps a new world was beginning to dawn. The time is fulfilled. Randy wondered if his own odyssey was corresponding with the quest of this American nation in 1976, poised to enter a new age of Enlightenment. Where was Hank? It had been months since that night they sat at the fire, camping in west Texas. It was time to get together and talk some more. No doubt Hank had just as much weighing on his mind as Randy. Later today, Randy would return to Turvey’s Corner, having been away four years. Maybe Hank was already there.

_____________________________________________

Thanks for reading my blog.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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3 Responses to “Sunday Morning with Randy in the Motel”

  1. Kelly Says:

    The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.
    Karl Barth

    Like

  2. doubledacres Says:

    Well done my friend. Good read. I enjoyed it very much.

    Like

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