When It’s Hard to See Jesus

Almost 3,000 feet away and almost due east from my house stands the Christ of the Ozarks Statue. Some of my neighbors call it “Gumby.” I like to call it “Big Concrete Jesus.”

I have no real idea how the Good Lord feels about it, since He seemed to be rather inclined against any kind of idolatry or appearance of it in older scripture. Whether He approves or not, there it is. My neighbor, BCJ. So I have determined that I will love my neighbor as myself.

Truth is, BCJ is a good reminder.

img_0666The last couple of days have been alternating soupy-foggy and stormy-drenchy and even at mid-day or at mid-night with the spotlights of the Great Passion Play campus shining on him, or early in the morning while I was walking Roadie before the sun didn’t seem to rise and shine,  BCJ has been hard to see.

Just as in my life — and I’m guessing, yours — Jesus is sometimes hard to see.

We look at the mess our world is in and we wonder why He’s so hard to see.

Fifteen years ago, 9/11 happened and we all wanted to know: “Where is Jesus in all this?”

Before that, it might have been the Kennedy assassination, or a World War, or the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, and people were asking the same question.

Generations before and since, people in ours and other nations have been wondering the same thing when sin and evil and hatred and death haunted their loved ones — have been asking where He is.

And, just like BCJ on my morning walks, Jesus was where He has been all along.

Jesus is right where we left Him in the story of scripture, since He physically left this world the last time.

At the Father’s right hand. In heaven. In charge.

Doesn’t He see what’s happening down here? Doesn’t He hear our cries and prayers? Doesn’t He know we’re hurting, starving, fighting, dying?

Sure He knows.

He was here, remember? Lived here. Taught here. Healed here. Loved here. Lost loved ones here.

Died here.

Lived again, here, in this world; only to rise to a better one to make a better place for us.

If He’s hard to see, it’s not because He’s moved.

It may be because we have. Or the clouds that obscure Him have. Or the lights have failed and the darkness has, for a time, won out.

And He’s still there.

I moved 800 miles recently — not so much to be closer to BCJ, but to my kids — and I doubt that I’ll be moving any closer to the statue on East Mountain.

But I hope I never lose sight of Jesus, or stop moving closer to Him, or give up and stop trying to see Him — whether He seems obscured or seems as clear as on a crispy, sunshine-drenched autumn day. Even if I do, though …

He’s still there.

Still there, rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Still there, mourning with those who mourn.

Still there, interceding for those who pray.

Still there, providing and remaining and answering the door for those who ask, seek and knock.

I know I need to remember that. Maybe you do, too.

Well, that’s the way I see things from Eureka Springs, Arkansas — where the fog creeps in on little cat’s feet and beats a retreat when a storm is the norm.

And where BCJ says hey.

Home to a Place I’ve Been Before

Quite a lot has happened in my life since my last post.

I sold my house in Webster, N.C. and moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

I’ve never lived here before — well, never more than a few days at a time — but I have long wanted to.

It’s the place where Angi and I became engaged; where we brought our kids for long weekends away from Little Rock; where this little cottage that is now my home was built in 1882 by the ninth governor of Arkansas, Powell Clayton (along with several others, the Crescent Hotel and the Eureka Springs Railway). And where it has been for sale for about three years and three realtors.

But no more.

I’ve bought it and am making it my home as I unpack all my boxes.

bedroom249

Angi and I talked about retiring here. I don’t know if we would have or not, but I hope to. Not yet, of course; I’m still working via web for Western Carolina University … writing and posting news articles to the university’s news website and putting together the weekly newsletter to faculty and staff, The Reporter.

I’ve been coming to Eureka Springs for weekend and holiday retreats for about 30 years now — I can still remember my first trip, riding the steam train and walking a couple of trails on an inexpensive trail map I bought at a bookstore.

I probably missed seeing my house (panorama of it currently featured in the blog header) the first time on that trip … I think I took the stair-step trail by Crescent Spring on up to the Crescent Hotel, and bypassed it. But I saw it many, many times thereafter on the countless trolleybus rides that our family took together. Laura and Matthew, even when little, loved to ride the trolleybuses.

Now they pass in front of my house, on the average of every twenty minutes on the weekend. Except when some idiot with Four Men and Two Trucks is trying to move in on a two-festival Saturday and causes a traffic jam along with a trolleybus and a guided-tour tram.

trafficjames

Eventually, a cooler head in the silver truck behind the tram un-logjammed everything by turning left in front of me, freeing up the Two Trucks full of my possessions behind me to move forward so that the tram beside us could move, too.

But no one really lost their cool, because Eureka Springs is just that sort of place — even when it’s hot and sweltery outside, people are there to chill out. And for the most part, they do.

And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why it feels like home.

Moving On and Moving

I’ve had a chance to notify many friends, most family and some colleagues that daughter Laura and I are beginning to make our plans to move back to Little Rock.

This week I hope to contact a repair person to take care of some home inspection obstacles, and soon after I hope to contact our realtor to put the house here in Webster, North Carolina on the market.

Laura is no longer engaged, and has been on board for this move. She’s very interested in attending a small college in Little Rock, and I could not be happier about that. I would like to be able to say she’s the reason for the move, but I know it’s just as much for me as it is for her.

We need to be a lot closer to her brother Matt and her Gran, Harriette — a lot closer than 650 miles. We need to be closer to friends we left behind more than 3-1/2 years ago now.

And I need to be around the place where I still had Angi in my life, rather than the places where I lost her. In that place — when I visit, even her grave — I have fond memories for which I’ll always be grateful. In these places here, I just see and hear the might-have-beens and the gone-too-soons.

Maybe that’s silly, but it’s the way I see things — and I think I have seen it that way for a long time without even realizing it.

This is a change of plans for me. I thought I’d be working here at WCU for another 3-5 years and then retiring to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. But that plan is on hold for now.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing professionally when I return to Little Rock, but when I approached my supervisor and his boss about working as a long-distance remote employee, doing news web work as I did for the Abilene Reporter-News 15 years ago, they seemed to be considering it as a possibility. (At least they didn’t reject it out-of-hand!) Still, it’s a bit of a leap of faith.

Speaking of faith ….

It was painfully difficult to tell my church family at Sylva Church of Christ that I would be moving on. I have taught there for more than two years now in lieu of a full-time minister. But they are family. And, God love them all the more for it, they understand.

The process will doubtless take weeks to months. I’ll need to sell here before I can buy there.

So I earnestly covet your good wishes and prayers in the interim — that everything will go smoothly, and that doors will be opened and closed as they should be.

I just really think I need to be moving so that I can be moving on.

Thanks, and love to you all.

Trolley Folly

While taking a break from wiring blocks on my model railroad layout, I’ve been doing some detail work. Today I completed a mostly-scratchbuilt model of a Eureka Springs trolley bus. These rubber-tired, gas-powered trolleys convey tourists for a very nominal fee from one end of town to the other and almost anywhere within it. Taking the red route trolley around town – seeing all the great old Victorian homes and limestone buildings (some of them hanging right off cliff sides) – is one of my family’s favorite things to do. The red route takes you to the corner across from the depot of the ES&NA, the railway which I’m modeling. So I heavily modified an unpowered Bachmann replica of a San Francisco cable car to more closely resemble a Eureka Springs trolley. I chose the older, 34-passenger open model which has now been retired in favor of the new closed, fully air-conditioned 43-passenger model. I’m posting a postcard photo of the actual old trolley bus on top and my model directly beneath it. (There’s a little spherical distortion in the bottom photo from my iPhone lens.)

(You can see a photograph of the Bachmann-made cable car replica at http://www3.towerhobbies.com/cgi-bin/wti0001p?&I=LXBUK4&P=F. )

Oh, and the scale of it is 1:87. It’s about four inches long, in other words. About as long as my iPhone. Working in a scale that tiny takes time.

So I apologize if I haven’t spend as much time blogging recently.

Man does not live by blog alone, you know.


Postscript: Okay, better photo … Eureka Springs Trolley Bus, 1:87 Model

I Have A Secret Life …

… and to tell you about it, I’d have to come out of the closet.

The hobby closet, that is, in my garage. (What closet did you think I meant?)

This turntable, made by Walthers, is 90' and proportionally "longer" than Eureka's 75-footer.That’s where I have been trying to build – on and off for the last nine years, mostly off – my HO scale model railroad pike duplicating the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway. I’ve been in there more frequently of late, finding myself drained of ideas, inspiration, energy and will to write blog posts. My creativity takes a different turn when that happens.

The hobby closet is only 4′-11″ x 11′, and occupies the southwest corner of my garage. I think it was originally intended to be a garden/potting room, so any future owners should be delighted to find the shelves I have installed all around its perimeter, just waiting to have large holes cut in them to hold plant pots. (You actually have to duck under the shelving in the doorway to get in; I’m building a loop-shaped pike.) Right now the shelves are covered with cork roadbed for my railway.

I’ve been stymied for several years, trying to find a combination of couplers and trucks (wheelsets, that is) so the scale models of the 80′ coaches can round the tight 18″ curves in the small closet and still stay coupled. A couple of months ago, I found that combination and the halted progress on laying track began again. (Athearn “Commonwealth” trucks and Kadee couplers, plus drawbar mounts for the couplers – for those of you who care.)

The next step will be to wire the track – which passes the current to the tiny electric motors in the engines, and to the lights in the lighted coaches – in “blocks,” since I’m not really interested in graduating to very expensive Digital Command Control systems. That will make it possible to run two trains from a twin power/control pack … in the case of the ES&NA, the excursion train pulled by one of two steam engines and the luncheon/dinner train led by a diesel switcher. I’ll also wire a few simple signals; plus interior lights for buildings like the depot, the Roundhouse and the former “Petticoat Junction” cottage opposite it across Mud Street.

These SW-1 diesel replicas are rare - once made by AHM and later Walthers. Now you can only find them on eBay.After that, I’ll tie down the track to its final position, making certain that everything runs smoothly – and stays coupled.

After that will come scenery to make it all look natural – like the wooded surround of Livingston Hollow, Junction, and the rest of the railway as it frequently parallels Leatherwood Creek. (I don’t have room to build the town’s water processing plant, which is a source of brief but sometimes pungent natural odors as the trains pass!)

Building and running a model railroad was something that my dad and I enjoyed doing together when I was a kid. When my Mom sold the home where I grew up after he passed away, its purchase price also covered an unmovable 8′ x 8′ L-shaped layout with handmade storage cabinetry underneath, and all the track and switches. I kept the control/power pack, and I’m using it on the ES&NA Junior.

If you have read my blog for a while, you’ve probably already guessed why I’m modeling the ES&NA. You may not know, though, that I am the anonymous author (as they all are) of the article about the railway at Wikipedia, and it features my photos. I’ve taken dozens of pictures there over the years, and harvested hundreds more from the Web. I do my homework on my prototype railway pretty thoroughly.

Passing a few hours in the hobby closet, building or painting or wiring or laying track while the rest of the family is out of the house – Matt at his job; Laura babysitting; Angi teaching, or whatever – satisfies a creative urge I can’t stifle and brings back all kinds of pleasant memories.

So … what’s your secret life? Do you have a hobby? Is there something you like to create that soothes a craving in you to imitate the creativity of the Divine Maker?

Those Eureka Moments

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you already know I am crazy about my wife, my kids and Eureka Springs – especially the ES&NA Railway, where I proposed and she said yes.

So any time I can get all of them together, it’s especially wonderful for me, and last weekend I did.

We did the trolley buses, the toy stores, the great places to eat, the excursion railway ride, and even the Passion Play. It’s called the Great Passion Play. Maybe I’m too critical, but if I were still writing advertising copy for clients in Eureka Springs, I would only rate it as the Pretty Good Passion Play.

It is outdoors, in a wonderfully hilly and wooded setting with terrific sets, special effects, costumes, animal and human extras, and cast. Since it’s pre-recorded and the actors just mime to the dialogue, it loses some of its power to me. And the script is a little odd at times. While it’s been carefully edited to remove any reference to “the Jews” that might sound anti-Semitic, some moments and lines have been added to Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem that you won’t find in a Bible I know of.

There’s the healing of the little crippled girl in front of the temple, who leaves her crutch behind and races into Jesus’ arms. Do you remember that moment in scripture? It might have happened. But I don’t think anyone wrote about it.

I don’t remember Jesus having a tussle with Satan in the tomb, either – but the dialogue and special effects sure did imply it heavily!

And I guess I just was a little put off by the voice talent who recorded the role of Jesus. If Jesus’ voice broke occasionally, I think it would add dramatic effect to some of the moments portrayed. But this actor’s voice was faltering in just about every blinkin’ line!

But, you know, we went there for the kids. And it was just about right for them. Matthew, the consummate teenager at 14, kept trying to divert my attention from his moist-eyed empathy by asking how certain special effects were done. And 11-year-old Laura – very quietly, afterward in our hotel room – was asking her momma what all it means to be baptized.

You see, for all the things this would-be writer would try to “set right” in the Passion Play script, there was a lot that was already “right” about it – and it didn’t shy away from baptism at all.

Listening to Angi quietly and gently speak with Laura about baptism while Matthew and I overheard is one of those Eureka moments that will always be precious to me.

Now, to divert your attention from any moist-eyed empathy you might have experienced reading this: Matthew’s YouTube video of good ol’ diesel locomotive #4742 smashing coins on the tracks as it passes – and featuring a one-second cameo by Laura:

 

 

 

Thank You for My Wife

Inspired for the nth time by a re-reading of my friend Jackie Halstead’s article about Examen in the New Wineskins archive (and prompted to read it again this week by Greg Taylor), I’ve resolved to blog between now and Thanksgiving about nothing but the things I’m thankful for – in no particular order; just as they occur to me when I ask myself “What am I thankful for?”

Angi is the first thing that comes to my mind. I met her at church in the singles class. She was wearing a brown suit and had the bluest eyes I have ever seen. She was enduring a trying divorce; mine was seven years behind me. I don’t know what she saw in me, and I only perceived a fraction of how extraordinary she is!

I didn’t see how joyful she could be until her mom, Harriette, visited. When I saw them together, a few pews ahead of me, I had an experience I still find difficult to believe. Inside my head, a silent voice said to me: “You could be very happy married to this woman for the rest of your life.” It wasn’t the same as having a conversation with yourself. It was someone else’s silent voice. I can’t say it was a guarantee or a prophecy; I think of it more as a nudge.

We group-dated. We double-dated. We dated. Angi immediately set to work editing my closet while I was out of town and replaced some of my cheap outdated duds with some nice, quality gear.

Together with some friends from church – and Angi’s mom! – we dressed like crooks from the 1890s and robbed a tourist train operated by the dad of a good friend, Bob McClanahan.

So when it came time to propose, it was on the luncheon train at Eureka Springs. Angi looked just like this.
I handed her a poster that I had designed on my computer at work that featured a picture of her from the “robbery” and it said:

WANTED

FOR MATRIMONY
Angela Laird Pfeiffer
Charged with:
Consortin’ With A Convicted Fella,
Stealin’ His Heart,
Givin’ Away His Clothes,
An’ Robbin’ Him Of Any Hopes
Of Bein’ Happy Without Her

PLEASE TURN THIS SUSPECT OVER TO THE CUSTODY OF W. KEITH BRENTON SO’S HE CAN DELIVER TWO LIFE SENTENCES (TO BE SERVED IN SUCCESSION): “I LOVE YOU” AND “WILL YOU MARRY ME?”

 

She said yes to becoming my wife. We married that winter and I don’t think I’ve bought myself a stitch of clothing since; she keeps me in fashion. She’s now mom to our two adopted children, baker of world-class sugar cookies, and in October conducted a women’s retreat at church that ladies are still raving about. She’s the Dean of the College of Professional Studies at UALR; teaches at the Clinton School of Public Service, Pepperdine University, and elsewhere as requested; and has been a consultant to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in her field of specialty, conflict management and resolution. I married way over my head, but just right for my heart.

We’ve moved a few times as her career has progressed, and I’d follow her to the ends of the earth.

I am convinced that there is no one else even remotely like her on the face of the earth and no others need apply.

So today, my prayer of examen is simple:

Thank you, God, for my unique and beautiful wife.