October 7, 2016

The Preacher and the Prophet…

Category: News — admin @ 6:00 pm

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…He preached magnificently, his gaunt face glowing from the pulpit,
his rather high, enormously vibrant voice husky with emotion. His
prayers were fierce solicitations of God, so mad with fervor that
his audiences uncomfortably felt they came close to blasphemy…

–Thomas Wolfe
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It was a dark and stormy night. Just kidding. I always wanted to open a blog with that classic Snoopy line. (And yeah, I know that was a real literary line, way back. Snoopy made me aware of it.) Actually, it was a hot and sultry summer afternoon. A Saturday. You could feel the waves of heat, wherever you were. And you could feel the waves of heat coming up at you, along the highway. And this day, in this heat, there was a rider traveling on that highway.

He was a dark rider, on a dark horse. A Harley, throbbing along. Matte black. A bare-bones bike, with straight handle bars. A single leather saddle seat. Two leather saddle bags covered the back wheel. And there was something more. A leather scabbard, on the right side, right behind the rider. And from that scabbard, it stuck out. The pistol grip of an ominous thing. A sawed-off shotgun. A Greener, double-barreled and deadly, the barrels cut to eighteen inches. Perfectly legal. And fully loaded. You might notice those details, if you looked close. But mostly, you wouldn’t. Because your eyes would be focused on the rider.

He was dressed in black. Tough leather boots. And jeans. His shirt could have been just about any color. But his vest was black. As was his helmet. He wasn’t young. You could tell he’d been around. His face was seamed and leathered, his hair was gray. Long and waving, not quite a pony tail. And again, if you looked close, you could see. Real bikers wear long sleeves, and they wear leather. But on this hot summer day, the rider wore black jeans, and a short sleeved shirt, and a leather vest. On his right hip hung a leather sheath with a large bone-handled knife, a classic Bowie pig sticker.

And you’d never see them, unless he walked right up to you. The tattoos on his arms. On both biceps. On his left arm, there was a cross, with a banner. With the words, top and bottom. “You did not choose me. I chose you.” On the right arm, another cross, again, with another banner. And these were the words you read if you saw that cross. “Preacher to the Pagans.”

The bike grumbled along, in the summer heat. The rider was getting close to where he was going. And then he pulled in, to the pub. A bar. A few other hard core bikes were scattered about, parked here and there. The rider found a spot, and parked among them. He reached into a saddlebag and pulled out a leather sheath and covered the handle of his sawed-off shotgun. No sense, that anyone got tempted, here. He pulled out a canvas messenger bag and slung it over his right shoulder. And then he turned, and walked to the door of the bar.

Across the parking lot, outside the Dollar store, a young mother was loading the items she had bought into her minivan. Her five-year-old son stood beside her. The boy watched in fascination as the dark rider clanked to the bar. He tugged at his mother’s sleeve. “Mommy, Mommy,” he said.

She paused and looked down, mildly startled at the urgency in his voice. “Yes?” She asked. “What is it?”

The boy pointed across the lot as the dark rider approached the barroom door. “Mommy,” he said. “Mommy. I’m scared of that man.”

And that right there is about where I had figured I’d be by now, back last spring when I decided to get my motorcycle license. Out there looking all dark and sinister and mean and making little children shrink in fear behind their mothers. And preaching the gospel to the Pagans. But it’s not where I am. Strange roadblocks have popped up out of nowhere, about when I was figuring to move forward into new places. I’ve spun my wheels a little bit, here. Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me something. I don’t know. If He is, I sure want to listen.

It all started innocently enough, early last summer. In Pennsylvania, you need to get your permit before you actually get a license for a motorcycle. I googled the study guide, and took a bunch of sample tests. And one Saturday last May, I walked onto the DMV to take the test. It was a big place. And it was absolutely jammed with people. Still, I asked the guy at the front. How long? He figured a couple of hours. I took a number and walked to the back and found a seat, and kept right on studying for the test.

About three hours later, my number was called. I walked up and gave the man my paperwork. He pointed me to a computer at the far wall. My test was waiting. I had to get 16 out of 20 questions right. I sat down and signed in. And the questions came at me. Every single one was worded exactly like the questions in the book. In less than ten minutes I had answered the 16th straight question right. The computer blinked. My test was done. I had passed. I walked back over to my guy. And I wrote him a check and he printed out my precious motorcycle permit. I walked out of there feeling pretty good about myself. This was the new me, right here.

I don’t own a motorcycle. I have a few friends who do. There’s just not a lot of time or space or bike to practice and learn on my own. So I signed up for a learning class. In PA, those are free. Well, you pay for them with your taxes. So I got online and signed up for a class in late July. Classroom on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The real thing, the real riding would happen, then, half days on Saturday and Sunday.

And it happened for me, like such things always do. I don’t pay much attention, as the date approaches. And late July slowly came at me. The day. Wednesday. I told the others at work. Tonight my classes start. And I figured to head out of work a few minutes early, to make sure to get there. And then, right at 3:30, an email. From the PA motorcycle test people. Classes had been canceled that evening, and all that week. I gaped in disbelief. It couldn’t be. But it was. And no explanation. I grumbled savagely to the others. My classes got canceled. No reason. I bet the instructor had an accident on his Harley, that’s what I bet. He probably got maimed or killed.

There was nothing left to do, really, but to get online and see where I could sign up again. Late September was the first opening that suited me. And I signed up, along with my friend, Steve Beiler, and his daughter. We had planned on doing this thing together. And I put it out of my mind then, the motorcycle thing, pretty much. There was lots of stuff going on through August, and then September. Like my garage party, and Beach Week.

And then the date approached again. I told Steve. If this class gets canceled, I figure the Lord is trying to tell me something. I figure I’ll just let it go. He chuckled. We both thought, fat chance, that we’d have such bad luck two times in a row. And the first night approached, and came at us. No email came that afternoon. So I drove on over to the Ephrata High School. I met Steve and his daughter and his brother. This time, it was happening. And right at six, we walked into the classroom.

The instructor welcomed us. A nice loud man. And right up front, he told us. The original instructor had canceled the day before. He was called and asked if he would fill in. Whew, I thought. That close, the Lord took this thing from me again. But the instructor went on. He was here for the two classroom nights. He had no idea who was scheduled to be here on Saturday and Sunday, for the real bike riding. Or if anyone was. He’d let us know the next time we met.

And you can know what happened, before I even tell you. We met again on Thursday. The first thing he told us. Saturday and Sunday were canceled, due to lack of instructors. And so now I sit here, half qualified to ride. I’m pretty irritated. The state cannot run such a program competently. It’s just not possible. This was strike two.

I checked at the local Harley dealer. They offer private classes, and they do not cancel. They had a few openings, for late this month. All for $350.00. I thought about it, then just pulled back for now. I could cough up the money. But it’s just not in my budget. Since my hospital stay last year, and my heart ablation in February, I got some decent medical bills. I plug away every month, sending in my payment. And I try to be careful about my discretionary spending.

I guess I’ll see what 2017 will bring. Maybe it was just a dream, the tough old biker on a low slung Harley, matte black, rumbling into the wind on a hot summer day. Maybe it was just a dream, that preacher to the Pagans. The Lord will bring all things to pass, in His time. This I believe. And this I know. So now, I rest. And now, I wait.
*******************************************

I’ve heard the term here and there, over the years. Never paid much attention to it. It’s the charismatic groups, mostly, who speak it. The prophetic word. It’s when people speak prophetically into the lives of others, or another, often a person they don’t even know. I’ve always taken such stories with a few hefty grains of salt. Might be true. Might not. One thing is true. Speaking “prophetic words” can be easily abused. I mean, you can speak in such broad and general terms that it’s impossible to know if what you’re saying is coming from the Lord, or coming from you. That’s simply the way it is.

Well. Recently a good friend came to me and passed on a prophetic word from a total stranger. To me. For me. And this is how it happened.

I’ve walked some dark roads, these past few years. If you even halfway follow this blog, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Up and down and sideways, it seemed like I meandered. One week would be sunny, and then the valley swooped up at me again. And down, down, into the abyss I went. Over and over, it seemed like.

And then I broke free, earlier this year, from almost all the demons. Almost all. And I walked free, too, freer than I have in a lot of years. But still, that one monster lurked, that one I could not face. I knew something had to be done. And I knew it wouldn’t get done unless I stepped out and got some help.

So, some months ago, I went to see Sam, my counselor friend. I wrote about it, when it happened. And since then, I’ve seen him roughly once a month. Every four weeks. And they have been more than productive, our sessions. After each one, it seemed like I was walking a little closer to the light. After each one, I felt a little calmer and a little more free.

And it didn’t take long, for the dam to break. After the third session, I think it was, I announced to the world that I was starting my second book. I wasn’t sure about the path, I wrote back then. But I can see the destination. And I’m not afraid to start walking. It was a place I had desperately sought out on my own, these past few years. I simply could not find the way. And that’s why I went to see Sam. And he didn’t let me down. He didn’t just point out the way. He walked along beside me and showed me.

And I strode along, in this new light with great joy and much wonder. I announced to the world. I’m starting my next book. And I started writing. It’s come along, pretty well, the first few dozen pages. Still rough. But it’s real, so far.

And then it triggered, the very first night at Beach Week. It doesn’t matter what the trigger was. That one demon came roaring at me, that one fear I had not been able to confront. And it all affected me throughout most of Beach Week, I’m sorry to say. I brooded. My friends looked concerned. And I struggled with the overwhelming waves of shame and worthlessness that washed over me. The warrior in me dropped his sword and fled. And he stayed far away. I sat shivering in the darkness, in a corner on the floor, shielding my face from any light. It was a terrible, terrible place to be.

And I will say, here. I blame no person, and I blame no circumstances for that demon. It was concocted entirely in my mind. And created, in my head. Birthed from real events, of course. Most monsters come from actual places. But it was my choice to let the monster grow and grow, until I could not bear the thought of standing up to it, let alone walking toward it. Why did I allow that to happen? I think, sometimes. I get too sensitive, react way out of proportion. I feel things, way to intensely, way too deep. I guess it all just was what it was.

Anyway, back to the beach. By Friday or so, I struggled out of the darkness, and returned to some semblance of my real self. It was a choice I made, to walk into that darkness. And that choice came very close to ruining all that Beach Week ever was for me, or meant to me. And the next day, Saturday, we all headed for home.

After I got home, I worked my way back to a semblance of normal. I called Janice, and told her what had happened. “Why didn’t you just tell us?” she asked. “We were all concerned for you.” Well, people don’t want to hear about that kind of crap, I said. I just didn’t feel like going there, and talking to anyone. I’m better, now, though. But I thought about what Janice had said. It wasn’t right of me, to go brooding off into the darkness. It wasn’t fair to my friends. Beach Week is for joy and good times and happiness, not shivering and cowering in some dark and lifeless hellhole. And that next full week passed. And the following Monday morning, the last Monday of last month, I went to see Sam.

I was frustrated, my heart in turmoil. I can’t remember that I ever looked forward to seeing him as much as I did that Monday morning. We got the small talk out of the way in about five minutes. And I told him what had happened down at Beach Week. What had happened, that the darkness was triggered. How I had moped and brooded around, all week, to where the others got all concerned. And I told him the roots of the demon, the fear and the shame. He looked all thoughtful, like he always does. Asked all kinds of questions, like he always does. I faced him, and answered honestly.

It took a while for him to get there, but he did. “You allowed this thing to overwhelm you,” he said. “At Beach Week, you did that. A week when you should have been celebrating with friends. At the beach. You went into darkness instead.” I looked at him. Yes, I said. Yes, I did that. He looked at me, and he could not hide it in his eyes. He was astonished at how obtuse I was.

The thing about Sam is, he doesn’t scold you. That was about as astonished as I’ve ever seen him, about anything I told him. And we kept talking. He kept digging. And he kept talking. And I began to see.

I was stuck, in a rut. Not in all of life. Not in most of it, or much of it, even. But in that one place, that one sliver, that one monstrous demon, I was. This was the only one I hadn’t walked toward, the only one I had not faced, the only one I had not confronted. Still, it took my breath away, to think of actually confronting that fear, and speaking to it. Our session wound down, then, and I thanked Sam and left. I mulled over things a lot, during the drive back to the office, and all the rest of that day and evening.

I slept well that night. Mulled over things some more. And the next morning, it was clear to me. Whatever this thing was that I was so afraid of, I needed to walk toward it. Even a week before, that thought would have been paralyzing to me. But that was last week, and it was before my last session with Sam. And as the day came out me, I felt it all the deeper. Face the fear. Reach out. Not in anger. In honesty, sure, and in sadness. But not in rage. And I realized. Whatever was coming at me, whatever I was doing here, it was primarily for me. For my own heart. For my own peace.

The thing was heavy on my mind all that morning at the office. And late that morning, I walked back to Rodney’s desk to discuss a couple of upcoming jobs and scheduling. And we talked. As we were winding down, I stood to leave. I saw Rodney had something more on his mind. Seemed like he was hedging about something. And then he asked the strangest question.

“Do you believe in a prophetic word?” he asked cautiously. I stared at him, startled. Prophetic word? Umm, I can’t say I’ve ever paid much attention to such things. But my thinking is that it would be pretty easy to abuse, I said. I mean, anyone can say anything. And I asked. Why?

Rodney looked a little sheepish. “I’m about the same way,” he said. “I think it can be real, but it sure can be abused, too.” And he told me his little tale.

The night before, he had been at some meeting of some kind. Not sure what. Rodney is on all kinds of boards of all kinds of community projects. As things were winding down at this particular meeting, this guy yelled from across the room. “Rodney. Don’t leave. I have something to tell you.” So Rodney hung around and waited. The man came over, and told him.

And here, Rodney told me the man’s name. I’d never heard it before, and I don’t remember it now. I didn’t write it down. “You have to realize,” Rodney said. “This man is not a close friend. I mean, I know him. He has no idea where I work. He came up to me and told me. I have a word for your writer friend. He has no idea who you are. And after I got home, I thought to myself. Of all my friends who write, Ira is the only one who is actually working on something. So I figure his word was for you.”

I was intrigued. Actually, I felt a little shiver slicing down my spine. And what word was that? I asked. Rodney handed me a little orange sticky note.

Deuteronomy 2:7 has a word, the note said. And then the note said this: Embrace your current state, and sustain your spirit for a journey. Wow, I said to Rodney. Wow. You have no idea how powerful this is to me. I told him a little bit of what I had experienced at Beach Week, and what Sam and I had talked about the day before. And I walked back to my computer and googled the verse. Deuteronomy 2:7. The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.

I gotta say, from here. That experience with that little prophetic word was one of the wilder things I have seen and felt in a long time. Of course, it could be random, the skeptic in me warns. Yes. Yes, it could, my heart speaks back. But it could be real, too.

Winding down, then. I can’t tell you how encouraging it was, to get that prophetic word from a total stranger. I consider it a miracle. And on that day, I walked forward into a place I had not seen before, not when it comes to confronting your fears. It was a hard place. It was a dark place. And it was a fearful place. Of course it was all that.

But it was also OK. And I will say this. That final fear was faced down, because I spoke to it. The details of what happened and how it happened are not important, not here. They are private.

Let’s just say I spoke my heart. I spoke restoration, where before I had spoken curses. I spoke light, where before I had spoken darkness. I spoke pain, where before I had spoken rage. I spoke healing, where before I could only speak to wound. I spoke these things right into the face of the biggest fear I’ve harbored inside me for a long, long time. And let’s just say it’s been a lot of years since I’ve felt this free.

I have embraced my current state, and my spirit is sustained for a journey. To where, I do not know. It doesn’t matter. I’m thinking all of what happened was probably important for the shaping of my next book. I feel that. But I don’t know that. All I do know is I’ll keep walking.

And may the prophet prosper, that brave and resolute soul who boldly proclaimed those special words of confirmation and blessing to me, a total stranger.

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