January 20, 2017

“Selling” Jesus…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm

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Talkin’ to a preacher, said God was on his side.
Talkin’ to a pusher, they both were selling highs.
Well, I gotta tell the story, boys,
I don’t know the reason why.

—Waylon, lyrics
_______________________________________________

It’s funny, how things work sometimes. The other day was just an ordinary January day, there at the office. If there is such a thing as an ordinary day in January. It’s a depressing month, all around. (Well, not as dark as March is. But dark enough.) That day, it was late morning. The door opened, the doorbell jangled. I looked up from my desk, and automatically got up to take care of the customer.

He walked toward me, smiling. Then he spoke my name. “Ira.” He was all loud and jovial. I looked at him, tried to place him. His face was familiar. A youngish guy. Then I recognized him and spoke his name back, not quite as loud. He walked up to the counter, and we shook hands. It’s been a while, I said. “Yes, it has,” he answered. “I’m here to pick up some of that wood siding you sell.” Good, I said. I got plenty in stock. He was a local guy, from over close to Philly. I’d sold to him off and on, many times over the years. He’s young, driven, hard-working, and very successful with his own business. And he’s usually all business. On this day, though, he was a little more relaxed than usual.

This time, he asked me, right off. “How’s that book of yours doing out there?” I grinned, surprised. Not sure how he heard about the book. Maybe I’d told him before. Or maybe he just saw the poster on my computer screen. I grinned again. I might as well brag a little. Oh, it did pretty well, I told him. Seventh printing. Close to 200,000 copies sold. It made my publisher a lot of money. He looked impressed. That’s the kind of language he understands and respects. Making a lot of money. I never mentioned the book was a NY Times bestseller. That kind of thing wasn’t going to impress him like making a lot of money did.

The small talk was over, then. We stood at the counter, and he got to telling me about a garage he wants to build at his home. He figured I could provide the materials, and maybe even build it for him. And I don’t know exactly why I did what I did, then. As we were talking, I turned to my desk and picked up a copy of my book from the box, there. Back at the counter, I set the book off to one side, out of the way. I never said a word about it. Just set it there. In the back of my mind, I figured. If I can get a word in edgewise, I’ll see if I can sell him my book.

He was all business. And we talked for fifteen minutes about the garage he wanted. I showed him pictures of what we had done and what we could do. The book sat there, looking forlorn. I never mentioned it, never even glanced at it. We wrapped things up, then. I wrote up the invoice for his siding, and he wrote me a check. I handed him the paperwork and told him where to go to load. I thanked him for the business. And that was that, I figured.

But no. As he was turning to leave, he stopped and motioned. “How much for the book?” he asked. I didn’t act surprised. Fifteen bucks, signed, I said. He laughed. “How about if it’s not signed?” he asked. And I laughed, too. Still fifteen bucks, I said. He got out his wallet and handed me the cash. I signed the book and handed it to him. He thanked me.

And I thought to myself as he turned and walked out. The book just sold itself, right there. I didn’t do anything. Sometimes you sell by not selling.

I’ve thought a lot about the little scene that came down at the counter that day. I think it was just instinctive on my part, to let things go and let everything play out naturally without a lot of fuss. Had the guy not glanced at the book again, I would never have thought twice about it. I never pushed it on him, and so he took it upon himself. It was all pretty amazing, when you think about it.

I’ve never considered myself that much of a salesman. But looking back, I saw it from my earliest days and my earliest memories, what a good salesman is. My father was a natural born salesman. The man lived and breathed sales pretty much every day of his life, at least the part of his life that I saw and remember.

I’ve mentioned it before. Dad loved the art of the deal. Growing up, I saw it all around me every day. Dad plunged about madly, here and there, pursuing his far-flung ideas to wherever they would lead. The thing is, it never fazed him when he failed. Over the years, he wore a lot of different sales hats, with some varied success. And when one little business idea faltered or sputtered to a halt, he was soon busily engaged in launching the next big thing. As long as he was selling, his world was about where he figured it should be. That, and when he was writing, of course. But that’s a form of selling, too, getting people to read what you wrote.

In Dad’s vast and varied career, he sold just about anything you can imagine, from purebred Landrace hogs to grape seedlings to metal roofing and siding. And he had a lot of other little side businesses scattered about, here and there, all throughout my childhood years.

Dad sold fruit. Well, mostly he sold black sweet cherries and peaches in season. And he raised acres of strawberries and sold them, too, in season. The strawberries, we peddled door to door, in Aylmer and Tillsonburg. The cherries and peaches, well, he brokered those. Was simply the middleman who moved and shook things, and made them work. It’s all part of Dad’s legend, how he got into the cherry business. Early on, after moving to Aylmer, he was traveling to the east one day, over close to Niagara Falls. He saw the rich fertile ground, he saw the mile after mile of vast orchards with bowing trees. And randomly, he stopped in to talk to one of those orchard owners. That man’s name was Alfred C. High. And Dad and Mr. High struck up a deal that day. Mr. High would bring Dad a flatbed truck load of cherries, all packed in four-quart wooden baskets. And Dad would sell them to the people in the community. I think they started small, that first year.

Dad soon had the community saturated with fresh, delicious sweet cherries. He needed a bigger market. And that’s when he went to the Aylmer Sales Barn and set up a stand. When Alfred C. High came around with his little flatbed truck, we unloaded all the baskets the Amish people around us had ordered. Then it was off to the Sales Barn vendor’s lot. By mid-afternoon, usually, Dad’s table was loaded and ready for business. And he developed quite a reputation as a seller of quality fruit. At the stand, he didn’t just sit around. Not Dad. He got all active. “Fresh, delicious cherries,” he hollered to anyone who would listen. He poured a basket of cherries over into an empty basket, to show that the cherries were good, all the way down to the bottom. And he usually sold out well before dark, when the market shut down.

I can’t remember that he ever sold peaches at the Sales Barn. For those, he simply took orders from people in the community. And Alfred C. High brought the amounts Dad ordered. Those black sweet cherries and those peaches were the most luscious fruits that I have ever tasted. Maybe it’s a childhood thing, the vividness of those early memories. But I think all my siblings would agree with me. Alfred C. High raised the most delicious, mouth-watering cherries and peaches we ever ate.

The strawberries were another story. At dawn, we were out in the strawberry patch, on our knees in a vast sea of dew-soaked plants, picking box after box of the ripe red berries. And we had a different way of selling. We peddled those strawberries door to door, mostly in Aylmer. I peddled my first fruit when I was probably ten years old. I look back on it all now, and just marvel at how audacious it all was. We walked through the back streets of town, lugging a crate of strawberries. I can still feel how to was to walk cold to a door and knock or ring the doorbell. You wait, then, for some kind of noise from within. If all is silent, you knock or ring again. Back in those days, the early 1970s, more women stayed at home, I think. Someone was apt to be home, about any hour of the day. And when the housewife came to the door, you asked her as politely as any little Amish boy could. Would you like to buy some strawberries today?

I can’t remember many people being rude, although I’m sure some were. We were focused on getting that buggy load of berries sold, so we could go downtown. After a hard afternoon of selling, we would walk into Clarke’s Restaurant, there on main street. A cheeseburger and French fries, those were the reward. I remember that Clarke’s had a juke box, with a song selector at every table, a little glass cabinet. In that place, that’s where I first heard Sammy Davis, Jr.’s classic. The Candy Man Can. The place was a mecca to us, so cutting edge and worldly.

Dad sold nursery stock. Again, how that ever came to be is lost to me now. I never heard how he got the idea. He loved shrubs and bushes, loved to plant a nice blue spruce here and there around the yard. And somehow, he got the idea that he could sell shrubs and trees. So he sent off for thousands and thousands of infant seedlings of every describable type, breed, and nature. Blue spruces. Evergreen shrubs. Oak and maple saplings. We planted the seedlings on the sandy hill east of the pond. It was the only sandy spot on the whole farm. And it was the perfect spot to sprout Dad’s inventory of nursery stock.

And for the nursery stock, Dad had to bring the customers out to our farm. Along the gravel road, seven miles east of Aylmer. And somehow, the man did it. He placed a small ad in the weekly Aylmer Express. I don’t know, he might have advertised in the daily St. Thomas Times-Journal, too. And in the summer, especially on a Saturday, the people came. Car after car cruised slowly down from the west, and pulled into our drive. Sometimes there were four or five cars stacked up. The place got full. Usually it was a husband and wife. Sometimes the wife was alone. And they all came to buy the bushes and shrubs Dad had for sale.

We were just kids, my brothers and me. I was ten, probably. We kept a few bushes and shrubs in the shop, there, in the yard. But often, the customer wanted something fresher. And we would grab a shovel and escort the customer right out to the sandy hill east of the pond. And there we would dig up the shrub the customer chose. Those were busy days.

I remember a couple of things about it all. Me and my brothers, Stephen and Titus, took in a lot of cash from those sales. We often walked around with a pocket full of assorted cash bills, including twenties. Our system of writing up sales was extremely lackadaisical. We handed over a lot of cash to Dad, when he came home for lunch from his office at Pathway. And always, a little bit of that cash stuck to our fingers. A five here, a ten there, a twenty there. We didn’t really consider it stealing, but I guess it was. We were just storing up funds we needed to buy hockey sticks and comic books and other goodies. Titus even saved up enough to buy a shotgun. An Ithaca twelve-gauge that kicked the empty shells straight down, not out to the side like all other brands of pump guns. I feel no guilt from here, looking back at that syphoned cash. Maybe we shouldn’t have done it. But that’s what boys are gonna do, right across the board, normally, if they get a chance. It just was what it was.

The second thing I remember is a small thing, but it stayed with me all my life. I was just a kid, a raggedy, snot-nosed, barefoot, dirty kid. But that was the time of my life I learned to hold the car door open for a lady. I’d sell a few shrubs to a man and his wife. We’d load them in the trunk of the car, and the man would pay me. And as they walked forward to get in the car, I darted forward, too, on the lady’s side. Opened the door. And every single lady I ever opened the door for acted all surprised and delighted. Always, they smiled at me, real smiles. And always, they said, in a pleased voice. “Why, thank you.” (On the other side of the car, the husband sat, looking glum that a little Amish kid had outclassed him.) You’re welcome, I mumbled, rubbing my shirt sleeve across my nose. It was all quite wild and wonderful.

Back to the opening scene on this blog. I come from a place where selling was what we did from our earliest memories. So maybe I kept silent instinctively, because of how I had seen my father sell all those years ago. I can’t say for sure. In sales, there is a time for silence, and there is a time to speak. I do know I have never come close to matching Dad’s selling skills.

And perhaps his most lasting sale of all came from the true calling of his heart. His writing. When he founded and launched Family Life, he put all his many sales skills to work, honed to their finest edge. He produced a quality inaugural issue of the magazine. He mailed it out to thousands and thousands of people, for free. And he included his sales pitch, in that first offer. This is our vision, here at Pathway. This is an example of what we can produce here. Please subscribe if you want to read more such material in the future. It was my father’s greatest sales triumph. And he will leave behind the work of his hands when he passes on. No one can ever take that accomplishment from him.

And sliding off on one more little bunny trail, here. The last one, I promise. It made me think of one other thing, that little incident with my customer friend. He asked about the book. I told him. We chatted about it. Then he got down to the business he had come for. And I just quietly set the book off to one side, there. Didn’t call any attention to it. Not one word. There it was. If he wanted it, he could ask. He knew it was there for the taking.

And I thought about it. Isn’t that how we should treat the gospel? You walk through life as a Christian. You don’t have to wear it on your sleeve, the fact that you are a child of God. You don’t have to tell the people you meet in the wilderness. If you meet them where they are, if you reflect the true love of Christ, they’ll see and know that on their own.

I come from a quiet people who are not expressive at all about their lifestyle or their faith. I was taught from my youth. Live your faith. Don’t worry so much about speaking it. It’s OK to speak it, if someone asks. But don’t go around harassing people, don’t go around preaching. Anyone can claim anything.

I want to be careful here. The vineyards of the Lord are vast and varied. As are the numbers and types of laborers in those vineyards. I’m not knocking the wild-eyed preacher on the street corner. I’m not talking down on people who knock on doors to spread the good news. I’m just saying. That’s not who I am. And no, I don’t feel even slightly guilty about any of that. I just walk. I figure that’s what I’m called to do.

And yeah, I’ll tell you, here. I’m a Christian. No, I don’t make a big fuss about it. I might tell you in person, if I figure it’ll make any difference. I might not, too. But if you ask, I’ll never, never be shy about it. I’ll never flinch. Yes. Jesus is real to me. Yes, life is still hard, as often as not. Yes, I am flawed, just like anyone else. Yes, I get pissed and sometimes lose my temper. Yes, I’m human. I always will be. And my heart will always be as depraved as the heart of the vilest sinner out there you can imagine. It’s only God’s grace that makes any difference. And you can have that grace, too.

These things I’ll tell you, if you want to know. If you don’t want to know, I’ll just keep walking. My words won’t make any difference, anyway. I won’t try to “sell” Jesus by telling you life gets easier if you speak the “sinner’s prayer” and believe. It doesn’t. It gets harder. It gets messier. Still. Either the gospel will reach you, or it won’t.

There is no “bargain basement” pricing, either. Because it’s all free, that grace is. It always was, and it always will be. You can drink deep from that fountain whenever you choose to believe. And then you can walk in calmness and in peace through any hard and messy place that life slings at you. Take it from a guy who’s seen lots and lots of hard and messy places. A guy who’s still walking.

And that right there is about the only “selling” of Jesus you’ll ever hear from me.

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(12 Comments) »

  1. In my opinion, your father’s greatest contribution to the rest of us was Family Life. I read it cover to cover. Every issue, for many years. It was the sanctioned staple we were allowed to read. I believe in the quiet way of selling Jesus, but maybe it is because that’s how we did it as kids.

    Comment by Paul Yutzy — January 20, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

  2. “People get up in church & testify & say, ‘Preacher, I’m going to Heaven straight as I can go. I’m walking the straight & narrow!’
    Well, I found out that I can’t go that way-
    You got to go a half mile a day & touch people as you go…and it’s a struggle.”
    -Johnny Cash

    Comment by Teri Sechrist — January 20, 2017 @ 7:33 pm

  3. Amen to you Ira. I would really like to meet you and have a chat, however that doesn’t look like it will happen since I live in the deep south. I don’t go around making a lot of chatting about Jesus, but I try to live the way that He set up for His children. It is a tough life I know, but Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” and I believe it with all my heart. But if anyone asks me about Jesus, I am thrilled to tell them all I know about Him.

    Praise His Name.
    Linda

    Comment by Linda Morris — January 20, 2017 @ 8:38 pm

  4. “I think it was just instinctive on my part, to let things go and let everything play out naturally without a lot of fuss.” This reminds me of one of my “old man stories.”

    In the early 80s I had to sell a car. I hated selling. Somehow I allways felt guilty. I had no confidence. Anyway one of my employeees sold a young lady his race car (at my service station) without telling her that it was a race car and would need lots of work to keep running. (it just looked like a pretty Torino) Sure enough the car broke and I got involved and found out that she had no idea what she was buying. I felt bad for her and gave her a full refund. Now I owned it. Got the car fixed and put it up for sale.

    Everyone that was interested in buying it, I told my line that it was a race car and would be best suited for a kid who liked to work on cars. Of course it took a long time to sell. One day a young man looked at it and I gave him my warning. The next day he brought his dad and we all went on a test drive. I was driving and put my foot in it. It screamed and raced down the road. I said it runs good now, but it might break. There is no guarantee. As a matter of fact I hate this car. If you buy it, I never want to see it again. If you need gas, to to another gas station. If you need air, go some where else. I never want to see it again. He paid for the the car and I never saw it again.

    And that is how “everything played out naturally without a lot of fuss” for me. I usually tell this story to those who have no confidence in selling. Extreme, but that is how I ended up getting rid of the car I hated. A little more fuss than putting your book out on the counter. But I was so happy to be done with that car.

    I love your stories Ira. Bless you.

    Comment by GuyS — January 20, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

  5. I love the pure honesty in your selling and the man in the comments who sold the race car. I think that simple honesty is so overlooked these days. Your childhood was tough, Ira, but more and more I see the respect and reverence you have for your dad shining through. I can see the calmness too now, not the angst. In my life, too, I had to forgive my parent to find the real peace. And I think being a Christian allows that to finally happen after a long long time. That forgiveness way down deep happens when a mountain moves. Loved reading about the fruits and sprouts and all the tastes of childhood!!!

    Comment by Pam — January 20, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

  6. My husband says the Amish are the last true entrepreneurs in America. Your wonderful story about your dad’s salesmanship proves his point.

    Sometimes you make a sale when you really didn’t mean to. A long, long time ago we had a little red Toyota that was the worst car in the world. I said to my friend, “If someone gave me $100 for that car, they could have it.” The next thing I know, her brother-in-law drives over 150 miles and is at our door with $100. “Bobbie,” I said, “You don’t want this car. It’s awful. I’d feel terrible if it broke down on your way home.” I pictured him and his two little boys sitting forlornly at the side of the road, cars whizzing past. “I’ll take my chances,” he said. They were a little short of money back then, so I felt I had to make good on my rash remark, even if the car was worth double that amount. Well, he drove off in the little red Toyota and made it home safely. He fixed whatever it was that was the matter with that car, something that no one else seemed to know how to fix. He and his family went all over the place in that little car, even to Cape Canaveral.

    Comment by Cynthia — January 21, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

  7. Great post, Ira! I do most of my “selling” from on stage, where I appear to be bold and in charge, but one-on-one I am more timid, bashful, maybe even ashamed :-( to invoke the name of Jesus.

    Two of the many lessons I learned from Johnny Cash:
    -When it comes to Christianity, speak up.
    -When it comes to politics, shut up.

    What I learned from you: Write a book.

    Comment by John Schmid — January 21, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

  8. It appears little Casanova continues to emulate by sheer nature. “For my future I have no concern, and as a true philosopher, I never would have any, for I know not what it may be: As a Christian, on the other hand, faith must believe without discussion, and the stronger it is, the more it keeps silent.” Giacomo Casanova

    Comment by lisa — January 27, 2017 @ 8:37 pm

  9. Congratulations on your seventh printing! “…let things go and let everything play out naturally without a lot of fuss“ made me wonder if God already has a plan for your next book. It sorta feels like uncharted territory out here, without the ministers telling me what to do. Kinda harder to figure out how to follow what God wants me to be. Guess that’s partly why I look forward to reading more about your journey.

    Comment by Phyllisitty — February 1, 2017 @ 7:26 am

  10. I really liked this post. If people can’t see Christ in me than it doesn’t do much good to try to explain it to someone.

    P.S. I like what John Schmid posted about faith and politics (and you).

    Comment by Nate Miller — February 12, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

  11. When one really starts digging into the history of Christianity with an open mind it can get quite interesting.What happened in the 3rd thru 5th century after Christ between the Roman Emperor Constintine and the early bishops who wanted control and to turn it into a state religion is a story unto its self.Early Gnostic Christian beliefs were stamped out and labeled heresy.The beliefs that the soul makes multiple trips to earth in a cycle with the law of cause and effect,or meeting self again and again until the law is fullfilled were done away with.There was an emphasis placed on punishment and death which turned it all rather pagan and in a way denies the true honest power of Christianity today.The pyschic and healer Edgar Cayce who had the gift of tapping into universal consciousness filled in many holes in the story of creation and the life of Christ.He was a very devout Christian who read the Bible cover to cover on a yearly basis starting at age 12.A book published in 1972 titled The Origin and Destiny of Man is facinting reading and based on what he saw. When I hear the old saying that truth can be stranger then fiction,this book and others relating to him come to mind.I don’t do organized religion because that is not where God is for me and don’t call myself a Christian either.Its about attraction rather then promotion in my life.And my belief that how ever one finds God and is connected to him in there own way is what one needs to do.Who am I to judge…Great column,IRA,…And peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — February 13, 2017 @ 11:29 am

  12. Very great

    Comment by Sho — November 8, 2018 @ 12:17 am

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