August 10, 2012

The Old and the Young…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:38 pm


For the wild tempest breaks above us, the wild fury
beats about us, the wild hunger feeds upon us—and
we are houseless, doorless, unassuaged, and driven
on forever…

—Thomas Wolfe

Wednesday of last week seemed like another ordinary morning at the office. But not for long. Early on, a phone call from a guy I didn’t know who asked for me. An older guy, from the sound of it. He wanted to check before he came out to see me. In a somewhat quavering voice, he introduced himself. He lived in Lancaster. Had just finished my book. Then he’d discovered that I’m local. That I worked at Graber. Would it be OK if he stopped by for just a bit that morning?

Of course, I said. I got a few minutes for anyone who stops by. Bring your book, and I’ll be happy to sign it for you. Thanks, he said. I’ll be out later this morning.

An hour or so later, he walked in, smiling. “Is Ira here?” he asked. Yep, that’s me. And he walked up to my counter and shook my hand. He was old, in his eighties, I would have guessed, stooped and bent.

His name was Chester Haverstick, and he lived in Lancaster. He’d picked up my book a few days before. After reading it, he discovered the author was local. Worked in the general area. And then, he thought, let’s see if I can get hold of the guy. That’s when he had looked up the Graber number in the phone book and called me earlier. And he had driven out to see me by himself.

He had been around for a long time, from the look of the seams on his weathered face. But it’s been a long time since I have been around someone who exuded such a deep, deep level of quiet peace. He was simply joyful. Happy. You could see it in his bearing. You could see it in his smile. And it shone from his eyes.

“That was a lot of turmoil you went through,” he said. “I had to think back to what my Sunday School teacher told me years ago. It’s all about love, not the law.”

It is, I agreed. It is about love. He leaned in to hear my words.

“Isn’t Jesus just great?” He beamed. He is indeed, I said.

Chester had self-published a little book about his life. He had come to talk about mine, but also to give me his book, aptly titled “My Life.” Would I like a copy? Absolutely, I said. If you sign it first.

He had forgotten to bring my book for me to sign. His primary purpose was to bring his book to me, I think. Which was totally fine. He opened the front cover of his book, and I gave him a pen. Slowly he scrawled his name in impossibly fine script. Don’t forget to date it, I said. So he did that as well. Beaming, he handed me the hard cover book. I thanked him. And we chatted for a few more minutes.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to you,” he said several times. Then, “How old do you think I am?” That’s always a dangerous question, coming from anyone. But I figured to play it safe. Oh, I’d say about seventy, I said. He beamed again and pointed up. Higher. Nope, I said. I’m not guessing again.

“I’m 94 years old,” he said, beaming some more. I’m honored, I replied. I’m honored that you came to see me, and I’m honored that you brought me a copy of your book. After chatting for a few more minutes, I told him I’d have to get back to work. We shook hands, and he turned and walked out. Still smiling, just quietly joyful. How remarkable, I thought. He’s probably my oldest fan. I can’t quite see ever getting that old, but if I do, I want to be as happy and content and joyful as my new friend Chester Haverstick.

And things moved along at the office, like any normal morning. An Amish guy called and ordered four sheets of metal roofing, twelve feet long. A driver would stop in shortly and pick them up, he said after I gave him the total price. The phones rang, but during the intervals, I thought a good bit about the old man who had driven out to see me that morning. How cool it was, that he did that. And I thought about his quiet joy. Absorbed it.

About then, a young man walked in. Mid-twenties, I’d say. Clean cut, with a well-trimmed little beard. I greeted him. He had come to pick up those four sheets of metal for the Amish guy. I took his check and printed out his invoice. He smiled at me. Then his eyes caught the little poster I have taped up about my book. Instantly he became alert.

“Did you write this?” Yes, I did. “Are you a Christian?” Yes, I am.

He leaned in against the counter, his intense eyes looking right through me. “Tell me, what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?” It was a challenge, really, in the form of a question.

Well, what do you do with a question like that? I wasn’t prepared mentally to engage in any debates, especially in my relaxed state of mind after Chester’s visit. Whatever answer I gave would be wrong. There was no way I was going to get it right. But I engaged.

It’s love, mostly, I said. The love that Christ gave, to love others like that. And to meet them where they are, as He did.

He was friendly enough, and stayed friendly. It’s just that he was so adversarial. Of course, I had flunked the test. And he launched right in to tell me how it really is. Repentance. And yes, judgment of sin. Love is fine and all. But it takes more than love.

Look, I said. That’s all fine. Sure it takes repentance. And sure, we judge sin. But I’ll tell you this. You don’t talk down to people. If you don’t get right out there and right down there and meet people where they are, as they are, your message will be lost. That’s just how it is.

“Would you have time to meet some evening?” he asked. Sure, I have time. But I won’t, I told him. Tell you what, though. You buy my book and read it, then I’ll meet you to talk. Then you’ll know where I’m coming from.

He considered my offer for a moment. “I got so much reading to do already,” he hedged. But you have time to meet with me to “talk,” I thought. Which really boiled down to he didn’t want to meet to listen to me talk. He wanted to meet so I could listen to him. No deal, I said. Get the book and read it, then I’ll meet to talk.

“How much time do you spend reading the Word every day?” he asked suddenly. Another bunny trail, another trap. What difference would that make? Whatever I said, it wouldn’t be enough. Besides, how much time do I need to spend each day, to reach his level of salvation? Fifteen minutes? An hour? Three? Half a day? Full time all day, maybe? When do you reach the point of being saved from having been lost, from how much time you spend in the Word? Or how much time must you spend in the Word to keep yourself saved? Maybe that’s what he was after.

He left then, still wanting to meet to talk. When you read the book, I said. But he did take a business card, and I scrawled my blog address on it. He’d check it out, he claimed. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. And maybe he’s checking out this post. He drove out to the yard to load, and I kind of sat back and thought about it. I was tense from the exchange. Fifteen minutes later, I suddenly sensed that he had not loaded and left yet. I walked out to the warehouse, and sure enough, he had one of my Amish yard guys trapped. He was leaning in and talking intensely. His truck sat there, unloaded. I ambled up to them. Look, my guys have work to do. You need to get your truck loaded. Looking a bit sheepish, he backed off then. His metal sheets were loaded, and he tied them down and left.

After he drove away, my Amish yard guy muttered, “Some people think they are the only Christians.” Yes. I agreed. Some people do.

And there you have it. The contrast of two totally opposite encounters, less than an hour apart. From two totally different personalities forged from life and experience, and the lack thereof. The old guy. And the young guy. I’ve thought a lot about them both since that day came down.

From the old man, I felt calmness and joy. He left me energized and exhilarated. From the young man, I felt deflated and accused. And he left me drained.

As a Christian, I walk out there on the edge of things a good bit, at least that’s how many others see it. But I don’t shrink from what I know or from what I have lived and seen and felt. Or from telling it. I respect the broad spectrum of those who follow Christ, including many in the Amish church. And all the way out to the fringes of the “mad” preachers thundering on the street corners in the cities and towns across this land. The Lord’s vineyards are scattered everywhere. And He calls His children to proclaim Him in vastly different forums over all the world.

I’ll stand by what I said that day, though. You don’t talk down to people. When the gospel is preached from above, it can only be heard from below as an ultimatum based on fear, which is all so paralyzing and hopeless. It is best lived, face to face and eye to eye, often with few words. I don’t care where you are or who you are. I won’t speak to you from “above.” I simply will not do it. I will meet you where you are, as you are, it doesn’t matter where that is. That’s the only way I know to share Christ’s love. Because the first time I grasped and understood it, that’s how it was shared with me.

And when I think of the young guy who accosted me in the office that day, I wonder. What’s eating at him, that he has to prove his way is the right one, the only one? That his beliefs, his thinking (or that of his group) surpasses all others in the Christian world. Why are they like that? What drives them, what drives him, to proselytize so aggressively? Where does all that energy come from? Day after day, week after week, on and on, until it all folds in upon itself. Which it will, one day. Something’s eating at him. Something inside him is not at peace.

It’s the raw passion of youth, I suppose. I’m not judging him (well, maybe a little). I’m not condemning him. And I wish him well. But his life would be so much calmer if he could just settle in a bit, and see the real peace that is there, if only he could accept some very simple truths. To him, and to all like him, I’ll throw out a little challenge of my own.

Claim what you claim to know, without all the drama. Stop it, with your demands for this and that, for others to prove themselves to your standards. Or to prove your superiority. Because when it comes to the finished work of Christ, it’s all done. All of it. There is nothing we can do to deserve it. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Nothing. You will never grasp what true freedom really is until you grasp that simple concept.

You don’t have to take my word for it. But just try it. It’s impossible for me to describe the joy of letting go of all that baggage.

Next Friday morning, I plan to head out early, hit the road. To Buffalo, New York. There, I will pick up my niece, Janice Marner, at the airport. And we’ll cross the border into Canada and head on up to Aylmer. Janice, who works for Waste Management as a high-level executive in their management’s consolidation team, has taken time from her hectic schedule to travel up with me to see her Grandma. I’m delighted for her company. We plan to arrive late Friday and leave late Sunday night.

And it’s looking like my brother Titus and his family, and maybe my brother Nathan might be there right over that time as well. So we’ll have a little reunion. But we’re all going to see Mom. I’m not quite sure what that’s going to be like. She’s the focal point that draws us. Back to the site of our childhood world.

I want to see that childhood world, too, as much as possible. I want to drive around the old Aylmer settlement a bit. Maybe take a quick tour of the old home place and the old schoolhouse. We’ll see.

After my last post about Mom, things got a little, well, scary early the following week. I got a call from my sisters. Mom was shutting down. Kidney failure. And by Tuesday evening, I was pretty much on hair trigger alert, ready to head out on short notice. But somehow, as always up to this point, she pulled out of it. By Friday, she was functioning as normal. Those are tough people, of tough stock, her generation. And so she’s pretty much back to normal, or what passes for normal for her these days.

And it was all nip and tuck for a bit, but last Saturday evening, the great annual Ira Wagler Garage Party came down. I had randomly picked the date, August 4th, about two months ago. Invited more than thirty people. I wanted them all to attend, but of course, not all of them could make it. I ended up with 25 or so guests.

They started trickling in around 5 or so. My friends, Dominic and Jamie Haskin from West Virginia drove up. And many locals, from every imaginable level and background. When I throw a party, my garage is a safe place for all. Neutral. Like Switzerland. Doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’ve been. If you’re invited to my party, you have safe passage. We just hang out, chill out, and enjoy the evening and the company of each other.

I grilled Stoltzfus Farm Meats sausages, as usual. On charcoal. I provided the meat, the sausage rolls, and the condiments. And a case of premium beer. All guests were encouraged to bring a salad or dessert. And they all came through, as usual. It was a magnificent feast. The evening arrived and unfolded, and then it was over. For one more year.

The book reviews have been sporadic lately, but a few weeks ago, my Google alert snagged an interesting one. From Mennonite World Review, a mainstream Mennonite publication. I’ve never been associated with the mainstream Mennonites. And I’ve always been a bit leery of them. Not as individuals, the ones I know are quite jolly and genuine and accepting. But I’m leery of them as a group. They tend to run around and spout the latest left-wing gibberish, be it global warming or “social justice” (a code word for Marxism), gun control and a myriad of other pet project fiascoes like Obamacare and “Green” energy. The intelligentsia, especially, tend to hold such views. Seems like they’re always burdened with torturous guilt for the perceived collective current and historical sins of the West. And always calling for some magical government solution, for sure some state intervention to make it all better again. Which basically means the state plunders from the productive at gunpoint and dispenses the loot as it pleases.

And it astounds me, when I think of it historically. That they’ve strayed so far from the legacy of their founding patriarch, Menno Simons. That their ancestral memories are so darkened to the brutal persecution their people endured way back, their history of blood and death by fire and water and the sword. Inflicted by the state. And now, they turn to the state. Trust the state, the most murderous entity in all of human history. It makes no sense to me. I’m talking about certain “progressive” segments of the mainstream Mennonites, here. Not the more conservative groups.

So when I saw the link to this review, I opened it with some trepidation. They’re gonna whack me. I just knew it. I was very pleasantly wrong. The guy really nailed it. He made many pertinent observations. He obviously understood my background. Knew where I’d come from. But it was his closing paragraph that floored me.

“Wagler writes that one must make peace with the past. But his main passion is for freedom.” Yes. It is. My main passion is for freedom. Freedom from all oppression, be it religious or secular. Freedom from any oppressive church. And freedom from the state, which by its nature can only be oppressive and corrupt.

And then the reviewer concluded in closing: “For that ideal he is as effective a writer as was his father for traditional Amish ways. Despite the pains of breaking away, the apple does not fall far from the tree.”

Sure, this was one reviewer, out of hundreds. And most or all of those hundreds might dispute the point. But no matter. Even from one lone perspective, it is an honor to be compared like that, to be judged as effective a writer in my world as my father was in his.

There is no higher compliment.



  1. Just finished reading it, fantastic! I love stuff like that :) it also reminds me a bit of that George Burns trilogy starting with Oh, God! I think you were paid two visits that day.

    Comment by Ryan Mercer — August 10, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

  2. I am looking forward to your blog after your visit to Aylmer, how many people are going to drop in just to get a glimpse of you? And on the sly ask you a question or two?

    Comment by Katie Troyer — August 10, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  3. This is so good. When I first started reading, I thought “This stands in stark contrast to that other guy I remember Ira talking about – the one who wanted to know how much time he spent in the Word.” Then I thought “Just wait a minute – maybe that’s where he’s going.” Wow. Well, say I, give the young ‘un a few years. Maybe 60. He may look a bit more like your first visitor. Life has a way of making you humble – making you not so smart. Making you not quite so quick to speak.

    And this: “Wagler writes that one must make peace with the past. But his main passion is for freedom.” What a mouthful. Sometimes I have complete peace with the past – and sometimes it haunts me. And “His main passion is for freedom …” well, the two are so tied in together. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this blog post. It articulates beautifully – you, and your reviewer. And at least for this moment I feel at peace with my past – and I feel free in Christ to be who He created me to be. Like a flower on a mountain top that few will behold – but created for Him, and for His glory.

    Comment by Deb Turner — August 10, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

  4. You said “And it astounds me, when I think of it historically. That they’ve strayed so far from the legacy of their founding patriarch, Menno Simons”.

    AMEN – I can’t stand them.

    Comment by Kurt — August 10, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

  5. Nobody tells it better than you do! What an extraordinary gift you have!!

    Comment by pizzalady — August 10, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  6. I finished reading your book about a month ago and just LOVED it. I admire your strength, determination and motivation to stay true to your heart and spirit. I just read your blog and can relate wholeheartedly with your experience with the “younger Christian” who came into the lumber yard. I have many members of my family who drill me when we are all together and lead you into the those “loaded” questions of which there is no right answer. I am so glad your sixth sense told you he had not left and you were able to save the yard guys.

    Enjoy your trip to Canada with your family.

    I am enjoying your blog. Keep up the great work.

    Comment by Jennifer Milligan — August 10, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

  7. I wonder if you have run across a book called Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It’s non-fiction, an account of an unlikely friendship with Jesus right in the middle. I think you might find it moving. My husband and I read your book, and I have especially enjoyed your blog until I got toward the end of this one about liberals and intelligensia and people who support Obamacare. It made me feel that you wouldn’t meet me where I was because you might have already categorized me because of some political opinion I might have. Anyway, I felt a little sad after reading that part. I hope your trip to see your mom will be something special. I guess we will hear about it eventually. Peace.

    Ira’s response: I will always meet you where you are, Renee. That doesn’t mean I will agree with your politics. That’s not the point. It just means I will accept you as a person, and a child of God.

    Comment by Renee Erickson — August 10, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

  8. Thanks again for another great post. I have so many thoughts about life but I can’t put it in written words. I too look forward to your post after visiting with your “Mom”.

    God Bless you.

    Comment by Linda Morris — August 10, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  9. The instant I receive word of a new blog by Ira, I drop what I am doing and read every word. This one was so full of observations that challenged me personally. Your comparison of the two visitors and how their visits affected you was a great life lesson. I loved how in the end, you boiled down the pathway to freedom to a simple but profound truth…”when it comes to the finished work of Christ, it’s all done. All of it. There is nothing we can do to deserve it. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Nothing.” Thanks for the reminder! Both stories — the garage party and the review held life lessons as well. Hoping your reunion in Aylmer is a real celebration of family, and that seeing your mother will give you a renewed spirit of thanksgiving and peace.

    Comment by Betty Stewart — August 10, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

  10. I can relate so well to this post. The one thing I have to say about the confrontational young man is I truly think sometimes people like that speak out of some deep-rooted fear. Like they feel it’s their duty to spread the Word and enlightened those in the “dark”. I think they’re scared they’re going to be held accountable for someone else’s soul. I also feel it’s a bit of a religious pride and they’re the ones with the right answers, which of course puts you just a step below them. Hopefully he’ll, too, find his peace, after he’s been around a bit. Because that freedom, once found, can make you feel light as a feather.

    I’m glad you got to see both sides that day as a reminder of what makes you feel closest to the One who matters.

    Comment by Bethrusso — August 10, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

  11. Someone has rightly said that the more dogmatic you are about your position the more insecure you are in that position. And being someone who has engaged in dogmatic debate in my earlier days, I have found that as I have become more secure in who I am and in what I believe, I have become less dogmatic and more peaceful in sharing what I believe and who I am. Lord-willing your young acquaintance will find the same to be true.

    Comment by Beth — August 10, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

  12. Ira, as always, I loved it. But this time I loved it even more. It’s almost like two blog posts in one, each with a unique message. Both powerful.

    You nailed it on what it means to be a Christian. Excellent and clear message.

    And, while my familiarity with your father’s writings is limited, I’d say the review was right. I love your writing ‘voice’. Not at all simplistic, yet easy to read. I look forward to meeting you in Aylmer. Safe and happy travels.

    Comment by Trudy Metzger — August 10, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

  13. I think it would be profitable if your intrepid editor would re-read your many blogs.

    Then, maybe you could “connect” them somewhat. But, just publish the blogs. You really do have a great writing talent, maybe like your dad’s talent.

    You describe feelings so effectively, that the facts come alive.

    Be well!

    Comment by David Black — August 10, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

  14. Ira
    May the liberty and freedom you have discovered be our heritage once again! We all need this desperately. Allow this freedom to not only give your Mom a hug, but your Dad as well, he needs it–from you…it will shake him out of his deep seated dogmatism.

    Comment by Ben Girod — August 10, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

  15. Another fine post, as usual. I love the way things happen to you and then you think about it, reflect on it, and share your thoughts. I may not always agree with you (esp. that “social justice” is a codeword for Marxism), but the voice of a real and complex human being comes through loud and clear. The word that came to mind when I read about the young man was “pharisee.” Sorry to be so judgmental, but he had it coming.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — August 11, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  16. Very meaningful words. I love the older generation. I love sitting with my two remaining uncles, one in his 90’s and the other approaching 90 and talking about days gone by and about my Dad who has been gone for some years now. They tell stories with a twinkle in their eyes and a love in their hearts. Us younger folks have a lot of peer pressure to perform, like the young man. My uncles just live and love, not seeming to cave to peer pressure, knowing that their days on this earth might be short. I, like the young man, might seem to have an agenda. I hope it’s a Godly one, and one to help people go from the broad way to the narrow way. But I want to share it with a twinkle in my eye and a love in my heart.

    Comment by Arlen Yoder — August 11, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  17. The older man in your first story draws me. What an example of learning to live in his own skin–and liking it. Age has its purpose and its rewards. It’s true: our youthful days seem to be filled with a huge desire to be earnest and intense. Years go by and we find out all the answers we seem to have don’t always fit the puzzle of living–especially our spiritual “answers”. Great stories.

    Comment by Dee Yoder — August 11, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

  18. Ira, I think this is perhaps your best column yet. There is a peace about it, and your voice is so well spoken, without any affectation. I’m amazed someone can write so clearly; quite a gift you’ve been given.

    “Isn’t Jesus just great?” Only those who know Him can understand that comment. That man is now blessing me.

    Ha, religion. We needed to regroup as a family and went to a camp. All kinds of prophetic types there, and the worship was free and amazing. One day a pair came by our tent, had descended on the grounds for a day. Struck up conversation, like was going on among all of us. But it quickly turned into an inquisition. They were not heavy-handed; very polite and all. But they were looking to make discriminations, and would have liked a good doctrinal fight. Not that I’m not energized by discussion, but I did not want to lose the Presence I was in for a fight about religion.

    On reflection, it was not the words or the doctrines, but the spirit of the thing that made all the difference. Most of the leaders in Jesus’ day couldn’t understand that either. Or how Jesus could eat with sinners. (They didn’t include themselves among that class.) It took direct intervention, a clear voice from Heaven, to knock Paul off his high horse. And now, in the not-far distance, I hear the rumble of thunder.

    Comment by LeRoy — August 11, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

  19. Ira, It is 10:15 PM, Sat nite, just got back from the boardwalk and decided to check your blog. I enjoy your writing like always, and always thought when I read them, that you are just like your father when it comes to putting your thoughts onto paper. I will keep you and your family in my daily prayers, as you and your niece head North to gather with family. Take Care.

    Comment by Warren — August 11, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

  20. Good thoughtful post again. The two visitors seems to me to not be just a coincidence?

    I am shocked that Mennonites can be that liberal as to be behind OBama etc.

    I agree with David Black, hope your editor reads your blog.

    Comment by Linda Ault — August 12, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  21. I too feel belief in Christ has no need to be forced. I have always had a difficult time witnessing to others, I could never find the right time or words and felt I had no right to make anyone think like me. I just knew I had a gratitude from deep inside that Jesus, the man and Jesus the savior would suffer like he did and even die for me when I so often lost control of myself and sin or think sinfully. I had a difficult time getting my former Pastor to baptize me because I wasn’t shouting, “Jesus came into my heart!”. I have never met a person, saved or not who didn’t break commandments. I think the way you wrote your book, your blogs, and your facebook is a better testimony than shouting Jesus into someone’s face because you showed that a real person sins even after believing or otherwise all Christ did would have been in vain.

    Comment by carol ellmore — August 13, 2012 @ 5:45 am

  22. I’m almost speechless, this is so good. The contrast between the two men is so poignant and is causing me to consider myself and how I treat others. Thank you for writing this!

    I hope your trip goes well for you and your family.

    Comment by Nancy Aument — August 13, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  23. A veritable smorgasbord of astute observations and colorful experiences.

    Comment by Rhonda — August 14, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

  24. Ira, your comparision with your two visitors that morning says so much. I completely agree with you and wish that all those who think it is their job to go around challenging everybody about their beliefs could see and understand the depth of what you are talking about. Thank you, brother!

    Comment by Lester Graber — August 17, 2012 @ 4:27 am

  25. I’m a late bloomer here with the comments. I’m just finding out about you, Ira, after reading your book. One of your great qualities is the way you relate to people. How kind of you to meet with the elderly gentleman as you did. Though I don’t know you personally I respect you for that. That sort of kindness and humility is what drew me to my husband. I love that about him.

    I used to be like the young man in your blog. I always thought my way was the best way and really bashed the religion of my youth. But as I aged and learned more about God and faced my demons I was able to be a more real person. I didn’t NEED to get people to think or behave like me because I realized I was important and loved regardless of what others did or didn’t do. Often as I look back on the days when I gave Christ my life at the age of 25 I think to myself, “You’ve come a long way Baby”.
    Hugs, Francine

    Comment by Francine S. — September 30, 2012 @ 1:07 am

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