©02 LeviteContinued from part 6
Road Trip -4. And Home
The church building was enormous and almost brand new. Their attendance figures looked like the population signs of some towns I had preached in. Their sound and video set up was beyond belief and they had a resident button pushing guy who ran me through a sound check with a stereo wireless microphone that made me sound like I knew what I was talking about.
They put me up at a classic 'Old South' hotel complete with a canopy bed that looked like it had been stolen out of a 'Gone With the Wind' remake. I met two 'Colonels', a countess, and a Country Music Star before I even found out where the valet had parked my car.
I had dinner with the Senior Minister, the Associate Minister, the Youth Minister, and the Church Office Manager, and their families and assorted other people I was introduced to but don't remember.
Most of them had been at the St. Louis convention and were looking forward to hearing the 'Old Testament' again. I was told that I should show my dirty dishes to the TV cameras so they could be shown on the overhead big screens so everybody could see them. Then they asked me if I wanted to sing a duet with a lady that was a well known Gospel singer.
After dinner we did a walk through of the next day's service and I practiced holding a book pretending it was my skillet so that camera number two could get a good shot of it.
"But I tend to move around a bit. Should I stand still for you guys?"
"Oh no!" The head video guy, Walt, said. "Move around, do whatever you do. I work at the TV station covering everything from football to auto racing. Make these guys earn their pizza."
"You do sports?"
"Oh yeah. Anything in Nashville that you can remotely call a sport, I've covered." He grinned. "Why? You like sports?"
We talked for three hours straight that night and I made it a point to be there early the next day to ask him about the finer points of covering a stock car race.
He was friendly and knowledgeable and told me that Saturday we'd go out to the track for lunch and watch a practice session a couple of teams were holding.
I looked forward to the break.
Friday night the revival opened with a solid hour of some of the best Christian and Gospel Music I had ever heard. The sound was fantastic. The musicians and singers were excellent.
Then it occurred to me.
We were in Nashville. Music City USA, as it were.
And it showed.
But then I began to worry that my Dirty Dishes might not be up to the quality of the rest of the service.
As the time got close, I got nervous.
Then before I realized it I was imploring God and Camera Number Three (the hand held a guy was holding down below the stage) to 'Clean My Dishes!'
They laughed. They 'Amen'ed. They clapped. And finally. When I held up the still dripping wet freshly dunked and wiped plate... They Cheered.
I sighed and thanked the Lord it was over and it seemed to have gone well.
A few minutes later in the kitchen of their cafeteria I was trying to find some soap to finish washing my dishes when the younger of the Associate Ministers came running in.
"You've got to come." He said towing me by the arm and ignoring the grease all over my other hand.
I had seen 'alter calls' where forty or fifty people came forward to either accept the Lord or rededicate themselves, or even just to ask for some special teaching or counseling. I had seen revivals that ended with multiple baptisms of people from twelve to eighty years old. But this one, there were more people in the aisles and up front on the stage than I had ever seen before. I instinctively went with the associate to help.
Half of them were members of the church there to assist with those that had come forward. Half of them wanted to reconfirm their faith. The rest either needed more time and information before they made their decision or had made it and now wanted, or needed, to act on it.
It was over two hours before I got back to the kitchen to finish up my dishes. And I didn't mind a bit.
Finally the ministry team and I stood together as the last of the new Christians joined their friends and family to celebrate their new life.
We walked down the hall together talking about the evening and looking for a cup of coffee.
I had forgotten about my pans and dishes. They were still right where I'd left them.
"You've got dishes to do." One of the ministers laughed.
I nodded and picked up the pan. "Some things never change."
They helped me in several ways. One of them, Brother Stewart sang, the other one helped his wife make a pot of coffee. The older minister told me stories about being a minister during the 'wild times' of country music in Nashville.
"Some of those old boys were serious about their religion, and their whisky. And you had to wonder which was operating at any one time."
He had gotten a call late one night from one of the bigger country stars with one of the heavier reputations.
"'Preacher' he said when I got to the studio. 'I need some religion tonight'. I didn't know what he meant, or where to start. They were right in the middle of recording an album. The place was thick with cigarette and marijuana smoke. There were gallon bottles of whisky and Scotch sitting around, none more than half full. The music coming from an old record player was anything but country, and they had an adult movie running on the TV. 'Well. Start Preaching.' The Star said to me slapping the table that was covered with sheet music, beer bottles, and guitar picks."
"I moved enough of the stuff to lay my Bible and some notes down and began with the title to one of the songs that was laying there. 'Lord I don't know where I'm goin' it said." He laughed. "I don't think I converted any of the band or crew. But the Star, he sat there and listened and answered my questions and asked some of his own."
"What happened to him?" I asked the senior minister.
"He listened, finished the song he was writing, and won a couple of awards for the album. And for about ten years I was his personal clergy. He kept saying there were times he got melancholy and he 'felt his soul stirring' and that's when he'd listen to me instead of the Scotch."
One of the other ministers nodded. "And he'd write a big check to the church, and come in during a revival or special service and do some Gospel music like you wouldn't believe..."
"Then he'd be back on the road, passed out in his tour bus with some groupie half his age and... Well. You win some, you loose some."
"Which was it with him?" I said remembering that the Star had died a few years ago.
"I honestly don't know."
With my dishes back in their milk crate and a cup of coffee in my hand I listened to a story about the Opry and the witness of a group of ministers that worked to keep the Devil at bay in the old theater with decidedly mixed results.
Early Saturday morning Walt picked me up and we rode out to the track. Walt was another one that had been around for awhile and told me hilarious stories about what happens when you mix music people and race car people.
I knew I needed a break from driving and preaching. So this outing was a welcome blessing.
My press ID was from Ohio, but they didn't even glance at it since I was with Walt. We walked right into the garage area and he found a guy he knew. Soon they were discussing putting me to work.
I was being volunteered to help in a tire test. I got to run two sets of twenty or twenty-five laps in one of last year's cars, following two regular drivers in two of this season's cars. Checking wear patterns for the tire manufacturer.
It wasn't a race. By race standards we were barely moving, but how often do you get to tool around in a hundred thousand dollars worth of high performance car at over twice the legal speed limit? It was, to use a word I seldom use, Exhilarating.
Then during a break while the tire guys did tire guy things to the tires, I got to do a little casual witnessing to the crew.
So for my break from preaching and driving. I drove and preached.
And I was grateful for the chance.
On the way back into town Walt treated me to a corned beef sandwich at an old diner that had old pictures of old music and track stars and a waitress that talked like she had been there since the Civil War.
That night I preached the Old Testament. And worked my experience at the track into Ezekiel seeing the Wheels.
"The engineers were doing things to tires and wheels I can't explain. Old Zeke saw things with wheels that he couldn't describe. But he did a better job explaining it to us than I did trying to tell my wife what they were doing. And his record of it has survived for three thousand years or so. But then again, I didn't see any dry bones at the track either." I mentioned the historical facts in the book as well as his condemnations to meet his quota as a Prophet, and moved on to Daniel.
They liked my characterizations of the Old Testament Prophets, but also seemed to catch my mentioning the references to the Coming Christ and the Kingdom of God.
Some say I've been looking for applause my whole life. But you don't get much of it on the radio or sitting in a press box. But as I stood there breathless as they clapped and 'Amen'ed at the end I wondered if I had become what I had condemned others for. 'A Seeker of the approval of Men.'
The thought left me cold as I scurried off the stage while they began the decision hymn.
I knew I was a novelty act. And more than likely by about this time next year, I would be back to spending my weekends drinking too sweet iced tea and talking defense with some high school player of the year runner up. I had started working on a couple of new sermon ideas. But about halfway through, both of them sounded forced and lame.
Maybe I was a one trick pony and my time in the spotlight was about to run out. Well. So be it. I tried to make sure that the Primary Author of the Old Testament got the glory. I made sure I pointed out that no matter which jumpsuit I was wearing, God saw us as we were. That God created the dishes, and the burned food that was stuck to them, and it was up to us whether or not they came clean. That the Great Referee, Grantland Rice's 'Great Scorer' as it were when I decided to not read Scripture but recite the old poem as a close once in awhile.
As a fledging sportswriter years ago I had memorized that one, 'Game Called' and the one he had written about Notre Dame's four horsemen. I couldn't believe the power the man had achieved using Biblical principles and characters in getting across a story about sports. Football was not Religion. Baseball was a Game.
Not to Grantland Rice.
It had a profound impact on me. And now that I was a traveling preacher careening around the country in a borrowed car repeating the same nonsense to every church that forgot to lock their doors to keep me out. I fell back to it.
I vowed to myself that like Rice, I would make the Message the subject from now on.
"Brother Samuel?" Somebody called my name again breaking my meditation.
"Sorry Sir. Thinking."
"An occupational hazard I'm sure. Please. We have something for you."
I knew it was the 'love offering'. This was the most uncomfortable part of the entire thing. I had to act like I was pleasantly surprised that they would take up an offering for me. But yet not to the point of appearing stupid.
I decided to begin to shift the focus back to the Word right then.
"If you don't mind. I'd like to recite an old poem I had been thinking about just now." I said.
"Sure." The minister said gesturing to the pulpit.
"It's not about the church. But it is about life and the reason we're here. By a sportswriter from early last century. Mister Grantland Rice."
I paused and cleared my throat. Then I spoke those three long sentences slowly and clearly.
"Game called across the field of play, the dusk has come the hour is late the fight is done, and lost or won the player files out through the gate, the tumult dies the cheer is hushed the stands are bare the park is still, but through the night there shines the light of home beyond the silent hill.
"Game called where in the golden light the bugle rolled the reveille the shadows creep, where night falls deep and taps has called the end of play, the game is done the score is in the final cheer and jeer have passed, but in the night beyond the fight the player finds his rest at last.
"Game called upon the field of life, the darkness gathers far and wide, the dream is done the score is spun that stands forever in the guide, nor victory nor yet defeat is chalked against the player's name, but down the roll the final scroll shows only how he played the game."
When I finished almost everybody was sitting in either stunned silence or wiping at their eyes.
I nodded and looked out at them. "How have YOU played the game?"
It was an open question.
Off to one side a man stood up and began that fateful walk down the aisle. He stopped at the side of the stairs to the podium and asked if the invitation was still open.
"Yes my friend. As long as you can ask the question, the invitation of the Lord is still open." I answered.
The musicians began playing the decision hymn again.
Three more came forward. Not answering my call. Not responding to the words written a hundred years ago by a baseball writer. They were responding to the Spirit of the Lord and answering as they knew they should.
Nodding to myself I realized that I too had just answered a call.
Sunday morning I sat in the congregation and relaxed. I didn't deliver a sermon. I didn't field questions. I was a normal man-in-the-pew for a change.
I went to lunch with the couple that had taught the Sunday School class I had attended, then I simply bummed around the hotel for awhile and went back to the Evening Service, where I did speak. But it wasn't one of my 'usual' sermons, they had wanted my 'testimony'.
I don't have a testimony. I feel that that is something like an autobiography. It's not complete until the person its about has ceased to write it.
Instead, I just stood and talked about how I came to be where I was and what I felt the Lord had in store for me as I continued to do whatever I was doing.
"To me this is the greatest learning experience I've ever had. I've seen some great sporting events. I've seen some wonderful things, met some great people. But traveling like this has brought me face to face with some of the real world issues that you read about in the newsletters and hear about from your wife's cousin's brother in law." I chuckled. "But the answers have been right where they've always been." I picked up my Bible and flipped through to the verse I wanted to close with.
"'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears My voice and opens the door I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My Throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His Throne. He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"
Monday I called the station and told Art and the audience about the new tire strategy and an update about a Nashville team and the outlook for other sports in the South. Art asked when I was coming home because he was getting tired of covering for me.
"Soon. Very soon." I said. And I realized I was actually homesick.
It had been a long trip. I finished up with a couple of sermons in North Carolina and one in Virginia way back in the hills in a church on the side of a mountain.
Then I was homeward bound.
I had worn out my battery of messages.
But I had enough material for at least five or six more.
Staring at the Interstate on the way home I outlined the two I had been fiddling with off and on throughout the whole trip.
When I got home late that night I was as excited about going out and preaching my new messages as I had been about the others before this all started.
I had been gone almost a month. But it had only seemed like a few days.
Until I went in the house. Then it seemed like forever.
I had gifts and souvenirs for Carol and the kids. I even had a Nashville racetrack hat for Art.
Then Carol gave me my messages.
"Stew called." She said.
"Stew?" I said, it rang a bell but I couldn't place it.
"Mrs. Overland." Evidently she saw my reaction to the name. "It's OK. She said she made you nervous and she wanted to apologize. Then she called back and said that she didn't mean to make it sound so awful. And when I talked to her last week she said that her husband told her she had been a little pushy with you. Then she said..."
"How many times has she called?" I asked her.
Carol had to stop and think. "Almost every day since you were there. And twice last Saturday." She looked at me. "So really. How was she?"
"Worse in person." I nodded to her. Now I had something to think about. Had I been wrong about her?
"But she hopes that when you come back to do their Thanksgiving Service you'll stay with them again."
All I could do was laugh.
In the next week or so I got messages and notes from several of the places I had been. Including one from the former Reverend Miller that had come in that morning.
Yes, he signed his name 'former' Reverend Miller.
But he wasn't at the Church in Huntington now. He was in Indianapolis. Teaching at a Christian School.
"Perhaps my call wasn't to the pulpit ministry after all." He concluded in his letter. But he had left on good terms and thanked me for treating him as a brother in the faith.
He closed with a PS that he hoped to see me again soon and the signature, 'Brother Miller'.
At the station a couple of days later Art had a party for me.
"It was good to have him go. We heard good things about him when he was gone. He called a few times to let us know he was still alive. But now he's back. You're listening to Sports Talk Ohio with Art and Brother Bob. And we'll be right back."
My experience doing the tire test had confirmed me as a stock car race fan, and while in North Carolina and Virginia I had picked up enough information on the sport to qualify as an expert in Ohio. Even taking a tour of a 'garage' that looked to me to be more of a hospital for cars.
Art grilled me about everything going on in Detroit, then we had to discuss the college football season from the perspective of the Southern conferences.
"It's good to be back." I said toward the end of the show. "I actually missed you." I grinned at Art.
"Don't go getting sentimental on me now. You'll be wishing I'd leave for awhile soon enough. But I'm always here. That's why this is the ART and Brother Bob show. We'll talk sports to you tomorrow. Good day everybody."
"Good day, and may God bless."
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