March 24, 2014

The Bible, Faith, and a Tarpaper House



Two tractor-trailer rigs burned on the freeway this past week. It caused a major traffic back up during rush hour. One of the drivers was killed. The report said he didn’t cause the accident.

Life is hard and sometimes tragic.

There are three bridges over the river; a bridge must be crossed in order to make it home.

Dad’s day at the infusion clinic had been long. When we left late in the afternoon, he was beefed up with blood and platelets. He had an infuser of magnesium hooked to his central line tucked in his pocket.

We drove one way and then another, and finally made it over one of the bridges, went in the opposite direction from home until we turned east to drive the country roads before rumbling over the cattle guards just before dark.

Sometimes you have to take the long way around to get to where you are going.

The road that brought us home was sparsely populated but there were a few communities along the way. 

Because I hadn’t been this way before, I was noticing the landscape as we drove past. 

Behind some overgrown hedge and hugged by the branches of large oaks, was a two-story tarpaper house. It sat right up on the road. The windows are broken. It’s been abandoned for sometime.

Most of the tarpaper houses around here are gone. My great-grandparents lived in one and my great-uncle. I can’t ever remember seeing tarpaper on a two-story house--- this one, an American foursquare farmhouse. A house so grand should have had clapboards on it. 

We passed it in a blur. The house was covered in green-shingled paper. Daddy needed to get home or I would have turned back to get a closer look. 

People once lived there. Voices once bounced off those walls. Is there anyone on this side of eternity who still holds its memories? I can only wonder at the babies born there, the old woman who grew old cleaning the corners with her straw broom and sweeping dust and memories off the front porch near the end of her life.

I love that house and I hate it. 

I love it because something about it reminds me that life came before and life goes on. 

I hate it for the same reason (at least my flesh does.)

It's hard to live both in now and forever.

Something so tangible wraps the mind into a strange paradox. I know what happened in the farmhouse and around it was very real living. The stories of the house are fading into the shadows of history. I know this is true. Even though the house is tattered and vacant, I believe life once happened there. Food and conversation was served up around a table, little ones tucked in beds.

Someday, the farmhouse will be gone. They could build a convenience store where it sits near the road. 

Even if that where to happen, it wouldn’t change anything about the life lived in that very place.

I read a reflection of a writer this week about the bible and faith. (I always capitalized the word Bible but she didn’t.) She is examining her faith and she’s not sure why she believes what she believes about God and the bible, about his existence and how important the bible really is and if it should be used as an argument against what others believe to be true. 

Her reflection shook me a little until I thought about that old house. 

Today I was reading about Jesus in the book of John. He was in the temple in Jerusalem, a place long gone in the city that lives on. He was stopped and questioned “in the colonnade of Solomon.” This is what happened: 
“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’” (John 10:23-30)
I have no stories from the tarpaper house but I believe the walls echoed with life.

I believe the words of Jesus in the temple echo through time, the voice of God.

I will never see the temple since it no longer exists, but I have these words recorded for me set in a particular place, a moment in time some two thousand years ago. I believe it happened. I believe that Jesus’ life was compelling, so much so, that it was a threat to the religious culture of the day---those who were preserving the law and the history and traditions of a people group, a nation within an empire. Jesus didn’t keep them in suspense. He gave it to them straight. He was God.

I need to believe the story of Jesus, maybe now more than ever. He is the anchor holding me in a sandy world of questions. 

The tarpaper house will rot, but these stories, these instructions, admonitions, truths from the Bible, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus, who died and rose again have marched through time and wedged themselves into my soul. 

I am certain the ancient Words have been misinterpreted and misused. They have been twisted to serve sinful man’s sinful ways. I wonder if there is anything more egregious to God who sent us the Word made flesh than for people to use the words of the Bible or the name of his Son, Jesus, to kill, steal, and destroy?

I don’t want to hit anybody over the head with the Bible, but I need it. It’s my road map, my way over the river when the world seems snarled in a traffic jam and the way home takes me down roads I didn’t even know existed.

This world won’t hold my stories when my time on the dirt is over. This new house with the rock foundation where my family makes memories may stand for many years. The daffodils testify it was built near an old home place. It will likely stand when my memories leave this world with me. 

Though the writer didn’t have answers to her whys and her faith seemed a little shaken, I believe she wasn’t ready to throw out all she has ever known. She is willing to let God have what she can’t really put her finger on, what she couldn’t explain. I don’t think she was sweeping all that brought her to her questions off the porch. She just sat down in the rocking chair to ponder them as she awaits the resurrection.

I know no other way than to live by faith. My house looks like a mansion but it is as fragile as the old house on the road covered with tarpaper. 

Even when reasonable questions can't be answered, my confidence is in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things I can’t see.

I am waiting on the resurrection of life, the way it is supposed to be.

Lord, thank you for taking me down a long the road by the tarpaper farmhouse. I don’t know what happened inside those walls, why it was covered in paper and not boards. The people have long left with their memories.

I thank you for it, because it reminds me of how fragile the things of this world are and what really remains. You say, “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the grass, the grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the LORD endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25)

May I lean upon the Word made flesh, may I live like Him, love like Him, reflect Him to the world that they may know Him and glorify you God in heaven, holy and just over all things. Keep me until the Day, I pray. Amen. 

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