I am directionally challenged. I come by it honestly. Dad was too. Mom, on the other hand, could be tied up in a tow sack, spun in a centrifuge, dumped onto the pavement, and still tell you what direction she was facing. She was a farm girl, so I guess that comes with the territory.
Anytime someone begins directions with “go south on Main Street seven-tenths of a mile”, I have to stop them and ask for “proper” directions. Don’t use terms like east and west with me, because anything in front of me is north. And who, pray tell, can drive staring at their odometer to discern what seven-tenths of a mile is? So, you can see the dilemma.
Now if you tell me, “turn left at the next intersection, go three blocks, then turn right at the big blue water tower”, I can probably find my way. I always think of the old F Troop show and the Hekawi’s directions to Fort Courage: ” Make a right at the rock that look like bear, then a left at the bear that look like rock.” Landmarks…..that’s what I need.
Years ago, travelling through southern Illinois to my grandparents’ home was a study in landmarks. An old railroad viaduct in Edwardsville that we always made dad honk under, then a sharp left and on to Lebanon, Mascoutah, the dreaded Okaw Bottoms….a spooky stretch of road with houses on stilts that was nearly always flooded by the dark waters of the Kaskaskia. We couldn’t get through there fast enough….although, one time my brother convinced dad to stop at the A & W Root Beer stand in Okawville. Ice cold root beer in frosted mugs….it was glorious…and from then on we forever looked longingly at it as we passed. Addieville….population 231. There was a little roadside grocery in Nashville, IL where dad would pick up a pound of “baloney” , cheese, a loaf of Bunny Bread, and a carton of RC. There was picnic table on the right-hand side of the road….for no apparent reason. Then on to the Ashley Y….not for exercise….just a fork in the road, and miles and miles more of nothingness.
In the mid-seventies we began to expect something a bit different at our next turn….the wavers. Just outside Tamaroa on Highway 51, an old man and his son, we now know as Clarence and Sam Chapman, spent twelve hours a day sitting outside their dilapidated junk dealership…just waving at passersby. Giving a friendly wave…….so odd did this seem to a modern world that it caught the attention of the “On the Road with Charles Kuralt” show and they were interviewed on national television and subsequently written up in the New York Times…..for waving. Go figure.
So, every trip to Grandma’s after that meant when you see the wavers, you’re near the turn off the hard road. They were there for years. We came to depend on them to help identify the spot. More miles of nothing, then three rickety wooden creek bridges, Steve Larr’s barn, a sharp “S” turn and you’re over the Jefferson County line. A slight rise in the gravel road, a gray weather-beaten garden gate, an old bed frame covered with two by tens to make a seat under the big maple. You’re there……finally.
Don’t ask if I could find it again. Grandma’s been gone for many years…and so have the landmarks. It’s sad, really. It’s all in the name of progress, I guess. The interstate system has rushed us along to our destinations for years now, and other than Rend Lake, I couldn’t tell you one significant landmark along the way. Just get where you’re going. No frills, no thrills, no memories.
We don’t even consult maps anymore. We just plug in our GPS or get on some turn-by-turn mobile app and listen to the stoic, unemotional droning of some strange woman telling us to turn right in three-quarters of a mile. There’s no connection…no memory engaged…no landmark. Sometimes I wish she would say, “See that clock tower up ahead? You’re gonna drive right past that and then turn left by the Dairy Queen.” THAT I will remember. One, because the clock tower is memorable, and two, because I’m filing away the location of that Dairy Queen for future stops. I wish she would say, “Remember that cute little antique shop on the corner of Route 13 and 34 where you found that wicker table? Turn right there.” But she won’t. Again, I need a landmark.
We associate landmarks with the places we’ve been in life. Sometimes they’re good places….places of rest, refreshment, enjoyment. Sometimes, not so much. Sometimes they mark where we made a wrong turn and remind us not to go that way again. Sometimes a landmark marks the place where the wheels came off and we went totally off the road. But good or bad, they are a place of remembrance, reflection and usually a lesson or two.
When the Lord tells us in Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set”, many Bible scholars think that verse refers only to the setting of land boundaries. In ancient Israel, boundaries of the family’s property were set by an arrangement of stones. If the father died, often unscrupulous adjoining land owners would move the stones, sometimes little by little, to encroach on their neighbor’s property, essentially stealing land from the inheriting children. I believe that’s a credible interpretation, but I think it also has implications for us today.
I realize that life should be lived looking through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror. I get that. I’m guilty of looking back more than I look forward sometimes…but I’m not talking about that. Sometimes I think as Christians we forget where God brought us from. We sit in our big air-conditioned, padded pew churches with our media ministries and our “fog machines” and follow spotlights as if “this is it”…”this is what it’s all about”…and we forget where the church began. It began in hearts…then in homes….sometimes meeting in secret to stay alive.
It has met in storefronts on the wrong side of the tracks, in school houses, warehouses, public parks and huddled into tents. People have stood, sat on the ground, sat on bales of hay, splintery wooden benches and cold metal folding chairs. People have sung Amazing Grace in a whisper to avoid detection by government informants. They have sung God’s praise with out-of-tune guitars, accordions, pump organs, pianos with half the keys sticking and sometimes no instrumentation at all.
There hasn’t always been second and third assistant pastors. Pastors have been pastors while holding down a full time job at the mill to make ends meet and still serving as church janitor on Saturday night, music director on Sunday morning and head of visitation all through the week.
Saints have sat bundled up in quilts and built fires in pot-bellied stoves in the middle of the “schoolhouse/sanctuary” to keep warm. They have propped windows open with hymn books and wood blocks to catch a breeze and fanned themselves with paper funeral home fans in the scorching summer heat.
Even though the building no longer exists as a church, the landmark in my heart is 212 South Pence. Old wooden pews, no air conditioning, red back hymnals, an organist who rarely missed a service, an old white-haired piano player who could play the fire out of that thing, just a few good men with no formal training whatsoever who knew how to lead a song and sing the glory down. To take a cue from a country song, that’s the church “that built me”.
Don’t get me wrong….I’m thankful for all the modern conveniences and comforts afforded the church now, but I don’t need a fog machine to meet God. I’ll just hang out for a while at the landmarks in my mind and remember when God met us there. It’s encouraging to see how God has prospered His church from its humble beginnings and I believe He is able to do for us today what He did in days of old. Notice the Bible doesn’t say to go park by the old landmarks…..just not to remove them. So I can remember God’s grace of yesterday, live in the mercies of today and look forward to walking with Him tomorrow, and it’s all good.
Next stop YouTube…the Statesmen singing “The Old Landmark”. You’re welcome to join me.