It all started when the garbage man’s ginormous truck destroyed the mailbox. For the next ten weeks, while waiting for the insurance check and the handy man to show, I had to go to the post office to pick up the mail. So daily, or almost daily, I went to the old part of town…that part of town that I hadn’t been to in probably fifty years. There had been no reason to go.
But one day on my mail run, curiosity got the better of me and I ventured down some vaguely familiar streets, past boarded up homes and businesses. I heard myself say countless times, “that used to be” such and such or so and so “used to live there”. Memories began to flood back, and when I turned left at what used to be the old Clark Boat and Motor store, my heart started to pound. I’m not sure what I was anticipating, but by the time I made another left onto Pence Avenue, I could scarcely breathe.
What I was breathless to see was my old church…the one that, as the song says, built me…the one where I sang “Deep and Wide” and did the motions with the other toddlers, and played a tiny plastic trumpet (a glorified kazoo) during the “junior” portion of Tuesday night’s service. The church where I stacked up Red Back Hymnals to sit on so I could see over the heads of Bro. and Sis. Tucker. The church where my older sister was married and I traipsed down the aisle as flower girl. The church where dad taught Sunday School and mom sang “When I Walk Up the Streets of Gold”. The church where Brother Gene led “There’s Power in the Blood” (he always said “pire”) and Brother Albert danced his way through “The Meeting in the Air”. The church where the Kelly Sisters sang the house down every time they started belting out “This old world can never hold me, any moment I’ll be gone. I have made my preparation and I have my wedding garment on”. The church where my best friend’s mother was healed of cancer and lived on for many, many years.
All this came rushing back as I drove and looked, drove and looked. There used to be a little neighborhood market with a soda machine on the porch a few doors down from the church. When I could talk dad out of a dime (which wasn’t often), I could hear it clink, clink, clink and then pull a minuscule Coke out of the long narrow door, pry off the cap and let that sweet icy “Cokey goodness” flow down my throat. I remember it so well. The store was gone.
By then I could tell this was not the neighborhood I remembered. Not even close. I went around the block again and saw on Silver Street what I thought may have been Sister Trusty’s little old cottage, but I wasn’t sure. Everything had changed. It was a strange land. What had become of the church? In its place, bearing its old address, 212 South Pence, was a modest four bedroom home. That address was stamped just inside every Red Back Hymnal, including the one that rests inside my piano bench today. I know it sounds strange, but I felt a bit resentful. How dare them use that address! I know. It’s just property. Or is it?
I began to wonder if those people residing at that address had any idea of the hallowed ground their home was built on…if they had any clue of the power that had overshadowed that site and the anointing that had rested on that little piece of dirt where the church was. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but even so…what a landmark is gone. I can revisit it only in my mind now. You know the first thing my brain conjures up? The smell of the altar wood. Strange.
In this “just take a picture and throw away the original” world, I find it hard to think of these landmarks as just so much folderol to unload or ground to be bulldozed. It doesn’t end for me with the building or the song books gathering dust in some forgotten storage facility along with what’s left of the altar. I used to think that these “landmarks” to which we as Christians so often refer were only points of remembrance…some little mental park bench along the road of life, a comfortable place to pause and think back on the old days when things were “better”. But I’ve come to believe differently.
I’ve never put myself out there as a Bible scholar. Far from it. At times I feel I should still be in Sister Roma June’s primary class, flannelgraph pictures and all. But I can’t help but believe that “landmark” does not necessarily just mean to look back longingly and remember. Proverbs 22:28 states, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”
It’s my understanding that when the land was apportioned to the tribes of Israel, stone markers or landmarks were set up to indicate the boundaries between properties. At times unscrupulous neighboring land owners would slip in and ever so slightly move the landmark. Just a tad…not so much that anyone would notice at first. Ever so slightly, time after time, one tiny move after another he encroached on his neighbor’s land, enlarging his own territory while diminishing his neighbor’s, and sometimes stealing his flock in the process.
I think now more than ever we in the church need to guard our landmarks or, dare I say, boundaries. It starts with a little compromise here, a little compromise there…slowly giving ground to the devil and, sadly, we’re not even aware. Political correctness replaces Biblical correctness one sin at a time. We fear man’s opinion, not God’s. We are afraid of calling sin what it is for fear of “offending”. For my part, I would rather you offend me into Heaven than validate me into Hell.
What’s the answer then? I think it comes down to each man and woman measuring daily. Haul out the tape….the Word of God…and see if our boundaries are where they need to be. Am I where I need to be? Have I moved, even ever so slightly in the wrong direction? Am I personally giving precious ground to the devil that he is not entitled to?
Just something to ponder on this rainy day. Now, let’s see…where’s my tape measure?