Sorry

I’m the guy who knocked on your door in the summer of 1972 to ask you if you knew Jesus. It is probably time for me to apologize. You looked rather stunned that day; we’d have laughed together if we hadn’t both been so nervous. Your eyes flitted around, your hand sweaty on the doorknob. I rubbed mine on my jeans. You said you’d been a Methodist since you were a kid. As if that answered the question. I invited you to a revival in the park. We baptized folks in the Chillocothe town pool. These were the heady months of what Time called the Jesus Revolution. We rode through town on a flatbed truck rigged with tinny loudspeakers singing “Jesus is Coming Soon.” We sang every night in the park: “This Could be Your Last Chance to Find Jesus.” I guess you’ve had other chances in these 30 years.

He didn’t come soon, so we got on down to business by 1975 or so. Maybe we made finding Him more difficult since we promised so much in the way of peace and joy. We left the parks of those early 70’s for classrooms and real jobs. We’ve piled up the possessions we disdained in 1972, and we’re backed up now with distractions–high-profile jobs and summer homes, kids and even grandkids. Despite our general distrust of institutions, many of us have found our way back to churches. Maybe we are less idealistic now, less sure of His comings and goings. Our energy has gone into shorter hours and better pay. But oh we were so alive in 1972.

Just the other day while cleaning out the attic, I found the Bible I carried through those driven months. Zondervan’s marketers called it a “Living Bible.” I guess it sort of was. Most of the underlinings seem to be in the Gospels. Apparently, I had a predilection for verses like “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself daily, pick up his cross, and follow me.” The leatherish green Bible is worn down to the cardboard on the spine, and some of the pages are so ink-stained that they’ve mostly faded out completely. We were pretty focused in 1972.

The central rule of that revolution was that everything came down to what Christ told Mary when he tried to dissuade her from being too critical of her sister, Mary, who was frittering away useful time sitting at the Master’s feet. Only one thing is really “essential,” He told her, just because she was busy clearing away the supper dishes. In 1972 it was clear to me that He meant I should wager everything on my connection to Him. Faith was the daily business that reached in every direction, determined every step. It made perfect sense then.

“If any man come to me, and hate not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

“Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed . . . .”

Clear enough. But it got to be too much. Befuddled by Vietnam and Nietzsche and the humdrum press of things, we began to wonder about biblical inspiration, providence, redemption, suffering, and eternity. Jesus was such a long time coming. We found other foundations–parenthood, for example, with little league and school plays and no time to think. Carpool running late. And the satisfactions of work that led to air-conditioned cars, family rooms with fireplaces, flat-screen televisions. All the accoutrements of upper-middle class culture. A long way from the pool in the park.

When we came through Chillicothe, riding on that flatbed truck with our Voice of the Theater loudspeakers, I felt genuinely foolish. At your door that day, I knew my question was somehow awkward, even dangerously simple. I could tell you were envious of my enthusiasm but embarrassed for me too. I hope life has worked out okay for you. You’re probably retired by now, living out your days in the Ozark sunshine. Both of us have found ways to carry on. Now we’re smarter, I guess.

In the spirit of the curmudgeonly Silence Dogood, Thomas B. Phulery offers brief epistles for entertainment purposes only. Like Dogood, Phulery is a busybody. Unlike Dogood, he will not grow up to be Benjamin Franklin. In his day job, Phulery is an investment counselor.