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Crazy cowboy country

by davesandel on March 26th, 2021

Friday, March 26, 2021 (today’s lectionary)

Crazy cowboy country

Waiting for the sun to rise in Sanderson, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, I feel my aloneness. Sore muscles even now at dawn, and an endlessness that aches rather than soothes my soul. The farther west I go in the Central Time Zone, the later the sun comes up. I wait without patience, without peace. My first-world entitlement is showing itself. Does the world revolve around me?

Jesus said, “The Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” Enraged, the Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus and tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their power.

In Sanderson the Z-Bar Trading Company opens at 8. It’s 8:12 now, and somewhere on the other side of the bluffs that surround this town, the sun is up. Travis, who has owned what used to be Kerr Mercantile for eight years, by now has smoked his first and second cigarette. Travis sells hardware, but he mostly sells metal dinosaurs and fish and giraffes and little Martian men, painted bright summer colors that bring us all joy. He has been to Springfield, Illinois to buy metal cows and peacocks from the outdoor museum there, which we have visited with Jack and Aly. But most of his stuff comes from Laredo. “We have a factory there,” he said.

His store is stacked up in every corner and corridor with beautiful pottery and tile, those metal Martian men, and brand new Stanley tools. “Only a 20% markup on the hardware,” he said. “I make my money selling dinosaurs. And because I do, this town can have a hardware store.”

A hundred miles from anywhere, the hardware store part is a good thing. People drive in from miles around, those few people that there are. Solitary ranches stretch inland from their fences and locked gates along the empty highway, and somewhere deep in there, there are people living. Thriving, perhaps, in this solitude.

I hope so. In two quiet corners of Travis’ store I see twenty-five brown 4 foot statues of St. Francis. And on closer inspection, I find bird seed and fifty Audubon bird feeders (those are the good ones) hanging in the front window. Besides the dinosaurs, nothing in the Z-Bar Trading Company is obvious at first glance.

Lord, you are my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. Lord, you are my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, and my cry reaches your ears!

I stopped at Langtry, scene of Judge Roy Bean’s court and opera house and a legendary prize fight held on a sand dune in 1896. The Rio Grande loops up north to Langtry, and since neither Mexico nor Texas allowed legal boxing, Judge Bean set up his ring on a tiny sand island in the middle of the river, where no one had jurisdiction.

Roy Bean died in his bed, which is amazing. He made friends and enemies everywhere he went. He pursued women regardless of their previous affiliations. He rustled cattle and became a butcher. He stole trees and sold them as lumber. He kept all the court’s fine money for himself. In the last ten years of his life he turned philanthropic and made sure, for example, that the local school always had plenty of firewood.

How can I not admire a guy like that? Making something happen out in the empty desert, listening out on the back porch for the words of God, speaking, whispering, nearly silent, wondering about his own forgiveness, accepting what he could from the One who made him and knew him better than he knew himself.

Roy Bean wasn’t a preacher, but in his own way he brought life to the lives of many otherwise forgotten people. I notice, as I finish writing this, that the sun has risen, and the blue sky is beautiful out here in the mostly forgotten desert.

The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion. I will sing to the Lord, and praise the Lord, for he rescues my life.

(Jeremiah 20, Psalm 18, John 6, John 10)


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