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Riding along in my automobile

by davesandel on October 20th, 2021

Wednesday, October 20, 2021                                   (today’s lectionary)

Riding along in my automobile

Stephen Harrigan grew up in north Texas and now lives in Austin. Along with his close friend, neighbor and fellow writer Lawrence Wright, Harrigan is illustrious enough to be invited to choose a final resting place in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, somewhere near James Michener’s grave.

Like Michener, Harrigan writes historical novels like The Gates of the Alamo. But I first encountered him in his 900-page Big Wonderful Thing, a straight-up history of Texas titled from artist Georgia O’Keefe’s comment about Texas.

Harrigan writes little about his spiritual life. But of course he has one. “To me, the most important tool I have as a writer or as an historian is my car. I get in the car and I go to these places. For one thing, there’s the driving that gets you to the places. Then there’s the thinking time as you’re driving back and forth.” His solitude is precious to him.

Present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life, and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness. You are not under the law but under grace.

But just as his alone time matters, so does his time with fellow souls. “The best experiences I’ve ever had as a writer always come out of going to the places, talking to people if you can who’ve participated in whatever you’re writing about, and seeing it with your own eyes. Once it’s real to you, you can make it real to the reader.” Both his time alone and his time with others are precious to Harrigan, and in that appreciation his spirit grows strong. He is nurturing his relationship with God, no matter what he might or might not call it.

Thanks be to God that you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves to righteousness.

Becoming God’s servant might be more subtle than just calling myself one. As often as not, that kind of self-naming gets in the way of being a Christ-follower. Jesus’ parables always lift up the do-ers, not the say-ers. This “doing” requires imagination and initiative, assertiveness and persistence. It does not require words but action. And it’s rewarded with more responsibility and more expectation.

Who is the dependable manager, full of common sense, that the master puts in charge of his staff to feed them well and on time? He is a blessed man if when the master shows up he’s doing his job. But if he says to himself, ‘The master is certainly taking his time,’ begins beating up on the servants and maids, throws parties for his friends, and gets drunk, the master will walk in when he least expects it, give him the thrashing of his life, and put him back in the kitchen peeling potatoes. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

So much will happen in each of our lives. All around me, the same packed days enrich everyone else as well. What does it take for me to appreciate that and lift those others up? That is the best kind of evangelism. “What I wanted to do,” Harrigan says about Big Wonderful Thing, “is I wanted to make this book as personal as I could without being narcissistic. I want the reader to accompany me to the places I saw and the things I discovered.”

I’ve had these Harrigan quotes, waiting to be shared, for nearly a year. Today’s Psalm 124 brought them up and out. Life happens to us and threatens us with destruction. There is nothing much for us to say. But our help is in the name of the Lord.

When men rose up against us and would have swallowed us alive, when raging waters would have swept over us, when we would have been eaten we were instead rescued like birds in a snare. Broken was the snare, and we were freed. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

I love the words in this psalm, and in the parable of Jesus, and in the words of Paul. But like Harrigan, the last thing I want to do with this love is be narcissistic with it. For me that means what Jesus says, to gently and consistently serve those around me, not with words but deeds.

Perhaps they too will say, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” God only knows.

(Romans 6, Psalm 124, Matthew 24, Luke 12)

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