Monday, April 03, 2017

Lent: Light

Winter is a dark time in Hoover Point, and when the temperature gets low and the frost lingers on the ground past 11 in the morning, the people of Hoover Point begin stocking up on candles, blankets and water.

That's because the last major civic project was run by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Come January, everyone knows that the power will fail every time it rains, snows or gets wet; and the water mains will break every other week, right as clockwork. You can set your calendar by it. If you're really good, you can even figure out where you are by which water main or branch has broken.

Theophila Shula, when she was on the Hoover Point Town Council, had the idea to use this to draw carloads of tourists into town, bringing enough spending money with them to fix the town's roads.

Signs dutifully appeared all over the state, declaring Hoover Point as the destination for family vacations. “An entire community still with its original plumbing!” the signs boasted. “While you're here, come meet Bossie the Goat!” Bossie had won an honorable mention at the livestock fair, making her our first local celebrity since 1946, when Edith Magpie had swooned after shaking hands with Jimmy Stewart on vacation and rode in an actual ambulance to the hospital.

Councilwoman Shula was determined not to squander an opportunity like that one, not like previous town councils had done with Ellen Magpie. Ellen Magpie had finally passed away in 1973, without ever bringing anyone to town except for her cousin Cyrus.

The tourism effort was declared an overwhelming success when the Steadman family and their dog, Hooper, rolled into town one bright January midday and stopped at Lou's gas station at the edge of town.

The tourism board and its welcoming committee promptly convened and raced to Lou's gas station to meet our first tourists in memory. There they found Elizabeth Steadman muttering about being lost and trying to find the way back to the highway; her husband, Roy Steadman, complaining about the sheet of ice covering the main road because of a water main that had broken; and their children, Loki and Sandy Steadman, complaining that they were hungry.

As for their dog, Hooper, he had escaped the car when Mrs. Steadman opened the door to get stretch her legs and buy some gas. Hooper had proceeded to jump a fence, and was chasing Bossie around her pen as fast as the she would go.

The family took no interest in waiting for the next scheduled tour of the municipal plumbing at one o'clock, nor for a chance to watch crews from the Public Works Department as they labored to fix the transformers that had blown out from the fog six days earlier.

Instead they simply left town 20 minutes later, after retrieving their dog from Bossie's pen, and after buying nothing more than $35 worth of gas and a six-month-old Slim Jim from Lou's gas station. On behalf of the tourism board and its welcoming committee, Councilwoman Shula watched them go with a philosophical detachment that suited Hoover Point.

“They were probably Methodists anyway,” she said.

There was no denying, it was an even darker time that February. The water main on Johnson Avenue broke for the second time in two months and the transformers blew out again after a particularly bad fog, and plunged the entire town into darkness when there were almost no candles left. Worse, the wind smelled like frozen cow manure on account of the farm Old Man Cahill kept on his side of the Albany River. The final insult was that Bossie the Goat had eaten Councilwoman Shula's hat during a photo op to boost the town's tourism industry, which hadn't had any new breakthroughs since the Steadmans' visit.

Light came, as it always did, in announcements about the upcoming annual revival service in July. Organized by the Ladies Mission Society of Hoover Point, the revival service was the main social event of the year. Everyone looked forward to it, no matter what church they went to, even the Lutherans.

The revival was an old-fashioned tent meeting that came after a community picnic the likes of which was never seen outside Hoover Point. Ellie Park always brought the powdered doughnuts she had learned to make in Paris once, and everyone else always brought the food they had learned to make from their mothers.

There would be hot fresh buttered cornbread, twenty-seven different kinds of roast pork, fifteen different types of roast chicken, nineteen kinds of potato salad and sixteen kinds of macaroni salad, to say nothing of the lemonade, cakes. It was enough to make you start salivating even though it was only March.

Even the Feinsteins promised to come, even though they were Jewish and not Christian. Each year they brought something called gelfite fish, to go with something else that they called Moo Goo Gai Pan and insisted was a traditional Jewish dish.

The revival ran for a week, and every evening just before sundown people would gather by the big tent in the park and argue over whose turn it was to sit under the tent, and who had to sit outside the tent and listen at a distance.

As the service went on, the Spirit would begin to move and the Pentecostals would start whooping and hollering while the decent Baptist folk watched nervously, and the Presbyterians would sit so still that every now and then the doctor would have to walk past their seats and make sure that they were still breathing. (They always were, except for one summer when he noticed that Ross Van Cleef had been sitting in the same chair for three nights in a row and the doctor became suspicious that he might not just be getting there early and claiming his favorite seat before everyone else arrived.)

And now the Ladies Mission Society announced that it was bringing in the legendary Amos MacPherson for the annual revival, a man so close to God that he was known as God's Light-Bearer.

Amos MacPherson had taken the light of the gospel to the darkest places in the world in his time. He had gone to Africa, where he had brought revival to an entire city in Sudan. He had gone to India, and planted a church that now had 10,000 members. He had traveled into the jungle in South America and reached a dozen different tribes.

Once he even had gone under the bleachers at a high school football game and brought eight teenagers back out into the light with him.

And now he was coming here.

Six weeks before his arrival, posters appeared all over Hoover Point. “The Dawning of the Light!” they shouted. “Amos MacPherson, God's Light-Bearer!” “Healings!” the posters promised. “Revelation!” they declared. “You will see the light – you will be changed! You WILL thank him for coming.”

Before the spirit of revival could begin, the spirit of preparation had to do its work. The men of town went to the campground and removed all the beer bottles that had gathered in the past year, cleared the dead brush, saw that the fence was sturdy and that the campground sign was freshly painted, and removed the newest round of beer bottles to gather since the work began.

The ladies of Hoover Point meanwhile kept themselves busy preparing in their own way. Nice dresses were pulled from the closet and mended. Amelia Cheesit once had attended a revival service with a dress that had a small tear under the left arm, and that, everyone knew, was the only thing worse than attending a revival wearing the same dress as the previous year. In some extreme cases, entirely new dresses would need to be bought or even made.

Pastors prepared sermons urging people to attend the revival series. Days before the Dawning of the Light, Daisy Miller announced that she had discovered a seventeenth kind of macaroni salad; and as the entire town drooled, Ezayi Benamoz and Alexander Smith began preparing their secret sauces for their pulled pork.

And then the day came. Everyone agreed that tear in Kurt Wenz's pants knee was regrettable, but not as bad as the tear Amelia Cheesit had once had, and Councilwoman Theophila Shula's new hat was even better than the one Bossie the Goat had eaten. Opinion was split on whether Daisy Miller's macaroni salad really counted as a new variety since all she had done was to change the type of onion she chopped for it, but the consensus was that Ezayi Benamoz once again had crushed his arch-rival in the pulled pork department.

So, well-fed and weary of the darkness, the entire town turned out for the Dawning of the Light to hear Amos MacPherson preach.

It was a sermon for the ages.

Amos MacPherson shined God's light into the darkest places of our souls. He spoke about our wretchedness and sinfulness, warning that the wages of sin is death with such passion and conviction that by the end of the first night, the entire kindergarten class of the Danae Llavsa Elementary School had confessed to taking extra cookies when the cafeteria staff wasn't looking.

Revival tarried, so on the second night, Amos MacPherson shined the light of God over our heads. He pointed to the stars in the heavens, explained that God had made light on the way from the stars before he even made the stars, and that God was lofty and mighty and so far above us that we were less before him than the worms were beneath him.

By the time he finished that sermon, it was past midnight. The entire high school astronomy club had renounced their telescopes as the devil's handiwork and vowed to study earthworms, while the entire high school invertebrates club had announced their newfound God-inspired interest in astronomy.

Revival still tarried, and people began to wonder what horrible sin was at work in our community. The whispers grew and speculation ran wild, so that when revival still tarried on Wednesday, the pastors and elders of the churches in Hoover Point met in private to ferret it out. We would all be thankful, they vowed, once we had rooted out the sin and corruption in our community that were keeping God at bay.

On Thursday night, the bomb hit. Before Amos MacPherson could come before us and shine God's light onto us, the Rev. Greenwood came out and took the podium.

“After much prayer today with the other pastors and elders of Hoover Point, I have decided today to submit my resignation as pastor of Hoover Point Lutheran Church,” he said, with such solemnity that even the Presbyterians were impressed.

He went on, and discussed the sin of divorce, and explained that as such a divorced minister, he was deeply flawed and had come to the conclusion that he was blocking the outpouring of God's spirit upon the community and upon his flock that they so desperately wanted. There was more but I don't think anyone heard it, we were all stunned.

We all knew that the Rev. Greenwood – Pastor Bob, we all called him when we were in his office with him – was divorced. He and his first wife had split three years before he came to Hoover Point, and two years after he had moved here, he had taken up with Lisa Anglewood and eventually married her, even though she had been a Baptist until then.

In the seventeen years since then, Pastor Bob had been a warm, caring man who more than a dozen couples from around town had credited with saving their marriages. He was known not just in Hoover Point but over at Old Man Cahill's farm and among the other people outside town limits as a good listener, a decent guitarist and one of the worst euchre players in the county. The thought that God wouldn't deal with us because of Pastor Bob's sin was a sobering one.

The night and in the days that followed we were forced to ask ourselves what sin looked like, and if we might have misunderstood it. We started to think about grace instead of sin, and about light instead of darkness. Some people (primarily the Lutherans, who convinced Pastor Bob to stay) say that we began to have a revival for the first time in ages.

Thanks, Gods Light-Bearer. The light did dawn that year, and we owe you for it.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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