October 22, 1998
Surely The Lord Is In This Place;
And I Knew It Not
by The Rev. Robert B. Moore
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
Biography of Robert Buxton Moore
- Bob was born and raised in Long Beach' California. Upon leaving Poly High
School, he attended Stanford University where he majored in United States History. Two
years were spent in the U.S. Naval Reserves (active duty). Sensing a call to the Christian
ministry, Bob attended the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School where he graduated in 1956.
While there, he met Doris Klindt, and they were married at the Seminary in 1955.
pastor of the Gateway Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, for four years. He received his
M.A. in history from Arizona State University at Tempe in 1961. For five years he was on
the staff of the First Baptist Church of Redlands, serving as Youth Minister and Campus
Minister at the University of Redlands.In 1966 he began a teaching career at San Bernardino Valley College which lasted
twenty-nine years. He still teaches part-time. While at Valley, he taught the survey
course in U.S. History on a regular basis. Other courses taught were: The Revolutionary
War, The Civil War, the Second World War, the Vietnam War, Violence and Non-Violence in
U.S. History, Mexican-American History, the Black Religious Experience in America, and,
for twenty-five years' Religion in America.Bob is active in the First Baptist Church of Redlands, the Redlands Area Interfaith
Council, the Kiwanis Club of Redlands, the United Way, Inland Harvest, and the Redlands
Your Accountability Board.He and his wife, Doris, have two adult children --- Robert and Susan --- and two
grandchildren --- Travis Wayne Smith and Ellayne Annette Smith.
Finally (and relevant to this paper), Bob is a life-long, sentimental fan of the
Chicago Cubs. He hopes that his grandchildren live to see the day when a few of the World
Series games are played at Wrigley Field.
Bob described the story of Elmer McCurdy, gunned-down Oklahoma outlaw, whose mummy,
after neglect at a funeral home, became a side-show exhibit in Long Beach, and eventually
was returned to his previous home for burial in Guthrie, Oklahoma. In the same cemetery
Bob was moved when he saw the headstone of his great-grandparents that includes the words "In Christ". Bob included the story of Jacob and the stone dedicated to God.
This led to Bob's relating unexpected examples of God in common places, common
times, and common people. President Allan Griesemer thanked Bob for his inspirational
Surely The Lord Is In This
And I Knew It Not
Once upon a time there were three Elmers: (l) phony minister¾ Elmer Gantry; (2) Bugs Bunny's pathetic victim¾ Elmer Fudd;
(3) and then there was Elmer McCurdy. Now, who was Elmer McCurdy?Recently, I have developed an interest in our family history. As a result, in 1996
Doris and I flew to Oklahoma City and spent a week looking into ancestral roots. One day
our cousins drove us north of "The City" to Guthrie, territorial capital of one
hundred years ago. My mother, her siblings and parents lived in Guthrie in the 1890's. At
the Oklahoma Territorial Museum, we found information about the family, including the fact
that my great grandparents¾ Stephen and Laura Buxton¾ were buried in the town's Summit View Cemetery. Then, our young
woman helper added, "You might be interested to know about the most famous graveyard
residents there: Bill Doolin, leader of the famous outlaw gang, and Elmer McCurdy." Doolin, yes. But McCurdy? She began his story, and I was surprised. I had heard it years
ago. It connected with my birth and childhood home, Long Beach, California.We drove to the cemetery. Important, thoughtful moments at the family grave. Then over
to the last resting places of Bill Doolin and Elmer McCurdy.Who was this Elmer? Like Doolin a few feet away, an outlaw. Born in Maine about 1880,
he moved to Kansas in 1903, apparently drawn by a natural gas boom. He helped lay gas
lines, and was a respected plumber. Serving three years in the U.S. Army, his discharge
said that his service was "excellent, honorable, and faithful." (The Career of
Elmer McCurdy. Deceased. Richard J. Basgall, p. 64) However, he developed a drinking
problem, chose a few wrong friends, and got in trouble with the law. He turned to robbing
banks and trains, the last of which was the M.K. & T. ("Katy") in NE
Oklahoma in October 1911. They hit the wrong train; the safe was empty, and all they made
off with was small change and some whiskey. A posse set out to track down Elmer. He took
refuge at a ranch in the Osage Hills. A newspaper account tells what happened:Arriving there early in the night the posse of four men and their guide surrounded the
house, remaining concealed until daylight. They then communicated with Revard and at last
learned that the man for whom they were seeking was hid in a long hay shed which covered a
large rick of alfalfa. Revard was sent to the hay shed to ask him to surrender, as the
place was surrounded and escape would be impossible. His response was an oath, and for an
hour he continued to curse those who were seeking his capture. He could be heard talking,
and a number of times Revard was sent to ask him to surrender and avoid bloodshed.Bob Fenton, a deputy sheriff and a member of the posse, went to a well to get a drink
of water. The desperado called to him to throw up his hands. Waving his hands the officer
jumped back of a log shed just as both barrels of a shot gun were fired at him. A
fusillade of shots followed, the battle continuing for an hour before fatal shot ended the
bandit's life, his death having been instantaneous. It was found later that a bullet from
an automatic revolver carried by Bob Fenton, the man at whom he had fired, had ended his
life, striking him in the right side and ranging down through the lungs. When the officers
reached him the other jug of whiskey, with but a small amount of the liquor remaining in
it, was found beside his dead body. There for the first time it was found that they had
been trailing the much wanted Elmer McCurdy (sic).His body was taken to the Pawhuska, Oklahoma, funeral home where it was embalmed. No
relatives showed up, so he was headed for a pauper's grave. Dressed in a black suit and
tie, he was laid on a slab; but after a while, for lack of room, was stood in a corner.
Time passed, and Elmer ventured out on a new career. He became an object of keen interest.
In Redlands it may be the Lincoln Shrine, the Morey House, Kimberly Crest. In San Antonio,
the Alamo. In Pawhuska, it was the "badman", Elmer McCurdy. It was decided it
would be more fitting to dress him in his last bandit outfit, rifle in his hands. There he
stood for five years, ossified and very life-like. Stories abounded. One was that he was
fitted with roller skates and would surprise curious visitors by sliding out of the corner
at unexpected moments!
The owner of the traveling "Great Patterson Carnival Shows" heard of Elmer,
bought him and put him on exhibit throughout Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. He passed into
the hands of Louis Sonney of Los Angeles, who also had a road show. It featured a
"Museum of Crime" with wax figures of the famous outlaws of the West --- Bill
Doolin, Jesse James and now, Elmer McCurdy (not wax!). He changed hands again, and in 1971
ended up far from home with other dummies at the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, CA.
Displayed out front he was billed as "The 1000-Year-Old Man". After five years,
a bit worse for the wear, he was moved inside the "Laff In the Dark" funhouse.
On Tuesday, December 7, 1976, the building was closed to the public for the filming of an
episode of the TV series, "Six-Million Dollar Man". As Basgall continues the
Working quickly in the dim work lights, several crew members pushed the little cars
into a row, removed the partitions, and took down the "black" lights. They
stacked the stuffed gorilla, the leering Dracula, and the dancing skeleton in a corner. A
prop man began to take down what looked like the figure of a shrivelled-up old man. He was
hanging by his neck from a rope in the ceiling. He had been painted several times with
phosphorescent paint, making him glow in the dark. He was nude.
The prop man grabbed the figure under its right arm and reached up to loosen the noose
around its neck. As he jerked at the noose, he felt something hit his foot. He looked down
and saw the lower half of the figure's right arm on the floor. Apparently, it had broken
off at the elbow.
He took out a roll of electrical tape, picked up the forearm, and tried to fit it back.
It wouldn't fit. He twisted it several times, but he still couldn't get a clean, tight
fit. He looked closely at the upper arm and noticed a piece of wire dangling from above
the elbow socket. It had been broken off before and had been wired back together.
He braced the upper arm from behind and jammed the broken forearm up hard into the
elbow socket. As he did so, a piece of the upper arm broke off. It was as hard and as
brittle as old shoe leather. He looked closely at the dull, white substance beneath. He
ran his finger over what appeared to be bone.
He looked up at the paint-streaked face, the rounded, not quite closed eyelids, the
partially opened mouth with just the tips of the teeth showing.
'`I thought it was just some crummy dummy," he later said. (p. 13)
The Long Beach Police Department was contacted, determined it was, indeed, a mummified
body, and turned it over to the Los Angeles County Coroners Office. Amazingly, a search
traced back to Oklahoma, 1911, and identified the remains of our Elmer McCurdy. Returned
home, he was buried in a serious and dignified graveside service. (More about this later.)
A better-known figure from the past is Jacob --- son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham goof
Old Testament or Torah fame. The Bible tells of a trip Jacob took one day (Genesis
28:10-22). At sunset he camped, then fell asleep.
"resting his head on a stone. He dreamed that he saw. a stairway reaching from
earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down on it. And there was the LORD,
standing beside him. 'I am the LORD, the God of Abraham and Isaac', he said. 'I will give
to you and your descendants this land on which you are lying. They will be as numerous as
the specks of dust on the earth. They will extend their territory in all directions, and
through you and your descendants I will bless all the nations...'
Jacob woke up and said, 'Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not!' When he
awoke, Jacob took a stone and dedicated it to God, establishing a memorial at this place
he named Bethel ' (house of God).
The friend who invited me to visit the Fortnightly Club and recommended me for
membership a number of years ago, also gave some personal advice: "In our papers we
do not discuss politics or religion." I guess he may have been worried, since I was a
Christian minister, and former preacher! It seemed strange advice for a group such as this
where, presumably, "anything goes" from this pulpit...er, pardon me, lectern! At
any rate, today I am ignoring his advice, with respect. Please keep in mind that there is
no intent to evangelize or convert here. Rather, it is a simple sharing of what seems to
be true to me, and may have interest for you.
What in the world have Elmer McCurdy and Jacob in common? Elmer, the unknown and
insignificant. Jacob, the famous and important patriarch for Jew, Christian and Muslim.
But --- was Elmer totally unimportant? To everyone? Then? Now? And, as for Jacob, at
the time of the ladder dream and the Bethel stone, he, too, was a "nobody", in a
"no-place" corner of the world, at a "no-special-time" so very long
Some believe that there is no God, or, that if there is, He/She is far removed,
uninvolved and unconcerned about what goes on here on this speck of earth.
The faith position of this paper is that the Creator-God was and is and will be present
in His world everywhere and at all times. The faith position here is that He/She is
present in what we call "common" time, "common" places, and
"common" people in important and real ways. "Surely, the Lord is in this
place, and we knew it not...(for)...this is none other but the house of God, and this is
the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:16-17).
As for "common" time ...
Certainly, for millions, God is present in uncommon, special times. At the moments of
birth, marriage, death. For the Jew --- Passover; for the Christian --- Holy Week; for the
But many of us find Him present in the "common", the everyday, the routine:
at meals, in the breaking of bread; on seeing a friend; in the excitement of a child; a
moment of inspiration from a story on TV.
11:00 A.M. Sunday morning is a special time for many Christians. Yet, as I taught at
San Bernardino Valley College, sometimes I felt that the class time there was as sacred,
because of a sincere search for truth, and a respect for individual differences in the
How common are our wake-up moments, day after day. In one of those moments two years
ago, I sensed the words ("Go to Guthrie") repeated several times. We did, and
the trip was a special gift to us. Certainly, that morning experience could easily have a
natural explanation, but... I wonder.
In the New Testament are the words, "In the Lord's sight, 1000 years are as a day,
and a day is as 1000 years" (II Peter 3:8). The first idea humbles us. But the
second... what a powerful idea! The holy importance of this day, this moment. As someone
has said, "God is in the details."
As for the "common" place -
Yes, as far as places go, God is present in the un-common, the special. Spectacular
sunsets. Viewing the awesome Niagara Falls, or the fabulous beauty of Yosemite Valley.
Standing at Pearl Harbor on the memorial over the U.S.S. Arizona, filled with sadness and
respect for those who gave their lives that morning long ago. Rounding a street corner in
London and coming suddenly upon the huge, majestic St. Paul's Cathedral. Tears coming to
my eyes, remembering the Battle of Britain in 1940, the photo of the smoke from the bombs
enveloping the church...but the lights of the fires that night, illuminating the church,
so solid, symbolizing courage, survival, and the ultimate triumph over evil.
But belief and faith may lead one to believe that God is ever-present in non-special, "common" places, too, if we are ready and available. Said Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, "Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but
only he who sees takes off his shoes." Or Marcel Proust: "The real voyage of
discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
More moving to me than the famous holy sites in Jerusalem, were the tiny desert flowers
on a rocky hillside in a moment of reflection ("the lilies of the field"). And
in another special moment of family love, hearing the voice over the phone of our son way
off in California, saying to his Mom and me...because of the connection..."You sound
like Mickey and Minnie Mouse!" Or walking in a small wooded area of urban Madison,
Wisconsin, surprised in October to see standing tall in the fallen autumn leaves, one
lone, bright Easter lily ... an obvious reminder of resurrection at a time of nature's
Or the old gymnasium at the University of Redlands. One scorching August morning this
summer I walked out of the Armacost Library to a strange sight. Atop the gym, straddling
the roof peak was a human figure I- standing erect, arms raised against the pure, blue
sky. Like a meuzzin in the mosque minaret calling the faithful to prayer. Like Kunta Kinte
in Alex Haley's, Roots. holding his new boy-child aloft to the sky. Our man was a part of
a roofing repair crew, and held to his lips a water jug. The stark sight spoke to me of
the dignity of his world...a hot and dirty job...and how we depend upon the roofer to do
his job well.
Or the kitchen in our home as our five-year-old daughter, resuming from a two week trip
away with her mother, sees me, runs and throws her arms around me with a huge bear-hug,
and simply says one word: "Daddy!"
Or...the other side of that coin...on the three-deck Catalina ferryboat one summer. On
the way home from a fun week as a family in Avalon. But where is young Bobby? He likes to
explore and climb on everything. I search the three decks for ten minutes, panic growing
by the minute. Experiencing for the very first time in my life full-blown terror I can
feel even as I write: the heavy side of love.
It seems that God is ever-present in time, in all places and in all people.
True, He/She is in un-cornmon, special people: Lincoln, Dr. King, Jonas Salk, Marian
Anderson...and your list of the "greats". '
More powerful to me day by day are not the kings, the presidents, the `'stars",
the computer wizards...in short, not "the rich and the famous "but rather, the
"common", the "nobodies". Not the "Who's Who?", but the
`'Who's He?" and "Who's She?"
A friend, Frank Serrao, once said, "Bob, you always seem to be for the
underdog." I suppose that goes back to childhood church training and experience, plus
growing up with parents who treated all kinds of people with courtesy and respect.
Someone has said, "Who is wise, The person who learns from everyone."
Custodians, plumbers, street repairers, "street people",
cooks-waiters-waitresses, secretaries, flight attendants, cops, bus drivers. People who
give their time, energies and lives in caring for children¾ those who so often in our society don't seem to count for much. People with compassion for
the elderly. The lady in Smiley Library, sitting at a table in the reading room, helping
another grown-up woman learn how to read, from a first-grade reader. Those working to help
kids in trouble. Kids trying to stay out of trouble. Students who need to study, hold down
a job and, maybe, manage a family, too. (See my earlier Fortnightly paper, "Students
are Teachers, Too").
The auto mechanic who comes to our rescue when we haven't a clue how to fix it. CBS
recently ran a news series called "Dirty Mechanics", focused on the dishonest. I
wonder if they would feature a program labeled "Dirty Doctors"? Our strange
sense of priorities and values sometimes. Especially since our lives depend on the skills
of the mechanic every bit as much as the doctor.
Words attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "God must have loved the common man; he made
so many." In part our feelings for Lincoln somehow relate to the idea that,
extraordinary as he was, he was still, like us, common clay.
One of my wife's and my favorite TV programs is "Mystery" on PBS weekly:
Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marpole, Inspector Morse, Inspector Maigret. Doris' favorite is P.D.
James' Commander Dalgliesh. Mine is the old, crusty, dumpy English barrister (lawyer)
Last spring I had a respiratory infection that put me low for six weeks. Along with my
wife's care, it was the book of stories of Horace that pulled me through!
In the case "Rumpole and the Model Prisoner" (Rumpole and the Angel of Ouch
Viking Press, 1995), creator John Mortimer tells of Horace being formally invited to
prison to see the inmates' production of Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Says
I had been to Worsfield gaol regularly over the years and never without breathing a
sigh or relief, and gulping in all the fresh air available, after the last screw had
turned the last lock and released me from custody. I never thought of going there to
explore the magical charm of a wood near Athens.
'Hilda,' I said, taking a swig of rapidly cooling coffee and lining myself up for a
quick dash to the Underground, 'can you prove your identity?'
'Is that meant to be funny, Rumpole?' Hilda was deep in the lazily Telegraph and
'I mean, if you can satisfy the authorities you're really She --- I mean (here I
corrected myself hastily) that you're my wife, I'll try for another ticket and we can go
to the theatre together.'
'What's come over you, Rumpole? We haven't been to the theatre together for three years
--- or whenever Claude last dragged you to the opera.'
'Then it's about time,' I said, 'we went to the Koreans.'
'The Midsummer Night's one.'
'Where is it?' Hilda seemed prepared to put her toe in the water. The
'Not exactly. It's in Her Majesty's Prison, Worsfield. Fifteenth September. Seven p.m.
'You mean you want to take me to Shakespeare done by criminals?'
'Done, but not done in, I hope.'
'Anyway' --- She Who Must Be Obeyed found a cast-iron alibi --- 'that's my evening at
the bridge school with Marigold Featherstone.'
Hilda, I thought, like most of the non-criminal classes, likes to think that those
sentenced simply disappear off the face of the earth. Very few of us wonder about their
wasted lives, or worry about the slums in which they are confined, or, indeed, remember
them at all.
'You'll have to go on your own, Rumpole,' she said. 'I'm sure you'll have lots of
friends there, and they'll all be delighted to see you. '
'Plenty of your mates in here, eh, Ad. Rumpole? They'll all be glad to see you, I don't
doubt.' I thought it remarkable that both She Who Must Be Obeyed and the screw who was
slowly and carefully going over my body with some form of metal detector should have the
same heavy-handed and not particularly diverting sense of humour.
'I have come for William Shakespeare,' I said with all the dignity I could muster. 'I
don't believe he's an inmate here. Nor have I ever been called upon to defend him.' (pp.
He then describes the jail, built in the 1 850's, as a "granite-faced castle of
despair" ..designed to "deter the passers-by from any thoughts of
evil-doing" (much, I thought, like the Arizona prison just west of Phoenix on
Interstate 10)... and "a place to be pointed out as a warning to shuddering
children." He tells of the "smell of stale air, unemptied chamber-pots and
greasy cooking" and the "prison pallor". Coming to the chapel for the play,
We were a segregated audience, divided by the aisle. On one side, like friends of the
groom, sat the inmates in grey prison clothes and striped shirts --- and trainers
(which I used to call sand-shoes when I was a boy) were apparently allowed. On the other
side, the friends of the bride, were the great and the good, the professional caters and
concerned operators of a curious and notoriously unsuccessful system. Of the two sides, it
was the friends of the groom who coughed and fidgeted less, laughed more loudly and seemed
more deeply involved in the magic that unfolded before them: (p. 4)
Concludes the prisoners' friend, Horace Rurnpole of the Old Bailey, "I'm a black
taxi plying for hire. I'm bound to accept anyone, however repulsive, who waves me down and
asks for a lift" (p. 136).
Some of the examples used in this paper are not ones usually given to illustrate what
most people would call "successes" in life. In fact, just the opposite.
"Success" can be a worthy goal. We would all like to be successful. We would
like our children to be...our team, our nation.
The problem comes, of course, as we attempt to define "success". Why do some
of life's most "successful" people, as generally interpreted, seem unhappy and
bored and empty? Why did my best childhood friend, at age 59 nine years ago decide to end
his life? He shot himself. He was a millionaire.
Sometimes the Bible assumes that success can be measured in material ways. Take the
story of Job. His friends took it for granted that he must have sinned to have lost
everything. Jesus healed a man born blind. The religious leaders did not rejoice. Instead,
they were puzzled and asked: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?", that he was
Our American values are often much the same. Who makes the most money, has the "best" job, is a "winner", has children who are "achievers"?
Someone compared Michael Jordan's salary to that of Bill Gates. To have the equivalent
wealth of Gates, Jordan would have to save 100% of his income for 270 years! Small matter
both of them are great examples of "success" in our society.
A century ago, Social Darwinist William Graham Sumner said: "Let it be understood
that we cannot go outside of this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the
fittest; not liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society
forward and favors all its best members, the latter carries society downwards and favors
all its worst members." (Social Darwinism in American Thought, Richard Hofstadter,
Beacon Press, 1955, p; 51) He goes on: "The millionaires are a product of natural
selection...They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for
society" (Ibid ~
As millionaire John D. Rockefeller said, "The growth of a large business is merely
a survival of the fittest...The American Beauty rose can be produced in the splendor and
fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow
up around it. This is not an evil thing in business. It is merely the working out of a law
of nature and a law of God" (Il2il.).
Again, how does one decide who are the "fittest", the "best"...the
"unfittest", the `'worst"? Who are to be the judges? Are their values the
When starting to think through this project, I went to the computer for our Library
holdings at San Bernardino Valley College, and looked up "failure". There were
ten entries, such as "Failure in Business", "Failure of Banks",
"Failure of Engineering Systems", "Failure of Solids", "Failures
Structural", 'Failure to Assist in Emergencies". Only two entries might have
been helpful in a study of our failures as human beings: "Failure Psychology",
and "Failure School".
Then I looked up the word "success". Not ten entries, but 266!
Is this paper meant to praise "failure" and condemn "success"? Not
at all. Rather, to think about the ideas on a deeper level. In so doing we may be better
able to sense values in failure. I like that term "Failure School" in the
computer list for the Library.
The fact of life is, of course, that we all fail. To fail is human.
I took a few minutes to draw up a list of successes and failures in my life. Failures
seemed to win out! (Much as even the greatest baseball hitters like Mark McGwire and Sammy
Sosa don't reach first base most of the time.) As a bookworm-kid in school, I can still
feel the pain of being just about the last chosen for the team...and the fear of a ball
being hit out there to right field. With a major inferiority complex, always the fear of
what others thought of me. Joining a high school fraternity...a big mistake for I never
felt that I really belonged. Not being admitted to my college's graduate school because my
grades were not good enough. Being "just" a "J.C." teacher for thirty
years instead of being at a "real" college. Living on the "old"
Northside of Redlands -- the "wrong" side --- for thirty-five years. A Democrat
in this Republican fortress! As they say these days, "Get a life!''
You, too, could draw up your own list.
Of course, some of our "failures" are imagined, at times not really failures
at all. Some, however... and some too personal to share...have been genuine failures, and
But even here --- "Surely, the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."
My four undergraduate years at Stanford were happy ones. To be turned down for graduate
school there was not a happy experience. I was admixed at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison. Then, another disappointment. The failure of the diplomats and peacemakers led to
the Korean War. I served in the armed forces for two years. During that time, I felt the
call to the Christian ministry and went north to the Berkeley Baptist Divinity School
where I spent three wonderful years. All the more wonderful because that's where I met
Doris Klindt, my wife-to-be. Doris was from what state? Wisconsin. If I had had my way and
gone directly to graduate school in Madison, and had not had to take those two years out
of my life in the service. .ironically, I would never have met the woman who has brought
me such joy in life. "The Lord moves in mysterious ways..."
Jacob --- living at a "not important" time in history, out in
"nowhere", and a "nobody" himself: And then after his experience with
God, he sets up a "nothing-important" as a thank offering: a stone!
Recently, in his talk to Fortnightly, Allan Griesemer ("The Earth's Version of the
Old Bump and Grind: Plate Techtonics", 1998), apologized for talking about a subject
as non-exciting as --"just rocks". A few days later in Mill Creek Canyon,
remembering his remark, I picked up a few common rocks, looked intently, and was moved by
Stanley Korfmacher reminded us ("The Lure and Love of Gem Stones", 1998),
that some stones are really more valuable than the fabled "precious gems".
Examples of so-called "failures" (or, at least, non-successes,' according to
many people) are all about us. Can we learn something of value from them? Is there such a
thing as "Failure School'? Can we be inspired by them, perhaps even changed by the
Single parents whose marriages have sadly ended, and for whom life is not easy. Cary
Clack, a sensitive writer for the San Antonio (Texas) Express News in his Mother's Day
column this year, had special words for single moms: "Regardless of why they're
single, through divorce, death, choice or mistake, most single mothers stand out in their
love for their children and dedication to making a better life for them...most single
mothers are heroines who create dreams for their children and help them climb the ladder
to reach those dreams."
Young people who have had trouble in school, for all sorts of reasons, but who return
to get their diploma years later...and the courage that requires.
Youth in trouble...like the arrested teen who committed senseless acts of vandalism,
out of disrespect for the rights of others. Appearing before the Redlands Youth
Accountability Board, his attitude seemed hopeless. A dismal future seemed to lie ahead.
But then we learned that he had written a letter of apology. Asked to read it aloud, the
panel was impressed by his thoughts and by his apparent sincerity and by his ability to
express himself. Then the members learned that he had just received a plaque at Mission
School as 'Student of the Week". Our spirits were lifted. Here was hope for him after
Even "street people"? Like Robert Jordan, brutally murdered in Redlands. A
failure of a life, most would judge. But not Gary George, who was outraged by the act, and
arranged a dignified, public candlelight service for Mr. Jordan.
Outsiders. Like Julia, our elementary school classmate in Long Beach. Fellows joked
about how fat and ugly she was. Never invited to anything. Left out. Ah, but, forty years
later, seeing Julia at a class reunion --- slim, well-groomed, classy, self-confident. An
elementary school principal...and probably a sensitive, caring one with children who were
treated as outsiders. She knew what it was like.
The ruined veteran...broken and defeated by the Vietnam War. His life a mess. In jail.
But, miraculously, a religious birth of soul. Life completely turned around. He becomes a
leader and servant of his fellow-veterans who have been wounded in body, mind and spirit.
Star quarterback, defeated. Ryan Leaf, heralded hero of the Washington State Cougars
(now a pro with the San Diego Chargers). WSU loses a cliff-hanger to the University of
Michigan Wolverines in the '98 Rose Bowl. In the pandemonium on the field after the final
gun, the TV camera catches Leaf instantly running over to the UM quarterback and giving
him a big, enthusiastic hug. What class!
Heroes in death. Don Singer's paper recently given to Fortnightly was hard to listen
Such cruel destruction of European Jews, not by the Nazis, but centuries ago in the
And yet, the power of the faith and courage of those who went to their deaths rather
than reject their beloved Judaism, accept Christianity and live!
"Primitive'' Africa. (But what do we mean by "primitive"?) In one
African tribe, a teen-ager commits a crime against his people. His punishment? The men
gather in a circle and put the boy in the center. They tell him how he has done wrong, how
he has hurt them. But then, going around the circle, each one shares with the boy the good
things about him- his strengths, his fine qualities.
One morning earlier this year when I went out to get the morning papers, I noticed a
folded and crinkled piece of paper in the street. Picking it up, I found that it was a
typed letter by a soccer coach to the parents of his players. Here's the first part of it:
Although we have not won a game yet, I do feel that we are progressing just like I had
hoped we would. The boys are playing their hearts out and they are learning how to play
soccer instead of kickball. Essentially, we are undoing years of bad habits and we are
attempting to advance their soccer skills to a point to where they will be able to compete
I know this sounds rather apologetic, but I guess I sort of feel bad that we have not
won a game yet. But I suppose that we must maintain our course and remember that our main
objective is to let the boys have fun and I hope your boys are having fun..."
That young soccer team's experience of not winning a game so far reminded me of my
first year in college. Our team lost every game that season. It was embarrassing. When the
score was close, I would write home and tell Mom and Dad about the "moral
victory". After awhile, I got ribbed about all those "moral victories".
Strange to say, that season was more fun than all the others. The team tried its best, the
fans yelled their lungs out, and there was always hope for next Saturday. ("The only
way to go was up!")
Ultimately, no matter what the won-loss record in life, we all will fail in one
important sense. We will die. (That depends, of course, on what we mean by "failure" and what we mean by "die". And that depends upon our faith.)
But our lives here on earth will come to an end, and most of us would like to live, at
least a while longer.
Someone has said, "We live in moments, not in days." One such moment came to
me on our trip to Israel in 1983. I stood looking at the collections in the Rockefeller
Museum¾ in particular, an object in a glass case. It was a
human skull. As I gazed into the sockets of eyes and mouth, the words came to my mind, "As I am, so you shall be." It was a sobering experience.
Standing at another place of death, the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma, I
beheld my great-grandparents' tombstone. They died long before I was born. On the Vermont
marble tombstone were these words:
STEPHEN A. BUXTON
LAURA S. HAYNES
HIS WIFE 1825-1899
Seeing the words "IN CHRIST", I was deeply moved, and have been ever since. I
realized the importance to my life of Stephen and Laura. Their lives reached out far
beyond their gravesite to a great-grandson they never knew in this life. I know next to
nothing about Stephen and Laura, but, in those two words, I reamed of something that was
very special to them...indeed, sacred. A Century later that faith is sacred to me, too.
We are fortunate if we come to view our lives, and all persons' lives, as sacred
journeys. It has been said, "Just to live is holy; just to be is a blessing."
Many times we don't sense that truth, perhaps because of the many daily distractions we
experience, perhaps because of our failures on the journey. Sometimes we take the wrong
turns, follow the wrong directions, make the wrong choices. We get lost.
Daniel Boone knew all about physical journeys. He was on the road nearly all of his
life. At age 80 he traveled from the home he built decades earlier in Defiance, Missouri,
to Yellowstone in
Wyoming. Someone once asked him, "Did you ever lose your way?" His answer,
"No, but one time was bewildered for three days."
At time of my "bewilderment", fellow-journeyers have helped along the way.
One such is Oswald Chambers who, years ago, wrote what was to become a Christian
devotional classic of daily devotional readings, My Utmost for His Highest. For July 28th,
"We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He
will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God's purpose
for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to
a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end
is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end.
What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His
purpose now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the
end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the
process¾ that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in
sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainly that it is all right because I see
Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.
God's training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for
something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience
God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If
we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate
present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is
Another who has inspired so many on their spirit journey has been Mother Theresa, who
said, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."
Unknown, "common" people often rise up to inspire us: a musician who performs
though profoundly deaf, a railway conductor who risks his life to get a small child off
the track just in time, a Redlands fireman who jumps into the flood-swollen Zanja creek to
save a desperate boy.
As for most of us, our influence may not be that dramatic. But when we see our daily
lives as holy gifts, our journeys will take on the sacred. As has been said, "Revelation is always measured by capacity" (Margaret Fairless Barber). The
capacity to sense, feel, imagine, see deeply into the mystery of life.
"Surely, the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." Now... in this
place...with every person.
Do you remember Elmer McCurdy? His life came to a close in 1911 . His earthly journey
concluded one April day in 1977 at the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Says his
biographer, Richard Basgall, "The morning of the funeral dawned grey and overcast.
There was a very fine mist in the air. Elmer's body was brought down from Oklahoma City
and turned over to the Smith Funeral Home in Guthrie. Some had wanted to open the coffin
before the funeral, but Fred and Jay Chapman said no." At graveside, the gathered
crowd was reminded that this was "not a mock funeral". Instead, it was to be a
"real funeral...done in a solemn and dignified manner...as though this man-had just
died." (pp. 248-249)
I close with the words spoken by Glenn Jordan. They would not have been said at the
time of Elmer's death; but, on reflection years later, bear remarkable truth. In the
context of Oklahoma history, Jordan said:
. . .
...despite our pride in past accomplishments, these ancestors like ourselves, were not
perfect, mistakes were made and sins committed. The Indian did not always use his
environment wisely and fought a cruel and savage war against changes he could not prevent.
The soldier occasionally practiced deceit, deception, dishonesty and cruelty against the
Indians he was assigned to assist and protect. The cattleman overgrazed the range and
actively opposed the entrance of anyone on what he considered his private domain. The
farmers arrival was often illegal as evidenced by the term "Sooner' and, when
he did come, he "sowed the wind" by plowing up the prairie sod thereby
destroying the ecological balance and, of course, "reaped the whirlwind" with
the coming of the dust bowl days. The minister sought to impose his values of society and
Christianity upon the Indian and, in so doing, assisted in the almost total destruction of
native culture. The miner and roughneck extracted and exploited the natural resources with
limited concern for the immediate and none for the future. The lawman, despite all of the
good that he did, was not always consistent in his application of justice. The outlaw, as
consistent as he was in his actions, was "a blight on the land" and, in spite of
the hero worship by some who saw him as a native Robin Hood, had to be removed.
Yet to all of these people, even a Bill Doolin and Elmer McCurdy, we offer
understanding and forgiveness. We were not there and we do not know the circumstances and
conditions that made our ancestors act as they did. We must be careful to "judge not
lest you be judged." We simply affirm that all concerned -- white and Indian,
cattleman and farmer' lawman and outlaw -- are a part of Oklahoma's heritage.
"By now, the fine mist had turned to a light drizzle... Slowly, they lowered the
coffin into the grave. After it was down, a girl from the ninth grade History Club came up
and dropped in a single, red rose." (p.232)