a lightshow

It was already past bedtime, but Dad asked if I wanted to go sit on the back porch and watch the lightshow.  I asked what he meant, and he said that we were due for 15 minutes of rain in a week of dry, and that lightning storms were perking up in the middle of the valley.We went out back.  After a few minutes, Dad asked if I had my camera.  I did, but not the tripod.  So I borrowed his. After about five more minutes, Dad asked if I wanted a glass of wine.  He came back with that and two plates of Mom’s rhubarb torte.

After ten minutes of shooting 10 and 15 second exposures by hand, Dad said I should get one of those handheld remote buttons.  I said I had one, and went inside to get it.  After catching a few strikes, I settled on what I thought was a good combination of exposure time and aperture.

We were shooting from the porch over the barn, but the messengered electrical line that goes to the shop was in the middle of the frame.  Dad asked if I wanted to go out to the pasture.The strikes were all a good number of miles away, but the energy and power on display that rarely happens so brilliantly or for so long had us exclaiming every couple minutes.

We ended up behind the barn shooting northwest over Albany and Jefferson, engaging the remote shutter button and letting the camera click away until the memory was full.

Out of 36 good exposures, this is the best shot of the night, a single 5 second exposure, aperture f/18, ISO-800.

Lighting over Albany and Jefferson Oregon

Lighting over Albany and Jefferson Oregon

 

animals

Part I

I’m not much of a cat person.  I’m not really much of a dog person either.  They smell.  They leave hair everywhere.  They make noise and take continual maintenance.  After you pet them, you have to wash your hands before you can eat because your cat was just in his litter box doing his thing, and just kicked up poop-laden dust which landed on his fur just before you petted him.  Their food costs a lot – more than some of the food I eat, pound for pound.  They may pee on your stuff, and then it will smell too.  In the cost-benefit analysis, I don’t see where the second outweighs the first.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like animals.  I really like how they taste.  In college I was known for having 17 different kinds of meat in my freezer.  I was a legend in my prime rib.

I’m not eating meat just now, mostly because it is 3 in the morning and I can’t sleep, but also because it is Lent.  It isn’t that I can’t eat meat during Lent, and on occasion I will, like if the fast might cause offense or be trouble to others.  But animals are something I probably consume a bit excessively on a regular basis . . . like six brats for lunch excessively.  This very modest Lenten fast doesn’t earn me anything, but serves to remind me of what I truly hunger for – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins.  And I suppose I am also reminded to be a good steward of the animals and other blessings God bestows so freely and which I enjoy so much.

Because that’s what animals really are – a part of God’s creation over which humans have been given dominion.  Animals serve us as beasts of burden, as clothing, as companion animals, and as food.  We are told we may consume them, something that happened only after the Fall into sin.  But that doesn’t mean we should do so frivolously.  Neither does dominion mean we may be abusive to God’s First Article gifts.

But animals are definitely not people.  Jim Gaffigan has a comedic bit about the tear-jerking ASPCA ad where a dog says to Sarah McLachlan something like, “That was a bit heavy-handed wasn’t it?  I mean, come on, I’m only a dog!”  The Christian Children’s Fund doesn’t even play on that level.  And then there’s the bumper stickers.  I saw one the other day that said “I love my granddogs.”  How do you get a granddog?  Is that your kid’s dog?  Or is it your dog’s puppies, in which case wouldn’t they also be your plain old dogs with no grand-?  And the decades-old “dog is my co-pilot.”  At least dog isn’t your pilot.  That would be really stupid. (Aside: This is obviously a turn on “God is my co-pilot” like the Darwin fish-with-legs stickers and such.  And for the well meaning folks who would put a “God is my co-pilot” sticker on a visible part of their car I want to ask: So who the heck is your pilot?  It better not be you.  When I’m my own pilot, I usually get lost or even crash the plane.  Even when I ask The Co-Pilot for input, I end up ignoring it and doing what I want anyway.  Come to think of it, it might be best to stay out of the cockpit all-together.  He’s got it all under control, doesn’t need my help, and He’ll get me where I need to go.  And of course, by God, I’m talking about Father, Son & Holy Spirit – Athanasian Creed God.  And if your pilot is a different god, then you’ve got a problem because nobody is flying your plane.  End aside.)

Sure, we can get attached to them.  Ask any 4-H’er who has had a market animal.  It’s all well and good – up until the last night of the fair, up until the auction.  You can tell the first-year juniors, especially the girls, because tears are streaming down their nine-year-old cheeks as the auctioneer is calling out the price of the steer or lamb or hog that they fed, raised, trained, washed, groomed, showed, and are now showing for the last time to the crowd of bidders – and it finally becomes real that this animal is meat.  I cried.  Especially when I put my lamb Gremlin (movie or car, it really was that long ago, and no, I didn’t name him) into the general market pen with eighty other sheep because the buyer didn’t actually want him.  I knew Gremlin was going to slaughter with all the other sheep in that pen.

Seriously, people.  Animals are not people.  Animals are not humans.  Why do we have pet cemeteries?  We bury dead people and mark the place of it in the expectation that Christ will call them from their graves on Judgment Day.  Please don’t mark the place where you buried your cat with a cross.  Because I hope you didn’t also baptize your cat. (If you did, this is something that can be repented of and forgiven.  And this would also be a good time to review what Baptism is, what God is doing in water and Word, and the promises he attaches to it.)

So in summary, animals are one of God’s gifts given freely to people for food, pets, and labor.  They are things for us to be good stewards over.  They are not people, children, grandchildren or pilots, and I don’t think all dogs go to heaven.  Here ends my short treatise on human-animal relations.

Part II

I think I mentioned that I’m not really a cat person.

One snowy November day, there was a mewing outside.  A kitten was on my front step.  It ran away.  It came back through the snowy lawn and mewed again under my light.  It let me pick it up and bring it in.  It had a bandaged wound on its neck and it kept scratching the spot.  I bought a cone collar for dogs, the smallest size, and still had to cut it down to fit a kitten.  It wanted to jump backward out of the cone on its neck.

There were no reports of a missing kitten in the neighborhood, or at the vet, or in the paper or online.  No one wanted him.  Being wholly opposed to cats, every day I said I would take him to the shelter, but was begged not to, and I finally asked the landlord for permission to keep a pet.

His name was Merlin.  I didn’t name this one either . . . I championed for Gandalf and lost.  And though I didn’t name him, I was his protector from the outside, his poop-box changer, veterinarian taker, claw-clipper, and very often his food-person.  I had rescued him and held him even though he had worms.  Having been abandoned, he feared being alone, feared the outdoors, and dogs, and cars.  He didn’t like laps, but eventually stayed in mine for five minutes, then ten, then an hour, then two.  Other laps were not equal.

He grew to 18 pounds, tall and deep, wide in shoulder, narrow in rump with turned-in hocks.  If he were a sheep, he wouldn’t have shown particularly well – a red ribbon.  He didn’t know he could jump as high as he really could.  He was a motor-boater.  Amazingly, he didn’t smell.  He didn’t pee on my stuff.  He never sprayed.  He never pooped anywhere except where he should have.  He loved to play and romp and wrestle.  He was afraid of children because he didn’t know what they were.  He cried whenever I went into the garage or left for work, as if I would never return.

This cat was different from all the other cats I knew – the ones that smelled, or whose noses dripped, or who clawed you to get attention, or who peed on your stuff.  He was my little fuzzy buddy.

I had to give Merlin up.  He was officially no longer mine a little less than 17 months ago.  I had to leave him with the one I left, to whom Merlin was a comfort.  Strange that this was the hardest thing.

Last night I received notice that Merlin died.  Broken tooth, extraction, vomiting, ruptured trachea, dead, aged about 7-1/2 years.

Merlin_0057B

Did I mention I’m not really a cat person?  I’m not much interested in getting another.  Besides, I already had the best cat . . . ever.  17 months and I still miss my little fuzzy buddy.

meet Red

On the telephone, my first question was, “Is it really pink, or is it actually red?  The pictures look sort of pink.”

I wasn’t sure I was ready to drive a pink pickup truck.  Otherwise, the pictures looked good, and the price was right.

For weeks I had combed internet classifieds looking for another old Mercedes diesel to replace my beloved Naidine, only to find that, at 30 years old, these cars have generally not been well cared-for at some point.  Good ones are hard to come by, and I didn’t want to tackle the prospect of getting a neglected one back into shape.  I had thought of going in a different direction and looking for a little pickup like Grandpa had.  I haul more of things than people these days, and I thought a pickup might be useful.

When the title came, it said the color is maroon, but that sounds like ”stranded” to me, so I am sticking with Red.

Red_1

When I test-drove Red, I advised the seller that he might look for a white balance setting in his camera so that the color of the cars he was selling would come out closer to the real thing in his pictures.

Red came with less than 100,000 miles, air-conditioning already installed, good tires, alloy wheels, V6, automatic, and 4×4.  The A/C blew hot because it had lost its charge.  It blew especially hot because the blend door was broken and stuck directing all the air through the heater core, no matter the setting.  The radio worked, but the display didn’t, so changing stations was tricky.  Even though the seller did not know his camera settings, he apparently was skilled at resetting the On-Board Diagnostics.  Just after I had paid for the pickup and it was mine, the very next time I turned it on, the check engine light lit up.

I went to get Red titled, and was told that I needed to get emissions tested first.  I went to emissions, and they asked, “Did you know your check engine light is on?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well, you failed because your check engine light is on.”

Based on the error code printed out on my failed test, I replaced a certain sensor, and by disconnecting the battery for a minute, I reset the check engine light.  It stayed off.  I got my emissions test the next day without a problem.  The day after that, the check engine light came back on.

Red_3

About the air conditioning which now works: Mom and Dad are avid garage-salers – mostly Mom.  She found a sale where a box of R-134a refrigerant recharge cans would be sold.  We went to the sale, and found another buyer haggling over one can, only wanting to pay $4 for it.  The seller said “$25 for all six cans, or $5 for one.”  While my competitor was thinking, I handed the seller $25.  I then sold the man one can for $5.  I had my air-conditioning tools with me this first weekend I owned Red, and we set to work pulling a vacuum and testing it the next morning.  Wouldn’t you know, it held the charge.

The radio display was a simple fix, mainly because I repair electronics for a living.  This pickup was made at that transition time between cassette tape and CD, so the stereo has both.  This is very handy because I still have one of those cassette tape adapters from the 90′s, allowing me to play my Issues Etc. podcast from my smartphone, right on the stock stereo through the cassette well.

Red_2

Overall, Red and I are getting along.  Gasoline engines require a complicated electrical system to make the spark that fires the engine, and there is much more to go wrong than with an old diesel engine which only requires fuel and compression, but so far, so good.  The check engine light is still on, but Red runs well, the mileage isn’t bad, and the light can stay on until I am physically able to do more work chasing down the problem.  We’ve had a few chances to use the 4-wheel drive, like after the bed-liner blew out twice during a storm on the way to a funeral.  The first time it lit in an orchard, the second in a corn field.  I had installed the cam-locks that are supposed to hold the liner down, but apparently they were no match for the wind gusts as I was heading South.  After the funeral I stopped to buy some rubber-snubbers.  I think Red will be getting one of those spray-in liners someday.

I had to wait a few weeks for it to come in the mail, but I now have the most important accessory installed.

Red_4

All I need now is to find a maroon red canopy . . . like the white one Grandpa had on his Ranger.

Rest In Pieces, Naidine, March 1984 – June 2013

Thirteen months ago I was taking one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips.  It was nothing fancy, nothing overseas, nothing out of the country.  It was the trip to my brother’s wedding in North Carolina.  The first week was all the normal wedding things, being with family, the wedding itself, and seeing the newlyweds off.  But while everyone else from the Grohn side of things flew home, I drove my brother’s ’78 Corvette back to Oregon.  It was a storage situation, and having no garage where he would live with his wife, it seemed the best thing was to store it in Oregon for the time being.

A properly working Corvette is fun to drive.  And this one was properly working.  Sure, it dripped coolant and power steering fluid the whole way.  Sure, the cruise control was completely disconnected.  Sure, air conditioning was not working.  In June.  But Austin had gone over this machine, and with a new 350, I was out to cover more than 3000 miles in one week.  I stopped along the way to take some pictures at landmarks and monuments, and since I was alone, the car was my proxy.

This car was fun to drive.  Maybe I’ve said that before.  The carburetor was new, and hadn’t been adjusted all the way.  It was after-firing a little under some accelerating conditions, and we didn’t know yet what octane to use.  But by the time I got to South Dakota, most of this was sorted out, and I was able to chirp the tires on the shifts.  My longest day of travel was 820 miles in 20 hours from Clemmons, NC, to Saint Louis, MO.

Now, when I say fun to drive, I mean for the first 200 miles the first day, or the first 100 any day thereafter.  The floorboards get hot, the car is LOUD, and the bucket seats kind of ride up on your hips (i’m not particularly wide either), and after a few hours, I shifted back and forth in the seat periodically.  You can’t take much with you in this car – there are two seats, and a little spot under the back window that can hold a suitcase, maybe a suitcase and a half.

The last day of travel was over 700 miles from Grand Teton National Park to my folk’s house in the Mid-Willamette Valley of Oregon, by which point, I thought I’d driven the car enough, a total of 3500 miles.  But this was a time of major transition in my life, and 3500 miles of open road in a sweet car was good medicine.

At this point, I realized, this car I’d spent a week in, this car I’d crossed the North American continent in, this car my brother had spent so much time working on, didn’t have a name.

A couple days later, I prepared to return to my home in order to go to work.  I got in my own car that had been parked for almost three weeks, turned it on, put it in drive, and touched the accelerator.  Nothing happened.  I pushed the pedal a little more.  It started to heave, but didn’t roll.  I put it almost all the way to the floor . . . and then it moved.  But this is all very normal, because it is a Mercedes diesel, and that’s how they are when they’re cold.  My car is nothing like a ’78 Corvette.  I don’t get many looks about it, not so often do people say “hey, nice car!”, and I can’t do 0 to 60 in less than 20 seconds, unless I’ve driven off a cliff.  I can, however, haul things in the trunk, mainly because it has one, and more than two people can sit in it comfortably.  I don’t know that this stately four-door sedan is more my style than the flashy Corvette.  I don’t really know what my style is for that matter, but the 300SD is my car, I know it well, and it has served me in the same way for almost ten years.

Her turbocharged 5-cylinder diesel motor sounds like that of a tractor.  She smells like a tractor too.  She had 280,000 miles when I got her, and she came with a name: Naidine.  Naidine was so named because her license plate was 203 NAI, and the previous owner, or his wife, thought it was right, even if misspelled.   In Washington State, they make you replace the plates every seven years, whether they need it or not, so the NAI plates are gone, but the name stuck.  When I went to pick her up, the previous owner showed me how the glow-plugs worked, how the seat switches worked, and how short the turning radius is (surprisingly short for a full-size sedan).  The seat switches are not toggles like most other cars, they are shaped like the seat cushion, and you simply push the model cushion in the direction you want that part of the seat to go.  “Hey, it’s a Mercedes!  What do you expect!” said Bruce, the previous owner.

Original plates 203 NAI

Original plates 203 NAI

The engineering in her is something else. There are only two design flaws I know of, both relate to accessories bolted onto the engine, and I made workarounds for both of them in time.  I got to know the car pretty well.  I replaced the engine when it developed a loud knock (never put starter fluid in one of these engines, as tempting as it is when your glow plugs aren’t working).  The hood (bonnet in Mercedes-speak) not just goes up, but has a second position where it is straight up in the air.  This is useful when you take the engine or transmission out, because both must be done together through the engine compartment.  There isn’t too much I haven’t worked on on that car.  If you have one of these cars, or one like it, and the battery doesn’t want to stay charged, there is a way you can modify your stock alternator regulator by adding a diode, and this will boost charging voltage by about .5V, and make your modern battery happier.  I never had to rebuild the transmission.  I never rebuilt the steering box or injector pump.  I never had to mess with the differential.  Otherwise, I pretty much know how it works, because I kept it that way.  I keep a thermometer in the A/C vent to be sure that the service I did on the system is holding.  The only time I paid someone to work on Naidine was to have the rust under the rear window (windscreen in Mercedes-speak) repaired and repainted, and to have the glass reset.  I guess I also had someone else install ball joints and do the front-end alignment.

Hunting

Hunting

I would have driven her anywhere, and often did.  I took her hunting in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.  As a Washingtonian, I didn’t want to pay for the non-resident permit, so I was only shooting with a camera.  When I got to camp at an elevation of about 10000 feet, I asked my uncle if he had seen any other Mercedes diesels up there.  He said, “not too many, less than twenty.”  She has never left me stranded, except one time when the alternator/water pump belt tension bolt broke.  She couldn’t stay cool enough to drive on the freeway, so I limped back home, tensioned it by brute force, bolted the alternator down, and got to work two hours late.  I later invented my own bolt, since the one from the parts-house cost over $141 and kept breaking (one of the two known flaws), and it has never been a problem again.  That was the only time I couldn’t get somewhere on time on account of trouble with Naidine – all the other failures were minor, or detected and dealt with ahead of time.

Camping

Camping

As I drove away in my slow ’84 300SD, I realized how nice my old car really was.  The input jack on the radio wasn’t intermittent.  The dash clock kept perfect time.  The ride was smooth and quiet.  She drips a little oil (what Mercedes diesel doesn’t?) but I don’t have to check the fluids every time I fill up the tank.  Good ol’ Naidine.

Naidine in fine form

Naidine in fine form

This Saturday past, I was stopped in a line of traffic, and someone ran into the back of Naidine.  I don’t know exactly what size truck it was, but it something like a 1- or 2-ton flatbed.  I didn’t get out of the car at the scene, but a couple days later I got to see Naidine where she’s locked up at the tow yard.  It’s ugly.  Naidine is done for.  Mercedes gives grille badges at 250K, 500K, and 1M kilometers. Naidine had already passed the first two marks, but I figured I’d just wait and go in to get them when the last one had been passed too.  But we’re 250,000 miles short of that, and it would have taken at least 25 more years at the current rate.

I thought I had taken more pictures of my car, but apparently not.  This is all of them, and most of them only once she got crunched.  Strange I should take over 1000 pictures of my brother’s car in 3500 miles, but only a handful of my own in almost 90,000 miles.

Final Odometer reading

Final Odometer reading

And which car got driven in the Strawberry Parade this year?

Going to the Strawberry Parade

Going to the Strawberry Parade

Not Naidine.  She was left behind in the driveway.  Sorry Dad, you missed your chance on that one.  And Naidine had air conditioning.

But lets face it – Naidine is just a car, and will be replaced with another car, or maybe a pickup truck.  And I’m already working on the most important part: getting another bumper sticker.

Issues, Etc.

Issues, Etc. – Christ-Centered Cross-Focused Talk Radio – www.issuesetc.org

getting back to normal

My Grandpa Baker died on June 3.

We buried him on June 8.

His estate sale is done, and the remnants went to auction.

The keys to his duplex have been turned over.

Only a few details remain.

Everything can go back to normal now.

For about two months I made the most of my time in order to spend as much of it with him as I could.  I crammed my workweek into less than four days so I could get to where he was by Thursday afternoon.  But there are no more Thursday afternoons.  I am no longer a caretaker.  My time is left to me to do what I will with it.

There is time enough to afford an extra fifteen minutes in the morning to commute to work by bicycle, and and extra thirty in the evening to get back home again.  There is enough time to do some chores I’ve put off, like cleaning out my storage unit.  All that stuff I’ve been dragging around, saying I was going to sell it on Ebay?  I’ve got most of it listed.  My laundry is not just washed, it is also folded and put away.  I even made venison stew for supper, which required a monumental commitment of time since a whopping nine ingredients were involved, and most of them required cutting up.  Yes, now that one of those unavoidable sad and bad parts of life is over, everything is getting back to normal, and everything is good.

Except it isn’t.  This world is still pretty rotten.

It’s funny how we look back on a year and say it was good or bad.  From my perspective, 2009 was a good year – my nephew was born.  ’10 was bad – Mom got sick.  ’11 was a good year – another nephew was born!  ’12 was pretty much awesome – my brother got married.  But ’13 is shaping up to be a tough haul, and it’s only half over.  People die, people are still sick, churches split, brother is set against brother, disasters strike, accidents happen, healthy people are killed in the course of their work, perversion abounds, and the list goes on.  All of it is simply what happens in a broken world, in a world in which people sin because they are sinners, in a world in which creation groans under the curse.  It’s messy and dirty and painful out there, but it is still better than we deserve, sinful sinning sinners that we are.

People want to comfort you in your pain.  All of them mean very well, and their comforts usually take some form of one of the stock phrases hauled out for this purpose.  One I heard was, “Well, everyone dies!”  I thought, Not permanently!  If you think death is permanent, your sense of time is rather short!  A more common one is, “Well, he’s in a better place now.”  And I wanted to reply, Only half of him is!  We had to bury the other part!  Finally, there is the ubiquitous “Well, he had a good long life.”  By the point of this utterance, I’m almost bursting to shout, He still has!

It isn’t normal that we had to bury Grandpa.  It isn’t normal that he has to wait.  It isn’t normal that we suffer and die.

Do you want to know what normal is?  You can see it, in a way.  You can actually hear it. You can even taste it.  Eternal life isn’t so much a place, as it is a Person.  He comes to His people with the words “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  He comes in the faithful reading and preaching of His Word.  He comes in the absolution.  He comes in ordinary water with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s just a foretaste, but it is still eternal.  And it’s entirely normal, right now.

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25, ESV

____________________

This painting was on the wall of every house my Grandma and Grandpa Baker lived in during my lifetime.  It now hangs here on my wall, which is really too small for it.  It reminds me of them.  It reminds me of the hymn in the previous post.  And in that way it reminds me of my Comfort.IMG_5880b

. . . when sorrows, like sea billows, roll . . .

Like sea billows indeed, these days . . .  Tonight, this hymn is on my mind.

 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way;

When sorrows, like sea billows, roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

He lives – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought;

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,

The trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend;

Even so it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

 

 

When Peace, like a River, Lutheran Service Book 763

 

falling asleep

These days I go about life with one primary objective: Thursday afternoon.

My workweek begins on Monday at 7 am.  I am fortunate to have an employer that permits me to do my job at hours that suit me.  By Thursday at 11 am, I have completed my 40 hours for the week, and I hit the road for Mom & Dad’s, 99 miles away.  That is where Grandpa is.  I usually get there by one in the afternoon, and that is where I stay until Sunday evening, when I drive north again to do my job the next week.

So I do everything else in order to get here on Thursday, and relieve some of the burden on the rest of the house who gives care seven days a week.  It is my great privilege to watch over Grandpa two nights a week, taking my turn on the sofa opposite his bed in the living room.  Dad takes two nights a week there when I am gone, and the other three are covered by people from outside the house.  Tonight is one of those.

The outside is nearly as still as possible.  My bedroom window has been open for two hours, but the air has not changed.  Nothing stirs.  Strange that amid the exhaustion of the routine, tonight is the night I cannot sleep, the night when I have my chance.  Strange that I cannot sleep as Grandpa cannot stay awake, preparing and being prepared to fall asleep in Christ.  He is tired – 33,000 days of tired.  Perhaps two handfuls remain.  His Old Adam has been under water for 65 years, and the sentence pronounced so long ago is almost carried out.

Music plays most of the time in his room.  Usually it is country western for this old cowboy, a 15-hour loop of classic hits from Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Alabama and the like.  But most concerns of this world don’t concern Grandpa as much anymore – only one foot stands here I suppose.  And so the last evening, these songs of heartbreak, cheating, and loneliness were traded out for the 24/7 stream from Lutheran Public Radio.  The songs that sing of fallout and consequences of sin are now replaced with the Alleluias he will sing with the greatest choir ever.  The Te Deum comes in over the speakers in the middle of the night.  Grandpa probably doesn’t know its name, but he has sung it before in his low, gravelly voice that scoops and slides to all the notes.  Too soon for me, he will sing it better than I ever can here.

So too, the familiar sounds of the gospel music playlist are used a little less.  When one song asks, “What will you choose? Heaven or Hell?” I cringe a little.  Should doubt be cast in his mind?  Why would this be asked of a man who already has 100% certainty of salvation on account of Christ’s death for his sins and Christ’s righteousness that enrobes him?  In addition to the human eyes that watch tonight, there are those of His holy angel that watch to ensure that the evil one has no power over him until such time as his Master calls.

So too, time and space have lost their usefulness.  There is no need of hours or minutes.  Even day and night are little matter.  It seems to be one continuum that goes on forever, yet somehow unmetered.  Time works different on the other side, but I don’t know exactly how, and it doesn’t really matter.  Meanwhile, I count the minutes here between three and four.

I’m not OK with death.  Death is not good.  Death is not a part of life.  Death is not a rescue from temporal pain.  Death is not a gift.  Death is not a friend.  And death is not natural, except in a broken nature such as ours is.  But what death is for the Christian, is temporary.

When I tell people about Grandpa, they usually ask how old he is.  When I say, “91,” they usually reply, “Well, he’s had a good life.”  It is as if all that there is to live for is what has already happened, and that spent, it is all over.  It is as if his great fortune was in a long number of years.  I want to say, “No, he has a good life!”  He’s already had a good life for nearly seven decades and it goes on eternally!  It doesn’t start when he gets to heaven.  It doen’t start only when he goes to his Lord’s side.  No, until then, his Lord comes to him in with and under the bread and wine, in the absolution, and in the Word.  He is baptized!

Yes, it is rough going here, especially for Grandpa.  And caretakers say this is the hardest part of being a caretaker, these two handfuls.  But I don’t mind it because Grandpa is a Christian.  I would have a difficult time of caring for a non-Christian because apart from Christ there is no hope of salvation.  But I know that Grandpa will be waiting the resurrection there as we do here, waiting for the final fulfillment of all His promises.  And on Sunday, when we sing with all the heavenly host, “Holy, Holy Holy!” that means Grandpa too.

So please forgive my one-track-mind, and forgive me if I write about Grandpa a few more times.  After all, these days I live for Thursday afternoon, but Grandpa lives forever.

A chaplain in a whiteout, a mortar, a boulder, water and the Word, and some neighbors

To most people, Grandpa’s stories of his service in World War II are just war stories.  He will tell about how he was a marksman.  He will tell about the weapon he used, an M1 Garand, and how he preferred 12- and 6-round clips over the larger 18-round clips.  He will tell of the service dogs used in his unit.  He will rattle off some of the places he was: Salerno, Naples, Leghorn, Monte Cassino, Mt. Belvedere, Venus, Brenner Pass, and lower Austria.  But until the last fifteen years, he didn’t tell much.  He didn’t like to talk about it, and that is understandable - PFC James Baker was a marksman in the middle of a horrible war.  But as he began to tell more, it became clear that to him, the story was not just of the war.

His parents were not Christians.  A neighbor had taken him to church, but that was it.  The war was when he became a Christian.  The story is rich, the scope wide, and many of its branches are only glanced at and passed by here.

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A story he told long ago was of when he was in a meadow, and enemy tanks were advancing to his position.  He began to dig a foxhole, but found that where he had been digging, there was also a massive boulder that was too large to move, and there was no way to dig around.  The hole was not deep enough, and the tanks were too close to begin a new hole.  He had nowhere to go.  He blacked out.  When he awoke, the tanks had already passed, he was in the hole, and the boulder was lying in the meadow.

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I . . . might tell you how I found the Lord.  That was, I always believed in the Lord and the things that He done for me, but I was over in Italy one early morning.  A German barrage of mortar shells come in.  Usually the first one falls short of it’s target, the second one goes just beyond the target, and the third one is usually dead on.  There was a man ahead of me on a little trail, myself, and a man behind me, and we were about 30 foot apart and we were on a hillside.  The first shell came in below us and it didn’t hurt us because it spread out below.  The second one came in, it come above us, we were lying down and all the shrapnel came out over the top.  The third one come in and it lit in the trail just ahead of me, close enough that it cracked the ground back to where I laid, and it did not go off.  It was what we called a dud.  And a dud seldom ever happened in a German mortar shell.  And knowing that that was . . . my life was handed to me by God from that point.

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I had a gold leaf bible carried in my pocket all the time, a little bitty guy. Whatever happened to that, I have no idea, but I would give just about anything to be able to carry it again, but whatever happened to it, who knows . . . it got hit with a bullet, and it saved my life, because with that little metal bounding on it, it kept the bullet from going through into my body . . . I had a great big black spot there where that little bible was, but it got over it.

The bible had been worn over his heart.

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It was my sister who thought to ask, “When did you become a Christian?”

“Do you know what a whiteout is?” came the reply.  He beckoned to Poppy, the dog at his feet. “When I’m standing here in a whiteout, and I can’t see Poppy, it’s a whiteout. That’s what we were into, that kind of situation. It’s not that our uniforms were white, the fact is that there was nothing there to see, just a blank wall.”  Grandpa proceeded to tell of the terrifying conditions in which he, eight other soldiers, and a Lutheran chaplain were trapped on Mt. Belvedere.

We had to dig a hole to get into, because the enemy tanks were coming down upon us.  Their constant behavior to us was hard going.  And we all held hands together, not a one of us knew how to pray except Chaplain Davis, and he started a word of prayer.  And his praying is what got us into a position where we got out of this predicament, which we all said, if it wasn’t for him and him and his prayer and teaching us to pray, and about three-and-a-half hours, that’s why we got into the position that we were as Lutherans.  There’s a lot more to that story than just what I can tell you here tonight, but it’s old and original, and it’s been good for us.  It’s been good for me.  Bradford Russow, and Dick Cundy and myself, all of us got together and had prayer together.  Dick Cundy and Bradford Russow never got out of it, but I did.  And because of being taught how to pray, what to pray for and how good it was for us, that’s why we became Christian people amongst us. . .  All of us joined the Lutheran Church when we got over this scramble in this whiteout.

Grandpa continued to tell of another day when he and Dick and Brad parted ways.

We had been called voluntarily out to help some of our people that were in a serious position.  And I myself was one of three of us us that volunteered to do this job.  There were excellent reasons for the three of us to volunteer at that time.  We had shell plates and so forth for protection, but not like what we had hoped for. . . The Germans threw mortar shells [at us], lobbed them in.  The mortar shells usually go off at the rate of third one is deadly.  One hit in the cowpath up the mountain right ahead of me, the next one hit in the cowpath just a little to the right, both of those were what we call duds which you never heard of, and I was saved because both of them were duds.  And the third one was not.  I got up to where the third one went off and stood up to see what was going on, which was a foolish trick to begin with. . . It was hard to explain why did we go up there on the third one and stick our neck out to a good chance of being killed. . .  The machine gunner opened up fire and I got shot through the leg.  They got shot and killed by ammo and that’s why they died. . . When the German traversed his gunfire, I jumped up on a stump to see where it was coming from.  Got up on the stump and I looked both ways, both sides, both directions, and Brad and Dick were shot in the chest and killed, I was shot in the leg because I was on a stump, above their elevation.

He had intended to protect Dick and Brad by taking the more dangerous position.  It was seven days before he reached a hospital.

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I knew when I came home that [your] Grandma had accepted God years before I ever did.  She knew what it was all about.  Not me.  Thank goodness she knew how to accept God, what God’s pleasures were to our life.  I knew nothing of her acceptance of God, only that she was a very highly Christian lady.

In 1948, the year after his discharge, Grandpa was baptized into Christ at Perrydale Christian Church, near where he was farming.  The farm was sold in 1954 and the family ended up in West Salem.  Some neighbors invited my grandparents who were raising two daughters by then, to visit their church, Peace Lutheran.  Peace is where both daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married.  And one of those daughters is my mom.  And that’s about half of how I came to be baptized into the body of Christ as a Lutheran.  All it took was a mortar, a boulder, a Lutheran chaplain in a whiteout, water and the Word, and neighbors some thirty and forty years earlier.

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Thank you, Grandpa.

Remembering today my brothers in Christ, Brad and Dick . . .

Hero

My grandfather is dying.  I find that I am unable to collect my thoughts well enough to adequately explain why he is so respected by his family, at his church, and in his community.  There will be time for that later, with a few stories selected from hundreds.

James Baker

For now, here are the thoughts of children who wrote to him last week.  These are children whom my grandpa visited in their classroom and to whom he told his story of military service to the United States in World War II.  These children have never known a time without mobile phones, and he told them about about dogs trained to run communications wire over rough terrain.  He showed them a pair of wooden skis he restored, identical to the ones he used to traverse the Italian Alps in the 10th Mountain Division.  He showed them his medals.  He told them about trenches, tanks, mortars, being shot at, and being shot.  He showed them patriotism.  For thirteen years he has visited these children, and when they were told that he would not be returning again, they wrote letters and sent hand-made cards decorated with construction paper Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, and United States Flags.  Here are a few of them.

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Dear Mr. Baker,

Wow, it seems like yesturday I was shaking your hand and thanking you for fighting for our freedom.

I remember in the year of 2009 you came into [our] classroom and we were told that you are the only WW2 veteran.  You were one of the veterans that helped me fold the flag.

Mr. Baker you have taught and shown me so much about what is going on everyday of our lives that we may not see.

I don’t want to see you go away so quickly.  I’m sorry very sorry that a good man like you has to leave this earth so quickly.  Thank you Mr. Baker for standing up for our Country.  You make me Proud!

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Dear Mr. Baker,

To a veteran who participated in the second World War 2 that I wanted to honor and say thank you for everything you have done for us.  You are the best hero I’ve ever met.  I felt so lucky to be able to shake your hand and look into your eyes and thank you for everything you did, but when I did it immediantly brought tears to my eyes… knowing that I met the strongest man was a great pleasure.

Leaving your friends and family to serve in WW2 means more than anything.  Thank you for coming to [our] school and sharing your wonderful stories with us.

You are loved by Many people and you will Never be forgotten.

I was amazed that I was able to meet someone who made such a big impact on us.

Always,

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Dear: Mr Baker

I want to thank you for your Heroic serves, thank you for giving your life too this country so that we can live in a safe and free country that we live in today.  I remember when you came into class, and talked about your exspeance in the war of WWII.  And you made me feel like I was in the war and I got to exspeance what it felt like to get shot at and having to keep cover in the trences.

I hope that this letter brout some warth to you hart.

Love,

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Dear Mr. Baker,

You probably don’t remember me by heart, but I remember you like the back of my hand!  Thank you so much for coming to our school and talking about your life and the memories you had in WWII.  You made such a HUGE impact on our school and community.  You are so brave for what you have done for our country and I Thank you thouroughly for your support!  You have such a BIG heart and the stories you told to us are so heart-warming to me.  I pray everyday for you and no matter how high the tides get for you, god is going to take you to a better place where theres a special place for Heros of America.  I thank you for your service and wish you the very, very best.

Love,

P.S. you are loved by many people who are thankful for your service

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