Dad was no theologian, but he read and meditated on the Bible as much as any scholar ever did. Although he claimed it was nothing more than an intellectual exercise to keep cobwebs from accumulating over the synapses in his brain I knew he was a man of deep faith and conviction.
Several of times a year Pastor Bowden, a Lutheran pastor, came by to sharpen his skills on Dad.
It was later in life that I found out from the pastor’s daughter that he studied a week before visiting Dad.
Dad was a simple man, a farmer, quit school in the 8th grade. “If farmer ain’t planting, cultivating, harvesting, or fixing his equipment he should be reading, writing, figuring, or making a family,” Dad said a time or two.
When Bowden came around Dad always gave me “the look” which meant find something to do or he’d just tell me to find something to do or get lost.
If memory serves me, I was in the sixth grade when Bowden came by on a warm fall Saturday afternoon. I let him in and ran to the barn to get Dad. He wiped the dripping sweat from his brow and walked to the house. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face and wiped dry.
He walked into the living room where Bowden was sitting in Dad’s chair. He did not raise when Dad entered the room.
“Say, Bowden,” Dad said, “Did you ever get the point of Jesus’ illustration of not taking the best seat in the house, because you might be embarrassed if someone more important arrives you may be asked to move?”
“I recall that one,” Bowden said.
Dad turned to me. “You got your homework done?” Before I could say anything Dad continued, “Go upstairs and finish it.”
As I walked up the steps I heard Dad say, “Back to Jesus and his illustration, Bowden. Over there is a chair for guests. Get out of my chair. The work I’ve deposited in that chair might rub off on you. The last time I sat in the chair I fell into a pile of cow shit just before. I wiped it clean, but one can never be sure.”
I giggled on the way up to my bedroom.
My bedroom was right above the living room. If the vent was open conversations were heard as if in the living room. So as not to make a sound I slowly eased the vent wider.
“So, Bowden, now that you’re comfortable in the guest chair,” Dad said. “What brings you this way?”
“I wanted to know how you’re doing and invite your family to Sunday services.”
“That is nice of you, Bowden,” Dad said. “But you know the routine.”
“It will be a good start for you and you family,” Bowden said. “You need the church in your life.”
“The church did me a favor many years ago,” Dad said. “Once I was on the outside I was able to think without the interference of tradition, doctrine, and dogma.”
“But church tradition, doctrine, and dogma cements us in our faith,” Bowden said.
“To the contrary, Bowden,” Dad said. “It slows us down. Have you ever heard that gangsters use the expression cement shoes. They are a weight that sinks us. You’re a smart man, Bowden, you know that. Those things enslave people. Recall what Jesus said about the traditions of his time?”
“Not off hand,” Bowden said.
“It’s in Matthew, chapter 15,” Dad said. “There are words to the effect that tradition is not good, it invalidates God’s word.”
I crept over to my desk and grabbed my Bible. I found Dad’s citation and read it.
“It is obvious that Jesus was referring the Jewish dispensation,” Bowden said. “Agreed?”
There was silence.
“I got you there, don’t I?” Bowden said confidently.