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Shepherd’s Winter – Part 18

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Shepherd used his pocket knife to scrape frost from the window that overlooked the frozen meadow that stretched before the cabin.

“I think there are secrets here, Pal,” Shepherd said, “don’t you agree or are you one of them who will keep the secrets? They don‘t trust me, but I really care little about that. I didn‘t move here for the friendship. I came here to… find myself.”

“I think this land first tries to expel you as if a foreign object that sticks in the skin,” Shepherd said. “Once you stick it out for a while and determine you will stay it forms tissue around you so that the only way it can be removed is by digging you out.”

“New York eased me out like pushing a splinter to the surface and this land is trying to do the same. But you know something, Pal? It won’t work. I got no place else to go. I’m a lot like those natives. You find someplace no one in their right mind would dare go and claim it as yours.”

“Why want what everybody else wants, right, Pal?” Shepherd turned to Pal.

Pal laid in front of the fire with his chin on the floor looking up at Shepherd.

“I know, there I go again, being introspective,” Shepherd said and turned back to looking out the window.

“I wonder how Daniel, Maggie, Nan, Ben, and Izzy are doing?” Shepherd said reflectively. “It must be good to have each other. It would be good to have another. I don‘t think that will ever be. I was always alone. The only difference between now and a year ago is concrete.”

“Hey, Pal,” Shepherd turned to him. “This is usually where the bottle comes in. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. People turn to things when others aren‘t there. The trick is when others aren‘t there to take the things away and you have to turn to yourself and God.”

“There is order to it all. A trillion random complexities must all line up together and function as designed. If one thing is out of kilter it all falls apart.”

“Is this making sense to you or are these things you already know?” Shepherd said. “The reason why I ask is that I’ve heard nothing from you. That is a sign of ignorance or approval.”

Shepherd paused.

“And he remains quiet,” Shepherd said. “At least make some noise.”

Pal made a muffled bark.

“Good,” Shepherd said. “You’re following and listening.”

“It is strange,” Shepherd said. “Nature inspires us to rest on God and humans turn us from Him and they say that He is an invention of man; atheism and agnosticism are the inventions. Somebody designed it all and flipped the switch.”

“Are you a believer yet?” Shepherd said. “I have the feeling I’m preaching to the choir.”

 

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Dad and The Pastor: Knowing The Man – Part 17

(Continued from yesterday.)

“Ellsworth Bowden and I were respectful combatants on the battle field of theological differences. But he was a phony.”

There was a gasp from the audience. I looked at Mrs. Bowden. She didn’t blink an eye. In fact, she even gave a slight smile of approval.”

“Ellsworth Bowden strutted about like some intellectual snob, but at heart he was a farmer. Until this day I thought it was the discussions he enjoyed with me. It wasn’t, he liked being on the farm. I think all along he wanted me to ask him to plow a field or hoist some hay, or even shovel manure.”

“Ellsworth Bowden could walk the campus and hallways of Princeton and speak the language of the elite, but at heart he was a farm boy.”

“I don’t know how Ellsworth wanted to be remembered. I think he would leave that to each of us to figure for ourselves, but the only one in this room that it matters to is

Mrs. Bowden; it’s how she remembers him. And I look at her today, right now, she smiles. That is all we need to know about Ellsworth Bowden; he left his wife with a smile.”

“That’s what I’m going to do from now on when I think about him; I’m going to smile.”

Dad smiled at Mrs. Bowden than looked at everyone. Dad nodded to the funeral director and he began to show everyone out.

Dad politely grasp Mrs. Bowden’s hand. “Will you be having supper with us this evening?”

“Sure,” Mrs. Bowden said. “Do you have the apple cider that Ellie went on about?”

“We have some fresh squeezed,” Mom said.

Mom went with Mrs. Bowden and Dad and I headed to the car alone. Everyone who attended the funeral remained in the parking lot. Dad received handshakes from everyone.

He was about to get into our car when a short man in a blue suit called out, “Tenny!”

Dad turned around.

“Jim Turner,” the man said. “We used to run around together in our wayward youth.”

“Shhh,” Dad said and smiled. “My wife and son.”

“Nice of you to honor Pastor Bowden in that way,” Turner said.

“Thanks,” Dad said. “He was a good man.”

“We were advised not to come by the church board,” Turner said.

“I figured as much,” Dad said.

“But everyone got a letter from Pastor Bowden,” Turner said. “It appears he wrote, addressed, and stamped letters to everyone and left them with his lawyer to mail at his death.”

“That’s interesting,” Dad said. “Thanks for passing that on.” Dad shook his hand. “We’ll talk some other time, Jim. I got some things to do on the farm.”

Dad and I pulled from the parking lot and turned toward home.

“An old friend,” Dad said. “Good man.”

“You did a good job today, Dad,” I said. “Bowden knew you wouldn’t speak in the church. He wrote everyone to come to the funeral home.”

“Seems like he knew me better than I knew him,” Dad said. “All this time he was sizing me up. That’s amazing and I thought I knew him.”

“You really liked him, didn’t you?” I said.

“Oh yeah!” Dad said. “Just because we raised our voices a bit and he stormed away without a goodbye only means our convictions are tested beyond our restraint for civility.”

“But you always managed to remain cool,” I said.

“Well,” Dad smiled, “Bowden left in time.”

We drove for a while and were nearly home. “What have you learned?” Dad said.

“You said something a little while back,” I said. “You seemed disappointed that Bowden knew you better than you knew him.”

“It seems like I missed all the clues,” Dad said.

“But didn’t you tell me once that a man of principle is predictable, because he always does the right thing?” I said.

Dad paused. We turned in the driveway to our home. He turned off the car and just as I was about to open the car door Dad rested his hand on my arm. “Thanks, son.”

The End

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Dad and The Pastor; Meeting The Pastor’s Widow – Part 15

(Continued from yesterday.)

Dad drove to the funeral home with Mom and I. We didn’t say much. I just looked out the window and Mom and Dad talked about having some beef slaughtered and packaged.

Dad pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home.

“We must really be early,” Mom said.

Dad looked at his watch. “The funeral starts is 20 minutes. It looks like everyone whose going to be here is already here.”

“It looks like the employees of the funeral home and that’s it,” Mom said.

“I never thought for a moment I’d pack the place out,” Dad said.

We walked into a small room. Bowden’s coffin was in a corner. There were perhaps a half dozen flower arrangements and that was it. A lectern was to the left of the coffin. Only one person was there. It was Bowden’s widow. She sat in the front row. She wore black and dabbed her eyes.

“Mrs. Bowden,” Dad said.

She looked up through her red puffy eyes.

“I’m Martin Tennyson. This is my wife Laura and my son Quinn.”

“Thanks so much,” she said. “Ellie thought so much of you. He talked about your family quite often. He used to say if he had it to do all over again he’d like to be a farmer.”

“He’d have been a good one,” Dad said.

“That’s how I met Ellie,” Mrs. Bowden said. “4H years ago. I never wanted the ministry. I suppose he told you all about that.”

“In his own way,” Dad said. “I think I’m going up to the casket for a moment if you don’t mind, Mrs. Bowden.” Dad nodded at Mom and me. “Perhaps you, Laura, and

Quinn can get to know each other.”

Dad stood at the coffin with his head bowed. A tear fell from his eye. He mumbled a prayer to himself and stared at the wall behind the coffin. I never saw Dad look like that before. He was so peaceful he appeared angelic.

The funeral director approached him and whispered into his ear. Dad glanced at his watch.

Dad turned to Mom and I. “Why not sit on each side of Mrs. Bowden we are going to begin in a moment.”

“Mrs. Bowden,” Dad said. “Is there anything special you want me to mention?”

Mrs. Bowden turned to see the room empty. She looked at Dad. “I thought you might say he deeply cared for the parishioners and often paced the floor worrying about their problems, but it seems like there is no one here to hear that. Did you know that Mr. Tennyson?”

“No,” Dad said.

“You probably thought he was a stuffy, arrogant, windbag,” Mrs. Bowden said.

Dad smiled. “Yes, I did.”

“That’s okay,” Mrs. Bowden said. “I called him that a time or two, but that was not the real Ellsworth. He was kind, and funny, and really down to earth. He put on so much.”

“I guess those are things I didn’t know,” Mrs. Bowden said.

“You are quite remarkable, Mr. Tennyson,” Mrs. Bowden said.

Dad smiled. “How’s that?”

“In spite of how he treated you, you are still willing to speak at his funeral,” Mrs. Bowden said. “He said that’s the kind of man you were.”

From the back of the room the funeral director cleared his throat. Dad looked at his watch again. “It’s time to start,” Dad said.

Dad stood behind the pulpit. He scratched next to his nose, a habit when Dad was nervous. He cleared his throat and smiled at Mrs. Bowden.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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Dad and The Pastor; Bowden’s Will – Part 14

(Continued from yesterday.)

I recall the events that day as plain as it happened yesterday. Dad held on to Bowden until he calmed.

Two months later Bowden was in and out of the hospital. Dad visited each time and when he came home would sit and think for a while. I asked Dad each time how

Bowden was doing and he’d tell me whether it was a good day or bad day.

It was a warm fall Saturday. Dad was in the field combining soybeans. The phone rang and I answered it. It was the church secretary. She told me that Bowden died just within the hour and he wanted Dad notified immediately.

I climbed on a small tractor and raced out to where Dad was harvesting. I wasn’t sure how Dad would take the bad news. I wasn’t even sure the men liked each other.

Nevertheless, it seemed strange to me that one of Bowden’s wishes would be that Dad be contacted so immediately.

I waited till Dad came to the end of the field. He shut down the combine and waited for me to climb up into the cab.

“What’s up, son,” Dad said.

“I just took a call from the secretary at Bowden’s church,” I said and paused. “Bowden died about an hour ago.”

Dad tightened his lips and though for a moment and nodded slowly. “They say anything else?”

“No, that’s it,” I said.

Dad thought some more.

“You want me to take over for a while?” I said.

“No,” Dad said. “When I’m working these fields I get a lot of thinking done. Go tell your mom and ask her to take my best suit to the drycleaners.”

Dad completed the field three hours later. By the time he arrived at the house three men in suits were waiting for him. Their names were Blevins, Herrnstein, and Lukmam, members of the church board.

Dad washed up and invited the men to sit at the dinning room table.

“We won’t be long,” Blevins said.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like coffee are some refreshment,” Dad said gesturing toward the table. Dad pulled a chair from the table.

Lukman looked at Blevins waiting for approval.

“Please sit,” Dad said. “I imagine this must be a difficult time for the church.”

“We really don’t have the time,” Blevins said.

Dad returned the chair. His eyes darted across the men’s faces. Dad’s friendly and sympathetic face turned firm.

“What brings you men here?” Dad said.

“A situation has arisen,” Herrnstein said. “One which you can easily alleviate.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Dad said, “but I’m in no position to help, I’m not a member of the church.”

“That’s the problem,” Blevins said. “It seems Bowden had a will made out. In that will he said you were the only one to speak at his funeral.”

Dad was stunned. He pulled out a chair and sat.

“You see,” Blevins said. “You are not permitted to take the pulpit at the church. You are not a member. An exception could be made if you were even clergy, but even then that would be restrictive. It requires seminary approved by the church.”

“So if you would merely decline that would be the end of the matter,” Lukman said.

“But what about the wishes of Bowden?” Dad said.

“He’s dead,” Blevins said.

“Not according to church doctrine,” Dad said.

Blevins, Herrnstein, and Lukman all looked as if they wanted to leave. The kept eyeing each other and the door.

“Bowden taught that doctrine,” Dad said. “He knew it when he wrote his will. He knew the position he was putting us all in. It seems we are at an impasse.”

“Blevins pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside lapel pocket of his jacket. He unfolded it and pressed it out in front of Dad. Herrnstein pulled a pen from his pocket and laid it next to the paper.

“What’s this?” Dad said.

 

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Dad and The Pastor; Find Your Ease – Part 13

(Continued from yesterday.)

“In love,” Bowden said.

“How so?” Dad said.

“He was cantankerous, moody, jealous, vengeful, angry, and murderous in the Old Testament and a revealed himself by means of the love of Christ in the New Testament.”

“Oh, Bowden,” Dad said. “That is a worn out argument easily parried.”

“Then do so,” Bowden said.

“It’s really coming down to this isn’t it,” Dad said. “It is your faith that is week.”

“You are the arrogant one,” Bowden said. “But since you brought it up, I have no need to counsel with a farmer.”

“Nor a Jewish carpenter,” Dad said.

“But God has changed,” Bowden said.

“What is to happen to all the wicked?” Dad said, “according to the New Testament. And mind you, there is as much said in the New Testament about the destruction of life.”

“Than God is not love?” Bowden said.

“There!” Dad said. “That is your question.”

“You think you have one up on me don’t you, farmer,” Bowden said.

“Ah, farmer is it.” Dad said. “There is another rub. Your words betray an envious heart.”

“I don’t know why I come out here?” Bowden said.

“Stimulation,” Dad said. “You are lonely. You’ve always been lonely. You have no one to stimulate your apathetic faith or the lukewarm doubt that grows in you. This is a feast for you.”

“More like a snack,” Bowden said.

“It eats at you, Bowden,” Dad said. “People come into you and ask questions. You speak to them in intellectual terms. They are terms vague at best. You tell them to have faith and not to question, but as you sit there on the ground and cannot tell me that God is love.”

“Of course I can’t!” Bowden screamed. “I’m dying!” Bowden began to sob.

Dad slowly eased from the tractor and sat beside Bowden. Dad pulled him into his chest as Bowden wept.

“Please say a prayer,” Bowden said.

“You pray,” Dad said. “I think God wants to hear you and I think for the first time in a long time it will be a good prayer.”

“Dear God,” Bowden said. “Why me, why me? I have…” Bowden stopped.

“God knows what is in your thoughts,” Dad said. “There is no shame in telling him.”

“I was going to tell him I have served him,” Bowden said. “But I haven’t. My life has been serving myself. I think you are the only one who knows that. I can tell by the contempt you have for me.”

“I apologize, Bowden,” Dad said. “I hide my feelings with contemptuous words. I deeply care for you. If I didn’t I’d have thrown you off this farm long ago.”

“My life has been full of hypocrisy,” Bowden said. “I have walked people up to and through death with words I did not believe or trust. I have fooled everyone except you. I can only trust you.”

“You look healthy, Bowden,” Dad said.

“Yeah,” Bowden said. “Like this black suit makes me look holy.”

“If you are to die, ole friend,” Dad said calmly and compassionately. “You will not die alone. I’ll be with you. It is a sleep, a gentle sleep it will be only a moment. When you waken I’ll still be with you. We’ll talk about God, nature, and good things, things that trouble and things that make us happy. Bowden I believe that with all my heart.”

Dad and Bowden wept together.

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

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Dad and The Pastor; It’s Not Hemorrhoids – Part 12

(Continued from yesterday.)

Bowden crossed his arms and leaned forward on the tires of the tractor. He looked into the wind blowing waves of wheat. “I don’t know. I simply don’t know. I ask questions I can’t possible answer. And I come here and we talk and I get answers.”

“No,“ Dad said, “you’re a pompous, aristocratic, intellectual snob, don’t pull humility on me. You’re not getting sympathy here.”

“Damn, you,” Bowden said.

“Well I’m glad to see others give form to primal grunts of frustration other than myself,” Dad said.

Bowden walked toward is car, but there was a slight hesitation in one of his steps.

“You want me to beg you to stay, don’t’ you?” Dad said.

Bowden stopped and turned to Dad. “I don’t need you or you sarcasm. Your hatred for the church is known and blasphemous.”

“Why do you come!” Dad said.

“To save your soul!” Bowden said.

“Than tell me what you think!” Dad said.

“I told you, I don’t know!” Bowden yelled.

“Okay,” Dad said “Here it is.”

Bowden walked back to Dad. Dad pulled two rags from his pocket. He laid the clean one on the ground. “Sit down so you don’t get grass stains on your behind.”

“Why don’t I sit on the tractor and you sit on the rag?” Bowden said.

“There’s two reasons” Dad said. “It’s all about positioning. In case you never noticed you always try to take the higher posture. You imagine it gives you some sort of psychological edge.”

“I’m older Bowden said.

“And it’s harder for you to climb up on things,” Dad said.

“You said you had two reasons,” Bowden said.

“Probably most important,” Dad said. “When I sit on the ground I have hemorrhoids the next day or so.”

So they assumed there positions; Bowden sitting on the ground and Dad on the seat of the tractor.

Dad stroked his chin. “Of all the qualities God possesses which is most outstanding?”

“Love,” Bowden said. “The scriptures says ’God is love.’

“That is the one I shall work on,” Dad said.

“But has God always been love?” Bowden said.

“Has there ever been a time when you were not an is?” Dad said.

“Well sure,” Bowden said. “Before I was born and after I die.”

“But for the sake of what you have propounded we can eliminate one,” Dad said. “Because immortality has been granted.”

“Wait, now,” Bowden said. “We’re talking about you not me.”

“No,” Dad said. “This conversation and question has been about you from your days in seminary, it has been with you all through your teaching career, and sucks on you like a parasite until this very minute.”

“Preposterous!” Bowden said. “I’m a man of the cloth.”

“The absence of a flat-out ‘no’ leaves me with ‘yes,’” Dad said. “I notice you shifting your weight. Pray it’s just being uncomfortable and not hemorrhoids. The devil in me says I should pray for both.”

“That begs the question was there something before God?” Bowden said.

“That’s you begging,” Dad said. “Not me. It is resolved in my mind. The 90th Psalm ‘He is from everlasting to everlasting.’”

“But God has improved,” Bowden said. “That would indicate some sort of a beginning.”

“How has God improved?” Dad said incredulously.

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

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Dad and The Pastor; A Bitter Exchange – Part 11

(Continued from yesterday.)

Dad had his head stuck in the engine of a Minneapolis Moline calling it everything except a tractor.

“Good afternoon,” Bowden said. “Looks like you got a problem.”

“You’re so used to being in the problem business that you see every endeavor beyond breathing as a problem,” Dad said.

“You’re the one doing all the cursing,” Bowden said.

“You call it cursing,” Dad said. “I call it vocalizing and giving form to my primal grunts.” Dad smiled, wiped his hands, and shook Bowden’s hand. “What brings you out this way?”

“I was coming back from Ft. Wayne,” Bowden said. “And thought I might drop by and see ya.”

“Well,” Dad said. “Could you hop up on the tractor and make yourself useful and turn the key until it starts.”

Bowden dressed in his black suit climbed up on the tractor and turned the key. The tractor started immediately.

“Now don’t go telling folks this was a faith healing,” Dad said.

“It had to have been the Lord,” Bowden smiled.

“The Lord works no better for you than he does for me,” Dad said. “Quit trying to bait me into an argument, because we’ve already did that dance.”

“And that was a dance we were both in step with each other,” Bowden said.

“What have you got for me today?” Dad said.

“Here’s something I propounded to my theology students when I taught,” Bowden said. “Suppose you were immortal.” Bowden paused. “No sarcasm?”

“Not yet,” Dad said. “But hold on to your collar. Okay I’ll play along; I’m immortal.”

“What changes in your personality would you work on? Will you live differently knowing that you have immortality?”

“Once again, Bowden,” Dad said. “Your are trying to steer the answer. You want me to pick something. Perhaps I choose nothing. When you try to put me in a corner or elicit a response that you can exploit it makes me very suspicious of your aims. Are you trying to convert me?”

Bowden hopped down from the seat of the tractor.

“If you ain’t here to convert me than get the hell out of here, because you’d be laying,” Dad said. “It would be a huge feather in your cap if I’d come to church and drop money in the plate. You’d probably retire after that because there would be no more mountains to climb, rivers to span, or wayward to convert.”

“So how would you answer the question?” Bowden said.

“Have you thought long and hard on this?” Dad said.

“Yes,” Bowden said. “I have. It was quite an exercise for my class.”

“With all that background on the subject,” Dad said. “I feel like this is some sort of an ambush. You came in here with your guns a blazing.”

“Well I wouldn’t go that far…” Bowden hesitated.

“Well I would,” Dad said. “You practically got out of your car before it rolled to a stop. I heard the door shut, open, you turned off the car, and you shut the door again.”

“I’m forgetful,” Bowden said.

“You got the mind of steel trap and the focus of a hawk, Bowden.” Dad said. “You already have arguments in mind. You taught for twenty years and used that question all twenty years. You’ve looked it from every possible angle, so, Bowden, you answer first.”

“I’m the teacher here,” Bowden said.

“No you ain’t,” Dad said. “You’re the guy I told to get up on the tractor and turn the key. Your knowledge of what happened to start the engine is scarcely better than an Amazon tribesman‘s. For all you know magic spirits made tractor go putt, putt.”

“It really didn’t take long for the sarcasm to surface,” Bowden said.

“Please,” Dad said. “Put me out of my misery and reveal what you would under the circumstances you described.”

(Continued tomorrow.)

 

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