THE ROAD HOME

Isn’t it rich? Streisand’s voice posed that question on the radio, and that’s all I could think early yesterday morning, winding our way up Hwy 270 from Hot Springs to Fort Smith so we could then hang a left for Colorado, for home. I find that stretch of road always beautiful, but yesterday it was hands down. Isn’t it rich? Yes, Barbara, yes. Rain the day before left the landscape rinsed clean. The world Eden-green. That part of the state is quite patriotic, and American flag after American flag dotted my view. The red, white, blue, and green created a quartet of color that coupled with the Castilleja (Indian paintbrush) standing at attention along the road’s shoulder lit up the whole show. Another name for that flower is prairie-fire. Annie Dillard wrote “the whole world sparks and flames.” Yes, Annie, yes.

That stretch of highway also caters to the tourist, those seeking something anti-interstate. Rock shops are as plentiful as paintbrush, long outdoor tables sagging with stones for sale. One in particular caught my eye – ROCK SHOP AND TUXEDO RENTALS. For the life of me I don’t recall ever seeing that combo before, but there it was plain as day. I love living in a world where you can browse for calcite and cummerbunds in the same spot. Those who live and work along that highway are demonstrably religious, evidenced by the crosses, always seen in threes with the middle cross slightly taller for that was the one upon which Jesus died. I confess such displays can get a bit campy for me, but yesterday’s extravagances left no room for my inner cynic. It felt like driving through a circus, the kind you visited as a child breathless and wide-eyed at the sheer wonder of it all. The sights, the smells, the absolute grandeur. Don’t bother sending in the clowns. They’re already here.

My mind wandered to the great divides that exist in our country right now, and honestly have for years. Some would find that stretch of Arkansas highway representative of all that’s wrong. Some would insist it is all that’s right. Others would feign indifference at the whole, their apathy possibly the thing that finally unravels our Republic. Who knows? But yesterday, smack-dab under the roof of creation’s big tent, it felt small to judge anyone, or anything for that matter. My only response was gratitude, what I pray these days is more and more my usual flair. There is only one Judge, and rumor has it his name is M-E-R-C-Y, and Mercy is his name-o. Yes, mercy, yes.

Amen.

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9 Comments

  1. Ruth Brown on May 13, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Thank you, John. I loved this. It was so soul-soothing that it ached, and I was there. Thank you.

  2. Mary Kehoe on May 13, 2019 at 11:10 am

    John, You have me wondering if you were picking up son or going to see your Mom…or did you do both. I thought of you when I read about the shooting again in a Colorado school… Thanks for sharing with us from time too time. I still hunger for your writing…

  3. Alice Scott-Ferguson on May 13, 2019 at 11:41 am

    wonderous observations! Yes to mercy, in bountiful supply; may we gulp freely and impart in grace!

  4. Kay Hanevik on May 13, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Beautiful imagery John. I love how you paint oictures with your words

  5. Rhonda Wray on May 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Oh, how I love “calcite and cumberbuns”! Amazing. I’m attributing this to near-useless information I somehow know, crowding out what are surely more important details, but exchange the b for an m and sneak a d between the n and s for the correct cummerbunds. (Does anyone even wear those anymore?) Still awesome alliterative juxtaposition! Raising my glass to toast a little less cynicism from all of us.

  6. Ruth Ann Jacobs on May 15, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Good post. Enjoyed seeing pics of the family at Will’s graduation.

    • Alonzo “Lon” Vining on November 12, 2019 at 1:00 am

      John, I randomly picked this poem from the ones you’ve written since June 2019 and I struck gold, even as it struck me deep in my heart. What you said couldn’t have been more familiar to me if I’d written it myself. Like you, I’ve navigated that meandering stretch of highway many a time heading to Colorado, where we lived for a spell, or countless other times going to visit my sister in Alma, or nowadays, traveling from my new home in NW Arkansas back home to Arkadelphia to visit my 90-year-old father (and/or Ouachita. There’s not much distinction between the two with my family!). That route is like a trip through a mystical zone where time has stood still and people’s souls are connected to the dirt, the woods and the creeks from which they have been born. The only thing liberal there is the amount of butter used in every dish on the menu.

      But it was what you said about the current struggles and how people might judge the folks who live in this stretch of the woods that resonated so with me. The whole bit did. Most people on both sides of these arguments do not know anyone on the other side, and the assumptions they make as to how the other side thinks, and why they think it, are largely the stereotyped constructions of Hollywood, big city news outlets, and late night comedians, not reality. I know this for fact. When I’ve had the chance to see people from the two sides meet in a casual setting away from their contentious debates, I’ve seen how shocked they are at the decency their idealogical and political enemies really are. Ironically, on most issues, both sides want the same things—justice, freedom, and happiness for everyone (or at least for people like themselves)—but they just disagree on how to best achieve that. On this how-to side of things, there is admittedly a wide gulf created by differences in worldview and ideology (and theology, really), but I think if both parties could just realize that they strive toward those same basic goals heretofore mentioned—and cease demonizing the other side, and instead dialogue with and seek to understand one another—it would make for a better, less contentious, more peaceful country. And a much more effective government. Instead of claiming there’s a deficit in how much your opponents care or love or think, we could talk substantively about actual issues, examining our differences in ideas, i.e., differences in the methods we believe will achieve the most lasting good for our citizenry. That kind of debate can be largely undertaken using facts and logic instead of the constant stream of demonizing recriminations about the moral dearth of those with whom one disagrees. Such civil discourse is more likely to end in compromise, too. If you simply disagree with your opponent over ideas or methods, compromise is possible. But if you view your opponent as a devil bent on unleashing untold evil in the world, you won’t, and if your constituents believe the same, you can’t—at least not if you want to get elected again. You can’t shake hands with the devil. So we’ve got to figure out how to frame our political differences in terms of ideas instead of ideologically shaped morality. Both sides are guilty of this, and perhaps Christians most of all.

      That was a lot more than I meant to write. I think you struck something inside me with this piece, John. I guess thats not surprising given the nostalgic trip you took me down on a road I’m so familiar with. Our incredibly similar contexts probably plays a part, too. I was thinking about it. We’re both South Arkansas natives, OBU alumnus, and (former) ministers (once in the same town even). You may not recall it, but we share a pretty big link to Nashville, Ark. and the First Baptist Church there, too. My mom grew up in Nashville and her grandfather pastored FBC Nashville, just as your dad did. Not to get too carried away here, but I’m a bit of a poet and (published) writer, too, though not on your level(!), but I have an artists heart, so I love and relate to so much in your writings. So sometimes when I read your stuff it’s almost like reading my personal thoughts and experiences—but just better written mine would have been. 🤣 Thanks for using your gift this way John. And thanks for taking me down (or, actually, up) these familiar West Arkansas roads again. Country roads, take me home. – Lon

      • John Blase on November 12, 2019 at 9:31 am

        Thanks for commenting, Lon. It’s good to hear from you. I had forgotten about some of the Nashville connections…

  7. Angela Garrett on May 16, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    I loved reading this, John. Being an Arkansas native who has been living elsewhere for awhile, I could easily visualize the imagery and I know the attitudes you described. Home-it’s bittersweet.

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