"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Fire and Water!



EVERY ONCE in a while we encounter someone who vibrates to our own frequency like a smooth hum coming from a high winding race car. Of such tone was my first meeting with Bud Groner. At the time, Bud had been the owner and operator of Langhorne Speed Shop, located in Langhorne, PA for many years. There I had met him over the counter as I purchased a set of four “AP” deep-dish aluminum magnesium wheels. The wheels were bought to dress up the tires of my 429 V-8 powered ‘70 Ford Torino.

 Though Bud was about 20 years my senior, during our talk about the Torino we connected over several common factors. Our mutual love of things automotive jelled together when he discovered that I taught auto repair classes at the Philco-Ford Technical School in a nearby Philadelphia suburb. Because of that fact, I soon was given a tour of the speed shop and taken to lunch. During that lunch, we shared the wins and woes of working on Ford high performance engines.

 Later, during the coming months, our friendship flourished even more as I found that he owned a Piper Cherokee aircraft, and I was by happenstance taking flying lessons. Then during the early 70s, my school changed owners. That learning institution became Pennco Technical School and moved to Bristol, PA, locating my classroom work place even closer to the speed shop. It was so close and convenient that Bud showed up there one day just after my class had been dismissed. He said to me from the classroom doorway, “I’ve got something to show you.”

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 Taking me out alongside the building, he revealed his brand new Volkswagen Sirocco. At first I thought that it looked a bit like the Bricklin sports cars that I’d worked on at a Ford dealer, then I thought it may be a poorly done DeLorean copy. But no.., his low and sleek silver VW was radically different. The rear-wheel-drive VW carried a 5-cylinder engine beneath the hood.

 Indeed! Seemingly designed by Audi engineering, the power pulses of the uneven numbered engine firing were balanced by a counter rotating balance shaft spinning within the power plant.

  However, after much talking over the ersatz innovations with Bud… I found out the real reason for his showing me, wasn’t about the pride of a new and unique car. You see, Bud was a true entrepreneur.

 Bud changed the tone of his voice to one of more serious note. He said, “I’d like your help with a project.”

With that said, he laid out a cardboard box that said, “Water Injection”.

 “I want to try this kit out on this VW.”

I said, “Are you serious? You’re nuts! That kit is garbage.”

He said, “Look, this is my wife’s car. And even with the turbocharger it runs like a raped ape in low gears, but the power wheezes out in higher. I think this water injection can be a cheap way to cure the lag. If it works, I’m going to sell the kits at the shop.”

 Now, knowing me to be rather conservative in theological matters today... many might say that’d be the end of the conversation. But not so… in those days my mechanical curiosities got the best of me. We installed the kit.

 Basically, the kit contained a reservoir, a water hose and various sized nozzles. The unit was powered by an electrical water pump, its wiring and a switch. After wading through instructions... made in at least four languages, we did the installation in about an hour, The pump would spray a water and alcohol mix (we used windshield washer fluid) into the engine’s air intake. The kit’s spray nozzle located in the ductwork we’d modified between the air cleaner and the throttle plate.

 I said, “Let’s start with the smallest nozzle and work upward in size until there’s no acceleration improvement.”

Bud, with a grin that could be used in an ad for a mental institution… said, “No… let’s go BIG! Thus we installed the largest water jet.

We took the car out on the newest portion of closed highway construction of what is now interstate I-95. Bud wound the five banger up, and as he hit high gear I pressed the water injection switch.

 For a moment, the engine sounded like a screaming Audi race car attacking a Nuremberg straight-away. We took off… and then… blurrrr… we started to go slower. I checked the rear view mirror and saw a cloud of steam trailing us like a white dragon’s breath. I quickly released the button. However, the steam kept pouring out of the exhaust for a moment of two. But eventually the engine started to run better. Finally, when my breath returned to my body… I heard Bud say, “I think we need a smaller jet.”

 After returning with spirits dampened into the school shop, and making adjustments in smaller jet sizes, we found that a small addition of water to the combustion mix did improve the sinfully lagging engine performance. However, just how much damage was done to the Sirocco was a point of discussion. I asked, “Was it a water baptism unto death?”



 Bud said, “I don’t know, but it’s a rental,”

 Today, years after my friend Bud has passed from this life… all I offer to you is that he traded that VW within a month after our experimental runs.

 Now I thought about this adventurous side of our friendship as I think about the Pentecost season. The story seems to fit… at least a little bit. You see… the VW had five cylinders… and Pentecost is the Hebrew feast of fifty days. Long ago, it also happened that Pentecost was the birthday of the Christian Church. At that time, Jesus’ disciples received the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit entered into them like water into combustion chambers, just so that they would make an all out run to express the faith given to them.

 Tongues of fire spread out from that Pentecost celebration and joined with the waters of baptism to speedily make new adherents to the faith. The two elements of faith, fire and water, then produced an evangelical power beyond all human comprehension. Together they transported Christianity as we inherited eternal life and the Good News traveled across the globe faster than an entrepreneurial man can drive a juiced VW. Even now, I consider whether it is any wonder that the first automobile invented was powered by steam.

 So it was, and so it is forevermore.


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May the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen!




Monday, August 24, 2020

Old Wine, New Bottle!

ANYONE WHO enters a winery or market looking for a celebratory vintage can attest to the dilemma. We get intertwined amongst bottles of various tendrils of the merchant’s grape arbor. The mind can become confused. This I find true each time my wheels roll me toward the store to purchase a pleasing wine for a church congregation. Choosing a fine eucharist wine is a daunting task.

 Whenever I take on this responsibility, I just look for a simple, tasty red wine. The red fruit of the vine is for consuming during our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Considered to be consecrated as the real blood of Jesus Christ during the holiest of ceremonies, I view the impact on the sensibilities of God and his people brings my choice of communion wine a very great significance. This is not a task for the faint hearted.

 However, for help in the matter I’ve turned to the greatest advice… the Holy Bible. If the wine becomes a sacrament, because it certainly participates in the reality of our Lord’s shed blood. Though we are sinful

and imperfect… we believers want to choose the best possible wine for that unique and holy occasion. Color is important. Smell is important. And taste is very important. Thus for the task, before motoring to the store… I choose to get the Holy Spirit’s help.

 In referring to the scriptures, I found several relevant stories and verses. Seemingly, the first and most important section I read was the story of Jesus turning water into wine… the very best wine. The occasion happened during a wedding in Cana of Galilee. They had run out of wine for the wedding guests. Jesus was in attendance, and was subsequently called upon by his mother to help the happy gathering. Jesus, though somewhat reluctant… changed water into wine. The change was dramatic… and the taste divine.

 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:9-10)

The wine that Jesus made was the newest wine, but from the text we know that the steward of the wedding was startled. The wine he served was the best wine… like an old wine… well refined.

 At the store, as I chose and paid for what I hoped was a tasty, blood red wine, I thought about how often we Christians argue about the wine that we favor. No doubt some in my congregation would approve of the slightly, dry wine I had chosen… and others would favor something sweeter.

 With some doubts then, I returned to my car, simply because I am not a judge of fine wines. During that week, I considered my selection several times, doubting the wisdom of my wine choosing. Later in the week, my unhinged beliefs about the selection emerged on Saturday, just before my making final worship preparations for the next day. Thoughts about my wine choice were spurred once again, surprisingly… by a car show that I attended that very afternoon. Now dear reader, please know that while there seems to be no remote connection between the two topics… wine and cars… hear me out.

 Being held locally, the car show presented a vehicle that help to solve my struggles. I had seen the antique car many times before, but this time it made unique impact. It had aged well. Sitting there in beige, the ‘30s era Ford was just as savory to my tastes during that late afternoon show as the first time I’d seen it. A grand, restored example of its era, the car gave those who are knowledgeable about such things… a taste of Henry’s early manufacturing venture into the flathead V-8 engine. You see, that year demonstrated the grafting of a new engine into the already very successful lineage of the Model “A”… in order to produce the Model “B”… a car that led Ford into a new era of engine power. The essence grew into a taste that would last for several decades. Sweet, smooth power strokes from that engine’s eight cylinder design carried Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles until to the end of its production in 1953. It reminded me of the white wine that my wife often loved to sip as we sat on the parsonage porch in the evening.

 That afternoon, I remembered that the flathead V-8 engine, however, was like a fine wine. It was not always dry. Like a wine, it occasionally emerged with a sour bite. You see, if one of the two thermostats stuck… unequal cooling took place. Overheating and cylinder block cracking could quickly leave a vinegary taste in an owner’s mouth. Pulling the dipstick would reveal the milky white hue of water in the oil.

 However, the old car’s mystique kept Ford aficionados faithful to the taste for decades. As World War II ended, many mechanics who had kept cars, tanks, trucks, airplanes, and boat engines and more running during the turmoil… returned home. Some of these found fertile fields with Model “T”, “A” and “B” Ford vehicles sitting amongst the overgrown orchards they had left behind. These wonderful pioneers of the hotrod age, with skills of making do with little, put new corks in the old Ford bottles. This skill led such lords of the Ford vineyard such as Zora Arkus Duntov to produce overhead valve cylinder heads for the basic block, for marine use.

 Given this, even today I find it marvelous that the reclamation of old Ford heritage began just as we found the orchard that sprang up from the Chevrolet 265 c.i.d. V-8 small block. The small-sized OHV (over-head-valve) V-8 engine put new zest into old standards. As the years rolled forward more so, Chevrolet small block sizes grew to 283, 327, 305 and 350 c.i.d versions. Ford also began to cultivate the OHV, V-8, 260, 289 and 302 c.i.d. small block engines. Each engine was an off-the-shelf candidate that could satisfy the tastes of those car builders who demanded brand purity.

 As I considered this history when walking through the show, I remembered many long-standing Chevy-vs-Ford debates. I even remembered and a rather blasphemous friend who dared squeeze a Mopar 340 into his Model “A” and another who went for the old 394 Hemi. The sour thought still makes me taste vinegar and want a spit cup.

 You see, I think that as each hot rodder reached for automotive perfection, each fell just a bottle of nitrous short. Whether holding to the original V-8, or grafting the chassis to wedge, semi-hemi or hemi engines, the original Ford taste was improved… but not perfected. I thought about this fact during that following evening, and determined that as usual… things play out just as they should. God has the creative habit of making our lives palatable after all. You see, just as no automobile… whether antique, classic, high boy or hotrod… is not quite perfect… neither is any brand or bottle of communion wine. However, even when that which is offered is not preferred in taste, it is the spirit in the wine that makes the event special. Thus it always is with the Holy Eucharist.

 What makes communion wine perfect is not the human, nor genetic rootedness of what is grown, crushed, fermented and consumed… but the presence of perfection that was provided by God. Scripture describes this growth. In the Holy Bible we read about how Jesus, who is the Son of God… took bread, broke it… and thus gave us His body to pay the penalty for our sins. He died that we might live!

 He also then raised a cup of wine before his followers and said… “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” Having done so, he told those present at that supper, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

 Knowing this truth as we enter the sanctuary as part of the kingdom then, we are called to gather and remember these words. Whether the wine is new or old, sweet or dry, red, blush or otherwise… these words being spoken are surely the words of God granting us forgiveness and eternal life.

 Personally, for my taste during communion, I obviously prefer a red grape wine in preference to just using grape juice. Wine has a certain liveliness of spirit. It just seems to fit my own mental picture of my risen Lord’s smiling face.

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Watcha Doin?

OUR NEIGHBOR is an elderly man who came around whenever we worked on cars. My brother in law had said that George, my retired neighbor, must have been a mechanic when Henry Ford was a pup. George would show at the garage doorway, then a familiar routine would unfold.
 First came the "Watcha doin?" We'd simply respond with a "Messin round."
 Then came the "Uhh, Izzit broke?"

 Since the reclamation of an engine's cylinder head was the task being undertaken, I looked up from the bench as I loosened the tension that my clamp had on a valve spring.

 "No, I'm just trying to make the whole car like new." I said. I then winked at my brother-in-law, Gary, who thrashed wrenches beneath the old car's hood.
 "Don't lose them keepers." George cautioned, showing that he'd been down this valve job road before. He continued. "It'd be a sin to hafta dig around the floor fer half a one of them."
  "What do you know about sin, George?" I grinned.
"Plenty..," he said. "We all got a bit ya know."
My brother-in-law, knowing that George was a deacon in the church at the corner, decided to wade in. 
"Sinning you say? I don't figure I'm doin nothing wrong. I'm just twistin wrenches for a living."
 "That's what most folks think." said George.
 As I lifted an intake valve off its seat the old man said, "It's just like that big ol' intake valve there.., all we figure is that we need a little bit of room to slip by and pretty soon we're wobbling pretty bad."
  I said, "Yeah, this guide has seen better days."

 By this time, George had pulled up an old, antique milk crate that I often used for a seat. He took the intake valve from the bench, sat down and crossed his leg. He looked at the valve. An edge of the face had been burned slightly.
"Just like this here valve," he said, "We were made for the wear of the life at hand, but we often are headed for a burning. Like this valve, we need to be caught up just in time."

By this time Gary's curiosity waned while he worked to get the other head from beneath the hood. But, it seemed that respect for the elder man caused him to continue. He piped. "What do ya mean, George?"
 "Well, if we read what Saint Paul wrote to the Romans we hear him say... "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

 Gary grinned at me, straightened up and slapped the edge of the hood, then said. "But we ain't Roman.., we're American."
 George bore down. "Yep, but did you hear the ALL part?"
 "You mean nobody is perfect." Gary continued. "I've heard that said..," while looking and pointing his wrench at me.
 "Nobody it seems." George said, smiling at me over the valve still held in his hand.
 By this time, I'd started micrometer checks of the valve stems. George nodded at me and said, "Nobody measures up, except one. Only God is perfect, and he won't accept anyone who isn't perfect."
  "Man, that means we're in the gook like a deep and dirty dipstick" I told them while looking at Gary. But I felt a little uncomfortable.., because the old guy started to make a little sense.
"That's right." George said. "And as we try to climb out, the more slippery it gets."
 Gary now sounded serious too. "Then I guess we're going around the old race track the wrong way, ain't we?"
"But I can fix this bad ol' worn valve guide by replacing it." I offered trying to bail us out. However, the conversation was far too deep.
 "Yep, that's what God does too." George said. "He replaced your punishment for messing things up. He gave the punishment to Jesus and gave heaven to you."
 A chuckle came from Gary, who leaned over the fender cover to lift the other head from the big block.

  "Yeah, I hear ya..," he grunted as he heaved the head up off the engine. Then he sighed, "But I'm not into the Jesus thing."

 "Well, how you going to fix that valve guide?" George asked me.

 I thought for a second. Then offered, "I'm going to replace the guide and have it reamed."

 "Right!" said George. "And God replaced you on the cross of death and he crucified Jesus instead. That way Jesus got reamed. He died and you get forgiven and are called the perfect son."

 "Yeah, this is all for free?" Gary quizzed skeptically.

 "Very free. It's a free gift" George came back.

 "Does that mean I don't have to go to church with my wife? Gary snickered.
 "You don't have to.., but it might be nice to say thanks to God. After all, how'd you feel if you gave your kid to save somebody and they didn't come around to say thanks."
"Whoa," I thought. I looked at Gary. "I haven't been in church since I went chasin after your sister in the Junior Choir."

 George chuckled. And Gary bore in grinning. "Yeah.., God does get even don't he. you caught her."
 "Uh huh." I said. "And I ended up getting you in the family."

 George just sat for a moment in the quiet that fell after the laughter died. Then he said, "There's a seat for that valve right there in that head to make things work just right, and there's a seat for you in the church that's been sitting empty. You'd best be thinking about filling the hole."
 Gary pushed the analogy a bit farther, "I guess not getting seated means you can burn, brother, just like the valve." 
George mused as he rose from his seat. "Never thought of it that way. but it does make some sense."
He put the milk crate away, then walked toward the door of the shop. He looked at the old four door upon which we worked.

 "You know what F-O-R-D stands for?"
 Being a Chevy disciple, Gary blurted "Found On the Road Dead!"
 "Hmmph!" I countered, "How bout "Faster On Race Day".
  But the old man said, "Nope, it means. For Our Redeemer Died.

 Next week I'll tell you the full story.., about how Jesus came back".

 Surely Ol' George seemed a bit taller as he went out the door and walked up the driveway. He seemed to be talking to someone. I hear old folks, especially old mechanics, do that.

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