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Decide Now Whom You Shall Serve!
OUR CHARACTER is largely inherited from those who proceed us. From the very beginning then, we need to work diligently in teaching needed foundations of faith to those who follow us on the roads of life. I think about this when considering the directions that our nation has taken in recent years.
As a child born early in the years of World War 2, I sat making airplanes out of cigar boxes and brad nails while perched on a stone wall in front of my grandfather’s house. I waited each day for my father during those early mornings. I missed his laugh. He had been gone for far too long. I barely remembered his face as he served then with the US Navy in the Pacific.men in our family served. I missed them all… including my Uncle Carl. He was a very special uncle. He had a special car.
Thus it was that I sat on my perch on the wall and admired that he’d driven home in a very special car. Uncle Carl had come home for several weeks from the war in Europe. During his leave time, he had taken his car from storage and parked the pale Buick convertible smack in front of my grandfather’s house on Shawnee Ave. in Plymouth, PA. The.car glistened with its white soft top all ready and waiting to fall far back… so a young boy like me could stand too daringly up high... venturing firmly to face the wind.
Consequently, I sat on the wall guarding the wide-whitewall tires jealously, so that Skippy, our fox terrier, would not.., heaven forbid, stain the wide white wall tires. By lifting his back leg and wetting the tires, I thought he would permanently etch them to conflict with the paint.
I waited patiently on that wall. I waited building airplanes as I could until the mid-morning hours saw the sun rise high. My patience began to fade however, especially when I thought of riding in my Jodhpur shorts on the car’s hot, dark brown leather seats. I had practiced riding with legs lifted, saying the name of the car. However, in my youth I kept saying “Buck” instead of “Buick”.
My glee arose when my uncle stepped out on the porch dressed in his army uniform. He grabbed up Skippy and called for me to load up in the front passenger seat. Oh, the brightness of it all! A ride in the Buck was at hand. Even today I remember that scene humorously when I consider the matter. For you see… little did I know that the terrier and I were both riding as bait. Uncle Carl trolled through nearby streets looking for pretty girls.
Quality has its followers. Indeed, Buick automobiles were part of my household for several generations. You see, those cars were familiarly American. Buick still holds the oldest active American marque for an automobile. The original Buick Motor Company was the cornerstone for General Motors in 1908.
My grandfather had worked many years for a man who drove a fancy Buick convertible, one of the first Buick cars in our small town. As an elder in the Welsh Baptist Church down the street from the wall where I made airplanes as a boy, that man had a faithful employee who took care of the car. A slightly-injured miner who’d retired to the house next door to us earned extra income as he washed the car regularly and polished it once each week. Unfortunately, having persistently leaked oil a bit because rear main bearing gasket technology was also in its infancy, the car eventually was replaced by a bigger, black four-door Buick Special.
I remember that in the early ‘50s, after that war was over the stone wall on which I’d sat echoed smooth sounds of Buick straight-eight cylinder engines, powering through a silent Dyna-flow automatic transmissions. The cars were far beyond the prideful boast of the first turn signals to ever to grace a car.
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That war was indeed over and cars became bigger. Returning warriors like my father came home. Families whose men found worthy work could then afford new cars and houses, and those were soon motoring to our Welsh Baptist church in large cars like the Buick. But try as I might in looking, among them was not found a pale convertible.
Buick was a car that seemed to mean success. That car spelled upper-middle class. It meant that a family was growing. My father often said that you could usually tell the income, family prodigy and social pride of a man based on whether he drove a Chevy, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick or Cadillac… and also where he would sit in church on any Sunday morning. As well, back then he warned that the quest for power and position are often the roots of prideful sin.
Indeed power was hard at work in the Buick. You could no longer get a new inline 8-cylinder Buick after ‘53. The car maker dumped the sturdy straight eight, and dropped in a V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor combo in its place beneath all hoods of new models. Buick soon pushed the engine size to greater heights, as the 401 c.i.d. V-8 engine entered the battle of engine verses brakes.
A heavy weight in both pomp and circumstance, the late ‘50s Buick needed big wheels… and used big, finned drum brakes to curb the engine power. Buick’s high performance intermediate and small car models soon were tried out on the GM test track as prototypes from the division vied for attention against such as the Mercury Comet and Cougar.
Finally during the ‘70s, Buick got performance radical by putting turbocharged V-6 power beneath the Regal hood. Painted in somber and threatening black, these cars boldly cast stones hard against a rock engineering wall that had believed that bigger was always better. I remember driving one of those dark beasts when I was still attending seminary part-time. The magazine I worked for had garnered the car for a photography session. As I stepped on the accelerator pedal, the engine barely squeaked the tires, and then the wind went “Whoosh”. I found out rapidly that a new generation had been born. The wind that had blown in a young man’s hair during WW2… had been captured and engineered into a small engine in order to blow the mind.
Buick and I have traveled a far way it seems. For as I accepted the graceful privilege of being a pastor within my Lord’s church, the dust raised by generations of family and cars carried me to into the auditorium of the University of Rhode Island. And oddly, while kneeling… like the sound of a big block Buick 455 cube V-8, the sound began faintly, almost unheard during many verses of “Amazing Grace” being sung by a large choir. Soon I could hear another voice. I understood then the gift of the Spirit of Pentecost as spoken in the biblical book of Acts.
Was it a trick of my excited mind? I asked. In retrospect I don’t believe so. Weeks later, a parishioner from Maine gave me a picture that was taken at my ordination. Within it, I was pictured as kneeling alongside another ordination candidate. She has become a good friend in ministry over the years. We were both ordained on those steps that felt like a rock wall. What seemed to be a photographic anomaly was present above us in the picture. Flames are clearly seen. Some have said it was a defect in the self-developing film. Others have said it was a reflection. I rather think that.., “Whoosh” said the Holy Spirit.
As I consider this, though a few generations have passed since my days of making airplanes on a rock wall, the sound I heard repeats that which I said loudly to chase our dog from lifting his leg on the whitewalls. “Whoosh” is yet said to the Church as the Spirit comes to us in baptism. The sound often unheard by sinful ears, is divinely spoken to chase away evil demons. Its echoes speak softly to us at the communion rail when God is forgiving us our sinful ways of war and broken families. “Whoosh” is the sound that I feel on the back of my neck which marks when God, through his Son... is preserving us… echoing across the ages in Word, giving faith from one Christian generation to another.
Thanks be to God for all that is in that wondrous sound... for especially today I thank our Creator… for loving uncles and old Buicks that sat before me when I was yet a very lonely child.
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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.”
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?”
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!