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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Filling Vacuum?

A SPRING morning long ago was great for my Saturday travel. It was a warm Saturday just before Easter in 1966. My family had been invited to share dinner at a co-worker’s home near Mapleshade, NJ. Bill, a lunch buddy from work, had worn many grinding wheels to dust alongside me. For a month we had been fitting a stubborn ’67 Chevy fender stamping die as we progressed through Tool & Die apprenticeship in Philadelphia. We worked the evening shift together for a few months in the Budd Co. machine shop.
 We shared dinnertime in the company break room. We talked of many interesting topics. As I now remember these times, the conversations between us typically seemed to center around women, hunting, guns, and cars. During one of our half-hour meals during the month of March, he had asked what I had planned for Easter weekend.
 “Nothing much…” I said.
 That’s when we were invited to Bill’s home. He took a pen from the pocket of his dirty khaki shirt and gave me directions to his small New Jersey farm. To sweeten the invite, however, he promised that his place had plenty of room for us to do some skeet shooting.
 A great morning shotgun competition took place between the two of us after my arrival there. Our families were nestled in the farmhouse, getting the Easter feast together. In the smell of spent low brass shells mixed with a delicious meal cooking, we found that we too quickly had dusted off a full crate of clay pigeons. By the time we were done our shoot, however, shoulders hurt from hand launching targets and enduring several boxes worth of 12 gauge shotgun recoils. We were ready to eat. And eat we did. Bill said grace, and the meal was delicious . . . complete with yellow cake and chocolate icing.
 Afterward, Bill and I each garnered a cup of coffee and sat on the back porch. We could hear the women talking and the children playing with Lincoln logs. That’s when Bill started to talk about Eyesore.
 You see, the beast was hidden under a tin roof that hung out from the side of his barn. Eyesore sat in the shade. A faded black 2-door ’47 Chevrolet sedan, the old mule was woefully clad in rust. Eyesore was an heirloom of sorts for my friend. It had been parked in that spot by Bill’s father. The elder man had planned to one day having the engine repaired. However, the patriarch of his family had died without ever moving the car from its stall.
 Bill sipped from his cup and knowing that I had a keen interest in old cars, he asked whether the sedan was worth anything.
 “Not much.” was the answer I gave. The faded black lacquer, rust spots and flat tires did not bode well in my appraisal.
 “Does it run?” I asked.
  “Yep, it runs. It’ll start . . . but the engine knocks when it gets hot.”
 Bill flicked the ashes from his Salem menthol cigarette, took another sip of Chase and Sanborn, then added . . . “The shifter doesn’t work right either. I can’t get it into second gear without grinding.”
 Looking hard at the old car sitting there in the shade, I noted the dented small center hubcap on the front driver’s side wheel. I then piped two observations. First I said, “It’s probably full of mice.”
 Then I added, “Those old Chevy six cylinders had splash oiling to the connecting rods. Even when in good shape you have to keep the revs up high or the engine will spin a crankshaft bearing in no time."
 “Really?” Bill piped.
 “Yeah” I said. The shifting problem is minor, most likely a vacuum trouble.”
 “You’re kidding.” he answered.

 I told him then about my father’s friend who had the same year, make and model car, except for two more doors. As the guy accelerated and had to shift, he coasted a bit to let vacuum build in the reservoir canister so he could get to another gear. Dad found his trouble in a leaky vacuum reservoir can.
 Then my buddy Bill laid it on me. He said, “Tom, I don’t have the time to mess with the old bucket. If you can do anything with that Chevy you can have it.”
 I took him up on the offer after I lifted the hood and looked at the shift column. There they were . . . aged, cracked and leaky vacuum hoses. At first, the old horse did seem fixable. We spent the rest of the day repairing the hoses and getting the old six cylinder engine cranked up. I then drove it some 60 miles to get home before dark. Having arrived home at dusk, the old stove bolt six went about ten feet into my driveway and finally went “CLUNK!” A connecting rod had broken and the engine never started again. On Monday, while grinning a bit about the whimsy, I kidded Bill about how Chevy engines broke and that the vacuum sucked.
 My friend chuckled a little. But then I learned about my friend’s ambitions and why he didn’t have time to work on the Chevy. You see, unbeknownst to me, he had been going three mornings-a-week to college classes at Drexel University. He was studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Therefore he felt well-qualified to tell me that vacuum didn’t suck. Teaching me the science of pneumatics, Bill taught me that vacuum is just an air pressure that is lower than atmospheric pressure.
 My friend explained that a gas engine is just a self-propelled air pump running with a hand on its mouth. It tries to pump in air, but the throttle plate limits the air and thus the amount of fuel it gets. That way we can easily control the power and speed of the engine. But, since the air flow is restricted, pressure in the intake manifold drops. The resulting low pressure is what we call vacuum. Using that difference between high and low pressures, making it work on pistons and diaphragms, we apply the vacuum to operate such things as helping to work shift levers, move windshield wipers, and even the heater doors in my Oldsmobile Cutlass. The Olds hardtop used several pneumatic servo motors to get the job of air routing done.
 Thinking about these wondrous workings of high and low pressures that come along even in our local weather systems, I was amazed at how these natural occurrences can work in the world for our benefit. Further astounding me about the matter, was the occasion of learning biblical Greek while in the seminary. I found that when we were told about Jesus talking to Nicodemus, the same word was used . . . “pneuma”. I now know the word means “spirit” or “breath”. Jesus said . . ,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:5-9)

 So often we figure things backwards, like my supposing that vacuum sucks. We think we have our lives under control. But we fool ourselves. We run around in a vacuous spiritual void. We often crave some divine pressure in order to get our lives working right. If we pay attention to biblical teaching, like I paid attention to Bill… we find that what really is happening is that God is the source of all power. We need divine pressure!
 To attempt control, however, we sinful humans try to shut down the flow of the Spirit. We try to block the power that God would have over our life. We thus make our lives into meaningless vacuums.

 You see, from the time before our birth we live only by the will of God. From when the weight of the atmosphere is felt upon your pregnant mother’s body to the last breath squeezed from your lungs, God has placed you in a realm that requires you to strive within his creation. Working within that environment we collectively have a choice of sorts. We can go along with the divine flow, by recognizing our wondrous Creator, or we ignore or rebel . . . fighting the Spirit with no lasting success.
 However, to be born of the Spirit means that we are called by God to ask forgiveness for our disobedient ignorance, and then we may begin to breath the clean, free air won by the grace of God as given through Christ Jesus.
 For proof in what I say, let me give you this example. Just as vacuum gives way to higher air pressure, through the recognition of our powerless condition our lives, we can make way for God’s strength. Only by having our Creator’s guidance can we hear clearly the words of Jesus spoken upon the cross. You see, as he died making payment for our sinfulness, Jesus worked the miracle of salvation for us. He took our place. Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God said, “It is finished.” He pressured the Father for our sake; then he breathed his last.
 But the story does not end there, for this Jesus has been appointed as Lord of lords and the King of kings. Because he gave himself for us, God raised him from the dead. After his Resurrection he sent to us his Holy Spirit in fullness.
 Know that the Spirit is called the “hagios pneumatikos” in Greek, given so that we too might breathe of eternal life deeply. I say to you then, “Thanks be to God for the gift of pneumatics, for through that science we make an old Chevy shift . . . even while our Lord uses these natural laws to make shiftless humanity into saints.”
 Before you wend their way to summer car shows, therefore... check out this message, entitled, "Hold My Bier!"

May the blessings of God be with you and yours!