Liberty

Liberty, our little Church, is officially located in the township of Cairo (pronounced kayro), formerly known as Fairview. Either the view was judged not so fair or the name was not exotic enough. So far as I know, there are no actual Egyptians associated with the village. At any rate, Liberty is not really near the village but is several miles up 63 and some 4 miles east. Turn right onto the dirt road under the American flag and the big bill board (which has recently carried messages trying to prevent suicide or trying to preserve fuel), and just beyond the Unlimited Supply Company (a contradiction in messages). You will pass a ranch on the left, which for inexplicable reasons has four long horn cattle in a front pen, then you will go by Rita’s house on the right. Rita is not able to get to church often due to her sister Nita being ill, though she is a fine baker and will be happy to cater your next event. On the left you will pass a sign for the Jim and Betty Mather Goat Farm with Award-Winning Goats (not having seen their exceptional goats I am not clear in what manner they win awards). Liberty is over the rise behind the cemetery.

 We recently buried Imogene (who passed away at age 97) and her grave is still fresh, two rows back. Right after her funeral Larry pointed out the oldest part of the cemetery in the northeast corner where Edgar Crew is buried and who, though the marker does not indicate it, was hung in 1891. The clientele of the cemetery, in Larry’s telling, are not closely scrutinized on the finer points of doctrine. The cemetery is largely occupied by Robucks, Larry’s people, and while we are liberal in our burying practices, Larry is concerned that interlopers will learn of the cheap burial plots in the pristine surroundings and buy them all up.  

One grave evokes the story of Jessi Miller, the son of the closest neighbors to the Church. The Millers, like several families spread out in the countryside around the Church, attended Liberty until a hardnosed preacher insisted that Leroy Olsen, son of Rose Marie (who still attends), could not serve as deacon as he had married a divorced woman.  The Millers, along with about half the members, quit. So young Jessi and the Millers were no longer associated with the Church. At age 16 Jessi acquired a particularly nice automobile and a girlfriend, and on the same day as his girlfriend broke up with him there was a flood on highway H, and Jessi ran the car into the flood waters near the power substation. He managed to get out of the car but he walked the 3 miles home, found his deer rifle and finalized the bad turn of events.

Woodrow (a name used by Larry McMurtry in his novel, Lonesome Dove), who passed on before my arrival, is the name stamped in all of our hymnals along with his wife Fern, also memorialized by a bush in front of the Church. Occasionally stories of Woodrow come up, but I just imagine Lonesome Dove’s Woodrow Call as a Missouri farmer and a peculiarly hard-headed Elder. I am always slightly amused by the memorial Fern Bush as I walk into the building.

Between the Church and the cemetery is a wide rolling green lawn (Doug Cider comes out each week to mow) sloping into thick woods behind the Church, which during deer season sounds like an artillery range. Last Sunday, as I walked into the Church (which is on what Missourians call a knob and so affords an expansive view), I counted 10 different bird calls. Rose Marie figured there would have been Killdeer, Robins, Warblers, and Field Sparrows, but she suggested I may have overestimated in my count.

 As usual, the men gathered in the foyer for a rundown of the week’s events, and I asked Dell why he drove his truck rather than the car he usually uses for Sunday.  Dell recounted the most prolonged tale I had ever heard from him. His daughter had bought a new Audi and was driving up to visit when she had a flat tire and discovered the Germans had so precision engineered the car that the spare is deflated so as to fit into the spare tire well. The story involved dim witted tow truck drivers that could not change or fix a tire, several visits by the highway patrol, and ended with Dell loaning his car to his daughter for the week and driving the truck to Church. Larry had not arrived yet and when he did, he also noticed Dell had driven his truck. Dell faithfully recounted, without a single abridgement, this fine chronicle (a good story deserves retelling). Each week Nina ends our conversation with a rousing chorus on the piano of “To God be the Glory,” and we move up front.

Besides raising cattle, Larry had a career as a science teacher, a basketball coach, and for many years was an elected representative on the local rural electric coop.  I once pointed out to him that by Texas standards he owned more cattle than most and yet he did not dress the part (big hat, boots, etc.). He said that his father had taught him to never be presumptuous and for that reason was hesitant to even wear a cap, as it might seem as if he were trying to be what he is not. Uppity would be the last word I would associate with either Dell or Larry. Dell, retired for many years, is a skilled woodworker, though the missing fingers on one hand testify to a major mistake. I explained to him that in Japan the missing digits would mark him as a particularly mean mafioso, but in his quiet humility he may have missed the incongruity.

 Sunday School this week, on “Consequences for Injustice,” brought out a predictable turn in which Lois, our Quaker member who also follows the Unity movement out of Kansas City, clearly has the brightest perspective. Larry pointed out that a nation cannot survive where basic honesty and human decency are no longer honored. There is nothing worse than a liar, according to Larry, and he presumes America cannot continue on its present path.  An early sign of this (which I am not sure I completely comprehend as I do not follow basketball) is, as Larry explained, the defection of Lew Alcindor to the Muslim religion. Lewis Alcindor, in Larry’s book, is one of the most morally upstanding of human beings and when he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar this was a sign the universe was out of kilter.  I pointed out that we could add a long list of black Christians turned Muslim, but Larry seemed unimpressed with my examples. No one, apparently, is in the same orbit with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lois brought a more positive note, pointing out that “the Christ within” does not depend upon this particular political moment. Even Hitler, she explained, would be given many chances in his multiple reincarnated states.  I am never quite sure if we are all exactly on the same page, but everyone seemed satisfied.

Michael has recently constructed the FP lasagna garden, as he calls it, consisting of a layer of paper, manure, mulch, and composted soil. Rose Marie shows little interest in most subjects, but the mention of gardening so transforms her countenance – it is the only sure subject that elicits a smile.  So, I mention our gardening progress just to witness the transformation and to receive whatever advice she might have.  I would guess it is only in this peculiar sacred space that she receives a bit of conversation, signs of interest, and quiet solicitude and solace.

Likewise, our little Church provides a place for Dell’s storytelling, Larry’s theologizing, and Lois’s exhortations. It is the root of this little community, providing a core sense of place, where all have a voice. The humble little white building is so unpretentious that it serves as a levelling device, much like the tiny entrance to a Japanese tea room (all are made to bow equally). There is no financial or political gain in this levelling place. Those interested in the vestments of power, the presumption of self-importance, would feel ridiculous in this society with the singular prerequisite of willing acceptance. I have never heard an angry word spoken, as even the most serious topics are approached with great good humor and regard for the feelings of others. The homely surroundings, by definition, do not admit snobbery or exclusion. In other words, a piece of all its members is rooted in this little country chapel.  Smoke and mirrors may entertain the masses but spiritual well-being requires a heavier investment.

If you could be buried in this lovely obscurity, this place out of time, without longing for bigger and better, there is an open plot South of Edgar Crew, about 2 yards West of Imogene. The price of entry is $60 and a life.

 I think I can assure Larry he need not worry about a mob of interlopers.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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