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We laid Dad to rest between these mountains two days ago.

Never have the words ‘laid to rest’ seemed so appropriate, so purposed, so fine. These last years of Dad’s life were restless. Now there is rest. Here. In this fine valley, between these mountains.

    *     *     *

I took Dad’s dented car—one of the used ‘Gray Goose’ erstwhile-flower-carrying Ford station wagons from the funeral home that made for great value—down to Nelson’s Express where he was working nights. I feared he’d murder me for backing it into a telephone pole down on Union Street so soon after getting my driver’s license.

He didn’t murder me. He walked across to the parking lot where the wounded Goose waited sheepishly, took one long, expressionless look at her, and said simply: ‘OK, I’ll call my insurance man.’ Then he went back to work.

Dad said most things simply, back when he was whole and well.

‘Didn’t raise his voice, didn’t threaten, didn’t say “Oh, it was nothing” (because it was something. I bashed in the corner of his car.). ‘Just kept it steady and in perspective.

    *     *    *

I was probably twelve years old the day I tried to catch his knuckle ball, down on the very slanted field behind the house where Grandpa had taught my Dad to throw a baseball, back when nobody knew yet that he’d blossom into a Local Hero on the baseball diamond and drive away one day to play pro ball in faraway places and then bring back a wife and a little girl from there.

It hit me on the foot.

We were playing catch and I asked him to throw me a knuckler.

‘Are you sure?’, he asked. ‘Yeah.’

‘Can you catch it?’ ‘Yup.’

‘OK.’

It seemed so easy. The ball was about two feet out from my glove and I was ready to squeeze the mitt on what seemed no big thing. Then it moved. It hit me in the foot.

Wow, this dude really knows something.

    *     *     *

Dad worked hard Monday through Friday driving trucks, back before union rules and other niceties meant that truck drivers were not truck loaders and unloaders, too. He probably wanted to rest on Saturdays. But there I was, his little railroad-train freak, asking Dad whether he’d drive me up along the river to wait for a Conrail train to come by so I could watch it. So he’d drive me up Route 147 and we’d pull off the road, park along the tracks, and wait for a train to come by. You never knew when there’d be a train. Sometimes, we waited a very long time.

I don’t remember that we talked about very much as we sat in the car by the tracks and waited for a train. When the thing had roared past and I’d seen and heard my fill of train for a day, he’d put the car in reverse and we’d go home.

I have no idea what he thought about this. I just know that he drove me to see trains on Saturday mornings.

   *    *    *

I peaked early. In Little League, I had one brief shining moment as a pretty good pitcher, going 6-0 my final year. I loved hearing the old codgers who leaned against the chain-link face and watched our games say, ‘He’s gonna’ be just like Mimmy.’

That I never truly excelled at sports is something for which I still await my own healing. Dad would have liked it if I’d become an All-Star, but he was OK with things as they were.

    *     *     *

While serving as a relatively penniless missionary in Latin America, circumstances would occasionally allow for my family to see Dad and Mom. Not like nowadays, when plane travel is within reach. But sometimes.

When I’d see Dad, he’d very quietly insert a $20 bill in my pocket, or $100. I was not allowed to object. It was ‘for gas’ or ‘for lunch when you fly back’. Nothing more was ever said about it. It was what was going to happen. No fanfare. No noise. No drama.

    *     *     *

I grew up knowing that some things were ‘bush’. You just knew this. It was not complicated.

On the baseball field, failing to run out a ground ball or a pop fly was the poster child for bush. But people could go bush off the field, too.

It was years later that I realized that ‘bush’ was short for ‘Bush League’, a kind of baseball that’s played on unprepared turf by people who didn’t care enough or push hard enough to make it to a smooth field. It was not about ability, it was about commitment and what we called ‘class’ before we knew that the word had ugly reverberations in other places beyond these two mountains.

All I knew was the expression ‘That’s bush’.

I didn’t want to do bush. The message was ‘We don’t do bush…’.

I think I’ve run out one or two ground balls in life because of this early, short-sentence training in life.

     *     *     *

Dad had an incredible memory for the details of baseball games that occurred decades ago, mostly games in which he himself had played.

‘I had worked him inside and out and then Stumpy called a curve-ball on the inside corner. I backed him off the plate and it curved in to catch the corner. He wasn’t happy when Leupold punched him out. ‘Just stood there and looked.’

I had my doubts about Dad’s oft-repeated story about a major injury to his catcher when the young Hank Aaron inadvertently plunked him on the forehead as he slid into second base. Dad was allegedly coaching third base when it went down. I imagined the years had embellished the tale.

Then, in recent years, I found Jerry Poling’s A Summer Up North. Henry Aaron and the Legend of Eau Claire Baseball. There’s a whole chapter about the very thing.

  *     *     *

Secrets.

I’m not sure whether Dad had any, and I don’t care to know now.

But there was one question he never answered: ‘Did you ever throw at anybody?’

    *     *     *

I suspect Pennsylvania Dutchmen experience the full range of human emotions. I just don’t think they tell you about it.

But I recall giving the news to Dad as he made his familiar post-work trek up through the backyard and up the back stairs into the house that Princess, our (runt-of-the-litter-but-we-loved-her) German Shepherd had died. Dad responded with a compassionate groan that I don’t think I ever heard a second time: ‘Ohhh ….’.

  *     *     *

Dad didn’t like what was happening to the country in or around 1968. Our nation’s fabric was being torn to pieces. He was pretty sure that the detail of men wearing their hair long lay somewhere near the root of it.

At Miller Bros Dairy one night on our family ice-cream stop, there ensued a stare-down worthy of the OK Corral as two kids smoking their cigs with their long hair flapping in the breeze enjoyed their ice cream cones at a slow amble in our general direction. When the distance between them and us had narrowed meaningfully and to our collective mortification, Dad shouted ‘Move along, Long Hairs!’

    *     *     *

I never remember a ‘My Dad’s not perfect’ crisis. There was never any insinuation that any of us was perfect, so there was nothing to get over. But I knew that Dad would do the right thing 99 times out of 100 with that between-these-mountains steadiness of his. The other one was his business. I never thought to worry about it.

    *     *     *

Dad, along with Brooke Solberg and Dave Deibler, were grown-up Christians who were athletes. I needed that. I needed them.

I walked down to Dad’s open grave last evening and noticed that he’ll lie practically right beside Dave Deibler, his scrappy, younger, ball-playing friend whose presence always put a twinkle in Dad’s eye. I imagine there will be some dugout banter going on out there on the hill.

*     *     *

Dad loved my friends, and was inexhaustibly interested in what they were up to.

To this day, I joke with them that ‘My Dad always loved you more than he loved me.’ It is spoken and heard as a compliment to Dad, never a denigration of his love for his four children. The latter was not in doubt.

*     *     *

My all-time favorite Dad-ism is ‘It’s early.’ Curiously, my siblings have little or no recollection of this declaration, though I can never forget it.

It’s how Dad pushed back on any irrational exuberance about the results of Spring Training or even the first month or two of the regular season.

My Red Sox are this year off to a 16-2 start, the hottest start in franchise history. Dad, by the way, became a life-long Red Sox fan the first time he and Mom walked with me into Fenway Park when my seminary studies just outside of Boston coincided with the 1986 World Series (a.k.a. Bill Buckner) season. Now that was a way for Dad to show love without awkward spoken words.

If I had less Mim Baer in me, I might have been tempted to say something really stupid on one my recent visits to Dad in the nursing home, something bush like ‘Hey, Dad, the Red Sox are looking absolutely unbeatable this year. This is our year! I can’t wait for the World Series.’

Well, I’m not stupid enough to say words like that, or even to think them, because Dad would have responded in his head if not with his faltering ability to express himself, ‘It’s early.’

‘It’s early.’

It’s a two-word prophylactic against pretension of any kind. Nobody with those two words glued to his synapses and dendrites with Mim Baer Super Glue ever counts his chickens before they hatch. It’s early.

All that we knew of Dad, and especially, these last fourteen years of incapacity and suffering, have perhaps merely been the redemption’s-eye analogue to the first days of Spring Training. ‘They don’t mean anything’, in the baseball sense of the purpose of Spring Training games. They’re preparation for the real stuff. If you get excited about Spring Training, it’s because of the existential reality that there is baseball, not because your team has won more games than they’ve lost.

Over the long haul of the season itself, over whatever is the eternal equivalent of 162 games, and only then by the grace of God, my Dad’s a champ.

His body is lying in that casket over there. But it’s early.

  *     *     *

Dad was a strong man in his way, but Dad’s strength was not like the Rockies or the Andes or the Himalayas.

It was more like our little Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains. I grew up between these mountains, played ball between these mountains, went to school between these mountains, kissed my first girl between these mountains, left for college from between these mountains, brought not one but two wives back between these mountains to be welcomed by Dad and Mom like their own daughter, returned a year ago and for too little time to this beautiful valley between these Berry’s and Mohantonga mountains.

Very soon I will have buried my father between these mountains.

I remember studying up on mountains to find out why ours were so, well, modest while other people’s mountains were big and beautiful and had snow on top of them in the summer and got their picture taken for National Geographic.

I learned that our Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains are well-worn mountains, modest in their own way but solid, stable, reliable. They don’t split wide open in huge earthquakes. They don’t even do earthquakes. They don’t trickle lava on anybody’s village. People don’t get completely lost in them, only to emerge in twenty-seven years looking much older and really hungry.

Our mountains are a kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get mountains. They haven’t changed very much over the last 100,000 years and they’re not going to look much different in another 10,000.

But they’re our mountains.

And, when you take the time to look at them from a certain angle on a particular day, when you pause to take them in on their own terms, they’re a little bit breathtaking.

My Dad was like that. And though I’m confident that by God’s grace Dad soars in some very real way right now, his depleted body will in another hour lie in the ground near to where Grandma Baer’s people farmed this valley, here between these mountains, where it belongs. Where he belongs. Where I belong.

Here in this place, things are what they are, without much shouting.

But it’s early.

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To download in PowerPoint the photographic montage from Dad’s viewing, click here:

Raymond Daniel Baer 1927-2018

Raymond Daniel ‘Mim’ Baer passed away at the Stonebridge Health and Rehabilitation Center on April 17, 2018. He was 90 years old.

2018-04-18-0003Born October 29, 1927 to James Alvin Baer and Sallie Naomi Hoy Baer, Mim was a lifetime resident of Millersburg except for the six years he spent playing minor league baseball in Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, and other midwestern states for the Chicago White Sox organization.

From evening and weekend games played on sandlot fields in Dauphin and Northumberland counties for Millersburg ‘town teams’ to the innings he spent threading curve balls past up-and-coming big leaguers like Hank Aaron in Wisconsin and North Dakota, baseball was a lifelong passion that Mim successfully passed along to his children and grandchildren.

Mim served his community for many years as a member of the Millersburg Borough Council and for several years served as that body’s president. He was a member and lay leader of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and, later, of David’s Community Bible Church. His resolute but soft-spoken faith extended as well into the solid integrity that characterized his life at work, in the home, and among his fellow Christians in these two Millersburg churches, which were the spiritual home that Mim shared with his wife Dorothy and the family they raised.

After bringing his baseball bride back to Millersburg from northern Wisconsin, Mim drove truck for nearly forty years as an employee of Millersburg’s Nelson’s Express.

Raymond was preceded in death by his sister Catherine Potter and his brother Allen Baer. He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughters Aimee McKone and Karen Baer, sons David and Jonathan Baer, seven grand-children, and six great-grandchildren. They join his friends in remembering him for reliability, a superb work ethic, frugality, respect, and the usually unspoken conviction that to let people down or otherwise fail to run out a ground ball was ‘bush league’ and simply unacceptable.

After years of suffering in the wake of a debilitating stroke, Mim now has his ‘stuff’ back and rejoices safely in the arms of Jesus.

Mim’s viewing and funeral will be held at David’s Community Bible Church on Saturday, April 21 at 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., respectively.

The alt-right seeks an account of what we are meant to be and serve as a people, invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds. It is not alone; identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging. But race is a modern category, and lacks theological roots. Nation, however, is biblical. In the Book of Acts, St. Paul tells his Gentile listeners, ‘God has made all the nations [ethnos].’ The Bible speaks often of God’s creation, judgment, and redemption of the nations. In Christ there is no Gentile or Jew, yet God calls us into his life not only as individuals but as members of communities for which we are responsible.

Today there are bespoke theologies for most every identity in American life. Meanwhile, we lack a compelling civic theology for the twenty-first century—a theology of the nation, not for the nation. In its absence the alt-right will continue to grow. Young men like Dan need the gospel. But they also need an account of nationhood that teaches them about their past, without making them fear the future; an account of civic life that opens them to transcendence, rather than closing them to their neighbors. In his last book, Memory and Identity, John Paul II reflected movingly on the Christian meaning of our earthly homelands. He denied that Christians have no ‘native land’ in this life and defended the nation as a natural community. Against those seeking a post-national world, he urged Western nations to preserve their languages, histories, and religious traditions. The ‘spiritual  self-defense’ of our homelands, he wrote, is part of our moral obligation, commanded by God, to honor our fathers and mothers.

A nation will become an idol, however, if its cultural inheritance is not oriented toward, and inwardly transformed by, a divine inheritance. ‘The inheritance we received from Christ,’ the late pope argued, ‘orients the patrimony of human native lands and cultures towards an eternal home land.’ The church midwifed many nations into existence, and it can renew their cultures still. For now it must suffice to say the alt-right cannot. It speaks of tradition, while transmitting no traditions. It guards a false patrimony, while destroying real ones. Its mistake is fundamental and tragic. Race offers no inheritance, and its mere preservation reflects no human achievement. Our stories, art, music, institutions, and religious traditions—unlike race—are transmitted only through special efforts of human intelligence and love. They are a bequest of the spirit, not blood.

The alt-right speaks a seductive language. Where liberalism offers security and comfort, the alt-right promises sacrifice and conflict. Although the struggle its intellectuals and activists envision is imaginary, it does not matter: Theirs is a sounder view of human needs. Human beings desire more than small pleasures in the routines of life. We also seek great challenges in the face of d death. And here Christianity speaks another, more necessary, and no less demanding language. ‘When Christ calls a man,’ wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘he bids him come and die,’ and in dying, to receive true life. For Christians, the problem with Faustian man is not the vaunting heroism of his aims. It is the pitiable smallness of his goals. We are not meant to merely aspire to the infinite. We are called to participate in it—to be, in a word, deified. Faust could not overcome death. Through Christ, Christians already have.

— Matthew Rose, ‘The Anti-Christian Alt-Right’ in First Things (March 2018)

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, narrated sparely in this Audible Books version by Jill Masters, is nearly too sad for the bearing.

Hardy sees into the human heart with an eye for our folly that is Dickensian in its penetration. He turns that gaze on his invented rural ‘Wessex’, picking up the peregrinations of a pure young woman whose every turn is stalked by shadow.

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In the end, sixteen hours into drive time peppered with this listener’s audible gasps at each stunning turn, Tess becomes the victim of all that is artifice, class, and convention. In Jill Masters’ narration there is not a note of melodrama. She tells her tale with the same unflinching resignation that is Tess Durbeyfield, then Tess D’Urberville, then Tess a martyr to layers of unkindness that become in the aggregate a murderous and murdering weight.

An absolute heart-ache of a listen, impossible to forget, incapable of abbreviation. There is no shortcut to the conclusion of Hardy’s most signature work. It takes sixteen hours to get there. Listen.

There is more than one way to tell the story of the battle for Hue, an awful battle in an awful year of an awful war.

51jmtuMP+eL._SL175_Mark Bowden’s Hue, narrated huskily by Joe Barrett with a voice that was created for this story, tells of Hue with the unrelenting insistence of tragedy. The author has distinguished himself as the author of military histories that bulge with empathy for all players. Hue is no exception, in fact this work may fairly be considered Bowden’s calling card.

Though there are villains aplenty in Bowden’s tale, General William Westmoreland stands head and shoulders above them all for sheer self-delusion and defiance of evidence from the field. As a result of Westie’s pig-headed refusal to accept that Hue was a real battle waged by a determined enemy with truly threatening capabilities, Hue took the lives of more American Marines, more ARVN troops, more Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars, and more civilians who had called the graceful provincial capital their home than any reasonable calculus demanded. This at least is Bowden’s story, told unforgivably and with due note of the pathos that clings to almost every anecdote of this three-and-a-half week conflagration.

Joe Barrett is a superb narrator of a tale that demands both the pathos and the incredulity that his voice brings to its task. Bowden has not majored on the loss of faith in the war that Hue nourished back home in America. His concern is for the grunt, for the Front volunteer, and for the civilian whose family has perished under American bombardment or the vicious Viet Cong/NVA purging. The author unfailingly tells his military tales from the ground up, piecing together the larger picture only when concrete human experience on the ground has been sufficiently honored. Barrett is his accomplice, riveting the listener’s attention on the sheer nonsensical agony of it all. Still, all that this tragedy would mean for American involvement in the war is but a stone’s throw away, as Bowden’s slightly a-kilter subtitle suggests.

There are, as I’ve noted, other ways to tell the story of Hue, 1968, some more sympathetic to Westmoreland and his ‘MACV’. But if you appreciate a well-told audio book where author and narrator work hand-in-glove, begin here.

 

 

After exploring idolatry’s irony in chapter 45 around the issue of shaping and forming, the prophet again trains his sardonic firepower on idolaters in chapter 46. This time his sarcasm needles the makers of idols via the metaphors of lifting and carrying. Behind each of the two images lies the wearying nature of making and worshipping one’s own gods, on the one hand, and YHWH’s tireless lifting up and bearing around of his daughters and sons, on the other.

I quote the short chapter in full, below. The speaker is presumed to be YHWH throughout. I have attempted to highlight in italics the chapter’s references to the wearisome burden-bearing that depletes idolators, idols, and even the gods those idols purport to represent. ‘Bowing down’ and ‘stooping’ are best understood as the collapse of persons subjected to a forced march. The exhaustion spreads to the unfortunate animals that are doomed to carry heavy idols around, though in the broader Isaianic irony these innocent beasts of burden are more perceptive than foolish Judahites.

On the other hand, I have highlighted with underlining those references that denote or allude to YHWH’s lifting and carrying of his people. Note that even the clause ‘and will save’ at the end of the second paragraph quoted must be read as a lifting-and-carrying reference because the verb (מלט) is the same word used in the first paragraph’s ‘they cannot save the burden’ (לא יכלו מלט משא) rather than the more conventional biblical language of salvation.

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory. (Isaiah 46:1–13 ESV)

The prophet presents Judah with a world in which folly and wisdom represent a carry-or-be-carried choice. Worshipping what one has created is not empowering, we are told. Just the opposite, it saps the life from everyone and everything. It is simply exhausting.

Finding oneself enveloped in YHWH’s redemptive purpose, on the other hand, is likened to the experience of being lifted up and carried to a worthwhile destiny rather than carried off into exile.

One thinks here of Jesus’ famous claim in the eleventh chapter of the gospel of Matthew.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)

Though I am not aware of convincing evidence the Jesus purposely alludes to Isaiah 46, the rhetoric is strikingly similar both in intent and in means.

In Isaiah, prophetic sarcasm deploys emotional violence to clarify the consequences of idolatrous piety vs. confidence in YHWH. In Matthew, Jesus extends an invitation to abandon wearisome labor and to find rest under—ironically—a ‘burden’ of discipleship that he rests lightly upon human shoulders.

As with so many other things, neither religion nor work nor rest are necessarily what they appear on the surface of things to be.