I have spoken, sometimes literal moments, and most times in metaphor, about how life “storms us.”
Yesterday, God spoke to me…a surprise because I wasn’t looking for God…not literally. Rather, I was trying to find the picture of my first Chinook Salmon with Zorba. I found a desktop computer file I don’t remember seeing before. I clicked on that tab…and it was amazing. More than 100’s of pictures of the lives of family and friends from more than 50 years ago.
What pictures! That triggered many memories I would have forgotten otherwise. So, at least this morning, July 9, I want to begin a series of “the moments that brought truth and discovery and yes, humor.”
Today: the storm.
I remember the first days of ministry at St. Pauls, July, 1966. The night before we moved in to the 3rd floor of the church’s apartment building [modesty had no place—it was a 7-room apartment!] the FBI occupied it, wanting to arrest a national bookie who lived in the apartment across the street! Think they did—we didn’t have to share our apartment with them…or the bookie!
Then I learned we lived a few blocks, to the south of us, of the Clark Street Garage, known more as the Valentine Day Massacre. Then to the west of us, just two blocks, was the Biograph Theatre, where John Dellinger stopped breathing—all because of a red dress. Then. It gets worse and more personal. Well, not personal that James Earl Ray lived in an apartment 4 blocks west of us.
We moved in mid-week I think. Hey, it was July and going from Portland [high was 65] to Chicago with temp and humidity in the high 90’s was shocking to itself. But. On Friday I went to get my car—no garage, so street parking was the situation—and couldn’t find it. It was stolen!
Ah, welcome to ministry, welcome to Chicago. The car was found jammed in an alley—the alley was narrower than the car’s width…hey, the robbers probably failed geometry and math.
Life continued…until…drum roll here…January of 1967. The SUPER STORM. It was anything but a metaphor. Not sure exactly but almost 3 feet of snow. Cars parked on Fullerton were only lumps. More than difficult to dig out. And. If you did…you think you could find an available cleared parking spot?
I got a phone call…from a funeral director. He needed help immediately. The pastor couldn’t get to the funeral home for a service. I told him I couldn’t either. He knew where I lived, so said, “Reverend…why don’t you walk west on Fullerton and Southport. Stand in front of the library and we’ll pick you up.”
I did. Trudged through snow—wore fishing boots. Dressed with minister gear—overcoat, umbrella [the snowing wasn’t finished], top hat [yep, very official…well, sort of] and my robe in a suitcase. Colder than…
Then. As the street light turned red, a hearse came to a stop. PHEW! I moved as quickly as I could, opened the passenger door, plopped in. Thank goodness the light was still red. The driver looked in shock, “Who the hell are you?”
It was the wrong hearse. Ah, storm rising.
I got out and waited…then another hearse showed up. He lowered his window, “You the Reverend?”
One other Super Storm item. I mentioned we were on Fullerton. Across the street an apartment resident, in a wheel chair, was out doing his best to clear his car. A policemen came by and gave him a ticket for being illegally parked!!! OH, my. He also gave me a ticket because I had at least scraped the windows and hood clear of snow.
I checked with an attorney friend and explained the cop had only given the cars that had windows cleared of snow…which meant maybe 4 of them. He said that was wrong so I should tell the judge. The attorney also said that probably the cop wouldn’t show up so I could mention to the judge, “The arresting policeman isn’t here.” He didn’t show up so I walked out of the courtroom ticketless.
Before I left I noticed the wheel chair neighbor, whose name was announced, called before the judge. He hadn’t heard me and I couldn’t tell him my two strategies. The judge asked about what happened. The judge then rapped his gavel, “Guilty. Pay the fine or go to jail.”
The wheelchair man screamed, “You are wrong! How can you do this?”
The judge, “Officers? Remove him.”
I was stunned. Came home and decided to write Mike Royko a letter. Royko was the newspaper editor who loved when injustice happened. I gave the name of the neighbor, every detail, with pictures.
About a month later, looking at Royko’s column and seeing nothing, I get a phone call from Royko’s assistant, “I’m sorry, Reverend, but we cannot print the article. The neighbor is a City of Chicago employee and he’s afraid if we print your letter, the man will lose his job.”
Ah, the Super Storm. And what happened.
But. For us, I bet you can name Super Storms in your life…and hopefully somehow you weren’t detained in your living. I was sure in this situation—all of it—my ministry might have a short life. But, as a dear friend reminded me of one of my beliefs I forgot to include recently, “Don’t die before you are dead.”
This morning, Sunday, July 9, 2017, it’s like January of 1967…I’m there. For memory and a call for Faith and Hope. Here’s the evidence: