Church Near Collapse, Downtown, Lima, Ohio, 3/16/19

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My city closed part of a downtown street this week because a church is falling apart. Yesterday The Lima News ran a story summarizing the building’s history and its imminent demolition.

This morning my husband and I ventured downtown to take some pictures of the church before it, like so many other downtown buildings, disappears. There’s something about demolition that messes with my memory. Once a building is gone, I have a hard time remembering it, to the point where I might not remember what sort of building used to occupy a particular empty lot. Was it an apartment building, a defunct store, a school? Give me a few years and I won’t recall, unless I actually spent time inside of that structure while it still stood.

Before my husband and I finished taking pictures, a crew had already arrived to drop off equipment for the demolition that is slated to begin on March 19:

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The workers seemed very familiar with this part of Lima, almost like the downtown had acquired that home-away-home feeling that seems to develop around a long-term workplace. So many buildings have been knocked down that demolition contractors and heavy equipment rental companies indeed know this area well.

As my husband and I walked around the block where the church is located, I noticed how empty the south half of downtown has become. While the abandonment and demolition of a church is sad on its own terms, the building has persisted longer than many other structures in the downtown. Here is the view from the church to Town Square, which sits two blocks away:

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When I first moved to Lima in 1981, those fields were not empty. Grass grew only in the margins between the sidewalks and the street (if there was room for any grass at all). Now there are plans for an outdoor amphitheater to be built across the street from where the church is (of course the church won’t be there for much longer):

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There are also plans for an expansion of Rhodes State College’s Division of Allied Health in the empty southeast corner of Town Square. Also, an aging bank building is near completion of its conversion to apartments. There are signs of growth in the downtown area, but this cityscape will cater to a demographic that is decidedly younger than that I’d notice downtown when I myself was young. Back in the 80s and early 90s, downtown Lima seemed full of people who looked old to me at that time: aging patrons of the Lima Symphony Orchestra and blue-haired women shoppers of the stores that survived the retail collapse of downtown.

There were also the crumbling half-old men who spent lots of time in bars where every drink could be the last, either due to climbing back on the wagon or getting shot outside the bar. My maternal grandpa was one of those men (I wrote about him my blog entry called “A Dutchman“). Every time another downtown landmark disappears, I feel like another piece of Grandpa Bob has been lost to time, the setting of scenes from his life we never witnessed and don’t know for sure whether our absence was a blessing or not. At least this time the landmark reminds me that one day we will be united, with all wounds healed.

I will close this post with more pictures of the church that will soon be gone. The first picture has an oddball outbuilding that looks like it could have hosted a security guard or an anchorite. The notion of a hermitage downtown may seem outlandish, but downtown Lima has certainly hosted enough of the holy and the mad . . .

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Late Winter Photo Walk, March 12

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Today is a vacation day for me because my daughter is taking the ACT. The test has become a Ohio graduation requirement for most high school students, so this is her chance to take it with a couple bonuses attached: no testing fee and a day excused from regular classes. She didn’t seem nervous at all about it, perhaps because this is actually her second time taking the test. I’m not sure which post-graduation goals she has in mind at this point (she will graduate next May). Her scores on standardized tests are consistently great, but her enthusiasm for school itself is lacking. She has mild autism and has had a few too many negative interludes with her classmates over the years, so at least there’s a rational reason why she doesn’t like traditional school much. She’s finishing school in an IT program at a local vocational high school, a setting which has been much more tolerable for her.

Her test left me free for the morning, so I took a walk around my neighborhood with camera in hand. There’s work crews on several blocks replacing gas lines, so I focused on some of the sights on the margin of our subdivision.

Everything was still frozen, but spring-worthy sunlight lit up the dormant plants nicely.

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In the Beginning Was the Word . . .

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The photo above shows the evening sun cast on part of my front door. As spring approaches, I’m mesmerized by these moments when clear sunlight seems to break into the house. The light is so bright it can render a door into pure darkness by comparison, at least according to a camera.

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve becoming one of “those people” who want to talk about God all the time. What is happening is a variation on a story told so many times over the last couple thousand years: a tale of one who is born again. In America, being born again is very often wrapped in a temperance narrative, a story of conquering one’s demons in the form of drinking and the like (and, by the way, I think our culture is hooked on dieting because it too is a temperance story). In my case, there is no sudden change in behavior. Instead, there is an ongoing revolution within.

The notion that someone could be born again despite having never lost one’s core faith would puzzle me if it wasn’t happening to me. In my whole life I have not experienced a moment of true doubt in God. Growing up I knew an ex-nun who told me (long story short) that while faith may seem foolish at times, it is better to be a fool with faith than a fool without it. I took her words to heart and accepted God’s existence as a basic truth. No matter how I’ve struggled with depression and various other adversities of life, I have not doubted in the basic notion of the divine.

When my daughter started reading the Bible in earnest last fall, I wondered why it had not occurred to me to do so the same thing. I had eight years of parochial school religion classes and a few college religion/theology classes, yet I had read less than half of the Bible, and only what was prescribed in worship services or quoted in textbooks.

I still haven’t read as much of the Bible as my daughter has. I’m working my way through it slowly. I’ve found that I can’t just steamroll through it as one would plow through a work of classic literature for the first time. The sensation of reading the Bible on my own has been akin to the opening line of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In the those moments it’s like pure light and joy floods out any pain and regret. Words can’t adequately portray this feeling. It’s not something I only feel when I read the Bible, but reading the Word definitely renews it. It’s a joy that nothing can dampen while it lasts. I’ll take the window dressing away and speak plainly of it: I believe that I am feeling the Holy Spirit.

Growing up, I’d hear stories of saints and other worthies and resign myself to never becoming good enough or brilliant enough to have such an experience of the Spirit. What I now feel in my heart of hearts has turned that sort of resignation inside out. I now understand that we cannot earn salvation or any sustenance at all from God based on our merit alone. God offers help in this life and salvation in the next based on faith alone. The notion that we can change our ways to curry favor with God simply doesn’t work. We can get better by deepening our faith through trust in God. Stated otherwise, we are justified through faith in God and sanctified through trust in God.

With the time change, my evening is evaporating more quickly than I’d like, but I will close with the following thought. In the past two years, I’ve been through a lot of physical pain, a chronic pain that flared so badly last year that I’d wondered if God had abandoned me. My daughter also had a mental health crisis during the same time my pain raged. It is possible that our struggles emptied us of any resistance to the divine. On the other side of this pain, I discovered that joy is possible no matter what happens in life. You don’t have to perfect yourself for God. He already knows all of your faults, and He waits patiently for you.

March 6

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It is frigid once again here in Lima. I’ve consulted several 10 day weather forecasts, and I think this may be the last cold snap of the season.

There are plenty of overexposure spots in the photo above. I like how the winter morning sun dazzles the eyes when there is snow or ice to reflect it. If I let my camera meter the picture for the bright spots, I get all sorts of weird colors in the snow. If the sun were dim enough to permit our gaze, snow would include all the variations within mother of pearl.

I don’t have long to write this morning. There is a thought flitting through my mind, and it is this: in what ways do we hold onto pain because it has become useful?

Some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 3:18-19

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I’ve encountered another passage of Scripture that really resonates for me, 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 (quote from Good News Bible): “No one should fool himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise by this world’s standards, he should become a fool, in order to be really wise. For what this world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God’s sight.”

There is so much to contemplate in this passage. For instance, am I drawn to these words in humility or because of those times in life when it seemed I was the lone (and sometimes silent) voice of reason? Lately I’ve become increasingly disillusioned by some of the comments I see on social media regarding local news stories. It seems like harsh judgment has become the reigning paradigm in such comments. If the authors of such comments could create a reality to their liking, we’d live in a world where children are never spared the rod unless they act like perfect servants, where all defendants, whose guilt is a foregone conclusion, should go straight from arrest to prison, where welfare no longer exists, and everything is seasoned with a heaping portion of capital punishment.

Then again, who am I to judge these people? I don’t bother to present an opposing viewpoint because I’ve seen dissenting opinions quashed several times over the years. It’s so hard for me to tell who is foolish in this situation: the harsh local pundits, people like me for letting them steamroll local forums unopposed, or the people who created essentially unmoderated forums?

The answer is likely to be something I can’t imagine, as least not yet.

Still Winter

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March is here, and the snow is still with us. Recently I overcame a decade-long phobia of driving over snow and ice, but I still don’t relish winter storms. I read the Book of Job in its entirety for the first time this week as part of Nicky and Pippa Gumbel’s Bible in One Year program available through the free Bible.com reading app. Near the close of Job, God mentions something about snow that resonated so deeply for me that I decided to superimpose the verses on one of my snow photos:

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The idea that snow could be associated with perilous times is not alien to me at all. For nearly ten years, the mere presence of snow was a peril unto itself. I had the unfortunate experience of having the brakes of a now-defunct van give out while I was driving in snow. It wasn’t a matter of the brakes locking up because I wasn’t allowing enough stopping distance in the snow. Unknown to me at the time, the van had been leaking brake fluid, and I had no fluid left at all by the time I started up the van on that snowy day. I drove a mile through town and coasted through four stop signs (thank God I was the only who happened to be driving through those intersections at the time!). I managed to get the van stopped at my parent’s house, and those tense moments of sailing through the stop signs in the snow haunted me entirely too many times over the next ten years.

I tried getting past this phobia in many ways. Brief therapy. Rides from friends and family during snowstorms (in all honesty, sometimes when there was just the mere threat of snowfall). I even bought a SUV with all wheel drive. Still, I’d despair at the prospect of driving in winter weather, even though I’d gradually been doing better with driving myself though ice or snow. It’s not that I was quaking with the the physical signs of fear. It was like a proverbial brick wall would appear that demanded I drive nowhere, that almost nothing was worth the risk of driving in snow.

Recently I tried something entirely different. I’ve been experiencing a renewal of my faith, inspired in part by my daughter’s sudden, unexplained decision to read the Bible from cover to cover. We’ve started attending our neighborhood Methodist church, and one of the women in the congregation was kind enough to give me a copy of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, a daily devotional that addresses anxiety among other issues that can erode one’s peace of mind. A few weeks ago, when I was doing the day’s reading from that book, I decided to try trusting that God could help me with my winter driving problem.

A few days later, we had a four-inch overnight snowfall, and almost none of our local streets had been cleared by the time I needed to leave for work. When I looked out of our front door at the snow, I felt no dread and no plot emerged in my mind to call someone to come and get me. I waited for news that my daughter’s school day would be cancelled, gathered my things for work and drove five miles through the snow with no resistance or anxiety whatsoever.

I’m glad that my snow phobia is over. Before the brake malfunction ten years ago, I seldom thought about winter driving, let alone agonize over it. It’s a relief to be back in that state of mind on the subject.

On a clear day you can see the end of winter

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The saga of my lying coworker continues, but compassion has calmed most of this storm. In borrowing from the losses and frustrations of those around her, she may be telling us, “I am no stranger to pain, but I cannot bring myself to tell anyone what wounded me.”

Half an eon ago in internet history, I read a superb parody tribute to Journey’s Steve Perry which listed bizarre fictional accomplishments. The feats included being locked in a sauna for seven years, which somehow destroyed his perceptions of the present tense. It’s like my coworker was locked in that sauna too and emerged with a faulty grasp of the past and the present.

I took the picture above the morning after last month’s storm. The beauty of that snow reminds me that I need to alter my attitude about winter. In the past ten years, I’ve felt like winter is at best a waiting room for spring. I’ve considered that this is a habit that could result in my wishing away 25% of the rest of my life.