It’s dark down here. Even with every light on, even when the sun’s up, the temporary home Ace and I have landed in — a cellar apartment in an old southern mansion — is, given its subterranean location, something less than bright and cheery.
I have window wells, but little light shines through. I look out and assume it’s a rainy day — only to step outside and see that it’s as sunshiny as it can be. Down here, it’s as if it’s always 3 a.m. Ace wakes up, looks around, and — like me — assumes it’s not morning yet.
I haven’t been cursing the darkness. That’s best reserved for internet connections. But I think it has been keeping me from being awake as I might be, and I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done. Instead I’ve mostly been oversleeping, setting up housekeeping and visiting my mother. She lives about a mile down the road, so Ace and I have visited almost nightly — conveniently around dinner time. I mentioned to her how dim things were in my apartment, and she, being a former newswoman, felt the need to share that — at least with my sister.
I’ve introduced you to my sister before, when Ace and I passed through Madison, Wisconsin. She’s prone to random outbursts of karaoke singing, sermonizing, deep thoughts and good deeds, and I was about to be a recipient of one of them — luckily the latter.
She called to tell me she had found four lamps on Craigslist, and that she was giving them to me as a Christmas present. All I had to do was drive to some town called Midway, and find the home of a man named Ken. She sent me an email with the directions. Like all her emails, it ended with the same quote from Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Buying lamps via Craigslist wasn’t an option in Edith’s day.)
I popped open the back window of the jeep. He greeted Ace, noticed there was no air in the tires of my bicycle, still attached to the rack, and offered to pump some in. He helped me load the four lamps into the car, and told me to help myself to the kitchen items packed in boxes in his barn. They, like the lamps, had belonged to his mother, who died last fall at age of 98.
I tried to pay Ken $60 — $48 for the lamps, the rest for everything else I grabbed – but he insisted on giving me change. I stuffed as much as I could into the car — or at least as much as Ace would permit. Ace doesn’t like things rattling around back there, or any of the contents to shift while we’re driving, and given the back seat has been his home for most of the past nine months, I try to oblige.
After loading up, we stopped for lunch in Midway, which is next to a town called Welcome, at a place called The Dawg House, then headed down the road to the Midway General Store, where it was hard to find things because it was dark inside. But I got three copies made of the key to my new place, bought two plug adaptors, three packages of cuphooks and a big greasy hambone for Ace — all for a mere $11.
Ace nibbled his bone as I took the back roads home, passing church after church — all with marquee signs out front:
‘Hands joined in prayer are never empty,” one said.
“The church is a pit stop in the race of life,” read another.
“God’s plans for us are better than our own,” another advised.
Space being limited on church signs, attribution for the words of wisdom on them is seldom provided — so you never really know whether they come from God, the local preacher, Edith Wharton or some book, like “1001 Catchphrases for Your Church Marquee.”
Whether they are original words, or a reflection of somebody else’s, doesn’t really matter — as long as they are getting shared, because church marquees, even those that don’t light up, are all about spreading the light, giving life some meaning, tossing a little hope, inspiration and joy our way.
On top of that, never having lived in darkness before, I’ve learned that, much like a chili cheese dog, light – the non-symbolic, simple wattage kind — makes me happy.
For Ace, a hambone works just fine.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, basement, cellar, church, darkness, dawg house, dog's country, dogscountry, god, hambone, hardware, inspiration, light, mansion, marquees, midway, north carolina, phrases, religion, road trip, signs, spread, sunshine, travels with ace, welcome, wisdom
With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.
This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.
Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.
It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.
“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.
In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.
Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.
As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”
For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.
I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.
Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.
Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.
The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.
It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.
It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.
I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.
Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.
I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.
I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.
Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.
Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.
I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.
I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.
I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).
By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.
Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.
But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 31st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, amarillo, america, animals, bobblehead jesus, car, church, crash, cross, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, faith, god, god's country, golden spread, groom, hobo, ice, jesus, jesus christ, jesus christ is lord, largest, leap of faith, lord, pets, religion, road trip, route 66, texas, texasm panhandle, travel center, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, truck stop, trucks
Are Baptist pumpkins preachier? Do they go all fire and brimstone? Do they achieve life everlasting, or is that dream just pie in the sky?
I pictured a chapel filled with orange orbs, sharing fellowship, singing hymns. I wondered if other denominations of gourds had similar facilities — say, Catholic Cantaloupes, Jewish Watermelons, Seventh Day Adventist Squash?
What makes these Baptist pumpkins so holier than thou to think they deserve their own center, even their own exit sign, I wondered as I exited Interstate 55 in Louisiana, not far from Hammond.
Baptist was one way, Pumpkin Center the other. Less intrigued, I just got back on the interstate.
(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 30th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, baptist, baptist pumpkin center, baptists, church, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, exit sign, exits, hammond, highway, I-55, interstate, louisiana, pets, pumpkin center, pumpkins, religion, road trip. ace does america, signs, traveling with dogs
I wrote down this song for my own self, and sing it now to my own soul
But if you’ll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold
– From the Song “Heaven,” by Woody Guthrie, 1947
Here’s something we’ve all but confirmed on our road trip: The bigger the void, or gap, between towns, the more rural one gets, the tinier the towns, the more likely one is to pick up religious music — sometimes only religious music — on the radio.
Such has been the case in the most recent leg of my road trip – through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas again: God, it’s said, is everywhere, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to the radio in rural America.
This isn’t a groundbreaking observation. Religion and right wing views have long been more firmly embedded in rural areas — more likely to be voiced, worn on one’s sleeve, or posted on signage.
After a few days in Dallas, where God still has a lot of work to do — it seems at least half the billboards are for strip clubs — I rolled into more rural surroundings, and saw this collection of home-made signs outside Palmer, Texas, on I-45.
The Chapel at what’s called “The Church of Texas” is located on a wide swath of land abutting the interstate’s service road, much of which has been devoted to signage, the rest to a small church, gazebos, outdoor seating areas and a pond with (and this somehow doesn’t seem right) a “No Fishing” sign. According to its website, the church has “gone underground,” but it’s not real clear exactly what that means.
I chatted briefly with a man who lives on the grounds in a trailer — not the pastor, but a member of the non-denominational church — who was a bit standoffish until he got going about all the corruption of organized religion.
His dog, a dachshund, peed on my tire (a baptism?) and after chatting a bit, I pulled out, turning on the radio again — for it and Ace and radio God and my bobblehead Jesus (more on him later) are my only company these days.
Sure enough, searching for a signal, I found more God music. I’ve nothing against God music, and love good gospel, but I found myself getting slightly bugged by all the God rock – music that you don’t really know is God music until the chorus comes up and mentions “salvation” or “the Saviour.”
You’ll be tapping your fingers along with the beat, and then suddenly realize you’ve been something close to duped. I find it somewhat deceptive. If you insist on giving me a message, be upfront about it.
God comedy seems to be catching on as well, though I haven’t heard too much of it that is actually funny, or for that matter Godly. It’s generally family-based comedy, funny stories about what the kids did.
Rural Oklahoma was particularly heavy on God music. Not having many musical alternatives on the radio, and noticing I was driving on the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway — he was born down the road in Okemah – I grabbed a Woody Guthrie CD and slipped it in. Woody is an integral part of my road music collection.
I sang along to songs about dust and migrants and labor unrest and the search for a better life. Woody’s music, it seems – not that it ever wasn’t relevant — is relevant again in 2010, when once again economic conditions and natural and unnatural disasters are shattering dreams and testing the amazing resilience of Americans. Though I probably worship Woody more than any religion, I’d have to admit that faith in God is where a lot of that resilience probably comes from.
Given that, I can handle the God music, the God comedy and God as a roadside attraction — taking his or her place among concrete dinosaurs, Indian trading posts, half-buried cars, reptile museums and the like. Each fills a need, even if that need isn’t always immediately clear.
This concludes today’s sermon.
(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, church, comedy, dog's country, dogscountry, economy, god, music, pets, radio, religion, road trip, roadside attractions, rock, rural, woody guthrie
Dogs are “unclean” and should not be kept as pets, a senior Iranian cleric has decreed.
Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued the fatwa, or religious ruling, to send a message that the trend toward “western-style” pet ownership must stop, Reuters reported.
Dogs are considered “unclean” under Islam and have traditionally not been kept as pets — although there are signs that is changing.
“Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,” the cleric was quoted as saying in Javan daily. “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”
Guard dogs and sheep dogs are considered acceptable under Islamic law but Iranians who carry dogs in their cars or take them to public parks can be stopped by police and fined.
The Koran does not explicitly prohibit contact with dogs, Shirazi said, but Islamic tradition showed it to be so. “We have lots of narrations in Islam that say dogs are unclean.”
Posted by John Woestendiek June 21st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cleric, decree, dogs, fatwa, grand ayatollah, iran, iranian, iranians, islam, islamic, naser makarem shirazi, news, ownership, pet, pets, religion, trend, unclean, west, western
So we snapped a picture, said a few praise Harley’s and were on our way.
Actually there are quite a few biker and biker-friendly ministries, so it’s not that surprising to find one in the Hill Country of Texas, which draws motorcyclists like vultures to roadkill.
This one – headed by Pastor Matt Fox, a mechanic during the day – holds an Easter rally every year. Fox told the Kerrville Daily Times that the events are aimed at the “outlaw” biker world and are an outreach of the Texas-based Tribe of Judah, an organization of motorcycle ministries.
“Worshiping God doesn’t always mean a suit and a tie,” he said.
(To read all of “Dog’s Country,” from the beginning, click here.)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, biker church, biker ministries, bikers, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, hill country, kerrville, matt fox, motorcycles, pastor, pet friendly, religion, texas, thunder in the hills, travel, traveling with dogs, tribe of judah
When the Rev. Tom Eggebeen took over as interim pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church three years ago, attendance was dwindling.
So Eggebeen decided to make dogs welcome at God’s house — by way of a 30-minute service complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats.
According to an Associated Press report, he hopes it will reinvigorate the church’s connection with the community, provide solace to elderly members and attract new worshippers who are as crazy about dogs as they are about God.
Eggebeen said many Christians love their pets as much as human family members and grieve just as deeply when they suffer — but churches have been slow to recognize that love as the work of God.
“When we love a dog and a dog loves us, that’s a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that,” he explained.
Allowing dogs at services is a practice gaining a foothold nationwide — one that serves to boost attendance and address the spirituality of pets and the deeply felt bonds that owners form with their animals.
Laura Hobgood-Oster, a religion professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, says she’s found a growing number of congregations holding regular pet blessings, and more holding pet-friendly services as well.
“It’s the changing family structure, where pets are really central and religious communities are starting to recognize that people need various kinds of rituals that include their pets,” she said. “More and more people in mainline Christianity are considering them to have some kind of soul.”
Posted by John Woestendiek November 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, attendance, church, connection, covenant presbyterian church, dogs, dogs in church, god, pets, religion, reverend, services, tom eggebeen, worship
Mosby, a 3-year-old golden retriever who was deemed too friendly for work as an assistance dog for the disabled, has found a purpose in God’s house.
Mosby is a ministry dog, one of a growing breed of assistance dogs assigned to clergy and church workers. He was featured in a Boston Globe article yesteday.
A few times each week, Mosby visits hospitals and assisted living centers. But his busiest day is Sunday, when he can be found in a pew alongside his owners, Lynda and Larry Fisher, at the First Baptist Church of Littleton, where they are longtime members and he’s the official greeter.
“A dog ministry breaks down barriers right away,’’ said the Rev. Deborah Blanchard. “It helps put aside the barriers and connect on a real level to offer comfort and love.’’
The idea of a formal training program for ministry dogs sprang up just over a decade ago, when a divinity student and dog lover made a case to NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a nonprofit organization based in Princeton, Mass., that is one of the nation’s largest assistance-dog training programs.
“She explained how she’d be going to hospices and working with the elderly and sick children, all populations who can’t have a dog but could really benefit,’’ said Sheila O’Brien, the agency’s chief executive officer. “She said, ‘You know, Sheila, dog spelled backwards is God.’ ’’
NEADS has trained more than 15 dogs as ministry dogs since 1998.
Lynda Fisher approached NEADS last year in hopes of being matched with a ministry dog afer she and her husband, Larry, lost their dog, a 15-year-old Brittany spaniel named Jessie.
“I told them, ‘I’m a deaconess at my church. Part of my duties is to visit the sick and infirm, and it would go so much better with a dog,’ ’’ Fisher recalled.
Although the dogs are generally designated for ministers, Fisher’s 40-year affiliation with First Baptist and enthusiastic devotion to her faith, and to dogs, won her an exception to the rule.
Posted by John Woestendiek July 17th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: assistance, baptist, church, dog, dogs, god, golden retriever, healing, hospitals, littleton, ministry, mosby, neads, ohmidog!, religion, therapy
Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the … dogs?
A handful of churches have found a new way to fill empty pews, catching on to what a lot of hotels and other business establishments have already figured out: When you let people bring their dogs, you get more people.
A recent USA Today article looked at a dog-friendly church service in Omaha at the Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church — one where some dogs took seats on the pews, others sprawled on the floor and a few seemed intent on being social. But all eventually settled down for the sermon.
“Just relax,” the Rev. Becky Balestri, 51, said to open the service. “It’s like having kids in church.”
At least two other U.S. churches, in New York and near Boston, also allow dogs at regular weekly services, the article said.
“I hadn’t been to church in many, many years, and this gave me a reason to come back with my friend,” said one churchgoer who hadn’t attended church regularly since about 1988.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 3rd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: allowed, attendance, balestri, church, churches, congregations, dog, dogs, dogs in church, god, increase, mass, new york, omaha, paws, paws and prayers, prayers, presbyterian, religion, underwood hills, weymouth