Thursday, June 13, 2019

"On the Road to the Promised Land" and Other Songs of Summer

Andrew Frantz and songs  of Summer from Judson  Kids Day to Garrison,  New York. 

And Moses said unto God, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  And [God] said, “Certainly I will be with thee.”

– Exodus 3:11-12

We usually travel during the summer.
Getting away from holy Brooklyn to parts unknown.
RIP Anthony.Tony why?

But not before school ends.
Judson Kids Day marks the end of school,
The end of Sunday school,
The beginning of  summer,
A trip to Garrison, to take in  some  nature,
To enjoy  being alive. 
They’ve been part of Andy’s Kids Day services for years now.
But not 2019.
The  teenager graduated two years ago.
The little one attended sporadically.
There in spirit.
But they didn’t make it service.

Other things as they grow up.
The  teenager out the night before.
The little one had gone to Garrison with me.
Playing drums chatting with Grandad,
With Nooonu.
Horsing about on the Hudson.
As the day opened into a splendid afternoon.

Growing, greeting the spring.
Dancing with the limits.

Poetry lept from the morning bulletin.

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

Matt sang to Micah:

Moments of Pleasure
Some moments that I've had
Some moments of pleasure
I think about us lying
Lying on a beach somewhere
I think about us diving
Diving off a rock, into another moment
The case of George the Wipe
Oh God I can't stop laughing
This sense of humor of mine
It isn't funny at all
Oh but we sit up all night
Talking about it
Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
On a balcony in New York
It's just started to snow
He meets us at the lift
Like Douglas Fairbanks
Waving his walking stick
But he isn't well at all
The buildings of New York
Look just like mountains through the snow
Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those

And Andrew Frantz delivered a morning homily on moving,
through through a theology wanderlust which grips us.
My dad could never stay put. 
Find a home and learn from the world from that place,
Pete always advised.
Andy had something to  add:

Well, Judson, now that the kids have left the room, what do you say you and I talk about lust.

In the fall of 1976, while campaigning for the presidency, Jimmy Carter gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he confessed to having lust in his heart.

It seemed like a big deal at the time.

Now, it may surprise you to know that I am one of the few human beings on this planet not presently running for the Democratic presidential nomination.  However, I thought that, like Jimmy Carter, I too should make a confession, and so here goes:

I have wanderlust in my genes.

And like many a lust-filled lad, I’ve been known to pick up a magazine or two in my time.  You know the kind I’m talking about:

Big Islands.

The Sophisticated Traveler.

Conde Nast(y).

I only buy them for the articles!

Some time ago I came across a magazine which would seem to be tailor-made for a person with my particular affliction.  Wanderlust, Britain’s “leading independent travel magazine,” describes itself as “delivering inspiration and advice to travelers seeking unique and enriching travel experiences.”  How unique, you ask?  Here are a few articles found in Wanderlust magazine:

“Botswana on a Budget.”

“Island-hop Like A Greek.”  For those of you who want to channel your inner Zorba.

“Pittsburgh travel guide:  Is the city really ‘hungrier for culture’ than New York?”  Please.  Settle down, Pittsburgh.

“Hop On The Old Patagonian,” which I thought sounded rather painful, especially for the old Patagonian, until I read that the Old Patagonian is a train.

“Walking With Rhinos.”  Walking with rhinos?  “An elephant-back safari offers a unique perspective on Kaziranga’s grasslands – and a better way to get close to a rhino.”  Forgive me, but I didn’t realize people were looking for “a better way to get close to a rhino,” did you?

Regardless of whether any of those articles appealed to you or not, wanderlust – that “strong, innate desire to rove or travel” – is pervasive throughout our culture.  It’s Joni Mitchell’s “urge for going, when the meadow grass is turning brown.”  It’s an invitation from Frank Sinatra to “come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.”  It’s getting directions from Nat King Cole:  “If you ever plan to motor west.  Travel my way, take the highway that’s the best.  Get your kicks on Route 66.”  Unless, that is, you were “born a ramblin’ man” and find yourself “rollin’ down Highway 41” with the Allman Brothers.  Me?  I’m riding with the Boss out on Highway 9, where “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive. … Someday, girl, I don’t when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, and we’ll walk in the sun.  But till then, tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.”


Wanderlust is going On The Road with Jack Kerouac, taking a Walk Across America with Peter Jenkins, or maybe just A Walk in the Woods with Bill Bryson.  It could be you’re traveling with Charley and John Steinbeck, who reminds us that “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”[1]  For those of you suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal, wanderlust is Arya Stark, standing on the prow of a ship sailing out to sea, asking, “What’s west of Westeros?”

Judson is full of wanderlust.  Many years ago, during one of our annual Judson Weekends, the “Question” was:  “If you could live anywhere in the world, other than New York City, where would it be?”  Those of you who were there that day might recall that what made that question so difficult was having to limit yourself to only one answer.

That’s not meant to disparage New York City.  Believe me, I’ve seen dinner theater in Moline, Illinois.  I’ve eaten Chinese food in Troy, Alabama.  I’ve attended the ballet on the Grand View Farm in Washington, Vermont.  I mean on the farm, watching dancers dressed as vegetables and various farm animals performing in a pasture just downwind of actual vegetables and (somewhat bewildered) farm animals.

I don’t need to be sold on the many virtues of life in New York City.  As our beloved Margaret Wright used to sing, “I Happen to Like New York.”  But let’s face it:  New York is not perfect.  No one moves here for the peace and quiet.  A New Yorker’s idea of solitude is going to see a one-man show on Broadway.  And frankly, there are just too many of us living here.  I don’t want to get personal, but some of you are going to have to leave.  I’m not saying which ones, but it’s too crowded!  So who can blame a New Yorker for wanting to look around.

With so many of us looking, it does make one wonder what we’re all looking for.  Not too long ago, I chanced upon a documentary called – what else? – Wanderlust, which is about the history of road movies, everything from Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night to Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rainman, The Motorcycle Diaries, To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar by our good friend Douglas Carter Beane, and many, many more.  One of the talking heads interviewed in the documentary, Chris Eyre, who directed the native American road movie Smoke Signals, said, “We love the road movie in America because it’s about the ideology that we founded this country on.  We wish we could just keep going, but we all want to get to this place of sanctuary, of home.  For me, the road movie was really a metaphor for finding your way home.”

I grew up Air Force and so as I said earlier, wanderlust is in my genes – and please note, that’s spelled “g-e-n-e-s,” not “j-e-a-n-s.”  Get your minds out of the guttuh.

Growing up Air Force meant that we were constantly on the move.  From Georgia to Germany, from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Montgomery, Alabama, from Summerville, South Carolina to Breese, Illinois, we lived a nomadic life, migrating from small town to small town, from Air Force base to Air Force base, in Great Santini fashion, always packing up in the middle of the night and leaving for our next destination at three or four in the morning, because, as my father was fond of saying, “that’s when the roads are empty and the kids will sleep” – like a band of Baptist Bedouins or a bunch of flim-flam artists sneaking out of town on the lam.  I counted it up once:  we moved ten times before my fifteenth birthday.  I mentioned Montgomery, Alabama – that’s where I was born.  That’s also where my mother’s family is from and where we would return in between assignments or those times when my father was stationed overseas in places we couldn’t follow, places like Vietnam or Turkey.  We lived in five different homes in Montgomery alone, three of which were on the same street!

When you grow up on the run, as I did, wanderlust comes naturally.  No matter where you are, knowing you’ll be moving soon, you have a tendency to long for the perfect place:  the “dream” house; the friends who won’t leave you or you won’t have to leave; happiness; fulfillment; Promised Land.  But whether you grew up on the road or lived your whole life in one place, anticipating a “land of promise” is probably something we all do.  We tend to grow up believing the Promised Land is not where we are right now but somewhere up ahead, just around the bend.

When we were very young, we couldn’t wait to go to school because we thought school kids were having all the fun – school was the Promised Land.  When we were school children, we couldn’t wait to become teenagers because teenagers were cool – “coolness” was the Promised Land.  Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that if you weren’t cool at twelve . . .  As teenagers, we couldn’t wait to turn sixteen because that’s when you got your driver’s license and were allowed to date.  A mobile sex life – sounds like the Promised Land to me.  At sixteen, we couldn’t wait to turn eighteen – they were seniors – and as high school seniors, we couldn’t wait to go away to college because everybody knows the Promised Land is not living with your parents.  But then you’re in college and you quickly realize, this ain’t the Promised Land, this is college.  It’s close, but there are no required courses in the Promised Land.

And on and on it goes.  From “once I graduate” to “once I pay off my student loans.”  From “once I meet the right person” to “once I meet a different right person.”  From “once the kids have grown up and are on their own,” to “once I’m able to retire,” etc., etc., etc.  And one day you wake up and realize, as John Lennon sang, that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

You know the story of Moses – or at least you’ve seen the movie.  From a burning bush, Moses hears God’s voice telling him that God has heard the suffering of the Israelites and wants Moses to lead them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, this “land flowing with milk and honey.”  Well, to make a long movie short, Moses goes back to Egypt where he confronts Yul Brenner, yada yada yada with the plagues and the miracles and Edward G. Robinson, until finally Yul lets the Israelites go.  Moses and company flee Egypt, only to discover that apparently, the King and I had his fingers crossed the whole time and is now in hot pursuit.  Waters part.  Israelites skedaddle through.  Here come the chariots.  Waters close.  No more chariots.  End of story.  Except this only gets us to Exodus, chapter 14.  We’ve still got 25 more chapters of the Book of Exodus alone, never mind the 27 chapters of the Book of Leviticus, the 36 chapters of the Book of Numbers, and the 34 chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy, all of which have to take place before these people can ever get to the Promised Land.

If only Moses had a map.

If Moses had a map, we could probably have wrapped this story up in about three or four more chapters – say, somewhere around Exodus 18 or 20 at most.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he chose to follow a “pillar of cloud by day” and a “pillar of fire by night,” which meant that instead of taking the quickest route to the Promised Land, which would have been northeast, along the Mediterranean coast, they went south, toward Mt. Sinai.  Folks, I’m no geographer, but this is like going from Manhattan to the Bronx by way of Texas.  It’s no wonder it took them 40 years.

Now, because I am the Grand Poobah of All Things Judson Sunday School, and, therefore, technically required to minister to you people, I’d like to quickly summarize the rest of the story and save you the trouble of ever having to read the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  There’s no need to thank me.  I get paid for this.

I think I can condense these books into three easy-to-remember catchphrases.  (And to all you seminary babies out there, do pay close attention, because my exegesis is excellent and my theology is rock solid!)

First, the Book of Leviticus.  The best way I can summarize this book is with the phrase, “Keep your hands and feet to yourselves!”

We’ve all been on those long family car trips.  And isn’t that what the Exodus really was – the longest family car trip in history, minus the car, of course?  And we all know the importance of a few simple rules of the road.  When I was growing up, with as much traveling as we did, you can imagine just how aggravating my sister and I could be.  My parents had two rules:  stay on your side of the car and keep your hands and feet to yourselves.  The way you knew which side of the car was yours was by the hump in the floorboard of every car we owned.  That hump was the Mason-Dixon line.  As long as you stayed on your side of the hump, there would be peace in the valley.  And that’s Leviticus:  the rules of the road.  Oh, it has a few other little things to say about hats and homosexuality, but trust me, you don’t want to read that.

Next, the Book of Numbers, best epitomized by the song, “Ninety-nine Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.”

When traveling with small children, whether on vacation or moving across country, you no doubt know from experience that the only way to survive with any sense of your mental faculties intact is to have plenty of activities to occupy your children’s time – whether it’s a coloring book, or these days an iPad or DVD player.  But sooner or later the crayons melt, the batteries wear down, or honestly, how many times can your children watch Frozen – “let it go!” – and then it’s time to play the “counting game.”  Hey, Jaime, how many cows do you see?  Hey, Khaleesi, how many horses can you count?  That’s all the Book of Numbers is – a long list of everything they saw on their trip.  It’s the “I Spy” game of the Torah.  “I spy ‘the descendants of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel.  The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500.’”

Which brings us to the Book of Deuteronomy, the book I will call, “You Can’t Get There From Here.”

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story by giving away the ending, but guess what?  Moses never gets to the Promised Land.  Let’s put this in some perspective.  Those of you who have traveled with your family know that even as sweet as they can be, there are times when a one-hour car ride to Great Adventure can feel like all four years of our current President Jackass.  The joy of travel lasts about as long as the Lincoln Tunnel, and then it’s an endless procession of:  “Are we there yet?”  “How much longer?”  “I’m hot!”  “Make her stop hitting me!” and “I’m telling you I can’t hold it any longer!”  And that’s just from your spouse.

For more than forty years, Moses leads his cranky family through the desert  and wilderness, and you know the joy of this trip must have lasted about a day.  Then it’s “Welcome to Whine-ville.”  Day after day of bickering and fighting, and there’s no hump in the middle of this car.  Moses, desperate for some rules of the road, goes up a mountain to see God and God gives him ten.  Moses brings these Ten Commandments back down the mountain only to discover that his people have forsaken God, having made a golden calf, and are worshiping it – which, when you think about it, was sort of the religious equivalent of not being able to hold it any longer.  Rim shot!

For more than forty years, Moses led his people all the way to the very edge of the Promised Land and that’s where his story ends.  The last chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy tells us that Moses climbed a mountain overlooking the Promised Land and died.  And your first reaction upon reading this is to say, wait a minute:  I thought God promised Moses that he would get to the Promised Land.  But when you read the scripture that A’jani read this morning, you see that when God asked Moses to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, the only promise God made Moses was, “I will be with you.”

Promised Land means different things to different people.  For some it is a land flowing with milk and honey.  For others, it’s New York City.  Of course, Promised Land doesn’t have to be about geography at all.  It could be found in the arms of a lover, the joy of family, the passion of one’s work, the hope for good health, the service of others.  But there are no guarantees.  Maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t.

Moses spent most of his life in search of a land in which he would never set foot.  And yet we measure the greatness of Moses’ life not by the place where he stopped walking, but by every step he took along the way.

Perhaps our greatest hope lies not in whether we ever reach the Promised Land, whatever or wherever that may be, but rather, through all of life’s journey – the joys, the difficulties, the open road, the wrong turns, the dead ends, wherever you may find yourself – like Moses, perhaps our greatest hope lies in the promise of God’s presence along our way.

Vaya con dios!

[1] John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley:  In Search of America (New York:  Penguin, 1962), 4.

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