I never lived in a dorm either at college or seminary. I did stay in a dorm when I went back to school as a 44-year-old pursuing a professional doctorate in preaching at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
God wastes nothing, and so where I lived, whether in poor white or poor black neighborhoods during seminary, was helpful for my maturing in faith and life. My last year in St. Louis, my roommate Gerhardt and I decided to go for even cheaper living expenses. We moved to an old three-story, six-flat complex just north of Forest Park in what we learned later was the “Bloody” Seventh Police District. It put our city on the map as the, then, “Murder Capital of America.” He moved into one flat with a couple of grad students awaiting calls, and I moved into another with a couple of classmates. The idea was we would eventually share the apartment currently occupied by grad students at the end of the fall semester.
Old Bill, as he called himself, had lived in and owned that building for decades. It was the only building with white residents on the street. The older black residents had lived there for decades. They knew Bill. He knew them. There was no distrust between anyone. Yes, we could hear guns going off at all hours of the night on nearby streets, and we could read about or watch reports of what had happened, but we never felt unsafe. I suspect that as we came and went in clerical collars that some of the neighbors thought, “There go those crazy preacher boys.” When the city tried a zoning power play, typical top down political stupidity, many residents black and white, including Old Bill, carried signs in front of the mayor’s house, which was only a couple of miles away. Someone phoned in a riot. The news trucks showed, took one look at old people and us, in our collars, and drove away with nary a minute for us in the spotlight.
Old Bill had been widowed for years. He and a younger, single mom had side-by-side first floor apartments. Bill had a grapevine arbor and a garden growing. If you asked him what he thought about anything, Old Bill would reply: “It don’t make me no never mind, boys.” That’s how he saw his life. He might have been in AA. He might have had a Christian upbringing. We didn’t know, because Old Bill never shared much, other than to remind us rent was due. He really didn’t mind how the world had changed around him. Old Bill was content with who he was, where he was, and with what he had. But he did ask us to join in the protest against whatever political foolishness they were pushing. So, we went with Old Bill.
Why had the neighborhood around Old Bill and his older neighbors turned so violent and blighted? You have to go back to a sage like Thomas Sowell to hear about a couple of professors at Columbia University, who had a better idea about changing the world. It’s always politicians, professors, pundits, and performers who know so much and so little. Hell is a place where causing pain to others is interesting. We do well to remember that some of the smartest people in Nazi Germany destroyed like little gods.
Old Bill was a good landlord. Every night in those cold St. Louis winters, he would turn off the boiler. But first thing early every morning, Old Bill turned it on, and the radiators would start pumping out the heat. Summers in St. Louis were hot as hell, and none of us had air conditioning. I don’t miss those days a bit. But I remember Old Bill fondly and hear him saying: “It don’t make me no never mind, boys.”
Dear Father, thank you for old Bill and all the guys who stand fast and hold firm no matter how the world changes around them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put twenty-four pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.