Unsung Saints 2020 Lent

Thursday of Lent 4

Mark 8:27-9:1

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Don, Musician and Teller of Tales

I adored my older brother, Norman, before his descent into the alcoholism that killed him and wounded many. He left home after high school graduation in 1963. We had moved to Bonham from Texarkana when he was a 13-year-old eighth-grader in 1958. He had left behind his best friend, Freddy, and a world he knew and loved. Bonham was a hard little town to break into at his age. Norman had started school at age 5 and was, by far, the youngest in his class. His new friends were all bright and destined for trouble.

Over the next few years, Norman became a beatnik, who worked in restaurants in Greenwich Village and on Cape Cod. A short-lived marriage to Barbara preceded his move to Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement in San Francisco. Back again in Texas, he went to school then left for months in Germany, where he fathered a son out of wedlock, then back to be a railroad brakeman in the New Jersey railyards across from Manhattan. Then, a brakeman in Dallas, and finally he settled down with Glenda and her boys, Devon and Max, two degrees, a head chef job, teaching assistant, before becoming a journalist.

One of Norman’s best friends from Bonham was Don, also known as Flash, who had played in a country band for several years. In their late 20s, they were both trying to settle down to domestic life. They had mostly traded illegal drugs for alcohol and formed a folk band with the inimitable title, “The Universal Life Church Marching Vermin Band.” In those days, the Universal Life Church, based in Modesto CA, the home of Ripple Wine, offered ordination for $5, a Master of Divinity for $10, and a Doctor of Divinity for $15. So, Norman and Don paid the $5 fee for grins to give the band’s name legitimacy.

Those two guys on acoustic guitars were very popular with a small crowd of college students, who were much younger. Their other bandmates included Richard, an ex-Navy guy, on washtub bass, and a guy from Ecuador on percussion, whom the guys unkindly described as the only Latino born without rhythm. Theirs was a most eclectic set of folk, gospel, and ethnic tunes, even, “Louisiana Man” (Doug Kershaw’s song). It was so entertaining to watch that awful band making music and having more fun than money.

After my first year in college, the guys scattered to real jobs. Norman became an editor and writer in San Marcos, Galveston, Del Rio, and, after Norman and Glenda’s divorce and his remarriage, he landed in Opelousas, Louisiana, then Florence, Alabama, and finally Montgomery. Don and Rita moved with their son to Alaska, where Don took to driving a UPS truck. He got sober. Norman never did. They grew apart.

My favorite Norman and Flash story took place in Galveston, where Norman was working as night editor for the Galveston Daily News, the oldest daily in Texas. Flash and he were having drinks and walking along the seawall, mostly in the dark. A man suddenly appeared and asked if they wanted to buy a watch. Flash asked why he needed a watch. The man replied: “If you had a watch, you would know the difference between daytime and nighttime, because nighttime ain’t no time to be in this neighborhood.” Norman and Flash lived off that story for such a long time that Flash became “Reloj,” Spanish for “watch.”

Drunks that don’t make it kill off their relationships one at a time. The last words Reloj wrote of Norman were brutally honest. When I read them, I cried for all that had been and all that was lost. Kyrie eleison!

Thank you, Father, for Don and all the musicians who make their living doing other work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirty pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

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.