How to get from Stepford to Pixley on a Bike

Last Saturday (6/16/12) I got up early intending to ride out to the Pot County administrative plaza over in Pixley (previously misspelled, by me, “Pixilie”).  I think I’ve mentioned somewhere else in this space that I reside at Stepford in Pot County.  The kind you pour from, not the kind you smoke.

I wanted to visit a couple of friends over there, one of whom I had not seen for several months.  When you’re halfway smart, it’s hard to have friends because, really, who are your peers?  I guess my answer to that question is anyone who is oriented to reality and competent in fulfilling their life’s work is my peer.  Both of my friends at Pixley have probably got some standard score points on me in one or two WAIS-IV subscale domains.  It does me good to spend time with these guys – both have experienced more of life within and without social, educational, and religious systems than about ten other average people.  Sort of like spiritual Samsons.


The ride to Pixilie is about 24 miles, round-trip.  I’d hoped to pedal the Miyata, but hadn’t got the Continental Gatorskins yet that I ordered sometime last week from and was still having severe lower back pain every time I rode the bike and was still having trouble with the gears/chain pretty frequently slipping down to the smallest of the three chainrings (I have since leveled the saddle and tightened the shift levers).  The inexpensive but brand-new Schwinn tires that came on the bike’s ancient 27” rims I reckoned unequal to the task.  So I loaded up the Razesa, which is an awesome bike, and headed out.

The morning was already warm as I turned right heading out of Burnt-Down-Plantation Estates on to Country Club Road.  Passing the turn-off to that august institution (where I’ve actually eaten lunch and dinner a few times, although not since I’ve moved to this neighborhood), one rides on past a palatial mansion behind gates and a wall on one’s right, then past Revolutionist Acres, and, at the corner of that subdivision and Country Club, turns right onto Catfish Billy Road which connects at the bottom of fun hill and a flat place to Old Pixley Highway.  A left onto OPH is quickly followed by a right turn onto Husk Road, and, riding past a water tower on one’s left and a Faction Two bottling and distribution facility on one’s right, one comes to the main highway.

The four-lane connects Stepford to Pixley now that this part of the world has no passenger rail (must be about 40 or 50 years now, maybe more).  Engineered for the use of motorized vehicles, the highway has wide paved shoulders suitable for riding a bicycle that’s got Gatorskin tires.  From there, once safely across the four lanes of traffic divided by a grassy median, the ride is easy over long, not-very-steep hills on in to the glorious seat of county government hereabouts.  From driveway to destination, about 12 or so miles.

Recycling Center

Making fun of the place I live, having grown up and lived a lot of my life in other places, is something about which I have no qualms.  My friends, however, I’m not inclined to mock.  Is not Augustine quoted or misquoted as having said, “Gold from Egypt is still gold.”  My friend Reginald has something to do with the recycling center behind Pot County Administrative Plaza.  He’s there on Saturdays and Wednesdays.  About three years ago, when I was looking for a place to dump a pickup truck full of junk and trash I’d cleared out of the house my wife and I’d just purchased in Burnt-Down-Plantation-Estates, Reginald informed me I couldn’t dump most of that trash there.  He suggested the municipal dump at Stepford (which was closed when I got there, but I did find a convenient dumpster on the highway running from Stepford to Hooterville).

Who knows how, but we got talking about the things of God and found we are both Christians.  As we talked, Reginald sometimes broke off conversation to assist elderly recyclers or to engage regular recyclers in conversation.  This population of recyclers appears to be his parish, if parish is the word I want.  Reginald is a tall man with red hair, a moustache, and an at times alarmingly direct gaze.  He reports a post-secondary education education at a couple of the better thought of Southern schools (Baccalaureate and Juris Doctor) that I have no reason to doubt, as well as an impressive career arc that brought him to the humble-seeming place I met him after he and his wife “decided to live on purpose.”  Reginald’s manner of speaking, as well as the content of his speech, does one good to hear tuning the mind of listener to the conversational norms of about a century ago.  Here is a photograph he permitted me to take last Saturday.


Last Saturday, as I said above, I rode out to the recycling center to visit with Reginald.  At first he agreed to let me interview him, but as we began he said he felt uncomfortable with the process, and I did, too.  So we just visited.  Sometimes it is good to let someone else direct the conversation and to listen attentively.  I’m not good at that, never really trusting anyone else’s perceptions much except to check them in order to gather more data.  Because I don’t really trust other people, there’s this tension, and it’s hard to listen unless I’m mining data.  Anyway, I guess my discomfort with trying to interview Reginald has to do with the fact that I think he’s an immensely valuable human being and I want to know what he knows, but I think he deserves better than to be expected to tell me what I think I ought to know, as opposed to letting him tell me whatever it is he wishes to say to me.  Probably because my early survival, figuratively and (to a degree) materially, depended on categorizing perceptions regarding circumstances and people while noting connections and disconnections in order to discern what is real from what has been asserted by others as real, I continually do that to this day in all of my interactions with other people.

Reginald told me a story about his great-great-great grandfather, one William Bobbit, who was born on an adjacent farm to the one where James K. Polk was born somewhere in North Carolina.  Both men raised families in Maury County, Tennessee, and both owned plantations near one another in North Mississippi.  Polk had a rule that his overseer was not permitted to whip any of his slaves on the plantation, but had to send a message to Major Bobbit to ride over in order to personally administer correction.  The theory being that one who has never owned any property (the redneck overseer into whose hands Polk had effectively abandoned his slaves in order to carry on with the business of the law or government) would not have the sense or ability to refrain from damaging same.  That “correction” was administered only when the slaves had run away, often to Tennessee, to see their relations.  Reginald told me that while at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he happened upon some letters Major Bobbit had written to his friend Polk.  In one of them, describing the election returns from two bellwether counties, reported that “Mississippi is safe for democracy for two more years.”  Interesting is the evidence that the phrase, “safe for democracy,” predates by at least 50 years Woodrow Wilson’s use of it at the time of the Great War in the early part of the last century.

Politically, Reginald strikes me as liberal, so I kidded him by telling him half-seriously that in the coming presidential election, he should vote for Romney, who is actually a conservative Democrat, as opposed to voting for Obama who is an anti-American Communist.  And very frankly, I think most Democrats who consider themselves Americans first, will find they have an easier time working with Romney than with Obama.  Reginald said that when, as a younger man, he held an official position in Mississippi that brought him into frequent contact with local reporters, he was wont to give them interesting statements that became their leads, and he therefore became the only person whose statements were correctly quoted in the papers.  Possibly in reference to my advice to vote for the Republican, Romney, in November, Reginald said,

“I can’t imagine why anybody would want to abandon the party of Slavery, States’ Rights, and Manifest Destiny for the party of Abolition, Isolation, and The National Debt that Alexander Hamilton started.”

Which statement may be the best on-the-record quote I’ve ever heard anybody utter.

I telephoned to my friend, Theodore, to see about meeting him someplace for coffee, but he said he would drive over to the administrative plaza and we’d motor someplace.  For a long time, I’ve thought Theodore and Reginald should meet, probably because they’re two of the five or six guys I respect most.  When I introduced them, I misidentified Reginald as an Arminian and when he denied it and looked at me like he was going to knock me down (considering what I’d just called him, he had every justification if he’d done it).  I tried to excuse my gaff by referencing his previous work with the Methodists of Memphis and Reginald said the fact that he’s no longer associated with them may have something to do with his theology.  I’m not sure why my jaw was spared.  Probably

Here are a few of the photographs I took at the recycling center (click on them for larger images):



Theodore pastors the small congregation with whom (if whom can be used as a plural) my wife, son, and I have worshiped for several years, now. I recently wrote elsewhere that from the first time I heard him preach (in the loft of a converted barn), I marveled that God had sent someone of his caliber to this obscure corner of Christendom.  We drove over to the Pixley Cracker Barrel over by the freeway and talked ecclesiology, books, and ate lunch.  We talked about the recent Calvinist v. Arminian controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Our congregation is loosely affiliated with the SBC, and we’ve talked among ourselves at business meetings about whether or not there’s any benefit to be had from that association.  Maybe some, probably not much.  I had a fried-egg sandwich with hashbrowns, apples, and a biscuit with jelly.  I figured it would be okay since I had plenty of exercise ahead of me.

I have been thinking more and more about the utility of what is usually known as the “House-Church Movement” – requires very little in the way of tithes and offerings to maintain a system that has much more to do with culture and visible status within the culture than (it seems) to do with Christ and what the scriptures of Old and New Testaments seem to indicate the congregation called by God should be about.  Most of the “church growth” schemes I’ve encountered and read about appear intended to promote the sort of growth cancer cells are known for, and it is not for nothing that one of the New Testament Pauline metaphors for understanding the relationship of the Church with Christ is that of the body.  Are mega-churches actual functioning organelles of the whole body, or are they misshapen, tumorous growths?  Most likely, not always the one and not always the other, and one may morph into the other, from good to bad, pretty easily, I would guess.

Another topic was whether families should or are willing to relocate in order to serve the larger body of Christ in places where there is no Reformed witness.  What this may depend on is whether or to what degree the believer reckons the Church (and by using a capital, I mean the company of the redeemed through time, but also at present) a greater priority than the believer’s own family.  Does this sort of commitment require some kind of special call to ministry or missions of sort culturally recognized in what passes for the Church in North America and leads to careers in church systems at home and abroad?  Is it something one can or should be willing to do on the basis of persuasive speech or the voiced conviction of another believer?  Is it some that requires the sort of conviction attributable to the Spirit of God?  Does God expect the believer to intelligently husband the resources God’s given?  Does God expect the believer to take (to use a hackneyed phrase) “a leap of faith”?  Should a group families uproot and migrate to another city without having secured work sufficient for their support and housing?  How about living in one’s circumstances in such a way as to provide “salt and light” – can that not be done here as well as there?  If we’re starving together here, should we go over there to starve instead?

That last question reminds me of the people of Israel who’d left Egypt with Moses and complained in the wilderness and whom God answered by giving them their fill of bread and meat, and with it, leanness of spirit or heart.  Hosea 11:1 speaks of the love of God for Israel, having called his son out of Egypt.  Christians believe that statement of historical fact was additionally fulfilled prophetically when the family of Joseph the carpenter returned from Egypt after death of Herod the Great and those who’d sought the life of the Christ child.  Migration.

A literal translation of the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel reads as follows:

Mat 28:16  But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mount where Jesus appointed them.
Mat 28:17  And seeing Him, they worshiped Him. But they doubted.
Mat 28:18  And coming up Jesus talked with them, saying, All authority in Heaven and on earth was given to Me.
Mat 28:19  Then having gone, disciple all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Mat 28:20  teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the completion of the age. Amen.

Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, copyright © 1976-2000 by Jay P. Green, Sr.

Implicit in Jesus’, “Then having gone,” is the inevitability of the going, of dispersion, migration.  A laundry list of the reasons people migrate include such things as escape from persecution, securing economic opportunity, reunion with family, forced relocation by governments, and so forth.

After lunch, we drove back to the recycling center where I stayed a bit longer before pedaling back to Stepford.

More than just a Cheeky Hat

John Calvin Cheeky Hat

Edit 3/16/19:  Having noticed some readers have clicked on this post, I thought I’d have a look to refresh my memory.  Noticed the image links weren’t working, so I’m uploading today images to replace them.

In a post a week or two ago (that I can’t find, now), I mentioned how surprised I was to discover from his own writings that John Calvin had something to say to me about human suffering. That is, I was surprised to find somebody I’d more or less written off as a tedious and, at least ecclesiologically mistaken, if somewhat necessary doctrinaire whip-cracker who lived during an age when humans barely had sense enough to utter two-syllable words, much less reflect.

Here’re some quotes taken from a slim volume edited by Emilie Griffin – John Calvin: Selections from His Writings, the 12th chapter:

“But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross.…(God) can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only the great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace, poverty, bereavement, death, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, insofar as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions….Believers warned, I say, by such proofs of heir diseases advance toward humility and so, sloughing off perverse confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to God’s grace. (p. 125)”

“For not all of us suffer in equal degree from the same diseases or, on that account, need the same harsh cure. From this it is to be seen that some are tried by one kind of cross, others by another. But since the heavenly physician treats some more gently but cleanses others by harsher remedies, while he wills to provide for the health of all, he yet leaves no one free and untouched, because he knows that all, to a person, are diseased.…(p. 127)”

“….He afflicts us not to ruin or destroy us, but rather to free us from the condemnation of the world…Scripture teaches that this is the difference between unbelievers and believers: The former, like slaves of inveterate and double-dyed wickedness, with the chastisement become only worse and more obstinate. But the latter, like freeborn sons, attain repentance. Now you must choose in which group you would prefer to be numbered….(p. 127)”

“Yet such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain. Otherwise, in the cross there would be no forbearance of the saints, unless they were tormented by pain and anguished by trouble. If there were not harshness in poverty, no torment in diseases, no sting in disgrace, no dread in death – what fortitude or moderation would there be in bearing them with indifference? But since each of these, with an inborn bitterness, by it’s very nature bites the hearts of us all, the fortitude of the believing person is brought to light if – tried by the feeling of such bitterness – however grievously he is troubled with it, yet valiantly resist, he surmounts it….You see that patiently to bear the cross is not to be utterly stupefied and to be deprived of all feeling of pain…(pp. 128-9)”

I could go on quoting from this chapter, but to do justice to the sense Calvin makes of much that befalls the believer especially, I’d have write out the chapter, verbatim. Better just to cadge a copy and read it for yourself. The editorial remark at the top of the chapter notes that the material following is taken from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Three: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ.

Calvin and Hobbes