Christian Short Stories

The Rose Garden
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "When down in the dumps and feeling sorry for myself, I have driven up this freeway to view this rose garden. But now something is missing. And it squared me to Christ's world.

I had been ticked and angry. Yet I now have a new view of Christian expectation. It came through crushing disappointment. I had asked myself: Where are we heading?

Is life worth living?

Now looking back on those recent days of despair, I can ask myself, without ecclesiastical trepidation, when did this new view and rendezvous with destiny begin, and aren't I glad it did?

Well, it all started on a reasonably sunny day last month when I found myself northbound on "Rain's Turnpike" to Seattle.

There was nothing urgent afoot. I just needed a cheer fix. Nothing else was on my mind, except having an enchanting drive on the well-trampled pike. This sort of idyllic, soulful adventure has characterized my recent "days off" from writing ponderous tomes for a religious publication. Once in a while I just have to get out and experience God's handiwork.

Since my wife died two years ago, and my children live half a continent away, I often have taken personal, sentimental interludes through sun-and-rain weathered haunts.

This trip was no exception. I had the whole day. I knew God would accompany me and bless this intergalactic journey of self indulgence and introspection while I tried to tarry with the holy spirit. No doubt 'twould be the experience that Christ wanted for me.

I thought, "Ach Himmel"...I'd like to see that rose garden in the chopped, channeled swamp town that I have been through so many times. In the last 10 years, I have cruised several times into Barneytown for at least a peek at the sloping rose test garden that is hard by Barneytown's core. It offers tranquility and in a simple way, an eventual future as bright as the Promised Land.

The garden has been crowned by a 5-foot golden cross, that through its juxtapositioning with the trim garden, has urged me (and perhaps others) to get closer to God. It has always been a lifting experience.

To say that the rose garden is crowned by a golden cross doesn't quite tell it all. Imagine crisp sunlight super-glorifying thorny lime-green bushes and flowers as red as the crimson bricks that fringe the floral slope up to a blinding, crowning gold. Roses are all shades of red, or simple pink, old gold, then a deeper gold, and still others are a sort of rich yellow - inviting the casually curious to slow down and absorb God's and Barneytown's heraldic motif. Its greeting invited your soul to experience a vague sense of historic permanence in this hurried world that appears ready to plunge us all into a confusing, dismal abyss.

Like the passage from the Sanskrit, the garden seems to say -- Look to this day. For yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is but a vision. However, today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Of such is today's salutation. Drink of me and spread bread upon the waters with the news of Christ's love. Because it is so much more beautiful than this.

The first part of that predates Christ, but as tooled in later centuries, it is definitely Christian in nature. I would do well to dwell on it.

- - - - -

So I motor into Barneytown, and . . .aw yes, there 'tis. The rose garden. But wait a minute! Something's wrong. It doesn't look right. Something's missing.

THE CROSS! It's gone! Arghhh.

I stand here in disbelief. It's always been the trapizoidal park's main attraction -- with the rose garden leading to it.

Oh woe is me! How could someone do this - remove the cross?

I'm almost afraid to ask. Nevertheless, I go ahead and ask a woman there pruning roses.

"Oh, they took down all religious artifacts around here two or three years ago," she says. "Too many people objected. 'Somebody might be offended,' they said. 'Like Moslems.' But there aren't any Moslems here, and the few Orientals we have do not object. It's just a sign of the times, I guess."

"This is a tragedy," I say. "The cross -- and attendant roses -- were what Barneytown was known for. Who, for cryin' out loud, made this lousy decision to remove the cross?"

"City Council I guess," the woman said. "It has been quite a controversy. The council wanted the cross to stay, but our city fathers finally weakened under pressure and relented. The feeling was that nobody cared anymore about 'mythical stuff.' Too many intellectuals. Some lawyers couldn't -- and still can't -- seem to handle God's presence. Neither can the press."

"Huh?" I am dumbfounded.

What with the schools being now forbidden to use the words Christ or Christmas, and many cities doing without nativity scenes at Christmas time, I am about to explode.

This is too much. I don't know why, as this pales before the rest of it. Nevertheless, it somehow really gets to me. With the school district, the city, and all government institutions removing all Christian artifacts and outlawing the mere mention of anything Christian from public arenas, one wouldn't think I would be so outraged at this. But I am. Is it the last straw? I don't know. I am just angry. No alleluja from me.

I am so depressed. I can't just shrug and walk away. This is offensive to me and my kind.

The town folk are afraid of offending someone? How about me? I am most definitely offended. But apparently that doesn't count. After all, I am not a resident. However, others are. And some of them have told me that they feel exactly as I do. How about them? Don't they count? Oh, I see -- they are Americans. Anything in this world is better than something or someone American, right? Who cares about the fat and ugly Yanks, anyway?

Grrr fzzl mmph! I am fit to be trussed and taken over the Columbia River bar and dumped into the broad, cold Pacific.

I look around at my surroundings, and I see an eatery in an old brick building. I waddle to it and stumble in the creaking door. Still in a half rage, I ask my table waitress and the cash-register lady about the cross. Neither one seem to be terribly concerned. All I got is shoulder shrugs. Finally some overalled dude at the lunch counter, offers, "Yeah, well, tell me abouddit. I've been upset for years. But nobody cares."

I order, slurp, chew and finish my split pea soup and mediocre ham sandwich. After paying more than $6 at the register, I exit in a huff. With hands on my hips, I take full measure of the small downtown. I muse: Maybe I should change its name to Blarney Town. I glance up Milsap Street -- on one of the terraced courts -- I see a long, white building with a huge cross on it. Just below it, is the clear inscription: Christ's Assembly.

I tack up the windy hill and approach the church's front portal. "Push bell to enter," says a hand-written sign on a white notepaper jammed into the bell casing. And just above it is a list of who's who in that assembly: eg. pastor, the Rev. Selby Saunders, and office manager, Tilly Thompson.

I ring the bell. The door buzzes, and an intercom voice says, "come on in, if you dare."

Huh? What's this if-you-dare business?

I go to the office and behind a desk is a wide woman -- she no doubt could play fullback for Notre Dame -- probably in her 60s with her gray hair swept up into a sort of disheveled top knot. 1950s style.

"Oh, that if-you-dare-stuff is just a joke -- a sort of warning to non-Christians who may want to come in," she said. "Actually, it means nothing. Just a bit of perhaps wasted humor. Heh heh."

I ask to see the pastor, expecting to wait for either his return or for him to finish in-office tasks.

Neither one. She points to a door and tells me to go on in, as the pastor had already taken his lunch, and that he's free for visitors this afternoon.

I knock and enter. The prematurely white-haired young man, looking about 36, standing 6-feet, and weighing in at about 190, offers me a seat. He is boldly wearing a huge wooden cross on the outside of his robe-like garment.

I tell him I'm from out of town but mourn the removal of the magnetic golden cross that until recently commanded the rose garden.

He says, "You, too, eh? Well, I don't get too many visitors from out of town, but the locals ask to see me all the time and with the same question -- when am I going to do something? Well the truth of the matter is I'll probably do nothing. I have lots of old folk who need visiting, sermons to draft, weddings and funerals to do, and I don't have time for town politics. Besides, it's a lost cause anyway. This sort of thing has happened all over America. We can't win -- at least right now."

"Oh." I then tell him that I am terribly disappointed as I occasionally drive north from Portland just to see the roses and drink in "this heretofore last vestige of God-fearing America."

"Yes, I can sympathize. 'Tis sad," the Rev. Saunders says. "The rose garden and cross together have been one of the true Christian attractions in all of western Washington. But there isn't much we can do about it, as an awful lot of people are busy doing other things just to keep bread on the table. It looks like we're stuck with it -- at least for now."

We exchange church tidbits and say our goodbyes. I drive home more than disappointed and disgruntled.

- - - - -

However, on the way -- after prayer for patience and understanding, and a chat with God about what my attitude should be about what was going on in America - it comes over me: So what's new? How is it any different than it truly has been all along? Christians know that in the end there'll be relatively few true believers. But for those who love God, they do not need to worry. We should continue being God's co-pilot on our trip to Beulah Land.

In the meantime, we're to keep doing God's work, and when we cross over, we can be sure there'll be glorious golden eternal life for us to share in the New Jerusalem.

(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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