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5.09.2006

Cleaning

this weeks UPI column

So There I was...

…in a closet of memories. Last year, shortly after his 88th birthday, my father, Mr. Orville Senger, left this planet to pursue other opportunities. He was a good and righteous man. He was a simple man, and did not leave much in the way of possessions, at least by the world’s standards, but he had a small and interesting collection of junk. This collection is stored in various places around my house, which was his home for the last twelve years; the greenhouse, the garage, the basement, the closet in his room. I have been going through them slowly, deciding what to keep, give away, throw away or share with my brothers. It is slow work because it is emotional work. One of my father’s defining habits was labeling things and making signs. He had distinctive handwriting. It was pretty illegible; my mother said he should have been a doctor. When he wanted you to see something and pay attention he wrote in big block letters. I have been finding these notes and signs around the house. I hear his voice every time I find one.

Just before Easter I was in the corner of the basement where he kept his gardening supplies. I found a box with a small space heater in it, the kind he would have used to heat his greenhouse in winter. There was a sign attached to it.

“THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS – IT JUST NEEDS A NEW FAN MOTOR”

This means that it was broken, but he couldn’t bring himself to throw it away. It was an inexpensive appliance; the part probably would have cost more than a new one. I know that this habit of keeping things was part depression era frugality, but it was also an attitude that he had about everything, including people. He was a “redeemer” -- a person who gave a hand up -- a fixer. He believed that anybody, given a choice and a chance could start over. In his last years of life he was supporting a ministry on the North side of Chicago that helps male prostitutes get off the streets. I can hear him say “There’s nothing wrong with those guys, they just need some help.”

My parents raised me in a church that taught the doctrine of human depravity: that people were inherently bad, fallen, beyond the ability to change without massive cosmic intervention which they clearly did not deserve. My dad taught me by example that people are basically good, worthwhile and respectable. They messed up and made bad choices and needed help; God’s help and each other’s help, but they are worth helping. Note to parents: what you teach by example will trump the doctrine of the church you attend.

I felt very sad holding that heater. Its redeemer had left the planet. It was headed for the recycling bin. I was reminded of the words of ancient Job, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that one day He shall stand on this Earth.” (Job 19:25) Job’s friends kept trying to tell him that there was something wrong with him. Job knew better, and hoped. I am grateful that my redeemer, Christ, who believes that there is nothing in me that cannot be made whole, has indeed stood on this earth and does live, and does continue to work on me.

Today I was in the closet in Dad’s room. I only got about half way through this most secret treasure trove before my heart gave out: Toys from his childhood, favorite music on tape and vinyl, unfinished water color paintings, gizmos, gadgets and widgets galore. And a package with a label that read:

“DO NOT DISCARD -- DISCUSS WITH ME.”

This is a bit mysterious; who did he think he was writing this to, and under what conditions? I did not make it a habit of going through his things. I am not a reckless trasher. If someone were going through his things – it would be under the present conditions – he would be gone. Now how am I supposed to discuss this with him?

The package contained about a dozen issues of The Saturday Evening Post from 1948 through 1952. One of them has a lead article entitled “What kind of president will Dewey make?” Seriously, who would throw these things out? I will keep the magazines – there are enough for all of his kids and grandkids to have one.

I will also keep the sign. I may have it framed. It is another example of my dad teaching theology through everyday life. It isn’t about magazines; it‘s about life.

When something or someone seems useless, antiquated, beyond repair – talk to your cosmic parent about it. Talk to the maker. There is value there. Treasure is found in surprising places. Everything and everyone is redeemable.

Emmaus Ministries – one of my father’s favorite good works
http://www.streets.org/

Comments:
Beautiful. His notes sound like answers to prayers, a way to speak a little beyond the grave.

(If I snuffed it today, what would my kids think of all the boxes marked "misc."?)

Re your father's teaching by example that people are "basically good", I can never hear that phrase without remembering a New Yorker cartoon with Satan and one of his assistants overlooking pits of fire, full of tormented lost souls; a pretty crowded scene. Satan is smiling and saying to his assistant, "We do pretty well when you stop to consider that people are basically good."

I like the way you morph the "good" from meaning "morally good, doing the right thing" to "valuable." I might have to disagree with the first, but say "amen" to the second.
 
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