Faster Horses

After reading David McCullough’s 2015 book on the Wright Brothers, I wanted to visit the Wright Cycle Company (if it still existed) where, in 1903, the brothers built the first airplane. So, I went to Dayton to the Aviation Heritage Park. But I was disappointed. The Wrights’ shop, along with their family home, had been moved in 1937 to Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Greenfield Village was the vision of industrialist Henry Ford, who wanted to showcase American innovation and preserve the nation’s history.

Greenfield Village is an amazing place. It includes the lab where Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, and the home where Henry J. Heinz started his packaged food business, all carefully moved there under Henry Ford’s direction. The Henry Ford Museum includes the bus Rosa Parks was riding when she refused to give up her seat. There are exhibits on design, transportation, energy, leisure, and creativity. The legacy of Henry Ford himself, who revolutionized automobile mass-production, is center stage. And all this is set within the context of freedom, justice, and the struggle for civil rights.

The museum asks, “What if Rosa Parks had simply moved to the back of the bus?” or “What if the Wrights had given up?”

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’” There’s no proof Ford really said that, and many object, saying it appears to devalue peoples’ opinions. But you can’t help but be struck, as you explore the Ford Museum, how vastly different strands of endeavor came together to form a nation.

But consider this. God is weaving together the strands of all lives everywhere into the infinitely greater future he’s creating. We all have a choice to follow a well-worn path or set off in a new direction. We can choose to keep trying or give up.

God is calling us into his future. Will we join him, or will we settle for faster horses?

Off the map

In his book, Canoeing the Mountains, pastor and seminary leader Tod Bolsinger tells a story from his time as a church head of staff. The church had called him, in part, to reach new families. In Tod’s church, young people had their own worship service and rarely attended “big church.” The downside of this was that young people never really felt they were part of the church, and many quit church when they went to college. So, Tod asked the staff to brainstorm ideas to help young people feel more like part of the family.

“Let’s have Youth Sunday,” someone suggested, and it got the group working. Like they’d done in the past, one of the youth would preach, while others would read scripture, usher, and so on. Everyone liked the idea.

Then the business manager spoke up. Youth Sunday had always been the lowest-attended, lowest-giving Sunday all year. The junior high director agreed. The kids hated it. They felt silly wearing shirts and ties. The older folks hated the music. Everyone ended up feeling awkward and patronized.

Canoeing the Mountains is Tod Bolsinger’s metaphor for where the church finds itself today. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. When Lewis and Clark reached the headwaters of the Missouri, they expected to find the Northwest Passage and float down the river to the Pacific.

Instead, the Rocky Mountains stood before them.

They had boats and no map.

Kind of like the church today.

Tod describes it as a “moment of deep disorientation.” When we find ourselves in moments like this, “we tend to try to reorient around old ways of doing things.”

We keep canoeing when there is no river.

Tod said that Lewis and Clark set out “defined by a myth,” that the Northwest Passage existed. “Imagine their thoughts as reality set in.”

Lewis and Clark could have given up. The exploration could have waited until a better equipped group was assembled. Instead they pressed on.

Tod’s church never brought back Youth Sunday, but the discussion led to all kinds of experiments that led to new traditions that got everyone involved.

Thank goodness that, even when we’re off the map, God is already there.

Fourth great

Last week I went with my son Sean over to Jefferson County, Ohio in search of information on my fourth great-grandfather, John N. Hall, Sr. We knew that John was born in Maryland in 1772, married Elizabeth Stevens in 1796, and moved with six children to Ohio in 1807. There, on their homestead in Wells Township, they had six more children, including Benoni, the one who became my third great-grandfather.

There wasn’t much information on John in the Steubenville Library, but there was a deed, transferring a small parcel of land for the sum of twenty-five cents, to the trustees of Lloyd’s Methodist Episcopal Church, “to preach and expound God’s holy word.” John Hall was one of the trustees. We learned the church had closed long ago, but it had a burying ground, and if we could find it, we might find a tombstone with John’s name.

We did find the little graveyard, but most of the stones were broken or unreadable.

At one end of the graveyard, hidden among tall weeds, was the foundation of the little church.

Sean and I kept talking about, in two hundred years, how little will be left to tell our descendants about who we were and the lives we lived.

But we did find one more thing of John Hall, Sr., his Last Will and Testament. Written a month before his death, he said he was “of weak body, but sound and perfect mind and memory.” For this, he was “humbly thankful to the great author of all our blessing.”

That’s about all I know about my fourth great-grandfather. He was a pioneer and a farmer, and he raised 12 children. But I know the most important thing: he was a follower of Jesus Christ, and one day, the bones in that little cemetery will come to life, and I will meet him face-to-face.