“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”
~G. K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)
I am not a traveling salesman, but my vocation lends itself to a goodly measure of mobility. My most recent journey included the small West Texas town of Anson in Jones County. Having spent my childhood on the Gulf Coast, driving through the vast expanse of West Texas feels like journeying to a foreign land, stepping back through time, returning to my travels across the Kaisut Desert of northern Kenya. Dust regularly rises and settles, turning back on itself like flour vapors migrating this way and that as chef tosses and flattens pizza dough into the desired consistency. I once saw so many towering dust devils on the lonesome stretch from Pecos to Fort Davis that I lost count of them. At times it seems like one drives great distances simply to go from one furnace blast to the next. Approaching Anson, the parched landscape gradually gave way to a smattering of paved streets and correspondingly few mottled buildings situated around an aged courthouse. The town, originally called Jones City, was built in anticipation of the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. Investments were made and stores and hotels opened, but the railroad went further south. Jones City was declared the county seat in 1881, but the name was changed to Anson in 1882 without much opposition since Anson and Jones were the same man. A physician, San Jacinto veteran, publisher, founding member of the first Masonic Lodge in Texas, Jones was President of the Republic of Texas and Texas’ Ambassador to the United States. He is buried in Houston and there is no record of him ever traveling near the county that bears his name.
I arrived 45 minutes early for my appointment, so I crisscrossed the small town, more or less to kill time. I came across a couple of second-hand shops that looked like they contained third or fourth-hand items, a post office, two churches, a Dollar General store, and a weathered billboard advertising the Cowboy Christmas Ball at Anson’s historic Pioneer Hall, but the images that held my attention comprised a large set of murals on the south side of one of the buildings southwest of the Courthouse Square. Large painted letters below the murals indicated that they were provided by a grant from a foundation in Wichita Falls. I sat and studied through my driver’s side window what promised to one day be an incredible array of paintings. Each separate section contained distinct figures depicting the history of cotton industry in the area. While the outlines were distinct, there was very little color on the whitewashed wall, only a pale patch here and there. Glancing at my watch, I saw that it was time to move to my meeting, and I decided to ask the man I had come to see about the status of the paintings. I navigated the one way streets to the east side of the square, parked, and walked inside. I shook hands with my new acquaintance and accepted his offer to sit near his desk. We engaged in the usual small talk between strangers meeting for the first time, which included references to weather and current events. Somewhat in passing I mentioned the murals-in-process and stated that I hoped to return to see the finished product. My host smiled and told me that what I had seen actually was the finished product. He explained that the outdoor paintings were completed a decade earlier, but unlike the well preserved Post Office mural “Cowboy Dance,” the exposed pigments had fallen victim to the West Texas sun and what I saw was the faded remainder of the vanishing artistic depiction of Jones County history. Other murals in Anson were in much better condition, one paying homage to cattle brands and another to Dr. Pepper. While I had initially thought the murals held promise, they would soon be nothing but a footnote to a small town’s memory.
It is important to know whether you are coming or going. In a way that is hard to describe, the faded murals remind me of testimonies I’ve heard through the years. Testimony time in church has always been curious to me. Irrespective of age, one adult after another would share her or his faith story by recounting what had happened long before, at times including details as to the date and time they encountered the Savior. Each narrative was unique, the one common element being a distinct encounter in the distant past. I listened carefully, at times spellbound, only to wonder later what difference the historical event was making in the testifier’s present and what impact it might have on his future. There is no such thing as standing still with one’s relationship to Christ. We are either going or coming, growing or declining; at times, it is difficult to detect which way we’re facing. The hallmark of Christian experience is a growing faith.
“but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18
“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” Hebrews 6:1
When you stop growing, you start dying. At any given moment in time I am either a masterpiece in process or a fading image of what I once was, the ghost of what I was intended to be. The choice is mine.