Friday, June 19, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 23: The Spirit in the Sky and the Jukebox at A&W

I exited Highway 99 in Yuba City because I'd seen the sign for an A&W Root Beer stand. My train of thought still was circling around the question of whether God communicated with people in any way shape or form or whether, as some thought, God was an impersonal creative force from which all life drew energy. The idea of a personal God who knew and sought out individuals in order to communicate with them seemed very unlikely to me. It also seemed unsophisticated and "low-brow." That's what the fundamentalists and Pentecostals believed about God. The impersonal life-force concept was not only more sophisticated, but also more attractive for a number of reasons--the main one being that an impersonal force had no explicit moral code which one was obligated to follow. The Jesus I had read about in the Bible spoke of a Father in Heaven who required holiness but who could be reached by prayer and who loved, listened to and cared for those who came to him with faith and accepted Jesus. Still, how was one to know for sure? Does God really somehow point the way for people as they struggle to find the truth and understand life? How was one expected to have faith if there was none there to begin with?

I turned the company truck into a space at the A&W and headed for the store to get a hamburger and a frosty mug of root beer. It was late in the afternoon, long past lunch, and so the place was empty. I was hungry and glad there would be no line. I stepped inside a big enclosed patio area with big tables and bench seats. A great place to take the family. I went up to the window, put in my order, and then sat at one of the tables to wait. While I waited my mind kept mulling that pesky question about whether God, if he existed, ever communicated with people in any way. As these thoughts occupied my mind, a young man came in, walked to the window and put in an order for a large root beer to go. As the girl poured it, the young man walked over to the jukebox, put in a quarter, punched some of the big lighted buttons and walked back to the window to get his drink. As the arm inside the jukebox selected the record and began to swing it over to the sideways-mounted turntable, the young man picked up his root beer and walked out. I watched as he hopped into an older model ford pick up. As he pulled out of the driveway, his first song was beginning to play. "How odd," I thought, "the guy pays for some songs and then leaves without even listening to them. What's the point in that?" I recognized the song instantly. They were still playing it on the radio from time to time. It was Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky, a song about having faith in Jesus and going to heaven when you die. I picked up my burger and root beer and sat down to eat as the last notes of Spirit in the Sky faded. The jukebox mechanism dutifully put that record back in its slot and then reached for the next selection. As I took the second bite of my burger, I heard another familiar song rising from the jukebox. This time it was Put You Hand in the Hand of the Man From Galilee.

"Wait one second," I thought to myself, "how is it that, just when I am all perplexed and asking inwardly if God ever somehow communicates to people, just then some guy I don't know from Adam crosses my path and just happens to drop two Christian songs in my ears--and all for my sole benefit? "What's going on here?" I wondered. How was I to understand this strange coincidence? I couldn't help thinking that perhaps, just maybe, Someone was trying to give me a little hint at the answer to the question I'd just been wrestling with. This thought boggled my mind and helped prepare me for what was about to happen to me in Paradise.

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