A Sermon Somewhere: Growing Up Down in Backwards Boise

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This is an ongoing series where I try to find the sermon lurking beneath our everyday existence.  .  .and fail miserably.

Also this story did happen but has been embellished for humor’s sake and the names changed to protect the guilty.

I grew up in Boise, ID and never thought anything of it until one day I left for vacation and found others who thought we lived in a kind of backwards place.

For starters nobody east of the Mississippi had ever heard of Idaho.  Back then, if you ventured out that far and told someone you were from Idaho, they likely would reply, “I have a friend in Des Moines!  His name is Bob.  Have you met Bob?”

The answer was “no” for a variety of reasons.

First Des Moines, Iowa wasn’t so small of a place they only had one Bob.

Two, Idaho is a long way from Iowa.

People west of the Mississippi knew about Idaho but all they ever wanted to talk about was potatoes.  I had never heard of Idaho potatoes nor eaten one.  Apparently that is because we were busy deporting them to all the other states.  Still, to this day I can’t recall ever seeing a potato field in Idaho.

If you ventured west of Idaho you met a lot of folks who knew all about Boizee.  They knew so much about it they corrected you when you pronounced it accurately as Boy-see.  Then you got into an argument nobody could win because in their invincibly ignorant minds, we in Boizee were so backwards we couldn’t pronounce our city correctly.

To be fair, Boise was a bit backwards back then.  This was before anybody knew or had heard about Boise State’s football team, mostly because BSU got beat by the University of Idaho and the University of Idaho got beat by everyone else.

We were surrounded by our fair share of corn fields.  Our buildings didn’t stretch all that high.  We ate steak that was shaped like French fries which we dipped in special sauce, which is really just ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together.  And on the weekends we liked sliding down hills on ice blocks.

The most backwards thing about living in Boise was our freeway.  Right before my birth Boise had installed a very convenient offshoot to the interstate that shot the cars right into downtown.  We all called it the connector.  The radio DJ’s who liked to pretend to be cool called it, “The Flyin’ Y!”

Now the Flyin’ Y worked well enough if you were coming into downtown but if you were coming out of downtown the thing was screwy.  If you wanted to turn right and head out west to Nampa, you had to go left.  If you wanted to turn left and head right out to Mountain Home you had to go right.  You heard me correctly, right was left and left was right.  We really were backwards.

I tried to go to Nampa a couple times and ended up in Mountain Home and although Mountain Home is a wonderful place with a cool air force base, I didn’t like spending much time there especially since it made me an hour or so late to whatever was happening in Nampa.

After two times I learned my lesson.  Right was left and left was right.

I was in college one day and hanging out with a good friend in downtown Boise.  Her name was Linda and I remember liking her well enough but not enough to ever formally date.  We both lived in Nampa at the time and had commuted into the big city for coffee.

We had a good time and were coming home, approaching the Flying Y when I changed into the left lane.

Linda said, “We are going back to Nampa right?”

Being a gentlemen’s gentleman I was a little offended.  I’d like to think of myself as the type of guy who would never take a lady the opposite direction from where she wanted to be.  “Of course, Linda.”

Linda carefully replied, “Then you want to be in the right lane.  Nampa is to the right.”

I said, “No.  I’ve been fooled here before.  This is backwards Boise.  Right is left and left is right.  I know it sounds logical to go right so that we can go right but really we want to go left and that will take us right out to Nampa.”

Linda said, “That isn’t true.  If you go left, we’ll be left out in Mountain Home.”

“No, Linda, that isn’t true.  I’ve been left out in Mountain Home and it’s because I went right.”

This exasperated Linda and not just because we only had one mile and sixty seconds to figure this whole right-left business out.

She spoke frankly, “Kevin, get in the right lane.  It will take us out to Nampa.”

“Linda, I grew up in Boise.  We are backwards here.  I know it’s hard to believe but here we ride ice blocks and eat steak fingers and mix our ketchup and our mayonnaise together and root for a football team who probably couldn’t beat their own mothers.  So right is left and left is right and we will be in Nampa in no time.”

Fifteen seconds had passed and Linda’s heart rate was beating faster and faster.  “Kevin, BSU actually had a winning season last year.  They are nationally ranked and haven’t lost a game since last year.  They put up fences on the hills so you can’t ride ice blocks any more and everybody who ate steak fingers just died of heart attacks and their kids all now like kale.  Plus, that special sauce thing is more a Utah commodity.  Boise isn’t what it used to be.  We aren’t backwards anymore and last month they completed work on the brand new connector.  They fixed it and now left is left and right is right.

The signs up ahead were of little consolation.  They were as confusing as Boise signs could be.  The far left one said, “Nampa.”  The middle one said, “Mountain Home.”  The far right one said, “Nampa.”  That was typical backwards Boise.  We’d come a long ways but those signs were all the proof I needed that right was still left and left was still right.

Calmly I told my panicked passenger, “Linda, I was just here six weeks ago and left was still right and right was still left.”

We had five seconds before the missed exit and I was cruising along confidently in the left lane when Linda dropped the truth bomb.

“Kevin, I work in downtown Boise.  I drive this route every single day to get home from work and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that as of six weeks ago right is now right and left is now left.  Get in the right lane!”

You couldn’t argue with that.  We went right out to Nampa.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is or even if there is one.  I just know that Linda saved me from being left out in Mountain Home again.  Though really Mountain Home’s not all that bad of a place. There even might be a sermon right out there somewhere.  .  .but only if you go left.

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A Sermon Somewhere: Towns Named Bliss That Are Less Than

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*This post is the latest in an ongoing series where I try to find sermons hiding behind life’s monotony.  .  .and fail miserably.

Yesterday I drove a 26 foot long moving truck packed with the vast majority of my life’s belongings across southern Idaho to northern Utah.

There is much theological reflection that happens during life’s transitions.  The irony of moving on Ash Wednesday was not lost on me.  The words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” seemed a fitting summary of the junk packed U-Haul.  Also, the underlying reality of why I left one ministry assignment for another seemed particularly poignant.  I heard from God and after hearing from God there was no way to not obey though I pleaded for a different message.  Still, as I pulled out of that wonderful town in Eastern Oregon, I could not help but pray, “God please give me the love for the new congregation that you gave me for the old.”  But sustained and prayerful theological reflection soon gave way to more frivolous meanderings as the miles racked up on the odometer.

Now I grew up in Idaho and absolutely love the state.  It is a wonderful state full of mountains and lakes and rivers and hot springs and trees and all kinds of good creation.  But southern Idaho, the part along I-84, is the exception that proves the rule.  You can see the mountains in the distance, little molehills popping up on the horizon with some white still on them.  But you have to squint and focus really hard to see that.  And when you are driving a massive 26 foot long truck with your life’s possessions in it, turning your head left and squinting is not a good idea.

So you stare at the road ahead and try not to think about how brown and flat the terrain is and how straight the road ahead lies.  If John the Baptist was sent to make the paths straight, he did a fine good job in southern Idaho.

There are a few towns out there to break up the monotony, though not many.  By some historical joke people named these towns things like, “Bliss” and “Paradise” and “Eden.”

Like most devout Christians, I have a picture in my head of what Eden looks like and that picture does not include a gas station in the middle of sagebrush.  Yet there Eden, ID is, a truckstop and some sagebrush with a few singlewide trailers around it.  Bliss and Paradise are not much better off.

To be fair, I have read Well`s “The Jungle” and I know how bad city life was at the time people were immigrating out west.  I also know my fair deal about the Oregon Trail (mostly from the awesome video game) and about how bad the journey was.  So I can totally understand that after Grandma starved to death in a Chicago slum and Timmy died of cholera in southern Wyoming how a wonderful family arrived in the sagebrush of southern Idaho and were fooled into thinking, “we just found Paradise.”  Still, you think future generations would have changed the name.

Yet I suppose there is a larger statement here about the human capactity for love.  After all somewhere in the not to distant past there was a person or a family who saw that sagebrush in that desert and fell in love with it.  Nobody anywhere else would love that sagebrush so much to call it bliss, but to that family, it was.

It kind of reminds me of a wonderful verse in Job.  It is towards the end, when God is having God`s say and it is not a pleasant conversation.  God is asking Job a series of questions meant to humiliate Job and in the middle of the questioning God suddenly blurts out, “I make it rain in the desert!”  Nothing grows in the desert.  It is an absolute waste to water it.  Yet our God loves deserts and waters them anyway.

Perhaps there is a God given capacity in us humans to love deserts as well and maybe Bliss and Eden are a testimony to that.

Or maybe I just drove way too many miles yesterday and am not caffeinated enough today.  Either way, there is probably a sermon in there somewhere.