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Have you ever “rubbed elbows with history” – meaning that you know or have personally met someone who “made history?” Certainly, most of us have attended a speech or concert or an event (state fair, political gathering, church conferences, etc.) in which we have seen, or possibly heard, a well-known figure speak or perform. But I am talking about interacting with someone who has rubbed elbows with history.

My freshman year in college (Mars Hill University) my roommate, Alan Buckner, had a dream of becoming a military chaplain. Yet, we both majored in history. After graduation, Alan went to a different seminary than I. In 2006 former President Ronald Reagan died and my brother phoned me saying, “If I didn’t know better, I would say that your old roommate was ushering the Reagan family during a portion of the ceremonies.” I could find no collaboration. There was nothing about it in the Mars Hill alumni magazine about it. There was no newspaper article about it. Finally, eight years later in about 2014 I met an old Mars Hill friend when he was in Indianapolis leading a seminar.

After a while, I thought to bring what my brother told me about my old roommate to his attention, adding that I had not found any confirmation. He replied, “Your brother was right. Not only did Alan Buckner become a military chaplain, he rose through the ranks to become Head Chaplain of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard with an office in the Pentagon. It was a responsibility of his office to plan and lead in any State Presidential Funerals. In fact, he is retired and lives in South Carolina where I now live, and I have spoken to him recently.” And I recall that in college he and I chose to short-sheet each other’s bed on the same night, and each of us was waiting for the other to go to bed! And I remember both of us getting a notice to appear before Dean Lynch at a certain time. We did. And we both had to pay half of the cost of replacing the door to our dorm room! You see, he locked me out one evening, and I could hear him laughing like a hyena. Infuriated, I backed a few feet away and charged the door with my shoulder–and the door split in half horizontally–the lock held the bottom half of the door and the top half swung back and forth! Talk about rubbing elbows with history!

During the summer of 1974 I was attending summer school at the seminary in an effort to finish by the end of the fall semester. One Friday in July I got a message from the seminary’s field office, asking if I would come by there. I did so, and I learned that a minister serving at a church about an hour and a half drive away had to leave for an emergency and the church needed someone to fill the pulpit. I was one of the very, very few seminary students on campus that weekend so no one else was available. I agreed to go, and I was given instructions to find the church (years before GPS was available). Della and I left early that Sunday morning. Once we got to the church, a white-headed lady met us and told us that she would be hosting us for lunch after worship. From her appearance, we assumed that she was a farmer’s wife. She informed us that she would go straight home after worship services, but after we greeted everyone following worship, we were to come to her house which would be the first brick house on the right as we headed back to the seminary. When Della and I left the church, the first brick house was a mansion, located about two miles away. We turned around, went back to the church and headed back the way we came, and sure enough, that mansion was the first brick house on the right. We pulled up in the driveway and she opened the door before we got out of the car and motioned us to come in. Della and I stepped into the house, and I looked to the left and there was a long dining room table with a fabulous chandelier hanging over it. I looked to the left and there was a huge living room with two grand pianos in it. An older man using a cane hobbled up to us, and this lady said,
“May I introduce my husband, Dr. Arp?” and we greeted each other.
Della and I, and Dr. Arp were asked to go into the huge living room and dinner would be ready shortly. Dr. Arp asked, “where are you from?” and we talked about growing up near the Great Smoky Mountains. Fumbling with what to say next, I asked, “Dr. Arp, what field do you have your doctorate?” In a slow drawl, he replied, “Medicine. For many years I was Chief of Staff at Philadelphia General Hospital.” Then I remembered. A few years earlier, when he retired, I saw his picture on the face of a major weekly news magazine. I had been awed with the story about a farm boy who “went to the top of his chosen profession.” We spent the afternoon with them! What a delight! Talk about rubbing elbows with history!

An older member of one church I served in Chattanooga, Tennessee (from 1988-1994), was an elder and sang in the choir. I knew that he had not retired because his company needed him. Then, several months later, in talking with another church member, I got the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. He had worked all his life with a carpet-making company. Before the 1970s carpet manufacturers used a tedious and slow process to put color into carpets. Then the company had an employee who invented a new process by which carpets could be woven and dyed various colors in a relatively simple, but greatly expedited method. As textile manufacturers around the world installed this invention in their plants, their advisor and trouble-shooter (if need be) was the inventor…who happened to be this active and dedicated church Member! Now I knew what he meant when he missed a couple of Sundays now and then to “go abroad.” Talk about rubbing elbows with history!

Albert Schweitzer, missionary to Africa, was an amazing man, holding a Doctor’s Degree in Medicine, Music, Theology, and Philosophy. While serving as a medical missionary, this man who loved to play the great pipe organs of Europe made a “make-shift” organ with bamboo and although no music could be heard, he would practice playing major compositions. He wrote several books, including “The Historical Jesus” in which his major thesis was that Jesus was a historical person, able to be closely known by any follower. In our Chalice Hymnal, page 69, is a quote from that book, a quote that I treasure its insight and its truth.

“Christ comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old by the lakeside he came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me,” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill our time. He commands.
And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery they shall learn in their own experience who he is.”

And so it is. Those who follow Jesus and learn of him will rub elbows with history as we discover in our very presence the greatest man who ever lived, full of truth and grace, sent from the Father.

So Let It Be!