As the sun sank Sunday evening, I drove — or, rather, limped — the 16 miles from the end of civilization at the head of Smokey Creek to S.R. 63 on three good tires and one flat one.
Over the roar of the useless chunk of rubber protesting against the loose gravels of Norma Road, I grumbled about my luck — to myself, since the kids had given up and fallen asleep somewhere between Montgomery Junction and Smokey Junction.
The truth was that I found myself wondering whether my flat tire was less about bad luck than about the Fourth Commandment — remembering the sabbath, to keep it holy.
See, Sunday marked the second time this summer that my Jeep and I have ventured off-road. It also marked the second time this summer that the trip has ended with a flat tire.
But there’s more. After the first flat, suffered in the middle of nowhere and well away from the nearest cellular reception, at the O&W Bridge, I placed my Jeep in time-out for about a month so it could think about what it had done wrong. The Green Machine sat in the weeds for four weeks, until I finally paid attention to my kids’ urging and fixed the tire last week.
Four days later, I was in the middle of nowhere and well away from the nearest cellular reception, at the head of Smokey Creek, when deja vu occurred. The same tire went flat again.
Two trips off-road, two flat tires in the middle of nowhere, with the same tire falling victim each time. I see only two possible explanations: Someone in my Jeep is a jinx, or God is trying to teach me a lesson about leaving the Jeep parked on Sunday.
It’s true that we, as modern Christians, tend to observe Sunday as a day of worship and relaxation — and not strictly as the day of worship that Hebrews observed. After all, few of us see anything wrong with a backyard game of football after Sunday School, and there’s hardly anything holy about a game of football (especially if it elicits the same reactions amongst the losers in your family as it does in mine). And, to that end, there is hardly anything more relaxing than a Sunday afternoon Jeep ride through the mountains.
But it’s also true that I was pretty well aware by the time church dismissed Sunday afternoon and I had my typical Mexican lunch that we wouldn’t make it back from the mountains in time for Sunday evening service.
I’ve heard some of my friends argue that they feel closer to God in the cathedral of his creation — the forest — than they do at a church full of hypocrites. This is mostly quipped by my friends who like to hunt or fish on Sundays. I’ll admit that it is hard to watch the sun set over the Cumberland Mountains or watch it rise over the Big South Fork and not feel close to God, but my Bible doesn’t say anything about perceived hypocrisy at church (except for that pesky bit about a speck of sawdust versus a plank) . . . it just says to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. So while I might feel close to God in nature, I don’t want two or three of you gathering together around my tree stand while I’m trying to hunt deer. (And, besides, I gave up Sunday hunting a lot of years ago because everything that could go wrong always seemed to go wrong on those days.)
I should have known something was up when I got halfway up the mountain and noticed my oil pressure dropping (dumb ol’ leaky oil filter), resulting in a quick trip back down the mountain to visit the store for a quart of oil. And then my engine oil cap was stuck because of the engine’s heat, which would have left me stranded for a good long while had a Good Samaritan not happened by with a channellock.
You see, that was my opportunity to give up and go home. But I didn’t listen. Which is why, five hours later, I was riding the rim back down Norma Road.
I didn’t think about that much at first. But then I started thinking about the preacher’s sermon earlier in the morning. Somewhere about the time my belly was starting to think about refried beans and tortillas, the preacher was discerning between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh. “The Bible says the Lord chastises and He corrects everyone that is His,” he said. “You walk after the flesh and you watch the hand of divine correction follow you every step of the way.”
That was my moment of revelation. Suddenly, I knew how Jonah felt when he was in the belly of the whale. He felt helpless, and I did, too. You might think a flat tire can’t compare to being swallowed by a fish, even when the flat happens in the middle of nowhere. If you’re thinking that, you’ve obviously never had to deal with the wrath of two angry mommas wanting to know where their children are at because they can’t reach you on your cell phone and it’s getting late. I was dealing with the hand of divine correction and praying for the hand of divine protection, because I was going to need it.
So that does it. You’re free to think whatever you want to think about keeping the sabbath holy. But as for me and my Jeep, we will stay parked next Sunday.