5 Ragamuffins, 2 vans, and the summer of 2001—#24 of the 30 day challenge to blog

“Along the highway I meet others who are a companion for a time, since we are going in the same direction. When one of us takes an exit, without a word a wave or a farewell, we part company never to see each other again. At times, however in some rare gratuitous moments on the road I meet someone and experience what can only be described as a moment of mutual recognition. With the passing of time, I develop a friendship with that person…”

-Brennan Manning—Ruthless Trust

I have been blessed with many rich experiences in my life. Once a friend in college was looking through one of my photo albums collected from my life’s adventures, and he turned to me with a dazed look and said…”You’ve already had an incredible life…more than most would experience in a life time.” That was a humbling dart he unknowingly threw into my chest, as I am one who tends to gravitate towards the town of melancholy. I have been truly been blessed with many adventures, and great friendships, but sometimes in your life you experience something so simple and profound that even when you are in the middle of it, it is pure grace, if you can stop and go…this is something so incredible, that I already know this will be one of the best, beautiful, most cherished moments of my life.

For me, that was the summer of 2001.

My group, “The Color Green” had been doing some comedy that year, but that summer we had the opportunity to be sponsored by our college and we were given a 15 passenger van to tour the united states with, and one emergency cell phone in a box. None of us had cell phones yet. That wasn’t common place for everyone to have a cell phone until 2002, at least in Indiana. We laughed at the idea of needing an “emergency phone”…but we eventually did need it, and of course, it didn’t work. This was merely the icing on the cake, as when I showed up to pick up the van I was informed by our supervisor and representative at the school that half our summer wasn’t booked. I was pissed. Because if they would have given me some advance warning I could have had the whole summer booked. Luckily, I made a few phone calls, and a few friends helped out, and the rest of our summer filled out with little difficulty. But the lady in charge of us was a pill. I still don’t know why she didn’t like us…but we rubbed her the wrong way, and she wasn’t very pleasant to us. I think it had something to do with the fact that her boss was my friend, and she was letting us do some of our own gigs outside of the schools normal jurisdiction…and we got some special treatment… Her boss was my admissions counselor, and friend…and the summer before she was like a mom to our group…so when we had enough of this lady’s shit…I called my friend…and within an hour she called the camp we were at crying, and apologized. I always wondered what that conversation was like, and why she was crying…like did my friend, her boss slowly open her door and go..”Oh, hell no…those are my boys!” Who knows…but it was a beautiful moment of victory. We were just lucky our friend had a special affection for rough around the edges ragamuffin-types…But even though that lady was a jerk, we probably shouldn’t have gone 10,000 miles without an oil change, and smashed dirt and skittles into the carpet…but that’s what happened…

The Green Van

At least to a few gigs on the second half of the summer, I also drove my green dodge caravan, that was plastered with bumper stickers. That summer being over 14 years ago a lot of the moments have faded. But I remember 4 very vivid memories in that van that summer. One, was I hadn’t slept in like 48 hours…but we had to get to this show or this camp…so I was popping NO-DOZ…and I couldn’t tell you what I said…but I preached a back to back sermon for two hours straight, while St. Shawn Chadwell had to endure every moment of it. He still jokes with me saying, “Stay off the No-Doz Dave, no one wants to hear you preach!” The second memory, I remember was when we were at a last week of camp that summer…I had convinced myself that I was going to follow the footsteps of Brennan Manning, and become a Vagabond Evangelist…and I was going to live in my Van…so I made the back of that thing in my living room…and for a brief moment I was totally happy and at peace that …that is what I should do with the rest of my life. Especially after the summer I just had. Third, was when I was leaving a camp in North Eastern Tennessee, I remember being at a stop light, and seeing one of my friends that I had made that summer at the camp. We smiled, and waved at each other. And I can’t describe exactly why that moment meant so much to me, but I just felt just peace and happiness…in the midst of living an adventure…we obviously weren’t cowboys swooping into a town to save the day, but yet like the catch phrase from the movie blues brothers…we thought we were “On a mission from God”…we were a bit romantics…and a bit crazy and wild…but we were convinced that all that mattered was the furious love of God…and we felt like cowboys coming into to herald and highlight the most important truth that anyone could ever hear: Jesus loves you. And so when I waved goodbye and I saw their face, and almost as if they were saying “Thank you “ in their eyes…and maybe more who knows…but I did feel like a cowboy riding off into the sunset. Silly, I know. But I miss those days. Those days of adventure, feeling like I’m truly on a mission from God. And lastly, there was a brief moment at that end of that summer that I thought I was going to move to north eastern tennessee and not go back to Indiana…and when I asked my cousin John if I could live at his house he said…”Sure, but you have to take off every single bumper sticker off your green van.” I did as he requested, and was slightly bummed when I decided to go back to Indiana after all.

The White Van

It’s odd to have an affection for a 15 passenger van, but that’s what I have even to this day. Even when I’m on a road trip, and I see one barreling down the highway, it transports me back to that summer. The summer when a van became more than a van, when it became a home. A home to a bunch of riff-rafts. It would come to contain a summer filled with laughter, inside jokes, deep meaningful conversations, cigarette smoke, and it would transform from a van to  a vehicle that would take us on an adventure into the very heart of God, and we would be swallowed up by his humbling love. I’m not exaggerating, or trying to spew out poetry out of boredom, but what I experienced that summer still haunts me to  this very day. I remember towards the end of the summer, after we had experienced what we had…I remember laying down in one of the back seats…and we saw a very specific cloud formation of the cross hanging above us as we traveled down the road. I think St. Justin pointed it out, and we all became silent, which was rare for us, and I was laying upside down just staring up and through the window. I still remember thinking what I would often think as a kid who would go to a week of camp…”I never want this to end.” Many memories I can’t share here because they involve the humor of college age kids, not to say that our humor has changed, but…well…you get it…and, frankly, if you don’t…you never would anyway…Somehow it became the tradition to leave without saying goodbye whenever possible. You know the ghost exit, or Irish exit…and there were a few memories I had after we’d sneak out of the camp early late at night…driving in the highway with these hooligans thinking, pondering, and just simply in awe at the week that we just had experienced.

5 Ragamuffins

Their names were Randy, Justin, Shawn, & PC. At the beginning of the summer they were just my friends, but by the end of the summer they would become my brothers. St. PC was the most academic among us, he would study his ass off, and would continue to as the years would pass by. He loved coffee, and to journal. And, even though he doesn’t do it anymore, one of our favorite things to do was to watch him eat his fries first, and then his BBQ burger. We were fascinated with knowing why in the hell would he do that? Every freaking time? There were moments that summer we all teased each other about, and even 14 years later we still do. For example, late at night somewhere in Tennessee they woke me up and we all ate at a late night diner…and not being very hungry…I just got a “Honey Bun”…and for some reason the server asked me if I wanted butter on it…and for some reason I said yes…they all looked at me in disgust…and have ever since…Well one time we all walked up PC working out…and by working out he was weight lifting with a rock. And just like the four of them can’t walk by a Honey Bun in a gas station without chuckling to themselves…the four of us can’t do the same without rocks. We all have our things. For Justin it is the Snack Shack at a camp, because he made out with the Snack Shack girl, for Shawn it’s Wendy’s Cheeseburgers, and for Randy it’s cigarette smoke. He would complain about Justin and I smoking in the Van…because it gave him diarhea …so when he would fall asleep we would blow cigarette smoke in his face. But St. PC said something to me that summer that has stuck with me and haunted me and probably will continue to for the rest of my life…He said, “We’re going around preaching a gospel that we are still trying to learn.”

And I still am.

St. Shawn was the funniest one among us. We all knew it. My favorite memory with shawn that summer a funny one. I think it was one of the first  or second shows of the summer…I show up to this camp in Tennessee and a few old friends found me and threw me in the lake. There was only one problem we had a show in 10 minutes. So, sopping wet, I rushed to our van grabbed some dry clothes from my suitcase…when I was changing I realized I didn’t have underwear…”No big deal…I’ll just go comando”” Well Shawn and I were performing with the guys…and at one point I was acting like an eagle…and I jumped on Shawn’s back…well right in that moment I felt my whole crotch in my jeans rip in half…and not a little hole…Yeah, you guessed it. I looked up and the first two rows of this camp…13 year old girls…Oh, shit…so I whispered in my Shawn’s ear…dude I ripped my pants, my whole crotch is hanging out…walk behind the stage…he did and when he let me down…well you’ve never seen that guy laugh harder. He may of fell over laughing…Well as they say…”The show must go own”…so I literally grabbed a long sleeve flannel shirt that I found back stage…and perfuming the rest of the show wearing a shirt like an apron. St. Shawn didn’t just have the biggest sense of humor amongst us…he also had the biggest heart. While all of us had moments of self-sacrifice, and talking to some of the least of these at these camps…for St. Shawn it was a full time job. He loved these little ragamuffin kids. And everybody was drawn to Shawn. And why wouldn’t they be, of all the people I’ve ever known, he’s the one that came the closest to actually being like Jesus.

St. Justin & St. Randy you know, you’ve heard me talk about in these earlier blogs, but it would be these two that I’d have the most contact with in the decade to come. All three of us gravitate towards the dark night of the soul, and both have been there for me through thick and thin. They are the first two I call when my depression reaches a level that scares even me. They are the first I call with good news and are the first I call when I just need a friend to talk to. One of my favorite memories about St. Randy comes not from the summer of 2001…but would come about 7 years later…I was making a movie that ended up having some cool comedy dudes like Chris Kattan, and Fred Willard from all the Christopher Guest movies which we loved…and Randy was coming out to visit me …and I said “Randy if you come on Wednesday you can meet Chris & Fred”…and Randy’s reply is one that I will never forget…”He said…when won’t they be there…I’m coming to see you Dave…not them…” It was beyond refreshing…I don’t think I had a friend in my life at that time who would have said that…they all would have wanted to be there to meet Chris & Fred…but not Randy…Randy was there for me. And as the years would tumble by…he always would be there for me. But for some reason or maybe for no reason at all….in the last year, all five of us are on this Facebook message thread…and while I don’t comment everyday …someone does…and I love it…in a weird way way it’s comforting…it’s comforting knowing that my brothers are close by. And I’ll save you the suspense…what do we talking about? Nothing mature I assure you…but camaraderie and friendship defies the boundaries of maturity, and I’d don’t really second guess it…I stopped trying to change my friends a long time ago…like Rich Mullins said in his song Brothers Keeper…

My friends ain’t the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are

And I will be my brother’s keeper

Not the one who judges him

I won’t despise him for his weakness

I won’t regard him for his strength

I won’t take away his freedom

I will help him learn to stand

A summer filled with memories & the haunting presence of God’s love

I could fill up hundreds of pages with all the memories of the summer of 2001, but there are two memories that still haunt me on a regular basis. Much like seeing a ghost or a UFO…even if no one ever believes you…”You know what you saw.”

One night in Mississippi at a camp, called Camp Dixon…we did are ritual of meeting before, talking about the show order, and prayer…then we’d go behind stage…and did what we did before every show…put on our wigs, costumes, and look at each other and quote a line from the movie Braveheart…”Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing…” Why was this our ritual…because I think we all believed what I believed even though none of us said it out loud…I think we all thought…”We’re on a mission from God”…But on this particular evening…we all had maybe a heavy heart, or had a strange feeling…the consensus was that “Maybe God wanted to do something different tonight”…None of us understood why, or could explain or even articulate what we were feeling…but we, along with our mentor and good friend Rick Wise…we all agreed….let’s scratch the show order, go out there and have no rules, and just let God do whatever God wants to do…you ever had a church or chapel service like that before…me either…and I never did again…but I’ll tell you this…God showed up.

I can’t describe it, I can’t describe any of it…except within a few minutes a room filled with roughly 100 were all weeping. No acting, no explanations, no show…we just simply prayed…”God we don’t know what you want to do …but we just want you to do whatever you want to do…” I remember walking back stage and seeing my brother St. PC laying prostrate behind the stage crying like a baby. Pc never struck me as the teary eyed type. I too was crying like a baby. We hugged, and sobbed together. I’m sure there were 100 different reasons and agendas that the Holy Spirit had in each of our lives that night, but they all had a common theme form the conversations we had post that chapel service…and that was…”The Love of God isn’t a fairy tale.”

The last story that I’d like to share continues to haunt me…I didn’t see it or experience it myself…but we were performing at a camp in Ohio…and St. Shawn and St. Randy…I believe they were the ones to witness it…but it was an all ages camp…and this little 6 year old girl was sobbing out of control after the service…out of control…and her camp counselor went up to her and said…”What the mater?” And the little girl said…”I had no idea…” The camp counselor said “What do you mean? You had no idea what, honey?” And the six year old girl said, “ I had no idea God could love me that much!”

It was a summer of adventure, community, and five ragamuffins having the feeling that we were on a mission from God…we were vagabonds going around preaching a gospel we were still trying to learn…and that summer was the closest I ever got to, what I always have felt and still do feel, that that summer was what the church should be like and could be like…if we were brave enough to take off our masks…be real…and just let God show up and do his thing…the summer ended in a waffle house. We had breakfast one last time near my Grandma’s house on the east side of Indianapolis…and when that breakfast was over and those ragamuffins left, and I was sitting there drinking my coffee, and I just thought…”It will never get better than that.” And I was right, that summer has never been topped, for one reason above all others and it’s this..through Randy, Shawn, Justin, & PC…my fellow ragamuffins and color green brothers…I experienced something I can’t explain…I experienced the love of God…and because of them I, like the 6 year old girl, continue to be haunted by the reality and continue to exclaim to everyone…”I had no idea God could love me that much.”

thank you St. Shawn, St. PC, St. Justin, & St. Randy for teaching about God and loving me like Jesus.

David Leo Schultz

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~ by David Leo Schultz on October 29, 2015.

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