by Pastor George Van Alstine
This morning I drove by “my spot” to check whether the recent rains had wiped out my lines. You see, for over twenty years I have marked off the same area on the center island of Sierra Madre Boulevard, to reserve it for my family and friends to view the Rose Parade on New Years morning. The rest of the year anyone is free to use this 20-square-yard, City-owned plot of grass, but from Thanksgiving to New years it’s mine! I follow the lead of a few other neighborhood people in marking off my area. After Cheryl from up the street puts down her lines, I use regular baking flour to identify my piece of turf just south of hers. A white “V” in the center lets the world know Van Alstine has been there. Of course, I have no legal right to “my spot,” but all the neighborhood people respect each other’s territories, kind of the way urban gangs divide up city blocks to avoid conflict, and the cops leave us alone.
It’s a funny thing, but I hardly ever drive down Sierra Madre Boulevard without glancing at “my spot.” I seem to half expect that someone is going to put down marking lines in the middle of the summer as a challenge to my squatter’s rights. Judy thinks I’m nuts when I drive a block out of my way in late October to make sure no one’s off to an early start this year.
I’ve recently realized that “my spot” means a lot to me because it holds so many memories. It brings back images of good times and warm friendships. I flash back to the night when it poured rain constantly. Dale McCall and I were protecting the spot over night, sleeping on a mattress under a tarp. About 3 a.m. he left to go to the bathroom and never came back. In the morning, I was the only person in the entire block who was still out there—collapsed tarp, soaked mattress, but still on guard. Thanks, Dale.
I remember the satisfaction I felt to help provide a once-in-a-lifetime Parade experience for Elizabeth Allen’s parent from rural Northamptonshire, England. I love to see the bright eyes of little kids sitting on the front row of “my spot,” where they can almost touch the horses. A recent tradition in our little block of the Parade route is the New Years Eve midnight tortilla-and-marshmallow battle between the good guys on our side of the street and the forces of evil from the mobile home area across from us. Awesome!
“My spot” is an example of a memorial, a physical site or symbol that evokes powerful images of life-changing events. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is just a statue of stone, but it speaks volumes to an American’s soul about the formative years of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Many of us who are on the down side of fifty remember exactly where we were when we learned that President Kennedy had been shot; that location has become a memorial for us. You probably remember where you had your first kiss. (Yeah, I know; on the lips. Ha, Ha!) And your home town is a memorial that elicits strong pictures of your earliest experiences of life.
The miraculous crossing of the Red Sea was the moment when the faith of Israel was shaped for future generations, so their leader Joshua instructed them to build a memorial:
Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do these stones mean to you?” then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever. (Joshua 4:5-8)
For decades afterward, this pile of stones on the west bank of the Jordan River inspired faith and hope in the Jewish people who passed that way.
Maybe we ought to be more diligent about building our faith memorials. Where did you first learn about Jesus? Can you remember the time when you asked him to be your personal Savior? Mark the spot, so that you can return to it when your love for him cools off a bit. Do you remember a particular crisis in which God proved himself to you? Memorialize the time an place, so that it may inspire and uplift you the next time you are facing a trial.
The Cross itself is a Christian’s primary memorial. It speaks volumes to me about God’s love and his determination to embrace me with that love. So spiritually, the foot of the Cross is “my spot.”