(a Steve Orr Epiphany reflection)
We had heard the rumors. They just seemed too amazing to be true.
Moonshiners, Al Capone, Prohibition. A mansion situated deep in the land between the rivers where only the shacks of poor farmers should have been. We'd all heard the stories—not much more than rumors, really—about the long lost “Bogard House.”
Then, one day, we found it.
It’s a longish story that I will spare you. By the time one of our group found it and led the rest of us to it, that “land between the rivers” had been transformed. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) had turned those rivers into lakes. Today, the area is known as the Land Between the Lakes (LBL), a modern recreational playground. Long gone are the moonshiners and poor farmers. Still, far from the modern highway that runs the length of the LBL, some shacks still stand along nearly impassable dirt tracks.
It was on those dirt tracks we traveled that day, dodging pitfalls and uprooted trees, wondering which—if any—of the rumors were true.
And then we came over a rise and there it was.
We suddenly found ourselves staring at a large, multi-story home situated on the banks of Lake Barkley. The house had seen better days, but it was still impressive. In an area that, before TVA, was known for its poverty, that house would certainly have been a mansion. Someone with some money had lived there.
Why would anyone with that kind of money want to live way out there in the boonies? As it turned out, many of the stories we had heard were true. Joe Bogard, revered among his neighbors as the "King of Moonshiners," had lived there with his family. During Prohibition, moonshine was produced in the Land Between the Rivers and sold all over the Midwest, including to certain folk up Chicago way. The rumor that airplanes landed on a strip in front of the house, loaded up hooch and flew it back to Al Capone? Well, we could never find evidence of that one.
But we did find four secret rooms.
As I say, though, the story of that day is longish. I only note this: We had heard of that house, stories passed down by other peoples from other times, and then we came to know it ourselves. Hearing and then knowing. That dynamic appears in this week's Isaiah passage. Isaiah was not expecting an answer to his rhetorical questions: “Have you not heard? Do you not know?” Those questions were raised to remind the Israelites of something important.
They had been hearing of God all their lives. There was a long, documented history of God doing amazing things among them. Yet, they had let what they heard cease to be what they knew. They had become theological amnesiacs. God had become more of a rumor to them than a reality.
Isaiah spoke those words to remind the Israelites that he and all God's prophets who came before him spoke the words God gave them. The Israelites should receive them and then internalize them. We, too, can put our faith in them. We must seek what the scriptures speak of, ask for it, knock doors until we gain entry. God’s words are worth the effort.
Hear and know.
Olympian Eric Liddell refused to run on a Sunday in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He would not budge, even though urged to do so by the Prince of Wales, himself. Instead, Eric preached from today’s Isaiah passage at a church. Watch him in this brief clip from the film “Chariot’s of Fire.”
Here’s the passage Eric Liddell spoke:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV)