Grinding at The Mill - A Miller's Testimony
I was probably 14 when I found myself involved in a very peculiar and memorable situation. Only very recently have I perceived it as a parable, which became apparent as I reflected upon it in the context of some other events in my life and in light of what my life has become. I am "a miller" and this is my testimony.
I grew up in Upstate NY, in what I have since learned is referred to as the Burned-Over District. This region is renowned for its religious and spiritual movements. When I was about 11, things were not going well for me and my family in the house at 666 W. Main St, located at the western edge of the village of Macedon. Oh, pardon me? Yes, that's right. 666. I know. Not surprisingly, the house has since been renumbered. I'm not going to elaborate on all that was not well, but what's pertinent to my testimony here is that my Mom and Dad separated, later divorcing, and I moved across the county to another little town called Sodus. I was struggling with emotional issues (which I can identify now as traumatic stress and severe anxiety). We lived with my Aunt and Uncle and cousins for a month or so then moved into the village, occupying the lower floor of the little house at 28 Mill St.
One winter day, my best friend, Geoff, asked me if I wanted to join his family at "The Mill" for a special school-night church meeting that was several weeks away. I remember agreeing to join him, no big deal. I had attended a few churches in town with my Mother and sisters, and had also visited a few with Geoff and his family. None of these were quite like the little Northern Baptist church back in Macedon, and those I visited with Geoff seemed even "more different."
I remember Geoff's parents asking me after one particular Sunday meeting what I thought about it. Being of Jr. High age and tact not really being my particular long-suit, I remember telling them what I actually thought about it. :) I thought the church people seemed racially prejudiced. I thought they were bigots. I remember their reaction. It was surprise with an enthusiastic defense following quickly on its heels. They couldn't see why I would say that. I couldn't see why they couldn't see it.
It might help to know that Sodus was a farming community with a subculture of seasonal laborers. During the harvest season, apple and cherry crops had to be hand-picked in a short span of time. The laborers in the harvest were mostly folks who migrated from one place to another and specialized in just that kind of thing. They were known as migrants and were invariably "colored," according to the language of the era. I picked cherries once. It's hard work and the mosquitos were swarming and relentless. Anyway, having come from Macedon where it was not an orchard-based economy, I don't really remember knowing anybody who wasn't your basic German or Italian, English, Dutch, Scottish or Irish-looking kind of person. I remember going into the big city of Rochester on rare occasion and seeing all varieties of people, but I don't remember race as being a very big deal in my little corner of the world. In Sodus, things were different. At school, it was obvious that there were two classes of people. It wasn't so much on the black/white divide as it was about migrant laborers in contrast to everybody else. The migrants were a separate class of people because they were of a vastly different culture. I can recall a small number of residents and schoolmates where it didn't seem to me that any special attention was accorded them on the basis of color.
My personal take on the racial deal was that I pretty much related to what I had sung about in church.
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
Call me gullible. I had met foreign missionaries and heard their testimonies and seen their slide shows. My folks hosted a missionary family for maybe a week who were Egyptian. Their kids had never seen snow before and I was so happy to enjoy it with them. I know about racism and I knew some of my own relatives had issues about that, but my folks were pretty decent self-respecting folk who always seemed to show respect for others.
Back to the story. Weeks passed and I forgot all about Geoff's invitation. I don't remember anything more being said about it until he showed up at my house at the appointed time, expecting me to be ready for the meeting. I was ready alright ... and I chuckle.
Here's the thing. Just before I left school that day I had a rare opportunity, and I decided to take advantage of it. As a result, when Geoff later showed up knocking on my bedroom door, he discovered me as one who had entered into the shamanic realm, shall we say. This was not my habit, but this is how it was. Anyhow, when He burst into my room, I had to laugh because he soooo looked like a frog. He didn't seem to be able to appreciate my observation, and he was acting pretty concerned about whether I was still up for joining him at church. I tried to assure him that I was as I dressed for the occasion - and away we went. Geoff and I didn't have far to go.
Here's two pictures of The Mill, complements of Google Street View. It appears to be in slightly better shape than I remember. One picture is a view from the street directly in front of the house where I lived. The Mill appears between the two poles. The other picture is looking at it from just the other side. According to a local historian, the mill had first functioned as a grist mill and saw mill, powered by steam. It's being used today as a meeting facility and apparently as a thrift shop or collection center. I visited there most recently in July of 2010. I sat in a rental car out front with my daughter, sharing this testimony with her.
The Mill was being used that night by what I believe were Southern Baptists to host a traveling minister. When Geoff and I arrived we spotted his parents near the back on the right and quietly slid into the pew next to them. I think everyone had arrived already but the meeting hadn't started yet. Being rather "easily entertain-able" I scanned the church folk with amusement and tried hard not to look at Geoff because he was still looking to me like a frog. 8-)
Shortly, the "evangelist" came out of the back room and offered a brief introduction while busying himself with some sound equipment. Music started playing and he began to sing. He fancied himself an entertainer and it was show time! He would sing a song, then pause for a little story before launching into his next song. His appearance was something of a cross between Conway Twitty and Elvis Presley, circa 1957. Being that it was maybe 1971 or 2, this guy was to me a vivid caricature! This traveling showman might well have been one among hundreds touring the southern states at the time, but to a Yankee boy who was raised with a more stiff and starchy Northern Baptist style of meeting, and being far more attuned to the Woodstock culture, the experience was surreal. That's the word. SURREAL! I was very entertained by the absurdity of this man's inflated pride and his being so out of touch with any familiar present reality, and in my "heightened" state I struggled to contain my amusement.
It wasn't long before he began telling stories I found offensive, increasingly racial and ugly in character. These struck me as being so very inappropriate. His bigotry was so obvious! The more he carried on and the more my induced condition elevated, the more distracting I became to the others present. I was aware that my escalating behavior was drawing attention but I just couldn't help it. Geoff had been nudging me and giving me stern looks. Puzzled glances from his parents became glares. Many of the church folks turned around in their pews and cast a variety of looks my way. I could not keep from laughing, and this became a disturbance that could not be ignored. So, inevitably, proceedings came to an abrupt halt. The man stopped singing and pointed at me with an angry look. He asked me what was so funny.
Okay. Let me remind you that in those days I was a very self-conscious lad, filled with anxiety. Calling attention to myself in such a way was not something I found remotely comfortable. I was on the spot, but being, well, medicated, I wasn't afraid at all. What was in my mind and on my heart was not to be bound.
When this man pointed me out and confronted me, everyone's attention was riveted on me. I stopped laughing and stood up. I boldly told him, "I'm laughing at you. You're a joke. You're a hypocrite." I told him I was offended because he was there in church telling racist jokes and I didn't think that was right. I'm not sure but I may have told him that Jesus loved everybody no matter what color they were. I told him I was offended that he came pretending to represent God and that he was really just a bigot. Well, his response was to hastily invite me to just get out. I answered back that I was certainly not going to stay and listen to any more of what he had to say, and with that said I made my way down the pew and exited the Mill. Geoff followed directly, and so did his parents. And, so did everyone else, so far as I could tell! The show was over!
I went down the steps into the front parking area and was quickly surrounded. Geoff's parents were very apologetic, telling me how sorry they were that they didn't believe me before when I told them about the bigotry I had sensed. I would say that I was definitely "peaking" by then, and as Geoff's parents and others gathered around to express their sincere apologies it was all pretty overwhelming.
I went home without lingering long in the wintry cold. I don't remember discussing the event with my family or even giving the matter much thought for a time. The incident didn't make much sense to me. I wasn't transformed into a saint: There was no subsequent conversion on my part. I just didn't know what to make of it.
Years later, after I met the Lord Y'shua at the age of 22 and was converted, when reflecting back upon this rather baffling incident I could only interpret it as an example of how a sovereign God can use any way He wants to discipline His children. As for my qualifications, I didn't consider that I had anything to boast about. I figured that I was about on par with Baalim's ass, the beast of burden used to rebuke Baalim in Numbers chapter 22. Perhaps I had a purity of heart, but I was surely a foolish boy who was not even of a sound mind. I didn't have any further insight about the incident until recently. Since visiting the area in July of 2010, when I spent a week with my daughter that was dedicated to traveling around and sharing my personal testimonies, what I've experienced (see The Open Scroll Blog for insight) has brought me to see this in a brighter light.
What happened at The Mill that night was a figurative grinding of grain into flour. Crops represent people in the Bible, even the grains wheat and barley, which I have written about as The Harvest Allegory. The grain crops are required by the Lord for sacrifice in the Levitical system, but in order for the grains to be acceptable they must first be ground into fine flour. This requires the work of a mill. This process is a parable about how people are made holy, worthy and acceptable to the Lord. The milling of grain into fine flour compares to the allegorical crushing of olives that brings forth the pure oil and the refining of fine gold by fire.
The work of the mill breaks the hardness of the grain, grinding it to separate out the coarse and undesirable elements and produce fine flour. This refinement goes beyond what must have already happened on a threshing floor (or in the machinery of a harvesting combine). What happens at the mill is a further requirement for producing what is acceptable to the Lord. What happened at The Mill in Sodus, NY that night found me as a miller and that man as the grain. He had already been to the threshing floor but the time had come for a work of further refinement.
What impact that experience had upon the man or upon those who witnessed it is something about which I could only speculate. I know Geoff and his parents didn't forget about it. I lived on Mill Street and was made to be a miller, not by trade but by ministry. I'm one who can identify with the flour produced, having been to the threshing floor and to the mill myself, where I hope to remain until the Lord is satisfied with the quality. If you find yourself being ministered to according to the action of a mill, praise the Lord for it my friend!
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.