“So, what am I supposed to be doing here again?”
I was standing in a park on a residential street, talking on the phone with my friend John back in Dallas. John is part of my “small group”, a handful of guys who are “living in community together”—Christianese terms for a group of friends who meet together to study the Bible, talk about life, and get and give advice to each other. John is one of the main people I go to for advice, and he had advised me to call a friend of his named Cole when I reached the DC area. Cole had given me the address and phone number to the house that I now stood across the street from.
The house, I had been told, was called Ivanwald, which had conjured up images of a stately mansion. Instead, I saw a fairly average residential house. Ivanwald was a servants’ quarters, of a sort, for The Cedars, a nearby house that actually was a stately mansion. The servants, though, were a group of men about my own age who volunteered to live together in Ivanwald and work as groundskeepers for The Cedars. They did this, I had been told, because they were trying to learn what it meant to live in a community and follow Jesus.
That was pretty much the extent of what I knew about the situation. I did know that The Cedars was used to house many important guests, from foreign diplomats to rock stars, and that through this the people of The Cedars were able to somehow show them the love of Jesus. One of the people who brought in all of these VIPs was a man named Doug Coe, who was a friend of Presidents, Kings, and Ambassadors. He would meet with these people from around the globe and advise them about what Jesus would do in their situations.
This all sounded great, and I was glad that such a place and such people existed. But I did not know anyone at Ivanwald or The Cedars; I just knew people who knew them. And, if they really dealt with these high-level people and high-level affairs as a matter of course, would they really be interested in talking with me? I didn’t want to interrupt.
John assured me that they were used to having people just drop in. He thought it would be good for me to just see what they did there, and talk with the guys about their community at Ivanwald.
All right. I walked up to the front door of the house that I believed to be Ivanwald. The large number of men’s sneakers on the front porch confirmed that this was probably the place. I knocked 3 times, took 3 steps back, and turned sideways—all old habits from when I sold books door-to-door.
I repeated the procedure, but there were no signs of life inside. I tried calling the phone number for the house. No answer.
Well, OK. At least I tried. I decided to take a walk around the quiet neighborhood. The dead-end street turned into the driveway for The Cedars, and I found myself in the small parking lot of the mansion. I was going to walk back to my pickup and leave it at that, but then a car drove up and parked in the lot next to me.
A couple of women stepped out of the car, and I figured I should at least let them know why I was there.
“Excuse me, but, do you work here?”
“Yes,” replied one of the women.
“I was looking for the Ivanwald guys. Would you happen to know where they might be?”
The woman’s name was Delores, and she was more than willing to help. She led me to the basement entrance to the mansion, which is apparently where the guys can often be found. No luck. She then took me back outside to the nearby carriage house, which seemed to serve as some kind of an office.
Delores introduced me to a man inside named Trent. He was not one of the Ivanwald guys, but served as some sort of admin for the carriage house office. Trent was able to get in touch with one of the guys, and told me that they would be returning in about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, Trent gave me a quick tour of The Cedars. Fairly standard stuff—a kitchen, a dining room, a couple of living rooms. The large dining room, though, was used for a weekly prayer breakfast called the ambassador breakfast, which was attended by ambassadors from various countries. The living room was occupied by some visitors, who were early to a meeting. I overheard Trent say that Doug Coe would be meeting with some people there at 3:00.
Throughout the tour, I was introduced to people who either worked at the building or were there for some meeting or other. So, at least a half-dozen times, I had to tell my story of what I was doing there. I handed out a few of the business cards I had made, which listed me as a “field researcher” for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to America. I had made the cards mostly to amuse myself—business cards for a person who had no business.
Then Trent went inside to take care of some business, and I stood outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and surroundings.
As I stood there for about 10 minutes, a slow but steady stream of people came and went. I couldn’t really tell who worked there, and who was just visiting, but they all greeted me warmly and shook my hand. Some of the people had foreign accents and names, and I am sure that most of them were diplomats or politicians and therefore people who would be considered pretty powerful, pretty important. But they greeted me, a stray in Wrangler jeans and a red Porch T-shirt, as someone who belonged there. I was welcome. I was an equal. I could have just as easily been the guy in charge, rather than someone who randomly walked up the driveway.
Trent came back outside just as yet another visitor approached, a kindly grey-haired man. Trent told the man my name, as I shook hands with him.
The man did a couple of things at that point that threw me off slightly. One, he did not mention his name. At least, if he did, I failed to catch it. And the other thing is that he did not let go of my hand after shaking it. He sort of gave me the two-handed handshake, with his left hand on my forearm, and though he stopped squeezing my hand after the shake, my arm stayed in his hands. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to pull me closer for a hug, or if this simply was his version of a hug—sort of the “handshake hug” that some people use to show professional empathy. But since I naturally pull my hand away after a handshake, it momentarily resulted in a very gentle tug-of-war.
Regardless, everything about the man was jovial and easy-going.
Trent told the man that I had pretty much wandered up to The Cedars, and the man’s eyes twinkled. “What, you mean he just fell in here like one of these leaves?”
I gave him the short short version of the story I had been telling everyone. Still smiling, he asked if I was just sleeping in my car, or on the ground, or what.
“Sometimes,” I replied. “I have a tent, and I have slept in my car, and I sometimes do get a hotel or stay with friends.”
“I’m sure we could throw a mattress on the floor,” he said. “You could probably sleep in there,” he motioned, nodding toward the carriage house.
“Thanks, and I would take you up on that, but I already said I was going to stay with a friend tonight. In fact, my stuff is already unpacked at her place.”
Trent interrupted to tell the man that he was scheduled for a meeting at 3:00, and some of the people were already here early. The man excused himself to go inside.
A 3:00 meeting? Wait a minute, was that…
“Was that Doug?” I asked Trent.
“Yup,” he replied.
One of the grey-haired men I had talked with earlier walked out of the carriage house on his way to the mansion. He stopped to say he had enjoyed meeting me, and gave me his card. I gave him mine, “Just in case,” I said, “you ever get really, really, really bored and need something to read.”
He asked for his card back, and he wrote a name on the back before handing it back to me. “When you get back to Dallas, look this guy up,” he said, with no further explanation.
I looked at the back of the card. A name, but no phone number or other information. OK, I thought. We’ll see where this leads when I do get back to Texas.
Four guys about my own age walked up. “Are you the Ivanwald guys?” I asked.
They were, and they had been informed that I would be there waiting for them. I was reluctant to take up their time, but they were willing to sit and talk for a bit. We went to an upstairs room in the carriage house.
After explaining to them, as well as I could, why I was there and what I was doing, I asked them about Ivanwald.
“Ivanwald is a house,” said one of the guys, “that has been in existence with the same vision for about 28 years now.”
“Anywhere from 2 to 30 people have lived there at any one time, with the purpose of pursuing intentional relationships based on the principles and precepts of Jesus of Nazareth.”
He went on to explain that there really was no set program, and no set organization. It was just a house that was open and available for “this experiment”, where guys can come and learn what it looks like to pursue Jesus through intentional relationships. It sounded like there were a lot of similarities to the small group that I was a part of, but Ivanwald took it to another level by having the guys actually live together, and then took it another level beyond that by having them work together. They worked around The Cedars—on this day, they were going to be pulling up old bushes—and they worked in pairs, so that they would always be in community with each other.
Shawn, who did most of the speaking, emphasized that the focus was on Jesus alone.
“It is not a ‘Christian’ house; Buddhists have lived there; Hindus have lived there; plenty of atheists have lived there. It’s not about Christianity at all. It’s about Jesus. It’s not a place where we try to convert people, or that there’s an agenda. It’s just a matter of making a commitment to pursuing Jesus of Nazareth. Not the Jesus I grew up with in the church; not the Jesus that I see in a portrait on the wall; but really the Jesus of the scriptures.”
I understood what he was talking about, in differentiating between the Jesus of the Bible and the image of Jesus that we often get from culture or our church backgrounds. Author Philip Yancy wrote an entire book, The Jesus I Never Knew, that compared common preconceptions about Jesus with the way He really appeared in the Gospels. The real Jesus was not some blue-eyed, happy hippie preacher in a white robe with a baby lamb draped over His shoulders. He was a radical who just so happened to be able to back up his outrageous claims with unlimited power. He deeply loved and was loved by “sinners”, but was quick to criticize those who were the “godly” religious folk of the day—folks to whom He was so offensive, they had Him killed.
In their focus on Jesus as a person, though, I began to wonder if they were forgetting to mention that Jesus was God. If you focus on Jesus of the scriptures, don’t you have to notice that He clearly claimed to be God and said that He himself were the only way to eternal life?
“I totally believe that He is the God of the universe,” replied Shawn, “and my hope is that everybody who walks the planet would believe that.”
“But it’s not my job to convince them of that.”
“I actually have no ability to convince them of that, whatsoever. I can let the Holy Spirit work through my life, but I can’t convince them of that.”
We talked a bit more, about how each of them came to live at Ivanwald for a time, and how one goes about determining God’s will for his or her life. But, then they needed to get to pulling some bushes, and I needed to meet with some old friends for supper.
While in the DC area, I spent the night at a friend’s place in Falls Church, VA.
Lauren is a long-time friend of mine from college. She is a British gal from Oklahoma.
What I mean is, she grew up in the States, but spent about 3 years studying abroad in the U.K. during college. She sort of adopted the place as her own, picking up an accent (she has since lost it) and adopting the culture and lingo. She now lives in a basement flat on this side of the pond and works for the U.S. government.
A basement flat with no heat.
Lauren is another Parker Honors Hall ex-president, from the year after I held the job. Another old college friend, Doug, also lives in the DC area. He took over the hall president job a year after Lauren.
I swear, not everyone I know used to be a Parker Honors Hall co-president. There are not even that many of us in existence, since the hall only existed in that form for around 10 years.
Still, while I was in town, we decided to get together in the evening and grab something to eat.
When I called Doug, whom I hadn’t talked with in at least 2 years, he asked what I was up to these days. “I mean, I assume you have a job somewhere,” he said, to start the conversation.
Yeah, that’s a pretty safe assumption. But no.
We met at the Olive Garden, and then went back to Lauren’s place. She fixed us some hot English tea, which we drank with our pinky fingers sticking out.
We discussed old times, and laughed at inside jokes that no one else would ever be able to understand. Lauren was thrilled that she could mention things such as “the short bus HOY bid” in conversation, and everyone present automatically understood what was being referred to.
We also discussed friends that we had lost touch with, and compared cell phone contacts to come up with a master list of who the 3 of us still kept in contact with. Doug wrote down his list, in crayon, on an Olive Garden coloring book. He also got me set up on the Facebook, as a way to keep in touch with people from school.
I called Alexis, briefly, just for the novelty of having the ex-presidents for each of my 4 undergrad years represented. Doug called his girlfriend, Kristina, another OSU friend who had recently moved on to the University of Delaware.
Doug passed the phone around, and when it got to me, Kristina excitedly told me about something that instantly became the next must-see attraction on my trip: The Great Googly-Eyed Fire Hydrant.