Bob Bean, OCC Alumnus Retires
Bob Bean, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in religious studies and English in 1967 and an MDiv at the United Theological Seminary.
Of his time at OCU, Bob says that “I was able to get back in-touch with my Christian walk at OCU. I answered the call to ministry at a Monday night prayer meeting that was held in a small room in the old gym.” Since that time, he has served as Prison Chaplain in Terre Haute, Indiana for eight and half years, Wisconsin and Virginia. He has pastored churches in Indiana and Georgia. For the last 24 years, he has lived in Brunswick, Georgia employed at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) as BSD Instructor and retired chaplain, Bureau of Prisons. In his time there, he has written a column twice monthly “From the Chaplain’s Desk” for The Glynco Observer, the newspaper for staff and students at FLETC. He is retiring in January and just completed his 576th story. Bob is quite the story teller. Following is the opening to his final column. Due to its length, the story can be found on the Alumni Face Book page and on the www.oak.edu website. Here is a photo with his dream car to entice you to read his story online. We wish Bob all the best in his years to come and hope he will continuing telling his stories.
~Susan Sullivan, Alumni Director.
As I close this chapter of my life at FLETC, I want to thank The Observer Staff for the opportunity that was made possible for me to share my faith in a story form. For 24 years twice a month, I made the deadline for a story in The Observer. That totals to 576 stories. My, my how time does fly.
For the faithful readers who have been so kind to give me encouragement during my pilgrimage, your kind words have humbled me. For reading a few of my stories more than once, thank you for your patience. Some weeks my writer’s ink well was totally dry.
Many of my stories were not “victory laps,” but more of a limp around the track after falling flat on my face. We limped together and felt stronger because our loneliness was chased away with our love.
My last story is the story about my love for my parents, Don and Margaret Bean. Many of you already know about my Mom and Dad from my stories about them. I fell in love with my Mom the first time I saw her on February 12, 1943. As a coal miner’s son from the mystical hills of Southern Indiana, I loved my father, but the sharing of that love was limited for many reasons as this story will reveal.
I have owned two 1951 Fords. In one picture I’m 17 years old sitting in my first ’51 Ford. Sitting in my second ’51 Ford I’m 74 years old. In my retirement, my first bucket list project this spring will be to drive my ’51 Ford 900 miles to Lynnville, Indiana (center of the universe).
Come ride with me one more time as I share my love story about a Father and Son that learned on Christmas Morning how show the world that they loved each other:
A CHRISTMAS STORY
-Robert Anderson Bean
To begin this story I must go back in time two times. The first back in time was Christmas Eve many years ago when I was a pastor in Terre Haute, Indiana. This particular Christmas Eve was on Saturday night. As a minister I do not like Christmas Eve to be on Saturday night. For myself and other ministers that means that the next morning will be Sunday and Sunday means that you will be in the pulpit with a sermon to preach.
It might seem strange to you, but many ministers, myself included, find Christmas always wonderful yet difficult when celebrated on Sunday. It is difficult only in the fact that the expectation level of the congregation is so high. As a minister you feel pressure to have something extra special to say. Think about it for a moment: How would you tell the same story year after year and make it alive and special each time? Got the picture?
So feeling under the gun to produce something special and wonderful, I sit in my office on Christmas Eve feeling sorry for myself as I try to write my Christmas sermon. So much already done and so much more to do with so little time left. With each passing moment the pressure to drop it all and go home increases.
Into the sermon file of old Christmas messages past I go. The file is slim, but maybe something will work. I considered each Christmas message carefully. They’re okay, but no spark, no life comes forth as I mumble the words to the empty pews. Back to my desk I go. For some reason I begin to ponder and review in my mind all the Christmas presents that I had received from my parents in the past.
Now for the second time back, I must take you farther into the past when I was a small boy. I grew up in the middle of the coalfields of Southern Indiana. In a little valley surrounded by coal mines was a little town named, Lynnville. The coal miner’s culture dominated the area. Most of our fathers worked in the mines. My grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and dad were coal miners. That way of life was all the men in our family knew. It was a hard life. The work was dangerous. Dad was out on strike over union issues many summers. That’s when we ate pork neck bones and potatoes.
This way of life could produce a hard, stern, and even stoic approach to life in the men folk. Holding one’s self strong was the way to be a man. The men in the coal fields were not known to be the touchy feely types. Dad was not one to gush all over folks.
I can’t remember ever seeing my dad cry. At my grandfather’s funeral I kept my eyes on my dad. He didn’t cry at his own father’s funeral. I know that he loved his dad. When he spoke about my grandfather there was respect in his voice. Yet to cry or say the words “I love you” were just not part of who Don Bean was on the outside. Touching, kissing, and saying the “I love you words” were just not part of Dad’s coal miner culture. But I knew that dad loved mom and my sister and I.
As a small boy I learned that touching under certain conditions was okay. Dad would sit in his easy chair and watch a little round TV tube. TV was a miracle. When he didn’t have his shirt on I would sneak up behind his chair and try to pull out one hair from his hairy shoulder. One hair only was the rule. My giggles would give away my approach. Dad would pretend that he didn’t hear me. I’d bravely make my move and on the floor we would roll. I’d laugh and dad would smile as he let me get the best of the situation. He would let me pin his arms back and would say, “My son, where’d you get those big muscles?” I’d say, “From you, Dad!” We’d both laugh and roll on the floor some more. In that setting the touching and loving was acceptable. The words were not spoken, but I felt loved and cared for in our own special way. My dad was the best. I didn’t know there was another way to say I love you than the way dad and I said that we loved each other. Our culture allowed the touching and loving during the game. I never knew how powerful the words I love you could be until much later in life. I never knew how a tear on my father’s cheek could move me to the depth of my soul.
With that said let’s return to my study on Christmas Eve. I put my books away and began to think of Christmas presents that my dad had given me. My sister and I realized that mom had done most of the Christmas shopping for Christmas. Dad was in the mines working. Yet dad always had a proud smile on his face while we opened our presents on Christmas morning. I remember my first shotgun and a rabbit dog I named Butch that jumped out of the box in the front room. Then I remembered a present that dad bought me when I was eighteen years old. The memory was not pleasant. I picked up my pen and began to write about that present.
The words seemed to flow out the end of the pin. I was on fire. Time and space came together for me. I wrote about God’s gift of His Son on Christmas Eve as I wrote about the present that my dad gave me on my eighteenth Christmas. With paper in hand I went into the empty sanctuary and preached aloud what I had just written. The story, so personal and full of love, filled the room as my voice echoed back to me from the empty pews. After the last page was spoken aloud, I cried. But I’m Don Bean’s boy, I could hear my father’s voice saying, “Hold yourself strong, son.” I cried even more. Each tear seemed to release more love. What would dad say if he saw this?
With my heart filled with love I went home for a good night’s rest. On Christmas morning I stayed in my office and went over every word as the church filled to overflowing. I put on my robe and met the choir as they marched in the church. What a great Christmas day this was going to be! I felt I had a true Christmas gift to give. What joy filled my heart! My eyes met smile after smile. The children were excited and could hardly sit still. And then my heart stood still! Midway back, tucked in a pew on my left side, sat my dad and mom. They had driven over a hundred miles unannounced to surprise their son on Christmas morning!
I cried inside, “Oh, Lord, what do I do now? Lord, this was going to be personal enough without dad here, but Lord with my dad here, I don’t know if I can do it. What do you mean by this, Lord? You knew he was going to be here? Thanks a lot! You could have told me!” I thought about going back to my study during the first hymn, Joy to the World, and get an old Christmas sermon. Then somewhere deep inside I heard these words, “Preach the message to the right side. Don’t look at the left side.” Then I thought, “Okay Lord, You said that You wouldn’t give us more than we could handle. With Your help, I’ll do it. Hold me together, Lord.” With my heart beating faster than usual, I stepped into the pulpit and began to speak this message to the right side of the church:
THE CHROME BIRD
“When I was fourteen years old I fell in love. I fell in love with a 1951 Ford. She was beautiful. The paint was a spotless snow white with a red interior. She had white wall tires, spun aluminum hub caps with fender skirts and duel exhaust. The glass pack mufflers would roar with the flat head V8 engine under the hood. I got to see her every week at church. Frank McWilliams owned her. He brought his mother to church every week. I’d run out of Sunday School and look for the ‘51 Ford. I was faithful. No other car held my eye like she did. Mrs. McWilliams would get out of the car and I would slide in and say, “Hi, Frank, how you doin’?” He’d say something as I ran my hand tenderly over the dash board. I loved his car more than he realized. Week after week, month after month, year after year passed by and I always longed to see her. For me, a coal miner’s son, to own a car like her was as far out of reach as flying to the moon. When I was a young man no one had flown to or walked on the moon.
When I was seventeen I was driving an old blue dodge. Each summer I worked and saved my money to pay for the car, but my heart still longed for Frank’s ‘51 Ford. Faithfully, I’d run to her after Sunday School. One Sunday I stood on the top church step and looked and looked for Frank’s ‘51. Mrs. McWilliams was coming up the steps, but no ‘51 Ford was in the parking lot. Something is wrong! Then I saw Frank. He was sitting in his older brother’s ‘56 Ford. I went past Mrs. McWilliams toward Frank. I went to the side of the car and spoke to him, “Frank, where’s your ‘51 Ford?” Frank said, “Bob, my brother got a new Ford, I got his ‘56 Ford and the old ‘51 Ford is at the used car lot in Winslow, Indiana.” I about died. Someone might get her that didn’t love her. All the way through the worship service I prayed, “Lord, if you’ll help me, I’ll...” You know how the rest of those prayers go.
Through some fast talking and hard praying that next night the used car salesman was setting in our front room in Lynnville, Indiana. Those were the days when doctors made house calls and used car salesmen would come to your house to talk trade.
Now dad thought he made the best car deals in known history. Sitting in his favorite chair in a clear voice he said, “I’ll give you $290.00 and my boy’s old dodge and not a dime more!” There was a lot of force put on the word dime. The car salesman was no rookie with guys like dad. With no hesitation he came back and said, “Beanie, I’ve got to have at least $300.00 and your boy’s old dodge and not a dime less!” Wow, his dime sounded a lot like dad’s dime. I was frozen in silence. I thought to myself, “Man, I can steal ten dollars.” Yet the culture dictated that mom and I remain silent as the men did their trading. For us to interject our comments would have violated the code.
I had to get out of the room. I asked the salesman’s permission to take the ‘51 for a drive. In all those months and years, I’d never ridden in the car that I had loved so much, let alone drive her. He said yes. Mom went with me. She must have wanted to leave the room also. I was in heaven as mom and I drove around town. Mom must have felt that her little man had a new love.
Twenty minutes later mom and I were back in the front room. Nothing had changed. “$290.00 and not a dime more,” dad said. Before the car salesman could speak, mom looked straight into dad’s eyes and with a clear yet gentle voice said, “Honey, what’s the difference ten dollars going to make?” And the 51 Ford was mine! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I promised mom and dad that I would pay back every dime and I did. Yes, life is good. Now, I’m a senior in high school. The neighbor lets me park my beloved car in his garage. On rainy days I walked to school and left my beloved ‘51 safe and warm in the garage.
Under the Christmas tree when I was eighteen was an unusual present. Unusual because dad had addressed it to me in his Old English writing style: FROM POP TO ROB. Usually mom’s handwriting was on all the presents to sis and me. Sis and I knew that dad was busy at the mines and mom did most of the Christmas stuff, yet dad would always be present smiling, like he had been there through the whole process.
When I got to his present for me I noticed that dad stopped what he was doing and placed his eyes on me. I thought this present must be something special! As I made my way through the wrapping paper, I asked, “What is it Dad?” With his proud eyes upon me, my heart sank as I pulled out of that box the awful-est, ugliest looking chrome bird hood ornament that was ever made. It was an unbelievable sight. The chrome thing had its wings spread wide with two red plastic eyes on the head of that bird and two wires coming out of the bottom so it could be hooked up to the battery and glow in the dark. Dad had bought something special for the car I loved. His taste reflected what he would have wanted on his car as a young man, but not what I wanted on my beloved ‘51 Ford. How do you reject the gift without hurting the heart of the giver? It can’t be done.
With his proud weathered eyes still on me, I looked up with a forced and fake smile and mumbled something like, “Dad, this is really a great looking chrome bird. It must have caught your eye right away. Yes, this is really an outstanding bird.” The moment passed.
During this entire story I never looked to the left where dad and mom were sitting. I went on with the message of Christmas. Looking still to my right I opened my Bible to John 3:16-18 and read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the
world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not
condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because
he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
I continued to look at half of the congregation and made my confession. I said, “There have been many times in my life when I was ashamed to claim Jesus as the Lord and Master of my life. Yes, I wanted him to be my Savior and help me out in my times of trouble, but like the chrome bird, I’d put him in the trunk of my life. Jesus was not out on the front hood of my life where the world could see who my Savior was. I was more comfortable with a quiet Jesus that I could put in a box in the trunk of my life and bring him out only when it was comfortable and convenient for me.
In the city of Terre Haute there was a special old man. I didn’t know him by name. I knew him by his car. He drove an old 1954 blue Buick. In 1974 there were a lot of old blue Buicks still running round the city, but this old blue Buick was different than any other ‘54 Buick on planet earth.
This old guy had taken three metal rods about two feet long, and he welded one on the left finder, one in the middle of the hood, and the third one on the right finder. On the top of each rod he had somehow fastened three model airplanes. Each plane had propellers on their wings. I counted 12 propellers in all. When I saw him coming down a street I would pull over out of respect and roll my window down to listen to the whirling sound as he passed by. It was a wonderful sight to behold! This man didn’t care what anyone thought about his car.
I thought this man can teach me something about having Jesus in my life. I should not be ashamed of having Jesus out front in my life. God was not ashamed of me. In the midst of all my sin God declared openly to the whole universe on Christmas day that He loved me. He loved me enough to have His only begotten Son to be born in a manger in Bethlehem. His Son at the end of his earthly life died on a cross for me so my sins could be forgiven. I began to pray, “Oh God, forgive me for I have so often kept Your Son in the trunk or closet of my life, not speaking up for Your Son as He spoke up for me on the cross.”
As I was praying, something inside said it was okay to look to the left side of the congregation. I was just about to conclude the sermon when my eyes caught my father’s face. My heart leaped inside! On dad’s cheeks I could see tears flowing from his eyes. His head was held still and proud, but the tears flowed. I couldn’t speak. I just stood there frozen.
Tears welled up in my own eyes and I couldn’t read the remainder of my sermon notes. I folded the pages my sermon. With the sermon notes in my hand I left the pulpit and started toward dad. It was as though I was in another world. When I got to dad, I leaned over mom touching her shoulder softly and handed dad my sermon and then said, “Merry Christmas, Pop.”
What happened next totally astounded me. That very private, old coal miner stood up and moved to the center aisle where I stood and in front of God and the whole universe put his arms around me with tears flowing down his cheeks, he said, “Son, I love you.” He then kissed me on my cheek. The whole church came unglued and joy filled the sanctuary. Before their eyes the Christmas Story came alive. Before their eyes they were able to see how God put His arms around the human race and said, “I love you. I’ve come to hold you and care for you.”
I really don’t remember very well what was said next. Around us people were crying openly and hugging one another. Joy as if we were in heaven filled the room. There seemed to be no distance between people. No one wanted to leave that place. Yes, this was the true spirit of Christmas and for a few moments we were all in heaven. Thanks for reading my Christmas Story and Merry Christmas.