The Poplar Gate

Fabric art on my bishop’s stole by Cindy Hoppe

What are your faith stories? Take a moment if you will, to think about that question. Of course, there are the Sacred stories: the Story of creation, the Story of the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, the Stories of Jesus, etc. But there are also other faith stories that begin simply as everyday stories we tell each other. Sometimes, these stories become our own everyday faith stories.
My father, who passed away in the early 90’s, told me one of these simple everyday stories. He told me this story as we sat at the kitchen table and pored over the family photo albums. We were looking at a black and white photo of ten men standing outside a rustic building near Christopher Lake, at what is now Kinasao Lutheran Bible Camp. This is what he said–as I remember it.
Say, did I ever tell you the story of the poplar gate? Well, back in those days we were looking for a place to start a Bible Camp. We had heard that there was some land near Christopher Lake that we might be able to get. Now we didn’t have any money, so we weren’t just sure what we were doing. But nine of us boys decided to go with Pastor Larseth to look anyway. We piled into two cars and headed for the lake. When, we got there we walked all around. There was nothing but brush and trees in those days. We seemed to be running all over the place; we weren’t too sure what to look for. Pastor Larseth finally said, “Let’s stop for a moment of prayer, boys.” So we did. We didn’t find anything that day, but this is the story. Five of us were in the first car, heading back to Prince Albert. You know, poplar trees grow roots quite close to the surface, so when they get old, they just fall. Now a really big poplar had fallen across the road. But we were young and strong. The three of us in the back seat jumped out of the car and spun the big tree off the road, and watched our car pull through the opening. Then do you know what? We three looked at each other and didn’t say a word—we just quickly skidded the tree back across the road. The Pastor’s car wasn’t in sight behind us. We drove off. When we got to the church we were standing by our car when the Pastor’s car got there. He came over to us looking very serious. “You fellows had a close one,” he says. “How’s that?” we said—and we all covered our grins with our hands. But he didn’t seem to catch the joke. “No, this is serious,” he said. “You fellows were nearly killed.” “Really?” we said. “Listen” he said, “We weren’t many minutes behind you and a huge poplar tree must have fallen across the road just after you went through.” Then he looked at us all again and the lights went on. “Say, did you shut the poplar gate, Larseth?” I said (And then my father’s hand covered his mouth in the telling, covering—I’m sure—a broad grin.)
It was such a common everyday story my father told me at the kitchen table. But for me, it has become a faith story. Although the Sacred stories are not anywhere cited in the story of the poplar gate, the everyday story rests here and there on the Sacred story: of being human, of wandering in the wilderness, of prayer, of community, of laughter and hope in the midst of what looked for all the world like a project going nowhere. Of course, for me, since my father’s passing, the poplar tree that simply gets old and falls in the forest opens to the Sacred story in a way I never imagined that day at the kitchen table.
So I wonder what your faith stories might be. What are the everyday stories you tell your children and grand-children? How do they touch on the great Sacred stories? And what do they mean to you?

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