After a full day on Saturday, Cindi and I awoke on Sunday with a full day planned. We headed out the door and drove two miles through downtown toward the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. This park is crowned by the 63-story St. Louis Arch which stands on the western bank of the Mississippi as the welcoming gatekeeper of the west. We paid $3 to park as the only car in a half-built parking garage partially flooded by the swelling river and climbed a few flights of stairs to the top floor where we leaned over the railing to survey the high water levels. The flooding in St. Louis did nowhere near the damage we’ve heard about in other parts of the midwest, but it was still impressive. Water invades everything in its path. It has no conscience.
We exited the parking garage and walked the few blocks south to the park where the arch is located. Since both of us had gone up before (me when I was little and Cindi when she was older), we contented ourselves with walking around near the pillars. Especially after the ticket agent told us it was $10 each to go up. The line outside confirmed that the ground was probably a good place to be considering our schedule, and over the course of the next thirty minutes we were satisfied with the striking view from below. Even more striking was when Cindi actually picked up the arch and held it above her head.
I am constantly amazed at what man can build. Not only were we commanded to have dominion over the earth and to wisely marshal its resources for life and happiness (Genesis 1:28-30; Psalm 8:3-8), we were also designed to exercise that dominion in endlessly creative ways. Though I do wonder if structures like this (or this) may reflect some of the same skyward arrogance that birthed Babel. I mean this not as a judgment on any particular architects or builders but as a broad comment about the potential hamartiological effects on our use of technology.
After getting our fill of the arch, we jumped on the highway and drove back west to the massive Anheuser-Busch brewery for a free hour-long tour. They have quite an operation going with Budweiser as the top-selling beer in the world and a whole family of other beers lined up behind Bud. We learned that early on they chose the name “Budweiser” because it was easy for Americans to say. We saw what they mean by “beechwood aging,” learned about the commercial beer-making process, and walked through the packaging plant with rows of cans and bottles flying along the conveyer belt like the 405 at rush hour (if it were moving). We also saw the Clydesdales and their posh stables and learned that each Clydesdale wears its own custom-made 130-pound saddle.
Being the new Dean at a school that asks students to abstain from alcohol while enrolled in classes, I’ll make two observations from our tour that relate to the alcohol issue. First, beer is brewed through a process that takes longer than the process used to make many other foods but is no less natural. In other words, it’s a drink, not an evil potion that’s being bottled up from a bubbling hole in the ground coming straight out of the abyss (though it’s important to note that one important difference between beer and most other drinks is that if you drink enough of it at one time, you’ll get drunk; and that’s not an insignificant difference). Second, beer (and alcohol in general) has an incredibly developed and nuanced subculture of its own both in the church and in popular culture, which is important to consider. There is a broad spectrum of opinion, perspective, conviction, and conscience when it comes to alcohol. This is not an issue that’s conducive to quick condemnations or youthful cries of “Freedom!” Studying passages like Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 (instead of jumping to application) and thinking long and hard about our particular contexts (instead of making unripe and unsubstantiated comments) would help move us all forward in our respective discussions. All that aside, we enjoyed Anheuser-Busch and were impressed by the company’s willingness to inconvenience themselves to maintain meaningful traditions.
From Anheuser-Busch we drove back to our hotel, parked the car in our already-paid parking, and started off on our mile-long walk to the new Busch Stadium in the southern part of downtown. Cardinals-Phillies, 1:15pm. We arrived at Section 450 around the second inning and were not disappointed by the view that I had anticipated when I bought our tickets in the first row of the upper deck directly behind home plate overlooking downtown. To top it all off, we were in seats 9 and 10 in a 20-seat row, placing us as perfectly behind home plate as you can be. The Cardinals hit two home runs within five minutes of our arrival, the game went into extra innings, the Phillies left 15+ men on base (!), and the home team won in the tenth despite one of the scariest baseball collisions I’ve witnessed. In the top of the ninth with the game tied, a runner on third, and the infield pulled in for a play at the plate, Jimmy Rollins hit a chopper to first baseman Chris Duncan who came home with the throw. Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina had to turn his back to backhand the throw which was low and on the first base side, and he had barely started turning around when pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett absolutely crushed him almost from behind. Molina dropped but somehow held onto the ball and the runner was called out (even though I honestly have no idea how the umpire could’ve thought that Molina actually tagged him while being steamrolled mostly from behind). Molina sacrificed his body in a big way and saved the game since the Cardinals didn’t end up scoring in the bottom of the 9th. From the moment of the collision until he disappeared beneath the right-field stands strapped tightly onto a backboard 10-15 minutes later, Molina never moved. I heard he had back pain, neck pain, and a concussion but is mostly better now. The Cardinals’ win dulled the pain of losing their catcher for awhile, and the fans went home concerned but happy.
We walked back to our hotel, rested for a little bit, and headed back out for dinner with our good friend Trey who lived in the dorm for three years and just graduated this May. The deal was that he would pick the place (because he knows St. Louis) and we would pay (since we’re nice people), so we ended up at Olympia’s, his favorite Greek restaurant. A good meal and a good conversation later, he treated us to Ted Drewe’s ice cream and custard shop, a local favorite that we wouldn’t have known about on our own. There were probably 150-200 people lining up at the 8-10 service windows, so when I say “local favorite,” I mean it. From there we dropped Trey off and found our way back to the hotel where we rested and watched the Lakers dispatch the Celtics before getting absolutely demolished in Game 6.
On Monday morning we woke up with two things to see before leaving for Tulsa: East St. Louis (the Illinois side) and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. We drove the less than half-mile across the Mississippi into the different world of East St. Louis and unsuccessfully tried to navigate our way around the city. We had limited time, a very broad map, and no clear destination. I was able to get a very small taste of the city as we drove a few side streets near the highway, but nothing substantial. I want to know about these difficult and depressed areas, for my own sake but also because I serve at a solid institution that every year sends out 200-300 trained Christian students who are in their early twenties, have youthful energy and zeal, have a biblical worldview to one extent or another, and have the freedom and opportunity to make decisions that will set lifetime trajectories. It’s hard for me to tell them about the East St. Louis’s of the world if I don’t know about them.
In 2006 the FBI reported that the murder rate in East St. Louis doubled the rates in cities like Compton, Gary (Indiana), New Orleans, Richmond, Baltimore, Camden (New Jersey), Detroit, and D.C. Consider these statistics (per 100,000 people) as well as all the social, economic, educational, governmental, historical, and especially anthropological issues that go hand in hand with them:
National Avg: 6.9
East St. Louis: 83.8
National Avg: 32.2
East St. Louis: 251.3
National Avg: 195.4
East St. Louis: 1,347
National Avg: 340.1
East St. Louis: 5,847.3
National Avg: 814.5
East St. Louis: 2,442.8
National Avg: 526.5
East St. Louis: 2,067.5
We left East St. Louis disappointed that our perspective of the city was just as limited as before but hopeful that some brothers and sisters will make the trek there sooner than later. But no doubt there are faithful people there now who need prayer to continue in the battle.
From here we made our last stop in St. Louis: the Missouri Botanical Garden. This horticultural paradise lies on 79 acres of land in west St. Louis and is the most impressive humanly-designed garden I’ve ever seen. We walked around for almost three hours and skipped enough parts to go back another two or three times and see only new things. There’s the tropical atmosphere in the Climatron, the large rose garden serving as an “All America Rose Test Center,” the 14-acre Japanese Garden, the block of home gardening models, the Chinese Garden, the Ottoman Garden, and much more, all nestled throughout the meandering, well-kept, artful grounds. We were grateful that the Lord providentially planned this stop for Monday when we had more time and flexibility.
We left St. Louis very refreshed and invigorated, having enjoyed many of the Lord’s gifts in a new place with a beloved friend beside us. We had convinced my parents to drive from Tulsa to Ozark with Great-Grandma and Judah so we could take them to Lambert’s (they had never been). We figured we shouldn’t miss the chance to introduce others (especially Judah!) to the Home of Throwed Rolls, even if we had been there 48 hours before. Judah was fascinated with the roll-throwing and utterly delighted that bread (his favorite food by far) was raining down on him from heaven at the simple raise of a hand.
Our six hours of driving were separated by a great dinner together, and the final three were full of good conversation with family (though I no longer have my right arm or leg since we had to stop for gas once on the way home).
Before leaving off with a couple brief videos of Judah experiencing the Lambert’s roll-throwing, I have to say that I am so happy I married Cindi. It is a joy to be with her in all of life’s circumstances, from sitting on the hood of a car and looking at the stars and talking about the greatness of God in the summer of 1998 to our years of life and ministry together in the dorms of The Master’s College to our phone conversations continents apart during that unforgettable week last summer when our adoption almost disintigrated but was divinely preserved. St. Louis was just another joy-filled paragraph in a happy chapter of this book that God has been writing. The Foreword was written before time began, the ending is promised to be eternally happy, and the Epilogue is set in stone because of what Christ has done for us. I am a rich man.