Step Onto the Tilt-a-Whirl

So, our State Fair is going on here in Arizona. It’s not quite like State or County Fairs in places like Wisconsin or Oregon. I imagine in those places all manner of fall magic: real cider, pumpkin soup and fresh smells of cinnamon and roasted corn with churned butter. I picture colorful warm lights strung across meandering lanes bordered with canopied trees and the happy exhibits of local creation. I can picture children bobbing for apples from real wooden barrels. I see a colorful old guy with a flannel shirt and suspenders who’s been guessing people’s weight there for 50 years. Here in the desert it’s a little different. We have such autumn themes as a metal shed entitled “The Creep House” and exhibit halls probably featuring such lore as the history of bunions and an interactive sequence of tuna spoiling in a Tupperware bowl. Livestock milling around in tiny enclosures on a hot Arizona day gives off an odor that forces you to breathe through your shirt.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just bitter. Growing up in Southern California, my dad first took us to the fair when I was about 10. I think mom forced him into it. He didn’t like it at all. He saw it as a frivolous, colossal waste of money, time and dignity. My dad was all about “educational experiences.” So we walked through rows of high-pitched, fast-talking vendors with microphones strapped to their necks, hawking towels that could permanently keep steam off your bathroom mirror. We spent long chunks of time at exhibits of campaign pins of past presidential elections. I’d love that now, but back then it was like being forced to learn the etymology of adhesive tape. Outside these stuffy convention halls, in the “real” fair, was pure, breath-taking, dangerous magic! There were rides that could terrify your soul and sights that could fill all your senses with wonder. In the 60s there were few governing policies on good taste imposed upon the Fair. Mysterious tents were prominently displayed with “barkers” out front, on a box, luring us in to see the “Bearded Lady” or the “Lobster Boy.” Dad wouldn’t let us within a quarter mile of this section of the Fair. I remember one booth sold chameleons. Can you imagine? Chameleons! Lizards who could change colors! I knew if I could just have one I would need nothing else but food and clothing for the rest of my life! I begged, pleaded and whined for a chameleon. I think they probably cost less than a buck, sold by a sketchy looking guy who might have painted them earlier in the day. My dad wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t “educational” or “practical”. At the end of my ride-less experience at the Orange County Fair, he begrudgingly purchased a bumper sticker of the Fair’s mascot pig. “You can put it on your school notebook!” I would have rather worn a shirt made out of ashtrays.

My dad was a really good man, but he lived with a lot of fear and a lot of control. He didn’t want to look foolish. I think he inadvertently passed his fear and insecurity on to me. He was a child of the depression and was always fighting against the other shoe dropping. I’m coming to grips with the reality that I guard my heart from pain, from what “could” happen, from being caught off guard and embarrassed. I’m an odd combination of a playful, humor filled wild-man, with this incongruent sense of self-protection.

Understanding and trusting Christ’s outrageous delight of me and His wonderful, moment by moment protection of my deepest fragileness has been the only remedy for this Adam transmitted disease. Grace and trusting my true identity and His complete and loving sovereignty over my life gently takes me from hiding in the corners. Such intentional love walks me away from my fear of fear, of guarding my heart from the eventuality of sadness, all the way to trusting that God will be right next to me, facing it fully with me, as I face whatever comes upon me. This alone allows me to stay in the moment, enjoy the event in front of me and love those in front of me.

Resting in these truths, I find myself almost longing to stroll through our State Fair and step onto the Tilt-A-Whirl and maybe finish off my evening with some cotton candy and a deep-fried Twinky on a stick. …Then again, maybe I’ll just purchase a bumper sticker.


John Lynch