Discipleship and “Dallas and the Spitfire”

Discipleship and “Dallas and the Spitfire” April 29, 2012

Two women can meet as complete strangers over coffee and be discussing the most personal details of their lives within fifteen minutes. With men, if this happens, it takes much longer and goes on while they’re making sawdust or draped over two fenders looking at a motor. That’s how it was with Ted Kluck and Dallas Jahncke in Dallas and the Spitfire, a new book about an unlikely frienship from Bethany House Publishers (now featured at the Patheos Book Club).

Some people should just be dead in five different directions and Dallas is one of those. From a home messed up by both substance abuse and divorce, Dallas went on to an advanced fellowship in the School of the Real World that took him through the sewage of substance abuse, sexual indulgence and multiple encounters with the police and courts. The only way he could get out of jail led to the door of the Lansing (Michigan) City Rescue Mission. Enter Ted Kluck – husband, father, writer, churchgoer all his life who just seemed to be good with “these kinds” of people.

What transpires next could be called mentoring (a little sterile) or discipleship (smells like three ring notebooks and fill in the blanks). In both of these, one of the people involved is “Yoda,” the authority, holding all the wisdom cards. Not here. In between the snickering, snorting and scratching, we see two “yahoos” restore a car and become friends. One of them has a little more Jesus in him and we get to go along for the ride as He rubs off on the newbie. People become Christian most solidly by being “infected” from someone else. Books (with the exception of a few people), my favorite companion in life, don’t always cut it. Jesus’ way was life against life. Madeline L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle In Time, said that those who become Christians have first seen one. That’s what goes on in this book. Over the last five decades or so, discipleship often amounted to little more than workbook-and-memorized-stuff. I remember one program in particular. We memorized a lot of stuff that I’m sure somehow did us all some good. But I sat in a restaurant one evening drawing a diagram on a napkin when the person with me said something like, “I know this is something you’ve learned to spit back out. But let’s just talk. Talk to me.” Ted and Dallas begin in a coffee shop to talk. These things can end up in places we don’t anticipate. A similar type relationship put me at the wheel driving the getaway car for a 450 pound man who just mooned a restaurant full of people. Watching this unfold was a kick to read.

One cannot help but notice how “hands off” yet very available and engaged Ted Kluck is in his relationship with Dallas. Ted gives God room to work where God works within the paradigm of Scripture without needing to control either the timing or the agenda. For example, as they begin, they temporarily lay aside the issue of smoking cigarettes. Some corners of the faith would nonnegotiably put this first. I don’t smoke; I get medically why we shouldn’t and seriously understand theological reasoning against it. But what they both agree on seems to sound like this – if smoking is the main thing Dallas needs to hit first, then he’s in better shape than a lot of people who don’t smoke. I speak on college campuses. A student came up to me wanting prayer for something. He said God spoke to him about biting his nails. I maintained my composure and put on my best Christian “I’m-looking-spiritual-while-patronizing-you” face thinking how trivial and juvenile this is. The world’s going to hell on a Ritz cracker and this guy is worried about chewing his nails. He went on. “God’s calling me to be a pastor. How can I sit in a hospital with a stressed out family and convey any of the comfort of Jesus Christ while I’m sawing off my nails?” A quiet Voice whispered to me, “Dave, is there anything else in My agenda for this man’s life that I need to run by you for approval?” Dallas’ father, who started getting Dallas drunk around age eight, declared in a drunken stupor that his son “ain’t right.” On the street, “ain’t right” means totally messed up in body, mind and spirit beyond reclamation. This so burned into Dallas that he tattooed “ain’t right” letter by letter into nine fingers. When you “ain’t right,” smoking cigarettes will be there later to work on.

Ted seems more frumpy and disheveled than Christian “Yoda” with a binder. Interspersed with the story of he and Dallas, Ted ruminates about his own life in chapters like “Nobody Dreams of Thirty-Four” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being An Idiot.” And there are the footnotes. After a few pages, I found my eyes automatically dropping to the bottom of each page to scout out Ted’s pop culture explanations and expositions. If I found one or more, I often looked them up before reading the text of the page itself. On page 158, Ted reflects in the notes, “There’s nothing Reformed people love better than a good old-dead-guy reference.” Ted’s a pop culture freak (he hangs with Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric-very cool) and quotes Puritans and their kin (also cool but also old and dead.) On page 161, Ted, the writer, tells us what he thinks about jocks who want to do a book. As a writer, I laughed.

The boys decide to restore a car- a blue 1974 Triumph Spitfire. While Ted knows a little Jesus, Dallas knows a lot about cars. For the car guy, or plain guy, on your Father’s Day list, this will hook them – the sweat, frustration, tiny victories when two things that should fit together really do and the temptation to beat the whole thing to pieces with large hammers. Things happen in a friendship like this. Dallas changes, really shows change only explainable by the Holy Spirit scouring and sculpting. This guy who does his own tattoos of a very violent and dark nature goes off to a very conservative Bible college (shirts and ties every day and no dating) where he almost caves in the face of an administrator during an argument. He not only softens but begins to appreciate Jesus Christ in the deeper levels of the lives of his fellow students. And he comes to display a remarkable sensitivity to God’s working within himself that’s fascinating to watch develop. Ted changes, too, while helping Dallas. Life against life does that.

Mark your Father’s Day list with this book that guys will really read. “Dallas and the Spitfire” is a giggle-snort-scratch read that makes you crave cheese doodles by the bag and wish the new Three Stooges movie was coming out sooner (even if Shemp isn’t in it). Two guys rebuild a cool car. And Jesus is in it too. If anyone needs a refresher that the Gospel of Jesus Christ really works, really changes lives and they wouldn’t mind more than one laugh along the way, as was said to Augustine (another old dead guy who, incidentally, did not do his own tattoos), take and read.

David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.

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