(Inspired by Galatians 5:6; James 2:17; 1 Peter 2:5.)
(Image elements courtesy of OpenClipart.org.)
(Inspired by Galatians 5:6; James 2:17; 1 Peter 2:5.)
(Image elements courtesy of OpenClipart.org.)
One dark and stormy night (metaphorically speaking) Alfred’s soul grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and slammed him against the wall (in a spiritual sense).
“I’m your soul. We need to talk,” said Soul.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t have a soul. I am a soul. I stand on Genesis 2:7 on this point,” said Alfred, unconcerned with the feeling that he was being accosted by a concept.
“It’s metaphorical language. I can use it however I want. It all depends on perspective,” said Soul.
This is a work of fiction any resemblance of the characters to anyone in the real world is certainly accidental, quite surprising, and most likely metaphorical if not meta-metaphorical. Copyright © 2016, Henry E. Neufeld
“I could be your spiritual side,” said Spiritual Side.
“Or perhaps your alter ego,” said Alter Ego.
“But we still need to have a talk,” said Soul.
“I really don’t think a metaphor should be using metaphors,” insisted Alfred. “It’s unseemly.”
“So now I’m supposed to have good taste?” said Soul. “Only metaphorically, of course,” he added in diminishing tones. Alfred was reminded of a musical scale, played diminuendo.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to talk at all,” said Alfred, trying for forte, but instead sounding like an angry child. He couldn’t have said whether the sound was real, metaphorical, spiritual, or imaginary. But it was petulant.
“And yet here I am speaking to you, or so your soul imagines in any case.”
“So what do you want?” asked Alfred.
“I want you to take care of me.” Soul’s intonation was like the ringing of a large bell this time.
“But you don’t exist!”
“Yet you talk to me.”
“Yeah, I do. Crazy, no?”
“Only metaphorically speaking,” said Soul, in a voice that evoked laughter like tiny silver bells. “Or it might be in the form of a simile,” he added.
“So what do I do to take care of you?”
“Think about it,” said Soul. “How did you get to the point where you’re up against the wall talking nonsense to your soul? Or to yourself, if one accepts your view.”
“It certainly isn’t from lack of study,” said Alfred.
“No, you are diligent at that.”
“Nor that I don’t spend time in serious thought.”
“No, you do think a great deal.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“He’s talking to something he doesn’t believe exists, and he doesn’t see the problem,” said Soul to no one in particular (or even metaphorical).
“I don’t get it. You’re talking to me, and I shoudn’t talk to you?”
“Sheesh,” said Soul. “Try opening that door over there.”
Alfred looked at the door. It seemed that he had seen it before, yet he sensed it was also something new.
He turned the knob, slid it open. Suddenly he remembered/anticipated. Behind him he heard Soul laughing.
The door led outside.
“Clear,” she said, as Jake pulled into the heavily traveled intersection, unaided by any traffic signals. The little VW Bug’s right side passenger window was situated such that his wife, Clara, blocked the view. So they came up with this verbal strategy to make up for the loss. Anyway, Jake, at 85, lost his ability to turn his neck 90 degrees, so this seemed like a workable option.
Clara wasn’t any better off. Though only a couple of years younger than Jake, she quit driving altogether. Her eyesight was good, but she became too anxious behind the wheel. The idea of driving on the freeway was out of the question, and soon to follow was contesting in any traffic whatsoever. Jake’s short-term memory was unreliable, and he joked that he’d get Clara where she needed to, but she’d have to tell him why they are there. Life became a series of doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and a little mall-walking here and there. “Old age is not for sissies,” was their mantra.
There’s was a life of hard work, sacrifice, and, now, pain. They put their two children through college and grad school, and now had successful careers. However, their jobs meant having to live far from their parents, and visiting the grandchildren was very occasional. Grandma and grandpa felt unnecessary to their lives. In fact, unnecessary to anyone’s life.
But it was the last trip to the doctor that brought them face to face with mortality. Jake was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to his liver. Stage four; inoperable and final. He was given six months to live. This was received by Clara as her death warrant as well. How could she possibly live without Jake?
There they were, once again, at the well-traveled intersection. “How’s it looking, honey,” asked Jake? Clara took a long look down the road. Approaching quickly was semi loaded with scrap iron. It would be on them in seconds. “Clear,” she said.
For some non-fiction thoughts on end of life, see:
and my own story from yestderday Preserving Life.
You’re really in there, I believe. You wanted to die, but I saved you. As I read your brain activity, you’re still aware. You just can’t show us.
How do I know that? I’m the neurologist who saved your life. You botched the attempt to kill yourself, and I kept you alive. There was brain damage, yes. No, you can’t respond. But you’re alive in there. I know it. No doubt at all.
Yes, your wife told me “no heroic measures.” But that meant nothing beside the moral imperative. I had to preserve your life. Dead, there’s nothing anybody, nothing even God, can do. And you didn’t really want that, not with the way you botched your attempt to take your own life!
What could you have been thinking? You were about to take yourself out of God’s hands, away from God’s grace! No possibility of repentance then. Just the eternal fires of hell, where you could regret your decision forever.
But I saved you. And since I know you’re in there, you’ll have time to regret your decision now, to repent. You’ll thank me. As close to the flames as you were, I bet you’re thanking me now.
No, won’t happen. Your wife won’t force me to remove life support. I got her charged with helping you kill yourself.
True, it won’t hold up, but the court cases will drag out for years. I have a foundation that will fund your care, and another that will pay the legal bills. Politicians are signing on. All for your sake! All to preserve your life!
So if you haven’t already, you’ll have plenty of time to repent. And to thank us.
For preserving your life, of course!
I have to do this. I had to save your life, because life is sacred. I have your soul, the only thing more important than your life.
I’m certain it’s the right thing to do.
For some non-fiction thoughts on end of life, see:
There were those who wanted to call the tree majestic, but few who could manage to do so without qualification. The tree was somewhat tall, but not unusually so. It was very large, but it’s growth was haphazard and tended to go outward rather than upward.
Around the tree was a park. It wasn’t used that much any more, and the tree itself had taken over much of the space with its horizontal growth.
The planning commission proposed removal of the tree. There was an investor who wanted to erect a new skyscraper on that land.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the places, persons, or events to anything in real life is strictly coincidental.
To those who objected on environmental grounds, the planning commission noted that they had planted many more trees around the newer areas of the city, and that the builder proposed many excellent environmental features in his new building. The net effect of the changes to be made, they said, would result in a better environment, not worse.
To those who objected to the loss of the park and the recreational space, they pointed to all the new parks they had created in new areas of the city. Nobody, they claimed could say that they were not concerned about the aesthetics and the recreational needs of people in the city.
To those who objected on grounds of tradition, they pointed out that in this case tradition was going to cost a great deal. All things eventually pass away, and the tree’s time is now. Scraggly tree vs. stately, environmentally sound building? No contest!
So they gathered the equipment and the laborers. The tree was large and its removal was quite a scene. Branch by branch and piece by piece the tree was removed until there was a hole in the ground. From the hole roots went out in all directions.
There was quite a discussion about what to do about those roots. Should the hole be filled in leaving the remaining root system? Should they dig further—a considerable task—and remove those roots by hand.
So all the engineers, tree specialists, and supervisors got together and discussed it. One of the tree specialists had developed a method, he said, by which he could burn the roots out. The right injection of fuel and oxygen, and the roots would burn slowly back into the ground until only the very smallest would be left. Then the hole, and all the resulting space could be filled, leaving more stable ground for the new building.
For everything there was an answer.
To those who worried about the heat generated by creating this sort of furnace under the city center, the specialists pointed out that this had been tried before, with no damage resulting. Of course, it had been tried on much smaller trees.
To those who pointed out that there was no certainty as to how large the root system actually was, the specialists provided an estimate, based on knowledge of a variety of trees. The worst case, they said, was quite manageable.
So the slow burn started.
Probably someone should have responded the first time scalding hot water came from a cold water tap in the downtown area. But it was regarded as a minor setback, and besides, it would now be much harder to put the fire out than to simply let it burn out. According to the worst case estimate, the root system was nearly gone in any case. So the burn continued.
Far under ground, but not far enough, there was an underground stream. One of the roots of tree had reached that stream. It took a great deal of water for such a large tree to grow. As the slow burn approached, water began to leak back around the root into the system of tunnels created by burning out the root system. At first, it was just a little, but water, once it finds a path, tends to make it bigger.
When water started to fill the hole, some of the engineers were concerned. They knew of no underground water that could be reached by the tree’s roots. The water put out the fire and slowed the progress. But the end of that large root was sitting there like a plug in a wall of dirt, with nothing to hold it. Eventually it broke away completely. Water started to gush into the tunnels.
There was some disturbance in the water filling the hole where the tree had been once, but it was only a little, so everyone thought the problem was going away.
They were wrong. Nobody had actually conceived of the size of the root system that had sustained that tree. The underground stream was deep under the downtown area. It actually fed quite a number of rivers and streams far from the city. But here it found a place to spread out, all under the downtown area of the city.
Every crack, every open space under the city was filled with water, and the dirt began to shift.
It started with a couple of sink holes. Some of the engineers started to panic, while others pointed out that the damage was minor, and that doubtless the rest of the city was more solidly founded.
But that was not the case.
As tall stately buildings, much preferred by the planning commission, fell to their doom in the waterlogged soil, the tree had its revenge.
(Image credit: OpenClipart.org, Inky2010)
There was a moment of stunned silence at these words. Then Mr. Brent moved his oxygen tank just a bit and unnecessarily adjusted the breathing apparatus. He wheezed just a little bit.
“We have been absolutely faithful about our tithe. A full 10% of our income, small as it is, goes to the church.”
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any of the persons or events portrayed to the real world is strictly coincidental. Copyright © 2015
“Before taxes, too!” put in Mrs. Brent. Her husband looked calm. She looked affronted, as though someone had accused her of being unfaithful to her husband.
The pastor tried to open his mouth, but he didn’t have time to start speaking.
“We have been faithful members of the church for the last 50 years,” continued Mrs. Brent, “and to think that they’d send the pastor to suggest we weren’t paying enough or hadn’t been faithful! It’s just too much to bear!” The expression on her face suggested she didn’t intend to bear it either, at least not quietly.
“Now honey,” said Mr. Brent, again cutting off the pastor’s attempt to cut in, “we gave not expecting anything in return. It’s our pastor’s right to come and hold us accountable for our stewardship.”
“He has no right to accuse us of things we haven’t done! I know who started this,” she said, turning to the pastor. “It was that old biddy Mrs. Grace. What a misnomer that is! She’s never showed anyone any grace at all! I bet she suggested we were making more than our tithe would indicate. And I know she sneaks peaks at the church records when she visits the office. That church secretary has no clue about keeping those records confidential!”
The pastor again tried to open his mouth, but didn’t quite manage it. He’d wanted to say that Mrs. Grace had nothing to do with it, that he hadn’t even looked at the records himself. In fact, he would have never started a conversation like that except that he had been certain they’d understand that as such faithful givers he certainly wasn’t there to ask for money. Obviously he’d missed something!
“Now honey, the pastor hasn’t actually accused us of anything,” said Mr. Brent.
“And well he shouldn’t!” She turned back to the pastor. “Our voluntary giving has fallen, but that’s because of our medical bills. We simply cannot afford to give as much as we used to. We have to keep up our utility payments and for medical supplies. Medicare doesn’t cover everything, you know. Or maybe you don’t, being a young man. But there are considerable expenses. And you know the pension fund from the old plant went bust. Who knows when we’ll get anything from that.”
“Perhaps, honey, we should ask the young man what he’s here for,” said Mr. Brent.
“Well, to tell us we aren’t being faithful in our giving, right?” said Mrs. Brent, looking at the pastor again. He was, indeed, very young, she thought. And he looked stunned.
“So what are you here for?” she asked.
“Well,” he said, “you folks have been faithful members of the church for, what is it, 50 years?”
“We’ve been there for 57 years just last month,” said Mrs. Brent, now holding her head high. “And until all the health issues, we were there every Sunday. Every Wednesday too, and many other times.”
“Yes,” the pastor said, “that’s what people told me. Even Mrs. Grace.” He couldn’t resist that last remark, and he saw Mrs. Brent’s face tighten just a bit at the name. “But the reason I wanted to talk about tithing to you was not that I think you’ve given too little. I think you’ve given enough, and you may have given too much.”
“How’s that?” asked Mr. Brent. “You can’t outgive God!”
“True,” said the pastor, “but you can take away the opportunity your neighbors have for doing their duty to God.”
Mrs. Brent looked like the pastor had just transformed into an alien visitor, the sort who would leave a UFO parked on the front lawn.
Mr. Brent just remained calm as he said, “I think you’d better explain, young man.”
“You see,” the pastor replied, “in the church we’re supposed to care for one another. I could argue with you about whether tithing is the best way to do that, but we’ll leave that be for now. But your obligation to the church is matched by the church’s obligation to you, and by our shared obligation to all those in need. That means that there comes a time when the church is supposed to help you.”
“We’ve never accepted charity,” said Mr. Brent. “Social Security, Medicare, yes. We paid into those and we’re getting back what’s owed. But we aren’t looking for any handouts.”
“You have a lot of experience and common sense, Mr. Brent. I respect that. So I think you’ll understand me when I say that someone like you has contributed to the church in many ways over these last 57 years, and so have you, Mrs. Brent. That’s part of being a community. We all contribute, and we all benefit. I know you didn’t contribute because you meant to get benefits. You just did it. Now I happen to know that you are in serious financial need, and it’s time for you to benefit in turn. That’s what I meant about your tithe.
“God will reward your faithfulness, true. But he’s going to start rewarding it through your church. This is our opportunity to give to God as represented by two of the most faithful people anyone in the church knows. I know you need at least several hundred dollars to keep some of your utilities from being cut off and to pay property taxes.
“If you refuse this, you’re denying your fellow church members the joy of giving. I know it has turned into a burden over the last year or so, but for most of those 57 years you gave that tithe with joy! Now I like giving with joy and I’m not concerned with tithing so much. You can credit that to me being young and stupid, though I’d be happy to talk to you about it some time. But you do know about joy, and you do know about need.
“Now are you cruel enough people to deny me the pleasure of writing this check?” He pulled a checkbook out of his briefcase. He was armed with the church board’s authorization to “take care of the Brents.”
There were tears in the couple’s eyes as the pastor wrote the check. It hadn’t taken long to calculate the amount. The figures were burnt into both their minds.
“I’ll hold you to talking about tithe on your next visit,” said Mr. Brent as he took it from the pastor’s hand.
“As long as you won’t think I’m being impertinent,” said the pastor, looking at Mrs. Brent.
He left her blushing.
Some thought sources for this story:
From the Energion Discussion Network:
(This is part 2 of a 2 part story. Read part 1.]
“I disagree with that. Rather, I allow my LGBTQ members full participation without making a scene about it. They know, I know, and my church council knows what’s going on. I don’t perform same-sex weddings because it’s contrary to the rules of the church. Yes, I’m ignoring the position of my church that homosexual activity is contrary to scripture, but it’s not quite clear what one is supposed to do about that anyhow.”
“And what do you do with the clear teaching of scripture?” asked Jerry.
“Clear teaching of scripture? It is to laugh. I do the same thing about that as you do about the command not to eat shell fish or pig. I see you eating a hamburger every so often.”
“But Paul took a clear stance against homosexuality.”
“I don’t think it’s so clear as all that. Paul didn’t have a concept of someone being homosexual by nature. He spoke of doing things against nature. And few such relationships at the time could be considered consensual. So no, I don’t think the teaching of scripture is any clear than, say, the teaching of scripture on the ordination of women.” As he said the last, he looked Justine right in the eyes. “Yes,” he added, “I’m acquainted with Romans 1[:24-32], Jude around verse 7, 1 Timothy 1[:8-11], and 1 Corinthians 6[:9-11]. I just don’t think those refer to consenting relationships between people who are naturally attracted to persons of the same sex.”
Jerry looked back and forth between them. He couldn’t seem to figure out who to address. His problem was not confusion. He was stunned by this sweeping dismissal of clear scripture.
Justine responded first. “I understand how one might dismiss the Old Testament passages as part of the ceremonial law, though I think there are principles from us to learn from just about any of those laws. But I don’t think we can so easily dismiss the New Testament. And with Paul’s restatement of the prohibition, I think we draw the Old Testament passages back into the discussion.”
“I find it difficult to see how you draw in passages from the Torah into a modern discussion when the penalty involved was death. If the one part applies, why not the other? I mean, I sincerely hope there is nobody here who supports the death penalty for being gay.” Mandy again looked more serious than usual, and sounded more tense.
Nobody volunteered to support the death penalty.
Bob Norman took up the conversation. “There are people in the world, Christians, in fact, who do believe the death penalty should still apply. We’ve seen such laws proposed and some even passed in various African nations. We even have churches here in America who have ties to those who advocate those laws.”
“Yes,” said Mac. “Who here has condemned those laws and taken action against them?”
Both Mandy and Justine raised their hands, an act that seemed a bit ludicrous in the informal group.
Ellen broke in. “I’m wondering if Justine wouldn’t rather be talking about something else right now. I imagine she’s spent the last month or so talking about nothing else!”
“Oh, I want to talk about it. I wanted to talk about it in a group that was less inhibited. I like to really tear a subject apart. There’s no other way I can be sure I’m doing the best I can to understand and do the right thing.” Justine actually did look more relaxed than when she had arrived.
“OK,” said Mark. “I want to know what the two of you have done about these anti-gay laws in Africa.”
“I’ve written letters to church leaders supporting these moves, and contributed money to groups working to oppose them,” said Mandy.
“I’ve stuck to letter writing and I’ve condemned that attitude from the pulpit,” said Justine.
“But how can you?” asked Bob. “As I see it, those folks in Africa have the courage of your convictions and you don’t.”
“No, I have the courage of my convictions. They have the courage of theirs. I believe we no longer live in a theocracy. I believe we no longer live under the law. So I don’t have to apply a legal penalty to these actions. I opposed them because I believe they are destructive of a good and proper life in this world and they are destructive of people’s souls in the next.”
“Amen!” said Jerry again.
“What’s destructive is hate,” said Mandy.
“Hate? Do you really believe I hate gay people?” asked Justine.
“I don’t actually believe you hate, though it’s hard for me not to think so. If I didn’t know you so well, I’d mistake your attitude for hatred. The problem is that you enable people to hate by telling them that other people are less than you and I are.”
“But I say that everyone is a child of God. We are all the same before God.”
“But some of us can stand on the stage and play a guitar and others can’t.”
“My guitarist agreed to those rules.”
“He agreed to pretend.”
“You seem to think it was impossible for him to refrain from sexual activity. Did you not teach your own teenagers that they didn’t have to engage in sexual activity before marriage?” Justine and Mandy were now focused directly on one another.
“I did. But you keep missing the point. You require that a gay person deny who he is in order to fit into your world of what is permissible. It’s not that my children’s desires were evil in themselves, and I could point them to the legitimate time and manner in which they could be fulfilled. It’s not good to be alone—that comes from Genesis 2. But one of my children, my oldest daughter, is a lesbian. And I didn’t tell her that she was somehow less than a person, that she should be less fulfilled than the others when she came out to me.”
“Oh Mandy!” exclaimed Justine.
“Oh no you don’t!” exclaimed Mandy. “Don’t even think of being sympathetic, as though I was grieving about something! Not only do I love my oldest daughter unconditionally, I am proud of her in each and every way and I wish her and her future partner—she’s not in a major hurry, but I think there’s someone on the horizon—the very best. I will love them both in the same way. I’m incredibly blessed.”
There was another moment of silence.
Mandy grinned without much humor. “Afraid to continue the discussion considering someone has skin in the game, so to speak?”
“No,” said Jerry. “I still believe what I did. But I didn’t realize we were talking personally.”
“But that’s precisely the problem!” said Mandy. “You don’t talk personally, but people hear personally. We’re talking about real people. I’ve just made it more personal by revealing my daughter’s sexual orientation. And incidentally, I have permission to do so. She’s extremely open.”
“No idea where she gets that from,” said Mac to chuckles all around.
“OK, I’ll do what you suggest,” said Jerry. “I want to know what you do about the plain teaching of scripture. And despite the usual dismissal from Mark, I think scripture is rather clear.”
“I see it a bit differently than Mark does,” said Mandy. “I think the passages of scripture that are normally quoted are actually speaking against gays. What I believe is that those statements were not the end of the matter. God is still speaking. I think some church uses that as a motto, in fact [The United Church of Christ].”
“So God is now saying something completely different than he ever said before?” Jerry was very wary of the idea of God speaking in modern times. It was, in fact, one of his major issues with Justine.
“Of course God can say something different than he ever has before. Consider Isaiah 56:3-5 vs. Deuteronomy 23:1. In Deuteronomy a eunuch would be excluded from the congregation, but according to Isaiah, the day was coming when such would be welcomed.”
“Being a eunuch is not the same as homosexuality. The homosexual has a choice.”
“I’m not trying to compare the two. What I’m saying is that God can say one thing and then another. God may be unchanging but humanity and human circumstances are not. So God’s commands to us can change with our circumstances. I think that today the applicable scriptures dealing with LGBTQ persons are those that talk about supporting the downtrodden and proclaiming freedom. Contrary to you, and even Mark, I think it’s my duty to make it easier for my gay brothers and sisters to become a full part of the community. I would not be satisfied with pretending that ‘the problem’ doesn’t exist. It’s not a problem; it’s people. We, as Christians, should be all about proclaiming liberty to these captives. I don’t need to explain every scripture that applied to a particular time. The ethical teachings of Jesus lead this way inevitably.”
“I understand that this is an emotional issue for you, Mandy. It’s your daughter.”
“So first I’m inhibiting conversation because it’s personal, and now you inform me that the reason I believe what I believe is that I have a daughter who is a lesbian. How condescending! Have you asked yourself why my daughter was able to come to me and say, ‘Mom, I find that I’m attracted to other women.’ That was because she knew I would still treat her as my daughter and as an important human being.”
“I’m glad there are parents like you,” said Bob. “I have a student who was thrown out of his house after he came out. The things his parents said about him were terrible. He’s living with an uncle and aunt who are somewhat supportive.”
Justine looked back directly at Mandy. “So to you the only response is support. What would you say if your daughter came to you and said, ‘Mom, I find I just have to have cocaine in order to live.’?”
“That would be different, and I think you know it. She was not born a drug addict.”
“But that brings it back to the fundamental issue. I don’t think either Justine or I believe that this is either something someone is born with, nor do we believe it’s harmless,” said Jerry.
Justine nodded. “I know how everyone reacts, but in the end I have to go with what scripture teaches. I don’t think this is something we’re born with any more than any other tendency to sin. I believe it must be overcome in the same way. While I risk making people feel rejected when I reject their sin, I would be doing something even worse if I condone something that is harmful to them and to their immortal soul.”
“I agree,” said Jerry. “It sounds easier to go along with what society is doing. Face it, that’s what’s happening. Society accepts homosexuals, so we in the church decide we have to do it. But it’s not the right thing to do. It’s not the loving thing to do. Even though others proclaim their love for this guitarist in Justine’s church, Justine is the one who really does love him. She loves him enough to rebuke his sin.”
“And this is why,” said Bob, “that I oppose religion so strongly. Even when Mandy comes to a very good conclusion from a human point of view, there’s plenty of scripture to support the much more dangerous attitudes of Justine and Jerry. I just don’t think religion is safe.”
“Even I don’t think religion is safe,” said Mandy. “I think it’s important. I think there really is a God. But ‘safe’ is not a word I’d use for it. Then again, I don’t think atheism is ‘safe’ either. In fact, Bob Norman, you live in a dangerous world!”
“OK,” said Mac. “Let’s not go down that road any further. We’ve already torn up one subject for the day.”
“I want to know what’s been happening in Mark’s life. We haven’t heard from him in two years!” This was Ellen, diverting hostility as she often did.
“Well, I was sent for a year and a half to be an associate in a large church, and then just a month ago, the pastor of a church about 20 miles north of here died, and I was called to take his place. So I’ll be in the area for some time.”
“Excellent!” said Ellen. “Then we can see one another more regularly!”
“Always provided Justine and Jerry want to get beat up,” said Bob darkly.
“You think we got beat up?” asked Justine. “I think it depends on your point of view. Jerry and I have stood for what we believe, based on the Bible, which is the source of our beliefs. So I, at least, am fine with the discussion.”
“And,” said Mark, “that means Justine thinks Mandy and I are ignoring scripture. Each in our own way, of course!”
“You are,” said Jerry, but in the tone of someone who knew the subject had run its course for the evening.
“Same time, same channel?” asked Ellen.
“I’m game,” said Mandy.
And so the revival of the God-Talk Club was accomplished.
Jerry Simonson lowered himself gingerly into the overstuffed chair. He was wondering whether it was safe or sanitary. He shouldn’t have. The decor of The Roadside Cafe may have looked like a cross between accidental and tornado aftermath, but it was a decor that was carefully maintained. It was more likely that the owner had purchased a new chair and carefully made it look scruffy, without damaging it in any important way, than that he would put in anything dangerous.
And here was the new manager, Ellen, who had been a waitress here since the first time Jerry had been in the place. One of his great sorrows was that she remained a loyal member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints despite his best efforts to witness to her about the gospel in the orthodox form in which he knew it. She personally handed him his drink. She didn’t have to do that now that she managed the place. The owner only checked on her every few weeks. Ellen ran the cafe, and business was booming.
“Hi Jerry,” she said with her usual cheerful smile. She’d gotten married about six months before, and married life clearly agreed with her.
“Hello, Ellen. Still keeping busy around here?”
“Busy?” Ellen laughed. “This place practically runs itself.”
“I doubt that,” said Jerry.
“I’m very good at my job, so it looks that way,” said Ellen, grinning.
“How do you manage to keep this place looking so, ummm, accidental?”
“Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
“Perhaps. I miss the old gang. Everyone moved away bit by bit.”
“Well, not everyone. Justine is still in town, but I think she got too busy. And, I think, afraid to be seen in public. Too many people want to talk to her. But I have news!”
“You’re going to see her tonight!” Ellen looked delighted. She had probably forgotten how hard a time Jerry had dealing with Justine, now Dr. Justine Reeder with a brand new diploma from the seminary testifying to the fact that she had earned a Doctor of Ministry degree. And while she had worked her way through the seminary, first earning her MDiv and now this DMin, she had been growing the tiny, independent, charismatic congregation she pastored into one of the largest churches in the city. In fact, the church had moved into a new facility less than a year before.
“How do you know that?”
“She called me. She wanted to get out of the pressure cooker. She wondered if the atmosphere was still the same. I assured her it was.” She paused. “Now don’t you go attacking her because she’s a woman preacher. She’s a godly woman even if she is somewhat misguided.”
Jerry didn’t know exactly how to handle that. To him Ellen was more misguided than Justine, even though he actually found himself more offended by Justine, since, with that Doctor of Ministry degree and at least a passable knowledge of scripture, she should have known better. “It will be nice to see her,” he said after a pause.
“You don’t know what’s been going on?” asked Ellen.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“It was Justine’s church that fired that gay guitarist.”
The story came back. In fact, his pastor had talked about it from the pulpit, but he hadn’t identified the church. So that was Justine Reeder. Well, at least she hadn’t compromised completely on the issue of homosexuality. He remembered his pastor’s statement. By allowing openly gay people to be members of the church, the door had been opened to more problems. The lesson his pastor had drawn from this was that any compromise just led to more compromise. Jerry was trying to remember precisely what had happened, but he couldn’t recall the details. He didn’t want to ask Ellen. Despite his disagreement with Justine on the issue of women in ministry and the gifts of the Spirit in the modern church, she was an orthodox Christian on the major doctrines—Trinity, Incarnation, bodily resurrection, the inerrancy of scripture, and salvation by grace even if she did put an Arminian twist on it. So he didn’t ask.
“Oh,” he said. “I hadn’t realized it was her church.”
Ellen just looked at him. Sometimes Jerry could be so … so closed and narrow in his vision. Despite their differences in doctrine, Ellen genuinely liked Justine and was disappointed that she had come to the cafe less and less as her church had grown.
“And how’s my favorite killjoy?” Jerry barely had time to recognize the voice before he felt an arm go around his neck and hug him as much as it was possible in that position. Then the woman herself bounced over to a nearby hassock and perched on it cross-legged.
“I’m doing fine,” said Jerry. A woman in her 40s had no business looking that good. Definitely no business perching cross-legged on a hassock. Where should he put his eyes? Staring her in the face seemed to be the only option.
“Ah, ‘fine’ he grates out, not at all happy to see me.”
“I am happy to see you.”
“Ah, I see. ‘By faith Jerry Simonson received Mandy Kelly without insulting her’,” Mandy paraphrased.
Ellen had never figured out whether Mandy knew how much she bothered Jerry. Mandy tended, despite her years, to seem young and innocent. She hardly could be, considering she had four children herself and an apparently happy home. She hadn’t been in the cafe for a couple of years, however.
“So what’s been keeping you away?” asked Jerry.
“Doctoral studies. I’ve been writing a dissertation. I successfully defended it last month.”
“What was the subject?”
“Technology education. I’ve been doing consulting with several companies.”
“Still homeschooling your children?”
“Absolutely! Well, except for Emma who is 19 now, and pretty much on her own. She has already completed a degree with a double major in information technology and psychology.”
“Congratulations!” Jerry was truly impressed.
“Wow! That’s wonderful!” said Ellen. “I’ve always so admired you and the way you raise your family.”
“It works for me,” said Mandy. She was aware that homeschooling didn’t work for everyone, but she had been 100% successful by just about any measure of success she could think of.
“So what brings you here tonight?” asked Jerry after a pause.
“I’m planning to annoy Justine,” said Mandy with a grin.
“Oh please!” said Ellen. “Justine needs some peace.”
“On the contrary,” said Mandy. “Justine is spoiling for a fight. She just wants to do it with folks who are straightforward and friendly, even when they disagree. I’m guessing you’ll be on Justine’s side this time, Jerry.”
“You mean about homosexuality?”
“Yes, the gay guitarist.” Mandy rolled her eyes a bit.
“The gay guitarist?” asked someone new. It was another of the old regulars, Mark Morton. Mark had completed his MDiv, and then, with exceptions made to all the rules, his DMin from the seminary. Then he’d left to take up his first pastoral position.
“Yes,” said Mandy. “Justine fired a gay guitarist from her praise band. Oh, and welcome back. I guess you’re now the Rev. Dr. Mark Morton.”
“Mark will do fine,” said the Reverend Doctor. But one could tell he was pleased at the acknowledgment of his accomplishments.
“Let’s be accurate,” said Ellen. “Since Justine’s church doesn’t hire musicians, Justine didn’t actually fire the guitarist. She said he could no longer play in the band until he was in compliance with the moral standards of the church.”
“So he can return whenever he’s no longer gay?” It was another newcomer, though Ellen still saw Bob Norman frequently. He just hadn’t been part of their group discussions for some time.
“Actually,” said Ellen again, “it seems none of you have really followed this. Justine’s church does not say that being gay is contrary to the church standards. Sex outside of marriage is. The guitarist admitted he was sexually active and living with his same-sex partner.”
“But of course he can’t get married, so, unlike heterosexual couples, his only option is celibacy. Besides, I wonder if people would have been so quick to gossip about his situation if he had been straight and living with his girlfriend. Would they have even noticed?” This was Mandy.
“Which shows that your religious rules are nonsense.” Bob’s tone was that of one giving the final conclusion. “Why you religious people feel you have to regulate people’s sex lives so much is beyond me. Jerry here probably thinks the kid should be stoned too, and I mean with rocks, not the good stuff.” He laughed at his own joke, but he was the only one.
“Stoning?” It was a slight drawl, and it announced the arrival of Rev. Justine Reeder. “I reserve that punishment for true infidels!”
There were a few more chuckles this time. “Well, with your outdated and unenlightened view of human sexuality, it’s only a small step further.” It was typical of the group that Justine’s gibe about stoning infidels was ignored.
“On the contrary, I think it’s a huge step, and considering there are people who actually advocate taking that step, I think it’s appropriate for me to distinguish myself from them. I asked one young man not to participate in the band at church because he was not living up to the moral standards of our congregation. I didn’t ask him to leave. I didn’t take away his right to free speech, and I definitely did not in any way threaten his life.”
“And if he now spirals into depression because he has been rejected, what then?” asked Mandy.
“I will offer to be there for him at any time. I have told him that I continue to love him as a person and to pray for him. I have admonished our congregation not to use derogatory terms for gays or lesbians, but to treat them as persons Jesus died to redeem. I don’t hate him. I do think he has made choices that will, ultimately, hurt him and others. Those choices are not my doing.”
“So, to summarize, if he commits suicide it’s not your fault,” said Bob.
“It’s not my fault, though it would bother me a great deal, yet that is not the most important thing I said. The most important thing I said was that I would continue to love him and treat him with respect.”
“But he can’t play his guitar, exercise his gift for music, in your congregation. If he stays there, he must remain cut off from part of who he is.” Mandy looked to Jerry more serious than he had ever known her to be. Now he knew where she stood on this issue.
“True. But there I have other responsibilities,” said Justine.
“To protect people from what this young man does in the privacy of his own home?” It was Mac Strong, meaning the whole group was back again.
“Unlike you,” said Justine, “I believe that homosexuality is a destructive behavior that is the result of sin in the world. So I do believe it is important to protect people from it.”
“You think people will be influenced to be gay?”
“I think people will be influenced to give in to impulses to sin. We all have impulses to sin. People have impulses that would lead them to sex outside of marriage. That’s a destructive behavior, I believe, and so our church standards say that sex should be reserved for marriage. Our rules say that if you want to be in a position of leadership, you agree to live up to those standards. I see no reason to treat a same-sex attraction differently.”
“Except that you require that there be no legitimate outlet for those whose attractions are same-sex.”
“Yes, if one has only same-sex attractions, then the call of God is to celibacy.”
“Amen!” said Jerry.
“I knew you’d agree, though I believe your pastor would prefer we kept gay people out of the congregation.”
“He draws the line at church membership. If you are to be a member you agree to live up to the church’s standards. He, and I also, believe that you open yourself to more trouble by allowing church membership to those who refuse to live up to biblical standards.”
“Such as gossips?” said Mandy.
“I don’t know what gossip has to do with it,” said Jerry.
“The gossip that led Justine to discover that her gay guitarist was living with a partner.”
“I don’t see it as gossip,” said Justine. “People who were concerned with the reputation of the church and the influence on the young people informed church leadership of a problem. We dealt with it.”
“Ah,” said Mac, “I think I get it. There’s reporting and then there’s gossip. When you report what someone is doing in order to get them into trouble, you’re doing a service. When you report someone just because it’s interesting, you’re a gossip.”
“I would say, rather, that when one reports things that need to be reported, and does so to the proper authorities, that person is not gossiping. When one simply talks about other people, with no real concern for the truth, then that’s gossip.” Jerry spoke slowly and deliberately, trying to catch the loopholes.
“But what I wonder,” said Mark, “is whether you allow gossips to be members of your church.”
“I know we have gossips in ours,” said Justine, “but if someone persists in such behavior while in a position of leadership, he or she would be removed.”
“And how many times has this happened?” asked Bob. “I’m just checking on your consistency.”
“I’ve had to admonish people for gossiping several times. I’ve never had someone who persisted.”
“So let me get this straight,” Bob continued. “You would have admonished your guitarist, I mean, told him that he had to cease living and/or having sexual relations with his partner, and he decided to ignore you, so he was removed. What if he said he’d stop?”
“That’s more or less it. There’s behavior that is not permitted in the leadership of our church. If anyone says that they will return to complying with our church standards, I believe them. Repeated offenses would be another matter.”
“So, Mark, what do you think about this?” asked Mac. She’d always wondered about Mark, who never seemed to be very rooted. Here he was a pastor, and she couldn’t have told you three things he believed for certain. She even had her moments of wondering whether he believed in God.
“We generally ignore it,” said Mark.
“Ignore it?” said several people at once.
“Yes. We don’t announce that we’re accepting gay people into our church’s leadership, but we go ahead and do it. Under the rules of my church I can’t perform a gay wedding, but I don’t have to take official notice of someone’s sexuality in church.”
“Amazing!” said Jerry. “You just ignore a major swath of morality and pretend it’s not a problem.”
[This is part 1 of a 2 part story. Go to part 2.]
I’ve just posted tables of contents for both of my short story collections, Tales from Jevlir: Oddballs, and Stories of the Way. A number of the stories in both collections were taken from this blog, but there are a few new stories in each book. The Kindle editions are just $0.99. Links to the Tables of Contents are on the Books page.
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