February 25, 2013 by jmar198013
Wednesday morning I decided I’d head over to the Blue Plate Café for breakfast. They have some mighty fine hash browns there, and the coffee’s stronger than Samson. Best of all, I figured on not running into anyone associated with the Full Armor Lectures if I went there, on account of it’s sort of far away from the Doogood Avenue building. I still hadn’t made my mind up what to do that day. I have an editorial responsibility to you fine readers to give some sort of report on the goings-on at the lectureship. But now that lectureship has done a real number on me, like spiritual Ex-Lax, forcibly exorcising nearly a quarter-century’s worth of existential constipation. I think it’s what they call a “paradigm-shift” in some circles, but to return to my previous analogue (no pun intended), the mass and volume of the blockage combined with the speed and force with which it was expelled has nearly reamed me the proverbial new one.
As I said, I went there with the intention of not seeing any of the Full Armor crowd. But not a minute after I’d sat down and ordered my coffee, in walked Brother Herbert Sharp and the McDoogans. Then they came right over to my table and sat down, like they were supposed to be there. Without even so much as a “Good morning,” Brother McDoogan told me they’d been sort of trailing me, and followed me over from the hotel.
“Calvin,” said Brother Herbert Sharp, “Brother McDoogan made an emergency phone call to the elders at Bacon Lane last night.” Now, kind readers, this is the kind of news a preacher boy doesn’t need to have sprung on him first thing in the morning. I’ve been preaching at the Bacon Lane First United Primitive Christian Church in Moscow, TN since I graduated from Steed-Ramrick University. This little congregation of fifty-some-odd souls, most of its membership retired and padding the collection plates with Social Security leftovers, has been pretty good to me, all things considered. They let me live in a shotgun house behind the church building, and they pay me $2500 a month. That’s just enough for me to make the minimum payments on all the student loans I had to take out to go to Steed-Ramrick, and still have enough left over to eat canned spaghetti or bologna sandwiches at every meal. The last thing I need is for some preacher from a high-class pulpit next to one of our brotherhood’s universities to call them up and complain that I’ve gone off the deep end.
I clenched my fists and stared Brother McDoogan down. “I guess you told them I’ve started acting a little funny?” I said. That’s what they do to set you up–make vague insinuations concerning your mental soundness before attacking your doctrinal soundness.
“What other choice did I have, son?” he replied. “You’ve been displaying a mighty insubordinate attitude towards elders of the Lord’s Church ever since you got here.”
“They’re not my elders!” I protested.
“See,” said Herbert Sharp, “you’re doing it now.”
Brother Sharp and Brother McDoogan went on to tell me that they’d explained to the elders at Bacon Lane that I was experiencing some signs of ministerial burnout and needed a break. They offered to send a preacher boy from Steed-Ramrick to fill in for me for a few weeks, and they’d pay for me to take a trip to Branson, Missouri to take in some concerts and enjoy some good, clean fun. The elders at Bacon Lane agreed to this arrangement, admitting that in my four years of preaching there, they’d never given me any real vacation time.
Brother Sharp was acting like a game show host announcing that I’d won the grand prize. “Besides the vacation, Calvin, the Cortez church is going to be donating these books to you, for your personal library.” He handed me the list to look over. Debates I’ve Won; More Debates I’ve Won; and Debates I’ve Attended and Really Enjoyed, all by Dr. Remus Philbert. A Critique of Everything Written By Strudel Harrison Since 1985 (Including Church Bulletin Articles), by Mance Tatum. Whores of Babylon: Why All the Liberals Want to Score, by Flavil Waddey. A Preacher Boy’s Guide to Pulpit Humor and Potluck Etiquette, by Herbert and Edwina Sharp. “What do you think, Calvin?” he asked. You might have thought he was telling me I just won a new BMW the way he was going on.
“Well, er . . . thank you?” I said. I was nearly in shock. These people really thought that the perfect way to deal with a veritable Chernobyl of the soul was a pile of books from the Steed-Ramrick Bible Bookstore and a few days of listening to Roy Clark singing, “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone.”
It was like this one time when a friend of mine went to his preacher for some counseling because he was really depressed. After my friend explained what was going on, his preacher told him to pray harder and read his Bible more. When my friend told the preacher he expected to hear something more uplifting than that, the preacher said, “Talk to me after Sunday morning services.” Sunday morning rolled around, and the song leader got up and led all these really up-tempo songs, like “Blue Skies and Rainbows” and “Sing and be Happy.” After the sermon, which was about counting your blessings and being grateful and how Christians are supposed to always be rejoicing, the preacher came up to my friend all excitedly and put his arm around him and said, “I’m sure you’re feeling a whole lot better now, aren’t you? Just remember what the song said, ‘If the skies above you are gray, just sing and be happy!’” My friend said some words to that preacher that don’t usually get said in a church building, and now he’s not allowed to come back until he publicly repents. They pulled a Matthew 18 on him.
“We’re gonna make a fine Gospel preacher outta you yet, son!” beamed Brother McDoogan. I was still speechless.
“Sure we are,” agreed Herbert Sharp. “We just need a little cooperation from you, Calvin.” I didn’t like the way that last part sounded.
“Well,” Brother Sharp continued, “there are a couple of details that need to be cleared up before we can proceed with your rehabilitation.”
“Yes, rehabilitation. I know you’re smarter than you look Calvin, stop sitting there all agape. You’ve committed career suicide these past few days, what with rebuking elders right and left and defending Beauregard Jones’ heresy. Mance Tatum told a whole bunch of us that he saw you being all chummy with Beauregard Jones at breakfast yesterday morning. We were barely able to convince him not to write you up. Brother McDoogan promised him you were salvageable.”
“But . . . but,” I stammered, “I really wasn’t trying to defend anything that Beauregard Jones is teaching. I just expected Mack Snipes to be able to defend his own position better than he was. All I did was ask a simple exegetical question, and he stonewalled. As for breakfast with—”
Brother McDoogan cut me off. “Calvin, listen,” he said. “We know you didn’t mean any harm. That’s why we’re trying to help you out here. You’re frustrated and discouraged. It happens to all of us sometimes. But the thing is, most of our people—I mean the regular folks in the pews on Sundays—just aren’t wired to deal with these sorts of questions. It upsets their faith. Our job—yours as a preacher and ours as elders—is to reassure them that the things they’ve been taught are trustworthy. The world assaults their simple faith enough, Calvin. They don’t need preacher boys doing it, too.”
This moment of candor, no matter how misguided, took me by surprise. It was the first time all week that I’d dared to offer another perspective to these guys without being accused of rebuking elders. But the honesty also bothered me. What Brother McDoogan was basically telling me is that you can’t be a Christian and think too deeply about it.
“Hold on a minute there, Brother McDoogan,” I replied. “Do you not hear what you’re saying? You’re saying that the flock you’re supposed to be shepherding isn’t intelligent enough to discern between options. I think you’re pressing the ‘dumb sheep’ metaphor further than it ought to go. Frankly, that’s insulting to them. Furthermore, I think it’s a bit insulting to God. If our beliefs can’t withstand scrutiny, then they don’t honor God. They make him look incompetent. Your definition of defending the faith is to build such a fortress around the whole system that any potential challenges just get deflected. You’re trying to make the church unassailable, but you just end up making it indefensible. And that’s the very thing you’re trying to avoid, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but in my attempts to glorify God, I don’t want to be caught mocking him instead.”
Brother Sharp broke in; I could tell he had been growing impatient. “Calvin, let’s cut to the chase. We can talk about motives and whatnot later. What we’re interested in is getting your career back on track.”
“Careers be damned!” I shot back. And I meant that—there wasn’t an ounce of flippancy in my verbiage. That was a straight-up KJV pronouncement of damnation. “I never had any career. I have a vocation; more importantly, I have a calling. Your careers are going to send us all to Hell! Quit turning the house of God into a mercenary venture.”
“Calvin Luther Edwards, you are incorrigible!” snapped Sister McDoogan.
“Not to mention ungrateful,” Brother Sharp added.
“Calvin, please be reasonable,” pleaded Skeeter McDoogan. “We’re just trying to help. All you need to do to clear yourself is to get up after the invitation song tonight at the keynote address and repent. You can say you’ve been dealing with some personal issues. And apologize for talking to Mack Snipes like you did. Ask for prayers and all of that. You’ll become the hero of the lectureship on account of your display of humility.”
The waitress had wandered over to take our breakfast orders. “I was just leaving,” I told her, and put a couple of dollars on the table for my coffee.
“Calvin,” said Brother Sharp, “this is my final warning. If you don’t rectify this today, we can’t hold Mance Tatum off from writing you up. I promise you, you will end up selling dental insurance out of your car or something. You will have no career in the ministry.”
“I already told you, Brother Sharp, I never had any career. If God chooses to make me an insurance salesman, so be it. I will minister to people one way or another, whether any of you guys sanction it or not.”
Our waitress was standing there looking awkward. I’m sure we made even less sense to her than we did to me. “You guys really should try the hash browns,” I said to Brother Sharp and the McDoogans. “They’re scrumptious.” And then I left and went back to my hotel room.