While I take a break from ‘after the flood’ over christmas (in anticipation of giving part one a rigurous read-thru and re-write before part two begins) I’ve made this bit of short and pointless fiction.
If its about anything its about how God uses people even though you sometimes think they’ve got their priorities totally wrong. We see the story more from the point of view of ‘the pastor’ character and so ‘the preacher’ is made out like the antagonist, but there are suggestions also that the pastor doesn’t have it right either. It might be fun to imagine the same meeting from the opposite point of view. The story seeks to make no point or attack any church style… I think I hoped to write something that christians might recognise, I tried to write something that seemed true. As always, wordpress messes up the line spacing a little so i apolgise for the paragraph and speech gaps appearing as they do.
The pastor and the preacher had taken the window booth of a roadside bar and diner, a quiet spot just outside of town. They had once been friends but were now estranged. They both ordered the same breakfast; ham and eggs with coffee. The eggs were reheated and rubbery and the coffee had a thick oil film. The preacher touched neither but the pastor ate and drank while he listened to his companion’s proposition.
‘We could use someone like you in our ministry Johnny,’ said the preacher. ‘you understand people.’ The pastor’s name was not Johnny, apparently that’s what the preacher called everyone these days. His black dress-shoes were freshly polished. They gleamed as bright as the paint on his BMW parked across two bays in the sandy parking lot. The pastor wondered if weeping women had used their hair to clean and polish the preacher’s shoes to their brilliant shine; the preacher sure seemed to make people believe he were some kind of a Jesus. The pastor adjusted himself in the seat. Almost wishing he had rejected the invitation of his childhood friend, he Silently prayed an apology for his mind making the comparison, though he was sure if anyone were being profane it was the preacher, the pastor’s mind just called it out.
Was it wisdom that brought him to little diner outside of town (Somewhere away from the eyes of his congregation), or was it naïveté? He gulped his coffee, no it was nothing so pure, it was just curiosity.
The pastor’s boots were muddied and speckled with dust and sand the way everything was out that way. The dust covered everyone’s shoes, and it had covered the preacher’s when they were young – before he left. Since leaving the town for his countrywide tours the preacher had changed beyond all recognition. He explained that the way he used to look didn’t fit the image of what he preached. He described in detail the machinery of what he’d alternately describe as his ministry, his mission or his mandate. Much of that machinery was marketing. The only thing that remained of his old self was his accent, though it had been modified.
‘Endears me to folks, a voice like ours is trustworthy.’
But the pastor didn’t trust the sound of what the preacher’s voice said, he never had. At seminary he had decided that the sharp end of theology was sharper than any suit or sound bite and so he naturally doubted any speaker employing such strategies and rhetoric. At seminary he and the preacher shared a dorm, and so he knew that the preacher saw the purpose of theology as a means to bend the word to a message with mass-market appeal. There were a group of students that felt that way, they hated the fundamentalists and the fundamentalists hated them. But both groups were the same to the pastor; they had traded truth for simplicity.
In the booth in the diner the pastor shifted in his seat again; he tried not to hate.
It was his knowledge that truth was never simple that caused him to respond to the preacher’s letter and come to the revival at the school stadium when the preacher’s tour made its homecoming stop. After the revival meeting it was too late to talk the preacher offered to buy the pastor breakfast the next morning. Because of what he had seen the pastor agreed. He had seen people converted, they fell to their knees, and upon their faces, wailing and crying and they came up shouting praise and imploring ‘more Lord, more Lord.’ From his hidden place in the bleachers he saw crack addicts and a local prostitute promise to turn their backs on sin. It was they that cried ‘more Lord’ the most; perhaps it was they who needed it most. They were people from his own town whom had never responded before despite all his invitations. Though tonight if they were receiving as much as they asked for they must have been spilling it over the floor. The place was flooded in it, whatever it was.
The pastor thought of his own congregation, if it were water then they were experiencing a seven-year drought.
‘Look atcha Johnnie.’ The preacher’s accent was still southern but his dialect and cadence was like that of a New Yorker; like the kind of American people learn from TV. ‘This town’s got you thinking wrong. You’re sucked into people’s problems, look at this place.’ He nodded out of the clouded window to the parking lot, road and the warehouses beyond.
The pastor squinted through the glass, he could see nothing.
‘You’d think the tribulation was already upon us.’ Said the preacher. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” He quoted. ‘God will rapture our souls before the shit really hits the fan, he’ll fly us all off in an ark like with Noah. So there’s no need to be so glum.’
The pastor was stunned. Never before, not even during the previous night’s revival had the pastor heard his erstwhile dorm mate quote the Bible without it open before him, and rarely had he heard a verse so reinterpreted. He poured the last of his coffee into his mouth, swallowed, straightened his knife and fork and for the first time since they had sat down, he spoke.
‘You know Peter says that Noah preached righteousness, yet no-one entered the ark with him and his family. He must surely have been persecuted by the people he challenged; he must have gone through some tribulation – and that ark weren’t no rapture, he had to spend a year inside that floating box.’ The preacher paused for a moment, it was his turn to be stunned. Then he replied,
‘I feel like Noah sometimes, The stadiums are my ark and the persecutors hurl their abuse from the picket lines while inside the animals screech and howl at the moon. So, you coming aboard?’