monday, june 4th, 2007, 11:00 a.m.
11:00 a.m. was an unusually late hour for Mac to arrive at his office on a Monday morning, but 2:30 a.m. was an unusually late time to get to bed. The flight connection from the conference was not so good, and then there was the one and a half hour drive from the airport to Bryden Falls, drop off John at the Tanner ranch, Phil at his house at the opposite end of the city, and finally the drive home. When he awoke at 8:30 the house was empty, the twins at school, Vivian already out the door. Mac rolled back the folding door separating the office and boardroom and pushed the board table against the wall to give himself pacing space. He had serious Monday morning pondering to do, a fine sunny morning it was, and an active week to organize in his mind.
It had been a good weekend. Very good, actually, considering the supportive applause from his colleagues, not so much for his delivery, he humbly concluded, but rather the content. And then there was the superintendent’s touch on his arm. In this denomination subtleties were custom, an art to be learned both in conveyance and interpretation. Confirmation came during the communion service. A senior district elder suggested that many people could be blessed by Mac’s insights, for most a casual compliment but Mac recognized the heavy inference. He would not be tardy checking his mail.
Yes, a good weekend. He was sure some maturity rubbed off from other ministers onto Phil Ferguson. It was time to give his assistant pulpit responsibility. There was good in that young man, Mac was sure, good that would come to bear fruit in his congregation. And then there was John Tanner. Mac sensed John had made a positive decision regarding the ministry. Though John was private with his thoughts, Mac could tell the boy was free from the struggle of indecision he brought to the conference. Mac felt he had good ground for optimism.
Mac could hear the phone ringing at Vivian’s desk outside his office a few times and the recorder picking up messages, though unintelligible from behind the closed door. Where is Vivian? he wondered. Shopping? An appointment?
Since Vivian was not here with her usual itinerary Mac searched his memory for details of the upcoming week. Not much happening today, Mac concluded. Mondays were usually slow, the people having learned to respect Mondays as a rest day after a busy Sunday. Tuesday? Big game. Big game. They have to beat the Grizzlies. They need two wins out of their final two games of the season, both played at home this week, in order to make the playoffs for the first time. The Grizzlies beat the Challengers three games out of four this season, the fourth being a tie at the Grizzlies home diamond. But Mac was confident. The Challengers were coming on strong the last half of the season, thanks mostly to the youngsters, Kyle and John. Also, two of the losses against Tree’s team were real close. Kyle would be pitching Tuesday; Mac had to admit his son was now as good as his dad, and his arm was well rested. Should be a good game.
Friday evening they would face the Pirates for the final game of the regular season. They beat them twice, the last two times on their own diamond, and Mac knew they could do it again here at home. He would be pitching that game and would give it his best.
There’s the phone again. Unusual for a Monday.
Saturday. Another big day. The MorLord Worship Band was playing in the park, their big performance of the year. There would be four bands entertaining during the weekend of the city’s annual celebration, and they were the only Christian group invited, undoubtedly a kickback for all the volunteer work donated to the community, and they were given the most enviable time slot, Saturday evening. This was huge for his twins. Kyle carried his guitar throughout the house, even while preparing the salvation message he, as team captain, would be given during the performance. And Katie was working her voice, filling the Maclin house with lalalala’s. It was Katie’s biggest night of the year, the nervous preening would start in the afternoon and go on for hours.
And then there was Sunday. Reuben would preach one more time, the last time ever at his pulpit. Mac decided he would never again give a layman access to the pulpit, not for any reason. If someone accused him of favoritism because he allowed Reuben to preach he would admit he made a mistake. Period. He realized his poor judgment at the conference, in part from his own message. If Reuben did a shoddy job it would all be pointless; if he did a great job his influence could grow enormously, such is the power of the pulpit, and that would not be good; unlike everyone at the conference he was answerable to no one. Nonetheless he gave his word and he would not renege. Reuben would give the second part of his message on Sunday.
Oh yes, he remembered, I promised Roo I would listen to his message when I returned. He hadn’t paid any attention to the portable tape recorder placed, obviously by Vivian, on the center of his desk. And yes, there was a tape inside marked “Reuben Tanner, Sunday, June 3rd.” Funny, I don’t remember telling Vivian I wanted to listen to Roo’s tape. Just as he was about to push the play button, the phone rang …… again! Where’s Vivian? he asked himself the second time as he walked out the office to the recorder on her desk. No one was around to disturb his privacy so he pushed the message button. “You have twenty-six messages,” the recorder spoke. Twenty-six messages! Can’t be!
“Message number one,” the mechanical voice droned. “Pastor Mac. Donald Williamson. I guess Vivian told you about the service yesterday. Please get back to me right away!”
What? Mac was suddenly attentive.
“Message number two.” “Pastor Mac, Ruth O’Brian calling. My husband and I were wondering if we could come and talk to you about the things Reuben Tanner was talking about yesterday. Frankly we are somewhat confused and hoped you could clarify some things for us. Hope you enjoyed the conference. Oh yes, our phone number is 292-7104, just so you don’t have to look it up.”
“Message number three.” “Pastor Mac, I don’t want to complain but I was very upset yesterday. I thought we were doing so well, as a congregation, I mean, and now I’m told we are doing terrible.”
Oh my God!
“Message number four.” “It’s me again, Pastor. I forgot to leave my name although I suppose you recognize my voice. It’s Patty Freeman. And, oh, Herbert says to tell you he’s not happy either. Have a good day. Say hi to Vivian for me.”
Lord, what have I done?!
“Message number five.” “I would like a return call as soon as possible please. Glen Matthews, 292-8784.”
“Message number six.” “Pastor Mac, just inquiring to see if the plumber will be speaking next Sunday like he says he will. If so, my wife and I will be attending another church that day. Gerry Tronson, 292-0074.”
“Message number seven.” Mac backed away from the recorder so that he could hear, but just barely. “Pastor Mac. Sheldon Waters. Hope you had a good weekend. I guess you know by now we’ve got serious problems. I think we are facing a church split. I suppose we better call an emergency board meeting. I want you to know I am with you.”
No! No! No! A church split?! I’m gone one weekend and my church is rendered in two!
“Message number eight.” “Hi, Pastor Mac. I would sure like to talk to you face to face and have you level with me. Am I really unprepared to give an account to Christ? I attend this church because I thought we were doing so well. Gord Longley, 292-8991, or my cell 876-4243.”
I can’t take anymore of this! He would have turned the recorder off but couldn’t make himself move.
“Message number nine.” “Just wanted to say I don’t blame Vivian one little bit for walking out of church during Reuben’s message. I felt like doing the same thing. Also, I didn’t like the way Jeni Tanner was carrying on before the congregation, prancing around like that! In my younger days the pastor would never have allowed such a thing. Have a good day, Pastor. Sister Goodwin.”
My God, my God, my God! Mac made his way to the washroom to soak his face in water to bring life back into his traumatized body. Vivian left the church in the middle of the sermon? Why? Vivian had never done anything like that, always the one to keep her composure no matter how difficult the circumstance.He stood at the sink for several minutes staring at his face in the mirror. This is madness…… I can’t believe my stupidity…… how could I have let this happen?…… maybe it’s not too late to patch this up…… damage control…… that’s it…… I must think damage control…… but first I got to get myself under control…… come on, marine!…… pull yourself together!
“Message number twenty-three,” he heard the recorder say on his way back to his office. “Pastor Mac, this is Nelson. I guess you know by now what has happened. Brent and I were talking, and frankly we think it was a mistake giving the podium to a layman. I know we all agreed we would back you on whatever decision you made but we both feel strongly you should reverse your decision. We will be praying for you ……” Click! Mac hit the off button. No more! Not one more word from anybody! Got to think! What should I do?
monday, june 4th, 2007, 11:15 a.m.
“Mom, that looks like the Maclin’s car.” John had been at his studies on the front porch when he noticed the car speedily approaching their house, the same one he was riding in the first hours of this morning. “I think it’s Mrs. Maclin,” he said to his mother when she came out to the porch. “I hope everything’s okay.”
“Everything is not okay, son.”
“Something I should know about? Katie and Kyle, are they okay?”
“Yes, John. It’s nothing like that. I never had a chance to talk to you yet. Your father and I were going to talk to you tonight.”
“Yes, very serious.” Jeni walked to Vivian’s car to greet her.
The breeze carried most of their conversation away from John but he did pick up occasional pieces. John had never seen Mrs. Maclin lose her composure before. His mom, however, was her cool self. He thought of going inside, the polite thing to do, but perhaps it was a problem he could help rectify. When he heard “Reuben” and “your husband” he immediately made the connection: his dad’s preaching didn’t go over so well yesterday. What could Dad have said that would rile Mrs. Maclin so completely? When he heard the words “church split” a few times he connected that to his mom’s “Yes, very serious.”
Mrs. Maclin drove off just as fast as she came. His mom’s eyes were filled with tears, her face with worry.
“Can we talk, Mom, or would you rather wait for Dad?”
“It wouldn’t be fair to make you wait. Your father made some statements while delivering his message that upset a number of people. Mrs. Maclin felt he undermined Pastor Mac’s credibility.”
“Doesn’t sound like Dad.”
“You can judge for yourself.” Jeni pulled out a tape of Reuben’s message from her apron pocket.
“But obviously Pastor Mac asked him to speak. He must trust Dad.”
“No, it’s not like that. Your father asked Pastor Mac for permission to speak to the congregation.”
“He felt he had a message from the Lord for the people.”
“And Pastor Mac gave his okay, right?”
“He refused your father. Your father appealed to the board of elders. They could not agree, one of the elders resigned, and they asked Pastor Mac to make the final decision. Pastor Mac finally agreed to allow your father to speak.”
“Did you know what Dad was going to say to the church?”
“I had no idea.”
“Was it all that bad? Mrs. Maclin seemed quite upset.”
“I think our unity is gone. I don’t think our church will ever be the same.”
“But Mom, what did Dad say?”
“Listen to the tape, son.”
“I’m not so sure I want to.”
“What did Mrs. Maclin want? Why did she come?”
“She didn’t say directly but I think she was hinting our family should find another church.”
“I know that’s upsetting to you. Please don’t say anything to the other children. We could be in for a major crisis or perhaps this will all blow away. I am sure your father will do what is best for the people at the Center.”
“But it seems like such a betrayal.”
“I am sure Vivian is not speaking on behalf of the pastor or the board.”
“I thought Mrs. Maclin was your friend, Mom. How could she turn on you just like that?” John snapped his fingers loudly.
“When you were a toddler Vivian offered me her friendship which I gladly accepted. However, her idea of friendship is not what I understood the term to mean. I think she meant a pastoral relationship whereby she would be a spiritual influence. We never did relate socially.”
“Does she have any friends?”
“I’m sure she does, back in her home town, and lots of family.”
“It still seems like a betrayal.”
“I can’t answer that, John. I do know our entire family is deeply indebted to both of the Maclins. If it wasn’t for Vivian you and I could be standing downtown at this very moment with an Awake! magazine in our hand.”
“I know the story, Mom. And I love Pastor Mac. But our family has deep roots at the Center. It would be so painful to have to leave.”
“Yes, painful for everybody. Back to your studies now, John Douglas. You don’t want to upset your teacher. I’ll bring you a cool glass of water.”
Suddenly John’s world became complicated. On the way home from the conference he had decided to phone Katie for the first time ever, reckoning she would be sitting near the phone about 7:00 in the evening waiting for his call. He wanted her to be the first to hear the exciting news of his decision to enter the ministry. Now he realized the timing would be terrible. In a few days perhaps.
monday, june 4th, 2007, 1:00 p.m.
Pacing back and forth in his office helped diffuse the anxiety the answering machine sucker-punched him with an hour ago. Still, he had not yet pushed the play button on the cassette tape recorder that held the secrets to the turmoil that had suddenly swept his church. Nor was it yet time to answer the phone. Nor did he listen to the remaining messages. It was time to stabilize and strategize.
First, he coached himself, confront denial: my church is in a crisis, no, not just a challenge but a serious crisis. Second, it is not time for blame, not myself, not Reuben, not anyone; that would come later. Three, keep emotions in check: no anger, no fear, no tears. Four, don’t shy away from anyone. Confront. Maintain eye contact. Five, demonstrate confidence; like insecurity, it is contagious. And six, pray. Why do I always forget to pray? God will help me as I lean on Him.
Mac was about to leave for the empty sanctuary, his favorite praying place, when Vivian walked into his office. Her greeting was not, “Hi, Hon, have a good sleep?” or, “How was your weekend?” Or, “Glad you’re home.” But rather:
“Terry, that man is not preaching – if that’s what one wants to call what he did – next Sunday!”
“I was wondering where you were at.” His hope was to diffuse and distract. It didn’t work.
“That man is not going behind our pulpit again!” Four, don’t shy away from anyone. Confront. Maintain eye contact. Ouch! That didn’t work either; her eyes were blazing and quite able to stare him down. He considered escaping out the open window behind him.
“What took us, and I emphasize us, years to build, this plumber destroyed in less than an hour! What do you intend to do about it?”
Five, demonstrate confidence; like insecurity it is contagious. “Actually, I have no idea.”
“May I suggest you come up with something quickly? Many people are going to expect you to fix this mess.”
Second, it is not time for blame, not myself, not Reuben, not anyone. “I was a fool to allow a layman behind the pulpit. Why did Reuben have to appeal to the board? He must have known the discord it could cause. And the board should have been able to come to a conclusion. But no, they threw the whole thing on my shoulders!”
“Our congregation is split! Not all of the phone calls were complaints. Some actually want that man to preach more often!”
First, confront denial; my church is in a crisis, no, not just a challenge, but a serious crisis. “Well, maybe it’s not so bad. Perhaps it will blow over. You know, people have short memories.”
“I think Pastor Mac is dreaming. The man cut you down in front of your own congregation.” In a contemptuous tone she quoted Reuben, “In my opinion, my friends, most of your works are wood, hay and straw. They will be consumed by fire.” And then, “Who do you think the people are going to blame for their ‘wood, hay and straw’? Their confidence in you is damaged, perhaps permanently.”
Three, keep emotions in check: no anger, no fear, no tears. “You’re right. Our church could fall apart over this. Now please! You made your point quite well!” Shut up, big mouth. Let her get it all out.
It took ten minutes of verbalizing her anger and frustration before the pressure was sufficiently relieved. And then she became the composed pastor’s wife once more.
“May I ask where you were?” Mac asked again.
“The Tanner ranch.”
“Oh?” There was concern in that “Oh?”
“I talked to Jeni.” Vivian was quickly becoming subdued.
“I hinted the Tanner family find another church,” she said defiantly.
“That was a mistake.” Before his wife could respond Mac was out the office heading for the sanctuary.
monday, june 4th, 2007, 2:15 p.m.
“Good morning, Vivian! How are you?” Though it was Phil Ferguson’s day off and though he was still tired from the weekend, the Center was in trouble and he couldn’t stay away.
“Livid. And yourself?”
“Well, I was flying high because of the conference – Mac was really good – and then I got some phone calls. I understand you had quite a service yesterday.” Phil itched to say, I knew Mac was making a mistake; I was against that plumber preaching from the start, but he would be a loyal friend.
“Yes, a most unusual service.” Vivian’s fury was beginning to rise again.
“Have you been getting many calls?”
“Wow!” And then, “Where’s Mac?” Phil still got a buzz from being the only one at the Center who did not have to say, “Pastor Mac,” church functions excepted.
“He’s in the sanctuary. I think he’s praying.”
“Should I disturb him?”
“I already did.” Phil couldn’t know what she meant. “I think he needs to be alone,” Vivian added, and just then the phone rang – again.
“You’re not going to answer it?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s why I’m here. I tried to phone but I got the recording.”
“I’m not going to apologize.”
Phil wasn’t offended. “Anything I can do?”
“Would you like to answer the phone?”
“Did you listen to Reuben Tanner’s tape?”
“I don’t have one.” Vivian reached into a drawer and handed him a cassette tape.
“First thing, be informed and make a judgment.”
“I’ll listen to it in my car. Tell Mac I’m here when he needs me. I’ve got my cell.”
“I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon.”
monday, june 4th, 2007, 2:20 p.m.
Both of Mac’s hands were outstretched gripping the pulpit, body leaning forward, head hanging low. Damned fool! he said to himself for the umpteenth time. I’m the big wheel telling the guys at the conference how to successfully build a church and at the same time – at the very same moment! – my church is being dissected by a plumber! “A plumber!” he said out loud, raising his hands in exasperation. What business has a plumber behind this pulpit?
In the quiet of the sanctuary prayer refused to come, and shame and guilt and confusion and frustration draped him like a robe. Why didn’t I just say no? We wouldn’t be in this mess if I just said no! No is not a hard word to say! Just no, no, no!
Mac knew Vivian’s hinting the Tanners should leave the Center was like trying to douse a fire with gasoline. Some would see the injustice and follow them out the door; everyone would have to go through the crucible of deciding where to place one’s loyalty. Besides, Mac concluded, it just wasn’t right to ask them to leave; expediency must never overrule justice. We are supposed to be Christians!
Mac’s thoughts rolled on. The Tanners are a good family; who could deny it? The best. It was families like this that built the Center. Roo may have been duped to think God wanted him to speak to my congregation but being deceived is not a crime. He loves this congregation and would not harm it. Pitchers know their back catchers and I know Reuben Tanner. He would never wrong me intentionally……would he?
Mac tried to put himself in Reuben’s shoes to ascertain the loyalty of the man, to determine if there could be reason for jealousy or resentment. A back catcher certainly has less prominence than a pitcher, and although the catcher has input into the strategy to best the batter, he is subservient to the dictates of the pitcher. How would that affect me, to have to bow to the whim of the pitcher, season after season after season? Don’t think I would like it much. And then Mac tried to consider what it would be like to have to submit to a coach who was no more qualified. Would I carry a grudge, even without realizing it? Also, Reuben could have, even be expected to have, resentment that one less qualified was chosen as assistant coach; but Phil was assistant pastor so therefore should be assistant coach, Mac reasoned, though not fully convinced of the soundness of his own logic. And what’s it like to always have to be compliant to the pastor, to always be the student and never the teacher, the servant and never the guy in charge? Didn’t I resent my superiors in the marines? Do I not sometimes balk when I have to submit to head office directives? Why should Roo not resent me? Why should I take for granted his loyalty? And then Mac had another thought.
Everybody’s promotion in the church depended on him. Teachers were teachers, elders were elders, musicians were musicians only because Mac allowed them to be such. Reuben Tanner was an usher, always an usher, not even head usher. Never had he been offered a placement of higher responsibility, and Reuben most certainly knew that was Mac’s doing. How would I like that? I think I could become a bitter person over the years. Yes, Mac had his reasons: Roo didn’t tithe, Roo was not a team player, Roo was accountable to no one. But such logic would be of little consolation to Reuben. How could he not feel the sting of rejection?
Hmmm……rejection……resentment……jealousy……maybe that’s the underlying motive behind Roo’s request for my pulpit. A chance to prove he is equally spiritual and able as I am, a chance to inflate his deflated self-worth.
And then a horrid thought: suppose Superintendent Johnston finds out about my stupidity? I can kiss a promotion good-bye! Maybe I should just phone him. Yes, that’s it! I’ll admit my blunder and ask for his help. He would be the compassionate father rescuing an errant, but repentant, son. I’ll hold a weekend seminar with Johnston as key speaker. As superintendent, his presence will help disperse dissension, pull the church together again. Praise the Lord, I think that’s the way out of this mess!
And so Mac decided his course of action. He would wait one week, one week from today, and then contact the superintendent. By then Reuben’s preaching career would have come to an end and the patching up would begin in earnest.
Still, Mac felt weak. More than anyone he felt the trauma of the moment – even his body was traumatized. What he needed the most he didn’t have – a friend. Not true, Mac suddenly realized, I do have a friend!
Vivian was still at her desk when Mac finally came out of hiding. “Vivian, are we …… together?”
“You’re my husband.”
“Good. Please ask Phil to arrange an emergency board meeting for tomorrow evening.”
“You have a game.”
“I will have to miss it. But tell Phil he can’t. We both can’t be away. Also, make a list of all the return calls I have to make.”
“Good. How many?”
“Ouch! I will make them in the morning. Mondays are still my off day. Right now I need to get out of here. I suggest you lock up and go home to the twins. They might need you,” Mac said while heading for the door.
“Where are you going? Will you be okay?” Vivian had to raise her voice.
“I will be okay. I’m going to a ball game,” he yelled back.
“Will you be late?”
monday, june 4th, 2007, 4:15 p.m.
Vivian was home before the twins returned from school after facing the challenge of final exams. Katie came into the living room where her mom was sitting on the couch knitting another sweater for Dad.
“Hi, Mom. Can we talk?” Apprehension.
“Certainly, Katie.” Warm, but not as warm as usual.
“I think I hurt you when I didn’t walk out of the church with you.”
“Deeply. If the situation were reversed I would have been at your side.”
“I know. You and Dad have taught us a family sticks together.”
“Especially a pastor’s family. We need each other.”
“Mr. Tanner’s words moved me.”
“They moved me, too!”
“I don’t mean that way, Mom.”
“I can’t understand that. He ruthlessly undermined your father.”
“There are always those who want to tear down what others have built. Jealousy, maybe, or male rivalry. Your father holds a place of prominence and that position can cause resentment.”
“Mom, I was deeply convicted by Mr. Tanner’s words. He made me see myself as I am.”
Vivian’s frustration was surfacing again. “You are a beautiful young lady, good and decent. You are developing into a mature adult, capable of serving the Lord in an effectual manner. Don’t let anyone put condemnation on you.”
“I was rededicating my life to Jesus Christ when you walked out of the church. I was not putting Mr. Tanner before you. I was making Christ first. I want to live for Him as never before.”
“You have always loved Christ. Your life of service proves that.”
“I have given up lead vocalist. I convinced Todd Anderson to do lead. I am now one of the support vocalists.”
“No! You have wanted lead for a year now!”
“Longer than that.”
“Your father will be disappointed. He is looking forward to Saturday, seeing his little girl ministering to hundreds of people. He doesn’t need another setback. You may not realize it but our church is on the verge of a major schism.”
“You mean a church split? Because of Mr. Tanner?”
“Because of Mr. Tanner. He convinced some, perhaps many, that all their good works at the Center has not been pleasing to God. And who do you think they are blaming? Your father! He does not deserve this …… betrayal!”
“I know Dad works very hard, Mom.”
“No, you don’t know.” Tears were streaking Vivian’s make-up. “I’m the only one who knows the price your father pays. He lays awake worrying about Debra Henderson’s teenage daughter who got mixed up in a bad crowd. And Brother Melloche who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. And the Simmons who are going through a divorce after thirty years of marriage. There is always someone in crisis. Always! And your father is there for them, making their burden bearable. Your father has a pastor’s heart. He loves his people. Not only would he lay down his life for them, he has laid down his life. He is tired. He is aging. And now we are told – by a plumber!, an usher! – his ministry has been defective.”
Rarely has Katie seen her altogether mother in tears. “Hold me, Mom,” she said as she sat beside her. Mother and daughter were serene now, both in tears, both afraid.
monday, june 4th, 2007, 7:30 p.m.
“Top of the ninth and final inning,” the cheap sound system blared. “The Grizzlies are down one run. Tree Kenny on the mound. Red Morgan first at bat.”
Tree wanted this game. The Grizzlies needed one more win to clinch top place in the division for the fourth year in a row. He was heartened by the fact that if they lost this one they could pick up an easy win against the Challengers tomorrow night, for the Grizzlies the final regular game of the season. His back to the batter, slouched casually, glove under his arm, rubbing the ball between his two hands – a ritual meant to psyche out the opposition. In fact, however, of the two, pitcher and batter, it was Tree who had reason to be worried. Red, nicknamed after the color of his hair, was their team’s best hitter, a batting average of .392. Facing the batter, Tree noticed a familiar figure standing on the second row of benches directly in line with him, the catcher and the ump. Mac! Although genuinely excited, he did nothing more than flick his glove to acknowledge Mac’s presence; marines keep their cool. And then he noticed Mac giving a signal, a clenched fist at his belly. Now what is that supposed to mean? Hmmm. Clenched fist? That would mean hard or fast. Belly? Down the middle of the plate. Okay, Dude! Hope you know what you’re doing. So Tree threw a fastball down the middle of the strike zone.
Just as Mac calculated, Red didn’t swing. “Strike one!” Mac didn’t have Tree’s arm but he was pretty good at reading a batter. He had faced Red many times and felt Red was trying to get a walk. Being a threat to any pitcher Red had an advantage; pitchers tended to throw lots of balls rather than strikes in the hopes he would reach for a bad pitch. This meant the batter had a good chance to get a walk to first base, if he was patient, instead of risking a fly to a fielder or grounding out to a baseman. Although Red pretended to be angry after the first strike, ready to swing at anything, Mac discerned he had no intention to swing his bat, sure that Tree would not pitch two strikes in a row. Mac gave the same signal, which surprised Tree. You’ve got to be kidding! Two strikes in a row? Okay, pal.
Again, Red didn’t swing. “Strike two! No balls, two strikes.” Now Red knew Tree would not throw three strikes in succession. He never has. He would let this one go by and maybe swing at the next one. But Red was wrong. Mac gave the same fist-to-the-belly signal. Oh, come on! Tree didn’t like this at all. Not three in a row! But Tree obeyed the signal and Red didn’t swing. “Strike three!” Never before had Red been struck out with three pitches without swinging his bat. That was easy. One out, two to go, Tree said to himself.
Tree turned his back to the second batter, wondering what Mac was going to come up with for this guy. But when he turned around Mac was gone. The Grizzlies managed to hold their opponent to a one run lead but couldn’t come up with any runs of their own, and lost the game 6 to 5.
Mac caught up with Tree after pack-up. “Your pitching’s not bad when there is someone to help you out.”
“Three fastballs in a row down the center. No wonder the Challengers lose so many games. Surprised to see you here, Mac.”
“Come to see my bud. Coffee?”
“Let’s go to my place. I’ll have my beer and I’ll make you a coffee. You’re driving. I caught a ride here.”
The drive to Tree’s was filled exchanging baseball stories, interjected with occasional jabs and jokes, all therapeutic to Mac. Mac’s visit surprised Tree, especially since he would be seeing Mac in Bryden Falls tomorrow night. And then he had it figured out! God was behind this! Sunday was his big exit, and God sent his boy to come to the rescue. This should be fun. Beer in hand, coffee brewing in the kitchen, Tree strolled into his yard, Mac at his side, and leaned against the huge wooden crate with the removed bottom.
“What’s this crate for?” Mac asked the obvious question.
“Brought it home from work. Never can tell when a guy might need a crate.” Tree’s tummy was tickling as he patted the box lovingly. Mac thought the beer was getting to his bud already.
You might as well give up, God. It ain’t gonna’ work. You think I’m a pretty bad dude, but there are three things I’m not: a liar, a thief and a coward. When telling one of my marine or baseball stories I stay within reasonable distance to the truth; other than taking the occasional sick day off for fishing, I have never stolen from my company; if I were facing a firing squad I would refuse the mask and sneer at my executioners. Nothing’s going to stop me from doing what I’m going to do, regardless if those stories about hell are true. Sunday it’s ten-four, over and out, end of the ninth, good-bye cruel world.
“Tell me Mac, why did you come to see me?” As if I don’t know!
“I need a friend.”
Perhaps Mac didn’t hear me right! Tree was suddenly nervous. Mac doesn’t need anybody, especially me! “Serious?”
“Serious.” Suddenly Tree felt uncomfortable leaning against the wooden box; it wasn’t funny anymore. “Let’s get inside before the mosquitoes get us.”
Pouring very black coffee into his pal’s cup at the kitchen table, Tree didn’t know what to do or say. This was the first time Mac needed him and he didn’t want to blow it. “Beer’s good. How’s the coffee?”
“You take it black, don’t you?” This isn’t starting out too good.
“You got the color right. It’s everything else that’s wrong. You actually drink this?”
“It wakes me up in the morning.”
“This would wake a dead man.”
“In the morning I feel like a dead man.” Tree flicked open his cell and pushed some buttons that connected him to a taxi dispatcher. “Joe?……Tree Kenny…… Send a large coffee to my place, will you?…… Black…… Tell your man to go to the coffee shop closest to my house so it gets here hot…… Yep, I’m at the same place…… And, hey, a dozen donuts…… What kind? Mix them up…… Some sugary ones. I got a friend who needs sweetening….. I know it will be an expensive coffee. This dude’s worth it. He saved my life once…… Well, that’s a good point, maybe he didn’t do me such a big favor…… Enough of the cute stuff…… And, hey, tell your driver not to expect a tip.”
“Merciful friend.” Mac slid his cup away from him.
“Sometimes when one of the guys on my team or at work have a problem they come to cry on Tree’s shoulder. But pastors? Can’t recall too many pastors coming to me for counsel. Vivian and the twins okay?”
“You haven’t been caught fooling around have you? Secretary maybe?”
“Vivian is my secretary.”
“I know. Seriously, Mac, I didn’t think you Christians had problems.”
Mac looked at his friend incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Well, you know…… I’m sure you guys have trouble finding a parking spot sometimes, like normal people. But not big problems.” He wasn’t joking, Mac realized.
It started slowly, stirring down deep in his belly, Mac tried valiantly to hold it down, but nothing was going to stop this eruption. Loud, riotous, uncontrollable laughter! The kind of laughter that comes only a few times in a lifetime. The kind of laughter that vibrates the entire body and makes you bend over in pain. Seeing Tree’s offended expression, Mac did his best to control himself. “Sorry, bud.”
Tree tried to defend himself. “Okay, so it’s not nice to be on a losing team and not being able to sleep in on Sunday. But Christians don’t know what real problems are.”
Laughter came more forcefully than before, and Tree’s bewildered look only worsened the problem. “Yes,……” Mac had trouble getting it out, “one time my shoelace…… became undone…… and I had to retie it! Right in the middle…… of a game!” Seeing his bud’s contorted face and tears trickling out of his eyes stirred that same something in Tree’s belly and he, too, could not restrain from laughing riotously.
“That’s not a…… big problem…… pal! One time an old lady stopped me…… and pointed to a five-dollar bill…… that fell out of my pocket, and I had to…… I had to….. go back and pick it up!”
“Sometimes old ladies…… can be a real…… pain,” Mac sympathized.
Soon they were into, “Do you remember this……?” and “Do you remember that…..?,” going back to different ballgames and further back to marine life. When the taxi arrived the driver heard the two men roaring away their pent-up emotions, one from having his church disrupted and the other from his awaiting suicide, long before he saw them sitting limp on the kitchen floor, leaning on a wall.
monday, june 4th, 2007, 7:30 p.m.
Since television and video games have always been outlawed in the Tanner family, John and his four siblings were unusually sensitive to the valuables of life. Most days, at this time in the evening, they could and did observe Mom and Dad strolling hand in hand down the roadway and back again; it was their time. John’s habit was to sit by his bedroom window, reading or studying, glancing occasionally down the road, taking much comfort in his parents’ love for one another. The younger ones downstairs would sporadically leave what they were doing, take a peek at their parents, and return to their whatever a little more assured. As long as Mom and Dad were holding hands everything would be okay.
“I had a visitor this morning.”
“Vivian?” Reuben guessed.
“I upset her.”
“Your message upset her.”
“Was she still distressed?”
“Very. She implied it would be best, for the good of the Center, we find another church to attend.”
“I sympathize with her.”
“I don’t think Mac would condone her visit.”
“Were the kids about when Vivian arrived?”
“John was. I explained the situation.”
“Did he seem to understand?”
“As you know, John is trying to fit the pieces of his life together. This complicates things further.”
“I feel him drifting away from me.”
“It’s natural to want to gain independence from his father.”
“I mean spiritually. He’s being tugged in another direction.”
“I’m sensing that too. Reuben, let’s not allow that to happen! Let’s fight for our son …… in prayer!”
“He will be there on Sunday when I give the second half of my message. Let’s pray he is influenced positively.”
“Reuben, I feel strongly you won’t be preaching Sunday!”
“Really? That could only mean one thing.”
“I don’t know what it means. I feel the Lord would have us be sensitive to Him these next few days. Very sensitive. Could you possibly take a week or so off work, to pray and seek direction?”
“You’re quite concerned about this, aren’t you?”
“Quite. I feel all of our family will be undergoing major adjustments. But what those adjustments are, I don’t know.”
“The business is going through a summer lull right now, and the new man I hired is working out quite well. I’ll take two weeks off the tools and run the business from home.”
“It will be good having you close.”
“Maybe I could take your place as teacher a few hours a day to give you alone time with the Lord.”
Jeni showed her appreciation by squeezing his hand. “There has been phone calls from church members.”
“Not all. Several were complementary. It seems some have heard of our Wednesday nights and would like to come to hear more about Christ. One sister asked me if you always paused like that between sentences.” They both laughed.
“Did you encourage them to come? This could complicate matters for Mac.”
“I did what I believe was right in the sight of the Lord; I assured them they were welcome.”
“You did well, but I will have to tell Mac. Where will we seat everyone?”
“We’ll adjust the furniture. We can squeeze them in.”
monday, june 4th, 2007, 9:15 p.m.
Katie had been sitting by the phone for more than two hours now, hoping to hear from John Douglas. She realized the conference could be pivotal, not only for John, but for her. She thought she understood what was not verbalized, that John would contact her if he made a decision to enter the ministry. This evening, the evening following his return, seemed a logical time.
In fact, of the two it was Katie who was the most impacted on the weekend. She wanted to tell John about it, about how she was deeply convicted by his father’s lecture, about recommitting her life to Christ, about surrendering lead to Todd and apologizing to the others for her manipulating. And she wanted to share with John her determination to follow Christ, unconditionally, no strings attached.
But John didn’t phone. Perhaps full time ministry isn’t for him. Or maybe he will phone another time.
monday, june 4th, 2007, 11:45 p.m.
“Joe?…… Tree again. My bud needs another coffee…… Hey, make it two, two large blacks. I’ve had enough beer…… And another dozen donuts…… Just a minute…… Hey, Mac, do you want a pizza?…… Hey, Joe, tell your man to pick up a pizza first, will you?…… What do I want on it? Everything. What we don’t like we’ll scrape off…… Make it a large. Scrap the donuts…… And, hey, phone the order in advance. I don’t want the meter running while the driver’s sitting around waiting…… No! Don’t get the coffee at the pizza joint, they make worse coffee then I do…… Yea, that’s right. Get it at the same place as before…… And hurry, will you? We’re hungry.”
Tree flicked his cell closed. “Laughing makes a guy hungry.”
“Wish there was more laughter in the world.”
“Don’t get dreamy, Mac. There’s not much to laugh about.”
“I figure tomorrow I’ll have something to laugh about.”
“Tomorrow’s game? Ha! We’ll trounce you, good buddy.”
“You can’t psyche me out like you do some of those batters you face.”
“Tomorrow I’ll be seeing tears from crying instead of laughing.”
“I won’t be there.”
“An emergency board meeting tomorrow night.”
“Sounds important. What’s it about?”
“My church is going through a split.”
“Is that bad?”
“Real bad, pal. Real bad.”
“Sounds good. But I warn you, I’m not bad. Kyle and I have thrown lots of darts in our rec room.”
“You’re not bad and I’m good. Baseball all over again.” The dartboard was a permanent ornament on Tree’s living room wall, as was the black mark on the floor, ten-foot distance, exposed only when the coffee table was moved.
So darts it was, two middle-aged ex-marines who would lay down their life for the other now jovial enemies intent on thrashing the other. It started off the best of three games, and when Mac was down two zip it was extended to best of five, and then seven, and when the pizza and coffee arrived Tree was up thirty to twenty-two, playing the best of sixty-five.
Sitting at the table Tree said, “So cry on my shoulder, pal. Tell ol’ Tree your problems and I’ll try my best to not fall asleep.” So Mac recounted the story, without mentioning names, beginning at Reuben’s surprise request to speak to the congregation. Tree laughed vigorously when Mac got to the part when he asked Reuben what he would have done if Mac turned down his request – “Nothing. What could I do but accept your decision?” Not only was Mac not offended, he joined in Tree’s hilarity. And from there it was a struggle to give the rest of the account as their laughter got increasingly more intense. Vivian’s exit from the church really got to Tree. “You mean to tell me that Vivian, stoical and proper Vivian, walked out in the middle of the guy’s sermon, like right down the aisle in front of a packed church?!” And they roared in merriment, not so much that it was all that funny, but because there was still lots of stuff inside both of them that needed to get out – Mac filled with regret and pain for his people, and Tree……
Dozens of times in the past months Tree said final good-byes, in his imagination, to his prized teenagers. One time he kissed them on the forehead, turned and walked away before they saw his tears, another time he hugged them both at once refusing to let them go, another time he broke down in tears, telling them how sorry he was for being such a lousy father and could they forgive him. And then there was Sally. Sally should have done this years ago, permanently remove her and the kids from alcoholic Dad. He knew she loved him still, and couldn’t fathom why. Though now she was but his ex, she was still the hub of his life, the only adult he never put down in jest. In a few days, Sunday at about 10 a.m., his family would be gone forever.
And hundreds of times Tree was lying in his dark tomb, pistol in hand, sweating, afraid, alone. He was sure he had the guts to pull the trigger. How long after the weight of the dirt smothered his body would he become unconscious? Two minutes max, he guessed. He must remember to deeply exhale before firing his gun to speed up the dying.
For Mac the entire night was therapeutic, exactly what he needed to free him from within pressure caused by guilt and anger and distress. Tears are medicine to the soul and, Mac supposed, his were legitimate man’s tears released through laughter and not crying. For Tree this night was a farewell party to life. Mac had been one of the few good happenings in his adult years, and this was a fitting way to end a friendship. Will he cry when I’m gone? Tree wondered. He tried to picture Mac when he got the news of his drowning, overtaken in grief, sobbing uncontrollably. No, that just ain’t gonna’ happen, he had to, to his disappointment, conclude.
“Hey, Joe, still awake, eh?…… We could use another coffee…… Yea, that’s what I said. Then I’m going to kick my bud out of here. He’s got an hour drive home…… Home is on the other side, you know, the cold side, of the border. Is that coffee shop still open?…… Good…… That’s right, two large blacks…… And tell your man to hustle.”
More darts. More coffee. More slams and digs and jokes. Two in the morning, Mac was about to pull out of Tree’s driveway.
“Thanks, Tree. I feel great. If I come across any other distressed pastors I’ll send them this way.”
“Do that. But tell them no freebies. Doctor Kenny ain’t cheap.”
“I’ll tell every one of them.”
“Hope you’re not too high on caffeine to drive.”
“Love you, Tree.”
Normally Tree would respond with a, “Get out of here!” or maybe, “Sure, sure,” but tonight it was, “Love you too, Mac.”
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 11:30 a.m.
Vivian had turned off the alarm clock Mac set for 8:00 a.m., knowing her husband could not function on four hours sleep, and Mac did not wake up until 10:30. It was a refreshed Mac who walked into his office Tuesday morning, insecurity and anxiety having been dumped on the other side of the border, and now he was on the offensive ready to confront the day. Vivian’s list of return calls to be made had grown from thirty-seven to fifty-six. He calculated if he spent fifteen minutes on each call he would be on the phone until the early hours of the following day, and during that time more calls would be coming in. It’s time to take a vacation! he decisively concluded. Pressing a button on his phone he was in contact with Phil Ferguson in his office down the hall. “Come and see me as soon as you can, Phil.” Less than a minute Phil was in his office.
“Good morning, Mac.”
“Good morning. I’m going to need help with these phone calls. If I speak to all these people I will be here all day and night, and I got a lot of work to do. I would like you to contact each person, tell them I am on a ten day vacation, I will address their concerns from the pulpit one week from Sunday, and if they have further concerns please contact me again by phone.”
“Vacation? Are you and Vivian going somewhere?”
“No, but I’ve got to be free from all my usual responsibilities. I was planning a vacation in July but I’m taking it now instead. Let’s call it a working vacation.”
“Don’t speak on my behalf. Ask everyone to be patient. Most people are sympathetic to a man’s need for a vacation; I’m sure they will be understanding.”
“Did you listen to the tape?”
“It was rough. I can understand the reaction. Have you had a chance to hear it?”
“Not yet. I’ll have to before the meeting tonight. Did you manage to get in touch with everyone?”
“All the elders will be here at 7:00 p.m.”
“Good job. Thanks.”
“The burden of routine church affairs will fall on you the next ten days. Think you can handle it?”
“I can and I will.”
“You will be at the game tonight?”
“You will be head coach in my place.”
“Kyle’s pitching. The Grizzlies need this game to take first place in the league; they could be rough on my son; I wish I could be there.”
“I wish you could, too.”
“I had planned to let Kyle pitch tonight anyhow, and let the Grizzlies face him instead of me. They’re used to me; this might throw them off their game. Kyle’s arm is getting strong, and he and I have been working on his curve; it’s wicked.”
“And we also need a win on Friday.”
“That one will be easier. We are the team in the league with the momentum, having won or tied the last five games. Tonight is the big one. If we take this game it will prove we can be a serious challenge to win the playoffs.”
“A dream come true.”
“Actually, more than I dared dream for at the beginning of the season. Now, I want you to appoint Reuben Tanner as your assistant tonight.”
“Mac! Are you sure?”
“And I want you to heed any suggestions he might have. That man knows baseball.”
“Got it. And I will let you know the result of the game as soon as it’s over.”
“You won’t have to. I will know by the cheering, or lack of cheering, if we win or lose. I will be able to hear from the boardroom.”
“Maybe I can catch the tail end of the meeting.”
“Be good if you can. I’m going to have Vivian forward all incoming calls to your office. You better get at those return calls.”
Mac pushed another button and, “Vivian? Could you come in here, please?”
A softer, more settled Vivian than Monday’s Vivian was soon in Mac’s office. “Did you sleep well?”
“I did. I feel great. I spent the night with Tree …… that is, Trevor Kenny.”
“How is Tree?” That was the first time she referred to Tree as Tree – a token of appeasement?
“Hmmm. You know, I never asked him. I guess for once I wanted a friend more than I wanted to be a friend. I should have inquired, showed some sympathy. His family will be moving away in a few days. He will be alone.”
“That’s so sad.”
“Could you bring in the recorder tape with all the phone messages?”
Soon Mac was pacing in his office, not a frantic pace, not even a worried pace, listening to serious concerns from his congregation.
“This is Ross, Ross Gilbert. I would like to talk to you, Pastor. My wife, too. We have concerns regarding Tanner’s speech. We would like to know where you stand. It was a very interesting speech. Just want to know what you think of it, that’s all.”
“Hello, Pastor Mac. How was your weekend at the conference? I want you to know how impacted I was by Reuben Tanner’s message. Unfortunately, Fred didn’t like it at all. He says he’s not going to be there Sunday but I’m sure I can talk him into it. Myself, I am hoping Reuben will be a regular speaker at our church, you know, once a month or something. I know a lot of people are upset, including Vivian, but I felt it right to voice my opinion. Thanks for choosing him to speak. I was thoroughly blessed.”
“Just phoning to see if Vivian is okay. I’m not sure if she walked out because of the message or she wasn’t feeling well. I’ve been talking to some of the girls and want you and Viv to know we, that is, most of us, are on your side, no matter what. Helen Fulbright.”
“Pastor Mac. I’ve been talking to several people to get their take on Reuben’s message. A bunch of us meet for coffee in the morning. Seems like it’s a sensitive subject. Some are quite upset, angry, talking about finding another church. Others think it was okay, just what our church needs. A real argument broke out. One guy from our church, I won’t mention who, stomped out the door without drinking the last half of his coffee. Myself, oh, this is Grant Howard speaking, I don’t know what to think. I’m kind of unsettled about the whole thing. Please ask Vivian to arrange an appointment. 292-1907. Thank you.”
“This message is for Pastor Mac from Morris McLelland. I listened to Reuben Tanner’s tape after I got home from the service, not once but twice. I came to the conclusion that Reuben was blaming you and your superiors for the rough shape we are in spiritually. Of course, he didn’t say that directly, but that seemed to be the gist of his message. I guess that’s why Mrs. Maclin walked out on him. Anxious to hear from you on this matter. God bless. My number is 292-4575.”
“I just want to say I’ve been paying my tithes faithfully for many years now. I thought I could trust my spiritual needs were being cared for. Now I don’t know. It seems like when I stand before Jesus I won’t be getting much rewards. And I’ve been so faithful to the church. Quite upset. My phone number is 292-4667.”
“Hi, Pastor Mac, this is Maureen Edwards. I thought it interesting you chose a layman to speak on Sunday and was hoping you were going to make this a policy. I know my Shaun would make an excellent speaker. I think everyone at the Center would agree that few know the Bible as well as Shaun. Don’t tell him I left this message, okay? God bless and have a good day.”
It took a long time to listen to all the messages, and it was tiring. This would not be nearly so serious a problem if the calls were either all negative or all positive; Mac calculated the negatives outnumbered the positives four to one. What can he say or do to satisfy everyone?
Vivian walked in with a tray bearing a ham sandwich and a salad and a fruit drink. “Thought you probably had enough coffee for a while.”
“You’re right, enough for a week. By the way, we are on vacation.”
“What do you mean?”
“I told Phil he would have to carry our responsibilities for a while. I’ve got to be able to think things out. This is a crucial time for the Center, and I’ve got to be on top of it.”
“But what about your meeting tonight?”
“I’ll be there. I am using my vacation to work out the Tanner problem. I got us into this jam; I’ve got to get us out.”
“But what should I be doing?”
“You’re on vacation. I suggest you go home, get away from all your responsibilities, be there for our kids, shop for a new dress, spend time with the Lord.”
“A vacation at home.” It was not a complaint.
“I’m sorry I messed up our summer plans. I guess I’m sorry for a lot of things.”
“One thing matters right now, the welfare of our church.”
“Do we have a portable cassette player, you know, the kind with earphones that clips on the belt? I have to listen to Reuben’s tape, and I want to get out of the office, go for a walk.”
“Both of the twins have one at home. I’ll be back shortly.”
Soon Mac was sitting on the bleachers overlooking the baseball diamond, earphones over his head. The first sound on the tape was that of Jeni’s garbled voice in the background, praying for her husband. As her voice got louder and more pitched, it came across as frenzied and eerie. Mac was not impressed.
And then it was Reuben: “May the name of the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified! I asked for and received permission from Brother Maclin to speak to you two successive Sundays.”
Click! Mac hit the off button. Thanks, Roo, he said to himself. You could have said Pastor Maclin or Pastor Mac. Thanks for undermining me before my entire congregation.
Recorder off, Mac’s thoughts drifted to tonight’s game. He ached to be here where he belonged, leading his team into battle. The bleachers on the home team side would be full, everyone knowing the importance of this game. And during the game people would be having their own game, the negatives versus the positives, each subtly trying to score points and win over the other side. Mac was sure the Grizzlies would bring a bus load of fans, noisy, riotous fans, that would try to intimidate the umpires and the Challengers. They needed this game, their reputation, their ego, their very worth at stake.
Walking around the park he clicked the player on again.
“I say again this message is for most, not all.” No, Roo! Mac imagined himself speaking to the plumber, You just don’t say things like that! No wonder our church is divided!
“2 Corinthians 5:10: We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” Mac was perturbed by the lengthy pauses, trying to imagine how intimidated his people must have felt. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ!” Why does he feel he has to repeat himself? “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ!” Okay, Roo, we get it already!
“In my opinion you are not ready to give an account to Christ.” Wow! A plumber has some inside information the rest of us don’t have! Surely he’s not going to say it again. “You are not ready to give an account to Christ.” Oh, great! Surely not a third time! “You are not ready to give an account to Christ.
“In my opinion, my friends, most of your works are wood, hay, and straw. They will be consumed by fire.” Ouch! No wonder Vivian walked out! Most of the works he’s referring to have been done through the Center under my direction and ministry!
“You speak what is in your heart, and you rarely speak Christ.” Click! That’s just not true! Mac considered Reuben’s laughable comment. It would be easy to prove Reuben wrong, all he had to do was check his memory. He thought about encounters with individuals from his congregation, trying to recall hearing someone speak of Christ. He couldn’t. Yes, some mentioned God a few times, but not Jesus. But how could he be expected to remember?
Click. “During our work day in the park I never heard the name of Jesus mentioned once.” Click! That’s quite an accusation, pal! Mac was getting increasingly irritated with his back catcher. He was determined to recall at least one time when someone spoke the name of Jesus Christ. He had made the rounds from one person to another that day; he was in the kitchen, the yards, washrooms, baseball diamond, everywhere. He parked himself under a large elm, determined not to move until he remembered at least one occasion when he, or someone, mentioned the Name. Finally he thought of the blessing before their meal that he ended with, “In the name of Jesus, Amen.” But he had to admit that didn’t really count.
He was up on his feet, exiting the park, walking the streets. He thought about his family, recalling various scenarios – sitting around the meal table, driving here and there, in the rec room, fishing with Kyle, in the living room with Katie, talking church affairs with Vivian. To his exasperation, he could not remember the name of Christ being mentioned.
What about the convention, still fresh in his mind? His quickened pace did nothing to help him recall the Name being mentioned as each speaker rolled through his mind. Phil purchased the tapes; Mac would have to borrow and scrutinize them. Surely, surely, he inwardly reasoned, the name of Christ must have been mentioned at a conference of pastors, appointed leaders of Christ’s flock! Leaning on a concrete bridge overlooking one of the small tributaries soon to make its way to the great falls, Mac considered his own message. He couldn’t make his memory evoke one instance of the use of Jesus’ name. And then he happily called to mind the communion service. Oh yes, the name of Jesus was lifted up several times! What a sweet time it was, everyone enjoying the Presence. Praise the Lord!
Mac broke into a jog, earphones around his neck, thinking about his many messages to his congregation at the Center. Yes, he did remember quoting Jesus occasionally, and using Him as an example of righteous living. His relief, however, was as minimal as the few times he could recollect using the Name.
Only the one having little perception of human temperament would conclude that such a revelation would be accompanied by remorse. If man were so easily affected by truth the world would be less messy. Mac’s defenses went up, entering fully into denial, dismissing the matter as inconsequential, and returned to his anger against the insensitive plumber.
Back in the bleachers Mac fast-forwarded the pauses and the repeated statements, quickly bringing him to the end of Reuben’s message. He told Roo he would listen to the tape, didn’t promise to hear – he kept his word. Back in his office he was on the intercom: “Phil, please arrange a meeting for me with Reuben Tanner, preferably tomorrow afternoon in my office.” Time for a showdown.