tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 6:15: p.m.
Already the bleachers on the home-team side were beginning to fill, such the importance of this game. Baseball is not a male-thing-only at the Center; over the years many women embraced the Challengers as theirs too, and female attendees often outnumbered the men.
More than anything, Sunday service excluded, baseball was responsible for the bonding of the congregation. Baseball is fun, and the spring and summer gatherings of the fans made the workweek much more pleasant, not just the game but the camaraderie, the peanuts and sunflower seeds and soft drinks and coffee, the bleacher discussions on last week’s service and other church matters, and maybe arguments over the latest happening in televangelism. The baseball players considered the fans as part of the team. After giving low fives and handshakes to the opposing team at the end of the game, they lined up a second time to greet the fans with high fives and occasional hugs.
All were aware of the import of this game. Win tonight, and they had a good chance at making the playoffs. Win tonight, and everyone would fear them, knowing they were able to beat the best. Win tonight, and they had a fair shot at becoming the 2007 champions. Win tonight, and the shame of past years poor performances could be erased.
But still the game was quite secondary to the Tanner question. Reuben Tanner totally disrupted their sameness and security, an unexpected tempest that would not soon pass. Like the players now going through their warm-up on the field, the fans were experiencing the butterflies, the conflict in the stands as real as the one on the diamond.
Katie Maclin arrived a half-hour early to enjoy the anticipation of the game. Mom told her Dad would miss the game because of an emergency board meeting; knowing the need for a win, this disappointed her, but more, she carried a concern for the church, her nucleus since a child. She saved seats for the other vocalists of the MorLord Worship Band — Tanya, Marie and Todd. They were closer than ever since Katie relinquished lead to Todd on Sunday and apologized to her colleagues for her manipulation. She had not yet apologized to Kyle and John, Kyle because he left the service early and had since avoided her, and John who she hasn’t seen since before the convention. Sometimes the four vocalists practiced during the game by humming or quietly singing praise songs in harmony, this to the enjoyment of nearby Challengers fans.
How smart the Challengers looked in their light-gray, striped uniforms and black caps, Katie thought as she watched the infielders pick up practice grounders and smartly throw to first base, much classier than the gaudy brownish-red and bright blue uniforms of the Grizzlies. Kyle would be pitching tonight, and Katie hoped the Grizzlies would just play ball and not try to intimidate him. She had to admit most of her attention would not be on the pitcher tonight, but the shortstop. Oh, if we could just talk again, like that work day under the elm. Why didn’t he phone me after the conference? Did he decide to not enter the ministry? John Douglas, it doesn’t matter anymore!…… Maybe he’s just not interested in me. She knew her brother would not make an arrangement like he did before, his loyalty being with Mom and Dad, no longer sure he wanted a Tanner for an in-law. Things are turning ugly, Katie thought a woeful thought. Tomorrow night and Thursday night John would be at band practice preparing for Saturday’s big event, but her brother would be watchful they don’t have alone time. With sadness Katie thought of her brother and John, their lifetime friendship seemingly at risk.
The Grizzlies fans arrived in what was once an orange school bus, now rusty and dirty and tilting to one side, as the Challengers were having their infield practice. Their loud laughter as they climbed out of the bus was an indication they had been drinking on the way. It could be quite a night.
Tree was doing what coaches do, chewing a big wad of gum, going over the batting order, making sure everyone knew the signals, lining the equipment in front of the dugout, barking orders, making his presence felt. Tree was the only one who knew this was his last game, not only of the season but his life. He would miss the playoffs, but he badly wanted another trophy for top spot of the regular season, which he intended to take to the grave with him as proof his life had not been an entire flop. He felt bad for Mac, knowing his bud wanted this game bad to make the playoffs for the first time, but this was war, and in war there is no mercy.
Tree realized his team was aging, not having young replacements other teams were picking up, this because many youngsters coming up from minor leagues did not want to join the tacky Grizzlies. So Tree’s team relied heavily on cunning and intimidation, when necessary, and knowing Mac’s boy was on the mound, hoped it would not be necessary tonight.
It galled Phil Ferguson to have to ask Reuben to assist him as coach; it galled him further that Reuben was a better coach than he, and the team would look to him for leadership. Baseball is a battle of the mind, a battle of the heart, a battle of the will, and on all three Phil was mediocre, far below his counterpart in the other dugout. He was assistant coach only because he was assistant pastor, others more qualified passed over, such the demands of church politics. He would try his best to put on an air of confidence, but putting on is never a substitute for being. The Grizzlies were expert at sensing a weakness and exploiting it to the fullest. Phil was in for a real battle.
Kyle Maclin was throwing practice pitches to Reuben Tanner. Usually Kyle submitted to Reuben’s signals; tonight would be different. If it were not for Mr. Tanner his dad would be here tonight, coaching, leading, encouraging. If it were not for Mr. Tanner his mom and her protest departure would not be the talk of the Center, and he and his sister would not be alienated. If it were not for Mr. Tanner his dad’s church would not be going through an upheaval. Yielding to Mr. Tanner’s signals would be a betrayal to his father; he would rather lose.
Jeni Tanner was seated behind the MorLord singers with four of her children, the oldest sixteen, the youngest eleven. The June evening was cloudless and warm, the cool breeze refreshing, and yet every part of her knew she was in the middle of a storm. As important as this game was to the fans it was secondary to the controversy encircling her husband. When the breeze occasionally lulled or shifted she could pick up pieces of conversation that had nothing to do with baseball. Questions and subsequent conjectures bounced back and forth.“Where is Pastor Mac? I heard he is at an emergency board meeting …… Did Tony Borric resign or was he asked to leave? I don’t think he was happy about Reuben Tanner preaching …… Did you hear Pastor Mac is on vacation? Maybe it’s got something to do with Vivian walking out of church …… Who’s going to preach on Sunday? I don’t think the board is going to let Tanner speak again. Look what happened last time …… Etc., etc.”
And Jeni sensed the division was also on the playing field, brother against brother. The advantage of unity, always more prevalent than the opposing team, had been blown away in an hour sermon.
Almost directly in front of Jeni was the girl her son wanted as his wife, of this she was now certain. What price John would be willing to pay for her, Jeni was not sure. Would he change the direction of his life? Would he compromise? Would he surrender the lordship of Jesus Christ? Jeni would have been comforted had she known of Katie’s encounter with Christ as a result of Reuben’s forthright words and her apology to the band.
Reuben and Mac were the two rocks on which the Challengers found security. It was not their athleticism alone, both in their early forties were nearing the end of their baseball playing careers, but their inner strength and savvy. Neither could be shaken and the Grizzlies, as well as other teams, knew it.
But one of the rocks was absent and quite annoyed at the other, and the other under a heavy load, the center of controversy. He preached Christ to his friends and, to his surprise and dismay, division resulted. He coupled tomorrow’s appointment with Mac, arranged by Phil, with Jeni’s prediction he would not be preaching on Sunday, and concluded the second half of his message would never be delivered. But Lord, it has to be! he prayed as he returned the ball to Kyle.
John Douglas would have to work as hard as any to stay focused on the game. He would have to forget about Katie sitting in the bleachers, wondering if things were okay between them. And he would have to stop looking up through the backstop fencing where he could see the church building where the board of elders will soon be gathered to make a decision regarding his father. He would have to stop feeling embarrassed for his dad and the shame accompanying that embarrassment. Two days ago he was on his way home from a conference soaring with expectations; now his world was crumbling. To go the way he was determined meant a separation from the man most influential in his life, his father – the one he most respected, a possible exception being Pastor Mac. Also there was tension between him and Kyle, and wasn’t sure why. There was tension between Kyle and Katie’s mom and his mom, their dad and his dad, his dad and at least some of the board members. Did all this mean it was over, if it really did begin, between him and Katie?
Concentrate! he scolded himself. We need this game!
“Batter!” The umpire was impatient to get the game underway.
Kyle ignored the back catcher’s signals, depending on his own prowess to get the job done. Reuben was impressed with Kyle’s improved curve; he also knew if he threw it too often the batters would catch on and smoke it. Kyle struck out the first three batters and his confidence swelled. The Challengers got two runs their first time at bats, and things were looking sweet, sweet, sweet.
The top of the third inning, score now four zip and the Grizzlies very not happy, brought Spike to the batters box. Spike was mean, Spike wanted this game, Spike knew how to intimidate. He deliberately deflected one of Kyle’s pitches with his meaty arm, and pretended to be infuriated with the pitcher for deliberately hitting him. He headed straight for Kyle, bat in hand, yelling profanities and threats at the lad. The Challengers fielders rushed to Kyle’s rescue like Spike knew they would, the Grizzlies came pouring out of their dugout rushing the mound like Spike knew they would, the Grizzlies fans roared their protest at Kyle like Spike knew they would, and for the rest of the game Kyle was off his game — like Spike knew he would be. Kyle’s pitches were less authoritative after that encounter, and the Grizzlies, getting used to Kyle’s curve, began to hit.
The umpire ordered Spike to first base, a consolation for being hit, and the next batter smoked the ball between third base and shortstop; fortunately John managed to catch it in the air, low to the ground, for the first out. The next batter hit a hard grounder to the Challengers second baseman who neatly flicked it to John the shortstop to get Spike, rushing to second base, on a force play for the second out. Spike, knowing he was out, slid into second with one of his cleated shoes high in the air to keep John from making a double play. It didn’t work. John smartly sidestepped Spike, threw to first in time to get the third out, and immediately headed for the dugout leaving Spike sprawled atop second base, dusty and looking silly.
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
It was a somber group of seven that met around the boardroom table, the closed Bible a reminder they had lost one of their comrades over the Tanner issue. Mac suggested they spend fifteen minutes in prayer before opening the meeting, which turned out to be over a half hour. The elders sensed only God could fix this mess, and were fervent in their appeal to Him. And then……
Terry Maclin: So let’s get at it, my brothers. It seems our church is in a crisis. I must admit I was overwhelmed, on returning from the convention, by the suddenness of the storm. I take full responsibility for the predicament we are in. I suggest we continue to lean heavily on the Lord, trusting Him to bring us through with unity restored. Sheldon?
Sheldon Waters: Thank you, Pastor. I don’t think anyone here is going to let you bear the responsibility alone.
Everyone: That’s right! Amen!
Sheldon Waters: At our last meeting we were unsuccessful at coming to an agreement regarding Tanner’s appeal to reverse Pastor Mac’s decision. We unanimously agreed that Pastor Mac would make the final decision, assuring him we would back him up on any decision he made. Pastor Mac, could you give us an update, telling us why you decided to grant Tanner permission?
Terry Maclin: Be happy to. One reason I turned Reuben down originally was because I don’t believe anyone who is not accountable warrants the pulpit. I was certainly not convinced God spoke to Reuben to give a message to the congregation. As Donald pointed out at our last meeting, God is orderly and does not work that way. To think otherwise is to deny the validity of our denomination, or any denomination for that matter. However, my inclination was to let Reuben speak simply because I thought less damage would be done by saying yes than no. As you know, Reuben has the affection and respect of many. Saying no could cause serious complications. I didn’t think he would just drop the matter; his appeal to the board to overturn my decision was an indication he was determined to reach the people one way or another; this would cause a conflict, a conflict that would hurt everyone. Before giving permission I inquired of Reuben the topic of his message, and his answer, relationship and accountability to Christ, seemed harmless enough. Also, I told him to never again ask permission to speak to the congregation.
I feel obligated to tell you, after giving Reuben permission I asked him what he would have done had I said no. I will never forget his response. He looked at me quizzically and said, “What would I do? Nothing. What could I do but accept your decision?”
Brent Anderson: You mean to say, if you had asked him prior to giving him permission rather than after, we would not be in this mess …… that is, this situation?
Terry Maclin: That’s what I’m saying.
Sheldon Waters: Well, the fact is we are in a …… situation. Where do we go from here? Everyone was at the service on Sunday except Pastor Mac. I know we have all been on the phone with each other voicing our opinions. Now we should voice those opinions before everyone. Let’s go around the table. Donald?
Donald Williamson: Tomas, a while back you asked me, “Why do you want to shut us up? What are you afraid of?” I think it’s obvious to everyone why I wanted to put a lid on this thing. Some subjects should be avoided. Challenging church policy can do more harm than good.
Now regarding Tanner’s performance: as I said before, you can evaluate anything by its fruit. We can clearly see the fruit of this thing is bad. The man speaks for an hour and our church is split. Where do we go from here? We make it a policy to never allow a layman to speak from our pulpit again – under any circumstances!
Some others: Amen!
Sheldon Waters: David, would you like to respond to Donald’s remarks?
David Tomas: Respectfully decline.
Sheldon Waters: Nelson, your turn.
Nelson Chesney: I am very upset for our church. I’ve been here a long time, I’ve grown to love the people, and now I see friendships tested, people confused. We made a mistake. Looking back, we should have relied more upon the wisdom of others, and I’m referring to our denomination, instead of departing from policy.
Shaun Edwards: Reuben Tanner’s words brought me, literally, to my knees. He opened my eyes. The veil has been lifted. I had departed from Christ and didn’t know it. Now I’ve returned, never to leave His side again. I agree with Donald, we can evaluate by the forthcoming fruit. For both me and my wife the fruit has been very good.
Brent Anderson: While I’m happy for you, Shaun, I am also disappointed we are again divided. I suggest we stop evaluating. Let this thing blow over. Let’s get back to church as usual.
David Tomas: It won’t happen, Brent. Our church will never be the same. I feel I must report that a number of our people will be attending Reuben’s Wednesday night gathering, undoubtedly a direct result of his pulpit ministry.
Nelson Chesney: What?! Tanner must have made it known he was holding meetings! He double-crossed us!
David Tomas: Actually, not. I think I am the one responsible. Like everyone here, I got concerned phone calls. I inadvertently mentioned Reuben’s gathering a few times and, obviously, the news spread.
Donald Williamson: Are you going to attend?
David Tomas: No. I heard your concerns at the last meeting. I will have to make it a matter of prayer. But my wife will be attending.
Donald Williamson: Why don’t you stop her?
David Tomas: I will not discourage her from attending. And that is to our advantage, is it not? This way I will be able to convey to the board the number of people from the Center that do attend.
Donald Williamson: What’s your guess? How many of our people do you think will be there?
David Tomas: I don’t know. Five? Fifteen? I really don’t know.
Donald Williamson: Fifteen?!
Brent Anderson: Man, this is serious stuff! Is this the beginning of the Center’s demise? How many will attend next week? How do we know Tanner won’t start his own church?
Nelson Chesney: Pastor Mac, can’t you talk to Reuben? Reason with the man?
Terry Maclin: I can try. I arranged an appointment with Reuben for tomorrow. However, it is obvious he has little confidence in my leadership; why should we expect him to cooperate? We must pray fervently for the Lord to work this out. Much is at stake. We have impacted our community in various ways, all positive. Will we lose our witness? Will Bryden Falls no longer have a group of people who can live in harmony as a witness to the reality of the love of God? Sheldon, I would like to say a few words about the convention.
Sheldon Waters: Please do, Pastor.
Terry Maclin: I was impressed by the unity, the commitment of my peers to each other and to leadership. Our denomination has grown by thirty percent in the last ten years. I believe this success is a fruit of pastors living in unity, bowing to the wisdom of our superiors at head office. Personally, I have renewed my commitment to the people to whom I am accountable. I cannot expect others to submit to my leadership unless I, in turn, submit to others. In the future I will maintain closer contact with my seniors. Had I asked for their advice before giving Reuben the okay, our congregation would not be divided today.
Donald Williamson: That’s Godly wisdom, Pastor Mac!
Terry Maclin: Further, I think, in time, we ought to clarify the function and responsibility of this board of elders, as well as its limitations, if any. While the board has final authority at the Center, I am under the authority of the denomination that holds my credentials. It seems to me, as a matter for future consideration, the board should decide if it, too, should place itself under the same power I am under, for the sake of unity and for the sake of practical functioning.
Donald Williamson: Godly wisdom!
Sheldon Waters: Thank you, Pastor. I think that brings us close to the end of our meeting. I make a motion that, from this time forward, no non-credentialed person speak from our pulpit. Perhaps we can catch the last of the ballgame!
David Tomas: Does that include this coming Sunday?
Donald Williamson: Of course it does! Who knows how many people will be at the Tanners next week if he gets the pulpit a second time! Refusing to let him give the second half of his message is making a strong statement to the congregation that we collectively oppose Tanner!
Sheldon Waters: Okay, around the table.
Donald Williamson: I certainly agree.
Nelson Chesney: I strongly agree.
Shaun Edwards: I reluctantly agree.
Brent Anderson: I agree.
David Tomas: I reluctantly agree.
Sheldon Waters: I agree.
Terry Maclin: I disagree.
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 8:00 p.m.
The score at the top of the fifth was Grizzlies five, Challengers four, Kyle’s curve no longer a menace to their powerful hitters. Kyle lacked Reuben’s experience in outsmarting the batter, yet he refused to accept his signals. His shoulders drooped under the razzing of the Grizzlies fans. Roo could see the umpire was also weakening under their intimidating jeers and Tree’s constant complaining from his dugout, and could tell that, to appease them, the ump called the close ones balls instead of strikes. This meant Kyle had to throw more pitches and his arm was tiring. It was time for a pitcher change, John, the number three hurler, the logical choice, but Phil seemed paralyzed with indecision.
The first batter Kyle faced was Spike. Nervous to hit him again, the umpire giving the close ones to the batter, Spike got a walk to first. Spike was determined not to be the victim of a double play again. The next on the Grizzlies line-up did the same as in the third inning and hit the ball to the second baseman, another double play looking imminent. This time, however, the ball spun crazily, and the second baseman had trouble gripping the ball. Spike ran by him heading to second when he finally made the throw to John waiting at second base. Spike again slid, full force and one leg high, into second catching John’s leg at the knee just as John was releasing the ball in an attempt to beat the runner to first. Crack! went the ugly sound that could be heard throughout the infield. John went heavily to the ground landing flat on his back. When Spike saw the bottom half of John’s leg lying perpendicular to his outstretched body the big man was instantly remorseful. “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! God, I’m sorry!”
John’s throw to first was wild, skipping past the first baseman. Roo was doing his job, being where he was supposed to be, covering the first baseman and now scrambling for the loose ball. Jeni and Katie stood and screamed, “John!” at the same instant. Everyone on both bleachers was soon on their feet, many with hands covering their mouths, aghast at the leg that lay stupidly at a ninety-degree angle from John’s body. Reuben picked up the loose ball, the umpire yelled time out, the fielders ran to their fallen shortstop, and it was then that Reuben could see, between the legs of the players around him, his son lying on the ground.
“No, Roo, don’t look!” the first base ump stood between John and the back catcher heading towards his son. Reuben grabbed the portly man by his blue shirt, lifting him effortlessly out of his path, and soon was kneeling at his son’s side.
Phil Ferguson yelled, “Find someone with a cell phone and call 9-1-1!” Someone else yelled, “He needs a jacket to prop his head!” And someone else, “We need an ambulance now!”
“Quiet!” Reuben yelled at both the Challengers and the Grizzlies that rushed to the injured number sixteen. He then stood up and rotated a friendly gaze at each one. “Quiet,” he said calmly this time. And then he turned to his son, face sweaty and grimacing.
“John,” he said gently, “in the name of Jesus Christ, get to your feet.” Though John’s eyes were locked to his father’s he could barely focus, a confounded look on his face.
“John Douglas!” Reuben said more emphatically, as a stern father would speak to a distracted son. “Obey your father! In the name of Jesus Christ, get to your feet.”
And that’s what John did, no help from anyone.
“Oh, my God!” said a few of the ballplayers. “Oh, my God!” could be heard throughout the bleachers. “Did you see that?!” more than one exclaimed. “I thought the kid broke his leg!” said an excited Grizzlies fan.
Jeni wanted to run to her son. Katie wanted to run to her friend. Tree, genuinely pained for the wounded shortstop, wanted to run to his opponent. But each stood speechless in their place, the umpire yelled, “Let’s play ball!” and Roo returned to his post behind the plate.
Phil said to John, “You better sit the rest of the game,” as he waved a substitute into the field.
“But Pastor Phil! I’m okay! I really am! The Lord healed me! I want to ……”
“The dugout, John!” Phil said emphatically. The realm of church politics stretched into the baseball diamond; a miracle at Reuben Tanner’s hand would not be a good thing for the Center at this time. “I don’t want any complications to your injury.”
John submissively walked to the dugout, on the way glancing wonderingly towards his father, squatted and masked, behind home plate, intent as always at doing his job.
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 8:10 p.m.
Terry Maclin: Disagree.
Donald Williamson: What?!
Nelson Chesney: No, Pastor!
Brent Anderson: You disagree, Pastor? I thought I heard you say it was a mistake to have a layman preach on Sunday mornings?
Sheldon Waters: Okay, everyone! Let’s give Pastor Mac opportunity to explain his position. Pastor?
Terry Maclin: Thank you. I gave Reuben my word he could speak to the congregation two successive Sundays. Though I since regret that decision I nonetheless am obligated to keep my word.
Donald Williamson: No! Absolutely not! The church is being split before our very eyes and we are going to allow the man to come back to do more damage? I say no! Unthinkable!
Brent Anderson: The way I see it, Pastor Mac, you are cleared if we, the board, reverse our decision to let Tanner speak.
Sheldon Waters: Correction, Brent. We never gave our okay. We could not come to a conclusion and asked Pastor Mac to make the final decision.
Brent Anderson: So let’s come to a conclusion right now! If we agree Tanner does not preach Pastor Mac is cleared. It is not Pastor Mac breaking his word; it is the board overruling him.
Sheldon Waters: We have never overruled the pastor; are we sure we want to do that?
Brent Anderson: Only by Pastor Mac’s approval. It will get him out of the predicament of being bound by his word. This is an extreme matter and it seems to call for a delicate approach.
Donald Williamson: I agree. Let’s do what it takes to protect our people.
Shaun Edwards: I could never agree to such a thing! As Pastor Mac gave his word to Reuben we likewise gave our word to Pastor Mac, to back him up on any decision he made.
David Tomas: At the beginning of this meeting we asked the Lord to get us out of this crisis. It seems to me breaking our word is no way to attain His help.
Donald Williamson: This is madness! The man speaks for an hour, brings schism to our assembly, and we actually entertain the possibility of welcoming him back! “Come on, Tanner! Let’s see how much more pain and confusion and division you can cause! Make it good now, you only get one more chance!” Madness!
Sheldon Waters: I see we are divided again.
Nelson Chesney: I suppose if we forbid him to speak we are admitting to everyone we made a mistake. Everyone knows he was given permission to speak two successive Sundays. Saying no now will be quite controversial and perhaps even inflammatory.
Shaun Edwards: I appreciate your comment, Nelson, but could I suggest we, as a board, learn to put right over expediency?
Donald Williamson: What is that supposed to mean?
Shaun Edwards: The Bible always seems to speak of right versus wrong; we often make decisions by what is practical and what is impractical.
Donald Williamson: Does the Bible teach us to throw common sense out the window?
Nelson Chesney: Now we are back to the Bible again!
David Tomas: Personally, I think that’s a good place to be. I ask everyone at this table to think back to Reuben’s message. What did Reuben say in his discourse that was contrary to the Bible?
Donald Williamson: Okay, let’s play this little game. I will go first. At the very beginning of his – okay, let’s be generous and use the term discourse – Tanner referred to Pastor Mac as Brother Maclin, not, Pastor Maclin! This is not showing respect for the one in leadership, as the Bible tells us to do, nor the office he holds. He set a bad example before the entire church!
Nelson Chesney: I picked that up too.
David Tomas: Shaun?
Shaun Edwards: I’ve said it before; the Bible gives no example of calling a man Pastor, nor any other title. I don’t see obeying the Bible is being disrespectful to Pastor Mac or the position he holds.
Donald Williamson: Okay, let’s see you duck this one. The Bible teaches us not to judge one another. Tanner judged everyone! He insinuated he knew who was prepared for the judgment seat of Christ and who is not. Also, the Bible tells us to speak the truth; he did not speak the truth when he said most of us were not doing well, our works will be consumed by fire. The Bible tells us to be gentle; can anyone here say he was gentle? He was being vindictive!
Sheldon Waters: Nelson and Brent, could you respond to Donald’s statements? I would like to hear from both of you.
Brent Anderson: I remember Tanner saying, “In my opinion.” He was stating an opinion. Obviously he has a deep conviction we are not doing well. I guess we should be asking ourselves, “Are we?”
Nelson Chesney: I can’t say he was harsh, though he had some very harsh things to say. His mannerism was actually gentle. I saw love, certainly not malice. However, I think it was a mistake to let him speak, and it would be another mistake to let him speak again. I disagree we, as a congregation, are not doing well. I think it is obvious we are the most giving and fruitful church in town. An example, on Saturday night the MorLord Worship Band will be performing to hundreds of citizens of Bryden Falls. It took years to build up the trust the community has for us.
Sheldon Waters: Thank you, brothers. Anyone?
David Tomas: Reuben Tanner was admonishing us to develop a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the crux of his message. Because many were offended by that word is no reason to reverse our decision. How many people were offended by the words of Christ? – yet He did not alter His message.
Donald Williamson: You still don’t get it, do you Tomas? Reuben Tanner was undermining our pastor before the entire congregation. Assuming the church is in such bad shape, as Tanner suggests, who is considered responsible? Who will the people blame? Their trust in Pastor Mac has been badly undermined. Allowing him to do a repeat performance will further harm the confidence they have in our pastor.
The arguments went around and around the table. It was obvious to Mac the board would not be able to come to a conclusion, and again he would be left to make the final decision. And he was determined to keep his word.
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 8:30 p.m.
Sixth inning. The Challengers were down by two runs. John’s absence was a blow to his team and Kyle was tiring, his curve had less curve and bases were loaded from batters patiently waiting for Maclin to walk them. The inexplicable incident with the Challengers shortstop doused the frenzy of the unruly Grizzlies fans but not for long, and now every pitch from Kyle was accompanied with taunts. Finally Phil, considered the number four pitcher behind Mac, Kyle and John, took over at the mound.
Sitting by himself in the dugout, John went over and over the last inning. He had never seen a healing miracle before, and had to convince himself that it was more than a fantasy, it really happened. As he rubbed his leg at the knee, not because of any pain but simply to convince himself the healing was real, questions came. Why am I sitting in this dugout when the team needs me? I should be pitching. Why wasn’t Pastor Phil thrilled that my leg was healed? Why wasn’t Kyle, my lifelong friend, ecstatic? Why aren’t the other guys slapping me on the back and telling me how relieved they are I’m not hurt?
Phil let in three more runs before the team got the third out, the score now nine to four. Fortunately, the Grizzlies pitcher was also tiring, and the Challengers managed to fill the bases, mostly with walks. There were two out when number twenty-one came to the plate. John noticed no one in the dugout was cheering his dad. Why? The Challengers fans in the bleachers would normally be chanting, “Roo! Roo! Roo!” But not tonight. John watched his father at bat, trying to peer inside the man as he had many times over the years – the man he once idolized but from whom, in the last year or so, had drifted – trying to make sense of the controversy surrounding him. There he was in a perfect batters stance so familiar to John, fearlessly crowding the plate as always, wise and determined and patient, outwaiting the pitcher. The pitcher knew Reuben was dangerous but if he walked him the runner on third base would automatically score a run. With the count three balls and one strike, the pitcher tried to throw a fastball pass Roo. A mistake. Roo outguessed him and had predetermined to swing. Whack! The ball soared over the right fielders head and over the fence, a grand slam home run!! The score was much more respectable now, nine to eight.
The Challengers met Roo at home plate with high fives as was custom when someone got a home run, but there was a reluctance. Reuben got them back into the game; they should have been jumping for joy. Why? John asked himself. Why?
And then he saw the obvious. Cheering Reuben Tanner could be seen as siding with Reuben Tanner; siding with Reuben Tanner could be interpreted as betrayal to Pastor Mac.
John had only listened to a part of his dad’s Sunday message on tape, sort of listened, a dutiful and somewhat curious son, but not a son anticipating anything significant from his plumber-dad. Mrs. Maclin had told his mom the message seriously undermined Pastor Mac and the confidence the people had in his leadership. Is this what it comes down to, pastor versus plumber? Not truth versus error? Not right versus wrong?
And then he realized an obvious: Pastor Phil doesn’t want the people to know I am healed! That would be an endorsement of Dad and his message! And that’s why I’m sitting in this dugout! It’s making a statement to the people I’m not really healed! If I were healed I would be playing ball! It’s not right! It’s not fair!
Seventh inning. John Douglas was staring at the masked catcher squatted under the powerful mercury vapor lights fending off the enclosing June dark, but it was also himself he was looking into, a rare introspection spurred by the miracle healing. Few in my church, few in the entire world, have been blessed as I have been! Tears leaked out of his eyes as he thought of his idyllic world at the ranch, the daily tokens of a mother’s love, sounds of happy laughter with brothers and sisters. He recalled the many family weekend excursions on horseback to the backcountry, the numerous nights around campfires, eating and singing and praising Jesus, the many times lying awake in his sleeping bag staring at the brilliant stars, appreciating God as his parents taught him to do.
John remembered the time Dad challenged the five kids to build a guest house, all by themselves, no help from Dad or Mom except for direction, advice and encouragement. It was a challenging undertaking, many would say a task too large for those so young. First, the blueprints; draw them up, all five involved, and get them approved by the building department in Bryden Falls. Then the excavation; Reuben helped John master the rented excavator transported to the ranch on a huge truck. Then the foundation; the budget didn’t allow for ready-mixed concrete to be hauled that far from town; they all experienced sore muscles from feeding the concrete mixer with sand, gravel and bagged cement, and wheeling the heavy concrete in wheelbarrows to the forms. Then the flooring and framing of the walls; Reuben would patiently give instructions from his office desk, and the kids, under John’s leadership, would wrestle the lumber into place. Next the roof; five children, ranging from nine to sixteen, were nailing their own hand-split cedar shingles on the high-pitched roof. The kids learned plumbing, electrical, plastering, finishing carpentry, painting and many etceteras. Seven months from the start, five youngsters at the completed end of the project were much more confident and able than at the beginning.
Watching his plumber-catcher father at work behind the plate, John thought of the hundreds of times his dad led his family in a communion service after a meal, breaking bread and drinking home-made grape juice in remembrance of Christ. He was always moved by his dad’s solemnity, moistened eyes, reverent voice. And then John considered how he drifted from his father, and yes, his father’s Christ, lured by the excitement and glamor of church life. It had never occurred to John Douglas before this moment alone in the dugout – John’s hero was no longer his father, his father having been toppled by Pastor Mac.
The pulpit had done that. Every Sunday for many years John sat under the sound of Mac’s voice, an impressionable teen being impressed not only by the pastor’s presentation, but the man himself. Every Sunday he inched closer to conversion to the pastor and the denomination he represented. Eighteen years of age, he, like his best friend Kyle, had already become a denominational person, biased and controlled. Not until this moment, a rare moment of clarity, a spiritual moment alone in the dugout, did he grasp the power of peer pressure that fashioned his young life, not only pressure from the young people to whom he had become knitted, but the adults who themselves were thoroughly attached to…… to what?…… certainly something different than his father was attached to.
Never before this game had he been in the dugout when his dad was behind home plate. From here he could see most clearly his dad’s professionalism. Squatting rigid behind the plate, never leaning on one knee to make himself comfortable, his glove a still target for the pitcher. Never did he try to influence the ump by jerking his glove back to the middle of the plate after catching an outside or inside pitch. Never a complaint. Never body language after a bad call. After chasing a foul ball he ran back to his place behind the plate, no matter how late the inning or punishing the sun.
His professionalism influenced everyone on the team. It was hard to play casual when the back catcher, always in everyone’s sight, was giving his all. Every game. Every inning. Never did he lose his composure or friendliness. Several times in a game he handed the opponent a fallen bat. And he was a real strength to his team. For years it was his habit to point with his glove to a fellow Challenger who made a good play while slapping his left shoulder with his other hand, his sign that said Good Play! or Nice try! Soon everyone adapted the habit, and encouraging each other through signals long ago became a team thing. The team was classier because of their back catcher.
And everyone respected his mastery of the game. He was fearless, never hesitating to throw a ball to first, and even second and third, if the runner was getting bold and straying from the bag, always trusting the baseman to catch his hard and accurate throw, though many times he did not. John knew, as did the other players, his dad’s expertise behind the plate robbed the opponent of one or two runs per game, which won them several games throughout the year. John was sure Dad’s professionalism influenced everyone, even the umps and opponent team, to give their best.
At this precious moment of time, John felt privileged as never before to be the son of the man inside the professional. Dad and Mom are…… are…… good people! Yes, they are good!, good being a word he could place on very few.Enveloped in the presence of the Holy Spirit, his heart pried wide open by the miracle healing, John wasn’t the slightest concerned who might see his tears falling freely to the dugout floor. They love Jesus with their lives. They brought me up to love God and serve Him wholeheartedly. Who else had the faith in Christ to heal my leg? And who can match Dad’s character and integrity? Pastor Phil? Pastor Mac? Superintendent Johnston? Kyle?…… Katie?
Katie. John thought about Katie, tried to see inside Katie, was well aware of Katie seated in the bleachers. Was she thrilled with my healing or did she, like many, consider it a threat? Whatever or whoever held Katie’s loyalty, John concluded with deep sadness, it was not Jesus.
And where do I stand? Am I another lukewarm evangelical content to capture the approval of others? Go with the flow? “In the name of Jesus Christ, get to your feet,” the words of John’s father echoed in his mind. Jesus, You healed me! I should be in Bryden Falls Hospital at this very moment with a serious injury! But You healed me! Sitting alone, very alone, in the dugout, John Tanner recommitted his life, more fully and fervently than ever, to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Good-bye, Pastor Phil,” he whispered.
And then, “Good-bye, Pastor Mac.”
And then after some hesitation, “Good-bye, Katie.”
Eighth inning. Like Kyle before him, Phil Ferguson was waning under the constant jeers of the Grizzlies fans and the players from the Grizzlies dugout. Whenever the umpire called a strike Tree bitterly complained against favoritism, and the Grizzlies fans booed their resentment. Tree became frenzied and demanded his batters to hit the ball; if a batter swung and missed the Grizzlies dugout shouted obscenities at him, obscenities meant to prod the batter, and more, to unnerve the Challengers and the Challengers fans. It was turning real ugly. Phil, as coach, should have called time out after every outburst and complained to the umpire, but didn’t, and Reuben hesitated to overstep him.
Jeni considered removing her children from the foul language but then had an inspiration. She began to hum Amazing Grace, just loud enough for the MorLord vocalists in front of her to hear. They picked up on it, and spontaneously the rest of the fans supported their worship band. Soon there was a beautiful humming sound emitting into the ball diamond, puzzling and then silencing the Grizzlies. During the remainder of the game they continued to hum various praise songs, the Grizzlies fans seemed to be mesmerized, and a calm prevailed.
By the time the Challengers got to bat they were down by two runs. Kyle was leadoff batter, and managed to hit one to the left field for a double, the cheers for his double much louder than Roo’s home run. John noticed in the excitement Kyle’s bat lying forgotten near the Grizzlies dugout. This was his chance. No one runs faster than John Douglas Tanner, and everyone could see number sixteen’s beautiful stride as he rushed full speed, as if in a race, to pick up the bat and return it to their dugout. “Isn’t that the kid that was hurt? Looks okay to me!” And, “That’s him, number sixteen!” And, “If he’s okay, why isn’t he playing?” And, “I’m sure that leg was broken! But look at him run!” An applause broke out from both bleachers. Pastor Phil was much less than pleased but did not, could not, say a word. Both Jeni and Katie had been fretful, needing assurance John really was okay. Katie turned to Mrs. Tanner gleefully, impulsively reached for her hand, and then, standing on her seat, gave Mrs. Tanner a warm hug, an extended hug that made a statement of support in front of everyone for the plumber’s wife. At that moment Jeni knew, just knew, she was embracing her future daughter-in-law. And that did not sadden her.
John seldom sat next to Reuben in the dugout, wanting his own space in life, independence. But change had come with his recommitment to Christ. After placing the bat in front of the dugout he joined his dad at the end of the bench, and with a voice sufficient for everyone in the dugout to hear, said, “I love you, Dad!” Did you hear that everyone? Did you hear, Pastor Phil? Kyle? I love my dad. I’m at his side now. Reuben Tanner’s reproach is now John Douglas Tanner’s reproach.
Tree should not be pitching tonight; he pitched a full game the night before and his arm needed a rest. But Tree was willing to pay any price it took to win this game; so he replaced the pitcher on the mound. He could not let Kyle Maclin score from second base and trim their lead to one. Besides, after tonight the condition of his pitching arm mattered not a little.
Warming up with ten practice pitches, he carried on the argument he was having with himself.
His leg was broken! Don’t try to tell me it wasn’t broken!
You were standing at the dugout. You couldn’t really tell if the leg was broken.
I’m not stupid! I can tell a broken leg when I see one!
Well, if it really was broken why isn’t the kid in the hospital? You just saw him run to pick up the bat.
I don’t know! All I know is the leg was broken! Some are calling it a miracle!
A miracle? That’s a joke. You don’t believe in miracles, remember?
Right! There was no miracle for Billy and Jesse and Pete and Greg!
Right. Now play ball.
The next batter sacrificed an out by bunting to get Kyle to third base. Tree managed to strike out the next two batters, but not before Kyle scored when the catcher missed one of Tree’s pitches. Heading into the ninth, the Grizzlies lead was cut to one, the score Grizzlies ten, Challengers nine.
Ninth inning. Phil Ferguson was not pitching well tonight, he should not have been pitching at all, John Tanner should be at the mound. Tree could see Phil was weakening, and gave instructions to his players to work for a walk instead of trying to get on base with a hit. It worked. Soon the bases were loaded, none out.
Reuben called time, walked to the pitcher’s mound, and catcher and pitcher seemed to be having an in-depth dialog. Tree complained to the umpire about a delay-of-game, the umpire yelled, “Play ball!” and Phil yelled back, “Pitcher change!” Who are they going to put in now? Tree wondered. They don’t have a solid pitcher left except the Tanner kid and seems like he’s benched. Looks like the game is ours. And then he saw Reuben stripping off his gear and Phil putting it on himself. What’s this? Tree asked himself. Over the years Tree had never seen Roo pitch, and if he had ever pitched against another team he would have heard.
In fact, Reuben Tanner never pitched in his life, always behind the plate. He couldn’t throw a slider, a curve, or a drop ball if his life depended on it. But he could throw hard.
For more than twenty-five years, Reuben threw the ball more times in a game than any other player, including the pitcher. In his career he returned the ball to the pitcher perhaps a half a million times, strengthening his already brawny arm, his throw so strong and accurate few runners would try to steal a base on him. But he had never pitched before. But this was a desperate situation. But could he pull it off?
Reuben waived away his practice pitches, not wanting to give the opposition time to strategize. Spike was the first to face him. Reuben threw hard down the middle and Spike swung late. “Strike one!” Reuben threw even harder and Spike swung late again. “Strike two!” Reuben intentionally threw high, Spike could not check his swing and……. “Strike three! Batter’s out!” The fans could no longer contain their enthusiasm, not the positives nor the negatives. “Roo! Roo! Roo!” they shouted. Phil called time out, ran to the dugout, put on his batting glove and a second borrowed glove over the first to lessen the sting to his hand, and during this time the pumped spectators did not cease their “Roo! Roo! Roo!”
The next batter was visibly nervous; he had never faced a pitcher this fast. He feebly connected on the second pitch, but fouled it high in the air, an easy catch for Phil. “Two out!” “Roo! Roo! Roo!” The next batter was Tree, a great pitcher but less than mediocre hitter. Three more very hard pitches and the top of the inning was over, no damage done.
But the Grizzlies were still one run up. Tree’s arm was strong and he was confident he could keep the Challengers from scoring. If only they would stop that humming! It’s so…… relaxing!
He managed to get two out, but not before there were runners on first and second, and none other than Reuben Tanner was coming to bat. “Roo! Roo! Roo!” the fans shouted – until it became obvious there was no way the pitcher was going to give the league’s high .590 batting average a chance to hit. The “Roo! Roo! Roo!” ceased. Tree had decided to pitch every throw inside. If it hit Roo, too bad, Roo would be given a free trip to first, loading the bases, and Tree would strike out the next batter who he knew to be a weak hitter; he would throw his very hardest even if it completely wrecked his arm. If Roo were foolish enough to swing at an inside pitch, he wouldn’t get it out of the infield, an easy third out, game over.
The count was three balls, no strikes when Tree pitched his fourth inside pitch. An instant before his release Reuben stepped to the back edge of the batters box, the inside pitch no longer inside to Reuben, and he hit an arching, spinning ball over the second baseman’s head and far short of the outfielder’s glove – just like he had done numerous times in his career. Phil, the runner on first, ran the instant the ball was hit, not hesitating to see where the ball was heading. Spike, right fielder, charged the ball, knowing he could not prevent the tie run at second base from scoring, but desperate to stop Ferguson from scoring the winning run. When the ball hit the ground it spun crazily away from Spike, heading in the direction of the Grizzlies bleachers. Spike gave chase. The third base coach violently waved his right arm in a circular motion signaling Phil, not the fastest runner, to race for home plate. Spike had the ball in his hand when Phil was halfway home. With a perfect throw to the back catcher Spike had a good chance to beat Phil at home plate. The ball in the air, there was no humming, no cheering, no breathing.
tuesday, june 5th, 2007, 9:05 p.m.
The welfare of the Center was on the line and this was a most crucial meeting, yet Mac had an ear attentive to the barely audible sounds drifting from the baseball field through the boardroom window left ajar. Yes, he was a pastor with a pastor’s heart, but he was also a baseball player. His watch told him the game was a lengthy one, the occasional outbursts of loud cheering suggested the game was close. He thought he heard humming of praise songs but dismissed that as imaginary. But the chanting of “Roo!” near the end of the game, so familiar to him, was unmistakable. Reuben must be up to bat, he wrongfully concluded, never dreaming Reuben would be pitching. When the chanting for Roo picked up a short time later, he was confused, knowing that Reuben could not be at bat again so soon. But one thing was conclusive, the raucous shouting and cheering at 9:27 p.m. that he knew came from his people assured him the Challengers had won! They had beaten the Grizzlies for the first time ever! One more win and they would be in the playoffs!
A short time later, Phil entered the boardroom in his socks and dusty uniform, his cleats left at the door.
Phil Ferguson: Brothers.
Sheldon Waters: We could stand to hear some good news.
Phil Ferguson: We beat the Grizzlies. It was quite a game.
Everyone: Great! Wonderful! That’s certainly good news!
Sheldon Waters: Would you like to give a report?
Phil Ferguson: Yes. As I said, it was quite a game, and I’m referring to more than just the game itself.
Sheldon Waters: We’re all ears.
Phil Ferguson: The atmosphere was unmistakably different, both in the dugout and in the stands. Of course, this is because of Tanner’s speech which, by the way, I have listened to on my cassette player. The players were divided and I’m sure the fans also. There was a tension, seemingly tangible.
Donald Williamson: This simply confirms what we already know. I tell you, we must put a stop to this!
Sheldon Waters: Carry on, Pastor Phil.
Phil Ferguson: In the fifth inning John Tanner appeared to be seriously injured.
Terry Maclin: Is he okay?
Phil Ferguson: He is now. It appeared like he broke his leg.
Terry Maclin: I didn’t hear an ambulance.
Phil Ferguson: Reuben Tanner said to his son, “In the name of Jesus Christ, get to your feet.” Well, the fact is, John got to his feet and there was every indication he was healed.
David Tomas: You mean, miraculously healed?
Donald Williamson: Wait a minute, Tomas! Pastor Phil said he appeared to be injured. Maybe this was something the Tanners cooked up to impress the church, you know, to gain credibility.
David Tomas: In all due respect, sir, that is insane!
Terry Maclin: Donald, that is simply not possible. I know them both well. They are far above such treachery.
Donald Williamson: I stand corrected, Pastor. Nonetheless, Pastor Phil seems uncertain, and I think we should let the matter drop. This can only make a messy situation messier.
Nelson Chesney: Pastor Phil, was John Tanner’s leg broken or not?
Phil Ferguson: It was broken.
Donald Williamson: Oh, my Lord!
Nelson Chesney: Pastor Phil, please tell us plainly. Is John Tanner’s leg broken at this moment?
Phil Ferguson: It is not.
Nelson Chesney: It seems I am happy and sad at the same time. I suppose this made the people favorable toward Tanner?
Phil Ferguson: No, it didn’t seem to. The people are very loyal to Pastor Mac. I think they felt that showing enthusiasm to Tanner would be a disloyalty to him. That’s my assessment.
Terry Maclin: Pastor Phil, I did not hear the people chanting “Roo!” until the end of the game. Could you explain?
Phil Ferguson: Nobody chanted when Tanner came to bat, as they usually do, and I suppose that’s because of loyalty to you. My arm was tiring at the top of the ninth inning and I loaded the bases with walks, none out. It was very precarious as there was no one to replace me. I had taken John out of the game in case he was not completely healed. And I must say, I may have had a less noble motive. Tanner suggested we trade spots, and at first I rejected the idea but remembered your instruction to heed any suggestion Tanner might have. Besides, there didn’t seem to be an alternative.
Terry Maclin: Are you saying Reuben Tanner pitched? He has never pitched!
Phil Ferguson: Three up, three down. I don’t think he threw more than seven or eight pitches. Hard, hard pitches. It was during his pitching the people began to chant, “Roo! Roo! Roo!” like they couldn’t contain themselves anymore.
Terry Maclin: I heard the chanting twice.
Phil Ferguson: There were two of us on base, the bottom of the ninth, two out, we’re down by one run when Tanner came to bat. It was a real tense moment and the people began chanting “Roo!” again. He hit the ball to the right field, and I managed to make it home from first base. It was a real close call, but the ump called me safe.
Donald Williamson: So now Tanner is the hero of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center! Tanner the miracle-worker! Tanner the great baseball player! A very bad dream is turning into a nightmare!
David Tomas: Pastor Phil, you said a less noble motive. Did you think it best to get John Tanner out of peoples’ view?
Phil Ferguson: Yes. In hindsight, I was wrong. That almost cost us the game.
Sheldon Waters: Pastor Phil, I for one can understand. Most of us have no experience in dealing with a church split. Shaun, we haven’t heard from you in a while.
Shaun Edwards: Our people are privileged to witness a rare miracle healing and we are threatened. Something is wrong with this picture! I have a suggestion. Let us ask Pastor Mac to speak to Reuben frankly and openly, explaining the dire quandary the church is in. If Tanner is a reasonable man he will forfeit his permission to give the second part of his message.
Some: Amen! Sounds logical!
Donald Williamson: That’s a twist! Somehow we have become the beggars!
Sheldon Waters: David, you know Tanner. Is he a reasonable man?
David Tomas: Reuben is a reasonable man.
Sheldon Waters: Pastor Mac, are you in agreement?
Terry Maclin: I have already made an appointment with Reuben for tomorrow afternoon. I will fully explain the situation to him, and if he volunteers to back off I certainly won’t argue.
Sheldon Waters: Is everyone in agreement?
Everyone: I agree.
Sheldon Waters: Pastor, is it true you are taking your vacation early?
Terry Maclin: Yes, I am actually on vacation right now. Also, Vivian will be away from her desk. Pastor Phil will be shouldering normal church responsibilities. I will be concentrating on the Tanner issue. I need time to pray, to hear from God.
Sheldon Waters: It doesn’t sound like much of a vacation.
Terry Maclin: I am not feeling sorry for myself. I feel responsible for the predicament we are in. I will do what it takes to get us out of it.
Sheldon Waters: We are all responsible, Pastor.
Everyone: Amen! That’s right.
Sheldon Waters: We want you to know we are all behind you.
Everyone except one: Amen!
wednesday, june 6th, 2007, 9:15 a.m.
Composed. That’s the word Mac was searching for to describe his wife, now busy putting the final touches to the breakfast meal. As he sat at the table sipping his coffee and watching Vivian moving in different directions, stirring, heating, wiping, setting, the word came to him again: Composed. My wife is a composed person. And then, Hmmm, Is it a good thing to have a composed wife? He backtracked to the day he met Vivian in Bible school, not much older than their Katie. She certainly was not excessively composed then, he recalled.
Composure started to replace real and frivolous and passionate about fifteen years ago, it seemed to Mac. Invasion came slowly, composure limited to church, but once it got a grip it began to fan out, conquering other areas of life, marriage, motherhood, relationships with family. Composure is learned, Mac realized. But from whom? After some consideration he realized it was he who was her silent mentor. And others, surely. But mostly, he had to admit, it was his influence.
When Mac was at the pulpit he was composed; it was something he chose and practiced to be; it was expected. When communicating to church adherents, over the phone or in person, he was composed. It was only natural his young wife, only a few feet away in the front row of seats or standing proudly by his side, would emulate her husband. To have a non-composed wife assisting a composed husband just wouldn’t do.
It was difficult for Mac to consider composure without taking into account Superintendent Johnston. Now there was a composed man, more so than the most poised pastor at the convention. He had watched the man grow in composure over the years as his influence grew from pastor to district elder to assistant superintendent to the top job. He was expected to be more composed than everyone under him, and he managed quite well.
Mac had to admit both he and Vivian enjoyed being composed. It set them above. People responded to them cautiously. Composure was the wall that gave them distance from the numbers. The wealthy and dignitaries could empathize. But while Mac threw off his composure when he got home, Vivian remained cloaked. He liked a composed assistant but not a composed wife. A poised wife is not a close wife, not a fun wife. Oh, the price we have both paid for significance.
And the twins, he thought woefully. Already Kyle was learning composure, something to be put on like deodorant and hair spray and a clean shirt. One day a poised young lady, there would be plenty at Norwestern Seminary, would be attracted to his composure, and they would together have a stable and orderly and composed life.
And my Katie? he wondered. She was determined to marry a pastor; he considered the many pastors he knew, and yes, with few exceptions, they were quite composed.
And then he looked into himself. Do I still want to be composed? Is it too late for de-composure? Would I be willing to pay the price? Would my family follow? Is it too late for them? Is there similarity between composure and fakery? Were the Pharisees composed? How about the apostles?
“Did you have a good sleep?” Vivian interrupted her husband’s meandering thoughts, setting a plate of sausages and eggs and toast in front of him.
“No. But thanks for asking. Ketchup, please. Are the kids at school? I haven’t seen them much lately.”
“They are saying the same thing about you. It’s that time of the year, final exams.”
“Are they doing okay?”
“As far as examines go, they are doing fine.”
“Yes. The division that has split the church has split the twins.” Vivian’s indignation was rising again.
“No!” And again, “No! They were so close!”
“It started when Kyle followed me out the church door and Katie stayed behind. Kyle has not spoken to her since. He is quite disturbed with her. He feels she is being disloyal to you and to me.”
“And what do you think?”
“I have to agree. We always taught her family comes first.”
“I will have to have a talk with her.”
“She is having a busy week, finals, band practice, Saturday’s performance.”
“Is she taking appointments?”
“She needs her father. She’s being pulled two different directions. Did you know she resigned her position as lead vocalist to Todd Anderson?”
“Blame the plumber.”
“The plumber! The plumber is dividing the congregation, the board of elders, the baseball team and now my family. I will be glad when this passes.”
“Will it ever pass? Or will the rippling effect go on and on?”
“I can’t answer that. My place is to be sensitive to the Lord. He is the only One who can get us out of this. You did the sausages and eggs perfectly…… again. May I never take you for granted.”
“This came in the mail, special delivery. Were you expecting something?” Vivian queried as she handed Mac the blue, white and red envelope.
“Wow! Sort of. It’s from head office.”
“I know. Aren’t you going to open it?”
“How about you opening it? Read it out loud. I think you might find it interesting.”
Soon Vivian began reading the short letter: “Dear Brother and Pastor Terry Maclin: Please prayerfully consider letting your name stand for assistant superintendent of the District of ……. Terry! Does this mean what I think it means?” This was a rare occasion when Vivian lost her composure, and Mac wished a quick wish it would never return. “They want you as assistant superintendent? Did you know about this? Are you as surprised as I am? Does this mean we will be moving? What about your pastorate here at the Center?”
“Hold it! Slow down! I had an inkling I would be given an invitation for advancement,” he replied, taking the letter from her. “It says the first four-year term will begin in September of this year should my name be ratified by the District Council. I’m certain that is just a formality. I’m sure I will be able to hold my position as senior pastor if I choose to, though I will be traveling intermittently throughout the States and Canada. The kids will be away at school so you can accompany me on some of the trips. I think you will find it enjoyable. Also, we have the option of relocating, maybe back home.”
“But the twins. This is the only home they know.”
“This will be a family decision. They might want to move closer to their grandparents and other relatives.”
“Will our traveling expenses be covered?”
“Certainly. And we can expect a major hike in pay.”
“Whose signature is on the letter?”
“None other than Superintendent Martin Johnston.”
“I remember when he was assistant. Maybe one day you will fill his position. You must be honored.”
“It is an honor. I think my oration at the convention impressed everyone there. Our church is the talk of the denomination. I think they like the way we have reached out into our community. And they were really impressed with our baseball team. I had a strong hunch I would be given a promotion. It is something I have hoped for a long time, to be influential on a broader scale. It’s time to move up the ladder.”
“Let’s not mention it to the twins until their exams are over.”
Mac considered composure again. He knew he must grow. Mac would have to go; he would be Assistant Superintendent Terry Maclin. Vivian would not have to grow, he reasoned; she already matched the superintendent’s wife. Do I really want this?
wednesday, june 6th, 2007, 9:45 a.m.
Superintendent Martin Johnston was disturbed by the secretary’s voice on the telephone intercom: “Sorry to bother you, sir. I know you generally don’t accept incoming calls before ten, but the gentleman stressed that it was very important. He said his name is Donald Williamson of Bryden Falls, Canada. Do you wish to accept his call?”
“Donald Williamson? Oh, yes!…… Hello, Donald!”
“Of course I remember you! The last time I saw you was at my father’s funeral about five years ago. You were one of his closest friends.”
“Yes, I miss him too. As I speak, I am looking at your picture next to Dad’s on my office wall.”
“Surprised? Your picture has been there with several other pioneers for many years. May we never forget the sacrifice your generation has made to the denomination.”
“We are the ones who are honored. How is the weather in Bryden Falls? It has been a while since I was there.”
“A problem at the Center? Please tell me about it.”
“I am very surprised, sir, and a bit disturbed. Terry Maclin gave such a glowing report on Bryden Falls Community Christian Center just a few days ago. Frankly, sir, if I were not hearing it from you personally, I would not give this any credence whatsoever.”
“So this all happened since the conference?”
“Tell me, Donald, is this Tanner a licensed minister from another denomination?”
“He’s a plumber? A layman? It is not our policy to invite laymen to preach.”
“Let me see if I got this straight. You are saying a plumber asked permission to speak to the congregation, and Terry obliged?”
“Oh I see, Terry denied him permission and this Tanner appealed to the board. He seems like a very determined fellow. And what was the decision of the board of elders?”
“I’m disappointed the board could not come to a consensus.”
“Oh my! How was the elder’s resignation explained to the congregation?”
“I see. It seems this plumber split the board of elders and Terry thought it would be less divisive to the assembly to let the plumber speak than to deny him. Now tell me again, sir, what shape is the Center in at this moment?”
“Really. In hindsight, does Terry now consider his judgment to be, shall we say, less than wise?”
“If he frankly admits to an error of judgment I don’t see a reason for me to interfere. I have confidence Terry will work it out. But I certainly appreciate you alerting me.”
“Say that again!”
“In all due respect, sir, I can’t imagine Terry doing that. He is responsible to protect the congregation.”
“No, no, no! I couldn’t let that happen. The plumber will not speak to the congregation again! I will get in touch with Terry this morning. I’m sure this can be worked out.”
“Well, it sounds like a peculiar time to be on vacation.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Don’t be concerned about that, Donald; I will be discreet.”