I’m just giving you a heads up because you happen to check in here, that throughout my Facebook post today and I will post a minimum of five, I will be posting at least one puzzle, and maybe as many as five. I won’t tell you which post are posts have puzzles in them, nor will I give you the answers here. There is no deadline they will be over when someone wins or last in perpetuity if nobody does. You don’t have to play. I’m just giving you a heads up that the rest of the Facebook world doesn’t have have fun, or don’t. I know I will 🙂
The Beginning, Episode 1-4
Six is sitting at his desk. You remind yourself that his name is Dr. Sexton, not six, but he’s got the same self-satisfied smile, the same smug arrogance that is all you can remember about him outside of the dream…and you hate him.
You are standing in front of the couch across from him. You tried sitting, but it felt wrong and you immediately stood up. He seems content to sit and chat while you stand, and that works for you.
Oddly he didn’t react much when you first came in. He simply nodded and greeted you. The conversation so far had been mundane. It all seemed so normal it frightened you.
“So, where’s Helen now?” Six was saying. Dr. Sexton was saying.
“I don’t know. Sh went home…to her house…I guess.”
“She didn’t want to be here? With her husband?”
“I’m not…” You stop yourself. You promised to try. “I didn’t want her here.”
“Really? Why not?”
“I don’t know what her part in this is.” You can feel the “Yang” in your pocket. Or is it the “Yin?”
You continue, “I don’t know if I can trust her or not, but I think she believes I’m her husband. I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Because of your delusion?”
“Because of the truth!”
“Troy, you told me she explained. The diamond room, the Yin-Yang, it’s all part of the life you don’t want to remember, but it is your life.”
“I want to see hall 76.”
“76. That’s where the real diamond room is. That’s where the machine is. If it’s all a delusion, then show me hall 76. Show me that it’s normal.”
“I’d love to Troy, but there is no hall 76. More likely 76 also bears some relationship to the night of the break, just like the Diamond room and the Yin-Yang symbol.”
“It’s a nice try, Doctor.” You are trying to inject as much sarcasm into the word as you can, but he doesn’t react. “But I remember. And that’s why I’m really here isn’t it? Not to help me remember but to help me forget. Forget you, and that other guy, the one I keep seeing.”
“You keep seeing someone Troy? Tell me about it, about him?”
“I don’t keep ‘seeing’ him.”
“So, you’re worried about someone you’re not seeing?”
“Words. Don’t play words with me, Doctor.” There is a distinct sound of menace in your voice you don’t like, but unfortunately recognize.
“No, of course not. Not with you. Words are your specialty.” What the heck does that mean? Is he mocking you? He’s smiling, but there’s no warmth in it. At least not to you.
He turns serious, “Listen Troy. No one made you forget. You wanted to forget.”
“I want to remember!”
“No, you don’t. I helped you remember before. Now you want to forget again, so I’m the enemy. My therapy brought you healing and now you’ve twisted it so it appears to you to be the cause of your pain…and in a way it was. What you wanted to forget, what you’ve forgotten again, was more painful than you are willing to deal with.”
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then let me look around.”
“Of course. I’ll take you on a tour myself. You’ll see that hall 76 does not exist. And perhaps it will jog some real memories. After all, this was your home for almost a month.”
“You’re serious? You’ll let me see everything?”
“Of course, Troy. I’ve nothing to hide. We won’t go in actual patients’ rooms, but you’ll be able to see that none of the halls are labeled with a 76.”
You hadn’t expected this. Once again you are sounding crazy to yourself while others are sounding reasonable.
Dr. Sexton stand up and walks around the desk, “Each hallway is labeled for the floor it’s on–Level 1 through level 9. Come on, let’s look around.”
You turn and walk toward the door. You are surprised to find it unlocked. You turn back to look at Dr. Sexton. He’s picking up your coat which you left on the sofa and he chuckles,
“Troy, no one is trying to lock you in. It’s all quite voluntary. Look around. If you have any doubts, you can go. On the other hand, if there is a slightest chance that I am telling the truth, you may decide to stay. If you do stay, I can help you remember all of it. Helen, your work, all the important things you’ve forgotten.”
Important. There was something important.
Something important you have to tell someone.
Dr. Sexton hands you your coat and turns to answer the phone on his desk.
“I’ll meet you in the hallway, Troy. I have to get this.”
You are still trying to remember something important as you step into the hallway and only half paying attention which is why your coat catches on the door and prevents it from closing entirely and that is likely the only reason you hear as Dr. Sexton answers the phone,
“This is Six.”
I did communion wrong. My wife told me so last Sunday.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about communion this week for two reasons.
First, it just so happens that in our Chronological Bible Study on Monday Nights (called the Journey. Check out Pastormac’s Facebook page for details.) we’ve reached 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about people taking the Lord’s Supper in such an inappropriate manner that a) he says it’s not really the Lord’s Supper and b) some were even getting sick and dying, apparently as judgment. More on this and my opening statement later.
Second, yesterday we visited Hope E. Free Church with some friends of ours. We had a really good time, particularly as we visited it with some other Lifesingers, as well as some friends who go even further back than that. Short review: My wife and oldest daughter said it was their favorite and the traditional feel brought them some comfort I think. My second oldest daughter and I enjoyed it, but the traditional feel did not appeal to us as much. I’m sure I’ll write more about that another time, but for now what I wanted to mention is that this would be the fourth straight church in four visits where Communion was on the agenda. I don’t know if these churches do communion every week or it’s just something that we happen to be hitting on the designated Sundays.
So all this thinking about communion has led to a few thoughts.
1) I think I missed the boat on this one. Although we did communion at Lifesong we did not do it regularly and we certainly did not do it frequently. I think I missed an opportunity there, particularly as you’ll see by my discussion below we had a perfect set up for doing it meaningfully and in an organic matter that churches who do not sit at tables don’t have opportunity to do. It is of course the most valuable and important part of our worship to remember what Christ did and what it really means for us. Communion is one good way to remember this. Every church did communion differently. One was integrated into the service which I liked. Three of them had us go up for communion and one of them passed out the elements. Two of them had a very free form, come-as-you-feel-lead approach and two of them had designated times for it. One of them made very brief mention and as far as we could see no one took advantage of it. The others emphasized it to a fairly high degree, by placement in the service or by talking it up. Interestingly, all of them used the little tiny cups of juice and some kind of bread (not always unleavened, interestingly.) This leads me to my second thought.
2) As valuable as the tradition is, and as much as I now wish we’d done more of it at Lifesong, I can’t help but also feel like the way we’re doing it in all these churches (again still better than not doing it at all as we basically did) is somehow missing a valuable point or two I see in Corinthians.
Here’s the passage:
So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
Obviously I’m not about to suggest that we should follow the Corinthians example, but it’s interesting what abuses Paul is angry about because it’s an abuse that would be literally impossible to commit in our day. This is not to say we are doing it wrong, but only differently. He says that when they come together for the Lord’s Supper some are overeating and some are getting drunk. Here’s what was common among all the churches we visited.
In fact at Hope it was half this size, because, very cleverly, they had basically half cups and the little tiny piece of bread went in the other side of the cup. No way you’re overeating on that either. You could argue, and it may even be true, that our traditions have evolved this way precisely to avoid the abuses Paul spoke about. My point is not to argue that these churches are wrong. I have benefitted from communion in each one, so much that I’ve confessed my own delinquency in doing so regularly at Lifesong in any form.
My point though is that clearly what Paul was thinking of as the Lord’s Supper is closer to the origin of the tradition than to what it is now. The whole thing was begun by Jesus himself and it happened, not at some ceremonial tasting but at a ceremonial meal. It was a passover meal which means it had deep ceremony and meaning, but it also means it was one great feast. The lamb was literally the best they could find, the food was plentiful and the drink was bona-fide wine. It was during this meal, this festive feast, that Jesus passed around a loaf of unleavened bread and a large cup of wine. His point was clearly connected to Passover, but as He asks them to remember Him whenever they do this, could it no also apply to the mere act of eating and drinking together. Could He not be saying that whenever you come together to eat, we should remember that our life comes not from our daily bread and wine but from the Lord Jesus Himself?
When Paul accuses them of taking the Lord’s supper wrongly, he is nor arguing about the methodology but about the complete lack of remembrance. As they come together to feast they are not remembering Jesus and this is most evident because they are not remembering each other. They are coming together and thinking only of themselves. They are taking advantage of the free buffet even though they have food at home. They are, in fact, forgetting those who truly do not have enough at home, embarrassing them by not letting them eat first, by not thinking of them first. The entire book of 1 Corinthians really is summed up in chapter 13. Every question they ask, every doctrinal nicety and methodological question is answered by Paul the same way: think of your brothers, love them and behave accordingly.
This brings me to the pondering I’ve been doing about this possible new kind of church which may or may not be God’s leading near the University of New Mexico. What if you could have a church where eating together could serve both as a service for those who need it (whether they be college students or prostitutes on Central) as well as a moment of remembering what the Lord has done.
While I do not scorn our current methods of communion I do note three significant differences in them which do appear to reflect and fit our culture better than our Lord’s culture.
1) Although our communion is done in gatherings, it’s very easily individual and doesn’t require others at all. The cups are individual portions, the bread is separate and not torn from a larger loaf. Their’s was clearly a communal occasion.
2) Ours is usually very solemn and quiet. Theirs seemed to involve interaction and discussion, both in the Corinth church where it may have been wrong and in Jesus example where it was clearly right.
3) Ours is about remembering Jesus through prayer and worship which is good. Theirs was about remembering Jesus through prayer, worship and service to others which is better.
Finally, how did I take communion wrong? Well, as I mentioned every church did it differently and this was the first church where the instructions where to wait until the pastor read a certain passage I didn’t wait. Like the Corinthians I rushed in and ate when I felt ready. Of course it wasn’t really wrong, but I did miss an opportunity to join with all my brothers and sisters in a moment and I was reminded that a moment alone is not the same as a moment together and while both can be good, the moments together are rare enough in our culture to be treasured. Of course the bottom line to all this is what it really means; and not how we do it, so I’ll close with Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
And so it continues. Poor Troy (or is it Troy?)
The Beginning: episode 1-3.
You enjoyed the caramel macchiato more than you would have expected given the circumstances. When you entered the Starbucks, breathless and confused, you weren’t sure why you were there or whether you were going to get anything to drink, but as soon as the barista asked, the answer had come immediately without thought. Drinking it had been almost like remembering, almost but not quite. It felt right, you liked it. Whoever you were, you liked it.
You had ordered a bran muffin too, which also felt right to order, but not to eat, and it sits untouched next to the half empty cup.
Now, though your drink is cold and you have lost any interest in drinking the rest. You have no idea what’s next. Back to Sunnyvale?
You frown at the older gentlemen at a table to your right. He’s been reading the newspaper and tapping that stupid coin since the moment you came in. Except it isn’t a coin. You spent a few minutes when you first sat, trying to determine by sound what kind of coin it was and decided that it was no coin you’d ever heard before. It only mildly surprised you that you were so conversant with coin sounds. After all, if you were a banker, you probably heard those sounds every day.
More surprising was whatever strange maneuver you’d used to get you away from those guys at Sunnyvale. and how easily you’d been taken in by Helen, if that was even her name.
Tap, clink, roll.
And there she is: Helen, walking in the door right now. You jump up from your table, but as you move towards the door, Helen blocks your way. You easily sidestep her and she doesn’t resist, but she does say,
Looking back, you see that you left your jacket draped over the chair. The older gentlemen is bent down just behind your coat, retrieving his coin.
“Let me explain.” says Helen. You look back incredulously at her.
“We tried that already.”
You glance towards the man again, he’s back at his table, head still buried in his paper, now tossing the coin and easily catching it without looking. Something about him is annoying you.
You look back at Helen. She’s turned to grab your coat from the chair and hands it to you.
As you reach to grab it, she holds on to it just long enough to say,
“Caramel macchiato, double shot, but half-drunk.”
You take the jacket, and turn to go. Sighing you turn back, frustrated,
“Ok. How’d you know?”
“It’s not all I know.”
“I didn’t even know what I was going to order. I didn’t even know I was going to come here.”
“I did, and I know you’ve ordered that stupid muffin again. The one you can’t stand, but feel like you have to order for reasons beyond me.”
She sits down in front of the coin tossing man, and watches you. You don’t sit but you don’t leave either.
“I understand you don’t trust me, but you need to know what’s going on. I know that too, Troy, you need to know. You always need to know.”
You hesitate. Glancing over at the man behind her, you are tempted to ask, “heads or tails?” as he continues to toss that stupid coin, head still buried in his paper.
“I just want to explain” she continues, ” I’ll tell you everything I know.”
As she knew you would, you sit down across from her with a sigh of resignation. What else can you do? She’s right. You need to know, and she’s the closest to answers you’ve come.
“I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”
Helen nods and continues, “Remember when I said we’d been here before?”
You just glare, which is apparently answer enough for Helen.
“Right. Of course you do. Well, I meant it. We’ve been in this exact same situation before. Just like this. You woke up and remembered nothing of me, of your life. Dr. Sexton said it was a defense against the stress of a life you couldn’t deal with. Powerful men with their millions, maybe billions, I don’t even know, depend on you. They entrust you with the things most valuable to them and you make them happy. Maybe that’s the stress of it. That and things with us. That and…”
Helen pauses. Her eyes shift uncomfortably to the table. She takes a deep shaky breath and looking back up continues.
“Anyway, you had some kind of break. Just like now, you remembered nothing. You began seeing Dr. Sexton. You saw him for a month refusing to accept your life. You kept claiming someone had stolen your life, stolen you. Then one day, you woke up and it was like the month had never happened. You remembered everything except that month. It was like it never happened. That was about five months ago.”
She is looking so earnestly at you now; it’s your turn to shift your gaze. That man is still tossing his stupid coin. You frown.
Helen leans over, seeking to get your attention again, but speaking softer, “Troy. I don’t know why it started again.”
You look back at her, determined to be determined. “You’re really good. But not this time. See, I remember. I remember the building, and I’ve seen the building. I’m not imagining it. I saw the building and I saw the men.”
“What are you talking about? Sunnyvale?”
“Yeah, Sunnyvale. You didn’t think I’d recognize it, but I did. Something didn’t quite work. You stole my life, but the new life you engineered for me didn’t take, so you took me back there to finish the job. That was no bank and you know it.”
“No, you’re right Troy. Sunnyvale’s not a bank. It’s a mental health center.”
“Euphemisms. I remember the machine, Helen. I remember hallway 76. I remember the machine and I remember the two men who hooked me up and interrogated me. They did this to me and no matter how much sympathy you pretend, you took me back to them. ”
She’s pleading, or maybe just whining now, her words spilling out in a rush, “Troy, It’s a mental health facility. It’s where you spent the month with Dr. Sexton. What you’re remembering must be the treatment, not the cause. They helped you, Troy. They brought you back. They can help you again. I knew you wouldn’t go willingly, so I took you. Please, just talk with Dr. Sexton. He can help you again. He’s a good man.”
“It seems to me you’ve forgotten your part, Helen, dear. You’re supposed to be the scorned woman. What do you care if I come back or not?”
Helen sighs. “Honestly, Troy. earlier today I was ready to give up, even with… well even with what we once had, I was ready to give up. There was no way I could do this again. But in the car, the things you said. It’s been a long time… maybe… I don’t know. Just come back with me and talk to Dr. Sexton. If he can’t convince you, I won’t force anything.”
“I can’t Helen. You don’t get it, I remember. They wanted me to forget, you wanted me to forget. But, I remember the interrogation. I remember the weird rooms on Hallway 76. I remember the diamond room and a door with that symbol” – (you suddenly remember what that black and white swirl is called)- “Yin-Yang.”
Helen’s eyes take on new focus.
“Wait, what? Diamond Room?”
“Right, I remember, so…”
Helen doesn’t seem concerned. Why doesn’t she seem concerned? She is starting to look excited instead. That can’t be good.
“Troy, you’re right you do remember. But not like you think. Troy, the “interrogation” was therapy. Last week, we went out, for real. It was like before, when it was good. We were celebrating… well, anyway, it was a rare moment. That must be why it stuck in your head.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Yin-Yang–that’s the circle with the black and white swirls in it right?”
“I know that because you told me. You told me on that night. You told me because you gave me this.”
Helen pulls on a chain lifting a necklace which has been hanging down behind her shirt. It’s half a Yin-Yang pendant.
“I gave you that?” You are trying to sound sarcastic but it’s coming out curious.
“Yeah, Troy, you did. You had the other half. And you know where we were on that night? You were really trying, I’ll give you that. Went all out. Took me to a very fancy place. A kind of millionaires club. Some perk you got from a real millionaire.”
“Look, Helen, is this going anywhere?”
“The Diamond Room, Troy! That’s the restaurant where you took me. It’s called the Diamond Room. And that’s where you gave me this pendant. Don’t you see? You’re confusing the events in your head. I mean, think about what you’re saying: that two men hooked you up to some crazy machine and brainwashed you. A mysterious hall 76 with doors and symbols. And for what, Troy? You’re just a banker. Why would anyone do this to you? Isn’t it possible, that what I’m saying is true? And if you have the slightest doubt, don’t you owe it to us to find out?
The flash, the vision comes more softly this time, like it’s overlaid on the scene you are in, less jarring and disorienting.
You are still sitting, but not in the coffee shop, but not in the diamond machine. No weird machine at all. Six is here, but he’s speaking calmly not yelling.
Who are you? He is asking reasonably, like he’s helping you remember.
“No, that can’t be right.” you say out loud.
But it could be couldn’t it? You can’t tell if she’s telling the truth and that’s extremely troubling.
“Can’t it be, Troy? Couldn’t it be?”
Helen places her hand on yours. It’s warm. It feels good and you leave it.
“Will you just come with me to Sunnyvale and talk with someone, please? Even if you’re right, you need the truth and where else are you going to find it?”
Helen jumps. She’s as surprised as you are by the sound. The elderly man is leaving, his back to you. He looks vaguely familiar, which today is saying something.
You eyes drop to the table the man left. The coin. He slammed it on the table.
You walk over to it. You pick it up. Your head is hurting again. What can this even mean? It has to mean something, doesn’t it?
Without saying anything, feeling dizzy but alert enough to hide your actions from Helen, just in case, you deftly palm the object which was not a coin. Turning to Helen, you pocket it while studying the pendant hanging from her neck. No doubt about it the one in your pocket is the other half. The one you are supposed to have.
And the man who left it was Seven.
The Beginning: episode 1-2
People walk along the street oblivious to the fact that the moorings of reality are slipping their knots, and the entire world is drifting toward madness. There they all are acting as if everything is normal.
How can anything be normal in a world where people pretend they are your wife, strap you to a chair and make you forget who you are. You don’t even know what normal should be for you. Are you happy? The nervous type? Confident? Important or nobody? Rich or poor?
“Who are you?” Six looming threateningly over you; you locked in the chair. He was so angry. You have no idea how you felt when it happened.
When it happened…How could it have happened? Did it really? Could such strangeness be real in a world with these people, these passive unknowing faces which pass by you. You are irrationally angry with them, these passers-by, precisely because they are passing by. You could be crazy, probably are, and none of them care.
Seven standing passively behind Six, watching it all happen.
But maybe someone does care. Maybe. You stop unsure whether to go back to Helen or press on to Sunnyvale.
When he bumps into you roughly and then politely excuses himself it takes you a few precious seconds to recognize him. Maybe it’s because the smile he gives you looks almost warm, not at all like the dream. In those few precious seconds, you mumble some incoherent apology and then you two pass each other.
But it was, and now you are beginning to realize it was, it really was the man from your dream, not the angry one, the passive one. Seven.
You turn rapidly and there he is just disappearing around the corner of a building. Helen, Sunnyvale, none of that is important now. Now what matters is finding him, getting answers from him.
You run after him confident that he will just be immediately around the corner but when you turn it he’s just turning another corner, this time to the left. How did he?
You are running at a sprint now. He is still moving at a calm easy walk so you are bound to catch him this time. You turn the next corner and there he is further down the block now, two streets down, turning again. Did he just look back at you and chuckle? He did. You pick up the pace yet again.
You’ve been running for awhile now. You’re not sure how long. You’re really not even thinking anymore. You feel like a rat in a maze. It’s probably futile but you have to keep going. Here he is again, maybe this time. Maybe you’ll catch him this time. Another corner, and there he is again turning ahead of you. Are you closer now? Is he slowing down? Yes, he is!
He is crossing the street nonchalantly heading toward another blind corner so you start to sprint across the street to cut him off.
The car which almost hits you honks, breaking your stride and making you realize how tired you are; tired and winded, and suddenly, unable to run. Where are you? How long have you been running? A long time, you suspect. You stand in the middle of the street catching your breath, watching him disappear around yet another corner. You are preparing for another sprint when someone gets out of the car you are blocking and comes towards you.
It’s Helen. She is looking at you like you are a rabid dog, a family pet perhaps, affection but mostly fear.
“Just get in the car, Troy.”
You don’t even know where you’re going. What are you doing, just wandering the streets?”
“I have a plan.”
“Well, good for you, but you asked me to prove you were Troy and then when I start to do it, You’ve run out the door! Come to think of it that’s probably the best proof of all.”
You stop walking and stare at her.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying just get in the car.”
You look back toward the car stopped in the middle of the street, engine still running; you turn and start walking away from the car. Helen walks after you,
“You’re not listening to me. I said I can prove it.”
“Then prove it. Who’s stopping you?”
“When you left… I went to get your ID.”
You stop walking and turn toward her, “ID?”
“Yeah, ID. It proves you’re Troy.”
“How do I know you haven’t faked it?”
“How could I…? What are you saying, Troy? Listen to yourself. Anyway it doesn’t matter.”
It’s really bothering you that she sounds so reasonable and you sound so crazy. Thinking about the last few hours since you woke up it’s suddenly occurring to you that maybe the world isn’t going mad. Maybe it really is just you. What were you just doing? Chasing a phantom?
How do you know if you’re crazy?
Maybe if what you are saying sounds crazy even to you. Maybe that’s why you at least decide to look at the wallet she’s offering you.
You look through it and find a little cash, but surprisingly no ID. You look at Helen questioningly and, you hope, not madly accusingly.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. It doesn’t matter. It’s all gone. No ID at all. But I swear to you it was all there last night when we went out.”
“We went out?”
“Well, that’s probably putting it charitably. But yeah, we were together and we ate. I saw your ID where it normally is when you paid the bill.”
“And now it’s gone?”
Helen shrugs and you are angry again. Angry and confused and wondering how you being crazy would make your ID disappear. It wouldn’t would it? And besides maybe the fact you sound crazy to yourself means you aren’t crazy.
If you were you wouldn’t know it, right? You’d think it was normal.
You start walking away again, but not before sneering, “Convenient.”
“Seems inconvenient to me” replies Helen.
You turn to Helen again, confronting her directly, “No! It’s very convenient for you. For some reason you want me to believe I’m Troy and suddenly all the ID which could prove who I really am is missing.” Is that you speaking? You are surprised at the bitterness in your voice. You’re not yelling but you see how your harsh words are affecting Helen.
You take the cash out and toss the wallet back to Helen. “Leave me alone.”
Helen catches the wallet and as if the weight is too much for her drops her hands immediately to her side. Her head follows, drooping and with surprise you see that she is starting to weep.
“You are so stubborn, “ she says through the tears, “I told you I can prove it and now you won’t even let me try. You won’t even get in the car. Please Troy, don’t give up now. If it’s over fine, but not this way, not without you even knowing about us, about…”
You can’t hear Helen’s final words or maybe she didn’t actually finish, her mouth still moving in gasps and sobs.
You aren’t sure what to do. Truth is, you feel like a heel, but you don’t even know why. It’s not like you’ve hurt someone you care about, is it? Surely this is just pity, normal human compassion. Would you feel normal human compassion if you were crazy?
Yet you turn and keep walking away, when her words come back to you, her words and something in them perhaps, “…not without you knowing…”
What is it you don’t know? What can she tell you?
Sighing, you turn back. Helen is poised to get back in her car.
“How?” you ask.
“How what?” she says tiredly.
“You said you could still prove it. How? How can you prove to me who I am?”
Helen looks up at you, eyes already drying, “Work. People at work can identify you. Lots of them. Receptionists, tellers, guards, any of the employees at the bank.”
She gets in the car and sits behind the wheel waiting for you, apparently, to get in.
You reluctantly get in the car and ask, “I’m a banker?”
Helen turns the car in a graceful u-turn and starts driving.
“No, you are the bank. They know you. You spend more time there than you do with me.”
“I’ve never spent anytime with you.”
Helen sighs, “You used to spend all your time with me, Troy. You used to love me.”
“I never loved you.”
You can see she is starting to cry again, but trying to hide it while she’s driving. You weren’t trying to be mean. Or maybe you were. You were angry. Now, you’re not. Anger is draining out of you, being replaced by something else.
“I..I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…well I did, but…look you surprised me back there. I didn’t realize…it’s just that it never occurred to me that you …well that you thought it was real. I thought you were acting. I don’t know what’s happening. I thought you were in on it, because I just can’t believe what you’re saying. I can’t believe this is my life. I’m a banker named Troy with a beautiful wife whom he doesn’t pay enough attention to. That’s not me. That’s not my life. I know it’s not.” It isn’t you. It doesn’t feel right…but it’s not all wrong either. You do feel something for Helen. Is it affection? Or just guilt?
“I know you’re my husband.”
“I see that now. I mean I see that you really believe it. I don’t know what’s happening. Maybe someone is playing a trick on both of us. Maybe you’re not the enemy. Let’s go to the bank. You’ll see. I’m not Troy, but maybe we can find him.
“And I know I love you Troy. See, I’m even willing to say it, if it will bring you back.”
Her voice is rich with emotion and you believe her. For the first time you believe her. Without thought you reply, “Right at this moment, I almost wish it were true, that I was Troy.”
“Almost.” She repeats softly, voice still shaking with emotion.
“I can tell you this. I know I’m not this Troy person because if I was, I never would have preferred the bank to you.” Awkwardly you pat her hand resting on the console between you. She smiles briefly and then looks troubled.
“Troy, Listen. I’ve got to tell you something. This isn’t…”
“What? What is it?”
“Nothing. We’re here.”
You turn to climb out of the car, looking up at the tall black building she’s pulled up in front of. You freeze halfway in and halfway out of the car. 911 Eden Avenue. It’s not a bank. It’s…
“Sunnyvale. This is where they did it to me.”
You look back in confusion at Helen.
“I’m sorry, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
Even as you look at her in disbelief, you scold yourself for your gullibility, and at the same time are intensely aware of the two men in nicely pressed suits coming towards you from the Sunnyvale building. Your muscles are tensing, body poising, eyes scanning and you are listening. It’s all happening without thought. Confusion is gone, emotion is gone, you are simply responding; not reacting, but pro-acting. You step from the car listening for Helen, so you’ll know without looking if she’s cornering you on that side, listening even to the steps of the men coming toward you gauging who’s slightly slower. It’s the one on the left. He’s got a small limp; so small you can’t see it, but you can hear it. For a brief moment you are distracted, no longer assessing, but doubting.
Can one hear such a thing? Are you just crazy?
That distraction almost leads to your capture, but your doubt is immediately cleared when you catch a glimpse of the man standing in front of the big doors to Sunnyvale. The suit, the smug arrogant smile, the condescending superior nonchalance. You know this man and you hate him. You’ve hated him from long before your dreams.
Seeing Six standing there releases you from the paralysis of thought. Leaping from the gutter, using the curb to propel yourself you effortlessly direct a perfectly aimed roundhouse kick at the faster man on the right, following the momentum of your kick, sliding easily past the slower limping man, along the side of the building and down the street. towards a narrow alley behind Sunnyvale.
You still think you are a banker, friend?
You are listening for them to run after you, but all you hear is Helen saying, “Troy! Wait!” And all you can see is the older man, the one you were chasing through the maze of streets, Seven, walking towards you. You quickly make a turn to the left crossing the street away from Sunnyvale, away from Helen, away from Seven. You are surprised not to hear them running after you, but perhaps because you are listening attentively, you do manage to hear Helen say, just before you turn a corner out of sight and out of earshot, “Wait, wait. Let me talk to him. This went wrong, but I can get him back.”
Sorry this is up a about 12 hours late. I’ve been working on something cool and exciting which will be announced soon!
But for now, on to my latest pilgrimage blog.
We went to redemption in Rio Rancho yesterday. This is a church plant from Desert Springs. New church plants are easy for me to feel a special kinship with since that’s precisely what Lifesong was. I guess there were two primary things that I noticed and both of them were more threads in the tapestry God is weaving of whatever “next” is. First though, for the quick review. The message was solid and well delivered (and hey Carlos Griegos who gave the sermon is a former Lobo Chaplain, so what’s not to like:-) It was on parenting and there was a heavy emphasis on Grace and love which is always a good sign a far as I’m concerned. Parenting in particular is one place where very noble intentions can lead to very unhelpful sermons. Fear of losing our kids can lead us to seek formulas, guilt, and isolation. Sometimes the messages become so missional (we raise the next generation to change the world…) that the idea of loving your kids as a treasure and gift from the Lord somehow never enters in. None of these were present in the sermon and I greatly appreciated that. There was a little of the “small Church desperation” among some of the members which I never liked when I saw in Lifesong (or frankly in myself) but that often comes from a place of deep love and community and a little fear, so I give grace for that. None of that was present in the pastors who instead came across confident that God would lead as God would lead. The ratio of kids to parents was close to 1 to 1 (of course we with our seven kids encouraged that ratio), which we, of course are fine with. In particular adoption seems to be a big part of their culture, although I didn’t detect any self righteousness or pressure that “everyone should adopt.” As a side note it’s interesting, but not terribly important, that the two smaller churches we’ve attended(Paragon being the other one) had African American children in the class Josiah and Lidya attended, while the larger churches did not. This is not a judgement in any way except to wonder if it is true that the smaller churches were most disproportionately diverse, and if so, why? It is also possible that it’s more noticeable in a smaller church. I’m not sure. I do know that at redemption it’s the adoption culture which undoubtedly is responsible for that. So on to the two things I mentioned earlier.
1) I knew a surprising number of people from other places. Although you might expect this in a big church, it was surprising in a church no bigger than Lifesong was when we started, that there were so many people I knew from past church experiences of one kind or another. The other thing about this that was cool was that some of them were kids in my church years and years ago who have now grown to be ministers in this church. Along with the younger folk I ran into someone who was a leader in the church I attended whenI was a college student, so there was a range and it was encouraging. It made me remember a couple of things. I’ve been around the block a bit and am now not only in title but in reality among my community an elder. I don’t mean by this old. That I still don’t believe, but that I”ve achieved a place of natural leadership and influence, that I have a legacy of people I can point to who’s lives have been changed over the last 20 years is something you cannot cheat or shortcut. It’s something only perseverance and integrity gives you and I am grateful for God’s grace to lead me thus far. In fact, one of these friends had a conversation with me after church in which he was encouraging me and my family to join precisely so that we could exercise such positive influence within the church. He pointed out that the pastors were all under thirty (Can you imagine such a thing? says Pastormac, who was ordained at the age of 21) and that what we would have benefitted from in our early years was just such steady wisdom and influence. His words were persuasive but he added something to his words which I understand but with which I don’t think I agree (which is a wordy way of saying I’m still thinking about it.) He said that it’s the young people who will change the world. that it’s young people who have always changed the world from Alexander the Great on through history. His point was that in too many churches we hamstring the young and enthusiastic from having true leadership which is a shame and with that I agree. But aside from the number of older people who changed the world which was already beginning to formulate in my head (C.S. Lewis, Colnel Sanders, George Washington, and, according to this study, most innovators) Anyway as he talked about how now that we were both old (!) we had opportunity to change the world through them, I had two differing though not exactly contradictory reactions.
a) That would work. I could easily see myself doing that. I do have experiences and understandings and gifts which could be used here for just that purpose. I have no problem with doing that with or without a title. I never have. Perhaps this is why I am here.
b) I’m neither out of energy nor out of ability to lead and how awesome would it be if I did end up doing something in the university area which really did challenge college students to change the world in ways that matter, bringing good news to all sorts of people down the line. In other words, I felt a desire not only to influence younger men already on the road to doing great things, but to influence drifting, hopeless, angsty young men on the road to nothing. Now that would be something. 🙂
Before I move to step two, I want to say that I think changing the world is something each of us does every day, or at least can do. Passing a certain age, or not being past a certain age, does not take this amazing ability from you. Every time you love someone uniquely, every time you share the gifts you’ve been given to share, you run the risk of changing someone forever. Here’s one of my favorite Ted Talks to this point. You’vee seen it before if you’ve been a long time reader, but it’s worth seeing again.
2) I have an awesome family. During the teaching, Pastor Craig encouraged us to do a lot of things that make a lot of sense. To share the Gospel with your kids, for you are the primary message. To live the Gospel with your kids, because you are the primary model. To saturate your family with discussions around the dinner table with talk of Christ, rather than trying to force devotions. it was all good, and I felt good about it all. Let me be as clear as possible. My family is an Apple family. The number of computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads and iTunes purchases could supply a small business well. It is not an unusual site to see us at the dinner table on our devices. We have arguments and dysfunction and discussions about meaningless stuff (did you know Kayak is not only a palindrome but actually a physical palindrome too because it can go forwards or backwards also?). We do not close every day with group prayer; we do not gather for family devotions. We are probably a lot like your family or likely even less disciplined and structured.
But last night, my family and I gathered to watch a video put out by John Elderege called “Epic.”
We did not do this as a result of the sermon but as a result of my having been trying to coordinate this for weeks. I got no pushback on the night we did it and we had a very long substantive and challenging discussion afterwards. This is not what is most awesome about my family though.
What is awesome is that during the discussion, we did not all express sterling faith, proper theological truths, and comfortable ideas. Instead we wrestled with troubling questions, doubts, and frustrations. We also shared truth and faith and grew as a result. But it encouraged me and confirmed for me that the life as a pastor, while it has brought pain and hardship to my family, while it’s meant a loss of stability now as we seek awkwardly to find what’s next for all of us; that while al this is true, it’s also created in my kids a genuine hunger, a freedom to seek God honestly and a love of truth, and bonding it all, a sense of community which makes it safe and ok to discuss in our family. My wife and my kids are amazing people. People willing to risk, to question, to learn, all in order to seek the true living God, rather than a pale, safe, but ultimately comfortless and impotent shadow of God. I was pleased to see that the community my kids fear we lost with Lifesong was inbred in us as a family. Whatever next is, I am grateful that it will be with them
For my next Serial Saturday (meaning beginning with this blog) I’m attempting two dangerous things. 1) I’m writing a story which will be at least in part, an unusual tense and person.(I’ll let you discover it rather than clarifying what I mean here.) I think it fits, but it will feel a little odd, perhaps at first. I’m hoping it will flow ultimately. It’s not just a gimmick. I think it fits the story, as I hope you’ll see, and it also drives the sense of an unfolding adventure, almost like watching a tv show; which leads to the second dangerous thing. I wrote this originally as a webisode of 49 distinct cliffhanging episodes. I need far fewer resources to do this as a written story than a nicely done video, but I like the story enough I’m opting to try it here as my Saturday Serial. Rewriting what was exclusively a screenplay is an interesting exercise as well and is in many ways what lead to the unusual tense and person. Hopefully this all works and you enjoy this.
A few other notes before we start. Because this has so many episodes, I’m going to do Parts on both Saturday and Wednesday. It will still be called Serial Saturday, but you’ll need to catch parts on the mid week as well. So when you’re feeling those mid week blahs, there will be an episode to keep you going. It’s a mystery which will at times be truly mysterious, but I promise that I know where it’s going and it will make sense at the end. I am hoping the journey will prompt some discussion, guesses, exploration, ideas and so on. I’m hoping it will become just a bit interactive in that way. I think it’s going to be a good run, so if you like it invite others, talk about it on your blogs, your Facebook and on Pastormac’s Facebook as well and of course, comments are always welcome here.
And besides Saturday and Wednesday in two weeks I will be running my contest winner’s story in four parts, all in one week! The contest winner happens to be my daughter and her challenge can be seen here. Being my daughter she has made it very interesting and being her papa, I’ve decided to up the ante. Not only will I do three parts in close third person one for each sibling, but I will do each of these parts in Roshoman style with each part being a different perspective on the same trip gone wrong. The final part will be a surprise, mystery voice who will be able to show how all the “trip gone awry” actually works out to a trip gone amazingly right. The challenge for myself is I say all this with no idea of what the plot is yet. LQTM (Laughing quietly to myself, which is more accurate than LOL usually.) Well, anyway, keep an eye out for that and of course as usual,
Tomorrow I’ll update you on my pilgrimage for “next”
So, without further ado, here is part one of
The Stolen Man: The Beginning: episode 1-1
The images are confusing, sudden and disorienting.
A flash of a door; cool steel, small square frosted window. You look below the window but your eyes don’t seem to be tracking well. It’s like a flash, rather than a smooth transition; like a blink just a little too long. “A jump cut” they call it in the movies.
The number 76 below the window. A hand reaches just covering the number as it pushes open the door.
A flash of a long hallway behind the door.
Now suddenly you are inside the long hallway; it’s blindingly lit and you struggle to see, but you can barely make out doors, three on one side, four on the other. There are numbers and symbols on the doors, but you can’t quite make them out. One of them has a blank gray panel. You squint to see it and…
Suddenly you are being dragged down the hallway. Again, your eyes are oddly focused on the hand dragging you; a hand coming out of a white loose sleeve, like a lab coat you think vaguely. You don’t resist as you watch this hand pulling you by the elbow forward, but you do try to look up, to see whose pulling you. You can’t. You try to look right; does someone have your other elbow?
The doors you pass are all white with symbols, that you can see.
“Who are you!”
Why is he yelling at you? Who is yelling at you?
The hallway is gone; now it’s a street. A boy on a tricycle rides by in front of you; you smile but you’re not sure why.
Back in the hallway; a door with a diamond symbol on it.
You shake your head and for a moment things clear. You are sitting in a chair; something is on your head. Wires or tubes or something appear to be coming out of your arms. You can’t move, can’t stand up. You try to look at your watch but you can’t lift your arm.
“What time is it?” you ask the dark haired angry looking man standing over you.
“Who are you!” He demands again, only louder. He’s really angry. If you only knew why. “Tell us who you are! How did you get here?”
“Boy, I wish I knew,” you start to say but you are stopped when a sudden realization hits you, actually two realizations.
One, there are two people standing in the room with you; the angry looking yelling one, and another, quiet, passive emotionless, standing in the background. Two, you know their names, “Six” and “Seven”.
But those aren’t really names, are they? You close your eyes, shake your head again. Suddenly you drift out of the chair, across the room. Surprised you watch the angry man continue to yell at you, the you in the chair. The chair is not just a chair, it’s connected to the diamond machine.
Like the names, “Seven” and “Six” you just know this, but you have no idea how you know it or what it means.
You drift past Seven standing impassively, and out the door. Looking back you see that it’s a door like the others in the hallway, but this time you can make out the symbol on the door. It’s that black and white swirl thing; what do they call that?
“I’ll tell you who you are.” Six is no longer yelling, but still you hear him through the door. “You are…”
You awake with a start. You sigh in a sudden burst of relief and clarity. What a crazy dream. What in the world was that all about? Well, dreams are that way though aren’t they?
There’s a very attractive, but tired looking woman standing at the dresser just past the foot of your bed. She’s putting on makeup and she is speaking. You realize with a start that she’s been speaking and that this is probably what woke you.
“Troy. Come on. You’re going to be late. We can’t afford another sick day. You know that!”
The confusion is returning. The confusion from the dream. Now you can see everything, hear everything. You’re not drifting or being dragged around. You’re just lying here in bed. The world is behaving normally, except…
“Troy,” She’s irritated now. ”Come on! I don’t want to be late. I have a doctor’s appointment remember?”
You look at her in confusion. What she’s saying, how she’s saying it is all normal, if it weren’t for one thing. That one thing that’s been confusing you since you saw her.
Now she’s really exasperated, “You’re taking me, remember? Troy! What is up with you?”
You hate to ask. You know it’s not going to go over well, but you’ve got to ask, haven’t you? So you do.
“Who are you?”
“Troy” She responds, fear beginning to join her exasperation. What does she have to be afraid of, you wonder? You’re the one in a strange bed, in a strange house talking to a woman who keeps calling you Troy.
“I’m not Troy!” You jump out of bed, looking around in confusion for anything familiar.
“Troy, this is not funny.”
“No, no, it’s not. I’ve got to get home. Quit calling me Troy.”
“Stop it! This is not funny. What…”
There! On the chair, clothes draped over it just like you would do. You grab them and start to put them on. Fortunately they appear to fit, as you aren’t entirely sure they are actually your clothes.
You speak as you are putting on the pants and shirt, “I don’t know you! Who are you?”
The woman looks near panic and you’re starting to actually feel a little bad for her. Poor thing. Crazy woman wondered into your house…except it’s not your house.
You are trying not to yell, but you suspect you are anyway. “How did I get here? Where am I?”
Her voice is very low now, fighting back tears or panic or anger, maybe all the above.
“Stop it Troy. Please.”
“I’m not Troy.” OK, you definitely are yelling, but she’s just so infuriating.
“You’re serious. You really don’t know…again.”
For a crazy lady she seems to be accepting it easily all of a sudden. Sadly maybe, but easily. But then maybe that’s what crazy ladies do.
“I’m Helen. I’m your wife. This is your home, has been for the last 8 years.”
Now you’re starting to feel afraid. Something about this new tone; like you’re the crazy one, or stupid or a child.
“What are you trying to pull? I’m not married. This is not my home. I’m getting out of here.”
You’ve managed to get yourself dressed and after putting on your coat, going through all your pockets produces only a business card. No name on it, just a business title, “Sunnyvale Heights.” It means nothing to you. Maybe these aren’t your clothes? Never mind; they fit and it’s time to go home. You exit the bedroom, Helen following you quietly. Swiftly you cross to the closet, where the keys to your car are hanging and grabbing the keys you start to open the front door. As you grab the keys they jingle and for a brief moment, it’s like you are back in a dream. A sudden vision overtakes you; a vision of you, sitting in a car; your car, driving calmly, confidently.
“I’m not Troy.” You’re looking at the keys. Something isn’t right. Why can’t you think clearly?
“Stop and think a second. How did you know where the keys were? Those keys are to your car parked in your driveway here at your house. Where exactly are you going? If this is not your home, where is?”
That’s it. She’s nailed it. That is what’s wrong. You have no idea where home is, but still…
“This is not my home.”
“Then where, Troy? Where is home?”
“Everyone keeps their keys by the door.”
“I’m not Troy.”
“Then who are you?”
What a stupid question. Except she’s right. You suddenly realize you haven’t got a clue. You’ve been so focused on asserting who you weren’t that you’ve only now realized you’ve no idea who you are! Wow, that dream did a number on you, didn’t it?
“ I’m…I’m…I’m not Troy.”
“See you don’t even know who you are.”
“No, no I don’t. But I know who I’m not. I don’t know how you did this, or…why? Why Helen?”
You feel defeated, confused. Helen is leading you back to the living room by your arm, just like in your dream. That dream.
“Was it something in my food? Did you drug me? Please just tell me. I won’t be mad. I just want to get home. Get some sleep. Some time to think.”
Helen is looking at you sadly, even fondly. She’s reaching for your face as if to caress it, and you are thinking of letting her, “Oh Troy.”
You pull back suddenly, “I’m not Troy.”
Helen drops her hand. She’s speaking softly now, earnestly, “This is not the first time. We’ve been here before.”
“I’ve never been here before.”
“Do you hate me so much?”
“I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you.”
” What do you know? What can you remember?”
“Something important. I had something important to tell someone…What do you mean we’ve been here before?”
“What did you have to tell someone? Was it something about work? What do you know Troy?”
“Work, I…What’s with the interrogation? What did you mean we’ve been here before?”
“Nothing Troy. I just meant you’ve been acting differently for months now, like you weren’t yourself. What happened to us Troy? It was work, wasn’t it?”
“Nothing happened to us. There is no us.”
There was something, you are realizing, something important. What was it. and…work?
“Why are you so interested in work? What have you done to me?”
‘“Nothing, I’m just trying to help you remember. Troy, I’m on your side.”
“I don’t even know if I’m on your side.”
“You said you were doing something important for work.”
“No, no I didn’t say that. You did.”
“Yes, you did. You said…
“I don’t need a replay. It’s just that…I hate your work. Do you even remember what you did?
You head is hurting. You did… you do something important. What is it? You are standing up again, getting ready to leave.
“Look, I’ve got to go.
“Troy, where will you go?”
“How do you know you’re not Troy?”
“How do you know I am?”
You are watching Helen now, as she motions you to wait and runs off to another part of the house. You watch her go for a second. Too bad she’s not your wife, she’s awfully pretty. You reach into your pocket, planning to leave the keys on the coffee table, when you find the Sunnyvale Heights card again. Looking at it, another waking dream (a memory?) catches you…
A building, tall, at least ten stories, lots of darkened glass and a sign on the outside, “Sunnyvale Heights.” You’ve been there before!
A flash of a door; cool steel, small square frosted window. You look below the window but your eyes don’t seem to be tracking well. It’s like a flash, rather than a smooth transition; like a blink just a little too long
Where does a man go to piece his life together when he remembers almost nothing? He goes where he remembers anything! Sunnyvale Heights. That’s where your going. Running out the door, you catch a glimpse of Helen emerging from the back part of the house. She’s carrying a wallet, waving at you to stop, but you don’t. You run. You run out the door, and down the steps and in the direction of Sunnyvale Heights.
You run, but who are you?
I should have known I was in trouble when my daughter won the “I’ll write a story for you” prize in my last giveaway. If you remember, she is supposed to give me a genre, a couple characters and any other quirky thing she wants. For weeks she’s been saying she couldn’t think of what she wanted me to write. And then today I get this very specific detailed directions.
4 parts, a family road trip that goes horribly awry (whatever that may mean to you).
A son, a very type A engineer 26, taking his two younger sisters (21 a photography student, a little bit too unscheduled for her brother’s liking, and 17 just wants to graduate high school and move away from her brother) to visit their grandparent’s farmhouse which has been standing empty for ten years. They are going to clean it out for their mom (i don’t care if they actually get to the farmhouse in the course of the story or not).
The first three parts should each be told in close 3rd person with one part for each sibling. The final can have a 3rd person omniscient narrator or can switch from a close 3rd of one sibling to the next.
And so it begins. I have something else planned as well for Serial Saturday, so tune in Saturday to find out the plan. I haven’t decided but I may do Lo’s four parts in one week or maybe I’ll do her story in two weeks and then start on my other plan, Hmmmm, As I say, tune in Saturday.
Yesterday we went to Destiny Church. It use to be called Destiny Center, and for reasons I’ll explain later, I wondered about the name change. I am curious if they needed to add the word church because people were confused about whether they were, in fact, a church. I suppose by the name people might have thought it was a meditation center or something. I”ve no idea. We enjoyed the service and I was inspired by the teaching. I’ll touch very briefly on that at the end.
Anyway, I like the senior pastor there, Jerome, and we have been friends; not bosom buddies, but a little more than friendly acquaintances. To his credit he treated me like we were best friends, making, me, I’ll admit, look good in front of a couple of my former congregants who we just happened to meet there (who were also trying it out.) This made me feel good of course, and then an interesting thing happened.
I almost immediately began to wonder if he were really feeling this friendly for me or if it were because I was now a potential congregant. This was entirely unfair and uncharitable of me, as Jerome probably would have, and has, treated me the same if he ran into me on the street.. It also made me ponder something I’ve pondered many times before, one of my least favorite things about being a pastor:
Being a pastor make relationships weird.
Not all relationships, probably not even most and certainly not all the time, but often enough to make me wonder if we’re doing something wrong in this chuch thing. It might just be that there’s something wrong with us; and since the fall, I know that to be true.
In the best cases, a pastor/congregant relationship is simply a well bonded, deep and family like intimacy . I’m finding, as Lifesingers continue to meet at Dion’s and enjoy each other’s company that this is largely true for my Lifesong experience.
Honestly, I helped this by setting clear expectations from the beginning. with several strongly worded sermons on what not to expect from me. I promised to make mistakes (and then, just so no one would forget, I made sure to keep that promise.)
One of my favorite statements in the literature about our church which we got to people early and often was
If a church is a place where you get all the answers, we’re not a church.
If a church is a place where everyone’s got their act together, we are not a church.
If a church is a place where the pastor alone cares for everyone’s needs, is available at all hours, and never struggles, then we are most definitely not a church.
On the other hand we believe a church is the place where there is the most safety and encouragement to ask the most relevant, and sincere questions. We believe answers can be found in scripture, but are best sought together in community.
We are a church which understands that only one person in history has ever had His act completely together and that His name is Jesus and His role is God. There is room in the universe for only one Messiah, and you are not it. I am not it and no one at our church will pretend to be it.
So my most recent experience is filled with better than normal relationships, and perhaps the price of better than normal is some weirder than normal relationships along the way.
Today, as I blog, it has occurred to me that there are some clear things that both congregants and pastor’s could do differently which might make a difference. It also occurs to me that I am an in unusual place of being a pastor without a church but also without rancor. I did not close my last church bitterly, I have not forsworn the idea of pastoring again as a bad deal (in fact, I’m increasingly suspecting I will again have a church), and I have no congregation to manipulate by any advice I might give. So, with that in mind, in case it helps anyone love their pastor better, I present some suggestions. (If I were writing a blog predominately read by pastors, I would weight this heavily in that direction, sinnce I have only few pastoral readers to my knowledge, I have sprinkled only a few exhortations to pastors.).
Not only do I mean no offense to anyone by this list, but if you have a different take from your perspective, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
1) Pastors, stop trying to motivate by guilt or fear. Motivating may at times be your primary objective, and guilt and fear are great short term motivators, but they make for very weird relationships down the line, which means they are ultimately a much weaker motivator than love. In the long run it develops weaker Christians with weaker convictions. Sadly it teaches them to be more easily manipulated by the world, the flesh and the devil. If loving them and teaching them accurately the word of God for their life is not enough for them to be motivated to stay, to serve, or to love others, than be assured guilt and fear may look more effective but will be truly counterproductive. Furthermore they will return the favor and when they leave (and leave they will), they will explain it in ways that attempt to make you feel guilty or fearful.
2) Congregants, don’t proclaim undying lifetime devotion to your pastor in a way which should only be reserved for marriage. Many people in my churches have proclaimed that they would follow me anywhere, and I only believe one of them: my wife. Oddly experience tells me that the louder someone proclaims their devotion to me as a pastor, the more likely it is that the hardness of the chair, the slowness of the worship music, or the inconsistency of my personality will ultimately drive them away. On the other hand, one of my deacons from Lifesong, Phil and his wife, have served with me for 23 years, without ever once declaring undying devotion. Am I saying you shouldn’t speak affirmation to your pastor? Of course you should, but no pastor is helped by effusive, unrealistic displays of devotion. If they are wise they will take it with a grain of salt, and if they do happen to believe you, they will only be more discouraged when you leave, even if it’s God who calls you to leave; and who are you to say that won’t happen?
3) Pastor’s, stop leading from fear. This is not the same as motivating by fear. This is being motivated by fear. Leading from fear is notoriously easy as a pastor; particularly if you are in a downward trajectory which many pastors encounter. Trying to lead in order to “keep people” from leaving leads to terrible decision making and alienates those who were not thinking of leaving to begin with. It turns your focus inward, leaving hopeless people outside your church, both hopeless and outside. It messes up your good relationships in the church by introducing an element of distrust into relationships.
4) Congregants, do not expect your pastor to be an outgoing extrovert with his radar on for ministering to congregants all the time. Personally as a pastor, I believe our commitment to our saints does not end at the church door and I hope to love and minister to everyone whether the grocery store or anywhere, but then I also expect this of my congregants. At the same time I give my congregants grace to be focused on other things at a given moment or time, to be human and not lead by the Holy Spirit at a given moment. Some pastors, myself included, are not by nature extroverts and we get tired if we don’t have time to recharge alone or with just our family. Some of us are not always great at paying attention to our surroundings. I remember many many years ago (more than two decades) a particular congregant who left the church because, according to them they had frequently said hi to me at the grocery store and I had ignored them every time. Despite the fact, that I honestly had never seen or heard them, even one of these times, they were convinced I was just being mean to them. Let your pastors be human.
5) Congregants, Treat your pastors with at least a minimum of respect and love when you leave. I am amazed and baffled with the numbers of truly sincere friends who have essentially snuck out of my church. People who would talk to me about the most intimate details would make one of the most significant decisions of their life, one in which I am already intimately involved, without saying a single word about it to me. As in breaking up, text messages and emails do not count. I do understand that in some cases this comes from a desire to spare the pastor’s feelings, but more often it comes from a desire to protect ourselves from discomfort or from being challenged in our leaving. If you are leaving for good reasons, or even if you are not, your pastor, unless he truly is a controlling guilt mongering, radically insecure pastor (lots of pastors are insecure, but not radically so!) will survive your leaving and will feel gratitude more than anything if you speak to him as a friend would to a friend. Will he try to talk you into staying? Probably, because until the moment you leave he is still your pastor in his mind, and he still wants to give you the best spiritual advice he can, and he probably believes you’re leaving is a mistake. Trust me, after a conversation like this, relationships can still continue, severing ties doesn’t have to be the norm even if you do leave.
6) Congregants, when you do see a pastor whose church you’ve left, let go of the desire to prove to him you are doing ok. Look, we know people leave our churches and thrive all the time. It doesn’t make us feel better or worse. God is gracious and people thrive. I certainly hope everyone who left my church is doing more than ok, but when meeting a congregant on the street who spends fifteen minutes telling me how they are doing better than they’ve ever done, how their new church is amazing and fantastic and of their undying devotion to their new pastor, it makes me feel that either 1) they are not doing well and just trying, out of pride, to convince me, or 2) they are angry and bitter at me and trying to hurt me by showing me how much better they were without me. Neither of these feels very good or leads to a healing relationship between us. If instead you were to express gratitude for the time you had, for the things he brought you, he will not try to persuade your to come back, and frankly will probably be more assured that in fact you are doing well. After all you were seeing things clearly enough to appreciate him! 🙂
7) Congregants, don’t expect your pastor to keep pastoring you after you remove yourself from his pastorship. Again, I do try to minister to and love everyone God puts in front of me with needs. But I also know that I have to focus my energies on the most direct stewardships in my life. My family and my congregation, and the unchurched. In the limited time I have on this earth, these are the people I will pursue. If I respect and trust you then I am content that you have moved on to another church where you are being cared for. This means that our relationship will change when you leave. It’s not that I am not your friend, or that I am withholding love. It is that I am trusting that you ultimately went where God directed and now you have to let someone else pastor you. If as a friend you want to do lunch or hang out or even get advice, give me a call. It’s awkward for me to call you precisely because I don’t want you to feel that I am trying to woo you back or control you. You are the one that left, and I expect you to set the tone of the relationship at this point. I know that’s a departure from how it’s been for years, but that’s the change in our relationship.
Ok, just some thoughts from a pastor without a church. If it’s helpful, great. If not, then it wasn’t meant for you.
As for Jerome’s message, it was all about Big idea #1, the primacy of the church. While it was intended as a call to commitment for Destiny people to be outward centered, focused on reaching others; it felt to me like God was affirming the passion of my heart to continue to reach out to sincere unchurched God-seekers. It went into the simmering stew which seems to be turning into something University flavored, something Downtown Central Albuquerque flavored. It’s not yet boiling, the stew is not yet seasoned, and I’m unsure of how palatable I will yet find it. As my wife said of the slowly cooking ideas, “It sounds right, but it sounds like a lot of hard work.”
But I”m enjoying my rest…and I’m wondering if after 23 years, I still don’t know yet what a church actually is…
Until next week faithful readers, pray for me. Love each other, be ye pastor, congregant or in between, or as a friend of mine, meaning the same thing says…just be cool.
It was all moving in slow motion, which was particularly odd because ever since Walter had returned, walking in the door, bringing them to the mine, it had all seemed to be moving too fast, out of control, speeding away from Jonathan like a receding train. He had a plan, which had not just gone wrong, but worse, somehow gone right in a very weird way. How a could a mine he made up be real? How could a story he invented have actually happened? Try as he might he could remember no instance of having heard the story, no evidence of having borrowed from reality for his story. His mind had raced to keep up with the unfolding events before him while he tried at the same time to understand how they could have even ended up here. Clang clang, chug chug, the train raced on.
Kati, dear loved-like-a-sister Kati had raced toward the mine shaft. Jonathan thought about calling out, maybe even did (he could never quite remember) but things were still moving very quickly…until,
Jonathan felt as if he were stuck in a dream, or mired behind oceans of water. Rocks were falling, hiding Kati from view, but so slowly, so incredibly slowly. And yet, Jonathan stood. His mind said run, indeed his heart was halfway there already, but his feet just didn’t seem to follow. For a brief moment he saw, no he felt, what Walter lived with day after day. None of this made sense but all lead to this moment, to Kati’s crushing death (or so it appeared at this moment to Jonathan). How could Jonathan’s gag, a stupid story, how could it lead to this? It couldn’t unless God were playing an even stupider gag, taking Jonathan’s made up story and using it to destroy Kati.
The feeling passed almost as quickly as it landed. God was not cruel; this was no gag or dream or game. The confusion fled as Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. Just move, Jonathan, just move. Finally, his feet loosened and Jonathan ran towards the mine. He tried to help Walter (Jonathan felt a little surprise to find Walter already there…he hadn’t truly wasted that much time, had he?), but Walter was like a mad man, shoveling without regard. Half of the rocks he cleared landed on Jonathan and the other half fell back on Walter himself. Jonathan shouted at Walter, trying to calm him, to bring him back, but Walter ignored him and then it no longer mattered, because he was through.
Jonathan checked to make sure the entry looked at least reasonably stable this time and then followed Walter in. Jonathan looked in wonder…Katherine and Walter were kissing.
They were all back at Walter’s place, even Oscar had been allowed in the house and he nuzzled against Kati’s hand until she scratched the top of his head. Her other hand rested comfortably in Walter’s who kept turning to look at her, even as Jonathan talked as if he wanted to be sure she was really here. As if his eyes weren’t enough proof on their own, every so often his hand would squeeze Kati’s.
“And that’s why I think I win.” Jonathan concluded
“Jonathan, now you’re really stretching it. Really this seems a bit far fetched. You’re saying that God engineered this whole thing and then gave you the story like some prophet in the Bible just so that Walter and I would meet? You can’t really believe that?”
“Absolutely. I set out to experiment with which of our philosophies make the most sense and when you consider that only God could have made something completely made up turn out to be real…Well it’s the only possible answer.”
Actually Jonathan had figured out a different answer, the real one he was pretty sure, but he had to be completely sure. The problem was, Walter wasn’t paying enough attention, focused as he was on Kati. He’d have to be more direct.
“So, you see Walter, your doom and gloom stance can’t possibly be right. God made all this happen, just so you could be happy. Kati lived. You, my friend, solved a puzzle which didn’t exist, but which had to be solved in order for destiny to bring you two together. How else do you explain it? “
Walter looked up, a rueful smile.
Jonathan waited. This was it. It had to be.
“No sir, I just lied.”
So he was right then.
Kati looked up in surprise, “What?”
“I hope you won’t be too terribly mad at me, but I figured out pretty early Jonathan had made the whole thing up. You forgot my father founded this place, I grew up here. A legend like that wouldn’t have been wholly unknown to me. So he made it up first, I just made it up second. I took you to a mine I already knew about.”
Kati looked stunned, “But why? Why would you do that?”
“I’m not entirely sure. The way you goaded me. I felt like I had to do something, like being passive was no longer going to work. I felt like I had to make something happen…so I did…and it almost killed you.” Walter looked miserable and worried at Kati’s reaction.
Kati shook her head, but not apparently displeased. She looked seriously but not unhappily at Walter, “Good for you. And almost doesn’t count, you know.”
Jonathan laughed, “I thought so. It was the only thing that made sense. I understand why, but how? How did you know about the mine, and how did you get access.”
Walter looked embarrassed and mumbled something.
Kati, closer to him, heard and laughed.
Jonathan smiled, ready to laugh and asked, “What?”
Walter looked up impatient and annoyed in his embarassment, “I own it. I signed the inheriatance papers. Papers, which I might add, list every known mine in the areas, at least half of which belong to me. That was just one of them.”
Jonathan did laugh, “You, my friend, are now the richest man in California!”
Walter looked miserable, “I know. And that means I have the most to lose of anyone. But you see Jonathan. You do not win. I win, which means I lose. No matter how much I tried I could not avoid my fate. “
“But Walter, Kati lived. You acted and Kati lived. All I can see is fate gave you riches and a good woman. If that’s a curse, I’ll take it anyday.”
“Indeed, Katherine is perhaps the greatest curse of all.”
Katherine drew her hand aside and looked in shocked anger at Walter who was looking at the floor.
“It is my curse to be blessed with much only to always lose it.” He looked now at Katherine who was softening,” I know you well enough already, dear Katherine to know that you are no one’s “good woman” You belong to yourself and would not tie yourself down for the likes of me.”
Kati took Walter’ s hand in hers again, “You say you lose by winning, well I’ll admit that I won by losing. I would have been lost in that mine without your help. You were there when I needed you. I don’t belong to you, but perhaps we need each other. I feel somehow as if being with you will not tie me down, but rather free me for the first time, perhaps.”
“You’ve finally come out of the steamer trunk, have you Kati?” said Jonathan softly.
Kati looked at him in surprise, but then nodded slowly, “Sometimes, Jonny, you are a wonder. “
Walter sat silently for a moment and then turned to Katherine, “Perhaps I am falling into fate’s trap, perhaps I will regret this, but you give me hope, Katherine, dear. Would you consent to marry the world’s most wealthy cursed man.”
Katherine looked at Walter and said quite seriously, “As God is my witness, I will never leave you Walter Newhall.”
Katherine kissed Walter.