Building up to the last few scenes of the Great Gatsby, George Wilson is sitting in his old, run down gas station office in great anguish. That day he has learned that his wife, Myrtle had taken a lover. Then, in a desperate, but futile, move to save his love, he had locked her up in their upstairs apartment as he made preparation to move quickly west.
Myrtle had seen her lover, Tom, stopping by in Gatsby’s big yellow car to get gas on their way to NYC. When she saw the car coming back, this time driven by Tom’s wife Daisy, (but Myrtle assuming it was Tom), she broke out of the apartment and ran out to flag her lover down . . .only to be accidently struck down and killed.
Michaelis, a Greek friend of George, is talking to him . . . trying to bring him some comfort. “You must know a pastor we can call? Didn’t you ever go to church? Weren’t you baptized or married in a church? There must be a pastor there we can call. George you must know some pastor who can come or some church we can go to?”
Michaelis is thumbing, in desperation, through the phone book trying to find the name of a pastor whom he can call in this time of great crisis for George. In the meantime, George in his silence is slowly packing his gun into a paper bag. By sunrise he walks all the way to Long Island to take God’s revenge into his own hands . . . and does but against the wrong man.
There are those times when the same ideal comes at you from a variety of sources. I don’t think anything supernatural happened here like, “God is trying to tell you something” but just the timing. There have been many sources about this concept of Christians in crises . . . including our recent discussion here about newsletters.
My mind still carries the image of George Wilson in his time of catastrophe. I have both the image generated by my own imagination while I read the book and the one of the dirty, sweaty man in coveralls as portrayed in the movie. Even as one is superimposed over the other I still sense the great pain the man bore.
I’ve never experience an acute dismay as George. I mean I’ve never had the horrible experience of having a child killed suddenly in an accident or a wife walking out the door. I’ve heard from those, within our church, that when they have suffered such a calamity that our pastor does an excellent job. If I were George I would have called him.
But what about the more methodical, gradual drift into pain? Those are the difficult ones. Where first, your job is lost, then trouble in the marriage, then a new but not fatal illness . . . followed by doubt. Where do Christians go in this type of crisis? I think the answer is not easy.
But maybe Michaelis was spot on. We should be able to run to the church at those times . . . and be met by an unquestioning embrace. But does that happen?
I will first tell a true story when it did, then a one that reflects a far too common experience.
I read this story about ten years and it was true, but now I’ve forgotten the details. I will have to fictionalize it just to fill in the facts, which I’ve forgotten.
There was a large church in the NW, Portland I think, which had a great small group program. A married couple in one of the small groups (whom I will call Tom and Betty) were in their 50s. They had a daughter living with her husband and two children, I think in some place like Denver. The news broke one day on CNN that a man in Denver had walked into a post office (or some other building but I thought if I said “post office” I would have a good chance of being correct) and shot the place up, killing several people. It was on all the news stations. Then Tom and Betty got the horrible news that it was their own son in law (whom they had considered a good Christian man) who had done the killings, before turning the gun on himself. The news broke on the local Portland stations and soon the vans with the satellite dishes were circling their house.
Within an hour, the word got out through the church’s prayer chain. Men and women in Tom and Betty’s small group immediately sprung to life, walking away from their jobs, hopping in their cars and making their way to their house.
Some of the men barricaded the cul-de-sac, keeping all media away. Some of the couples were on the phone with the police in Denver taking care of all the business that they could. They were bringing food, sitting and crying with Tom and Betty, when needed. They were running urgent errands for them, washing their clothes (as this ordeal continued for several days). This crowd of “lovers” took care of their co-small group members like only someone with selfless love could.
But that example was still too much of the acute crises like George’s. The more common is what I’ve observed in my own life and in those of friends.
In this past year I’ve had two sets of friends at church go through a tough crisis. However, it was very, very difficult to find out about. It was usually the wife sharing with my wife after a long night around a campfire and a few glasses of wine. But it wasn’t simple things . . . but horrible things. Yet, they face they donned at church carried the same stoic smiles, and no one else had a clue what they were going through in their secret lives.
What the hell is wrong with us? How did we create a society where we have to enter the valley of darkness . . . alone? I’ve been there at least twice. Both times my Christian friends were the first to pull back. . . save one or two.
This post is getting long and I haven’t even start to try and understand why, let alone a solution. I do know of some people in these situations walk out the back door of the church forever.
I’ve tried to promote honestly, and openness within my present church as well as previous ones, but it is totally against the grain. When one of our central couples suddenly divorced a few years ago and one saw it coming, I made the comment that we have to create a safe place where we can talk about these things. A prominent leader, almost shouted out, “The church is no place to air your dirty laundry.” I was stunned.
Then I tried to lead a very open small group (wanting to create the same situation as in Portland). Then one night two husbands confronted me about, “Just digging up dirt.”
Both of those men have sense left our church. One, so I’ve heard, is drinking heavily, has been arrested for fighting with his son and other problems. Why can’t we talk opening about the undercurrents before they drag us under?
I think I really lack social skills for making these things happen. I feel like I am a foreigner. I’ve asked Denise what is wrong with me. She shrugs her shoulders and says, honestly, “Maybe you scare people off.”
“How” I ask.
“You get too personal. Men like to talk about sports and the weather. You can’t ask them how they feel about things.”
I guess she is right. But still there must be a way where we can talk and enjoy what I think is the essence of fellowship.