The other men of the church stepped in rather quickly and separated the two. Otherwise they remained speechless. How do you instruct your instructors in a situation like that? If it had been two teens, then a stern lecture about getting along in God's kingdom would have been automatic.
But there was tension that had built between the two like the geological stress along the margins of a tectonic plate fissure deep beneath the Pacific. Jeremy had been elbowed many times and never had an out-bust like that before. Pete was laughing in the locker room about Jeremy had always been a little hot-headed and that he needed to get that under control if he was ever going to succeed with kids or be a real minister.
While Pete was always in control, Jeremy was a free spirit. Some of that had to do with growing up in Kenya. Most of it had to do with growing up in a Christian boarding school from age six where kids, in some ways, raised each other. While there was no question about his sincerity of faith, it was inevitable that as a MK (missionary kid) he learned the game of Christianity at an early age. He knew what to say, when he didn't mean a word of it. He knew how to behave around fellow believers, even if did the opposite when he was with others.
He was never coerced into the ministry, as if he resented it (or at least he didn't resent it until he was thirty), however, he felt it in a deep place that it was his destiny. When he could barely talk his parents made it clear to him that God would prefer if he became a missionary, if not that, a pastor.
But he felt comfortable living in a dichotomy . . . playing the game . . . and not. The chasm between the two sides opened up when he was only twelve. His best friend at the Rift Valley Baptist school was a fellow MK, Rebecca. One bright and sunny day as they were walking in the fields looking for quartz she said, "Can I tell you a secret?" He didn't know what to say. He felt strange enough having a girl as a best friend, let alone knowing her girlish secrets.
"Uh . . .sure. What is it."
"Mr Roberts forces me to play dirty with him." She tried her best to muster up the courage to say it in a nonchalant way, like she was tough and it didn't bother her. But the tears couldn't keep a secret and they rolled down her rosy cheeks anyway.
Jeremy was dumbfounded. He didn't say anything at first. But his maturity was beyond his years and he knew to never say anything about it would be devastating to Becky.
"Mr. Roberts your dorm father?"
"I thought he was a Christian . . . what do you mean play dirty?"
"You know what I mean."
And he did. They never said anything else about it but Jeremy's world was turned on its head. If Mr. Roberts had been a bad missionary, troublemaker, bad singer, messy dresser . . . it might have made sense. But he was the perfect missionary. He was full of life, leading the bonfire singing on Friday nights with great animation and always taking of his faith in God. He also had a perfect missionary wife. How many times did he hear his own dorm parents say how wonderful the Roberts were.
Nothing ever made sense to him again. He had totally believed in the fairy tale before this, but never again. He hated Mr. Roberts. He even imagined how he, just a boy, could orchestrate his "accidental" death, like putting a cobra in his sleeping bag on their camp outs. The sad thing for Jeremy was that he never felt comfortable around Rebecca anymore. He could tell that his quietness hurt her but he didn't know what to do with the emotions of it. Eventually they just stopped being friends. It wasn't until graduation day six years later that Rebecca said something about it. He was saying goodbye and that he would miss her. She, with those same tears, said she had missed him for a long time already.
But Jeremy felt comfortable leaving Kenya and going to Bible school in the states. He fit in very easily where, besides being a garden variety phony, there were plenty of complete phonies to compare himself to and make himself feel better. At least he did have sincere desires to serve God.
The tension at CBC seemed to start around the time that Jeremy started preaching from the pulpit. No one was observant enough to have marked this moment as the watershed . . . but it certainly was.
While Pete was a noted speaker in his twenties, his voice had gone sour a bit by the time he had hit 40. If there was a problem, it was over organization. Each of his sermons, although still delivered with that same confidence that he had as a youth speaker up and down the West coast, was so deliberate, so structured, that he started loosing people. Each sermon had a starting verse, three main points, a summary and a closing verse. His outlines were precise like if they were drawn up by an engineer.
Jeremy, on the other hand, did no prep at all. This terrified Pete at first, and he told Jeremy that he was just lazy. But when the congregation started responded more favorably to Jeremy's ad lib sermons (always accented with a mesmerizing childhood story), Pete's blood flowed green. He would have stopped Jeremy's journeys to the pulpit if the Church tradition had not mandated that the youth pastor preach one Sunday each quarter.
So by the end of their second year together, the tension had built to the point that an intentional elbow (but cloaked as an accident) was all it took for Jeremy to throw the punches.
After that day, in the deep caverns of Pete's soul, he felt determined to spoil Jeremy's success. The fact that he could provoke him so easily on the basketball court was the man's Achilles heel or kryptonite. Deep in those dark places, the senior pastor plotted to bring Jeremy's bad side to the forefront.
Jeremy and Ann were well liked by the teens and their parents and the church in general. Both of them had contagious laughs, which brought life to any situation. The Morrison brought them a fantastic gift one Sunday morning. They had won a Caribbean cruise on a radio call-in contest. They really had no desire to go so they gave it to Jeremy and Ann. The young couple had not taken any trips since their honeymoon to Texas' Red-neck's Rivera three years earlier.
A couple of days before the trip Pete strolled into Jeremy's office. "Hey Jer. You know that Mrs. Clark passed away on Wednesday night."
"Of course, I was at the nursing home the night she died."
"That's right. Anyway, they are waiting until her grand children all get in before we have the funeral so it's going to be delayed until Saturday."
Jeremy didn't even look up from his computer screen, "Yeah."
"Well, you know that I'm helping to lead the KC marriage enrichment weekend and I will be gone all day Saturday."
"I hate to break it to you, Jer, but you are going to have to do this funeral. Mrs Clark was a key member of this church for thirty years. It would be insulting to the entire family if one of our pastors didn't do the service."
Jeremy looks up. "It certainly won't be me."
"I really don't think there is much of a choice."
"Pete, you know that Ann and I have been dreaming of this trip for months. We bought the plane tickets ourselves and they are non-refundable. There is no way I'm telling Ann that we are not going now."
Pete has this contorted laugh and frown. "So, the Lord dies on the cross for us, and one of his servants can't give up a self-centered cruise for Him."
"Nor can his servant give up a marriage retreat for Him!"
Pete gives a loud one breath laugh, "Oh good heavens. Jeremy there is no comparison between doing God's work in helping people to enrich their marriage and a Carnal [sic] Cruise! I am your boss, and I am telling you that you must be here and help this poor suffering family say goodbye to their dear grandmother. This great saint needs more respect than to have her pastor dong the limbo on the deck of a party ship!"
Jeremy jumps up throwing his pen across the room and intentionally slamming his shoulder into Pete on the way out the door.