Saturday, December 31, 2011


Debra pulled out of Munising in her little, black Jetta, going up the steep hill to the top of the Peninsula plateau.  She turned out and left onto M28 for her drive to GERMFASK.  It was a lovely early autumn day. The sky was a deep, sapphiric blue. Far below the Pictured Rocks Cliffs she saw glimpses of Lake Superior in all her glory, a paler blue than the sky but stretching out to meet it at the northern horizon with a feathered edge. Debra noticed for the first time that the golden Autumn-fairy had lightly touched her magic wand to the tips of the maples, aspens and birches on the higher hills.  Soon, from these points of origins, gold would melt down across the hillcrests and then the valleys with such intensity that a prolonged look could make you go blind.  Even Vermont’s  mountains of October revert to greenness  in envy of this remote and obscure Autumn delight.

Debra was feeling stable on her feet once again after a scare just a week earlier. She was huddled in the ICU of the Flagstaff Medical Center, praying for her dear friend Father Randy.  The two of them had a wonderful, and long-planned, mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. However, in the middle of the night, in the bottom of the abyss, Father Randy awakened with crushing chest pains. It seemed like hours before the rescue helicopter could make its landing at clearing to pick him up.  Since there was only room for the patient and the medics, Debra had the torturous task of waiting until daybreak, without any cell tower coverage, to make her way back up the canyon wall to civilization. By the time she reached the hospital, Randy had already been evaluated, diagnosed and treated . . . with a stent to keep his circumflex artery open. 

But now they were both back in the Upper Peninsula.  This morning’s breakfast would be the first time she had seen or talked to Randy since they left each other at the Marquette airport four days earlier. He did ask her not to share his story with anyone. It was his sense that a priest has the calling to be the caregiver . . .  and not the cared-for.

Pulling into the graveled parking lot outside the inn with the sound of cracking limestone under her rubber tires, Debra noticed that all the cars of her fellow breakfasteers were there, including the mysterious stranger.  During her hour drive, she had meditated on how to pigeon-hole her views on the Gospel. She felt torn between what she questioned in her heart and what her church expected.

 She also felt this great uneasiness about the fact that she wasn’t prepared to answer the stranger.  Even after a BA degree from a Christian college and a Masters in theology and ministry. Even after having prepared for and delivered a thousand sermons in her career; too many Bible studies, funerals, weddings and other extraneous Christian ceremonies to count, she still wasn’t sure what the Gospel really was.

She would soon find out that it didn’t really matter.  Debra said her hellos around the table and took her usual spot between Father Randy and Greg Landis.  Everyone else were in their traditional seats, with Tom Hans just to the right of Greg, going counter-clockwise was followed by David Smith, then Mike Monroe and back to Father Randy to complete the circle.

As Debra slipped off her jacket and reached to her left and gave Randy a little hug, Sharon appeared and took her order . . . “I’ll try your mushroom and spinach omelet. That’s new isn’t it?” asked Debra.  Sharon smiled and nodded.

Debra looked around the table and saw the faces of each of the men for the first time with consideration.  Mr. Han’s cheeks were quite red, like sunburned, if not that, then wind burned.  The stranger then spoke while she was still studying his form . . . as if to help her made a judgment if he really could be extra-terrestrial.

“Friends, I hope you had a wonderful summer vacation.  I’ve spent the time in study and contemplation. I know on our last meeting I was trying to get you to define the Gospel. This is very important to my people and a clear definition is imperative. However, and I shouldn’t have been surprised, that we got nowhere fast.  There was a spectrum around the table as what constitutes a ‘true believer.’”

Tom continued, “I think, that despite my years of study from a distance, I under-estimated to what extend that you earth-dwellers reason from emotion than logic.That emotion, of course, is deeply fused with your sense of value. As I told you before, and I don’t want to offend you in any way (reaching out and touching David on his left arm and smiling at him) but our people discovered a long time ago to separate those two parts of our brain’s processing. We reason and make decisions from logic. We save the emotions simply for personal enjoyment.”

David looked almost angry, “I have to disagree with you.  I think we are very logical.”

Tom smiled with a kind smile, “Hmm . . . I know that you think that, but it isn’t true.  Here is my point. We couldn’t have a logical discussion around this table about what is the Gospel, because each person’s position on the topic has been set in concrete . . . or at least a thick mud. That setting has to do with your personal up-bringing and your social context and not about logic.  You can't speak against what your group thinks, or it would take away your sense of value . . . and emotional issue.

Tom paused for a minute and then continued, "You would like to think it was through a logical process, but it wasn’t. Therefore, when it is set in hardened emotional-congregate all you have left to do is to defend that position to the bitter end.  So, to save a lot of time, I simply searched the electronosphere . . . woops . . . I mean what you call the Internet, and read what your churches teach.  I read both your denominational views and in some cases, such as Debra’s here, I read you actual church’s web site for that information. So, now it is a moot point because I know that none of you will sway from those positions.”

David spoke again, “I still disagree with you and am a bit offended that you think that we reason from emotions. If I didn’t believe exactly what the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee to be exact, believed, I would be out the door tomorrow. But it is my personal study of scriptures that has led me to my position, using logic and inspiration from the Holy Spirit.”

Tom smiled again, “Nope, it isn’t true. You wouldn’t change your position no matter what someone else said or what you read in scripture because to do so would have tremendous emotional consequences to you. You would have to leave your church. You would be unemployed. You would lose your insurance. You would have to find a job or new denomination that would accept you as a pastor and lastly, and where most of the rigidity comes from in your concrete, you would lose your friends. They would think less of you if you didn’t believe like they do. So the consequences are just too great for you to change your mind.”

Sharon showed up with three plates, two of omelets and one of an assortment of tomatoes, fresh ones, fried ones and even a special tomato pudding that she made just for Tom. He smiled and thanked her.

Then he continued, “This is very different among my people. We figured this out a long time ago. We reach our positions of thought, our decisions of life, based on the logic God has given us . . . then we enjoy the emotions that come later. We never put emotional pressure on others to think like we do. It is not political or emotional.  We do not feel threatened when someone doesn’t think like we do. We enjoy logical dialog and that dialog has real consequences. If there is enough logic presented, we do change our minds.  This is why we have never had a Dark Age. This is why we stopped the very illogical thing called war a long time ago.  But don’t be offended, all your society thinks from emotions. Your atheists are just as bad or worse about it. They conform to those they study and work with on an emotional level, not on a logical level. You could not thrive very well emotionally if you had a deep conviction about Christianity being true and getting a higher degree in a program where atheism is highly esteemed.”

Tom slipped two freshly cut tomatoes into his mouth and smiled.

“So, back to what I was saying, Uh . . .”

A voice came from Tom’s left, “I think this is one area that I might side with David on,” said Greg.  "I started out a long time ago as a Baptist, then I became a Methodist minister and now I’m attending a Unitarian congregation as a retired Methodist minister. So, we can change our minds.”

Tom answered, “Oh, I never said that you don’t change your minds, but you earth dwellers convince yourselves that you reach certain positions because of logic, or as David was saying, that God speaks directly to you with certain facts, which are not evident through the senses.  But that isn’t true most of the time. Greg, I challenge you to go back and review your changes in course. I suspect that those changes happened on emotional factors. You met people who you liked and who thought differently. You wanted to be their friend, so you started to think more like them. I suspect you left the Baptist church when you figured out you were gay and that might be why you like the Unitarians so much. Once you people make a decision on an emotional level, you go back and support that decision with some logic to continue the illusion.”

Father Randy spoke, “I’m not sure that is so bad. God works though society and teaches us from one another and sometimes that teaching comes through conformity to those whom we love.”

Tom seemed to me more confrontation than before their August break as he looked intensely at Father Randy, “Father all due respect, but as a man of the Catholic cloth, you are closely bound by your church’s teaching. You could not publically say that the Protestants are right in their view of the Gospel because to do so, you would have to step down from your position, maybe be excommunicated and it would have a profound change in your life. Your views on the Gospel are strictly limited by the concrete restraints of your church. So, I don’t need to put you in the position of trying to explain to me what you think the Gospel really is, I just will take one of your church’s manuals on the Gospel.”

There was an uneasy silence around the table.  No one noticed that Mike had left to take a phone call on his cell and had returned.

Tom spoke once more after downing a teaspoon of his pink pudding.  “So I will end this topic by summarizing that there are two views of the Gospel. One is that God gave it as a gift to completely cleanse us from our guilt and allow us to stand boldly in His presence. However some of you, such as you Father and you, David, believe that the Gospel is not enough in itself but must be combined with other rituals.”

“I do not believe such things!” said David in almost a shout.

“David,” said Tom, “Did you not define the true believer by many terms of rituals?  They are the ones who watch certain TV, read certain books, aren’t gay, aren’t Democrats and etc.?”

David just stared in silence.

Tom continued, “So here is the question I really want you to think about for next week. This is very, very important to my people. What is the Church?  What is required of us for being a Church?  I would love to hear your honest opinions and base it as much as possible on logic and what you read in scripture.  I give you permission to say things that your church or your Christian friends don’t believe. “

Tom cleared his throat and continued, “You see, our people don’t have any type of meeting that you would call church. We are in some sense a theocracy because we don’t separate our government from our belief in God. So when we meet to do the business of our society, well, that is as close as we come to what might look like a church. But now that I will be taking the scriptures back with us, we want to know what they really say about church.”

It is New Year's Eve and I had to type in a rush without proofing. I hope to come back and fix the errors, bare with me please.

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