Debra seemed to come alive after appearing quite subdued for most of the morning. She looked like she wanted to speak, yet the words didn’t come at first. She looked up at Tom and back down at the papers in front of her. She wasn’t reading them but playfully rolling them up and then unrolling them. “Mr. Hans, I’ve remained quiet here because, like I’ve said before, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I was invited here by my good Friend Randal because by nature I’m a courious woman. However, having sat here for a few weeks and listened to you making the same points over and over, I felt like it was time I spoke.”
Tom smiled and sat back in his chair, “Of course . . . please do!”
“Well, maybe saying I feel hurt is an over statement. However, I do feel that I must defend all those sincere people in my congregation, the ones who come each Sunday morning and worship God from a pure place in their hearts. I think most of them have grasped His mercy correctly and they don’t come as some futile exercise in trying to win their own salvation. I don’t think you've give us enough credit. We aren’t that dumb herd of sheep, as you portray us. Secondly, it was my understanding that you were here to learn from us . . . but instead, week after week we have endured some pretty sharp lectures from you. I guess those are my main points.”
Tom stared out the window and up into the bare trees as if he was expecting line of crows to fly in . . . bringing him the appropriate words in which to respond to Debra, one by one. Eventually finding the words inside his own head, he spoke, “Debra, I am sorry that my language was harsh. If you know my intent and my perspective you would know that most of my motives were as a scientist, not an arrogant buffoon. It may be hard for you to believe, but I actually have a tender spot in my heart even for David and I deeply regret driving him away. I guess I under-estimated the Earthlings' preoccupation with shame. However, we Hanserians speak rather frankly to each other and I’m sure I’ve been wrong in my lacking of cultural sensitivity. For this I do ask your, as we as Randy’s, Greg’s and Michael’s forgiveness.” He paused to look around the group and he smiled at each member until thy nodded a subliminal notion of forgiveness back in his direction.
Tom continued, “I will have to say that motives in general have a hodgepodge of origins. For example, while I have a deep passion and fascination with this mission, I also am looking forward to the limelight of success when I return home. On my planet, I will be esteemed, at least for a short time by my peers, as your Jane Goodall, Gandhi, Neil Armstrong and Billy Graham all rolled up as one person. There is nothing a man longs more for than to be seen as a hero by the woman he admires. My wife, while missing me terribly, will welcome me like your sports hero . . . and nothing can be better than that. With that I seek my own revaluation and I admit it. With that out of the way,I will return to speak about the dear people of your congregations. I wasn’t attempting to demonize them. I was just pointing out the fundamental basis of human nature, and it doesn’t matter if the humans were reared here on Earth or on my planet. So, while I understand that I came across . . . as you say . . . judgmental, I didn’t mean it that way. It was an exercise in honesty and logic. People, Earthlings and Hanserians, are hopelessly (or near hopelessly) addicted to self revaluation. It is futile of course. I am confident that 90% of the people who attend your Sunday morning church services do it out of 'ought.' To miss a service, makes them feel less value in God's eyes as well as their Christian peers. The real meaning of it was lost a long time ago. So, I will stand by the words which I’ve said.”
Father Randy looked had his wristwatch and responded, “It is getting quite late and I’ve observed the beginnings of the lunch crowd filtering in. Maybe we should adjourn until next week.”
Tom had a wave of panic sweep across his face, “Oh damn!”
Michael always flinched with a look of disgust when Tom used words which he thought were inappropriate.
Tom continued, “Friends, I ask for your patience as I think I’m near a breakthrough in my searching and if you would give me thirty more minutes I will try to wrap this up.”
Greg looked alarmed, “You don’t mean wrapping up this whole journey do you?”
Tom didn’t say anything but shrug his shoulders. Then he looked sad and seemed to have difficulty making eye contact with the group for a second or two. He played in his tomato seeds on his plate with the tip of his fork. He then took a deep breath and continued, “Let me rephrase things a bit.”
The group listened in silence.
“Imagine that on my planet if we took a very different approach to the Gospel and the Church. First of all, we would see the Gospel as God’s act of complete purification, open to everyone who wants it. This means imagining that whenever God thinks of us, He jumps into the air and clicks His heels with a big grin on His face not looking angry at us, and always watching us for screw ups. Then, to keep our focus on this severe mercy, we get together whenever we want, to share the joys of our humanness, art, music, food, drink. But part of that getting together would be watching each other closely, looking for signs of doubts about other's absolute forgiveness. If we see those signs, we would strongly encourage that person to refocus on God’s satisfied ledger and thus encouraging them and helping them to live the enriched lives God wants us to have.
Additionally, we would have no buildings to support, no memberships to define us, no order of activities for us to demonstrate to others how good we are, no schedule for which we become enslaved, no grand ministries or crusades, no collection of money, but the sharing of food and shelter. We would listen to the older people who have had much more life experiences and maturity, but no charters, no doctrinal statements that dice up the scriptures and glue them back together into complex configurations for which they were never intended. We would have no organizational charts, no name for the group, no efforts of a pastor to control or manipulate us to pump up his futile efforts at gaining self revaluation, Do any of you seen any problem with that?”
Greg was smiling, “All I can say is it reminds of a John Lennon song . . . but with a Heaven . . . and a Hell.”
Michael shook his head, “It sounds incredibly dangerous. It also sounds like another sorrow excuse not to go to church."
Father Randy asked, “What about the sacraments?”
Tom sat up straight revealing his tall, slender frame (which seemed to have become taller . . . and more slender since starting this breakfast ritual five months earlier), “Michael, it seems that the greatest danger of all . . . is ending up like you earthlings have. And Father Randy, baptizing one another would be a useful illustration of the great spiritual cathartic. When we ate our meals and thought how Jesus gave up his body and his blood for our lives, it would be a good thing . . . but not a routine or a ritual. Jesus and His disciples were eating a full, regular meal when Jesus said, ‘When you do this remember me.’ It wasn’t a religious ritual neither to them, nor for the Church for a couple hundred years.”
Michael stood up, “On that insulting note, I must depart. I have a lot going on and I really need to get going.”
Tom also stood up and walked around the table. In a move, which was out of character for him, he shook Michael’s hand and then gave him a big hug. “Tell that daughter of yours . . . that she’s a smart girl, she is loved dearly by her father. Tell her too that her father is a decent man . . . and both she and him are totally accepted by their Heavenly Father.”
Michael gave him a strange look and walked towards the cash register.
Tom looked back around and Father Randy was putting on his sheep-shearers jacket and Debra was stuffing the crown of her head into a Norwegian wool cap. They parted as Tom hugged them each.
Greg was still sitting and watching. Tom sat back down beside him and started to gather his things. Greg spoke, “You’re leaving us aren’t you?”
Tom smiled, “We each have a home and there comes a time when the calling of it becomes irresistible.”
Greg’s eyes filled with tears. “But we must get together . . . uh, do you like beer?”
Tom smiled, “It’s the only thing I’ve found more disgusting than coffee.”
Greg reached out and grabbed Tom’s sleeve, “Is this really the end? I have so many questions for you. I’ve got to ask them or I will go mad.”
Tom smiled again, “I’m not the decider about my leaving. I hope, in a way . . . but not in every way . . . to see you next week.” Tom hugged the man with a bear hug, did an about face and was out the door.