Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Stage Without a Script - Act IV

At Church on Sunday I felt I had a mission to mend fences.  I watched for the opportunity to either catch Ralph or the pastor. I quickly learned from Kathryn that Ralph was out of town at a convention. I did spot the pastor as he was leaving the vestibule, heading to his office.

ME: "Hey pastor . . . you got a sec?"

PASTOR: "Hmm . . . I've got to get my sermon notes" (he said without making eye contact).

ME: "Oh . . . I just wanted to tell you that I would be happy to be fill in for the adult Sunday school class."

PASTOR: He looked at me with a frown. "Oh that won't be necessary. We have fill ins all worked out now." Then he darted into his office, letting the door close behind him.

I was left with this strange feeling that something still wasn't right. I followed him. As the door opened he seemed irritated that I had come in.

PASTOR: "Yes? Something else?"

ME: "Are you mad at me?"

PASTOR: "Of course I'm not mad at you. I'm a little disappointed. I had a chat with Ralph on Friday and he told me of his odd encounter with you. I just think you are jealous that we picked him to lead the youth instead of you."

ME: "Oh no. My talking to Ralph had nothing to do with that. I just happened to run into him. Really, I'm happy that he and Linda are doing it. I think they will do a swell job. I think I stuck my foot in my mouth by what I said. But sometimes I am curious that's all. I didn't mean any harm."

PASTOR: "Well, I think you owe Ralph and Linda both an apology."

The week seemed to go smooth I didn't see Ralph again until the next Sunday and I did apologize . . . yet in the back of my mind, I knew that I was apologizing so that people would like me again, not because I honestly felt like I had done anything wrong.

The following week we had our semi-annual congregational meeting. It went well. I kept my mouth shut for most of the night, not knowing if I would say the wrong thing. But then at the end of the night, as we were talking over the budget, Ted, one of the senior elders and local football coach had a presentation.

He got up and used a power point to show a potential billboard that he wanted our church to co-sponsor with the Church of God. The billboard was to be placed on the airport road facing the traffic coming from the airport. On the billboard was an American flag in one corner, the face of an eagle in the other corner and in the middle a glowing cross. Across the top it simply said, "God Bless our Veterans." Beneath that it read "Thank You!"

Ted had patriotic music playing as he spoke. The group of the two hundred members seemed deeply moved. I on the other hand felt an intense unease. I saw the billboard from the eyes of a Pakistani immigrant. So when Ted asked if there were any questions, my mouth began to speak before my warning light went off, trying to keep me out of trouble.

ME: "Do we really want to be mixing Christianity with American patriotism?"

Like a fire alarm was going off the entire congregation immediately turned and looked at me. It was a sea of frowns and some heads shaking.  Susan started putting distance between the two of us. I knew I was in trouble once again. I wanted to try and explain myself.

ME: "I mean, my father was a veteran of the World War II and I am deeply grateful to him for his sacrifice. I'm a veteran of the first Gulf War. I know how hard it is for our military . . . but I'm afraid the billboard might send the wrong message."

TED: (Seeming perplexed) "What is the wrong message?  That we love our country and our men and women who fight for us to keep us free?  I'm not sure I see your point."

I knew I was the only dissenting voice at that point. If I had known I would have been alone I would probably have kept quiet because I hate being . . . well, hated.

ME: "My point is that we should keep our political views, our patriotic beliefs in a different place than our Christianity. I mean, I'm sure there are Christians who don't agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

JOHN (another member): "Dan, we aren't at war as a country, we are at war with the Devil. Those Muslims want to force all of us to become Muslims. This IS a Christian war. You are either for us are against us . . . as Jesus Himself said. We didn't start this war. They did on 9-11."  It seemed like everyone in the place was shaking their heads in agreement . . . including Susan.

I was just thinking how badly I wanted this conversation to end and I didn't know how to end it. I especially wanted out because I just came out of one big controversy and now I'm in the middle, alone, of another.  Once again my social cue radar didn't pick up how this was going to turn out. As I searched for words one of our senior members shouted out, "Why don't you move to France," after which there was a roar of laughter.

ME: "Well, 9-11 was a great evil, but it wasn't simply Muslims wanting us to become Muslims. It was far more complicated than that."

I looked around and I thought I saw a smile on Ralph's face . . . but I couldn't be sure. So I just said, "I'm done. I've had my say."

The church voted and I was the only vote against the billboard.

In bed that night Susan asked me, "So, you want to make trouble once again? I guess I just don't know where your heart is anymore."

I laid awake for the entire night. I just couldn't get my head around it. I had no clue that my words would have been received with such hostility. Never would I have guessed that I would have been alone in my views. Once again, I totally misread the cues.

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