This is a somewhat early RLP piece, written when I was still anonymous. I’d guess it was 2003.
I met Hugh Elliott, the man who writes Standing Room Only, by email back in December of 2002 when I began Real Live Preacher. Hugh sent encouraging messages and helped me figure out the software used by the Salon bloggers. We’ve communicated regularly since then, and I consider him to be a real friend.
When Hugh suddenly stopped writing during a time of grief and loss, a number of bloggers were concerned about him, including me. On a crazy whim I sent him my name, address, and phone number. I told him to call me if he ever needed to talk.
So much for anonymity.
His own support systems bore the load, so he never needed to call, but Hugh remains the only person in the blog world who knows who I am. A handful of people know my first name, but he knows everything.
Okay, now you know about Hugh. Fast-forward to last week.
I got that crappy church catalog in the mail. Thumbing through it kicked up the disillusionment and depression that is always lurking just below my surface. It seemed to me that the church was nothing more than an institution. It seemed to me that the memory of Christ was very far away.
Sometimes when I’m down, I imagine what my life would be like if I just walked away from the church. When this happens, it does seem like a voice speaking to me. I think the voice is just me working through my sadness, but I don’t claim any expertise in this.
On this day, Hugh Elliott came to mind. I thought I would like to stand toe-to-toe with Hugh and talk about what it means to live. In that crazy moment I sat down and started writing a story about the catalog and the voice and the promise of an upcoming fantasy visit to Los Angeles.
Of course, when you say you’re going to write part two of a story, you need to honor that commitment.
Friday came and writer’s block was setting in. I had to create a whole journey to Los Angeles, and the only thing I had written down was a snippet of dialogue that would take place when Hugh answered the door.
Me: “I thought you’d be wearing a kimono or something.”
Hugh: “Oh my God!”
Hugh: “You think all gay men wear kimonos, don’t you?”
Friday night I was at home my family, but half my brain was wondering what the hell I was going to write. I liked my little kimono bit, but it wasn’t much to go on.
And then the phone rang.
It was a man, but I didn’t recognize the voice. He said, “Do you know who this is?” I admitted that I didn’t.
He laughed and said, “It’s Hugh Elliott.”
I shit you not.
We talked about everything, and we talked for a long time. We talked about my disillusionment and the bad table and the communion wafers by the box. It was wonderful.
The conversation ended like this:
“Well, if I ever decide to take off this collar for good, I’ll come and see you, just like I said in that thing I wrote.”
“That’s not going to happen. You’re not going to take off that collar.”
“Because I wouldn’t let you.”
“No. You’ve been called, and you have important work to do. Keep the collar. If you came to see me, I’d teach you to make bread.”
There were a few more words, then we said goodbye. I didn’t need to go to Los Angeles. Hugh came to me.
I gave him my phone number in case he needed me. He used it because he could tell I needed him. Hugh Elliott became my communion bread on Friday night. He became that vehicle of grace.
And I learned something in all of this that will help me the next time I let myself get depressed over something as silly as a bad table and a catalog.
If the wafers are going stale for you, be the bread yourself. Break yourself open and nourish the world. If the communion table seems cheap and tacky, become a table yourself. Be a resting place for the weary. If you feel there are no more angels, pick up the phone and spread your own tidings.
Gather your bread. Set your table. Shout your good news.
Do these things in remembrance of HIM.