Things have been unpredictable around here. Charlie died, as you know. My friend Tom called to tell me his life is falling apart, and I found a Superball at church. It has a chunk gouged out of it so it bounces funny.
They do say these things come in threes.
Perhaps I should explain about Tom. He’s a Baptist pastor in a town near mine. His wife came home recently and told him she wanted a divorce. They have three children, and he has to leave the house. He lost his family and his home in just a few hours. It gets worse. Most Baptist churches do not want a divorced person to be their pastor. Pastors can be greedy, manipulating sons-of-bitches, but they better not be divorced. It’s hypocritical and stupid, but that’s the way it is.
I grew up Baptist, so I feel entitled to speak my mind here.
I met with Tom and his deacons the night he told them his family was falling apart. They were surprisingly gentle and sympathetic. They told him he could stay on as pastor. They laid hands on him and prayed for him. They promised in Jesus’ name they would stand behind him and walk with him through these hard days. He burst into tears because it was the first moment of grace he had received since the whole thing started.
That was Thursday night. Sunday morning they fired him, the chicken-shit bastards. They lied. I don’t even know why. Maybe they wanted to be nice and polite in front of the visiting pastor. So they prayed to Jesus while they made plans to toss Tom out like trash. They remind me of people who lower their voices to a polite whisper when they say something racist.
So now Tom is jobless and homeless. And I promise you Baptist churches aren’t lining up to hire a divorced pastor who was fired from his last church. After eight years of education and ten years of service, he’ll have to find some other way to live. I’m so damn mad the only thing I can do is change the subject rather abruptly and tell you about the Superball I found at church.
Kids left it, I guess. I found it under the communion table. Charlie was dead and Tom was screwed, so I threw it as hard as I could against the wall and watched it bounce around the church.
However it sounds now, it made sense to me at the time.
A wall, a beam, a “bud-ah-bump” under a chair, a bad hop on the grout, and so on. It finally came to rest on a tile by the back door. I walked over to it and considered the unlikely series of events that brought the ball and me to this spot. I had to say something.
“Behold. Of all the tiles in the room, you were chosen.”
My second throw took a weird bounce off a music stand and damn near broke the communion chalice that Francis gave to the church in memory of her mother. I had a vague sense that this wasn’t the sort of thing responsible pastors do in church. I am called to be something of a caretaker around here. So I took the chalice down from the fireplace mantle and put it in the kitchen where it would be safe. Then I ran back to the sanctuary to play with my Superball some more. I found that even if I threw it at the same spot on the wall, it never ended up in the same place on the floor. What with the irregular surfaces in the room and the chunk missing from the ball, there was no way to predict where it was going to end up.
Chaos. Our ancient foe.
Genesis says God hovered over the waters and brought order out of chaos with mighty words. I don’t know about you, but that impresses the hell out of me. When you bring order out of chaos, you’ve done a day’s work. And since God went to all that trouble, lots of people come to church hoping to find an easy way out of chaos. They want to know the future or make sense of the past. They hope that preachers like me will speak a mighty word and bring order out of the mess. But I got news for you. I ain’t God. I’m just a guy with a bad haircut bouncing a ball around the sanctuary and talking to himself.
Welcome to our church.
There are a lot of irregular surfaces here. Pews and tables and pulpits and that kind of stuff. And most of the people are wounded in one way or another. You take a guy with a chunk missing and bounce him off a communion table, and he’s liable to end up just about anywhere. Shoot, that’s half the fun.
People come through the doors broken and hopeless and end up teaching Sunday School. I’ve seen it. Other people come though the door with all the answers and end up crying on the floor. I mean, you just never know with church.
Tom said he wants to come to our church on Sunday. A big chunk has been taken out of his life, so he should feel right at home with us sinners. When he walks through the door he’ll meet Evangelina and Pepe. He’ll see Stan, Carol and Elliot. God help him if Chloe gets to him first.
I haven’t told you about Chloe. I’ll have to do that one of these days.
And even though Tom’s life seems like chaos right now, he’ll be welcome to bounce around these walls with us as long as he likes. And who knows? One good bounce off the communion table could make all the difference.
The Superball? I took it to my office and gave it a place of honor right in Tigger’s lap. I might take it down now and then and toss it around. Sometimes I need a little reminder of what church really is.
When life seems chaotic, you don’t need people giving you easy answers or cheap promises. There might not be any answers to your problems. What you need is a safe place where you can bounce with people who have taken some bad hops of their own.
You need love and understanding and lots of room.
That’s what church should be.