Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You Never Know . . .

A week ago yesterday, I picked up a message from my answering machine after returning home from choir. The caller said he was an elder at a church in the Presbytery Over the Border, and he wanted to talk to me about supplying their pulpit in the near future. He left his number and the directive to call back after 4:00 PM.

Oh, excellent. I haven't preached since mid-September!

Next evening, I called back several times, even though I had an AutoCAD test to study for. No answer. No answering machine, either. I let the phone ring and ring, as if the sound could create a hearing ear was no man was, but it was but vain repetition, a sounding gong and a clanging cymbal.

Next evening, Halloween, I called back earlier, closer to 4:00. Ring-ring-ring-ring-ring! Still no answer. This was frustrating. I really do want to preach wherever I can get the opportunity. But why put someone who's never home and who has no answering machine in charge of arranging pulpit supply at your church?

Still, I tried again later, after the trick-or-treaters were all safely home, the depleted bowls of candy brought inside, and the porch lights (if not the jack o' lanterns) extinguished. Ring-ring-ring-ri--!

Oh! Did someone finally pick up the phone?

Darned if I could tell for sure. For instead of, "Hello, this is So-and-so," I heard sounds of electronic confusion (a TV on loud in the background?) and a man's rough voice shouting something incoherent ending with "fifteen minutes!"

Then the line went dead.

Was that some strange sort of answering machine, that hadn't been turned on before?

So fifteen minutes later I called again. Line opens, again the background noise. And again, the loud and angry man's voice, this time ripping out " . . . won't put up with this bu!!sh1t!!!"

And again the line went dead.

I checked the number I'd been calling on my cellphone against the number on my caller ID. I replayed the message and verified the number the church elder gave. It was all the same.

Huh? Is this elder an ecclesiastical version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Does he have an alcoholic grown son living with him? "Inexplicable" didn't half describe it!

But I want to preach wherever I can. So I looked up the number of the church and left a message on their machine, to have this elder call me.

Which he did, this past Sunday. Everything is lovely: I'm scheduled to preach for them one of the Sundays in Advent.

The elder referred to the call I'd left at the church. "Sorry," he said, "for not picking up when you called. I get so many phone solicitors, that if I don't recognize the number, I don't answer the phone!"

Tentatively I said, "Somebody picked up on Halloween night. It sounded like--" [I determined to put the best construction on it]--"there was a party going on."

"Oh, no," the elder replied. "No parties here! It's just me and my grown daughter, and we never do anything like that!"

"Well," said I, "maybe it was the television I heard." And I left it at that. But I don't believe it for one moment. Not about the rough voice. Not about the irruptions of vulgarity.

"I'm sick of you sales people calling me every fifteen minutes!!! . . . I won't put up with this bu!!sh1t!!!"

I wonder, does this elder even now realize that the person he was swearing at the other evening was not an interruptive phone solicitor, but an ordained clergywoman of the Presbyterian Church (USA), under whom he was proposing to sit to hear the Word of God?

And even if it had been a phone solicitor, does this elder not realize that Christian courtesy should extend even to modern-day publicans/tax gatherers such as they? That his ordination vows constrain him in particular to act in Christian love and courage towards all people he encounters, regardless of who or what they might be? Even if that Christian love and courage mean simply saying, "No thanks, I'm not interested," and hanging up?

And yes, do I realize that I represent Jesus Christ to everyone I come in contact with, whether they know I'm ordained or not? It's scary to think how many times I must've thoughtlessly said unChristlike things to people I encounter, even if they weren't as spectacular as the ejaculations of the pulpit supply arranging elder for the little church in the Presbytery Over the Border.

Really scary.

Lord help us. I mean that literally. Because, you just never know.

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