"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Spiritual Journey – From God To Man And Back To God Again

Pastor Flighty faced a dilemma. Either he could counsel Elma Johnson to go back to her husband, one of the most indifferently mean men he had ever known; or support her in her decision to go off with the county’s most infamous womanizer.  On the one hand there were the words of St. Paul who believed very much in the sanctimony of marriage but who also admitted than men would be far better off if they remained single.  A mixed message if there ever was one.  Every man since Adam has regretted listening to his wife, and none could deny having second thoughts about matrimony. 

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Women were no different.  In fact Eve was the kind of woman that Pastor Flighty liked – willful, determined, ambitious, and adventurous; so he had considerable sympathy for Elma Johnson caught like many other women in a bad marriage. Yet to fall for a sexual huckster like Sean Harkins was beyond him.  Why drop her drawers for him of all people.  Elma was still a very attractive woman at 50, alluring and even inviting.  Pastor Flighty had noticed the looks men gave her as she walked up the aisle on Sundays to find her pew.  She had that loose-hipped walk that many sexy women have – and many gay men as well.  One Sunday both Elma and Jeffrey Lucas walked up the aisle one after the other, both swishy and confident, in a moment of theatre.

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Pastor Flighty’s ministry had become increasingly menial. Far from the joy of discovering Jesus Christ in divinity school, he felt dispirited and often depressed. Except for the occasions where he could console the bereaved and prepare the dying, his days were spent with the trivial concerns of the likes of Elma Johnson.  He sat on the fence most of the time because his commitment to Christianity had faded and worn thin over time.  He still believed in God and in the saving grace of Jesus Christ; but he could never gin up much enthusiasm for religion and felt that he was only posturing and sermonizing.

To make matters worse his was a middle-of-the-road denomination.  The United Church of Christ had become a pseudo-spiritual haven for the secular liberals who did not want to completely forgo religion; and he found himself mouthing progressive platitudes about universality, inclusion, justice, and respect more than he did about the Beatitudes or the miraculous nature of the Trinity.

He envied his charismatic colleagues who had no doubts about their Lord and Savior, knew with complete certainty that they would be saved and received into His eternal and loving embrace.  Pastor Flighty wished he had the gumption to stand up on the pulpit and ask Jesus to be present among the congregation. “Be with us, O Lord, in thy gracious mercy”, Pastor Jenkins always began his service. “Come down from Thy celestial realm to heal the souls of us poor sinners.”

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“Amen”, shouted the congregation in unison.

“There is a woman in church today who needs you, O Lord.  She is in pain.  She suffers because she has offended you.  She has doubted your love and has drifted into a world of sin.  But she is troubled, Jesus, and wants to return to you.  She loves you, Almighty God. Take her back”.

At this moment without fail some woman would come forward and rush into the arms of Pastor Jenkins.  “I’m sorry, Lord”, she would cry as he rocked her in his arms. “Save me, Dear Jesus.  Save me.”

There was none of that in Pastor Flighty’s church.  It was too excessively spiritual for his crowd for whom morality was more important and who wanted him only to fold in right-thinking behavior into the gospels and not to preside over the fundamentalist circus of the Baptists. This bothered Flighty because he felt he was a man of God, not an arbiter of arbitrary social causes. He knew that William Sloane Coffin, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy and even Jesse Jackson had put their faith into activist garb and felt that the diversion away from the doctrine of grace was worth the trip. Yet he sensed a spiritual insincerity in these men. Good works, after all, were dismissed by Paul, especially the very visible public kind; and this slavish secularism would lead no one anywhere.

Worst of all was the tedium of amateur psychology.  Elma Johnson just wanted a sympathetic ear for her troubles.  Here he was a man versed in the ways of Christ and gifted with as much insight into His mission and meaning as anyone; and he spent most of his day paying bills and listening to the frustrated laments of frustrated housewives. “You’ve come to the wrong place, Sweetheart”, he wanted to say when Mrs. Johnson swished her way into his office and settled into the leather armchair; but he politely listened and hoped that she would make up her own mind without his intercession. That’s what a psychiatrist and a cleric of the church would do.

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As a man, however, and one very much attracted to Elma Johnson and wishing he were her paramour instead of that jerk Harkins, he was so aroused and compelled by jealousy that he wanted to jump off the fence and tell her to fuck both her husband and Sean Harkins and come live with him.

Jesus was a man, after all, and must have had the same longings.  It was Paul who, because of his Eve complex, thought that all women were sinners and best to keep your distance.  Paul is responsible for the world’s sexual hang-ups, not Jesus Christ.

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This all was neither here nor there, but confusing nonetheless.  Who was Pastor Flighty first? A man or a man of God? A secular counselor or a spiritual healer? Jesus as Man-God must have suffered the same confusion.

“Are you sure that Sean loves you?”, Pastor Flighty asked, hating himself for the simpering question as soon as it came out of his mouth. What he really wanted this dumb woman to do was to solve for x in this simple cost-benefit equation.  Was a fling with a hot dick worth the risk to an established marriage?

“I don’t know”, she replied.  “Does it matter?”

Ah, thought Flighty, perhaps in her own dimly-lit mind she understands that a temporary purge can be a good thing, a spiritual Roto-Rooter to make her pure and whole again for the sacrament of marriage.  “No”, he said. “I guess it doesn’t”.  He wanted to go on about Harkins’ untrustworthiness and call up other familiar nostrums; but he knew he had no right. A hundred women in Hartford County had found Sean Harkins irresistible, and that was exactly what drove cuckolded husbands to want to kill him. The fact that there wives were bored and tired was one thing, but to be so easily lured into bed by a Lothario was another.  It questioned their manhood. That was the nature of sexuality, what Paul didn’t understand, and what he – Flighty – was afraid of.

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 Val and Lady, Orpheus Descending

Pastor Flighty knew that unless he stopped the erosion of his faith at the hands of Elma Johnson, he would be lost; and following the example of Jesus and many holy men after him, left the temptations of the world behind him and sought a life of contemplation and prayer. The Benedictines took him in even though he was a Protestant and he spent two years at a contemplative monastery in the Adirondacks. The monks ministered to no one but themselves and sought only to please God and prepare the way to his kingdom.

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Adam Flighty was simply too complicated a man to stay with the Benedictines.  The spare and austere days spent exclusively in prayer and devotion were wearying and if anything chipped away at the last standing foundations of his faith.  He left the monastery and the religious life and with his small inheritance bought a small house in Lebanon, Kansas a small town very close to the geographical center of the United States.  There, he said, he would be equidistant from the secular and progressive coasts, the rabid evangelicism of the South, and the Scandinavian Puritanism of the North. He would be his own man and find God on his own terms if at all.

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