On Stopping by the Study, 09/26/2011
John stopped by the pastor’s study to welcome Phil to the neighborhood.
“Got time for a cup of coffee in town?”
There would be many coffees and lunches over the next eighteen months. Then Phil would be done with the interim.
John was ebullient, sort of hyper, always excited about something going on at his inner city congregation. And his boys, always something about the boys: “Phil, you can’t believe Jim’s slider. It breaks this far.” He holds his hands three feet apart.
“A slider drops. A curve breaks.” John’s hands went from horizontal to perpendicular.
Phil thought of the Dutchism, “How big is baby? Sooo big.”
Hands three feet apart, horizontal or perpendicular; it was still a big baby.
In particular, he loved his Saturday morning men’s breakfast/bible study. That one puzzled Phil. A progressive fellow in all things theological, John loved delivering the message through traditional forms. Ah, the saving grace of the familiar.
University of Michigan Law grad, leader of one hundred lawyers at a well known firm, John searched for more than torts.
Following bliss, he said, he started seminary, a local denominational seminary, because it was close.
Quitting work, he enrolled full-time and became a Lutheran pastor.
His parents and sister wondered if he would ever grow up. Then his wife wondered the same thing not to mention the drop in salary. The three boys loved being with their dad; he was kind of a kid and was always there for them.
John often wondered what he would be if and when he grew up.
Two years after the initial coffee, John and Phil had breakfast. He asked Phil if he was familiar with Georges Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky. Phil asked if they were linebackers for the Bears.
Stiffening his back and holding his big, black wavy mop high, he summoned his best Russian accent: “You vould never understand de Rrrrussian meestics.”
“Oh, I’ve read Leo Stoletoy. He robbed me of my innocence.”
John then spoke of “polar points” and finding his polar point right there in the church on the staff of all things. Imagine that!
“Now you are crediting the Russian mystics for it,” Phil said, “And it still sounds like adultery.”
John knew he wouldn’t understand. Ouspensky was just too deep for Phil not to mention Gurdjieff.
Russian mystics or not, John was out of ministry.
A year later, Phil heard that on a particularly cold March morning, fully clothed, John walked into Lake Michigan and didn’t walk out. Phil wondered if John sang, “He Waded in the Water” as he walked in.
His wife was divorcing him; his three sons just shook their heads and cried, ever so hard.
Phil sat in his study. “Damn you, John. Damn your soul to hell.”
He thought of how much he loved John and then he thought of the three boys:
An outstanding pitcher in high school who chose scholarship over the diamond; a brilliant middle child who as a college sophomore tried to trump his dad on philosophy; the youngest who wanted to follow his dad into the peace corps.
He thought of a seventeen-year-old boy who sat on a squeaky, folding, wood chair in a God forsaken pastel parlor listening to the sonorous sounds which belied the pastor who had told his dad to pray more when his dad was prayed out and before his dad
walked into the water never to return, either.
He thought of the teacher who took the then eighteen-year-old under his academic wing and introduced him to the tragedies of Shakespeare and the comedies. Thank God for Falstaff.
He looked around the study at the mementos, the certificates with lots of people behind them. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“I’m sorry, John. I’m so sorry.”