Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 27

Chapter 27

The rain at the end of the week was just what was needed to put a few more people in the pews on Sunday morning. Not that 86 was all that thrilling of a number, but it was a welcome change of direction from the 70s and 60s that occupied most of July. Farmers, of course, were still in the fields, but ranchers had a chance to relax a little. Wives and children were at least present. Glynn took this as a positive sign that things were turning around and was able to relax a little after the evening service, taking time to play in the yard with the kids before they had to go to bed. He was beginning to feel as though he might, finally, be settling into this full-time pastorate thing.

The pastor was still feeling that same confidence as he drove to Arvel for the pastors’ conference on Monday. Morning temperatures weren’t quite as hot so he drove with the car windows down and the radio blasting as he drove as fast as he dared down the highway. He even dared to sing along with Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” something he would only do when no one else was within possible earshot. 

The meeting was at a different church this morning. Olivet Baptist Church was on the East side of Arvel, a smaller church whose regular Sunday morning attendance was just a little less than Adelbert’s. Glynn pulled into the small parking lot noting the usual pastors who were present, and curious by a couple of newer vehicles he didn’t recognize. Unlike their meetings at other churches, this one was taking place in the church sanctuary, which felt a little more formal. A lectern stood in front of the left section of pews as pastors stood in the aisles talking. At the front, Emmit seemed to be in serious discussion with a face Glynn only partially recognized. He knew the man was from Oklahoma City but couldn’t remember what he did there and was curious that he would be all the way up in Arvel on a Monday morning. Oklahoma City was a good four-hour drive away.

Emmit called the meeting to order and the pastors took seats in the first four rows of pews, Glynn and Carl choosing the fourth row, visibly separated from the others. After the usual roll call, Emmit introduced Bruce Haggard, the state convention’s director of religious education. Bruce was present to explain some significant changes coming to the Sunday School curriculum starting with the next quarter in October. It was especially important to push the new curriculum because the association had the lowest rate of using the convention materials in the state.

Glynn yawned. He couldn’t help it. From his perspective, Southern Baptist churches used Southern Baptist materials and if someone in a Sunday School class wanted to challenge the content of that material on any given Sunday then that just made for a more lively and in-depth discussion. He knew too well that adult classes were often little more than gossip sessions using scripture as a cover. He also found it disturbing in his own church that men’s and women’s classes were separate except for the “young adults” class from which one was ejected when they turned 40. Trying to change that tradition, though, was something Glynn had elected to not undertake for fear that the resulting turmoil might create more problems than it would solve.

As the meeting ended, Carl couldn’t resist teasing Glynn about his apparent lack of interest. “The morning’s topic a little dry for you?” he chided.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Glynn confessed. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I appreciate the changes they’re making but was that really worth him making the trip all the way up here from Oklahoma City on a Monday morning? Seems a bit excessive to me. Why the over-sell?”

“Because more than half these churches use curriculum from nondenominational publishers and there are three churches I know of that don’t use any curriculum at all, they just let their teachers wing it,” Carl explained. “You’d be surprised at what’s being taught in some of these Sunday School classes.”

Glynn shook his head. “Is that something we can really control, though? Our women’s classes are little more than gossip sessions. The men sit around and talk weather and farming and second-guessing Coach Fairbanks, who had better have a good season this year or I’m going to have to preach on anger management.”

Carl laughed. Oklahoma University football was almost as much a religion across the state and there wasn’t a Southern Baptist church in the state that didn’t experience Sunday morning attendance fluctuations based on how well the Sooners were playing. “I’m thankful for away games,” he said. “We have a couple of diehard Crimson and Cream fans who are in Norman for every home game and don’t make it back until late Sunday afternoon. It amazes me how seriously they take their football.”

“It was one of the first topics raised to me when I moved here back in February,” Glynn said. “February and they were thinking about this fall’s football season. Something about a set of brothers in the defensive lineup.”

Carl was still laughing and nodding his head. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Lucious, Lee Roy, and Dewey Selmon. They’re already calling them the Selmon Wall. My last deacon’s meeting was nothing but that and how we’re going to beat Nebraska.”

Glynn had started walking up the aisle toward the door as he said, “Too bad we can’t turn that enthusiasm into more excitement for the church.”

“Maybe we can,” Carl responded. “That guy from Houston a couple of weeks ago, you remember we said he talked about meeting people where they are? So, what if we find a way to make the result of Saturday’s game affect something on Sunday morning? Not anything critical, mind you, but some kind of contest.”

Glynn paused and gave the idea some thought. Certainly, the men in his church were competitive enough that the right tactic might work. “Any specific?” he asked.

Carl shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think it needs to be something fun, something that won’t actually distract too much.”

“And what happens if the season doesn’t turn out as good as everyone seems to think it will?” Glynn asked.

“Then Chuck Fairbanks is going to be looking for a new job,” Carl laughed. “I don’t know, just an idea. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.”

Glynn said careful and hasty goodbyes where he thought necessary and then made his usual rounds at the hospital. There was no one in critical condition this morning, just a couple of minor surgeries for older people who would be back up and ignoring their doctor’s advice by the end of the week. Despite the weekend’s rains, the weather was still hot and Glynn was hoping to spend most of his afternoons in the air-conditioned office. The books Clement had given him provided plenty of new and interesting material to read, much of which challenged his long-held beliefs, forcing the preacher to either justify what he had been telling people from the pulpit or consider changing his views. 

For the most part, Glynn got what he wanted. Marve was busy getting the kids ready for school in a few weeks, an extra chore with Hayden starting kindergarten. Afternoon heat kept most everyone indoors. What pastoral visits needed to be made were done earlier in the day when breezes were still cool. Wednesday’s prayer meeting was still lightly attended but Glynn was beginning to enjoy the conversations he would have with the few who did attend and walking home by himself afterward was calming.

It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that disruption came calling. Glynn had been so deeply engrossed in the book he was reading that the was startled by the ringing telephone. Hearing Emmit’s voice on the other end of the line immediately made him curious. The Director of Missions was rarely in his office on Friday afternoons. 

After briefly exchanging pleasantries, Emmit quickly got down to the purpose of his call. “Glynn, I’d like to ask you to do me a favor. Normally, I would send something like this over to Clement or Bill but they’re both out of town this afternoon. I have a couple sitting just outside my office who are wanting to get married but they’re having difficulty finding someone to perform the ceremony for them. They already have their wedding license and blood test, but the court clerk refused to marry them and they’ve not been able to find a pastor here who would. Do you think you could do a quick ceremony for them? You’d need a couple of witnesses.”

The question caught Glynn off guard. He hadn’t done too many weddings over his career because the churches he pastored tended to not have young people of marrying age. There had been none in the Adelbert church since he moved there. Performing the ceremony wasn’t really that big of a deal but it seemed strange that no one else was willing to marry the couple. “I guess I can,” he replied. “I don’t understand why they’re having so much trouble getting married, though. What’s causing the problem? Are they both divorced or something?”

“Worse,” Emmit said, being careful to keep his voice soft so as to not be overheard. “The groom is a negro from Joplin.”

Glynn immediately understood the challenge. Racism in Oklahoma ran deep. While he had grown accustomed to working with and around black people on the plant floor in Michigan, even there everything was largely segregated. There simply were no black people living in most Oklahoma towns. They weren’t welcome and people, even churches, weren’t hesitant about letting their stance be known, sometimes with threats of violence. “Just make sure I’m clear, you are asking me to marry a mixed-race couple?” Glynn asked. 

“Yeah, if you think you’re up to it,” Emmit responded. “I’d do it but everyone here in the office has already left. I don’t have anyone to act as a witness.”

Glynn thought carefully before responding. This was the sort of thing that could be bigger than it should. He had heard the foul language being used around town to describe black people whose names ended up in the news. While he had never bothered to ask, he was fairly certain that even Buck would be less than welcoming. He let out a long sigh. “I guess I can. I’m not sure I can find any witnesses either, though. I suppose Marve might be willing to come down but doesn’t the license require two signatures?”

“It does, but there’s a way around that. I can sign one of the spaces before they leave here. No one is going to know that I’m not actually in the room and I don’t think anyone is going to snitch on us,” Emmit said. “And you don’t want to do this at the church. Word gets out that you did and you’ll have more trouble than either of us want to handle. I would recommend taking them to the parsonage, marry them in your living room.”

Emmit was asking was a lot. Glynn’s own opinion was that love was love. The Supreme Court had struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages in 1967 but there were still a large number of preachers and churches, especially in the South, who refused to perform the ceremony. This was the sort of thing that could get a pastor run out of town in a hurry. “Go ahead and send them over,” Glynn finally said. “We’ll get them married one way or another.”

By the time the pastor hung up the phone, the breeze from the small air-conditioner in the window sent chills across his skin. He knew the risk he was taking not only with the church but with Marve as well. He dialed their home number and waited for his wife to answer. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t until the eighth ring that she picked up. “Hi honey, I have a huge favor to ask and I’m sorry it’s last-minute,” he started.

The conversation was surprisingly brief. Marve not only agreed to be the necessary witness but said she would send the kids to play next door so that they wouldn’t be in the way, or accidentally snitch on them later to a church member. When she offered refreshment Glynn questioned whether that might be too much, that the couple’s safety depended in part on covertly being able to slip in and out of town without being noticed. Marve insisted that they at least offer them something cool to drink.

Glynn was waiting outside the church when the couple pulled into the parking lot. He told them to follow him to the parsonage and instructed them to pull into the garage so that it wouldn’t be evident that they had company. The couple nodded, understanding the risks everyone was taking.

Once they were seated in the parsonage living room, Glynn and Marve found the young couple to be quite charming and obviously very much in love. The bride was a young woman just 22 years old and fresh out of college. Her long, blonde hair flowed down to the middle of her back, a light contrast to the short, white dress she was wearing. He was a couple of inches taller than Glynn and fit, his hair cut short, close to his head. He was a med student about to enter his first year of residency. His light blue slacks with the flared legs and brightly patterned shirt looked sharp but definitely stood out in the rural environment.

The couple had met in college at the University of Chicago where many of their friends were interracial couples as well. They knew coming back to the bride’s home in Arvel would be controversial but they hadn’t anticipated the outright hostility shown by the bride’s family. The couple had briefly considered getting married in Joplin, but the groom’s family had threatened to disown him if he walked through the door with a white woman. Even after they finally decided to elope, every step of the process had presented a new challenge. 

Under more normal conditions, Glynn would have insisted on at least some brief marital counseling before agreeing to marry someone, but after hearing the couple’s story he was convinced that he was ill-equipped to offer them any substantial advice. They had already encountered more challenges to their relationship than most couples would experience over a lifetime and they knew there were more to come. He prayed with them briefly, asking God’s blessing on their union and safety as they traveled back to Chicago.

Asking the couple to stand facing him in the middle of the living room, Glynn began the brief ceremony. 

“We are gathered here in the sight of God to witness the union of Lamar and Elizabeth in holy matrimony. This is not a matter to be entered into lightly. Marriage is prescribed and ordained by God and is not meant to be taken with a deep and abiding love founded in our faith in the Creator, fully aware of the obligations and responsibilities we have both to God and to each other. 

“Lamar, do you take Elizabeth to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to her in all things and to love her as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Lamar said firmly.

“Elizabeth, do you take Lamar to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to him in all things and to love and support him as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Elizabeth answered with a soft smile.

“Then without the presence of any objection and by the authority invested in me by the state of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Glynn looked at Lamar and added, “You may now kiss the bride.”

The newlyweds wasted no time getting on the road, hoping to make it as far as St. Louis where they had secured a hotel room for the night. Glynn watched carefully as they backed out of the garage and drove down the hill. He felt certain that they had sufficiently pulled off the event without anyone noticing. It was still early enough in the afternoon that none of the neighbors who might have cared were home. Their path out of town avoided being seen or noticed by anyone curious. The pastor sighed in relief, quietly wishing the couple a happy life. Glynn tucked the marriage license in his Bible to mail to the court clerk the next day.

Saturday mornings always started earlier than Glynn would have liked. Lita was up at the crack of dawn, turning on the television to watch cartoons. Inevitably, Hayden wouldn’t be far behind. There was no such thing as sleeping late. Glynn made coffee while Marve made breakfast. While waiting, he stepped out on the front porch and picked up the morning newspaper, neatly rolled and bound with a rubber band. The pastor casually opened the paper and looked at the headlines. The man convicted of shooting Alabama Governor George Wallace had been sentenced. Bobby Fisher won game 10 of the World Chess Championship. It wasn’t until he had sat down in his recliner that he read the headline below the fold, “Arvel Woman Murdered In St. Louis.”

Glynn’s stomach turned and wrenched as he read the too brief article. The paper said that Elizabeth and a “colored man from Chicago” were shot and robbed as they walked back to their motel after dinner. There was no mention of the couple being newlyweds. They hadn’t made it a day. Their marriage license was still in Glynn’s Bible.

Angrily, Glynn stormed into the kitchen, slammed the newspaper on the table and shouted, “God has a lot of explaining to do!” He thundered out of the kitchen and into the garage, beating the hood of the car with his fists. How could a just God allow this? Was this God’s way of objecting to interracial marriage? Glynn refused to believe that. He kicked at the tires as tears streamed down his face. God had made a mistake. There was no infallibility here. A perfect God could not have allowed this to happen.

Glynn’s sudden actions shocked the rest of the family. No one was accustomed to him raising his voice about anything. To do so while invoking the name of God was something even Marve had never seen him do. 

Both kids came running into the kitchen. Marve assured them that everything was going to be okay. Only after placating them with toast and butter did she look at the newspaper and see what had been so upsetting. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she returned to fixing breakfast. In her brief time away from the stove, the bacon she was cooking had burned to the point of being inedible. She dumped the bacon into the trash, slammed the pan onto the stove, and sank to the floor sobbing.


Chapter 28

chapter 28

Glynn found it difficult to stand in the pulpit on Sunday morning. For the first time in his ministerial career, he didn’t feel as though he was serving God. This felt just like any other pointless job, work performed for a boss who really didn’t care. He waded through his sermon with the same level of enthusiasm he might have had for cleaning up after one of Hayden’s frequent toilet accidents. His heart wasn’t in it and he didn’t care. Still, as he stood at the back of the church after the service, his congregation had only praise with “Great sermon, pastor,” being said so frequently that by the time the last person left the sanctuary Glynn wanted to scream, “No, it wasn’t!” at the top of his lungs.

He was in a bad mood, feeling at times abandoned by God and at other times questioning whether God was sovereign at all. Taking a nap didn’t help. Playing outside with Hayden, something that could usually snap Glynn out of any bad mood, didn’t help. He plowed through the evening service even more frustrated and detached than he had been that morning. Instead of the calm, steady voice that his congregation was accustomed to hearing, his tone was aggressive and at times accusatory. He considered it some form of religious perversion that the tactic actually moved a couple of people to come forward during the invitation for “rededication.”

Not that Glynn actually believed in this thing Southern Baptists looked at as some form of spiritual re-purposing or confession after a particularly bad sin. Baptists held strongly to the doctrine of the Security of the Believer; in short, once saved, always saved, no matter what. Glynn looked at the doctrine as a spiritual safety net. It removed the need for confession or any actual acknowledgment of one’s sins beyond the point of salvation. Should an alleged Christian commit particularly heinous acts, such as murder, then it was excused as the person having never truly been saved in the first place. 

The doctrine was riddled with holes that could only be explained away with an academic twisting of scripture that explained away passages such as Hebrews 6, which specifically states, 

4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Ever-changing definitions of “apostasy” enabled pastors to convince church members that no, they hadn’t lost their salvation, but simply needed to re-dedicate, spiritually double-down and try harder.

Right now, Glynn hated that doctrine. Of the two women who came forward, one was merely convicted that she hadn’t been reading her Bible enough, not something Glynn considered an actual sin given that there was no concrete determination as to what “enough” might be. The other admitted to having difficulty getting her mind off “impure thoughts.” The pastor didn’t dig for details. He didn’t want to know. The young woman was married and he knew the couple was trying to start a family. From his perspective, it was unlikely she was doing anything wrong. He prayed a hollow prayer with both women and sent them back to their seats, doubting that either would actually change anything in their lives. 

After the service, which again drew “good sermon” accolades, Glynn sent Marve on home with the kids so that he could stay behind and do some reading. Marve could tell her husband was struggling with more than the unjustness of the young couple’s murder. She kissed him on the cheek and promised to wait up for him.

With everyone else gone, Glynn turned off the lights in the sanctuary and walked into the small office. He leaned against the desk and pulled his hands through his hair. He still wanted to scream, to yell at God for having messed up, to erase the wedding ceremony from his memory, to pack up the family and run away, abandoning the pastorate for a calm, predictable 40-hour-a-week factory job that might not pay much but at least made sense. 

This made twice within a month that death had gotten too close. At least Jerry’s death, however ill-timed it might have been, made sense. He knew he had cancer. He had time to prepare. Elizabeth and Lamar didn’t get that chance. They didn’t see what was coming. All their discussion of dealing with the anger of their families didn’t prepare them for the hate they encountered on a St. Louis street. Glynn could excuse God for Jerry’s death as an act of mercy. There was no excuse for the cold-blooded murder of the young newlyweds and that tore at every fiber of Glynn’s soul.

Looking over at the box of books still sitting on the folding chair, he angrily picked up the box and dumped its contents into the floor. What good were they? What wisdom could any of them possibly have?

In the instant that the books hit the floor, Glynn knew he couldn’t leave them there even if he wanted to. He couldn’t throw them away. Even badly written books full of nonsense were still a record of someone’s thoughts or creative effort. Destroying books was, in Glynn’s opinion, a worse sin than what either woman had confessed to during the invitation. Looking at the small pile scattered at his feet, one of the heavier-weighted books with the title Letters and Papers from Prison on its spine. The author’s name sounded vaguely familiar, he recognized it as belonging to a theologian, but the pastor wasn’t familiar with the work or the person. He picked up the book wondering if there was anything of value. Starting on the page that naturally fell open, he read:

God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God. God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us. Matthew 8:17 (he took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our sins) makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

This is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a deus ex machina. The Bible, however, directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. To this extent we may say that the process we have described by which the world came of age was an abandonment of the false conception of God, and a clearing of the decks for the God of the Bible, who conquers power and space in the world by his weakness. . .

Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Letters and Papers from Prison. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller. London: SCM, 1953; as Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

“Participating in the suffering of God?” Is that what was happening? Was the whole purpose of death and disease in the world to help Christians identify with the suffering of God? Glynn wasn’t convinced he was ready to buy that argument. He flipped over a few pages and read more.

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

“I’m not sure anyone even knows what simplicity and straightforwardness are anymore,” Glynn thought to himself. He thumbed across a few more pages in the large book, wondering if there was any way he could ever read through the whole thing. He read more:

Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Glynn flipped to the back of the book, reading the author’s biography on the inside flap of the dustjacket. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, imprisoned and hung by the Nazis for his association with a group plotting the assassination of Hitler. Martyr. Yet another of God’s own that had been allowed to die violently at the hands of cruel and vicious hate.

Glynn set the large book on the desk then bent down and picked up the others one at a time, placing them carefully on the bookshelf. There was obviously a lot here that he needed to read. He felt ignorant and uninformed. Perhaps he should quit and go to college, even seminary. Clement certainly seemed to know a lot more about everything. He hadn’t hung around Bill all that much but he appeared much more enlightened than Glynn was feeling at the moment. 

The pastor turned off the lights in the office and walked home in the dusky dark alone, his tie loosened, his suit coat slung over his shoulder. Too many questions were swirling in his mind. If evil and stupidity walked hand in hand in the seats of great power, what chance did anyone have? How could God possibly be sovereign in that situation? Could it be that the key to control was no control? Or was it more likely that God needs chaos to force people to turn to him?

Answers weren’t coming. All week long, Glynn continued to wrestle with the questions burning in his mind. By the time Thursday evening rolled around, he was wondering if there was any point in taking Marve out to dinner. Even Claire remarked quietly to Marve how grumpy and angry the pastor seemed that week.

The couple drove over to Arvel for dinner at a restaurant known locally for the quality of its fried catfish. Marve wasn’t a fan of the bottom-feeding fish and opted for fried chicken instead. The lengthy cooking time of both gave the couple plenty of time to talk.

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on in that muddled head of yours or are you happy being so cantankerous that everyone in town is starting to think they’ve done something to make you angry?” Marve asked once the server had taken their order.
Glynn looked out through the floor-to-ceiling window at the birds gathering around the large pond stocked with the catfish that furnished the restaurant its fresh catch. “What do you mean?” he responded, not yet fully plugged into the conversation.

Marve reached across the table and took Glynn’s hand. “Look at me,” she said firmly, waiting for him to redirect his attention before continuing. “You’re letting whatever is bothering you get in the way of you doing anything. You’ve snapped at the kids all week, which I can sort of understand. Lita’s been a bit of a brat. But you also snapped at dear Mrs. Walker when you saw her at the post office yesterday. She was so worried she had offended you that she actually called me to see what she had done wrong. You were sharp with the guys at the gas station, you totally pushed off Claire’s questions, which, by the way, the child is asking some tough ones that if you don’t answer she’s going to make the wrong assumptions and get herself into trouble. You’ve ended multiple phone calls without even saying goodbye. Glynn, you’re about to completely undo everything you’ve worked hard to build here. What the sam hill is going on?”

Glynn looked at his wife, then looked down at the table, the white linen cloth catching the fading sunlight through the window and turning everything around them a warm amber. “Those kids, Elizabeth and Lamar,” he said. “Part of me wants to ask God what he was thinking, why he didn’t stop the violence or misdirect them away from it. How could that in any way have been God’s will? There is nothing good that can come out of such a horrible tragedy. At the same time, I can’t stop wondering if the reason I’m having such a problem getting over this is because I’m not really the person who needs to be answering those questions. That’s why I keep putting Claire off. I don’t have any answers. I’m no longer sure of much of anything. I don’t know if I need to go back to college and maybe seminary, try to get to a place of deeper understanding, or if I just need to give up and move back to Michigan.”

“You need to get your head back in the game,” Marve answered, giving him the stern look she usually reserved for the children. “Maybe stop chasing the answers and give them a chance to come to you. You’re answering one question by asking another and all that’s doing is making you and everyone around you a little more crazy. You need to focus more on meeting the needs of the people who are right here, people who are still alive and need your help. There’s nothing you can do for Elizabeth and Lamar now. God’s done what he’s done. So you have questions. Fine. You can’t let the absence of a ready answer get in the way of at least being civil.”

Glynn looked across the table at his wife and felt his face flush. “Why would I be civil in the face of such horrible crimes like this?”

“Glynn, you’re acting as though someone killed your own children,” Marve charged. “You know as well as I do, if not better, that two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s not what the Bible teaches.”

“What if what the Bible is attempting to teach us turns out to be false? I have believed all my life that God is sovereign, that God is in control, that nothing escapes the vision nor the will nor the plan of God.” Glynn paused and took a drink of the water sitting in the crystal glass near his left hand. “Nothing in the past month has supported any of those theories. Instead, everything I’ve believed, everything I’ve preached, seems to be a lie and I just can’t stuff that in my pocket and ignore it. Either God is wrong or I’m just too stupid to see where he’s right.”

Marve released her grip on Glynn’s hand and sat back in her chair. This wasn’t the response she had expected. Her husband was normally calm and understanding, the kind of person who would apologize before knowing what he had done wrong. As much as she wanted to be supportive she couldn’t let this stubborn streak go unchallenged. “You’re not stupid, Glynn. And right now I’m concerned. I think you should see the doctor and have your blood pressure checked. Something. Talk to Emmit or someone. If you can’t find a solution to that mess you’ve got going up there, you’re going to have bigger problems than the deaths of two people you hardly knew. Focus on Adelbert, not the rest of the world.”

Glynn ran his hands through his hair, a move Marve recognized as a sign that he didn’t know how to put into words what he was feeling. “I’m sorry, but I need God to tell me what’s going on,” he said. “I’m done with this game. I need simplicity. I need God to be straightforward and stop hiding all the clues.”

Marve gave an exasperated sigh. There was no point in arguing with him any further. She changed the topic and they spent the rest of the evening with mindless banter about things they both knew were substitutes for real conversations. The drive back to Adelbert was quiet and after Glynn drove Claire home he came back to find that Marve had gone to bed without him. He sat on the edge of the recliner, buried his face in his hands, and prayed. Someone in the universe had the answers. He needed to know what they were.

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