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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 33

Chapter 33

Glynn knew Wednesday morning what the topic of Sunday morning’s sermon would have to be and the conversations of the rest of the week only confirmed that knowledge. People were scared. If these “terrorists,” a word still new to the American lexicon, could infiltrate what had been assumed to be a secure Olympic Village, an assumption that proved fatal for those 11 Israeli team members, what else could they infiltrate? Some thought the US team should have been brought home immediately. Others thought the military should assist Israel in its retaliatory bombings of Palestinian strongholds. 

The pastor knew, however, that underneath all the talk and saber-rattling going on at the diner and other places around town, a basic emotion had taken hold: fear. He recognized it in himself the instant it was announced that all the hostages were dead. He saw it in the shortened patience Marve had with the children. He saw it in the way people huddled together in worried conversations on the street. He heard it in the anxious prayers offered at Wednesday night’s well-attended service. He saw it in the nervous fidgeting of the volunteers at the hospital. He choked on the increased cigarette smoke at the diner. 

Knowing what he was up against, Glynn was careful in the construction of the morning service. Announcements were kept short and limited to only the most important events. He talked with Richard about hymn selection. The opening hymn, with its bouncing tune, addressed the subject head-on, 

What have I to dread, 
What have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace
With my Lord so dear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms! 
(Elisha Hoffman)

Glynn asked if there were a more contemporary hymn that might address the topic, but Richard convinced him that, at least for this congregation, the familiarity of 19th-century hymns, even with their stilted language and occasionally archaic language, was still more comforting.  He pointed to the second verse of what would be the morning’s second hymn:

Sometimes mid scenes of cloudless doom,
Sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom;
By waters still, o’er troubled sea,
Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
(Joseph Henry Gillmore)

 Both agreed that Horatio G. Spafford’s It Is Well With My Soul, fit the third spot well, and after the offering had been taken, Richard sang Mosie Lister’s 1958 hymn that had become popular.

In the dark of the midnight,
Have I oft hid my face;
While the storm howls above me,
And there's no hiding place;
'Mid the crash of the thunder,
Precious Lord, hear my cry;
"Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by.”                    

With such an introduction, there was little doubt the direction Glynn’s sermon was going. The hymns had done their job, though, and the pastor could feel that the morning’s tension had relaxed somewhat as he stepped into the pulpit. The sanctuary wasn’t quite as full as it had been on Easter, there were no folding chairs in the aisles, but it was an attentive audience that sat waiting to see how he would address the subject in a way that would give them a comfort they hadn’t been able to find on their own.

He didn’t bother to smile, as he usually did. He was dressed in his blackest suit, the one usually reserved for funerals. His gaze moved intentionally from one person to the next. He stood behind the pulpit, his hands on either side and solemnly began, “Fear is a natural response to things outside our control. And that fear is not necessarily a bad thing. We look on the horizon and recognize that a severe storm is headed our direction and we take the appropriate steps to ensure our safety. We check the oil in our engines and the air in our tires before making a trip to calm the fear that we might break down. We give our children the newest measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines because inside every parent lies the fear that disease could strike and take our children from us. 

“Not all fear drives us to such logical and common-sense response, though. We read reports of crime in our newspapers and we become more suspicious of people we don’t know. We hear that foreign nations might have the ability to cut off our fuel supply and we begin hoarding gasoline even when we know it’s not safe. And this week, we hear of a new terror, one that comes into the places we’ve always considered safe, and we wonder that, if the Olympic Village isn’t safe, is there any place left that is? We worry that we or someone we love might be next. We fear another outbreak of war.

“In Matthew’s eighth chapter, verse 23, we see an exhausted Jesus, weary from an onslaught of people, crossing a lake with his disciples and no sooner had they cast off from shore when Jesus found a place in the boat to lie down and sleep. He who knew all and was in control of all was sure of their voyage. 

“His disciples, however, as familiar with sailing as they were, did not have the same confidence. A storm comes up and as the wind grows stronger and the waves start lapping over the side of what was most likely a fishing boat, they became afraid. The situation was out of their control and their fear was that the boat would capsize, taking both them and their leader, who they had yet to fully recognize as the son of God, down to the bottom of the lake. They panicked and went running to wake up Jesus screaming at the top of their lung, ‘Lord, save us! We are drowning!’

“I think many of us can identify having had that feeling at some point this past week. We sat there watching events in Munich unfold with the same anxiety as though it were happening right next door, as though the athletes from Israel were our own children. And while we had hope for a minute, when that message came that all had been lost, that there were no survivors, we felt like we were drowning. We felt like our whole world was crashing in like a massive wave. We responded not with confident determination to fight this new terror but with fear that we, too, might become its victim.

“Now is when fear becomes a demon, staring us in the face, leering at us, taunting us with our lack of control. This fear reminds us with an evil glee that we can easily lose what we think we have. This fear tells us that the world is out to get us and we freeze in place. We become bound by that fear that constantly, persistently, whispering in our ears, reminding us of everything that could be taken from us; our jobs, our health, our homes, our children, and even our lives. With each passing moment, this fear strips away our humanity, delighted that it has reduced us to little more than shivering, helpless animals. 

“Like the disciples, we come here, to church, desperate and pleading, ‘Lord, save us! We are drowning! When we are finally feeling that we have lost all control, when we have tried everything we know and all our effort is not enough, when the waves of disaster are knocking us down and moving us backward, that’s when we go running to church, looking for God, hoping that he can save us.

“Then, Jesus responds to us exactly as he did to his disciples. “What are you so frightened about, you little-faiths?” His rebuke almost sounds insulting and from our perspective sometimes it’s easy to judge the disciples harshly. Did they not understand that Jesus was still in control? Did they not have faith that this teacher, who they had just seen heal dozens of people from the most incurable of diseases, could get them across the lake through this storm? 

“But we are no different. We’re all sitting here this morning just as overcome by fear as the disciples were. We have set sail on a voyage without faith, without hope, and paralyzed by a fear we don’t even completely understand. Even worse, we’ve given up. We’ve already thrown in the towel, yielding to terror as though we don’t have any other choice. We’re not even sure that we want to address the matter. Some face fear with apathy, moving powerlessly from one day to the next. Some face fears noisily, making sure everyone around them knows how very afraid they are. Others respond with bold but empty statements that ‘we’ll go over there and show them who’s boss,’ a vacant show of force that’s easy to make while sitting on a tractor in the middle of a field in Oklahoma. Just like the disciples, we’ve allowed fear to swamp the boat.

“To some our fear is justified. For the disciples, had they been on any other boat on that lake, they might have been excused for thinking they were about to drown. But this was no ordinary boat because Christ was on that boat and that made all the difference in the world! 

Glynn paused, made certain he had everyone’s attention, then stepped out to the side of the pulpit before continuing. 

“We sit here this morning afraid of Palestinian terrorists, but Christ is in our boat.

We sit here this morning, our country facing a critical election and we fear that no choice is the right choice, but Christ is in our boat.

We look at our world this morning and we’re afraid we might not have enough gas to get through the winter, but Christ is in our boat.

We consider the strained relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States and we’re afraid that Communism is coming for all of us, but Christ is in our boat.

We look at the condition of our crops and our cattle and we fear prices will be too low for us to cover our debts, but Christ is in our boat.

We examine the state of our society and we fear that ideologies we don’t understand will force us to make decisions we don’t know how to make, but Christ is in our boat.
Our fear has us wondering if all these things happening around us are because our sins are too great, that God must have given up on us, but Christ is in our boat!

Our fear has us looking for a place to crawl up and die because our suffering is so great, but Christ is in our boat!

Our fear is telling us to give up, to just let the waves wash over us, that there’s nothing we can do and drowning is inevitable, but let me tell you again, and I want you to hear it well, Christ is in our boat and when Christ is in our boat there is no room left for fear!

“Christ is in our boat! Don’t be afraid but be of good courage.

Christ is in our boat! Look to Him in whom you believe and speak to him.

Christ is in our boat! And in him, a thousand years is as a day. He’s got this.

Christ is in our boat! And his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are better than our ways.

Christ is in our boat so there is no evil, there is no power, there is nothing on this planet that can stand against us.

Christ is on our boat! Oh ye of little faith, do you not trust in God to deliver you not only from this moment of fear, but from the next moment of fear, and the moment after that and the moment after that?

Christ is in our boat and just as surely as he was in the boat with the disciples he is in the boat with us here in this sanctuary reminding us that the only sure answer to fear is faith, reminding us that it is he who calms the seas and settles the waves, reminding us that he’s got the whole world in his hands, from the little bitty babies to the nations and the armies and the terrorists of this world.

“Christ is in our boat. Lose all your security and let him keep you safe. Let your lives be broken so that we rest upon the strength of God alone. In our hours of temptation and affliction, know that God is standing by our side, keeping us resolute, walking us hand in hand through the valley of the shadow of death so that we might fear no evil. His rod and his staff watch over us.

“Now be careful. Just because Christ is in our boat is no reason to be cocky and overconfident. Remember how, in another instance perhaps on this same lake, Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and wanted to walk out to him. Jesus told him to go for it and Peter jumped out of that boat and started walking out to Jesus. But then he saw the waves and he felt the wind and what happened? He got scared! He had been so confident when he first stepped out of the boat! He was sure that HE could walk on water just as Jesus was. But when he was faced with the realities of life, when he looked and saw the danger that was all around him, fear grabbed hold of him and he started to sink! Why? Because it was only as long as his eyes were on Jesus, his focus was on the son of God, that his faith was strong enough to keep him afloat. 

“Christ is in our boat. Jesus gives the ability to rise above the storm and walk on water, but we don’t do this by our own power. Our focus, our attention, cannot be on the threat of terror, cannot be on the uncertainty of politics, cannot be on any of the other things going on around us. Our focus and our attention must be on God.

“When the disciples saw this they said among themselves, “Whatever sort of man is this—why, even the wind and the waves do what he tells them!”

Our faith in Christ leads us to an astonishment that should drive us to our knees. In wonder, we kneel before him. In amazement, we yield our will to his. For when Christ is in the boat, fear gets tossed overboard.”

By the time he was finished, Glynn was visibly drenched in sweat, not so much from the exertion of delivering the sermon, though it had been considerable, but because the air conditioning unit had stopped functioning about five minutes after he started. The response at the invitation might have been significant, but Glynn saw how people were struggling. A couple of those with asthma had pulled out their inhalers. Others were using whatever they had close, Sunday School quarterlies, worship bulletins, random pieces of paper from their Bibles, to try and fan some kind of breeze. Nothing was working. Glynn cut the invitation after the first verse and encouraged people to get a drink of water from the fountain in the hallway if they needed.

The four deacons who were present quickly assembled outside, knowing that something would have to be done as soon as possible. While September’s temps were generally off the 100-degree mark, high 90s were still possible and just as dangerous. 

“I’m pretty sure the unit had a ten-year warranty and it’s only been about six years since it was installed,” Alan was saying as Glynn joined the group.
“Probably isn’t anything significant,” Buck commented. “A leak in a hose could have caused the freon to leak out.”

Glynn stood there with his suit coat draped over his shoulder, the outline of his undershirt clearly visible through his wet dress shirt. He was still trying to catch his own breath and was content letting the others talk through the problem and possible remedies.

Horace looked over at the preacher and grinned. “In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best day to wear a black suit, pastor.”

Glynn nodded. “In hindsight, swimwear would likely have been more appropriate but I don’t think anyone wants to see that.”

Roger Sutherland, who had been listening silently with his hands shoved in his pockets finally spoke up. “You know, I might have to dig around in the barn for it, I’m pretty sure I have the gizmo for testing the freon levels. If it’s just a hole or a crack in a line somewhere, we can fix that. It’ll just be mornin’ before we can get any more freon.”

The others nodded. “What’s freon costing now, two or three bucks a can?” Alan asked.

“Somewhere in that neighborhood,” Buck answered. “Little enough I’ll just buy a can if that’s what we need and donate it to the church. No sense taking it out of the budget if we don’t have to.”

They all agreed that having Roger test the unit and add freon as needed was the best route to go. That still left another issue to resolve, though.

“What should we do about the evening service?” Glynn asked. “I’m not inclined to cancel but I don’t think we can ask people to sit in a hot and stuffy sanctuary like that when the windows don’t open.”

The men stood there scratching their heads, more in favor of canceling than not, when Buck offered a different idea. “You know, when I was a boy, back in the days before air conditioning, there were a lot of times we’d have church outside under a makeshift cover of some kind. I don’t know that we need a cover, but why couldn’t we set up chairs here in the yard between the sanctuary and fellowship hall and have church out here? There’d be a bit of a breeze and it’d definitely feel cooler than it would inside.”

Glynn perked up. “You know, that could be a lot of fun. We’d have to sing without the piano, of course, but I don’t think Richard would mind that for one service.”

“Kind of like an old-fashioned camp meetin’,” Horace added.

Glynn tried thinking of any downside to the plan. “We’ll need to get the word out, let people know to dress appropriately for outdoors. Anyone opposed to me not wearing a coat and tie tonight?”

“Just tell my wife and she’ll make sure everyone in town knows, church member or not,” Horace said. “That woman is the best emergency broadcast system this town has.”

“And you’re fine in short sleeves, preacher, as long as you’re not wearing your bathing suit,” Alan teased.

The men left as the unofficial meeting adjourned and everyone went home. Glynn was glad the air conditioning in the parsonage was working and went straight to the shower while Marve fixed lunch. 

“Daddy, did someone pour water on you?” Hayden asked between bites of his chicken leg.

“No, it just got really hot in church this morning,” Glynn answered. 

“Was it as hot as hell?” Hayden asked.

“Hayden Wayne!” Marve immediately exclaimed. “You know better than to talk like that!”

“It’s just what someone said at church,” the child attempted to explain. “They said Daddy gave them a touch of hell so they’d appreciate heaven.”

Glynn couldn’t help laughing, despite an ominous glare across the table from Marve. “I’m sure it felt that way, but you still need to watch your language, young man.” He looked back across the table and winked at Marve.

Marve shook her head and shared a knowing glance with Lita.

“I know, Mom,” she said dryly. “They can’t help being boys, can they?”

Glynn laughed hard enough he almost choked on his mashed potatoes. Regardless of what might be going on in the rest of the world, everything was still normal at home.


Chapter 34

Chapter 34

With Labor Day and the Olympics behind them, people across Oklahoma returned to business as usual. September tended to be a quiet month, anyway, with harvests winding down, stock sales focused on calves, and most people more concerned about football and the new fall lineup of television shows such as The Waltons, The Bob Newheart Show, and one that Glynn found particularly interesting, M*A*S*H. Not that he would publicly admit to even watching the show, given the general consensus that the movie and book on which it was based were both widely considered vulgar. Still, it didn’t come on until after the kids were in bed. It was a quiet vice that would likely go away if the ratings never took off. 

There was a calm sense of relief that came with September. The routine was familiar and welcoming. People knew what to do. There was no guesswork to the schedule, no holidays to interrupt. Even national politics had yet to really grab hold of the general public conversation. Temperatures fell back to a more comfortable, liveable condition, and Glynn could tell as he walked through town that, generally, moods had improved. With the exception of rather minor challenges here and there, people were happy.

As he sat at the desk in the church office, however, Glynn was starting to feel some pressure. The state pastors’ retreat was at the end of the following week and on Tuesday of the same week would be the trip to Bartlesville to check Hayden’s eyes. Both came with their own challenges and there was barely a moment when Glynn wasn’t thinking about one or the other. Marve mentioned too many times that he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on right in front of him, whether it be a dinner conversation or something the kids were doing or even the school’s first-ever home football game. He rambled through Wednesday night’s prayer meeting. He appeared distracted in almost every conversation. 

At the same time, the associational executive committee kept meeting, looking at possible candidates to be the new Director of Missions. The work was disheartening for everyone on the committee as they continued to find serious character flaws with each of the people the state convention had recommended. Glynn was beginning to wonder if there was anyone who was morally upstanding enough to lead them.

The frequent meetings did give Glynn a chance to discuss his sermon for the pastors’ retreat. Everyone on the committee was going and where Glynn’s personal resources on the topic were weak, Clement and Bill were both happy to offer books and magazine articles they had saved on the topic. The other pastors did their best to be encouraging. That one of them would be asked to speak at the event was exciting. Despite the challenges of the summer, they felt as though the state convention was finally giving them some of the attention they had long wanted.

Sitting at his desk, though, surrounded by the borrowed books and smudged copies of articles, Glynn felt completely alone. Death was not a topic he felt qualified to discuss in detail. While he had officiated over a number of funerals, especially since moving to Adelberg, he had managed to avoid any direct interaction with the loss of someone. Both his parents and siblings were alive and in reasonable health as were Marve’s. Even across his extended family and a host of cousins, they had all managed to escape even the shadow of death. To a large extent, death was a work thing, something he oversaw. Grief was to be managed for others. Comfort was a concept he was expected to carry in his pocket and dish out in appropriate volume when called upon.

Glynn wondered what it must feel like to truly face death. Jerry was probably the one reasonably close person that he might have asked, but he hadn’t. The preacher had never faced a direct threat in any way. He had avoided the entanglement of military service in Vietnam. He hadn’t experienced a life-threatening disease. And while there had been some youthful moments of carelessness in during his brief college experience that might have been life-threatening had they gone wrong, none of them had yielded anything more than the emotional thrill ride he had sought from them.

As much as he tried to focus and get something solid written down, though, Glynn found himself distracted. The insurance company had said they would only cover 60% of Hayden’s initial visit to the ophthalmologist and only 40% of any successive appointments. This was going to be difficult to do on his salary. One visit was going to cost more than Glynn made in a week, nearly $100 more. While they had enough in savings to cover the first visit, any additional visits would force them to face the question of either denying their son the care that he needed or going into debt.

Being neighbors with the president of the bank had some advantages. In casual conversations, while standing in their front yards, the promise of an unsecured loan at a reasonable interest rate of only 12% was offered without any additional background checks or collateral. All Glynn would have to do is call the bank and the necessary papers would be available for him to sign the next day. The banker also offered his influence in getting Glynn one of the new BankAmericard credit cards that were becoming popular. He assured the preacher that, should additional funds be necessary to pay for healthcare, they would be there.

At the same time, though, Glynn had strong feelings about unnecessary debt. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome had been exceptionally clear on the subject. 

Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America

The phrase, “Owe no one anything,” was stuck strongly in Glynn’s mind. How could he, as a pastor, go into debt when such a direct command was sitting right there in scripture? Sure, there were times when debt was unavoidable, such as buying a vehicle or a house. But was a medical expense unavoidable?

On one hand, Hayden’s behavior at school had improved. He had started participating better in class, sitting down when asked to do so, and rarely walked away during storytime. So, maybe there wasn’t really a problem after all. The situation seemed to be solving itself. To take out any kind of loan when there wasn’t a significant problem to address seemed foolish. 

At the same time, if there was a problem, which only the ophthalmologist seemed capable of discerning, then Glynn had an obligation to care for his child. Scripture was just as unwavering on that topic. 1 Timothy 5:8 was especially clear:

If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

There was no way Glynn would consider not taking care of his baby boy. Even if there hadn’t been such a direct command supporting it, his own sense of morality said that he had to do whatever was necessary to take care of his family. The question, however, was whether debt was necessary? Were there other options that they should be considering?

“If it’s going to bother you so much, why don’t you talk to your Dad?” Marve suggested. “I can talk to mine, too. Maybe, between our two families, we can cobble together enough to pay the bills without having to rely on the bank or anyone else. Besides, we’ve got enough to cover this first visit. You’re worrying over problems you don’t even know you have yet.”

“I just want to be ready for whatever the doctor tells us,” Glynn replied. “If we’re sitting there in that office and he says that Hayden needs glasses, then I want to be sure we can afford those glasses. If he says that there’s some other treatment that he needs, I want to know that we don’t have to hesitate in signing him up for that. We shouldn’t be in a position where we have to say anything other than, ‘Go ahead, set it up.’ Anything short of that feels as though we’re failing to trust God.”

Marve reached over and took Glynn’s hand as they sat at the dining room table. The hour had grown late and the kids had been in bed for quite a while. She was tired but knew that her husband would spend yet another sleepless night tossing and turning in bed, keeping her awake as well if she didn’t find a way to help him work through this problem.

“So trust God, if that’s where the crux of this problem is, Glynn. You know the Bible better than I do. How many times does it mention trusting God to take care of our needs? I can think of three just sitting here without opening my BIble. Having a plan in your back pocket isn’t trusting in God, it’s trusting in your plan. Plans, even the best of plans go wrong. What if something prevents the bank from giving us a loan? What if no one in our family can help? Both of those scenarios seem silly, I know, but if there’s one thing we both should know by now it’s that anything can happen. Only God seems to have anything that resembles control and, between you and me, after the Olympics, I’m beginning to question whether he’s got all that tight a grip on things. This is one of those situations where we have to make a decision. Either we trust God or we don’t, and if you’re not going to trust God on this, Glynn Waterbury, you need to resign.”

“Trusting God does not mean we make foolish financial decisions, though,” Glynn countered. “Proverbs 16:3, ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.’ Luke 14:28, ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and consider the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?’ Psalm 90:12, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain in wisdom.’ Trusting and planning may seem oppositional to each other, but there has to be a way for them to work together. We plan for the worst and trust God that the worst doesn’t happen and if it does that he will provide the means, through whatever sources, to take care of our needs. You’re right, this is a critical moment, one where we can and should be examples of leadership. When the people in our church look at our lives and see how we handle this, it has to be an example they can follow, one that leads them toward a path that God approves, not one that leaves them with more questions than answers. We have to get this right.”

Marve’s belief in God was as strong as Glynn’s on any day but she did not like having scripture thrown in her face as though she were a novice. “So, what are you going to do then, with Proverbs 19:6, ‘A man’s mind plans his steps, but the Lord directs his way?’ How do you justify deliberate misuse of Luke 14:28 in light of Proverbs 19:21, ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established?’ And come on, how many times have you thrown Isaiah 8 at a situation? Those words are practically tattooed on the back of your hand! ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ I’ve heard you preach from that text so many times I can almost quote the whole thing. Don’t you think it’s a little bit hypocritical of you to sit here right now and consider anything other than trusting God completely to take care of our son’s health?”

“And what if I’m too afraid to trust God on this one?”

Glynn’s words came out forcefully and he pounded his fists on the kitchen table. He immediately hated himself for letting the question come out of his mouth. Now that it had, though, he had little choice but to follow up. “I’m scared, Marve. It’s easy enough to trust God about things that are happening to other people. It’s easy to trust God when one of our church members is sick and we pray for God to heal them. It’s easy enough to trust God to stop the rains before it floods everyone’s fields and ruins the planting or harvest seasons. I can even trust God when it seems like the politicians in Washington are nothing but a bunch of godless idiots. But when it comes to my little boy? Not so much. What if he has some kind of disease that requires long-term care? What if he’s going blind and there’s nothing we can do to stop it?”

Glynn was sobbing by the time he finished. Marve squeezed his hands even tighter as she leaned against the back of her chair. For everything they had been through, she had never seen Glynn this distraught over anything. His had always been the faith that was solid, unwavering, ready to take on any challenge that God might throw at them. Quitting his job at the plant hadn’t been this big of a decision. Moving the family across the country to Oklahoma had not caused him anywhere near this much of a challenge. Now that it was his own family, his own son, that was on the line, though, everything was different. There were no assurances in the words on a page that was concrete enough to convince him that his little boy was okay, and when she reached the point now where she could be honest with herself, Marve wasn’t all that certain, either.

She wanted to be tough with her husband. Marve wanted desperately to tell him to suck it up, be strong, be the man of the household, the leader of the church, and the man of God that he was supposed to be. She could imagine herself standing up, getting in his face, and throwing a box of tissue at him, demanding that he dry his tears. Instinctively, though, she knew that those impulses were wrong. This was where Glynn and Hayden were so much alike. Overwhelmed and over-stimulated, they both broke down and needed a soft, guiding voice to get them back where they could control their emotion. 

Marve thought hard as the silent seconds passed between them. Glynn’s head hung low, his hair brushing against the table. She knew the right words had to be there, somewhere, if only she could find them. As much as she loved her husband, right now she was angry that he wasn’t being the strong foundation he’d always been before. Seeing him crumble was frightening. Finally, she said, “This is your Abraham moment.”

Glynn raised his head and looked across the kitchen table at his wife. He could see the weariness and worry in her eyes. He loved her. He loved his family. Still, it took him a moment to realize the reference Marve was making. “Be willing to sacrifice your only son,” he said, summarizing the story from Genesis where God had told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. “And trust God to provide a ram.”

Marve nodded and smiled. She recognized the look of clarity that moved over Glynn’s face, the expression he would get when he finally understood something that, moments ago, had seemed a mystery to him. Never had that look been such a relief as it was now.

Slowly, he sat back up, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and squeezed Marve’s hands as tightly as she had been holding his. “Of course, you’re right. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Even in the face of the ultimate sacrifice, God provides what we need at exactly the time we need it.” He sat back in the chair and felt a sense of relief rush over him. This was his Abraham moment. Now, the path seemed obvious. They would go to Bartlesville with nothing more than what was in their savings and they would trust God even if the news wasn’t good. An example had already been set. All they had to do was follow it.


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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 31

chapter 31

Starting school proved to be more challenging for Hayden than the Waterbury’s had expected. Lita loved school from the first moment and tended to do very well. Hayden was excited about school but almost immediately had difficulty adapting. He didn’t like the idea of staying in the same room all morning. He would get upset when his teacher, Mrs. Emily Strassburg, asked him to do something he didn’t want to do. During reading time, he would frequently get up from the circle and wander around the room looking for a block or toy with which to play. 

For the first week, Mrs. Strassburg didn’t seem to mind that Hayden was more of a “free spirit.” After all, many children had trouble adapting to the restrictions of school after having few restrictions prior to that experience. But when Marve went to the school to pick Hayden up on Monday, the teacher suggested it might be beneficial for her to sit in on the next day’s class to see if she might be able to help him adapt a bit better.

While that seemed like a good idea at the time, when they got to the classroom on Tuesday, Hayden refused to leave his mother’s side. He clung to her skirt if she were standing. He sat in her lap if she were sitting. The entire morning was an exercise in frustration as nothing Marve or Mrs. Strassburg could say seemed to work. Hayden’s behavior was worse than it had been yet.

At Mrs. Strassburg’s request, Marve and Hayden stayed after class so the two women could chat. Hayden sat quietly on the floor playing with blocks while they talked.

“I’m struggling to understand why he’s not liking class,” Mrs. Strassburg told Marve. “He’s certainly bright enough. He already knows all his letters and numbers and usually gets his colors correct. But he doesn’t want to participate or do what the rest of the class is doing.”

Marve watched her son playing for a moment before replying. “My being here certainly didn’t seem to help. I’ve rarely known him to be that clingy. He’s not typically timid at all. If anything, we have to stop him from trying stunts on the playground. He’s always played well with other kids. I’m not sure what to think.”
“Well, watch this,” Mrs. Strassburg said as she walked over to a shelf and retrieved a book she had read to the class. Holding up the book, she said, “Hayden, come here and look at the book with me.”

Hayden left the pile of blocks and walked over to Mrs. Strassburg who had carefully squatted down so that she was on his eye level. She opened the book and began reading. “This is Spot. Spot is a dog. Spot likes to play.”

The little boy looked at the picture, pointed at the dog then looked at his mother and said, “Spot is a very fuzzy dog.”

Marve looked quizically at Mrs. Strassburg. The dog in the picture was not fuzzy, it had very short hair. “What color is the dog?” she asked.

“He’s yellow, and brown, and whooooosh!” Hayden answered as he twirled around in a circle.”

“What color is whoosh?” his mother asked, perplexed by the answer.

“All of them!” the boy giggled as he took the book from his teacher and set it back in its place on the shelf.
“And he’s done reading,” Mrs. Strassburg said. “He’s done that to me almost every time. He’s not mean about it, but he’ll take the book I’m reading and put it back on the shelf before I’m done. Sometimes he does it after only the second page.”

“Does he do that with other things?” Marve asked, the worry obvious in her voice.

The teacher tried to reassure her. “No, he’s very good with his numbers and he loves to color. I’m starting to wonder, though, if maybe his vision is just a little off. Have you ever had it checked?”

“Nothing more than what the doctor does in his office,” Marve answered. “He had a checkup just before school started and nothing came up.”

“Do y’all use Dr. Dornboss here in town?” the teacher asked.

Marve nodded as she watched Hayden playing with the blocks. “Saw him just a couple of weeks ago.”

“Would you mind if I talked with him?” Mrs. Strassburg asked. “If nothing else, maybe he’ll have some ideas for helping Hayden get the hang of school.”

“Sure, that’s fine with me,” Marve said. “I’m okay with whatever we need to do. I just want him to be happy and well-adjusted.”

Marve and Hayden left the school and decided to drop by the church office to let Glynn know about the day’s failed experiment. “It was embarrassing,” Marve told him. “Hayden would not let go of my skirt, not even when the class was on the playground! I’ve never seen him behave like this!”

Glynn leaned forward in his chair and smiled at Hayden. “Come here, big guy,” he said cheerfully. “Talk with Daddy for a little bit.”

Hayden ran over and climbed up into his father’s lap, pulling at the pastor’s tie for support. 

“How is kindergarten going for you?” Glynn asked. “Did you have a good time today?”

Hayden nodded. “Mommy was at school today! She got to be my special friend!”

Glynn chuckled. “That’s good! Are you liking Mrs. Strassburg, your teacher?”

The little boy nodded again. “She’s fun! She plays fun games with us and then she lets us have milk!”

Glynn hugged him closely and looked at Marve. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve not noticed anything different at home. He’s been sitting on the floor watching the Olympics the past couple of days. He seems to really like the swimming. They’re saying Mark Spitz could win five or six medals.”

Marve watched as her little boy played with his daddy’s tie, crumpling it into a ball and then twisting it into different shapes as he sat in Glynn’s lap. “I don’t know, either,” she said softly. “Mrs. Strassburg is going to talk to Dr. Dornboss. She said something about maybe checking his eyes. I don’t know, though. I’ve not seen any sign of him having trouble seeing anything.”

Glynn set Hayden on the floor. “I guess it doesn’t hurt to check. We can take him to the doctor if we need to. I’m sure the insurance will cover it.”

“I hope so. The last thing we need is a big medical bill,” Marve said quietly. “We’ll just have to see what Dr. Dornboss says.”

Marve walked Hayden home and Glynn returned to working on next Sunday’s sermon. With all associational activities having largely shut down, for the time being, there was little outside Adelburg to distract him except for the Olympics and the 7-hour time difference meant that he’d have to wait for the evening’s summary of everything that had happened. He returned to his Bible and attempted to focus on something that he hoped would be motivational. Emmit’s charge about people leaving church exactly the same as when they entered had hit a point of conviction for Glynn as well as many of the other pastors. 

Glynn knew his chosen passage of scripture, Psalm 84, quite well. The problem was he knew it more from a recording his mother had of the Brahm’s Requiem that used the verses as a centerpiece. It was almost impossible for the pastor to read the verses without hearing the music in his head. He wished, somewhat enviously he would admit, that the church had a choir with the musical talent to tackle such a piece. While there were many songs he didn’t mind listening to the small choir butcher, this wasn’t one he could even suggest. He giggled to himself as he thought of Buck and Allen, both baritones at best, struggling with the opening tenor line, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, Oh Lord of hosts… “ with “dwell” coming on a particularly high note he knew they could never reach.

As a pastor, Glynn’s intention was to motivate his congregation toward more faithful attendance as they entered the fall months, to encourage participation in activities beyond Sunday morning. He longed to instill in them what John Keats, another of his mother’s favorites, had called “Negative Capability,” that desire to do what one had been called to do even when they were unsure of the calling. He would dovetail that into the concept that when the psalmist had written, “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere,” the meaning had not been that one needed to hang out in the church building all the time in order to be holy. Rather, that holiness was found in carrying the transcendent hope and love of Christ that they found at church into the normalness of everyday activities. In doing so, he would insist, they weren’t farming or teaching or raising cattle for their own benefit, but they were doing those things to achieve a higher calling from God.

He knew it was a lot to try and cram into a twenty-minute sermon and Glynn struggled to find a vocabulary that would keep the homily from sounding too much like a classroom lecture, putting his congregation to sleep rather than motivating them to get on their feet. As a result, the crumpled and discarded attempts at phrasing and manipulating the language were beginning to pile up on the desk. Lunch came and went without the preacher bothering to look up from his work. Neither was he aware of the perspiration that was covering his entire body. The outside temperature had again topped the 100-degree mark and he had yet to pause long enough to turn on the small window unit that would marginally, with great effort on its part, keep the room’s temperature tolerable.

Glynn was so preoccupied with his study that he was startled when, shortly after 2:00, there was a knock on the office door. He looked at his watch, surprised by the amount of time that had elapsed, and then quickly realized the extent to which his current physical condition left him ill-prepared to greet the guest he knew was waiting at the door. He pulled a slightly damp handkerchief from the back pocket of his slacks and blotted the sweat from his face as he walked around the desk to the door.

“Dr. Cain, come on in,” Glynn said cheerfully as he opened the door. “I apologize for the uncomfortable temperature this afternoon. I got busy and forgot to turn on the air conditioner.”

The Associate Director of Pastoral Ministries chuckled, shaking Glynn’s hand as he entered. “You know, they say after the devil visits Oklahoma in summer he runs back to hell to cool off.” 

If there had been a catalog describing what a pastor looked like, the picture would have been Calvin Cain. At 38, he was one of the state convention’s youngest staff members but also one of its most educated and well respected. At six feet tall, he stood above most of the pastors he met with. His brown hair was combed back and cut short, seemingly perfectly in place no matter what the weather conditions. He was impeccably dressed, his starched white shirt showing no sign of fatigue or distress from his travels, his chocolate-brown suit hanging perfectly on his trim body. Even his glasses were perfectly positioned at all times. His quick smile and perpetually calm demeanor gave the impression that absolutely nothing one might say could possibly disturb him.

“How did things go in Arvil?” Glynn asked as he squeezed past his guest and back around to the other side of the desk. He wished the office was larger and more accomodating for guests, but he knew he was lucky to have any space at all.

“A little bit rough to start,” Calvin answered as he sat carefully on the folding chair nearest the desk. “The executive committee is supposed to have five people, but two of its members have recently resigned and replacing them is going to be a challenge because the association has lost or is about to lose around twenty percent of its pastors.”

Wow! That many? Is this because of that list Emmit sent?” Glynn asked, shocked by the number.

Calvin nodded. “I’m afraid so. He was very careful and detailed in what he sent us and because of that, as we’ve contacted church leaders and explained to them what was going on, all but one have quickly stepped up and done what was right. From the perspective of keeping our churches pure, it’s a good move, one that probably should be taken in almost all our associations. From a personnel perspective, though, it leaves some gaping holes in a number of important places. In fact, while I’m here, I’m supposed to ask if you would consider filling one of the positions on the executive committee. They need to be able to move quickly in their search for a new director of missions.”

The request caught Glynn off guard. “That … I don’t know, Calvin. I’m not sure that seems appropriate. I’ve been here less than a year. I’m still learning all that associations do down here. Surely there must be other pastors who are better qualified.”

“I can appreciate your hesitation, but the other members of the committee are concerned that someone is chosen who does not drag the association backward theologically or doctrinally and there are plenty of pastors up here whose opinions would sway that direction.” Calvin paused and crossed his legs in the opposite direction. “Clement Garner over at Emmanuel, Washataug is the committee chair and he pushed pretty hard to add you and Carl Roberts at Liberty Creek to the committee. Bill Moody and Herb Stanley are the other two members. Herb hasn’t been at Ochillie much longer than you’ve been here, so he didn’t have a lot to say, but he’s been in the state quite a while. I think you’d make a good addition and, speaking somewhat selfishly on behalf of the state convention, we’d like to see the committee staffed by men we know are going to be supportive.”

Glynn shrugged, not sure exactly how to respond. He knew the position was important, but he also suspected that it might make him a lightning rod for the opinions of other pastors in the association who didn’t view the Bible nor the church in quite the same way that he did. The last thing he wanted was to become the target of one of Jerry Winston’s loud diatribes. “I just don’t know. I’ve seen how riled up some of these guys can get over relatively unimportant things like a picture in a Sunday School quarterly. This is an important decision and I’m not sure I want to get mixed up in the inevitable argument that’s going to happen somewhere down the road.”

“Well, I think there are things we can do to help offset that argument, and possibly keep it from happening at all.” Calvin shifted his weight again, his expression still calm and confident as he spoke. “I expect we’ll have some new pastors in the association by then and we’re working with the pulpit committees in those churches to lead them toward better pastors so hopefully they don’t end up with the same situations they have now. And we’ll have private conversations with anyone we anticipate being problematic. We want to keep the external pressure off the executive committee and give them the ability to find someone who is really going to be best for the churches in this association.”

“You can do that?” Glynn asked, surprised by the level of involvement being inferred.

Calvin smiled. “We try to stay behind the scenes and out of the way as much as possible, but we do have a vested interest in keeping things at this level running smoothly. And that’s the primary reason for my visit this afternoon. Emmitt hadn’t mentioned anything about you in his notes but in other conversations, and in a phone call after he last visited with you, he voiced some concern that you might be feeling discouraged and uncertain about how things are going here. I wanted to chat with you, see where you’re at, and perhaps if there’s anything I can do or someone else at the state level can do to help since you don’t have a director of missions to support you at the moment.”

Glynn leaned back in his chair slightly, not because he wasn’t interested but more to express his comfort level with the topic. Being on the executive committee was a bothersome matter. Everything he had heard about Dr. Cain, however, allowed him to feel more comfortable discussing personal pastoral issues with him. “I’ll admit, Emmit’s sudden resignation hit me right in the middle of an existential crisis of purpose and whether I’m the right person for this church, whether I’m doing the right thing for my family by being here. There have been too many days over the last two months where I’ve felt as though God were throwing my work right back in my face as if to say, “This isn’t good enough.”

“Can you fill me in? What all has happened besides Emmit’s leaving?” Calvin asked, his expression now one of concern mixed with compassion.

Glynn recounted the events of Lita’s questions about death and the wedding and murder of the young couple, the church’s stagnation during the summer and how they all fueled his own doubts. “As I’ve focused more directly on the things right here in Adelberg some of those worries seem to have been placated to a degree, but every day, every sermon, every conversation seems to bring a new set of questions people expect me to answer and I find myself endlessly second-guessing whether I’ve told them the right thing, or the best right thing in some cases. And while it was enough to be doubting my own situation, when Emmit said what he did at the pastors’ conference a couple of weeks ago, revealing the depth of deprivation among men who have been pastoring these churches a lot longer than I have, I had to wonder if we’re all somehow misguided, wasting our time, totally misunderstanding the very purpose and reason for churches to exist in the first place. I’m looking for answers and too often it feels as though I’m only uncovering more questions.”

“I think we all find ourselves with struggles similar to what you’re describing,” Calvin said calmly. “When Solomon writes in Proverbs 3 to trust in the Lord with all our might and don’t depend on our own understanding, I think he may be addressing situations just like this. We think, we expect, that certain things within God’s kingdom should happen a specific way and when they don’t happen that way we question what went wrong. Were we interpreting scripture the wrong way? Did we misunderstand what it is we’re supposed to be doing?

“What I think Solomon is doing is telling us to check our perspectives. If we do something with the expectation that God is going to bless the action because we are the ones doing it, then we’re going to be disappointed. Like with the wedding of the young couple, just because they were murdered the same day does not mean that God had not already blessed your action. Your action is not related to the action of the person who murdered them. Rather, you honored God by joining them together as a couple, an eternal bond that no human act can ever separate. That was your job, your responsibility. Everything else that happened is separate.

“The same applies to almost everything else we do. We act expecting specific results when, if we’re honest with the Bible, God does not always connect actions with results. Living by faith means that we act, in love, in compassion, in caring, not for the results of those actions but simply because God told us to act. Even if there are no visible results at all, when we faithfully administer the actions, the responsibilities that God has given, then he can provide to us the healing and refreshment we need to continue.”

The two men continued talking for the better part of an hour, Calvin carefully meeting Glynn’s questions and challenges with the encouragement to place his hope and faith in something other than the activities of people who were inherently fallible. By the time Dr. Cain left, Glynn was feeling more upbeat and ready to tackle what he thought lied ahead. 


Chapter 32

chapter 32

Any worries Glynn might have had that the Labor Day weekend would detract from Sunday morning church attendance were unnecessary. After a week of excessive heat across the state, most people in and around Adelberg had decided to forgo making any trips and stay home in the air conditioning, primarily watching broadcasts of the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The games had been a topic of conversation around town for some time as many World War II veterans still remembered the 1936 games in Berlin while others claimed some connection to the many Oklahoma-native wrestlers on the team. Oklahoma State University’s head basketball coach, Henry Iba, was coaching the US men’s basketball team, who was the favorite to once again take the gold in that sport. Conversations before and after the services tended to center around US swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals and whether the Soviets had intentionally underplayed gymnast Olga Korbut’s abilities prior to the games in order to fuel her popularity as she won three gold medals. 

The pastor’s sermon had seemed to go over better than he had expected as well. There were fewer “good sermon” comments and more along the lines of “I’d never looked at it that way before.” While he knew the sincerity of some comments might be questionable, he was pleased when Claire pulled him to the side to challenge his assertions.

“I’m going to have to think this through,” the teenager admitted, “but it seems to me that there has to be some connection, at least on a spiritual level, to the things we do and the results of those actions. I mean, are you saying that God doesn’t care about the consequences?”

Over the summer, Claire’s questions had grown more thoughtful, often reflecting whatever she was reading at the moment. As a result, Glynn had grown to see them as a welcome challenge rather than the nuisance they were at first. He smiled, not realizing that such a response came across to her as condescending. “It’s not that God doesn’t care about the consequences, but that the consequences are, for us, separate from the actions themselves. God knows everything is not going to go as we planned. He knows that when we show love to someone they may not always respond in a positive manner. What matters, however, is that we were obedient, we showed love even in the face of a negative response. What matters is that, despite that response, we continue to show love again and again. The results are a separate entity. We are not held responsible for someone else’s actions.”

“Okay, but that can’t be true in every scenario,” Claire challenged. “For example, I was a counselor at softball camp a couple of weeks ago. I had eight 12-year-old girls in my cabin and a couple of them were from poor families. Neither of them had any extra money to spend on snacks or anything at the canteen. So, I bought them each a soda and a candy bar. One girl took them and said thank you but the other one just let them sit on the table and threw them away when it was time to go to the next activity. That kind of hurt because, you know, it was my money that she was wasting. So, I didn’t buy her anything the next day because I didn’t want her throwing it away again. I had to alter my actions because of her response.”

“Claire, stop and think about why you bought those girls the candy and soda in the first place. Really search your heart on this one. Were you doing it because God commands us to care for those who are poor and less fortunate or could it have been for some other reason? Maybe you wanted them to like you. Maybe you wanted the ‘best counselor’ award. But you let their response dictate your action the next day, not God’s command. Tell me, did you ask the girls if they wanted the pop and candy before you bought it?”

Claire instantly blushed and looked at the ground sheepishly. “No, I just got them the same thing the other girls were getting.”

“Okay, then, consider why the one girl may have not wanted your gift,” Glynn said. “What if she was diabetic? Drinking the soda or eating the candy could have made her very sick. If there were peanuts in the candy, she could have been allergic to those.”

The teenager’s expression turned to one of horror. “Oh no! You’re right! I think maybe she was diabetic! She had medicine she had to get from the nurse every day and now that I think about it, she never ate dessert. I was so stupid!”

Glynn carefully put his hand on her shoulder. “God’s commands are absolute and true but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to think about how we apply them. The scribes and Pharisees fell into the same trap. They took the words of Psalm 84 literally and thought that their holiness was connected to how much time they spent at the Temple. They then were offended when some Jews felt that they should be out taking care of the poor and sick. The actions and our motivation and reasons for doing them are our responsibility. Your heart was in the right place, but perhaps you should have checked that your action was the best way of demonstrating compassion.”

Claire bit her lower lip, trying to hold back the emotions she was feeling from realizing her error. “Thank you, pastor Waterbury,” she said softly. “I obviously need to think through this a lot more. Would you mind if I ask more questions later?”

“Anytime, Claire,” Glynn assured her.

The heat had done a good job of wearing everyone down and by the time the Waterbury family was finished with lunch, there was no one arguing about taking a nap. Even Hayden went to bed without any fuss. The evening worship service couldn’t have been any more low key as it was “favorite hymn night,” where church members called out hymn numbers and the congregation sang them, meaning Glynn didn’t have to do much more than say a prayer at either end of the service. There was homemade ice cream after church, but the lingering heat and humidity made being outside feel oppressive.

An early morning rain shower did little more than increase the humidity and provide yet another reason to stay inside, protected by the air conditioning. Neither of the kids was enthused about playing outside. Lita sat on the front porch for a while, contemplating everything from which boy she liked best at school to why cereal went soggy before she could finish her bowl. Hayden declared outside too hot and chose to stay inside, playing with his cars. Glynn and Marve appreciated the chance to relax but in the absence of having anything specific to do, they too fell into a sense of boredom and didn’t mind when the day was over.

Tuesday, however, was a different matter. An overnight thunderstorm had caused the power to blink just enough so that the morning alarm didn’t go off. While Glynn woke up only 15 minutes late, it was still enough to make the morning feel hectic and rushed. Marve fixed a quick breakfast. Glynn helped the kids get ready for school. The morning paper went ignored. The radio stayed off. 

“Do you want me to go with you and Hayden to see Dr. Dornboss this afternoon?” Glynn asked as he tied Hayden’s shoes for the third time.

“No, I think we’ll be okay. He’s just going to check his eyes a little more closely,” Marve answered. “You may need to be home when Lita gets out of school, though. You know how crowded that office gets after lunch.”

“Or I could stay by myself,” Lita offered, hopefully.

Glynn chuckled, “Or you could come and spend some time with me at church.” 

Lita rolled her eyes in the way only an 11-year-old can do, her eyes lingering a split second too long at the top of her eye socket, increasing the adult annoyance factor by 100. “The church is spooky when it’s empty, Dad. Besides, I want to watch the Olympics this afternoon.”

“Fine, we’ll watch the Olympics, I guess,” her father said in an overly-sarcastic tone that was meant to be humorous but only succeeded in eliciting another eye roll from the young girl.

Glynn and Marve stood on the front porch watching as the kids walked the short distance to school. “Do you think they know we’re watching?” Marve asked as she leaned against her husband.

Glynn put his arm around her, pulling her closer. “If they do, they’ve forgotten about it by the time they turn the corner at the bottom of the hill. By the time they cross the playground they’ve forgotten we exist at all. They’re in a totally different universe.”

“I’m a little worried about Hayden,” Marve confessed. “He’s not getting off to as good a start as I’d hoped.”

“Maybe this week will be better,” Glynn answered, somewhat dismissive of her concern. He didn’t consider Hayden’s behavior especially unusual for a little boy who had just turned five. Neither did he expect the afternoon’s doctor’s appointment to yield any helpful information.

The couple stood quietly for a moment as they watched the kids meet up with others from the neighborhood and cross behind the high school onto the elementary playground. Lita dutifully walked Hayden over to his teacher then ran off to find her friends. “Busy week ahead?” Marve asked, convinced her kids would be safe for the day.

“No more than usual,” Glynn answered. “Mrs. Pompernock, the older lady who lives there a couple of houses behind the store, wasn’t doing especially well when I stopped by the hospital on Friday. I need to check on her. The associational executive committee is meeting in Washataug tomorrow at Emmanuel. Clement said they finally have resumès for all the men we’re considering. That will take up most of the morning I suppose. Other than that, just normal stuff.”

“I should confirm Claire to babysit on Thursday, then?” Marve asked. There had been too many interruptions to their date night for her to assume their evening together was a given.

Glynn smiled and squeezed his wife a little more tightly against him. “Yeah, there’s that new steak house that just opened in Arvel. I thought we might try that.” He looked at his watch before continuing. “I should get moving if I’m going to be back when Lita gets home,” he said before reaching down and giving Marve a kiss. “I’ll go ahead and visit the hospital first, get that out of the way, make sure there are no surprises.”

“You know Hub would have called you if there had been,” Marve responded as she slipped back into the house. One of the advantages of living in a small town is that there were rarely any surprises.

Glynn grabbed a necktie from the closet and brushed off his suit coat on his way to the garage. “Have a good morning! I’ll call when I’m back from Arvel,” he said as he opened the garage door, then added, “Need anything while I’m over there?”

Marve walked to the door with a dishtowel in her hands. “Nah, just bring my husband back in one piece,” she said, smiling. “I love you!”

“I love you!” he replied as he got into the car. A commercial blared loudly on the radio as the motor started, prompting Glynn to instinctively reach over and turn it off. He wasn’t especially interested in another predictable weather forecast or the music that seemed to have gotten predictable as well. Driving the few miles to the hospital in Arvel gave him time to think through sermon ideas for Sunday and mentally work through some possible outlines.

Arriving at the hospital, the pastor checked in at the front desk and was told that Mrs. Pompernock was still in surgery and probably wouldn’t be available to take visitors until tomorrow. Glynn sighed at having wasted a trip and asked if there was anyone else there from Adelbert he might need to visit. The hospital auxiliary volunteer checked the admissions sheet and confirmed that there was no one else. Glynn thanked her and was about to leave when the older woman added, “It’s so horrible about the Olympics, isn’t it?”

Glynn stopped short. What could possibly be horrible about the Olympics? He turned around. “Excuse me?”

“You know, with those hostages and the men in masks. It’s all just so horrible!” came the reply.

“Yes, it is,” Glynn responded not having a clue what was actually going on. “Definitely a matter needing a lot of prayers.” He smiled and then walked hurriedly back to his car. As soon as the motor started he turned on the radio. 

“… officials have confirmed at least 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team have been taken captive, possibly 16, we’re not sure. All men, captured in the middle of the night. There are rumors that one of the men has been shot but we’ve not yet been able to confirm that. What we know is still a bit sketchy…”

Glynn backed out of the parking space and rushed home as quickly as possible. The more he heard, the more frightened and concerned he became. Black September, a splinter group of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), had somehow managed to get into the Olympic Village where athletes stayed and take captive several members of Israel’s team without any opposition from German security. Void of enough facts to sufficiently fill the air time, commentators were rehashing other PLO actions and speculating as to whether this might be the start of a global terror operation aimed at bringing down the nation of Israel.

Arriving home and walking into the kitchen, Glynn wasn’t surprised to find Marve sitting on the edge of the couch watching the television. She normally enjoyed listening to the game shows as she worked around the house. Instead of the new game shows, though, ABC television sports anchor, Jim McKay, was talking with Middle Eastern news correspondent Peter Jennings as a shaky camera showed pictures of a man in a mask standing on the second-floor balcony of an athletic dormitory. He was holding a military-style rifle. Glynn sat on the couch next to her without saying anything.

Over the next several minutes, it became clear that the armed men, being called terrorists by both government and Olympic officials, had demanded that 250 PLO members be released from jail or else they would kill the Israeli team members. Both German and Olympic officials had been caught completely off guard. Determined to make these games a stark comparison from the 1936 games under the Hitler regime, security was lax. Armed police officers were few. Rumors were that other athletes had unwittingly helped the group get into the Olympic Village. No one knew what to expect.

Nothing had changed by the time Marve left to take Hayden to his doctor’s appointment. Glynn stayed on the couch, watching in disbelief. Shortly after noon, Buck called to make sure the pastor was aware of what was going on. Farmers and ranchers who had gone out to the fields early to escape the heat were just starting to come in and hear the news. 

Hours passed slowly. Lita arrived home from school anxious to watch the games and was disappointed to find that the news had taken over every broadcast channel. “Stupid news,” she fussed. “Why do people have to be so stupid and do stupid things all the time?”

“Because we are all sinners,” Glynn said automatically. He knew Lita’s question had been rhetorical but his brain answered the question before his mouth could stop the words from coming out.

Lita huffed. “Then they all need to stop being sinners and be Christians.”

It took Glynn a couple of seconds before realizing what his daughter had just said. Carefully, he responded. “They’re not going to be Christians, sweetheart. They’re Muslim. They don’t believe the same thing we do.”

“Then what they believe is stupid. Only stupid people believe in hurting other people. This is all so very stupid!” She plopped angrily into the recliner, crossing both her legs and her arms in a show of defiance at the emotionless television.

Glynn tried to correct her. “We don’t call other people’s religions stupid, Lita. They still worship God, they just don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. They follow the teachings of someone named…”

“I don’t care!” Lita interrupted. “They’re interrupting the Olympics! They should all be kicked out and made to go to someplace else. They can go someplace where there aren’t Olympics. They can go to Texas!”

Glynn struggled to not laugh at his daughter’s unintentional humor. Anti-Texas sentiment was strong this time of year because of a longstanding football rivalry between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. Apparently Lita had picked up the fervent dislike of all things Texan from her friends at school. “I don’t think they want to go to Texas,” he told her. “They want their friends out of jail.”

Lita wasn’t in the mood for international negotiation and its subtle nuances. “Then give them their friends and send them all to Texas or some really hot place. I don’t care. They just need to stop interrupting the Olympics!”

Glynn let the girl’s tirade go unanswered, knowing that nothing he said at the moment would soothe her anger enough for her to understand the true gravity of the situation. Marve soon returned home with Hayden. “How’d things go?” he asked, not expecting a substantial answer.

“Oh, okay I guess,” Marve answered. “I have the name of an ophthalmologist in Bartlesville he wants us to see. He said he doesn’t really have the tools here to make an accurate diagnosis but he sees enough to be concerned. How are things here?”

“Not much change,” Glynn said, still looking at the television screen. “They said something a while ago about moving them to an airport somewhere. I’m not sure. They showed some helicopters but I don’t really know what’s going on.”

“It’s all anyone was talking about at the doctor’s office,” Mave said and she sat on the sofa next to Glynn. “Even Dr. Dornboss seemed distracted. That may be why he pushed us off to this guy in Bartlesville.”

Glynn nodded. Several more minutes passed quietly without much conversation. Lita was upset that Hayden had gotten candy from the doctor’s office and she hadn’t gotten anything. Hayden brought some toy cars out from his room and played with them in front of the television.

Marve fixed a quick dinner of macaroni noodles mixed with ground beef and tomato sauce. Typically the television was turned off during mealtime but Glynn opted to leave it on in case something significant changed. Constant banter between the kids made it difficult to hear, though, and Glynn rushed through his meal so he could return to the living room. Marve fussed lightly at the kids and soon joined Glynn on the couch.

For a moment, it seemed that everything was going to work out without any severe incidents. A German official announced that all the hostages had been freed and the terrorists killed. Announcer Jim McKay expressed doubts about the validity of that message, citing German news sources saying the situation at the airport was not over. As reports of intermittent gunfire were shared, the tension increased. Marve moved closer to Glynn, taking hold of his arm as she grew more fearful. 

As the evening grew later, Marve put the kids to bed. “Will the Olympics be back tomorrow?” Lita asked as her mother tucked her in.

“I don’t know, baby. I hope so,” Marve answered. Walking back out into the living room and seeing no obvious change on the television, she decided to wash the dinner dishes and put them up before returning to her seat on the couch. The situation in Munich was proving to be emotionally exhausting. Certainly, she thought, they would find a way to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible. 

Marve had barely resumed her seat on the couch when the television camera zoomed in close on the announced and Jim McKay delivered the fateful words, “I’m being told it’s over… They’re all gone.” She collapsed into Glynn’s arms, sobbing. He held her, stroking her hair, fighting with his own tears, neither of them believing what had happened. 

Finally, after several more minutes, Glynn got up and turned off the television. The couple dried their tears and went to bed, knowing that the world had just taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Things would never be the same.


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