Meningsbee always remembered him fondly.
He was one of those college professors who thought it was his job to come up with the most clever way to communicate ideas, gauging his success on how dazzled his students would become or how they would squint at him, perplexed, acting as if they didn’t understand.
He was a character.
One of his primary theories was that everything in the universe was based on physics and chemistry–even people–that even though we advance the idea that loving our neighbor as ourselves is a noble pursuit, that certain chemicals, reactions and even structures of different individuals actually inhibit them from making connection–even though they try. Sometimes they even get married, attempting to work out a relationship, only to discover that they suffer from a perpetual awkwardness whenever they’re together alone.
The reason for the walk down memory lane was that recently Meningsbee had come to the conclusion that his old professor just might have stumbled upon some wisdom. Because try as he might, there was one gentleman in the Garsonville congregation who just could not tolerate the pastor.
Matter of fact, Meningsbee found himself referring to this gent as “Mr. Jackson, from the bank,” because he had never heard his first name. He thought it was “Maynard,” but considering how unusual that seemed, he was hesitant to try it out loud.
So whenever Meningsbee entered the room, Jackson stayed for a few moments, but excused himself pretty quickly. At first he thought it was a coincidence, but then some of the other church members noticed it, and began to check their watches, timing when Jackson made his exodus.
Meningsbee thought about going to talk to Jackson, but reconsidered. Honesty only works when two people agree to the terms. Otherwise, the person who chooses not to share his heart can simply terminate the peace offering by saying, “Problem? What problem?”
But recently Meningsbee had become worried.
Mr. Jackson had begun spending a lot of time with young Carl. He offered to buy the young man a new suit. Whenever Carl was doing something in the church, like a special song or maybe a sermonette, Jackson would specifically invite the other members of his family.
Meningsbee was concerned about being too paranoid. How much was he reading into the circumstances? But it just seemed that Jackson was trying to create a rift between Carl and the senior pastor.
Meningsbee was not an idiot. He knew he could be imagining everything. Yet something was amiss. Carl was not quite as gentle and free-flowing when the two of them were together. He seemed to be making stubborn stands over things that really didn’t matter that much. Meningsbee was stymied. What should he do?
Then came the petition.
It was presented as a lark. Matter of fact, it was printed off on pink paper with yellow flowers. It stated:
“We, the undersigned, demand that Pas Carl get the chance to preach at least once a month on Sunday morning. We do this by the authority granted to us by nobody, in the spirit of true bumbling.”
Even as they presented it to Pastor Meningsbee, they did so with an overstated bow and a giggle.
He took the flamboyant petition into his office, sat down and stared at it. He knew one thing: solving problems was not about having all the answers, but instead, knowing when to use the answers.
Since it was Sunday morning and he had the petition in his hand, he decided to follow up on the frivolity of their offering with some silliness of his own. He reached into a trunk of toys he kept in his office for kids who needed a distraction for when they were waiting for their parents and he pulled out a red plastic fireman’s hat, which was obviously too small for his head. But he placed it on top and fastened it down to the side of his face with scotch tape.
He walked to the door of the sanctuary and then skipped down the aisle to the front of the church, and turned around with his fireman’s hat tipping precariously.
The look on the faces of the congregation: amused, confused, not certain how to react, even though some of them couldn’t help themselves and began to giggle. Borrowing from the energy of a Broadway play, in overstated tones, he began.
“When you come to the Garsonville Community Church, what are you hoping to see? An aging minister wearing a child’s fireman’s hat? Of course not. But look! It’s still provided.”
A big laugh.
“But what do you come here for? What is inspiring you today? I’m not talking about what inspired you when you were sixteen years old and you could barely wait for Halloween so you could go on the hayride and make out with your boyfriend or girlfriend. I’m talking about what inspires you in church today.
“You know what inspires me? You know what rings my bells? You know what keeps my firehat in place?”
He reached up and touched the side of his face. “Certainly not the scotch tape. What gets me moving–what gets me excited–what makes me want to race to work every day is the opportunity to work with that young man over there…”
He pointed to Carl.
“And try to do great things for all of you out there.”
He pointed to the congregation.
“What should I say about Carl? Pas Carl. I wish I had known half of what he knows when I was his age. I would now be twice the man. I wish I was half as good-looking. I wish I could say I rescued a boy out of a well. I wish I’d had my hands in dirt more, growing crops, or milked a cow or two. That is what you do to them, right?”
He leaned forward and the congregation laughed. “Because every time I get to work with him, I know we’re doing something great for you. But the amazing thing is that even though we’re enjoying this blessing, we sometimes forget that it never happens because of one thing. It’s when all things work together to the good.
“Would you say it with me? All things work together to the good.“
The congregation repeated it.
“And when you start tearing that combination apart, trying to focus on what’s the better part, or the best part, it stops working together. Now, even though I couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t do without Carl–he’s a smart fellow. He’ll tell you he’s young. He’ll tell you that he couldn’t do without me.”
Carl hung his head.
“And even though there are people in this congregation that don’t love me–heck, maybe you don’t even like me–you still receive my love and the thrill of my soul to be your shepherd.
“I had a professor in college named McIntosh. He believed that everything in life is based on chemistry. What if he’s right? What if we take one Richard Meningsbee and mingle it with a Sarah, Matreese, Bob, Sally, Darla, Daniel, Mr. Jackson–Maynard, I presume?–and Carl, and stir it up. We know what we’ve got then, don’t we? We have this beautiful eruption called church.
“What if we remove one of the ingredients? Will it be the same? Will the chemical reaction be as intense? I, for one, think not.
“I was offered a petition, requesting that this young man, who I love, be able to preach one Sunday a month in this church. I tell you–no. You’re absolutely wrong. He should preach two Sundays a month in this church. Starting next week.
“And before I finish here, I need you to seriously take a moment and let me know, by raising your hands, how many people like my hat.”
Hands went into the air, applause rattled the room and everybody left church in joy.
Everybody except Mr. Maynard Jackson.
He never returned again.