Pronghorn, Chapter 8: Still in Service

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

A member of the congregation, an older man introduced as Bartholomew Smitherson, walked up to the lectern. In his hoary voice, he said “Today’s reading from the Old Testament begins with 1 Kings 18:20 through 39” into the microphone that had been set up. I don’t recall that being there thought Asa as from throughout the congregation came the sounds of pages turning rapidly, thin paper flapping under fingers. Soon, Asa found his attention drifting as the old man read dryly and slowly of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. His eyes returned again and again to Kerr, where she stood in seemingly rapt attention to Smitherson and his reading, nodding along at points in his reading.

He, at least, needs the microphone. And probably a breath mint.

Asa reddened a bit in embarrassment at the thought. I’ve got no reason to be so petty. And his eyes returned to the tartan stole draped over Kerr’s robe.

“We next read from the Ninety-sixth Psalm” came Bartholomew’s voice. The flurry of pages turning followed shortly, and Asa continued to consider Kerr more than the text as the old man droned on. I really need to stop. He forced his eyes to Smitherson as he concluded reading the psalm and said “We turn now to the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, the first chapter, verses one through twelve.” Another flurry of page turning followed, and Asa made an effort to focus on Bartholomew as he read the salutation of Paul to his fellows and his exhortation to attend to the one gospel of Christ. Canon wars go back farther than most people think, don’t they?

“Please rise for the reading of the Gospel.” Asa stood along with the rest of the congregation, and Bartholomew continued. “Today, we hear from the Gospel of Luke, the seventh chapter, verses one through ten.” Another chorus of flipping pages–and one hushed “Damn, I tore the pages!” followed by a sharp whisper indistinct to Asa–filled the room, and the old man read of the healing of a centurion’s servant. He concluded with “This is the Word of the Lord,” and the congregation replied “Thanks be to God” before sitting. Smitherson withdrew from the lectern, going slowly to a pew near the front of the sanctuary, and Kerr leaned forward in the pulpit.

“Thank you, Mr. Smitherson, for helping us to hear the words given to us. And thank you, friends, for offering the chance to reflect on them with you. Because there is a fair bit to reflect on, isn’t there? If there is, in fact, a common thread among the lectionary readings–and there may not be; when I asked about it in seminary, I was told that the lectionary readings are usually chosen so that they don’t have a common thread–then it seems to me it is in turning away from the false and towards the true. We have it in both 1 Kings and Galatians, after all, and the other texts can be said to frame them; Psalm 96 exhorts us to attend to what is Lordly, and the Gospel reading bespeaks the rewards of faith even among those who might be thought not to have it.”

Is she looking at me? Asa thought.

Kerr continued. “So that’s easy enough an idea, right? ‘Avoid the false, follow the true.’ It shouldn’t be a problem. But it is, as is obvious. We look around and see other people saying things that we know aren’t true, and still other people go along with them–whether through ignorance or due to greed matters less than the fact that they do say things that’re wrong and that they go along with them. And it would be easy for each of us to sit and talk about those who do such things, to look on them and think ‘Well, isn’t that just nice? Isn’t that person on the wrong path?’ Or, as is likely the case, less kind things in less kind words.

“I do so often enough, to be sure. I look at people who do things I’d rather not see happen and think bad thoughts about them. And some of mine are in bad words, to be sure–the kind of thing that Asa might mark me down for, if he were on the clock and I were his student.” The congregation laughed a bit, and Asa felt himself redden a bit as his father leaned forward and smirked at him. “So I understand the impulse.

“But I also know that it’s the wrong one to follow. For not only are we told by Scripture–it’s Matthew, chapter seven, verses three through five, for those of you playing at home–not to worry about the motes in others’ eyes when we have beams or planks in ours, and not only are we told–this one’s in Luke, chapter four, verse twenty-three–that physicians ought to heal themselves–and it’s good advice, even if those who would offer it would do so wrongly–and not only are we told not to judge unless we expect to be judged–Matthew comes to mind again–we know that we don’t know, or we ought to know it. We’re all wrong; we’ve all been wrong; and we’re all going to be wrong again. We don’t do the good we should, we don’t resist the evil we should, and we don’t because we don’t always–or even necessarily often–know what good and evil are.

“Sometimes, of course, it’s easy to know. But more often, it isn’t. More often, there’s only one step, one foot, one inch, one hair’s breadth between them. It’s more often an issue of, say, ‘Do I say “hi” to this person or not?’ than it is ‘Do I jump in front of the bullet?’ And that’s probably good, since I’m not sure I want so many bullets flying around as all that, but it’s also a danger because there are so many chances to get things wrong, to make things worse, and it’s far from always clear what will do which.”

Asa found himself nodding along. She’s got some damned good points.

He smiled, his attention returning to the drape of Kerr’s stole. I might like to see some of them.

Then he shook his head, slightly but suddenly. Damn! Shouldn’t think like that!

Fortunately, nobody seemed to notice.

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