Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Book of Doug

For as long as Doug could remember,
he prayed to be made a messenger of God.
He prayed to speak the Word of God.
He prayed to be a prophet.

When Doug was 32 years old,
he was a deacon at the Shepherd’s Way,
a nondenominational congregation,
located in a wealthy, predominantly white
Northwest suburb of Chicago.
Some sneered and called it a “mega-church,”
but Pastor Rick smiled and said,
“The size of the flock doesn’t matter.
What counts is where you’re taking them
and if you can protect them in the night.”
Doug was engaged to marry Rachel, Pastor Rick’s only daughter.
He didn’t have much experience preaching yet,
but he was the more popular
of the two youth group leaders,
and the best cook at the men’s pancake prayer breakfast.

One unseasonably warm February night,
an Angel of the Lord came onto Doug
and woke him from a deep, untroubled sleep.
Like you would expect of an angel,
it was winged and clothed mostly in white
and bathed in a blinding light
almost too painful to look at.
Its gender was, to Doug, troublingly indeterminate,
and it wore an angry expression
like a dog with eyes all black,
ready to bare its teeth and bite.
The Angel asked, “Do you fear the Lord God Almighty?”
Doug normally would have said
that he had a deep personal friendship with God,
but this apparition was terrifying,
so he just replied, “Yes.”

The Angel said to Doug,
“Your prayers have been heard,
and they will be answered.
If it is still your desire,
you will be given a tongue of fire
burning to speak the Word of God.
You will not be silenced,
and the Word of God
shall ever be on your lips.
But,” the Angel added,
“you won’t like it.”

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted!”
Doug cried.  “Let the Lord’s Will be done!”
The Angel, to Doug’s surprise,
kissed him on the lips,
a hot, burning sensation,
then vanished.
Doug sank into unconsciousness.

He woke up feeling pretty good, actually,
and couldn’t detect any change.
What a strange dream.
He had a busy schedule:
a staff meeting at the church
in the morning;
a youth group planning session
in the afternoon
to discuss the upcoming Spring Retreat;
and Passion Play rehearsal in the evening.
It was a musical version featuring live animals—
donkeys, camels, and sheep—
and complex choreography.
Other churches in the area bussed people in
just to see it every year.
Doug wasn’t much of a singer or a dancer,
so he usually played the part of “Man from Jerusalem #12,”
one of many who at first followed Jesus
as he preached and performed his miracles
(as featured in the song “Singing His Praises”)
but by the end of the play had turned on Christ,
lustily shouting “Crucify Him!”
(during the song “Crucify Him!”).
The role had originally been named “Jewish Man #12,”
but Pastor Rick had wisely discerned
that nomenclature could cause some problems.

Doug also planned to talk to Pastor Rick
about the sermon he was planning to deliver the following Sunday
at the 10:00 service,
which was THE service at Shepherd’s Way
with the full choir,
better attended than the 6:30 or 8:30
and felt more official
than the simple acoustic guitar service
for those lazy 11:30-ers.
He was feeling a bit of stage fright and writer’s block, to be honest.

Doug lunched that day
at one of those so-called “fast-casual” restaurants
with seemingly infinite combinations of
sandwiches, soups, and salads.
Healthier than a burger and fries, sure,
but you’re still paying like twelve dollars
for half a sandwich and a bowl of soup.
And he was contemplating this
and what his grandmother would have said
about the entire concept
and watching every single other person in the restaurant
staring transfixed into some kind of tiny screen
while they were standing in line
or waiting for their order
or even sitting at tables in groups in silence.
Small children had their own small screens too,
and nobody could process through the line efficiently
because everyone was mid-text or mid-tweet,
and the two young women in front of him
who should have been walking up to the counter
paused to photograph themselves,
holding a cell phone high above them
to capture the most flattering angle,
their faces frozen in an expression
of false orgasmic joy
for just a moment,
capturing that they are there, together,
in that sandwich, soup, and salad place,
looking as beautiful as they ever will in their lives,
showing off their friendship and joie de vive
and ability to purchase $12 lunch combos.
And Doug could see that the cashier was getting frustrated,
calling out, “Can I help who’s next?”
But the women in front of him
were busy on their phones,
publishing this slightly blurry photograph of themselves
on various social media platforms,
and he didn’t want to cut in line.
And it was at that precise moment
that Doug’s tongue was set afire,
and he began to loudly speak the Word of God.

Twenty minutes later,
he was sitting on a bench next to the Pace bus stop
maybe a block and a half from the restaurant,
He had never been kicked out of any place in his life,
and it seemed for a while that the police were going to be called.
The manager grabbed Doug by the arm
(while Doug continued to speak the Word of God)
and physically removed him from the establishment.
There was a remote part of Doug,
the part of him who wasn’t wide-eyed and shouting,
literally spitting his words at the disgusted manager,
the part of Doug who had retreated deep within himself
and could only watch this scene in horror.
Have I been possessed? he wondered.
Miss Greensboro, a Biblical Studies teacher
at the Christian academy Doug attended
during his high school years,
once told his class that only the spiritually weak could be
possessed by demons.
So he was reasonably sure that didn’t apply to him.
I’m obviously far too stressed, he assured himself.
Taking on way too much at church,
plus the wedding next year.
I will prayerfully discern how I can cut back
while still being of service to others.

He felt better then,
but was alarmed when a young man approached him
at the bus stop,
skateboard in hand,
wearing all black, shaggy hair dyed purple
in an amateur, haphazard fashion,
studded with piercings in his lips, nose, eyebrows, tongue,
earlobes grotesquely stretched,
a tattooed octopus tentacle on his neck
reaching upwards.
Doug remembered seeing him in the café
and could feel his cheeks start to burn.

“Hey, bro,” the young man began,
“What you said in there was just awesome, man.
Awesome.  I’ll never forget it.”

Doug stared at him, mouth gaping,
didn’t have a chance to say “thanks”
watched the young man ride away,
listened to the satisfying crunching and grinding
of skateboard wheels on asphalt.
Then all was quiet,
except for birdsong above and the drone of passing traffic.

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