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Life Goes on
By Philip Gulley
Walker Large PrintCopyright © 2005 Philip Gulley
All right reserved.
My earliest memory of Easter was when I was five years old and looking for Easter eggs in my grandparents' backyard. I'm not sure if what I'm remembering is the event itself or the photograph of it my father took -- my brother, Roger, and me, dressed in our Sunday suits, pausing just long enough from our egg gathering to record the moment for posterity.
My grandmother kept the picture on the top of her bureau, a black-and-white photo with scalloped edges. In the background was my grandfather's shed, where he had a cot for naps on summer afternoons amidst the pleasant aroma of gasoline, turpentine, and sawdust.
I would visit them on Saturday afternoons and sit in the backyard swing with my grandma while Grandpa push-mowed the yard in neat stripes, the blades snicking against the roller. Every now and then he'd happen upon a long-forgotten Easter egg. A rainbow of egg shell would arc up from the mower while a pungent, sulfuric odor filled the air, the delayed resurrection of a half-buried Easter egg.
Alice Stout was my Sunday school teacher when I was growing up at Harmony Friends Meeting. When she would ask me why we celebrated Easter, I knew I was supposed to say something about Jesus rising from the tomb. But that struck me as a fanciful yarn the adults concocted to liven up the religion. For me, Easter was about sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and brother the night before, dipping eggs in teacups of dye, then laying them out to dry on that week's copy of the Harmony Herald.
Now Alice Stout is in the nursing home at Cartersburg, four eggs short of a dozen. When I went to visit her the week before Easter and read to her from the Scriptures about the Resurrection, she cackled like a madwoman. "Bullfeathers," she said. It is troublesome to struggle all your life believing something, only to have your Sunday school teacher dismiss it as bullfeathers, even if she is out of her gourd.
One of the ironies of life is that we often return gladly to what we once fled. I returned to my hometown and became the pastor of my childhood church. Now it's my job to rally the troops and urge them to believe things they might otherwise doubt, at least according to Dale Hinshaw, our self-appointed guardian of doctrinal purity, who's been vigilant about keeping me orthodox, lest I stray into the wilds of rationalism.
On my fourth Easter as pastor, I suggested we hold special services during Holy Week. I'm not sure now what possessed me to do that, probably my naive habit of thinking the church is always one program away from vitality. I envisioned a little Scripture reading, some singing, then a spirited theological discussion on certain aspects of the Resurrection.
When I presented my idea to the elders, they waded in with their concerns. Asa Peacock wanted to know if we could have cookies. Dale Hinshaw made me promise we'd read from the King James Version of the Bible. Harvey Muldock suggested holding a raffle each night to draw more people, and Fern Hampton declared, rather emphatically, that if the kitchen were used, the Friendly Women's Circle was not going to be stuck cleaning it.
Even though I grew up in this church and am accustomed to its eccentricities, I continue to marvel at how the simplest idea can soon rival the complexity of a Middle East peace treaty. What began as a modest suggestion to read the Bible, pray, and reflect on the meaning of Easter soon involved three committees, a church-wide vote on cookie preference, and an agreement to collect a special offering for the Friendly Women's Circle Cabinet Fund.
Fern Hampton was placed in charge of the cookie vote. Miriam Hodge suggested she might not want to make a big deal about it, just take an informal poll among the ladies of the church.
"What about the men?" Harvey Muldock asked."How come we don't get any say?"
"I'm sorry, Harvey," Miriam said. "I didn't mean to exclude you. What kind of cookies would you like?"
"I thought it was my job to ask people what kind of cookies they wanted," Fern complained.
"By all means," Miriam said." I just thought I'd help."
Fern turned to Harvey. "What kind of cookies would you like, Harvey?"
Harvey thought for a moment. "How about those little chocolate cookies with oatmeal that you mix up and put in the refrigerator?"
"One vote for chocolate drop cookies," Fern said, rooting through her purse for paper and a pencil. "Dale, what kind of cookies would you like?"
"Fern, perhaps we could do this a bit later," Miriam suggested. "I'm sure Sam has more pressing business for us to discuss just now."
"Don't I get to say what kind of cookies I like?" Dale asked.
"You go right ahead, Dale," Fern said. "I'm sure Sam won't mind."
"Well, I was over in Cartersburg last week at the Bible bookstore and they had these Scripture cookies. Kind of like fortune cookies, except they got the Word in 'em instead. I think we oughta get us some of them."
I used to believe the world would be saved by church committees, though sixteen years of ministry have cured me of such optimism. Now I prize those rare and selfless saints, those unwavering levers, who move the world while the committees are deciding on carpet colors.
After Fern's cookie survey, we moved on to the pressing matter of the special collection for the kitchen cabinets.
"Sam, what are your thoughts on the ushering?" Dale asked. "You want a box at the back of the meetinghouse for folks to put their donations in, or were you wantin' the guys to pass the baskets?"
"Well, if you ask me," Fern interrupted, "I think we should pass the baskets. That way people can't sneak out the side door without giving."
The elders sat quietly, pondering this vital concern ...Continues...
Excerpted from Life Goes on by Philip Gulley Copyright © 2005 by Philip Gulley. Excerpted by permission.
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