Saint Ben

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Overview

"Fischer's writing resonates with the novelist's truest gifts—inevitability and surprise"

Luci Shaw, author of God in the Dark and Horizons

The new pastor's family made an almost perfect picture standing on the church platform that splendid first Sunday morning in early 1958. The "almost" of that picture was the youngest son, Ben. At first glance he might have looked like a normal nine-year-old boy dressed up against his will for church. But there was something else about Ben ...

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Overview

"Fischer's writing resonates with the novelist's truest gifts—inevitability and surprise"

Luci Shaw, author of God in the Dark and Horizons

The new pastor's family made an almost perfect picture standing on the church platform that splendid first Sunday morning in early 1958. The "almost" of that picture was the youngest son, Ben. At first glance he might have looked like a normal nine-year-old boy dressed up against his will for church. But there was something else about Ben that made him stand out from the rest of his family and the church—something that kept him from pretending that he wanted to be there.

Within and without the hallowed walls of the Colorado Avenue Standard Christian Church, the sheer honesty of Ben Beamering will cause all kinds of commotion and consternation as he actually does and says what so many believers always wanted to do and say but didn't dare. And neither his family nor the church are prepared for the challenge.

No one who met Ben was ever quite the same, and no one loved Ben more and knew him better than his best friend Jonathan, who tells this captivating story.

"What at first appears to be a slender story of boyhood bonding … soon explodes like a skyrocket …. The multi-talented Fischer's debut as a novelist is auspicious indeed"

Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel

Set in the late 1950s, Saint Ben tells the story of a pastor's son and his best friend, Ben, a colorful and memorable character, perceived to be a rebel without a cause, but actually quite serious about finding God. A wonderfully crafted novel, full of charm, humor, and amazing spiritual insight.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556612596
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Series: Saint Ben Ser.
  • Pages: 286
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Read an Excerpt

First Sunday

At first glance he looked like a normal boy dressed up against his will for church—hair slicked down, ears squeaky-clean, and a body forced to wear a suit that had worked its way down through two older brothers and was now being pressed too soon into service on his thin, wiry shoulders. But something about Ben made him stick out in the middle of this family and this church like the cowlick on his nine-year-old head.

They made an almost perfect picture, all five of them standing there on the platform in much the same pose as the one in the picture tucked into the bulletin that Sunday morning. The proud father and two of his three sons each wore a small red rosebud, while the mother had been decorated with an orchid corsage on this their first Sunday as the new first family of the Colorado Avenue Standard Christian Church.

The almost of the almost perfect picture was Ben. He wore no rosebud, and I imagine, now that I think about it, that he had probably removed it the first chance he got and impaled it to the bottom of the pew with the long pearl-headed pin that had briefly held it fast to his pale-blue seersucker coat. It wasn't only his bare lapel that signaled something different about Ben; it was his angular stance, his eyes all twisted up in a squint, and his head cocked to one side as if listening for another voice with ears too large for a face that would never catch up to them. Very little about Ben matched the perfect picture that his family—indeed that the whole church—was trying to fit into that morning. Ben was what was wrong with the picture. He was the only one in the whole church who was not smiling. He wasn't smiling in the picture inside the bulletin either, the one that introduced his family to the church and his father as the new pastor.

It was the picture in the bulletin that we saw before we saw the real Ben, and seeing the real Ben made you understand about the picture—that it hadn't been a mistake and that this was probably the best picture anyone could get of Ben Beamering through the eye of a camera—or any other eye, for that matter.

I had been up there on that same platform myself, and I had smiled just the way Ben's older brothers were smiling. That I-want-to-be-just-like-my-father look. Joshua and Peter Beamering possessed the fewest of their father's physical features, and yet they longed the most to be like him. You could tell that morning how proud they were to be there, just as you could tell how desperately Ben wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere but on that platform, looking out at all those smiling people. Ben's brothers were clearly in their element that Sunday morning in March of 1958. Ben, however, with every strand of his hair held against its will by wave set, obviously had other thoughts.

The sermon that morning was long and full of all the things that would make a Standard Christian congregation proud and certain they had made the right choice in their new pastor.

Ben's father, Jeffery T. Beamering, Jr., had some very large shoes to fill. In just twelve short years, the pastor before him, T. J. Barham, had brought this small struggling church to life, winning a respectable amount of people back into the traditional white clapboard building that had suffered, before he came, from a painful church split. Jeffery T. Beamering, Jr. was inheriting a pulpit that epitomized all that made these faithful churchgoers proud to be Standard Christians and certain that they were smack-dab in the center of the perfect will of God.

Jeffery T. Beamering, Jr. was young, in his mid-thirties, and he had the same fervor that Pastor Barham had possessed when he first came—at least that's what I heard. Many of the older members hated to see their beloved pastor go, but if the bounce in Jeffery Beamering's step and the fire in his voice were any indication—well, they were in for even greater things than they had basked in for twelve years under T. J. Barham.

So on this splendid Sunday morning in March, with the bright sun bouncing off freshly painted white colonial columns, and the choir sitting tall in its loft and the people sitting tall in their pews, everyone was smiling. Everyone, that is, except Ben Beamering.

The new pastor delivered well that morning. Some said it was the best sermon they had ever heard from that pulpit. It was definitely Jeffery T. Beamering's best and his favorite—a sermon that would become the most reliable in his repertoire. It was based on a famous statement by the seventeenth-century mathematician and scientist turned religious philosopher, Blaise Pascal, in which he likened man's spiritual condition to a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart—an empty longing that only God can fill. It was also a sermon of great portent for Jeffery T. Beamering and his family.

Though I would hear that sermon later in many variations, I only heard about it that first Sunday, because, as usual, I didn't stay for the sermon. I was in children's church watching Leonora Kingsley get her first taste of what it was going to be like having Ben Beamering in her class.

The first thing we all noticed was that Ben didn't do any of the hand motions to the Sunday school songs. In fact, he didn't sing any of the songs. He just sat in the front row with his arms folded.

Now, we had our share of malcontents, like Bobby Brown, who was always drawing attention to himself. His favorite trick was to reverse the hand motions (motion wide when we sang "deep" and deep when we sang "wide") and to sing loudly on those notes where we were supposed to only motion and not sing. Then everyone would turn around and point and laugh, which was exactly what Bobby wanted.

Bobby and his little band of eight-year-old deviants always sat in the back row. If they could have invented a row farther back, they would have sat there. That's what made Ben's behavior seem so strange. Though he had the outward demeanor of a deviant, he sat right down in the front row, alone, directly in front of Miss Kingsley.

No one ever sat in the front row.

Because I was sitting directly behind him in the second row, I couldn't help but notice that his ears looked even bigger from the back than they did from the front. From the back, it was easy to see that the problem with Ben's ears was not just their size; it was also their shape. They were cupped like radar screens facing forward, as if designed that way by God for better reception.

We were all thinking it, but it took someone like Bobby Brown to say it.

"Hey, Dumbo!" he yelled from the back of the room, and we all froze.

Ben didn't flinch. Miss Kingsley glared at Bobby and began playing the piano vigorously, directing our singing, as she always did, with her head and torso while her hands were busy up and down the piano keys. She seemed more nervous and intent than usual. Probably because the new pastor's son had positioned himself right in front of her.

Deep and wide, deep and wide,

There's a fountain flowing deep and wide.

Deep and wide, deep and wide,

There's a fountain flowing deep and wide.

Miss Kingsley's head went deep and wide, and we all motioned appropriately with our hands. Bobby sang where he wasn't supposed to, and Ben didn't sing at all.

"Hey, what's with Dumbo?" hollered one of Bobby's henchmen from the back row, gaining courage from his leader's earlier success with the comparison. Miss Kingsley ignored the disruption and plowed ahead into the next song.

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

Soldiers of the cross.

Ben continued to sit there stoically, arms folded.

Leonora Kingsley, growing increasingly nervous over his nonparticipation, stopped the song abruptly and tried the direct approach.

"Class, most of you probably know we have a new child with us today. He's our new pastor's son, Ben Beamering. Ben, welcome to children's church."

No one moved or made a sound except for a few snickers from the back row.

"Ben, are these songs new to you?" asked Miss Kingsley, knowing they couldn't have been foreign to the son of a Standard Christian minister, but trying her best to deal with the awkward silence.

"No, ma'am."

"Is there some reason why you can't sing with us, then?"

"Yes, ma'am. I don't like these songs."

"Is there a song you'd like to sing?"

"No, not really."

"Would you care to tell us why you don't like these songs?"

I figured Leonora was taking a big chance with this question—and I hadn't even heard the answer yet.

"They're not true," said Ben, "and they don't make any sense. Have you ever been on Jacob's ladder? Do you know anyone who has? I bet no one here has ever even seen Jacob's ladder. It's just a dream some guy had in the Bible. If we are never going to see it or be on it, then why are we singing about climbing it?"

Everyone sat there stunned for the longest time. Even the back row was quiet, including Bobby Brown. We'd never heard anyone our age speak to an adult in such a straightforward manner.

"Well, how about 'Jesus Loves Me'?" Miss Kingsley said, faltering. "Surely there's nothing wrong with that song—" and she started right into the introduction to move us through the bottleneck.

This time, as we all started to sing, Ben began to sing too. In fact, Ben sang out so clearly that I had to stop singing. I'm not sure why, except that suddenly I was aware that my own voice was grating against something much more beautiful—unlike anything I had ever heard before.

I wasn't the only one with this reaction. One by one, everyone else dropped out, and you could tell, right before they stopped, that they heard it too. As if suddenly they were elbowed by perfection—interrupted by beauty—caught unawares by the voice of an angel. They each stopped suddenly, in the middle of a vowel, and looked around the room to find the source of that mysterious, rounded, bell-like, haunting sound.

Even Miss Kingsley stopped, which was most obvious because her loud, warbling vibrato always dominated our singing sessions. She was the last to drop out, and for a moment her throaty voice was clashing with that pure tone coming from the boy with the big ears in front of me. Clashing, but not overpowering. Right up against the tone, in and around the tone, but never touching it.

By the time we got to the chorus, Ben was singing all by himself:

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

Somehow, Miss Kingsley managed to keep playing the piano through all of this, and when she finally stopped, everything was quiet. Nobody moved. We all just stared silently at Ben, at the back of his head, at his radar screens turned inward. Ben, however, seemed unaware that everyone had stopped singing. As if his voice had carried him off somewhere so far away that even though his body was still there on the first row, his spirit hadn't quite made it back yet.

"That was very nice, Ben," Leonora Kingsley finally said, and we all slowly came to and returned to the rest of the program as if nothing had happened.

It wasn't something you could comment on anyway. Wherever Ben's voice had taken us, it was not a place we could remain in very long, nor a place we could talk about once we returned. In fact, no one ever said anything about what happened that morning in children's church. Except that from then on, whenever anyone who wasn't there that day suggested we sing "Jesus Loves Me," there was a loud chorus of disapproval. There would be no singing of "Jesus Loves Me" unless Ben Beamering was not around. We all made sure of that.

 


Excerpted from:
Saint Ben (2-in-1)
Copyright © 2001, John Fischer
ISBN: 0764225227
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2001

    sweet book about childhood friends

    This is a sweet book about two 10-year-old boys. As I was reading it, I thought it would be an enjoyable read for a teenage boy or young adult male. But as an adult female, I enjoyed it too, and the ending was so perfect, it just made me go, 'Aah.'

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