Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friday Fiction for September 19th, 2008

Another new piece this week. I think I’ll forego the commentary this time. Friday Fiction Central.

The Meeting
By Rick Higginson

The meeting was a wonderful example of diversity. People of all ages, races, and classes gathered in the sanctuary, taking their seats to await the guest speaker that night. Oft repeated comments about “the Manifestation” were passed around, and the sense of anticipation permeated the air.

Doug Pitts took his seat and glanced around. He wondered if the tie was going to be over-dressed for the meeting, and was relieved to see everything from ratty cut-offs with t-shirts, to men in business suits. The family that sat a few seats to his right were dressed casual but nice, while the man that took the vacant chair to his left wore blue jeans and a chambray shirt, looking very much as though he’d just left his factory job to attend the meeting.

The blue-collar worker smiled at him, and then turned his attention to the program for the evening.

He’d already looked at his. It was the first night of a five night revival-type crusade for the big church, and both the advertising and the program promised an incredible outpouring of God’s Spirit that night. There would be healings, the promotional materials declared, and all who attended would be “wonderfully blessed” when the Manifestation happened. Lord, I don’t know about this Manifestation, Doug prayed, and I’m not sure I care. All I want to know is if this man really does have a gift of healing.

The music stopped, and the church’s pastor came onstage to welcome everyone. He opened with prayer, though much of what he said was lost in the loud and frequent calls of agreement from the congregation, and then introduced the guest speaker for the night. After shaking hands with the traveling evangelist, the pastor left the stage amidst thundering applause, and the service began.

The speaker started with some general statements of what they could expect that night, and then launched into some fifteen minutes of humor. At first, the response from the audience was weak, and then as people caught the mood, the laughter was freer and louder.

Laughter is supposed to be part of the Manifestation, but this couldn’t be it, could it, he wondered. This isn’t any different from what I would expect of any stand-up comedian. He wasn’t in much of a mood to laugh anyway. Please, he thought, let’s leave the Vegas act behind and get on to what we’re really here for. He glanced to his left; the worker wasn’t laughing, either. Instead, he watched the speaker with a sad expression on his face.

The evangelist began to teach, bringing out Bible verses to explain what was going to happen that night. Some of what he said was good, but a few things made Doug wonder how his home church would have reacted. The small congregation in his home town several hours away was more reserved and less given to embracing such overt displays of God’s power. The prayers of the church family were welcome and appreciated more than he could express, but Cherry wasn’t getting better. If something didn’t happen, they would have a sedate funeral in his quiet home church. It was bad enough she’d had to spend her young life with a name like “Cherry Pitts”, thanks to their father’s odd sense of humor. She shouldn’t have to be buried with a name like that, too.

The mood in the room was changing; the anticipation was giving way to excitement, and people were on their feet. The evangelist left the stage to minister directly to people in the audience, and came first to the section where Doug waited. He went to the first woman in the front row, laid hands at each side of her neck, and after a moment’s prayer, the woman fell backwards to be caught by two attendants.

Cries of praise, cheers, and applause filled the room as he repeated the process on the next person in the row, working his way down the line and leaving each to be eased to the floor by attendants. Doug’s heart pounded as the evangelist took a position in front of the man in the chambray shirt next to him, and he waited his turn for a chance to make his request.

The working man didn’t fall, though. Instead, he reached up and removed the evangelist’s hands from his neck. “No more tricks,” he said. “Hear now the word of God; you have gone among God’s flock, deceiving and stealing, as a false shepherd.”

The evangelist looked up into the man’s eyes, mortified, while the attendants stood shocked behind him.

“You have counterfeited the power of God through stage tricks and smooth words,” the man continued, and the evangelist’s lapel microphone carried the sound to the stunned audience. “Therefore, God says that for each day you have gone among His people with false words, you will find your strength gone and your words absent. You shall neither rise from your bed nor speak a word until you have fulfilled the days of your deceit.” He removed his hands from the evangelist’s arms. “God needs not constrict pressure points nor push people off balance to make them fall before Him. I implore you, when you awaken in your bed, that you repent and seek His face.”

With that, the evangelist collapsed to the floor. Doug looked from the worker to the fallen preacher, feeling a tightening in his chest. He’s a fake? What now, Lord? I came here hoping to see Your power, and that I’d be able to bring Cherry here this weekend for healing.

A low murmur replaced the silence that had settled over the sanctuary during the confrontation, and occasional angry words reached his ears. Are they angry at the fake? Or are they angry at the man who exposed the fake? He looked back up, and met the worker’s eyes.

“You came here tonight to see God’s power, Doug,” the worker said. “Now, you have truly seen it. Is your faith strengthened by what you have seen?”

He shook his head. “No.”

The smile was gentle and encouraging; nothing like the expression of distaste the man had given the evangelist. “Then this is not the place you should be looking for it.” He walked for the exit, and though many pointed at him and made loud suggestions, no one moved to block his path.

Doug took one more look at the fallen man, with the attendants crowded around him, trying to revive him. One had his cell phone to his ear, presumably calling for emergency services, while the deacons of the church rushed forward to help keep the audience at a safe distance. He grabbed his Bible from the chair, and rushed after the worker.

He caught up with him just outside the building, walking towards the parking lot. “What just happened in there?” he asked.

“God got somebody’s attention,” the worker said.

“That guy has been traveling and speaking for years,” Doug said. “Why did God wait until tonight to try and get his attention?”

“You’re assuming he was the one God wanted to speak to. No, Doug; that charlatan was merely an added bonus to my work. Why did you come here tonight?”

“My sister is sick, and the doctors don’t expect her to last much longer. I was hoping she could find healing here.”

“Then why didn’t you bring her along with you tonight?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if this was real or not, and I didn’t want to subject her to the stress of the trip for nothing.” He glanced back towards the building. “He wasn’t real, was he? Are they all fakes?”

“No, not all of them are fakes. There are some who are truly ministering in God’s power to hurting people, but there are others, like him, who figure out how to turn people's desire for God’s touch into profit and prestige for themselves.”

“What am I going to do for my sister now?”

“What were you going to do for her here?”

“I was going to ask him to pray for my sister’s healing.”

“Why would you not pray for her healing yourself?”

“We have been praying; she’s not getting better.”

“Would you like to pray for Cherry right now?”

“Here? In the parking lot?”

“God hears you wherever you pray, Doug. God has heard you every time you have prayed for your sister. He answers in His timing, though, so sometimes we might think He does not hear or does not care.” He placed a gentle hand on Doug’s arm. “We think we have to go someplace special to meet God, such as a certain mountain or even-” He gestured back towards the opulent church building. “- a highly touted meeting.”

“So I wasted my time coming here.”

“Not at all; you came seeking the right person to pray for your sister, and God has been trying to tell you all along that you are that person, and this is the time.”

He received an encouraging nod from the man. “I’ve already prayed so much, I’m not sure what else to say.”

“Just pray what’s on your heart; pray what you would have asked that guy in there to pray.”

“Father, please heal my sister,” he prayed.

“Now that is the kind of honest prayer I can say ‘amen’ to without reservation. Go home, Doug. Your sister has been healed.”

“How do you know?”

“The same way I knew your name, and your sister’s name, and why you were here. If we listen, God will tell us what we need to know, just like He’s been telling you what He wants you to do in your church.”

“I didn’t get your name, mister -?”

“Just call me Eli. Good night, Doug. Go home; your sister is waiting.” He turned and headed towards a nearby bus stop.

Doug watched him until a large RV blocked him from view, and then walked towards his car. His cell phone warbled, and he flipped it open and held it to his ear. “Hello?” Stopping short, he turned around and looked for the working man. “Yeah, Cherry; I’ll be home tonight. No, I’m not surprised you’re feeling better. Isn’t that what we’ve been praying for?”


Julie Arduini said...

I absolutely loved this. I was holding my breath like I was in the meeting watching this all take place. I was completely captivated.

Betsy Markman said...

Love this, love this, love this! I have seen video of everything from stage tricks to clearly demonic activity being passed off as a "work of God," and it grieves and angers me beyond words. Thanks for writing this, and for sharing it.

LauraLee Shaw said...

Me too. Your style just draws me in, and I can't believe how you just whip these pieces out. Wow.