that’s not going to happen
Chapter Five – 2013
Lee sat, warming her hands with the cup of fresh coffee she’d just brought from the kitchen. Her gaze focused on the barn and outbuildings beyond the library window. Nothing was moving out there; no one walking around, no animal grazing across the fence in the neighboring pasture, nothing physical visible at all. Still, she had a distinct sense of being watched. Listened to. Spied upon.
Her library, normally a sanctuary and source of comfort felt claustrophobic this morning and that made no sense whatsoever. Lee’s library consisted mainly of art books, gardening books, a few herbals, and a variety of cookbooks. She also kept a collection made up of a couple dozen novels that she loved to read again and again. The characters were like old friends. The dialog familiar. The plots well known, with no question of who-done-it. These works of wisdom and fiction were juxtaposed with an equal number of Bibles in various translations and several commentaries, all equally well worn, some to the point of being dog-eared. There was a small table in front of the window and two comfortable, if somewhat threadbare wing chairs in the room facing the tiny fireplace tucked into a corner. The furniture was anchored on the pine floor boards by the oval of a braided rag rug in muted colors that matched the drapes and throw-pillows. It was a cozy space, small enough to fit within Lee’s frugal sense of simplicity, yet large enough to function as a place for entertaining a friend or two should the need present itself.
Normally Lee loved spending time in her library reading, writing, studying, listening to Classical music, soaking up the peace and tranquility of the room. On this particular Saturday morning peace and tranquility were absent. A familiar, ominous, over-shadowing something…not fear, not dread, not anxiety, exactly, but something…had settled in. Even the warmth of the coffee cup did little to ease the cold seeping through Lee’s fingers into her spirit.
In the weeks between her last meeting with Noel and Simon things had progressed slowly, but surely, toward their goal for a new church in the county. There were several conference calls with David Dale, their choice for leader of the infant start-up, but the Holidays brought even the calls to a halt. Everyone had family plans, out-of-town guests, and a variety of other reasons to put off meeting or talking until after the New Year.
Now, as January slipped away into February, the original excitement over their plan had waned. More excuses were apparently easier to find and give a higher priority as the weeks went by. Lee had scribbled in the margin or her journal, “If you really want something, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will find an excuse.”
Noel and Charlotte Renwald, while still considering themselves a part of the plan, had distanced themselves from the plan in a less than subtle attempt to avoid conflict with the folks from Ridgeview. Noel recalled only too well the verbal scuffles his point-of-view produced with Margie Whitmore and her devoted followers before he had finally thrown up spiritual hands, brushed the dust from his feet and moved over the Ridge Route to Granger. During one conversation with Lee, Charlotte admitted to encouraging her husband to “give it some time to cool down.” Her reasoning, ”everyone has such intense ideals and the fall-out is going to be brutal.”
Lee knew from past experience Charlotte’s opinion weighed heavily with Noel. That would probably account for his comment to her about a “little cooling down period.” Plus, experience had taught her that spiritual fall-out tended to become brutal whenever an attempt to unite believers under a single ideology came to the surface. She and David had talked about that very thing way back in January. His reference to the roaring lion mentioned in Peter’s second letter struck a cord in her spirit back then. Not a comfortable cord to be certain, but a cord none the less.
Again—on this misty, chilly Saturday morning—her spiritual cords were vibrating like a twelve-string banjo at a blue-grass festival. There was something permeating the very air around her, something almost tangible, something very dark and very disquieting. Lee’s solution to such a state of affairs was always prayer. So, placing her hand on the cover of her Bible she bowed her head and quietly lifted everyone involved before her Lord.
If the atmosphere at Lee’s place seemed charged, it could be said that Simon Gundersen and his wife were surrounded by a spiritual storm of biblical proportions. Rosalyn, still wrapped in a fleecy robe and bunny slippers, stood in the kitchen doorway, hands on hips, a snarl on her normally serene face with angry words pouring from her lips and tears from her eyes. Simon sat slumped on a tall stool beside the breakfast bar. He was dressed for the day and his briefcase stood beside him on the floor. It crossed his mind that he had nearly made it out the door before the storm broke.
To be honest, he knew the clouds had been gathering for awhile. The signs were all there but, to avoid what he prayed would simply blow over without having this discussion, he had ignored most of them. At the moment he understood this was not about to blow over. He also knew that platitudes and homilies were not going to make everything better.
“I don’t see why you can’t simply face the fact that we are so in over our heads here, Simon.”
Roz, his rock, his normally logical, staunch supporter had reached the end of herself. Her patience was gone. Her common-sense had followed swiftly on its heels. This woman standing in front of him, having a melt-down of major proportions didn’t even look like his wife. Lately her pride in the way she looked, the way she dressed and the way she spoke seemingly belonged to another mans wife…Bill Whitmore’s Margie maybe.
“Don’t you honey me! Roz snapped. “I know you agree with Lee when it comes to uniting all the like-minded believers in the whole county. It all sounds so wonderful and uplifting and right when she talks about it. And David! He makes it sound like it will be the simplest thing in the world to get everybody together and start a new church. But it isn’t necessarily right and it certainly isn’t simple. And Simon, you know it.”
“No! You can’t talk me out of saying the truth here Simon. We’ve been accused of everything from heresy to demon worship since this thing started. And Simon, I’m sick of it! And I’m afraid! No! Actually, I’m terrified. Nothing you or Lee, or David Dale can say is going to convince me that we aren’t in actual danger spiritually, emotionally and probably even physically, too.”
With that Simon’s normally calm, beautiful wife turned around and left the house, in her bathrobe, headed he knew not where. He sat still for just an instant too long before dashing after her. In that split second she had started her car and laid rubber down the drive as she backed into the street. Perhaps the most frightening thing of all—Simon knew she was so distraught she didn’t even see the enormous trash hauler about to pull across the driveway behind her.
“Thank God that truck was moving so slow.” He breathed.
With that tiny prayer echoing in this head he ran back to the breakfast bar and his cell phone. His upper-most thought: “I’ve got to call Lee.”
Just as he reached for the phone it vibrated violently on the smooth counter and jingled the little tune that identified the caller as Lee herself.
“Simon? Are you and Roz Okay? I was just sitting here praying and the Lord showed me a very dark cloud over you two. I’m beginning….”
“Roz just left!” Simon cut her off in mid-sentence. “We’ve been…uhm…a little over wrought for the past week or so and this morning it all came to a head. She came completely unwound and….”
“Simon! Simon stop! Stop right now and think about what’s really happening here.” Lee’s voice was strong and she spoke with authority. This was not the soothing understanding Simon was looking for.
“Simon, we need to get together and take control of this before it gets out of hand.”
“It’s because we’ve been ‘getting together’ all of this is going on, Lee.” Simon could hear the frustration in his own voice and it crossed his mind that taking his spat with Roz out on Lee was exactly the sort of distraction the enemy was looking for.
As if reading his thoughts Lee said softly, “he’s a lair and the father of lies, Simon. With this enemy it has always been and will always be, divide and conquer.”
In another part of the county David Dale stared at a plate of sausage and eggs growing cold on the counter before him. His appetite was gone and his spiritual antenna was fully extended.
“Can I get my check here, Sandy?” he asked the pert blonde behind the counter.
“Oh sure. Was somethin’ wrong with your breakfast Mr. Dale,” Sandy asked, inwardly hoping whatever it was wouldn’t reduce the generous tip he usually left her.
“No…breakfast’s fine as usual. Just need to get going. Something’s beginning….”
David never finished that thought, knowing how it would sound to attempt an explanation of what he was sensing in his spirit. He simply laid down a twenty to cover the food and Sandy’s tip, grabbed his worn denim jacket from the coat rack by the door and walked out into the cold February morning.
In the pickup he opened his Bible to the well worn pages of Psalms and quietly read aloud.
“The Lord is my Shepherd…he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…goodness and mercy follow me.”
As he sat meditating on the promise of the Psalm his phone vibrated against his leg and looking at the read out he saw Lee’s name scroll across the screen. He answered knowing that God was on top of whatever he was sensing.
“Lee? What’s up?”
“All hell’s broken loose around here David.”
Even though his first contact with her had been only a few months ago, David felt he knew this woman well enough to know with a certainty her comment was neither intended as profanity or exaggeration. Lee Langston was a devout student of God’s Word and in his estimation probably the most intuitive person he’d ever met. If Lee told him all hell was breaking loose in Ridgeview then in all likelihood that was literally what she meant.
“What can I do, Lee?”
“Always! Without ceasing, Lee. You know that.”
“David, what we’ve started has caused an uproar. You know that already. But it’s gone beyond just ruffling the feathers of a few local women who pride themselves on holding the form of religion. This morning Simon and Roz are under attack from within. Noel and Charlotte have been waning away from their first excitement for months. He’s talking about a “cooling down” period, but I know it’s more likely a “backing off” period. You know the drill, David. Shoot every dart in the arsenal at them before there’s any deeply rooted conviction. Kill the sprout before it can grow into a tree.
“David, you are the chosen leader of this little band of soldiers and right now, more than anything else they need leadership, a head over them, an authoritative man of God to stand in the breach. Neither of these youngsters has the experience or the confidence to stand up to what the enemy is throwing their way. And this is only the beginning.”
Lee and David talked for perhaps half an hour, prayed together before ending the call, and agreed to meet at her house later that evening.
Saturday Afternoon – February 2, 2013
As his pickup traveled up the valley toward Ridgeview David was praying quietly but intensely over the meeting he had called. Neither Noel or Simon had been particularly enthusiastic about getting together. Both had indicated their wives would not be able to get away on such short notice. David had assured them it would make no difference.
“We simply need to address a few hurdles before they become insurmountable.” he’d told each of them.
“Why are we meeting out a Lee’s place?” Simon had wanted to know.
“It’s far enough out of town to give us some privacy. I’d just as soon the whole town not know we’re going forward with the plan at this point. Some of the gossip and speculation has died out and I’d rather it stay that way for now,” David answered.
What he didn’t say was, “Lee’s place is wholly dedicated to God. She has anointed every square inch of it with Holy Oil and asked a blessing on all who enter there. The enemy may be able to stand outside the fence and shout, but none of his crew can enter the rooms and disrupt the proceedings. It will give us exactly the atmosphere we’re going to need.
By six o’clock four very solemn believers faced each other across the table in Lee Langston’s tiny kitchen. An outside observer might have mistaken this group for something other that what they were. Two appeared angry. One seemed frustrated. One emanated peace and serenity.
It was from this position of peace and confidence Lee opened the meeting.
“Thank you all for being here this evening. I know it was spur of the moment, but we agreed when we began this project to stay open and honest with each other at all times. Can either of you,” with a nod toward Noel and Simon, “tell me you’ve been open about what’s going on in your lives?”
“Well…hey Lee! Let’s cut right to the chase.” Simon’s anger boiled to the surface and could be heard in his words. “I don’t actually believe airing my family problems in front of the congregation was what I signed on to do.”
As sweet smile crossed the older woman’s face and she reached across the small table to pat his hand in a motherly gesture.
“No, of course you didn’t, Simon. But when you signed on you didn’t expect to have any family problems. Did you?”
Taken somewhat by surprise Simon shrugged and slumped down in his chair, not unlike a small boy who had been corrected when he knew full well he was in the wrong. “No…I guess not,” he muttered.
“Didn’t think so. Now Noel, what about you? There’s a reason Charlotte didn’t want to come down with you today, isn’t there?”
Noel flushed pink. And squirmed.
“Well she…. She’s…. Okay! You’re right Lee. Lately we’ve been pretty much on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to how much time and energy we’re willing to put into this deal.”
“That’s what I thought.” Lee nodded toward David as if deferring to him now that the truth was on the table.
“So…” David’s frustration could be heard in the single syllable. “So the enemy is up to his old tricks is he?”
Both younger men blinked at him as though he had proposed a totally foreign idea.
“Did you think, for even a moment,” David went on, “that we would be able to walk into his territory and set up a stronghold for the Lord with little or no opposition?”
“Well we knew the Whitmores and some others from the Community Church were going to…” Noel started to say.
“Oh no. Those religious zealots are the very least of your opposition.” David told them. “Gentlemen, you signed on for a spiritual battle. And in this case the most vulnerable place to attack is in your own camp. I thought you understood that.”
“I think I knew it…or thought I did.” Noel said, sitting up a little straighter and toning down the attitude a little.
“Me too.” Simon agreed.
“And so it came as a big surprise to you both when your wives were showing signs of loosing interest? The complaints and disagreements came about totally unexpected? Are you certain?” Lee asked, then went on, not expecting an answer. “Have neither of you read about Adam’s encounter with God’s ancient enemy?”
It was close to eleven-thirty when, sitting alone together in Lee’s library, David said, “Well, that was an interesting get together.”
“Let’s pray it was more than interesting,” Lee agreed. “Those two came very close to falling into the pit that ruins so many truly sincere men of God. It saddens me to know that my gender, though unwilling, is so often tricked into being a tool for the enemy.”
“How did you learn that lesson Ms. Langston?” David ventured to ask with a grin.
“Ha! Lee. Please. And that’s another story for another day. Not an especially pretty tale either,” Lee laughed. “But it’s too late to get into it tonight. Are you driving all the way back home, or will you stay in Ridgeview tonight?”
“Probably just keep going. I want to be home early in the morning so I can attend the Town Board meeting. There’s a few things on the agenda I wholly disagree with and want to take the opportunity to say so. In my way of thinking, if we, as believers don’t speak out against the things going on in the world, we’ll just have to watch our influence disappear. I can’t tolerate the idea of that happening.”
“Uh huh…my way of thinking exactly. Can I offer you some coffee for the road? I’ll fill up a thermos and you can return it the next time we meet.”
“Great idea, Lee. I expect I’ll be grateful for the caffeine before I get home.”
Tuesday Noon – February 5, 2013
Margie Whitmore, Sally Youngman and a woman Sally had never met before, Meg Carter, were huddled together in a corner of the coffee-shop across the street from the hardware store. Margie was keeping a weary eye on the front door of the place just in case Bill should decide to leave the tending of their business to his warehouse boy and stroll across for a cup of coffee and the day’s gossip. Normally having her husband find her enjoying a break with Sally and a friend wouldn’t be a problem. Today, since the friend was Meg Carter, she knew this cozy little coffee klatch would spark another colossal row and she simply wasn’t in the mood to fight with Bill about the company she chose to keep any more.
Margie had been chatting with Meg on her computer for a few months, without Bill knowing a thing about it. Deep down she knew he would criticize her for befriending someone who openly practiced witchcraft, never mind that it was not dark magic, but as Meg had assured her simply a spiritual system that fostered free thought and the free will of the practitioner.
“It builds spirituality and develops our understanding of the earth and nature. It allows us to support the divinity in all living things.” Meg had told her.
To Margie, building one’s spirituality seemed like a good thing, just so long as it didn’t involve “the nonsense that Langston woman practices.”
She had informed Bill just the other night, “anything is better than the demon inspired carryings on they are proposing to introduce into that new church they’re trying to get started.”
The fight started when Bill dared to suggest “the carryings on” were scriptural enough and he didn’t necessarily believe speaking in tongues or prophesying were demon inspired at all.
“That’s all we need!” Margie leaned closer to Meg, who sat nodding in agreement. “That crazy old woman started interfering years ago while Renwald was still at our church. “Why one Sunday evening she brought some outsider to meeting and he stood right up and spoke out in what was supposed to be tongues. Well, Renwald stepped right up and told him, “We don’t do that here. Exactly as he should have done. But later the Langston woman stuck her nose in, and he began to change in his thinking. That’s when we knew we needed a new preacher.”
“She started the same thing with Pastor Gundersen last year, “ Sally ventured. “I don’t know much about the whole Pentecostal thing, except what you’ve taught me Margie, but the Pastor and his wife seem to think she may be right. I over-heard him telling someone just the other day that the first century church and the church of today should be exactly the same. He said the only reason they aren’t is because of religion. Whatever that means.”
“Well, clearly that is not going to happen anytime soon, because the Bible says all of that “will pass away,” and so it has. Anyone who brings it into a solid God-fearing congregation has no business in any church. It’s just wrong.” Margie jerked her cup closer, sloshing a little coffee onto the table. “It’s all wrong. That’s all,” she finished as she mopped up the spill.
Meg Carter, sat quietly through this exchange with a pensive smile working around her mouth. “Exactly so,” she was thinking. “They can’t agree about anything, and neither of them is interested in finding the truth.”
“This is the very reason I’ve chosen a more enlightened path to spirituality,” Meg told them. “There is so much controversy and contradiction in Christianity, I searched until something made sense to me personally. The way I’ve chosen…I’ve shared a lot of it with you Margie…allows me free will and clears my thinking from all of that. My preference has always been to think for myself. No one should be able to tell another what to do, or what to think.”
If Lee had been within ear-shot of that conversation she would have known without question who the author was. He comes only to steal, kill and destroy. In Lee’s mind this would have been a very destructive little gathering indeed.
Just as the old clock in the storeroom struck noon, announcing his lunch hour had arrived, Bill Whitmore looked up to see who had just walked into the store. He then briefly entertained the notion of telling the boy in the stockroom he was going to lunch and slipping out the back door before Pastor Gundersen noticed him.
“Morning’ Bill.” Simon’s ready smile and cheerful wave changed Bill’s plan. He was a better man than running from his own store to avoid a customer. Turning back toward the door he returned the greeting, trying not to betray the dread he felt as the other man approached him.
“Simon.” Bill forced a smile and stepped forward to shake hands with the Pastor. “What can I help you find today?” he asked, sincerely hoping to keep things on a business as usual basis. The last thing Bill wanted to do was get involved in a dialog regarding church, church planning or church going. To be fair, lately he had been avoiding anything to do with those topics with everyone. Especially his wife.
“Looking for a wrench, Bill. Everything I’ve got is either too big or too small. Trying to fix a chair over at the office and getting nowhere. Maybe metric? Here, I brought both of mine to see if you can find something between ’em.”
Bill took both wrenches, heaved a sigh of relief, and hurried to the tool department with Simon right behind him.
“Here’s one I think’ll do the job. On sale today too.”
“Great! I’ve gotta get that chair fixed before it dumps somebody on their backside. Been putting it off for awhile. Today’s the day.”
Simon followed him back to the cash-register counter, pulled out his wallet preparing to pay for the wrench and did exactly what Bill had been afraid he’d do when he came in the store.
“Bill, have you got a few minutes to visit? I’ve been putting off talking with you for awhile now, too.”
Cornered, Bill looked around for some excuse, any excuse, and seeing none shrugged his shoulders and decided today was as good a day as any to put this behind him.
“Sure Simon. What’s on your mind?” he answered. “as if I don’t know.” he thought.
“Well…here’s the thing…as I’m sure you know, a few of us are working on plans for a new church plant and I’d really like your input on a few things.”
“Not sure you want to hear what I think of your plans, Simon.”
“I’m pretty sure your thoughts aren’t going to come as a surprise, Bill. Margie has been very clear about where she stands on the subject. I’m really wondering if you stand with her or if you’re just keeping quiet and agreeing with her to keep the peace.”
Scratching his head, Bill thoughtfully considered his answer for a few seconds, then said, “Probably a little of both, to be perfectly honest.”
“Thought so.” Simon nodded. “I’ve been thinking about it for sometime now. I keep going back to our conversation about the night Lee brought her friend to the church and he gave a message in tongues.”
Bill’s eyes popped fully open and his jaw dropped. That was the last thing he’s expected Simon to ask about. It was the last thing he wanted to talk about with this minister he knew to be firmly in favor of everything his wife and her friends were so vehemently against. Talking about plans for a new church was one thing. He could see no reason for another church in the community since the six or seven already in existence were less than half filled on any given Sunday anyway. But to openly talk about the doctrinal differences that seemed to spark division and controversy whenever they were brought out into the light made him decidedly uncomfortable.
“Ah…yeah…I recall the incident. So what about it?” His tone was far from normal and he cleared his throat and tried to clear his thoughts.
“I seem to recall your telling me when you and Margie first heard what was said you understood the man to be speaking in English. Is that right Bill?”
Now Bill Whitmore was an honest man, and he was, after all, talking with a Pastor. For a moment he studied the keys on the old cash-register in front of him as if they might hold the answer to what he wanted to say, then making up his mind to finally face the truth he answered, “That’s right. It wasn’t until after all the commotion settled that I actually understood what had gone on.”
“Can you tell me a little about the commotion, Bill?”
“Well sir,” he was into it now and for a certainty it had bothered him for years, so he determined to finally talk about it, “Pastor Noel spoke right up ‘we don’t do that here’ he said. The Langston woman and her friend looked right shocked. She stood up and he sat down hard. Margie was jabbin’ me in the ribs with her elbow, askin’ ‘do what?’ and I was lookin’ around at the other people there that night. Old lady Marshall leaned over the pew and answered Marge, ‘speaking in tongues, dear.’”
Simon smiled and asked the obvious question. “So you think perhaps Margie actually heard the man speaking English, too?”
“Think she must have. Langston and her friend apologized, excused themselves and left right away. By that time most of the others were in an up-roar and Renwald was doin’ his best to calm ’em all down. It took some time and by the time we got home Margie was so wound up we never really did talk about it. So I don’t know for certain, Simon. I honestly don’t know for certain.”
“Can I ask you another question, Bill?” Simon’s tone was quiet and respectful but Bill braced himself against what he felt sure was coming next.
“Why do you think Margie is so upset by the manifested gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
“Well Simon, I’ve always figured that was her business. I’ve never really pushed her on it. Now I’ve got a question for you.”
“How’s come Noel Renwald changed his attitude from ‘we don’t do that here’ to ‘let’s all get together and start another holy-roller church movement in this county?’”
Before Simon could answer the front door banged open and Margie, glaring daggers at both of them, took over the conversation.
to be continued…
"Inappropriate Behavior" by Ellen Lebsock — protected under International Copyright Laws. May not be reproduced, stored, offered for sale, or altered in any way without my permission.