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In Our Midst

Stanton, Indiana, in 1990, is a town in which people love their kids, joke with their mayor, attend church, and support the Wood Carving Festival. But, one boy is growing up with a secret that he unknowingly shares with another son of the community, a soldier in the Korean War who died the day he came home.

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In Our Midst by Martha Johnson Cover Image
Stanton, Indiana, in 1990, is a town in which people love their kids, joke with their mayor, attend church, and support the Wood Carving Festival. But, one boy is growing up with a secret that he unknowingly shares with another son of the community, a soldier in the Korean War who died the day he came home."In Our Midst" is general interest fiction that exposes the raw vein of homophobia in our society.

The book involves an ensemble cast of sympathetic characters who are recognizable to all of us. The nuanced writing, staccato events, and multi-layer plot keep the reader fending off interruptions and turning the pages.

The LGBT community, the faith community, parents, mentors, teachers, and teens will find "In Our Midst" of particular value but it is the general public that will find satisfaction in a good yarn that suddenly means so much more.

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"In Our Midst" is available on Amazon as a paperback or in the reader's preferred e-book format.


Read the First Chapter

The dog’s low growl vibrated through the blankets. Victor stirred, and in an instant, the warm weight that had been curled against him turned into a pulsating mass with a wet tongue washing his ear and cheek.

“Jumpy, stop it,” he said as he rolled to face the dog straight on, defending himself with his arm. With a sharp bark, the dog jumped off the bed and ran to the closed bedroom door. A groan from the second twin bed brought him racing back to bark at Kyle, who was invisible except for an arm hanging nearly to the floor.

“Hush, boy,” Victor said. “You want to go out?”

With a whoosh, Kyle’s arm powered back a mess of blankets, and he rolled on his back chanting to the ceiling, “Jumpy, Bumpy, Lumpy, Grumpy wants to go out.”

Victor looked over at him and laughed. Kyle was always goofing around with words. He claimed that his favorite game was Scrabble. What other kid got away with something like that?

Kyle swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stared down at Jumpy, who was in a frenzy of barking. “Why can’t I have a plain old alarm clock?” he asked the dog.

Victor watched Kyle stretch and amble to the door. As he disappeared with the dog down the hall, the room grew silent. Victor bunched the pillow better under his head and lay still. He could hear Kyle’s mom laughing downstairs, “Sleepy head! Serves you boys right for staying up to watch videos.”

Victor loved spending the night here. Kyle, the twins, and the dog made it livelier and fuller, not like his home where he was an only child. When he was at Kyle’s, he wasn’t the center of attention. They didn’t ask about every detail of his life. He was treated like family, and they made him do the dishes like everyone else.

With unnecessarily loud stomping and door banging, Kyle returned to the bedroom and threw himself back on his bed. “You go first in the shower.”

“No, you!”

“No, you!” He bounded up, pulled Victor’s pillow out from under his head and started whacking him with it. Victor started kicking back, trying to shove him away.

The two boys scuffled playfully. Victor was taller, but Kyle was a strong and flexible gymnast and soon pinned Victor down. The beds creaked as Victor thrashed back.

“You won’t be ready for church if you don’t take your shower,” Kyle mimicked a parental voice.

Suddenly, with a quick calculation, Victor went limp, and Kyle sprawled on top of him. Victor savored Kyle’s weight on him, along with its spasms of laughing and panting. He knew it would only last an instant, but he stored it away in his mind and carried it with him, as Kyle pulled him to his feet and pushed him out the door.

***

Across the southern Indiana town of Stanton, the windows of a compact blue bungalow glared back at the early sun. Inside the house, all was quiet. Bridget Wallace floated on the edge of her dream, but finally the constricting sleeping bag was too annoying to ignore. She forced herself awake enough to arch her back in order to find the zipper pull. With jerks she freed herself and then sprawled happily back on the bed. Packing boxes filled the room, forming a rough cityscape against the freshly painted bedroom walls. Fluorescent tags glowed against the dull cardboard. Stretching out her arm, Bridget flipped over the nearest tag to read the contents. Shoes, boots, mittens. Nope. That wouldn’t help right now.

Maybe Mom found the towels, she thought, as she rolled off the bare mattress and headed for her very own bathroom. She loved their new house after living in a Chicago apartment. She wasn’t sure she loved anything else about their move to Stanton, but having her own bathroom was totally awesome.

“Bridget! Good morning, honey! You up?” her mother called. “We’ve got about an hour and a half before church.”

“Church! Why didn’t you tell me? We haven’t found our towels, and you want to go to church?”

“I know,” June said, now standing at the door with her second cup of coffee. “But when you’re new in a town, you’ve got to jump in with both feet. If we don’t go today, you’ll be off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the month, and it will all be delayed until July. Here’s a beach towel. It’ll work.”

Her daughter grimaced at her. “I guess my other choice is to stay home and unpack boxes.”

“Bingo,” her mom agreed. “I thought we’d stop for donuts on the way. Maybe that will convince Lexie to come along.” Bridget wasn’t sure her younger sister would agree.

She started again for the bathroom. Church! She would have to wash her hair. The mirror in the bathroom reinforced the point. Her one great feature, long brown-black hair, was tangled and gross. She rubbed her eyes and turned on the faucets full force.

June heard the shower start and tapped on Lexie’s door. What a wonderful thing for the girls to have their own rooms now. “Lexie!” she called.

“My full name is Alexandra! Start practicing.” Alexandra had decided to try on a new identity along with her new life in Stanton. Why couldn’t she use her full name? Her mom needed to pay attention.

“Sorry, Alexandra! I keep forgetting. But it’s time to get up. We’re going to get donuts for breakfast on our way to church.”

“Church! Je-e-e-sus, Mom. Do I have to?”

“I will assume that language is from some R-rated movie script you are writing.”
Alexandra grandly did not respond.

“I agree, you don’t have to go to church,” June continued, “but I would like you to. I want to get to know our new town right away. The donuts are a bribe.”

Alexandra groaned long and loudly. “But I don’t know where my clothes are,” she grumped. “I sure hope we find sheets and blankets today. I’m all tangled up.”

“Your suitcases are at the foot of your bed. We’ll come straight home from church and get sorted. Besides, you don’t want to completely unpack, because you’ll be off to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”

June was all efficiency. The two weeks had been too short to pack up the apartment and move before starting her new job, but to her it was a luxurious stretch of time. And she would soon have a month with the girls gone, during which she could run down all the details of driver’s licenses and water bills. It hadn’t been very long since she had been in the grip of the extended nightmare - Sam in Hospice care, his death, and the girls’ struggle to comprehend what was happening. The pace of work at the Tribune had not let up all spring. No day had been long enough, no night restful, and no morning had presented promise such as this one.

Ruffling her stylishly cropped hair, she moved toward the master bedroom to find her own clothes. She could pull out any outfit, and it would be like new here. Thank the Lord for this fresh start! It was a blessing that it was working out so far. Now her job was to keep moving, keep hugging the girls, and keep working at it. These impulses had helped her get out of the city, with its expense and cramped living. As a southern Indiana native, she had hoped that a move back to the area would be right for her and the girls. Getting to church would be another foot forward.

***

About the same time, George Morrow was downtown tugging at the heavy front door of the First Presbyterian Church. The massive brass ring set in the center of the panel gave him no leverage. He tugged again. His elbow groaned while the door rasped, but held fast.

The Sunday morning service didn’t start for over an hour. George paused, sourly regarding the door and mentally cursing his spreading arthritis. Shifting his stance, he mockingly looked upward as if in prayer. His gaze slid up the soaring carillon tower, and he felt the startle of visually rocketing to the sky. The quickly moving clouds tricked the eye. Perhaps the tower was moving, and the sky was stationary. George stood still, teasing the sensation to last. Too soon, a flock of starlings swooped by the tower, killing the illusion, and securing the tower back on its foundations.

“Nothing is what it seems,” he said to himself for the millionth time in his life. “But this door is real.” He grabbed the knob in hand-over-hand fashion. The door slowly swung open.
George stepped inside and headed for the large coatroom. A beige raincoat drooped from the closet rod, which was sheltered by a high deep shelf. A shovel stood in one corner, and George claimed the two folding chairs leaning against the low windowsill.

They flopped open with clangs as he put them side-by-side in the sun. Collecting the box of bulletins to be used at the service, he settled on one chair and started folding. Three at a time. Using a credit card, he creased them sharply. As he completed a handful, he looked up, monitoring the sidewalk to the church.

The pile of folded bulletins was about to topple when the first car pulled into the parking lot. Porter and Mavis Hofmeister were on schedule - which is to say they were early. As choir director, Mavis never allowed herself to get frazzled by being late. It was frazzling enough getting music out of her singers.

“George beat us here,” said Mavis, waving to him as she got out of the car. “He’s got his red on,” she added, referring to George’s jolting red plaid jacket. Today was Pentecost Sunday, the celebration of the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit in the form of flames roared through an assembly of believers. Parishioners often wore red for the service. Porter’s red Christmas tie was also getting an airing.

Mavis had done her part. Her red cookies had red sprinkles for good measure. She always baked for her choir, hoping they would smile more readily and, therefore, stay on pitch. “I used a full bottle of red food coloring,” she said as she opened the trunk. “Pentecost isn’t supposed to be pink.”

Pulling at her purse strap, she loaded Porter, the packhorse, with baskets and a huge tin of cookies. Gathering the linens, she closed the trunk. Porter lugged along beside her as they crossed the street. He couldn’t remember a time when he had just strolled into church with his hands in his pockets.

George was storing the folded bulletins. “Bring me a cookie, too,” he said in greeting. Porter grimaced and steered his load carefully toward the kitchen. There he turned on lights, unlocked cabinets, and made a pot of coffee. It was a weekly routine.

“Got any left for me to do?” he asked, as he delivered George his cookie and coffee.

“All done. Only one insert today, about the committees getting in gear for the Wood Carving Festival.”

The two men enjoyed their coffee together in silence. The cookie was dyed shortbread: sweet, dry, and perfect for dunking. George wondered how Porter had avoided getting fat with a wife who baked nonstop.

Porter brushed red sprinkles off his tie. “Can’t be getting this dirty. I only wear it twice a year,” he grinned. When his coffee was gone, he methodically shredded his cup. The sound of tearing competed with the chirping birds and scampering squirrels in the unfolding morning.

“I’m thinking about getting married again,” Porter suddenly announced.

George stared at him. “What in the name of…? I had no idea you and Mavis were split up. You still come to church together.”

“Huh?” Porter was momentarily mystified. “Oh, no! I mean re-married to the wife. Mavis. Not someone else. Like having a second wedding, a church service and all.”

They looked at each other and chuckled. “You had me there for a minute,” said George. “Why are you planning to do all that? You should spend the money on a cruise.”

“Well, I haven’t decided. Been thinking about it, though. It would mean a lot to her.” He sifted the pieces of his cup through his fingers. “I have this idea that I could re-propose to her. You know, do it better the second time. I was pretty green the first time around.”

“Then have at it,” George said supportively. He could sympathize, although Porter with his well-known, conservative views wouldn’t appreciate why. When George and his partner, Duke, had fallen in love, there had been no guidebook. Duke had been an admissions officer at Purdue University, and they had joked about submitting applications to each other. Was one of them supposed to kneel? Instead, the two men had stood in front of the fireplace and formally asked each other the same question. “Will you accept my love and live your life with me?” The improvisation in front of the white bricks had worked just fine.

As for anniversaries, neither George nor Duke had dreams of a public renewal of vows. The world had come some distance during their 29 years together, but he was certain that Stanton wasn’t ready for a gay couple owning to vows – much less renewing them. Maybe in the next millennium! But, hey, that shouldn’t stop them from planning a cruise, say, for their 30th. George turned over the thought in his mind. It wasn’t a half-bad idea.

Musing about their particular worlds, the two men quietly let the time pass.

Killing time at church involves skill. All churchgoers grow proficient at it, withstanding a windy preacher or waiting for a mom to finish her chat. Hanging around is a major part of a church usher’s job, and Porter and George were masters in the guild.

Soon, people began to arrive. In the sanctuary, individual staccato voices pierced the air, and in due order, like an orchestra warming up, the huge room swelled with life and sound.

People were swamping the doorway. “Hello there, buddy.” George shook hands with every child.

“I’m glad you brought your mom and dad to church,” he said seriously. The children nodded back seriously.

“And I am delighted to see you, too,” warbled an elderly woman to George. “It’s wonderful to see everyone in red, and I love that plaid jacket.” Her own red ensemble, including hat and red stockings, was a standout. “You know what I say,” she confided to him in a loud whisper, “when you’re too old for sex you can still have color.” George grinned broadly back at her. She was such a pistol.

June Wallace, along with Bridget and Alexandra, was coming up the sidewalk. The girls exchanged glances at the sight of the woman’s red outfit. That was something they expected to see in Chicago, not here. Bridget felt a sudden bubble of curiosity about Stanton. Porter greeted the new family and gestured vaguely that they were welcome to sit anywhere.

The red-robed choir crowded through the doors. In beat with the trumpet pipes from the organ, the choir started down the aisle. Porter and George closed the vestibule doors and retired to their folding chairs outside, happy with their vantage and view.

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Resources

LGBT Resources

It Gets Better

ItGetsBetter.org

It Gets Better focuses on giving hope to lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens.

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PFLAG

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays is celebrating 40 years of support, education and advocacy.

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More Light Presbyterians

Presbyterian Church (USA)

More Light Presbyterians is a group that seeks the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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Open and Affirming Movement

United Church of Christ

The Open and Affirming movement within the United Church of Christ is the oldest intentional effort by a Protestant denomination to be inclusive to all.

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"In Our Midst" Discussion Guides

General Discussion

Characters

  1. Readers often ask about the choices of names for characters. In In Our Midst some are slightly symbolic; others are random. Do they help or hinder the story?
  2. Reticence and silence define various characters. George doesn’t introduce Duke to his church. Victor is scared into silence. Guy holds his secret of Vaughn’s death for nearly a lifetime. How and why have they lived in silence? How do you live in silence?
  3. Other characters speak out. Alexandra expresses herself freely. Grace blurts out her discovery to Wash. Tiffany prods and opines. When and how do characters find or use their voices? What does this teach us?
  4. Would this story have worked if it had been about a lesbian girl, instead of Victor, a gay boy? Why or why not?

Plot and Theme Development

  1. What is the value of the parallel stories of Vaughn and Victor? How do they deepen the themes or enhance the drama of the narrative?
  2. Doors play a reoccurring part in the story. Are there other thematic elements that deepen the settings or characters?
  3. How do rituals (festivals, ecclesiastical events, annual camping trips) move the story along? What functions do rituals serve in your life?
  4. The book follows the liturgical year from Pentecost to Pentecost. What is the value of that cycle to the story?

Connection to the Book

  1. What is your personal equivalent to Wash’s plaque making? How do you express your deepest feelings?
  2. The rate of teen suicide associated with gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans-sexual identity is grievous. What is your awareness of this issue and how does the book affect your thinking about it?
  3. Are you like Grace and JJ who send out holiday letters and cards? Why or why not?

Parent/Teen Discussion

  1. Would this story have worked if it had been about a lesbian girl, instead of Victor, a gay boy? Why or why not?
  2. Talk about the different kinds of parents we meet in the story? How do they show their love for their children?
  3. The rate of teen suicide associated with gay/lesbian/bisexual identity is grievous. What is your awareness of this issue and how does the book affect your thinking about it?
  4. Reticence and silence are part the lives of various characters. George doesn’t introduce Duke to his church. Victor is scared into silence. Guy holds his secret of Vaughn’s death for nearly a lifetime. Which characters choose to maintain silence? How and why have they lived in silence? How do you live in silence?
  5. Other characters speak out. Alexandra expresses her thoughts freely. Grace tells Wash what she has learned about Vaughn and JJ. Tiffany prods and opines. When and how do characters find or use their voices? What does this teach us?
  6. How do rituals (festivals, ecclesiastical events, annual camping trips, or otherwise) move the story along? What functions do rituals serve in your life?
  7. How is it that Grace Evanston is quickly able to move past any shame, confusion, or concern about Vaughn’s sexuality while Porter Hofmeister has a negative reaction to homosexuality? Why and how do people find themselves in completely different attitudes and responses when grappling with sexual identity?
  8. Leaders come in many forms. In this story there is a religious leader as well as a civic leader. Are there leaders among the teens? Are there others? What makes people leaders?
  9. What is your personal equivalent to Wash’s plaque making? How do you express your deepest feelings?

Faith Group Discussion

  1. How do rituals (festivals, ecclesiastical events, annual camping trips, or otherwise) move the story along? What functions do rituals serve in your life?
  2. Consider the notion that the sins of one generation are visited upon the next. How does the book deal with that cycle?
  3. Would this story have worked if it had been about a lesbian girl, instead of Victor, a gay boy? Why or why not?
  4. Talk about the sensitivity of the various institutions to Victor and his needs: the family, the church, the school, the youth group. What rules were they implicitly following?
  5. The rate of teen suicide associated with gay/lesbian/bisexual identity is grievous. What is your awareness of this issue and how does the book affect your thinking about it?
  6. Reticence and silence are part the lives of various characters. George doesn’t introduce Duke to his church. Victor is scared into silence. Guy holds his secret of Vaughn’s death for nearly a lifetime. Which characters choose to maintain silence? How and why have they lived in silence? How do you live in silence?
  7. Think about George as an “intercessor”. What does that mean? How does he particularly support Loretta? Why do we ask the most vulnerable and hurting to speak for us in prayer or advocacy?
  8. Other characters speak out. Alexandra expresses her thoughts freely. Grace tells Wash what she has learned about Vaughn and JJ. Tiffany prods and opines. When and how do characters find or use their voices? What does this teach us?
  9. How is it that Grace Evanston is quickly able to move past any shame, confusion, or concern about Vaughn’s sexuality while Porter Hofmeister has a negative reaction to homosexuality? Why and how do people find themselves in completely different attitudes and responses when grappling with sexual identity?
  10. What is your personal equivalent to Wash’s plaque making? How do you express your deepest feelings?

More Discussion

  1. How do you imagine some of the young characters will be in five years: Victor? Alexandra? Bridget?
  2. Was there complacency in Stanton? Or is it that a warm, healthy, even ironic communities will miss important things? How does this make you think about the communities where you live and worship?
  3. How does In Our Midst parallel the Christ story?
  4. Do you remember the Korean War? What is different between then and now about the issues raised: parenting, sexual orientation, bullying, teen life?
  5. Do you remember 1990? What is different between then and now about the issues raised: parenting, sexual orientation, bullying, teen life?
  6. Think about the author of this – or any – ensemble story. What are the challenges of one person accurately capturing the different views and sensibilities around a circle of people? What worked in this story? What didn’t work?
  7. Would The Prelude (see Outtakes) have enhanced the book?
  8. The author could have included a “Pictorial church directory” as an tool for helping the reader track characters. What do you think of that idea?
  9. Should the author write a sequel?
  10. Why Indiana? Or, could it have been set elsewhere as effectively? How important is the specific setting to the story?
  11. In Our Midst is NOT “Christian” literature (assertion of the author.) What do you think?
  12. What other books depict a main-stream denomination and a grace-based theology? How do they compare to this story?
  13. Would you recommend this book to non-Christians? Why or why not? With what caveats or explanations?

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About Martha Johnson

Martha Johnson is an executive with a 30+ year career in public and private organizations. She has served in both the Clinton and Obama Administrations and was appointed to two commissions with the British government. Her career has also spanned the IT, architecture, strategic consulting, and auto industry. Johnson has delivered over 50 public speeches on topics including sustainability, leadership, and government effectiveness. She has been featured repeatedly in the press and has testified before the U.S. Congress.

Outside of her professional life, she has been the Clerk of Session at the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, MD. She is an Honorary Life Member of Presbyterian Women and has published a book on youth worship, "Awesome Youth Sundays." Johnson was graduated with a BA from Oberlin College and an MBA from the Yale University School of Management. She is married and has two adult children. "In Our Midst" is her first novel.


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Out-Takes

These are out-takes from earlier drafts of the novel.

The Prelude

Behind the curve of the earth a light glowed soft pink and then orange. Soon sun rays flamed across the farmlands, illuminating leafy trees and setting off the roosters. Tractor cabs gleamed. At the edge of the city, a high school football scoreboard glinted and across acres and acres of suburban lawns the dew glistened.

Downtown, the sunbeams fired up the stained glass of the First Presbyterian Church of Stanton, Indiana. In the chancel window, the burning bush radiated crimson while in another window a boat tossed on electrified blue water. In a third, a lamb with wool like clusters of barnacles generated white heat. God, sipping His hot coffee, saw the magnificent colors, and it was good.

The founding members of the congregation had fled Old World predestination in the early 1800’s. They set their New World sanctuary facing east so that their worship included a reminder of the past, thanks for deliverance, and a readiness to forswear foolish ways. After services, however, worshippers headed out the oversized western doors, ready for the six days of fruitful labor in their new Garden.

The points of the compass have always structured Indiana life. The first surveyors parceled the land with exceedingly squared corners. Farms spread rationally, filling in the checkerboard. Longitude and latitude lines located the state’s geographic center which was reasonably designated the capital city. While other new states sought glory by naming their capitals Bismarck, Helena, Olympia, and Phoenix, this one was named, again reasonably, Indianapolis.

The city of Stanton emerged due south of the capital city and prospered by sending its goods up and down the pencil straight highways. Stanton rulers, Stanton radio and phonograph cases, and the elaborate Stanton music boxes found buyers far away. Eventually, the Stanton eye for quality and craft produced high end mail order businesses, which spawned even more fleets of trucks burning the miles up to Chicago and over to St. Louis.

German Lutherans, reached a critical mass in Stanton first and, along with a church, eventually boasted a seminary. First Presbyterian Church was the second ecclesiastical child but ultimately the larger. Its Scottish founders, overwhelmed by the flat landscape simply gave up on clannishness. Their Presbyterianism was warmly extended to English and French couples, Irish and German families. Membership took off in the 1840’s with the surge of immigrant cousins fleeing potato famine. It was no coincidence that the first memorial window pictured Jesus feeding the multitudes.

On this June morning near the end of the millennium, the blazing yellow of Jesus’ stained glass halo settled into a warm glow. Outside, the soaring brick carillon tower caught the rays of the climbing sun and cast an aisle of shadow across Eleventh Street to the asphalt parking lot. Fluffy clouds drifted overhead, causing the shadow to blink sleepily on and off. Slowly the day unfolded and the summer air grew ripe with the smell of newly mulched garden beds. The tower’s great shadow eventually took a leisurely stroll across the church lawn. By late afternoon it would rest on the peaked roof of the sanctuary.

The tower itself, of course, never creeps or moves in the slightest. It stands like the mountain of Moses. Its confidence comes from its 1909 carillon, donated by a prosperous farmer-turned-banker devastated by the death of his wife, Carolyn. Ten ranks were shipped from Europe and hung high, able to peal and toll across Richearth County. The Carolyn Carillon.

Nothing during its first century properly prepared First Presbyterian to host the biggest carillon in Indiana, and nothing during the second could be designed as an architectural counterweight. Members share a slight chagrin at its evangelical presumption. The truckers on the Interstate 65 Extension can see the tower from their cabs. They often glance twice to be sure it isn’t a misplaced silo.

Over the decades, the women of the church have softened the grounds with bushes and annuals. The muscular Christianity of those 19th century Presbyterians, however, cannot be masked. The full profile the sanctuary bulk, low vestibule conjunction, and vertical tower adds up to a side shot of a great arm wrestler.

Chapter 1 Out-Take

For a split second, Philantha Kerner hesitated between a blueberry and a raspberry muffin. “No, I believe I will take the raspberry,” she said authoritatively. “It’s red.”

The waitress smiled widely. Her patron was dressed from head to toe in red.

“Coffee?”

“Yes, with cream. Real cream, if you have it. And a slice of cantaloupe. None of that canned fruit.”

Philantha settled her napkin in her lap and pulled out the Bible from under her red pocketbook. In her view, no one should read a newspaper over breakfast. How could anyone start a productive day with the cliché’s of journalism? Usually she read a book, but this morning she would review the Pentecostal scripture. She was to be a lay reader in the service this morning.

The Bible was in Latin. Philantha, who had recently retired after decades of teaching Latin, noted how worn the pages were. She turned to the passage and reviewed it carefully. There was nothing wrong with her mind. Yet. Methodically she recorded the date at the back. She had been participating in this Pentecost Sunday ritual for 23 years.

Her muffin arrived and she chose a pat of butter over the margarine alternative. She savored each bite and took a conscious inventory. Taste buds still going, brain remembers Latin, the car under 30,000 miles. This child of God had no complaints for the moment. Philantha finished her coffee, sent up a prayer of thanksgiving, and signaled for her check.

Chapter 2 Out-Take

Next in the order of worship was the scripture reading. From the fourth pew Charlotte watched the children swarm out. “Let’s get going,” she whispered to herself.

She started to rise. Five other liturgists moved down the aisle to join her. Philantha Kerner with her Latin Bible stepped to the pulpit; another took his place at the lectern. Charlotte assumed her place at the top of the chancel stairs where all eyes could be on her. Each was a bit nervous. Their practice sessions had been less than sufficient this year as their muse, Grace Evanston, was having surgery. She usually, very gently, coaxed them into cohesion.

The lead liturgist began, “To recreate the Pentecostal lesson, in which people were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in many tongues, we will read to you in different languages from The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Two, Verses 1-13.”

The mass of faces in the congregation always startled Charlotte. Sitting in the pews, one got an eyeful of jewelry clasps and bald spots, but not faces. Standing at the front was like being Alice on the other side of the looking glass. Suddenly, hundreds of eyes were on her. It was magnetic. She pulled up her posture and flexed her fingers twice to loosen them.

The Pentecostal readers included a Friede Rye, a native German speaker, along with a woman using her college French, and Philantha, whose red flowered hat bobbed with her emphatic voice. A man read in Urdu, learned as a child of medical missionaries.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Charlotte’s fingers were suddenly in motion with the dance of sign language. She concentrated on listening to the English reader over the others. After all, the story was about understanding God in the midst of babble. Her hands flew and her nail polish flashed. She bore the Holy Spirit in an arc with her arm. Her fingers became tongues licking and flicking through the tribal names …. Cappadocia….Pamphylia.

...Standing in front of the congregation, Charlotte was the picture of earnest competence. Her fingers were laser fast. If threads of light had trailed after them she would be weaving a tapestry of beams in front of her.

“’What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

The readers ended more or less together. They closed their Bibles. Buoyant in the moment from the pride of her skill, Charlotte lowered her arms. The thrill of performance still fluttered in her fingers.

Hating to leave her stage, she returned to her seat, holding preciously on to any eyes that were still watching her.

Chapter 4 Out-Take

“Hello, Kyle. Hello, Victor,” said a woman appearing at his elbow carefully balancing shortcake, punch, napkins, and a notebook. She spoke with an accent and gave them each a big smile.

“Hello, Mrs. Rye,” they said in unison.

Bridgette had quickly noted Kyle’s name. Yes, Kyle! And Victor.

The woman turned to her. “Ah, and you must be Bridgette Wallace. Am I right?” She put down everything and reached over to shake Bridgette’s hand. “I am Friede Rye. I am one of the youth advisors. You are new here and we welcome you.” She turned back to the boys. “And will this be your nourishment for the day? Young healthy boys who are still growing?”

“Yes,” said Kyle. “And it contains all the food groups: milk, fruit, flour, and …what else…sugar!” He smiled wickedly at her. “That’s what I always tell my mom.”

Frieda Rye, along with Mr. Sykes-not-the-mayor-but-the-mayor’s-father, were a bonus set of Elders for the church youth. Ever since Kyle and Victor could remember, they had been there, extra grandparents or something. They took great interest in everyone, talked to them instead of standing around with the other adults. All the kids really respected Mrs. Rye, agreeing privately among themselves that she had some brave mystery about her. She had a German accent and they had heard that she had grown up under the Nazis. She never talked about it but that added to the drama. And, it was a shared, macabre badge that their other senior advisor was a mortician. Their friends over at the Lutheran church had a boring junior minister and the Methodists had a couple of moms as their youth advisors.

Chapter 6 Out-Take

Returning to his office, Cord saw that the lights were off in the Fellowship Hall. The Alcoholics Anonymous meeting must be over early. The building could be a busy place on Tuesdays. He phoned his wife that he was done early. Yes, it had been a useful evening. He glanced through a few pamphlets and threw them in the recycling bin. Feeling on top of things, he filed his session notes in the filing cabinet. Switching on the office answering machine, he wondered why he let things get to him. He stepped outside into the fragrance of the evening. Porter Hofmeister hadn’t left yet and was talking with the Scoutmaster on the sidewalk.

“I just locked up. Do you need to get back in?” Cord asked.

“No thanks, Reverend. Nice to see you. No, we’re through with our meeting. We’re just hashing things over,” replied the older one, Vern Marsy. His bulging eyes behind glasses belied his equanimity. Cord had known him for years, mostly negotiating door keys and occasional God and Country Awards.

Porter, who had long been an assistant scoutmaster added, “Yeah, Reverend. We’re in a dogfight.”

Cord looked at Vern who gave him a slight nod.

“Maybe you’ve seen it in the papers. About homosexuality and the Scouts.” Porter was clearly fretting.

“There’s a court case now about a Scoutmaster who says he’s gay and doesn’t believe the Scouts have the right to kick him out. And I think we need to show where we stand on this sort of thing. The kids need to see us take a position.”

“Sounds like it’s bothering you,” deflected Cord in his counseling voice. The conversation did not surprise him. More than once Porter had spoken about his views of homosexuality and they weren’t very pretty.

“It’s like the army, to my way of thinking,” said Vern. “If a Scout leader isn’t personally disciplined and doesn’t keep his sexual life private, he shouldn’t be in the organization. We put the kibosh on him. But we don’t go looking for it.”

“But this is about kids!” Porter was adamant.

“Yeah, that’s what gets it all messy.”

“That’s the point,” said Porter. “It’s dangerous having these people around kids. We can’t trust them. When kids go to jamborees, you can’t have some guy preying on the kids.” He tagged on quickly, “I mean, we don’t have that in this troop. But, we should not be blind. These guys should be kicked out.”

“Big issues,” Cord placated.

“And, there’s more…” Porter was winding up but Vern quietly raised a hand and he stopped.

“Right,” said Vern. “It is about leadership. Boy Scouts have the honor code. We expect a Scout leader to have discipline. That’s the point of the organization.”

“But, think of the risk you’re running! Don’t you think the temptation will be huge if some fag is working with your boys?” Porter had to say something.

“Well, that’s mixing up homosexuals with sick people who want sex with children. That’s different.” Vern’s voice had the gentleness of a man used to settling people down.

Cord’s wife had driven up in their van. “Well, you don’t know for sure!” Porter’s defense was an offense.

“In all my years, I’ve seen a lot of people. But I have to think that we’re not in danger. And we shouldn’t scare the kids, either.”

“Don’t underestimate kids,” said Cord. “In fact, it might be worth a discussion so you can hear what they know. However, then you’ll have some parent management to consider.”

Porter was a little off guard. He and Mavis had never had children. Vern, however, chuckled. “Yep, parents can confuse things, don’t ya know. But, Reverend, you go on home with that wife of yours. We aren’t going to solve this tonight.”

Chapter 13 Out-Take

Porter was passing out songbooks. Someone started to tune a guitar. Mavis’ first choices were playful rounds and cowboy songs. The sounds brought the kids in from the shadows and the circle around the campfire grew.

Friede sat in the farthest ring of chairs. She had been laughing with the kids as they came in with their stories of shadows and surprises. Relaxed, she practiced taking deep breaths. The fresh air and the fragrance of the trees filled her. In and out, let the shoulders go limp. She had set a goal for herself this evening. She was going to sing.

Her resolution had come years earlier and directly from the youth. Coaxing kids around their emerging faith, she had revisited her own youthful struggle. It had been wartime, and survival had been the religion. Neither her faith nor her thoughts were of consequence to anyone, certainly no adult. Her mother struggled to feed and clothe them. Silence had been the rule. It had grown into a habit and then, sadly, a tourniquet to her spirit. She had choked with silence all her life. She rarely spoke out, and she could not sing.

The church youth, somehow, had whistled into that silence. “Come on!” they called. The silent, rubble strewn shell of Germany was a long time ago and a long way away. Let it go. “Let’s go.”

Her husband had been supportive when her anguish finally surfaced and was named. He held her all night, many nights. “My little sparrow,” he had whispered to her as she cried.

Yes, why should silence hold her in a clutch? She and her therapist had grabbed at her first brave protest. Slowly they had worked up the idea of a joyful noise. She never sang. Why couldn’t she sing?

She had consulted doctors, a speech pathologist, and then a voice coach. She would take this demon down with song. After the months of tests, she had to relearn using her vocal chords. Relaxation exercises were paired with breathing routines and low stress settings. Finally, she was ready to take the next step. She would sing at the campfire. Her voice coach thought it was a great idea.

Friede’s next breath was deep in the chest. She began to hum. She hadn’t grown up with much music. The American repertoire was extraordinary even at a simple campfire. It ranged across game rhymes, ethnic songs, jazz, and ballads. Her adopted country was forever a jumble of sounds.

She hummed a little more and started mouthing some of the words. She willed her hands to be heavy in her lap, her feet weighing down the earth. She imagined the air coming up from her lungs and out her throat. “Pinch your buns,” her teacher had said, “and you won’t tighten your throat.” It made her laugh….and it worked!

She hadn’t thought about all the smoke around a campfire. She felt her throat cramp and stopped for a moment. Nothing was wrong physically. She knew that. Breathe again, she told herself.

JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT.

The kids were shouting it out.

This wasn’t even a song. The verses grew soft to the point of a whisper while the refrain was about shouting. But it was her debut, this joke song with an embedded German name.

German names were all consonants. They didn’t let your throat open up around vowels. They were like clippers chopping off sounds. How ironic. Her fight against the German legacy of silence would be here in the flicker of a campfire, with this outrageous song:

WHENEVER I GO OUT,
THE PEOPLE ALWAYS SHOUT,
HEY, IT’S JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT
TRA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA.

It was George, ever the watcher, who noticed. Something was happening with Friede. He felt as much as saw her shifting and swaying in her seat in the dark. He puzzled for a moment. I’ll be damned. Friede was singing! Singing in the dancing shadows of the fire. He could see her clapping along lightly.

He knew the habits and foibles of many in the church. He had long noticed that Philantha Kerner refused to say some of the lines of the Apostles’ Creed. He knew that Friede never sang. She had once said to him as a simple explanation, “The youth are my song.” He had assumed by her tone that it wasn’t a satisfactory compromise.

He could tell from her gestures and shyness that she was quietly trying. What a great little moment. Brave woman! Bravo.

He joined in the singing, his voice a bass pedal to the hoots and shrieks of the kids. Mavis was startled. She didn’t know George Morrow had such a voice. It positively resonated, even out here in the wall-less world of the campfire. He could be a soloist. She eyed him covetously and he winked at her.

TRA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!!!

Chapter 29 Out-Take

Mid-morning Tuesday, the church receptionist took the call. Philantha Kerner was in the emergency room at the hospital after a car crash. She had been clipped at an intersection by another car, and she had facial lacerations and a broken rib.

Cord was already at the hospital visiting the Becks. He saw Philantha’s name on the clergy list and found her in the ER. “Don’t you let anyone else visit me until my face heals. I look frightful.” She winced. “I will have to dig out my autumn colors again so I match my bruises.”

Cord let out his first bark of laughter in a number of days.

“How ever did you get here so quickly? It all happened less than an hour ago.” She shifted painfully to look at her watch.

Cord answered, “Ah, yes. Actually, I was already here visiting Victor Beck. He’s being released this morning.”

“He’s been in the hospital all this time? You prayed for him on Sunday in church.”

“Yes, well, it was a serious situation and they kept him in for observation.”

“Oh, my Lord in heaven. Don’t tell me anything more about it right now. I need to be out of one pain before I go into another.”

Cord nodded. “And how is the pain?”

“Those painkillers need to kick in soon, or I’m sending you out for a bottle of something very strong.”

She fell silent, concentrating on herself for a moment.

Cord stayed with her in the ER until the hospital admitted her and moved her to a private room. “Is there anyone you would want me to call?” he asked.

“No,” Philantha was emphatic. “Well, yes, there is one call. Tell Grace Evanston where I am. We were to have lunch, and unless she wants to come here and have hospital food, we might want to reschedule.”

Additional Out-Take from Chapter 29

Friede sat in the second pew as the noon Good Friday service began. She held her hands palm down and heavy on her knees. People slipped, behind her, rushing late because they were on their lunch hours.

Friede tried focusing on the stained glass window of Christ reaching for the frightened disciples tossing in their boat. Breathe in, breathe out.

After the scripture reading, she stood up and walked to the front of the sanctuary. She stood still for a moment, without props or music stand, and with a deep breath, nodded to the accompanist. The piano introduction was familiar, plaintive. She looked out to the beloved faces gathered for the service, past the faces of her family, and past the past.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

As Bach’s great chorale took her over, she knew her shoulders and neck were relaxed and strong, her throat was open.

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners' gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
'Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

Friede clasped her hands in front of her. Her voice refused to quiver. This indeed was The Passion.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

Seated in the back, Spence Beck had come to church in an effort to pick up the cadence of the Holy Week, to find the cadence of his life. As Friede sang, his eyes filled with tears. Soon they were sheeting down his face. Nothing would be the same. The grace of God, the gift of life, and the glory of Jesus were being offered to him. He had no plan, no response, no understanding. It was all he could do simply to lean forward in the pew, his head on his arms.

“Thank you, thank you, heavenly Father. Thank you for saving my son.”

Chapter 30 Out-Take

The grass underfoot was sopping with dew. As dawn broke, the people seated on the folding chairs slowly changed from shadowy bulks to recognizable church members and Cord was able to turn off his flashlight after reading the first scripture. The Easter sunrise service was underway. The congregants, proud of themselves for showing up, found even more energy in the hymns. The sky pulsed towards color and all were grateful to be alive.

By eleven o’clock, the glory of the day was there for all. Little girls wore dresses with bows and ribbons while grandmas had corsages. The choir turned their stoles to the white side.

As people streamed in the doors and claimed places in crowded pews. With not a little ceremony, George walked part way down the aisle and placed a hat on a particular and still vacant pew seat. The white, broad rimmed hat was loaded with satin lilies and a lacey net spilled over the perimeter of its crown. Philantha Kerner was still too battered to appear in church, but Cord had listened to her request. If she couldn’t take her regular pew seat, her hat could be present in her place.

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