Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Day Reverend Henderson Bumped His Head

We've been talking at church some about what it meant to be a prophet. Yes, they told the future sometimes, but they did an awful lot of just "telling it like it is". This is a reading I had to do for one of my classes a couple of semesters ago. I thought it was really a humorous, but challenging read. For whoever wants to read it:

The Day Reverend Henderson Bumped His Head

A Parable By William H. Willimon

Leaning down toward the bottom shelf to retrieve his trusty Strong’s Concordance to pursue “new moon” through both testaments, the Reverend Henry Henderson, pastor of Sword of Truth Presbyterian Church, bumped his head.

“Darn,” he exclaimed, grabbing his forehead.

This he followed immediately with, “Damn,” which was muttered with atypical candor. The rather non-ministerial ejaculation surprised Henderson. He could hardly believe he said it. “Damn,” he heard himself say again. “This hurts.”

That, so far as the Reverend Henderson could tell, was how it all began—an accidental blow to the brain while reaching for a concordance.

Moments later the phone rang.

“Pastor,” whined a nasal voice at the other end, “are you busy?”

“Not at all…” said Henderson out of habit. Then, from nowhere Henderson said, “I’m sitting here in my study just dying for someone like you to call and make my day! No, I am busy. I was working on my sermon for next Sunday. What is it?”

His words paralyzed him. They must also have stunned the whiny voice at the other end of the line, for there was a long, awkward silence followed by “Er, well, I’ll call you at home tonight after work, Pastor.”

“No,” said Henderson firmly, alien words forming in his mouth as if not by his own devising, “call me during office hours on any day other than Friday. Thank you. Good bye.”

The receiver dropped from his hand and into the telephone cradle. He felt odd. Yes, quite odd. His head no longer throbbed. Yet he felt odd.

Emerging from his study, he encountered Jane Smith, come to church for her usual Friday duties for the altar guild. “As usual, just me,” she said to Henderson. “They all say they’ll be on the guild, that they don’t mind helping out the church. Yet, when it comes time for the work, where are they?”

“I think you know very well why they are not here,” said Henderson. “You gave them only a half-hearted invitation. Everyone knows you love playing the martyr. Their absence helps bolster your holier-than-thou-attitude.”

Smith nearly dropped the offering plate she was holding, along with the polishing cloth and the Brasso.

“Pastor! How dare you accuse me of being a complainer! You know how hard I’ve worked to get the altar guild going! If you gave us volunteers the kind of support we ought to…”

Henderson wasn’t listening. He staggered down the hall as Jane Smith continued her complaint. He was feeling dizzy, unsteady.

Out in the parking lot, gasping for fresh air, Henderson was spied by John Tyler.

“Glad I caught you,” said John. “Pray for Florence. My wife is under the weather again. Just working herself to death, I think. She won’t be at the Finance Committee meeting tonight. I’ll tell her I told you.”

“I doubt that Florence will know whether you told me or not, considering her condition,” said Henderson to Tyler.

“What do you mean?” asked Tyler.

“You know what I mean. ‘Under the weather’ is your euphemistic way of saying ‘dead drunk.’ Denial is not just a river in Egypt, John. I’ve tried to broach the subject with you and Florence before. When you’re ready to face the truth about Florence’s habit, let me know. Until then, spare me the excuses.”

Henderson got into his blue Toyota and shut the door, leaving Tyler staring dumbly at him from the church walk. Seated behind the steering wheel, Henderson started the car and backed out quickly, as if he knew where he was going and what he was doing. He didn’t. He was a man losing control. He simply could not stop telling the truth, no matter how much he wanted to do otherwise.

He was a pastor in peril.

Henderson at the hospital that afternoon, Room 344: “So the doctor tells you your heart problems are congenital? That so? Are you sure the doctor didn’t mention anything about (by my reckoning) eighty pounds of excess fat?

And in Room 204: “Really? So this is the strain of emphysema that is not caused by smoking? Give me a break! Two packs a day for thirty years, and you wonder why you’re sucking on an oxygen tank for dear life?”

At the Finance Committee meeting that evening: “Why wring our hands about the sad state of the budget? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure this one out. I know very well that I am giving more to this church than anybody in the room tonight, and you know that I’ve got the lowest salary of anyone in the room—thanks to you.”

On Sunday, his last words to the frantic choir director, just before the procession began, were, or so it was said, “Why worry about not having a couple of tenors? Will tenors redeem an anthem already ravaged by this choir?”

After that fateful Sunday service, after a pastoral prayer in which Henderson admitted to God that “Most of us didn’t really want to hear anything truthful you have to reveal to us,” an emergency meeting of the Pastor/Parish Committee was called. Of course, Henderson was fired, or at least that was what Henderson afterward said the committee did to him. The committee officially stated, “In a show of Christian compassion and concern, we are offering Brother Henderson a month’s worth of free counseling and rest so that he can ponder where the Lord will lead him next. We pray for him and wish him God’s blessings in his new field of ministry—wherever that may be.”

The now ex-Reverend Henderson would later claim, “That bump on the head made a prophet out of me, despite myself.”

Although most members of Sword of Truth Church, for compassion’s sake, never spoke his name in years to come, when Henderson’s name was mentioned, someone would always ask, “Wasn’t that the poor man who suddenly went kinda crazy?”

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