Pastor Walter Mitty couldn’t get the tune out of his head. Sharissa Hawkins had given him a CD of South African freedom songs for Christmas, and one tune in particular had captured him. As he walked the two blocks from his house to the church, he kept humming the tune over and over.
“I have to memorize the words when I get home tonight,” he thought as he unlocked the back door by the alley and climbed the steps to the social hall.
When he arrived at the landing he knew something was wrong. His office door was open, and he knew John Havlicek was not supposed to come in to clean until the afternoon.
What he saw when he peeked inside his office made his spine tingle. The drawers of his desk and file cabinet had been pulled out and turned upside down. Papers were strewn all over the floor, and his favorite candy jar lay in shards on the floor along with Tootsie Rolls and little chocolate Easter eggs.
Fear turned Mitty’s stomach into a knot. “What if the guy is still here?”
He noticed that his hand was shaking has he dialed 9-1-1.
A Poplar Park police squad car arrived within five minutes. The officer, who was fairly new on the job, was named Carmen Espinosa. She told Mitty to stay in the office, pulled out her flashlight and searched the entire building before she returned to fill out the report.
While she was making sure that the intruder was no longer in the church, Mitty wondered why she had not also upholstered her gun. That’s what he would have done. He also found himself irritated at how calmly the young officer had copied down his answers to the questions on the report and had given him her card before leaving the office.
The next day Pastor Walt arrived at the Main Street Cafe half an hour late for the Men’s Fellowship Breakfast.
“You look white as a sheet,” Ash exclaimed as Mitty hung up his jacket.
“Church was robbed last night,” was all Mitty could say as he sat down in a still stunned heap in the booth.
“You alright?” Dominique asked.
Mitty slowly lifted his eyes from the table and took a
“No. . . .actually. . . . I’m not.” He sat in silence for a full thirty seconds. “I keep thinking what might have happened to me if I had been there when the guy broke in. I mean, he might have had a gun, might have been on cocaine.”
“You OK, Rev?” Alice asked as she poured from her Superior coffee pot. “Officer Espinosa was in here for a donut five minutes ago, and she told me what happened.”
Mitty noticed that the coffee tasted especially good this morning.
“Thanks Alice. I’m OK, I guess. Just a little shaken up.”
Ash, Dominique and Eric sat silently as Alice scurried off to other patrons. Dominique broke the silence by banging his fist on the table.
“I’m with the president,” he declared.
“Huh?” questioned Pastor Walt.
“What I mean,” Dominique continue, “is that there are too many thugs and criminals out there. And the only thing those people understand is force.”
He looked around the table for an amen, but all he saw were questioning faces waiting for him to explain.
“OK. Look at the Tribune just this week. There’s the story about . . . what was it . . . ten people getting killed at the school on the Red Lake Reservation. And they are still talking about Brian Nichols and what he did down in Atlanta. I mean, I grew up in the projects, and I don’t want to live in fear any more.”
“I’ll grant you those stories are scary, but things seem to be getting better,” ventured Ash after making sure Dominique had finished. “Did you read that interview with the chief of police in the Poplar Park paper? He said violent crime has been cut in half in the village.”
“I don’t know.” Eric decided to join in. “Those police statistics might have more to do with Poplar Park going upscale than the chief putting more police on the street. If you ask me, it’s like that wall the Israelis are building.”
“You want to build a wall around Poplar Park?” questioned Dominique.
“No, no. What I mean is that that wall in the West Bank isn’t going to stop violence,” Eric said. “If you want to stop violence, you have to meet people’s basic needs. I mean, the truth is that until the Palestinians get their own state and the freedom to move around, there’s not going to be any peace or safety over there. . . .See what I mean?”
“No,” Dominique replied. “That liberal stuff just doesn’t work with those criminally minded sociopaths out there. The only thing they understand is the barrel of a gun. Getting tough is the only thing that will make us safe.”
“What is this, a male thing?” asked Alice as she filled cups with coffee. “Didn’t you read about Ashley Smith in People Magazine? I mean, here were all of these men with all of their guns, and they couldn’t even find Brian Nichols, let alone subdue him. And here is this small woman . . . I mean, think about it. She had no guns, no way she could ever over power the guy. And what does she do? She reads to him from that book by Rick Warren. What’s it called?”
“Purpose Driven Life?” suggested Dominique.
“Yeah, that’s it.” Alice was on a roll. “She reads to him about serving God. Then she makes him breakfast. And in her quiet, humble way it’s like she brings peace to this crazy man’s soul and he puts his guns under the bed and lets her walk out the door and call the police. And then all these SWAT team guys arrive with all their guns and Brian Nichols waves a white cloth and the whole thing is over.”
Pastor Walt felt like raising his hand as the debate was going on and saying, “could we get back to me and how I feel,” but the last thing he felt like was being assertive so he let it go and began the walk back to the church after breakfast was over.
Moving his body made him feel a little better until a loud bang from somewhere in an alley made him jump. Twice as he completed the rest of his walk back to the office he found himself looking back over his shoulder to make sure no one was following him, to make sure he was safe.
When he arrived at the office, Mitty turned on the radio hoping against hope that the program would distract him as he began to clean up the mess. But what he heard was an interview with Michael Chertoff in which the Secretary of Homeland Security admitted that he didn’t have the resources that could make America 100 percent safe from terrorists.
“Great!” Pastor Walt muttered as he changed the station to the one that played love songs twenty-four hours a day.
Two days later as he was getting ready for the Good Friday service, Mitty was feeling less traumatized by the break in, but at same time he realized that the last thing he wanted to hear right now was a story about Jesus being vulnerable, betrayed and tortured.
What made it worse was that as he was setting out bulletins and putting up the big cross in the worship area, he recalled the story about the man going to the Sunday service of his own church in the Milwaukee area and shooting some of the very people he had been praying with for several years. And all of the emotions he had felt Wednesday morning came rushing back.
He was not at all sure he would be together enough to lead the service that would begin in less than an hour.
As he sat in front of the church during the prelude watching members take their places in the pews, something happened to him that he didn’t expect.
It was a small crowd, as usual, but that didn’t seem to matter, at least not on that night. Because the small group of people was comprised of his people. There was Dominique sitting right up front and Hilda way in the back. Eric and Debbie Anderson came in while John Havlicek fiddled with the thermostat.
Sharissa sat down next to Ash and his wife. Even Henry, the homeless man, decided to come in out of the cold for awhile.
These people were his community, his little village, and among them he felt safe. It wasn’t that he had the illusion that his little group could somehow protect him from a troubled man like Bart Ross.
No, it was a safety he felt inside him that this little group of people made him feel. Like with them, he could get through just about anything. And that newfound sense of security made him look at the story being told during the service differently.
Mitty found himself focusing on the inner stability he imagined Jesus must have had instead of on the torture.
When he got home after the service, Pastor Mitty spied the CD Sharissa had given him.
Without taking of his jacket, he slipped it into the player, found track seven and sat down to finally memorize the words. He grinned from ear to ear as the song began, for what he heard was: “It doesn’t matter if they should jail us, we are free and kept alive, I know.”