Yesterday morning, Pastor Walter Mitty sat his desk in the Poplar Park Community Church office to begin his Ash Wednesday sermon. His mind wandered. Getting started was always the hardest part. Deciding in which direction he should go, for him, was more difficult than actually getting there.
On top of that, the last ten days had been very emotional. It all began a week ago Saturday. His brother, Herman, had come down for the weekend. Herman’s wife, Susan, called it “the boy’s weekend in the big city.”
They usually did wild things like visit a bakery in the morning and stuff themselves with pastry and then go to a Bulls game or a movie in the afternoon. Friday and Saturday nights they’d crawl into sleeping bags they spread out on air mattresses on the living room floor, pretend they were camping like they used to do in boy scouts and tell stories until midnight.
A week ago Saturday, however, they decided to get an action movie and spend the evening at home. After five minutes at Blockbuster they picked out War of the Worlds. On the way home Herman said, “You know what would go good tonight, Walt?” Herman let the question sink in. “A beer or two while we’re watching the movie.”
“I think you’re right, Herman. And the kind we need to have is Point Beer.”
“YES,” exclaimed Herman. “Remember how we used to think that was the best beer in the world?”
When they arrived at the Poplar Park Liquor Store, however, they discovered that Point Beer only came in twelve packs. “Oh well,” laughed Herman. “Paper or plastic?”
Comfortable in their pajamas and warm in their sleeping bags, the beer tasted good. And without really noticing how it happened, they saw that there were less full cans in the twelve pack than were empty. As they drank, they got sillier and sillier and, giggling, kept turning up the volume of the TV.
After they had turned up the volume four times, that they heard a knock on the door. Walt and Herman, in their pajamas and beer cans in hand, went to the door. Outside was standing Sergeant Lawrence Grossman, PPPD.
“Reverend Mitty?” Sergeant Grossman was working hard at remaining professional.
“Hi sarge. What brings you here this time of the day. . .er, I mean evening. . .Oh, sarge, this is my brother Herman. You want to come in and see the end of the movie?”
“Uh, no thanks, Rev.” By this time the officer couldn’t wait to tell the guys back at the station what he was seeing. “Say, Rev, we’ve received two calls saying that they heard what sounded like fighting and screaming coming from your place. I know it’s your own home, but you have to keep the volume down.”
When the alarm went off at 7:00 Sunday morning, Pastor Mitty felt like leading worship about as much as banging his head against a wall. He got through the sermon and thanked God that nothing was going on after church.
But by Monday, the story had gotten around Popular Park. As he stepped out on the front porch to get his Tribune, his neighbor Michael Rosenthal, looked at Pastor Walt for a moment and said, “You don’t look too bad.”
“I mean for the fight you were in Saturday night!”
Pastor Walt decided to work at home the rest of the day.
On Wednesday Dominique and Eric got to the Men’s Fellowship at the Main Street Cafe first and agreed not to bring up the subject of their pastor’s run in with the law, so when Mitty arrived, Dominique steered the conversation to one of his pet peeves.
“The liberal media has blown this whole Cheney thing way out of proportion as far as I’m concerned. How would you feel if you had accidentally shot a friend in a hunting accident and you had reporters hounding you for a week?”
Mitty was praying a “thank you” that his friends were avoiding the gossip going around town.
“It’s kind of ironic.” Eric replied. “A Republican making a big deal about anyone intruding into a person’s private life when Bush is listening in on thousands of phone calls a day.”
Dominique was about to make a reply when Alice approached their booth with a grin on her face. “Coffee, gentlemen. . . .or Rev, would you like a beer?”
“Excuse me, Alice,” said Ash as he slid in next to his Pastor. “Sure, Alice. Right. Regular.” He frowned as he enjoyed his first sip of the day. “Pastor. . .I, uh. . .I hate to bring this up. . .” Mitty swallowed hard. “. . .but my wife, Dorothy, got a phone call from Hilda Hossenbrenner about. . .you know, what happened Saturday, and she wants the council to officially reprimand you.”
Four men sat staring at their Superior coffee.
The council meeting after worship on Sunday was in Mitty’s office and lasted all of five minutes. The council members were self-conscious and uncomfortable. Mitty made it easy on them by bringing up the subject himself and saying he was sorry. Everyone on the council shook his hand on their way out.
As Mitty was unlocking his office door yesterday, he noticed a gift wrapped package and a card addressed to him. What he found in the wrapping was a homemade pecan coffee cake. Inside the envelope was a card.
I want you to know that I think that what you did Saturday with your brother was really stupid. It undermines the dignity of your calling and reflects badly on our congregation.
But I also want you to know that I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too. Although I think the meeting with the council on Sunday was important”you are in the public eye and you must be held accountable”I want you to know that I do care about you. You are, after all, only human. I think the congregation needs to know that, and I think you need to remember that.
Mitty moved his eyes from his office window to his keyboard. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return,” he thought. “You’re only human. Both you and the congregation need to remember that.”
After swallowing another bite of pecan coffee cake, Walter Mitty began to type.