Freestyle Friday: Any Given Sunday

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Hello friends, I once was a regular bogger, but it has been over a year since I was regular at writing anything. perhaps this short story will help that fire burn again. I hope that you enjoy this little piece of mine.

He cursed quietly under his breath. Being late had always been the bane of his existence. Very few things made him immediately incensed, but when he was late, or someone else was late, his anger ran in a white, hot blaze that almost always threatened his immediate demise. The music had already started, so there was no one in the foyer to greet him. There were no children running around or CCM music blaring from the well hidden speakers. Like good parishioners, everyone was inside of the spacious auditorium jumping up and down to the electric rhythms of the new opening song fro the week. He peeked into the children’s classes as he walked slowly to the auditorium. The volunteers had the children’s rapt attention as they operated puppets and other attention grabbers that were meant to break the Bible down into bites that they could understand. In the distance, he heard the cries of the babies in the nursery, and he felt his heart jump. He loved the babies. The new life and energy that they brought with them. They were a promise that the church would endure. He stopped for a moment and spun around, taking in a fully panoramic picture. The coffee shop attendants had cleaned their space up, but the coffee smell lingered. It was earthy and rich. The guest services booth was stacked nicely with information about the church, as well as mechandize with the name of the building on it. It was trendy, warm, and inviting. With a smile, he walked a more briskly toward the auditorium. The announcements were being played on the enormous screens scattered all around the auditorium. He needed to hurry. After this, the praise set would slow down and become worshipful. The pads would cry out from the syths and the peoples hands would lift reverently. Some people would sing. Others would kneel silently. Others, still, would stand there and just take it all in. The guests were always the more interesting to observe. Most of them had no idea what to do when the worship really got going. There would always be a few who would sneak out of the doors, or others who held their ears the entire time. He had to admit that it could get really loud, and chuckled to himself as he imagined a future situation where church worship services were the cause of millions of people experiencing deafness in old age.

He opened the door and inconspicuously walked into the worship scene. Nobody looked his way, and he liked it like that. He settled onto the back of the last row, and sat down. Looking around, he saw Sister Bryson, who’s son had recently died in a boating accident. He didn’t know how she was able to proclaim so strongly that “There was another in the fire, standing next to me.” He watched the tears roll down her face, as her husband, Phillip, held her hands and pulled her into a heartbreaking embrace. On his right, he watched Vincent Pho, recently transplanted from the megachurch down the street, holding his head in his hands as he broke from the words of the song. He knew that Vincent’s wife had recently left him due to his struggles with pornography, and even with counseling going well, she had been unable to find a way forward with him. He turned his head to the front and watched how passionately the worship leaders moved around the stage, courageously pushing the congregants to worship “in spite of their pain, despite their fears, without worry for tomorrow”. They jumped and thrust their hands into the air as if piercing the very heavens themselves, to provide a place for Jesus to come down and join the party. Their eyes were closed, but he knew what went on in their group chats. Holiness had no place among them. In fact, he couldn’t even understand how they were allowed to continue serving without counsel. Another crack in the foundation. Another failure. Calling without accountability.That thought brought a physical pain to his chest, and he was surprised to feel his eyes welling up with tears that would not abate. The rhythmic banging of the drums mixed with the pounding in his own chest, and he swore that he could hear water, like waves crashing around him. He shook it off.  On the front rows, various staff members sat and talked to one another while worship happened around them. They had served faithfully for so long, some since the beginning, but they should have been removed to make way for fresh vision. Church leadership had mistaken calling for permanence, rather than seasonal, and it showed. Despite the freshness in the actions, the spirit felt stale. The decay made his nose twitch. 

He knew that this was not the time to be judgemental, but he suddenly found himself to be very angry. Bitter. He could no longer see passed the presentation of everything. He had come to loathe the smoke machine and the strobe lights. He longed for the traditional hymns, not because they were better than what they sang now, but because he felt more tied to Scripture when he sand them. He felt grounded. He hated the language of modern Christianity; rhythms, worship experience, find a tribe. They felt cheap to him, like a counterfeit Tabernacle. In his private time, in fact, he found himself increasingly wishing that he could have been apart of the Acts church. But all of that was moot now. This was the church that he had helped to build. He had gone along with everything and had not raised a single objection. If this were a failure, it was his as much as it were anybody else’s. His grief threatened to overwhelm him. His tears blinded him. 

He found his eyes drawn to the last remnant of the very first iteration of the church. It was nothing ornate, just an old, wooden cross. It was chipped and had lost the luster of the original lacquer that had been placed on it when the church was just a small plant meeting in a hotel conference room. They had displayed that cross proudly. It meant to the world to them as a new church body, so naturally they had kept it through every iteration of what they continued to become. Now it sat, almost as a forgotten relic, in the corner of the church, hanging against the wall. Forgotten. A relic. Forgotten. 

Despite all of his efforts, he had failed. He had failed them. He had failed Him. 

His thoughts swirled, much like the sound of the waters raging in his ears. So many memories and triumphs. So many victories and defeats. So much resilience from this place. It had built it in him as well. He had grown stronger and weaker at the same time. As the worship set concluded, the man stood up again. The band continued playing the music softly as people came down from their “worship high” and made their way back to theri seats. The worship team left the stage, and passed right by the man as he ascended the stairs and picked up a microphone. Even though he knew what he had to do, his steps felt leaden and the air around him felt loaded with a kind of gravity that trid to stop him in his tracks. He could hear the voices in his head telling him to sit down, to keep going, but he had long ago understood that his mission in all of this was to listen to the still voice. The soft voice. The one that told him what he did not want to hear most of the time. As he reached the middle of the stage and heard the bumper music for the new series begin to play, he could see the eyes of everyone in the crowd. They were expectant. They were pumped and primed for the Word of God. They had their phones and Bibles ready. A few were going LIVE on Facebook or Instagram, despite the church having its own channel and streaming live right now broadcasting to thousands of people, no doubt. 

Taking a deep breath, he loosened his tie and smiled at the people. His people. His family. He looked in every set of eyes and a new story flashed into his mind. He saw the childbirths. He saw them. He knew them. And they knew him…or maybe they didn’t. Soon enough they would. A pounding, like the excited rush of waters, filled his hearing. The people were applauding him, as they usually did when he stepped on stage, but this felt different. More urgent. Peaceful.  

He hoped they would still love him after this. 

“Good morning, family”, he began, This….this ..this isn’t right.”

He gestured to the surroundings and continued, “God gave us a vision and a mandate to build His church, not ours. Despite our best intentions, and faithful adherence, we’ve failed, and I would rather die now, than go one more day with the knowledge that we have cheated on God by seeking to fill pews rather than fill hearts. I can’t do this….THIS…anymore.”

The rushing became louder. This was no flood of water, no, it was a rushing of wind. It threatened to pull him from the stage. From the ground. He could feel his feet leaving the permanence of the ground. It felt like floating, but also something more. Something was wrong. He found himself fighting to continue speaking, his words broken and incoherent, but the rushing, the pounding,  continued. Pounding louder and louder, demanding his attention, and then…then it all ceased. 

The Pastor of the church collapsed, dead before his body hit the ground. 

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