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Now that it’s done; I can’t keep it secret. Not something this big.
Perhaps it was even a crime. Or maybe just a sin. I’m just not sure.
Only thing I’m sure of is that I suck at keeping secrets. I can keep a confidence. Tell me not to tell, and I won’t. But secrets? They’ve always been trouble.
So I’ll just tuck the story away here where no one will see it.
It’s the story of how I vandalized my church. Or at least that’s how some might see it.
Luckily, they won’t find the story here. So maybe here my big secret will be safe.
Maybe if I write it here, no one will know what I did to the church across the span of one entire night. What I did will be noticed. But maybe no one will know it was me.
It started yesterday when I went back alone to the church we used to attend faithfully. The place that took us in one Easter morning and kept us going every Sunday for years up until 2 or 3 months ago. . Showered us with the love of a diverse, open affirming, and vibrant community, baptized my wife, married us one golden October day when I was unemployed and had no business getting married, except of course for love.
Gave us the chance to give back, to bicker through the squabbles of a family, to be shocked at the currents of evil that run beneath the waves of every family and to provide the grace of knowing we belong to something much bigger than ourselves.
A place that challenged us in the way we thought.
But all that changed when the worship services became like empty airless wanderings on the dusty red fields of Mars. All the air and energy just sucked right out into the burning red sky Martian night. As if we were chanting corporate mission statements, singing hymns and praise in languages no one had ever heard.
And there were attempts made to pump a life that was even remotely relatable back into the church. Big Jake told me he tried. Told me others did too.
At the Church Street Fair table in the street, me trying to talk books with meager waves of neighbors who didn’t really care. Big Jake brought over a couple of cold ones and said, “This is me, trying to tell you to come back.”
I had been where he was.
Moon Man, the guy who brought the good tequila to our pot luck wedding reception in the basement of the church, he left awhile ago. And I tried to bring him back just like Big Jake was hoping I’d come back.
Funny thing about the Christian story. How it keeps repeating itself.
Moon Man told me that the place wasn’t gonna make it. It was different now. It was the old pastor leaving that made the difference. And I argued. Even found another hurting soul who needed both of us—thinking that a project to reach out and help someone would bring the Moon Man back.
Moon Man was the face of the church. He would greet you in the entryway. And everybody said this, and they said it al lot: I am here because of how welcome the Moon Man made me feel. That’s why I am here. Lighting up the peeled white plaster of the entryway with a welcome that was special because it was one that no living breathing human being could ever believe was anything but real.
Moon Man is a Barryral contractor. He builds stuff. And following him to that grander holy light we all sought; he brought us in, the pastor challenged us with his radical, joyful illumination of the Holy Spirit and we stayed.
And all that passed.
So we stopped going. Nice excuse that my wife’s foot injury happened right around that time. And there was no one there anymore who remembered that five years ago she broke her foot and we never missed a Sunday.
We stopped going because the lights were turned out in the worship services.
But is that something that would lead to actually vandalizing the place?
That has GOT to be a sin. Right?
When I pulled up my car and started unloading the books, I heard what would lead me to my despicable act immediately.
It came from the few of the church elders who were both still alive or who hadn’t scampered off to other churches or, like us, just made the place a Christmas and Easter stop on the trail.
“Roger, they’d whisper me over, have you seen the paint job? Have you been inside? Did you see what they did to the entryway of the church? If I was a stranger and I walked inside, I’d turn right away and start running. As fast as I could.”
It is painted a color that looks like death.”
But of course I had books to sell, and how bad could it be? I had been on the committees that had decided things like this. And I knew the hard part was getting something done. If somebody didn’t like the color—well, then you go on the committee and make the decision.
That worked till the end of the day. When most of the books had not been sold. Till the grins, waves and handshakes from the few stragglers from the family still left had been sweet and kind.
Till the one remaining elder man told me “Come back to church.”
At the end of the day I did the yeoman’s work of carrying most of the big tables from the street inside. My partner carrying tables saying not a word.
And I thought, one more visit. I want to see the real church one more time before I go.
Back up to the sanctuary. That place where the breath of God had just washed us all clean so many times. One more time to say goodbye.
And I saw that all the elders were right. Walking up the stairs in a coffin colored purple reeking of somber fear. That was the new color of the church. And I wondered how this happened. How could this message of unwelcome be splashed all over the walls of this place of love and inclusion?
It was really that bad. And in that somber symphony of death-like purple. That’s when I got it. Big Jake and I had been talking about it throughout the day. It was complacency. A new and different kind of evil I had never recognized before. The easiest kinds of evil are the obvious evils. Call up central casting for the face of the devil. But yesterday I met a new and deeper evil.
Every single solitary person who touched that decision to paint the front of that church in the somber tones of the dying meant no harm. All of them are good people. But they were complacent. Somewhere in that decision, someone screamed only to themselves, “NO! This is wrong! The 3 of you 12 who want the purple are wrong!”
But that scream was never heard.
Instead all 12 people heard, “It’ll be OK. Let’s not fight. What’s a color anyway? Right? Let’s just go along.”
And it’s the complacency that led me to the vandalism.
By 1:00 am all the lights of the street were out and I used my old key to the church to tip toe in. Paint cans. Brushes, Scaffolding and drop clothes. Paint cans bursting with a warm and welcoming golden earth tone bright like the sunrise smile in Moon Man’s voice when he used to say to strangers: “Welcome!. Here’s a program. In case no one has told you yet, Welcome! We’re glad you’re here.”
That’s the color I painted that entryway. The golden sunrise color of welcome. And by 6:00 am I was done. Long before they’d start their services.
I looked at the rows of name tags on the wooden rack hung at the bank of the sanctuary. Pocketed ours. We probably wouldn’t be coming back here again till Christmas so I might as well take these as I cleared out my drop clothes, brushes and clanging empty paint cans. Started to walk outside into the sparkling clear Chicago morning.
And that’s when I remembered something that happened yesterday. At the end of the street fair when we were packing it all in.
Kid comes out of the church with a giant bunch of helium filled balloons.
And just as he steps outside, his hand springs open and the balloons start to rise. Thinking them gone, from the corner of my eye—I saw it. Out of nowhere, Carrie, one of the women of the church leaps up into the air, I swear she jumped five straight feet into the air. Reaches her arm up into the blue and endless sky and catches that entire bunch of balloons. Not one of them was lost.
That woman’s jump was impossible. But I saw it. And I remembered it just that second. As I was about to go away forever.
So I opened up the old varnished wooden door, trundled up the stairs, and put back our name tags. Hiding them on top of the rack. Out of sight.
Because I’m still not sure. But I couldn’t say goodbye. Not after a leap of balloon faith like the one I just saw.
And my painting looked good. Bright and alive. Like the morning.
Is what I did a crime?
Did I vandalize the church? I don’t know.
I learned something about complacency. An evil that can capture the very best of people.
But I also I saw that woman catch those balloons, before they hit the endless sky. I also saw the impossible. Like seeing faith.
Even if I might have vandalized that church.
Good thing my secret will be safe if I tell the story here.