Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"You Can't Do That!"

“No, I didn’t,” he replied. “I just, eh….” He gathered his thought, shifting his chin to one side and glancing up at the dappled, plaster ceiling. “It just wasn’t the right fit for me. Which was really shocking, because at the beginning of it all, I imagined it was exactly what I was looking for: keen, eager minds from solid households who taught respect and obedience in a proactive manner, using the Socratic method of discussion, fostering debates, assigning oral presentations. Preparing scholars!”
“What’s the Socratic method, --er whatever?”
“The Socratic method is a way of teaching, where the teacher gets the students to discuss the material through a series of questions. The questions guide and lead the discussion. It’s an art. It’s supposed to enable the student to be able to express himself in an artful, elegant way. They call that rhetoric.”
“That sounds like something I’d like to do.”
“Well, if I’d had a room full of students like you, it would have been a great pleasure.”
“So, what happened?”
“Oh, gosh,” he sighed and leaned forward. “’What didn’t happen?’ is the better question. Ha!” He slapped his thigh, and eased back into his leather chair. It creaked slowly like an old, tired clock.
“Well…there was the time I got in trouble for saying the Great Tribulation happened in A.D. 70.”
“The what?”
“The Great Tribulation. It’s when Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem, and in A.D. 70, Titus and the Romans sacked the city and totally destroyed it. The ancient historian Josephus reports that a million people died there. And the Jewish temple was totally destroyed, too. Not one stone left on another, just like Jesus said.”
“So, what’s wrong with that?”
“Well, these people think the Great Tribulation is still future—that it hasn’t happened yet. So they think there is going to be this awful time on the earth, this incredible suffering like never seen before, and the Antichrist will appear and all hell will break loose.”
“Okay,” he said, looking a little confused. “That’s not a very good outlook, is it?”
“Ha! No. Indeed no,” he replied.

Seth squirmed in his seat and frowned. His brown hair flopped over his downcast face. He shuffled his feet a bit.
“Seth,” he said, trying to peer in at him. “You ok?”
“Yeah,” he sighed quietly.
“How’s your mom, doing?”
“She’s ok, I guess.” He looked up, straight-faced and asked another question, changing the subject. “Tell me more about this—tribulation stuff.”
“Oh—yeah, sure. Um,” he hummed. “Well, these people are so adamant about this view of the future, that if you disagree with them, they look at you like you’re a heretic.”
“What’s a her-e”
“A heretic—sorry—“ He had interrupted him.
“No, it’s ok.”
“A heretic is someone who denies a basic, orthodox teaching. “
“Hold on.”
“Orthodox teaching is like how we believe there are three persons in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or that we believe God created the world, and Jesus died for the sins of man. Stuff like that. Just basic Christian doctrine. But other teachings, like ‘how it’s all going to end’ aren’t really considered as essential as the basic teachings. And what I mean by essential is, you have to have it, because if you don’t have that teaching, then your whole religion falls apart.”
“Like Jesus rising from the dead?”
“Yes, exactly. Or justification by grace through faith.”
“I know what that is,” he said patently. “That’s when God declares a sinner as righteous, as if he had never sinned, on account of the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, when a person believes.”
“Right! You’ve been studying your catechism.”
“Yup,” he said. So, people got upset at you for believing the Great Tribulation happened in A.D. 70?”
“A number of students ran out into the hall, proclaiming loudly to the others that I was some kind of freak, yeah.”
“Yeah. And many of the people on staff looked at me with suspicion, too. I even had a local pastor call me on the phone in my room. His son had gone home and told him about it, all upset because his world had just turned upside down. And boy did I get in trouble. Even after talking with me on the phone, and having smoothed things over, I was still called into a special meeting, and he was there, bringing up the same issues we had smoothed over on the phone!”
“No way.”
“Yes,” and he looked at him from under his steel rimmed glasses and held the glare, not moving a muscle on his face. "He treated me something rotten. Berated me for a whole hour, insulting me and treating me with great disrespect. A pastor no less!" Leaning back again, “But that was nothing compared to the reaction I got when I taught the students about circumcision,” he said with pursed lips, and an almost smile.
“What?” he said, furling his brow. He looked disconcerted.
“Yeah. Circumcision. That’s when—“
He held up his hand, forming a stop sign with it, “I know what circumcision, dude. Uh, I mean, pastor.”
He held up a stop sign of his own, but this one stopped not the person, but the offense. “Just because it says ‘Reverend’ doesn’t mean it has to be so. But, I will tell you that the Dutch call their pastors Domini. It’s related to the Latin, and means like what it says: one who dominates, and is superior. Ah, the Dutch,” he sighed with bright eyes and folded hands. “But anyway, I merely taught them that in the act of circumcision, Abraham would have seen an issuing of blood. And this shedding of blood would have reminded him of atonement for sin. Plus, the removal of the foreskin from his body--note that I didn't say 'penis' in class--would have reminded him of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden when they covered up their nakedness with fig leaves in order to cover their shame, because now Abraham was ‘more naked’ through the act. So, all in this one act of circumcision, you have great themes of the Bible of sin, shame and guilt, shedding of blood and atonement, the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. It’s really quite beautiful actually.”
“And you got in trouble for that? Maybe you shouldn’t have said that to the kindergartners.”
“Ha!” He laughed. His laughter shook his chest and belly so that he had to hold himself and get under control. “Oh, that’s good. You’ll do just fine.”
“Just fine?”
“Ah,” he said, wiping the tears away. “Yeah, when God calls you to be a pastor. You’ll do just fine. Eh,” he said trying to catch his breath. “Okay now, where were we? Whew,” and he let out a loud breath. “Oh, that’s just plain good. I haven’t had a good laugh in a while. Thanks, Seth.”
“I’m not going to be a pastor,” Seth said plain as day. “Nuh-uh. No way. Not after what you’ve told me about your horror stories.”
“Oh, well, you get used to it. I’m not going to lie! It’s rough! Anyway…circumcision. “
“Okay, well. I had this woman, one of these rich, empowered mothers, the ones who are so proud that their husbands make tons of money and buy fancy cars for their young daughters. Well, she told me that my theological discussion on circumcision was “Icky.”
“Yes, ‘Icky.’”
“Well, uh, but it’s in the Bible.”
“I know!” his voice boomed. “It’s on almost every page! And then there was the other woman who threw her hands up in the air and said, “Dietrich! You can’t teach that to those girls! Those are virgin girls! They can’t be thinking of that!”
“Ha ha!” Seth laughed. “So how did you reply?”
I threw up my hands, too. I didn’t know. They just said, “’Here’s a Bible, go teach it.’ Well, ok,” he said, still with his shoulders shrugged.
“So, you must really miss that,” Seth quipped.
“Ha! Hardly.”
“Life’s so much easier as a pastor now. No politics,” he smiled.
“Hmmm,” Dietrich smiled, nodding his head. “You see, you’ll catch on, alright,” pointing his finger in the air.
“Yeah, well, I gotta go,” he said rising out of the chair. His long, lanky body leaned forward, and jutted out a thin hand in extension of a mechanical arm. “Take care, Domini. And stop teaching your heresy.”
Dietrich offered a half grin. “Seth,” he said, looking at him. “I’ll stop by and see your mom some time.”
“Okay. See you later.” He walked out of the study, and paused in the doorway, as if he wanted to say something about the visit, or something related to it, but then carried on. But you could tell he was thinking.
Domini Dietrich leaped forward and leaning out the door with only his right arm grasping the frame. He thought of another incident at the school and wanted to plant the seed for the next conversation. "Seth!" he wanted to say. "Next time I'll tell you how I was accused of over-sexualizing a novel by Aldous Huxley!" But, he thought better of it. Seth was near out of the building and walking down the open corridor between the church and the education wing. Besides, Seth needed to think about some important matters at home, and Dietrich didn't want to ruin that moment. But you, dear reader, now know a glimpse of yet another miscue in the life of our young pastor in his early days teaching at a private school.


Anonymous said...


wortman said...

My wife just said, "Isn't it a shame that you can't explore different points of view?" Unfortunately, being open to a myriad of ideas is not a basic tenant of mainstream Christianity, historical or contemporary. This is why I have had such trouble adapting to the typical "christian" organization. The parent you are describing is paying for a "safe" environment, i.e. one in which the ideas their children are exposed to are the same as theirs. When the boat is rocked the fastidious parent puts on airs of solicitude to protect their child. They have no concept that they are propagating ignorance. Just one of the challenges of being an educator and/or thinker.