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Out doing the Lord’s Work, Part V by Vegard
"Please have a seat Michael!" The reverend said, after having embraced me as I entered.
"How are you?"
"I am fine reverend," I smiled, "Working with Matthew has been good!"
Fred and I had worked with Matthew and Ben over in Haverbrook since Easter, setting up a series of houses in a new residential area. It was mostly modest, one story houses, and people had already started moving in to them. Getting settled before their kids were going back to school. Matthew was involved on the investment side of it all, and had needed trustworthy help on the project. Both Fred and I had been glad for the trust he had shown us.
The reverend smiled benevolently at me, and thanked me for the tithe the Church had received, not just from me, but from Matthew as well.
Matthew and I had discussed it at length, how much the Church was due, and we had agreed that what went in to our companies was not to be subject to tithe, but that our pay that we took out was to be shared with the Church. After tax.
Some in our congregation was of the opinion that tithe came before tax, but Our Lord himself has said, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's". Meaning we were to pay our tax, same as everybody else. And to pay tithe on the government’s share did not make sense. Unless the government did it.
It was not hard to gather that Matthew didn’t really want to pay tithe at all though, but this time he had. I am curious to see if he will ask me again to join him on any projects, since I have started pestering him about affairs of the Faith, and of the Church.
Smiling slightly to myself, I quickly asked the reverend how he was, rather than have to explain about my arguments with Matthew.
"I am fine Michael, but I am sure you have heard that brother Lucas died whilst you were away?"
"Yes I did reverend, and I am sorry I didn’t make it back for the funeral. We had so many deadlines to consider the last days of the project." Brother Lucas had been my late grandmother’s cousin, and had died of heart failure ten days ago, "I stopped by at sister Martha’s on my way home yesterday and offered my sympathy, and offer of help."
"Quite a loss to our community." The reverend sighed.
"We, the elders are now missing one of our number," he continued, whilst looking at me, and I was wondering why he was telling me this, but didn’t say anything.
"We have discussed it, and would like you, brother Michael, to take his place with us."
I almost felt like looking behind me, to see if there was another Michael there, but off course there wasn’t. In stead I must have been staring quite confused at the reverend.
"Me, reverend?" I was nonplussed.
"Yes Michael. You are young, but you have impressed us with your modest and true ways, and the remaining 11 of us all agree you are a good replacement for brother Lucas."
An Elder? Still not quite sure what to say I finally managed to utter, "I’m 25."
The reverend smiled at me, "Yes. It is young. But as young men as you have joined our council of elders before."
"Yes. I myself was 26 when I was admitted on the council."
"But, you were a reverend."
"I was. I had finished at the seminary two years before, and had done my years of service with another congregation, and was admitted with the Council when I returned."
As if he knew what I was thinking he smiled and continued, "Do you not think a "lowly carpenter" is adequate for the task?"
Upon this I smiled as well. None of us thought of me as a "lowly carpenter". Having finished my vocational training seven years ago, I had worked with Caldwell, the same company I had been apprenticed to, for five years before starting my own company.
As all who have done carpentry knows, a carpenter really does not work well on his own, and I had asked Fred to join me, and helped him set up a firm of his own to.
It had been a good partnership. To begin with we had still done a lot of work for Caldwell, but gradually we had gotten more and more work on our own, and had set up quite a few houses in our town. We did well, and we enjoyed our work.
Fred lost his mother when he was very young, and his father wasn’t around much. So, when he lost his grandmother as well while we were still apprentices he practically moved in with mother and I. And it was awkward. Really awkward. He knew about my beliefs, obviously, but since I had stopped "pushing" His Word on others, Fred confessed he had begun looking at me as "You know; normal."
I started laughing, and he looked really embarrassed. "This is who I am Fred. I’m the guy you work with, but this is my life, and you’re welcome to share it."
Mother and I had one absolute rule as he stayed with us, and that was that he not do any drugs. He tried to tell me that using a bit of pot was harmless, really. But I told him we could not have it, but would help him find another place to stay if he chose to keep up the habit.
He lapsed once, almost a month in to his stay, and I caught him at it. He was genuinely sorry for it, and promised never to do it again, even after getting his own place later. And although I was very disappointed in him, I agreed not to tell mother, and to give him a second chance. I did give him a thorough lecture on getting his life in order though.
I shouldn’t laugh at this, but remembering it always makes me smile. From then on Fred made a tremendous effort to be respectful of our ways, and one night, about a week later, as I sat and discussed work with him mother, bless her, suddenly said, "Why don’t you let me cut your hair Fredrick? It is so long it must be getting in your way?"
Looking almost like a deer caught in the headlights, he looked at me for support, but I must confess I saw my chance at teaching him a further lesson, and said, "I think that is a very good idea mother. I’ll help you get the chair set up in the kitchen."
So there he sat, shirtless with a towel draped over his shoulders, and mother, looking very content, using the comb and scissors on him. First combing his floppy hair down, and then snipping away around his ears, at the nape of his neck, and straight across his forehead, before using the comb to lift the hair, cutting it down from about seven inches to about two on top, and graduating it to about ¾" over the ears, to where it was chopped straight off, no taper, around the ears and in the back. Wetting the comb she made the side parting and proclaimed him done.
Lego-man was back in the kitchen, and I found it really amusing that it wasn’t me. I know I shouldn’t have enjoyed this, but as I went upstairs with Fred to see his reaction to himself in the mirror, I laughingly told him "It’s only hair! It’ll grow back."
"How long do I have to keep it like this?" he muttered, staring wide-eyed at himself in the mirror, razor sharp parting and all.
"Well, you know, mother will be hurt if you don’t keep it for at least a while. You know?"
With a miserable look on his face he nodded.
He let her do it two more times, but then summer was upon us, and he found an excuse to join me at the barber I went to every three weeks. I had my usual brush cut, and Fred went for a short back and sides, but kept the length on top.
Mother tried to hint to me that I should take a place in the kitchen chair again, but I said no. There was no way I would go back.
A couple of years ago I began seeing Sarah, my third cousin. She was 18, and I was 23 when we started seeing each other, and our wedding was planned to be held a month after my return from Haverbrook. I have great affection for her, and we are a really good match. We aren’t subject to matchmaking in the Church, but we are strongly encouraged to find someone within our congregation, or from one in another town. As I have mentioned before, it is hard for others to join us, and live the life we lead.
I was really blessed to have found Sarah and for her to have found me. As it turned out we agreed on most of the important things in life, and she also enjoyed discussing scripture, and had some really good insights that I myself had not thought of.
One is not really supposed to discuss scripture with women, but we talked and discussed it anyway. Paul said women are supposed to keep silent in the congregation, but I am sure Sarah has more insight in to not just scripture, but most other things as well, than most men I have met.
Once, having supper with mother, Sarah and I had begun discussing Paul’s letters, but we quickly realized this was totally unacceptable for her, and we stopped.
Sarah told me afterwards that she had in fact discussed scripture quite frequently with her late Grandfather, but it had been in secret.
I felt very lucky, and blessed, to have her for my wife, and I was to take my place in the council of elders after I was married.
As my wedding day arrived the reverend held a beautiful sermon for Sarah and I. Mother was deeply moved, and also a little sad I think, since I was now moving out, and she would be on her own. I had bought a house one street over that I had fixed up with some help from Fred. It had turned out nicely, and both Sarah and I had assured mother she was always welcome. Although I, secretly, hoped she would not come too often.
My first meeting with the elders went well, and I was welcomed warmly by all. Still a bit unsure I listened in, rather than doing any talking this first time. The next day in church I was introduced to the congregation as the 12th elder of the council, and people nodded and voiced their approval.
Esiah, a youngster in our congregation, and cousin of Sarah’s, was hanging around, awkwardly, by my car as I left.
"Hello brother Michael," he began, looking at his feet, and mumbled "Congratulations!"
"Thank you Esiah," I said, kindly, wondering if it was about my wedding the week before, or my first meeting as an elder. It still felt strange to be amongst them.
He didn’t say anything, but continued to study the ground. Under the regulation haircut I could see his face having gone a bright red. It contrasted strongly with his brown hair.
"Is anything wrong?" I asked.
He shook his head, and managed to look up, and finally say something.
"Can you help me brother Michael?" he asked, and I felt concern, thinking something was seriously wrong.
"Off course!" I stated, "What can I help you with?"
"It’s,…, you know, …, school…" he said.
"Are you having problems in school?"
He nodded, and taking a deep breath, he almost blurted out, "Yes! I don’t fit in. You know, not at all!" His voice had a desperation to it, and his eyes were moist.
Looking at him, my own childhood and the feeling of being an outcast came flooding in on me. As I became a teenager it was still hard, and only at 17 had I managed to find my place with the others, and realized fully what I had been missing out on.
Thinking back to my own struggle with this problem I decided to be brave for him.
"Tell you what Esiah. I’ll have a word with your father. But first I will talk with the counsil"
The reverend had let it slip that all had not actually wanted me as an elder, thinking, quite rightly, that I was much too young. But the reverend, and 6 others had felt the Church was ready for a bit of change, and that I might be able to help with it. Since I had managed to stay strong, as well as choosing my own way. It pleased me greatly to hear this, and I had talked quite a bit with Sarah about it.
What better way to help the Church change than to help the young people in the congregation to a better life?
Rather irritably I pushed my own hair away off my forehead. Mother had thought it prudent to let it grow in a bit for my wedding, and I had not had the time to go to the barber since. It was now uncomfortably long for me, but I still had a lot of catching up to do with work, so it would have to wait.
A thought suddenly struck me. Maybe Sarah could learn to do it for me? The thought of Sarah buzzing my head with a good set of clippers actually aroused me, and I quickly asked forgiveness for my weakness.
"You had something you wanted to address brother Michael?"
"I do. I had a conversation with a young member of our flock a few days ago, and he was really upset."
"What about?" the reverend looked concerned.
"About fitting in." I stated, simply.
"We are not about "fitting in", except here, with our own!" brother Paul said rather angrily.
"Still, I can not see any harm in making life a little bit easier for our children." I looked at brother Paul, and began, "My own years in school were quite miserable, until I found the strength to, eh,"
I stopped. I had almost said "Until I decided to go my own way", but that would be a bad way to present this.
Brother Paul was looking hard at me, but the reverend took the word.
"I think brother Michael has a point. He came back from working with brother Matthew with a short haircut, and there was much talk about him, and how this might mean he was breaking with our ways." Smiling at me, he went on, "But brother Michael has shown himself quite the pillar of our community, and one the young members of our congregation can look up to as inspiration."
I almost blushed at this.
Brother Paul did not look impressed however, and still looking sternly at me, he said, "If we do this, next thing, we’ll be letting the children out dressed as ghouls on Halloween!"
"I see your concern brother Paul," I answered, "And I am sure none here want the children to partake in such a hedonistic feast. There are clear instructions on this in the Book. But there are no instructions as to how short a man’s hair is supposed to be. On writing to the Corinthians Paul simply stated that it was to be short. Not how short." And, taking a deep breath, I added, "And he didn’t say anything about shirts or t-shirts at all."
I wanted to add that the Bible was also a product of the time it was written, and that Paul’s letters were directed to a congregation surrounded by heathens, an input from Sarah, but that would be going too far. Paul was Paul, and his words were a basis for what the Church was founded on, and not the context in which it was written.
To my surprice the reverend seemed to almost enjoy the whole discussion, and it became a bit of a heated argument. With brother Paul and two others finally succumbing to a relaxation of the rules of appearance. The Church prefers to discuss things thoroughly, and reach an agreement, rather than force things through by majority vote.
And I could hardly believe it myself when I left the meeting later knowing youngsters in our congregation could now have more of a say about how they looked.
Boys could have it any modest way they liked, as long as it was reasonably short. Girls were to have it long, but could have it set as they liked, or loose.
Legs were still to be covered, but after much debate girls would also be allowed to wear long trousers.
Last came the discussion about t-shirts.
Brother Paul was almost livid when asking "So, are we to expect our young to walk around in "t-shirts" advertising the godlessness of society?"
I quickly saw an opening, and said, "Brother Paul has a very good point. We cannot allow our young to walk around with print on their shirts advertising for bands or sports-teams, or worse!"
He looked at me, surprised I think, but was probably dissapointed as I continued, "I agree we should only tolerate t-shirts with no print!"
"I agree!" the reverend chipped in. And that was it. With a flabbergasted brother Paul, not knowing what to say, the Church in our town had moved in to the 21st century.
I was glad for all the hours I had spent reading the scripture, as I, with the help of the reverend could argue based on the teachings of both Jesus and Paul. "But, we have always had it like this!" didn’t make for much of an argument in the end.
I left the meeting with the impression this was something the reverend had hoped I would bring up as I entered the council. And I am sure there was as much discussion about it at brother Paul’s as at my house that evening, although his was probably more heated.
Sarah and I had discussed at length, how much I could ask, and hope for, and she was waiting by the door, eager to hear the result. And by my wide grin she realized it had gone "our way".