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Monday, September 27, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 6:46 am

I sat on the couch dumbfounded. Elijah had gone to get a shower even though it was clear we were not going to church that morning. Mom had called sounding crazy, talking about how there was some threat on the church building. I thought it was funny that somebody didn't just call the police and have them use like bomb sniffing dogs or something. I was sitting on Facebook wasting away my life. Why is it that Facebook is so addicting? It is so boring and you the same old face everyday, kind of like a 20 year old, boring marriage. Still, like some sort of digital narcotic, it always seems to leave one wanting more and sucking more and more valuable study/enrichment time right of your life. In many ways it was worse than TV ever thought being. Dad had often preached about how we should be careful with social media; certain groups in the church were always criticizing him on Facebook. He also went after the young peeps, like his son, who were always on Facebook instead of "reading the Bible and praying."

I prayed and read the Bible enough; I was very content with the hour I spent with God everyday. I must admit that there were times when I was tempted to stay longer, but the busy day calls rather quickly. Even though I did not spend the quantity of time that every self-respecting pastor's kid should with God, I was consistent with the quality of those times. Often most of the prayer times were spent apologizing for all of my many sins; you know sins every young man has: pride, self-reliance, and the big one, lusting after my girlfriend and many other chicks as well. Yeah, it is degrading and yeah I needed to keep my mind pure, but I was a growing man and I figured it was a phase I would grow out of when I got married.
I was reading about one of the parties I was forbidden to go to the other night, when my phone rang.

"Eno, are you ok? What is going on? Your dad canceled church!"

It was Lindsey Sinclair who was the daughter of my dad's nemesis, head deacon George Sinclair. Lindsey's dad had been adamantly against the church calling my dad and I kind of resented him for that; he made life hard for my dad. In fact, he openly accused my dad of being a "Joel Osteen-style" huckster and questioned his commitment to the Gospel. It was a really jerky thing to do and we have had to live with that shadow ever since. My brother Eli often prayed for him and was constantly offering him forgiveness. I felt bad for El because Sunday after Sunday he tried to go up to George and start conversations with him. George would always dis him and find a way to make fun of him; there were many times I almost punched him in church. Eli may be able to just let it go, but as far as I was concerned; he could drop dead.

His youngest daughter, Lindsey however, was something else all together. She was a smokin' red head graced with both intelligence and godliness. I never hung out with her in church, but we went to school together and that is how I got to know her. After a few months of talking I asked her out, knowing full well that we would have to keep it a secret from our parents. She told me what she thought about it, how she was not sure if God wanted her to do that. But with some clever words, I am good for those, I convinced her that if we went to our parents that they would never allow it. I also made sure to let her know just how interested I was in her. Eventually I won her over and we started dating. I had not regretted it once, though I wished we could have been more open with our relationship,

"Yeah I know. Mom called not too long ago a told us to stay home. She made it sound like it was a bomb threat or something." It honestly did not worry me that much at that point.

"Eno, my dad is really ticked; he says this is what he needs to finally get rid of your dad! He left here not too long ago because Mr. Strom, who lives near the church, said that he saw Liz and Pastor Kurt drive up around sixish; what could they being doing there so early? " I could tell that even though she was worried, she was also excited at the same time.

"Lins, babe, I don't know. None of this makes sense to me either," my curiosity was growing by the second, "but I am sure there is good explanation. Oh, and don't worry about all of that stuff your dad is bellowing about; he is going to need more than a prank bomb threat to remove dad."

"Eno, can you please try to speak nicely about my dad? The day will come when you will not be able to hide our relationship anymore and you will have to speak to him," What are you getting at? I wondered, "besides how can you follow Christ and hate my dad; how can you want to be with me and hate my family?"

This was not the first or the last time we would have this argument. "Look Lins, I am not going to argue with you about this. All I am saying is that your dad is bent on getting my dad canned and he will say anything and everything he can to make that happen. You cannot argue with me on that."

Lins sighed, "Yeah, I know. I just wish that you would try to get to know my dad. He is not as bad as you think he is. he is just wrong about some things. Your brother is always doing his best to show him compassion and I respect him for that. Just try to have a civil conversation, please babe?"

A pang of jealousy went through me upon hearing of Lins "respect" for my brother Eli. I let it pass though, because Eli was a good guy through and through. He is a bit naive, but he is such a good guy. "I am not my brother, Lins...I would like to see some willingness on his part before I stick my neck out like that. If he does that, then I will consider it." I felt like that a satisfactory answer.

There was silence on the other end.

"Let go of your pride, Enoch," I shuddered at her use of my overly biblical first name, "or else you will be forced to eat it."

I was about to respond when I heard someone yelling in the background; it sounded like raving lunatic tearing down the house. I knew exactly who it was: George had returned.

"Uh oh, Eno, I have to go. Dad is back and fuming about something. I will call you back once I figure out what is going on; think about what I said, babe, I love you."

I froze. You, you what? I did not know what to say and she stayed on the line expecting a response; quickly I hung up.

Ok, so I panicked. Lins had never told me that she loved me; we were an intimate couple, don't get me wrong, but we had never broached the "l-word." Lins and I had managed to keep our relationship secret for two and a half years; yes, I am that good. We had some close calls and Eli found out about us by accident. He told me that I needed to tell our parents, something I refused to do. I expected him to rat me out, but instead he promised not to tell on one condition: that I kept accountability with him about my relationship with Lins. I figured I had got out easy, all I had to do is meet once a week, away from the house, with Eli and tell him that I was not having sex with Lins. Of course, his definition of "too far" and mine were leagues apart, but it was easy to downplay Lins and I's PDA, so to win my brother's approval. Again, my brother was a good guy, butvery naive. When Lins and I went on dates, we always went out of town, way out of town and we made sure no one saw us. We have good friends who always supplied iron clad cover stories just in case our parents asked questions. We stayed in public for the most part or we made out in well lit areas; Lins would often object but I always knew just what to say. I figured that was the best way to keep from having sex, embarrassing my dad, and getting in big trouble with God.
It was fun and I enjoyed ever minute of it, until she slipped that one word on me. I just sat there with a blank look on my face

"What's up with you?"

Eli entered the room drying off his long, curly hair with a towel. Eli was skiny, but not unhealthy kid who many of the girls at school thought was cute. I had tried to hook him up (not in a sexual way) on several occasions with some of Lins' friends but he had declined all of them. It's a shame, because they all expressed heavy interest in him. His excuse for rejecting some rather hot looking females was that they were not "spiritual enough," that they did not, "take God seriously." He also expressed his concerns that they did not share his Puritanical standards on dating. I tried to explain to him that girls are not interested in approaching relationships like they did before the Civil War and that he needed loosen up. His response was always with a verse and always with a higher commitment to God. I admired him for his devotion, but deep inside I knew that if continued to be so cautious dating, that he would never find a girl and would have to settle for some cold, prude who hen-pecked him til the day he died.

I on the other hand, was the ladies man; Lins was the envy of the entire school. Now, I have to admit that I was a bit of player before I started dating Lins; I have always enjoyed the company of many ladies.
Plus, I figured if a girl is not what I want and I know it; then I should just dump her and move on. Now, most guys would get in trouble for this, but I was that blessed. So, when Lins finally came along and I saw that I wanted her; I was determined to get her. Lins was different than the other girls though, because she did not swoon over me and she let me know what she thought about me. I immediately went from just being physically attracted to being drawn to this girl, no, this woman who was telling me what she wanted from a man. So, naturally, I changed my behavior and I abandoned my old pursuits, all for this girl. I had not regretted it once and was more than happy with our relationship.

That is, until she told me she loved me. I looked at Eli, still with this blank look on my face.

"Have you heard anything new from Mom?"

Oh, uh, Mom yeah right.

"Uh, no I have not heard anything new," I was trying to calm myself down because I noticed my hands were trembling. "but, uh Lins just called and said that George went off to the church because Mr. Strom said he saw Liz and Kurt, and as we were talking, George..."

"Mr. Sinclair." Eli corrected.

"Mr. Sinclair," showing the man any respect made me burn,"came back ranting and Lins had to hang up; she said she would call back though."

Eli raised an eyebrow, "If something has been threatened against the church, then why are Ms. Liz and
Pastor Kurt there...something bigger than a bomb threat is happening." Eli sat down still toweling off his curly, frizzy hair before slipping on an American Eagle t-shirt.

I nodded, "Yeah, something is up Eli; something is fishy about all of this. Makes we want to go down to church."

Eli frowned, "No way man, Mom asked us to stay home and that is what we should do. Whatever is going on, Dad has it handled, no need to put ourselves at risk."

Eli was also not very adventurous; he was a good conversationalist, but not much else. I figured that even he did manage to start dating a chick, she would lose interest quickly because he was so boring. I was all about the adrenaline rush and adventure; and he was all about reading about it in books. It did not surprise me then, that Eli wanted to be boring and do exactly what our parents wanted him to do. I did not want to stay safe; I wanted to find out what was going on, risk or no risk.

I kind of half way shrugged and my phone rang; I glanced at the time it was 7:21; Lins was calling me back.

"Hello? Lins? Whoa slow down..."

Lins began to relay to meet what her father had been ranting about. Apparently Liz and Kurt were in the process of shredding documents and gutting our computers, when George walked in and tried to stop them. They refused and then Julio, our worship pastor, and Chris, our youth pastor, arrived and sided with them. George then stormed out of the church, came home long enough to call the deacons and the police, and then stormed out of the house back towards the church.

I really did not know what to say, I mouthed some of what Lins was saying to Eli and he just shook his head as if he did not understand. If all of this were true, then there was something of major importance about to take place...and I was not going to miss it.

"Lins, babe, I don't know what is going on, but listen: meet me down at the gas station across from the church around 7:45; we will park there and sneak into the woods by the the main sanctuary so we can get a good view." At hearing this Eli was shaking his head repeatedly and making exaggerated disapproving motions with his hands. I just rolled eyes and continued, "Don't worry about what is happening; I am sure it will work itself out."

"Ok, Eno...I will try not to think to much about it. But are sure we should get anywhere near the church?"
"Babe, do you really want to be kept in the dark about what is going on? It will be exciting; we won't get close enough to church to ever be in danger; I promise you that." Eli was turning red and glaring at me; I ignored him.

"Ok I believe you; hey uh, Eno?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"You didn't respond earlier..."

Uh oh.

"Didn't respond to what Lins?"

She inhaled loudly and I knew I was in trouble; "You know what Eno; what I said to you, you just hung up!"

I was trapped; I still did not have an answer.

"Hey I gotta go, Elijah is calling about something; cya soon babe!" Eli looked at me confused as I hung up the phone.

Why can't you just tell her that it scared you a little? You know that most guys have commitment issues!

"We are not going to church, Eno." Eli's tone was firm and left no room for wiggling; that is when got on my nerve the most, when he as my younger brother tried to put his foot down and be dad...otherwise we got a long fine most of the time. "We are definitely not going to put Lindsey in danger! We don't know what is going on!" His concern for Lins was admirable and yet odd all at the same time.

"Eli, I am not going to argue with you. You can stay here is you want, but I have to figure out what is happening to our church. According to Lins, they are shredding rolls and taking hard drives out of the computers...something is just not right about all of this. Think of it like one of those adventures you read about in books, but you are actually a part."

Eli raised his eyes, "Yeah I know, that is why we need to listen to Mom and stay at home. If you go down to the church or even near the church, you could be putting yourself and Lindsey in danger. Do you want it on your conscience that you let her get hurt?"

"Eli, she told me she loved me."

I did not know why I just blurted it out. It took a minute for it hit Eli full force; his initial reaction was as if I had hit him with one of my tennis rackets, but it changed into an expression of shock. It was a strange reaction from him to say the least.

"Wow man, what did you say?"

"Well, that's just it. I didn't. I did not know what to say; I was paralyzed. So, I hung up on her twice."
Eli looked at me in disbelief, "You hung up on her? She tells you that she loves you and you hang up on her?" He seemed about ready to let me have it but instead backed off, "Do you love her?" Eli's question caught me off guard. Did I love Lins? I still did not have an answered that satisfied me much less anyone else. I mean I could have loved Lins; I mean why wouldn't I love her? Yet the words, the conviction just could not come out of my mouth/

"Eli man, I don't really..."

"Because if you don't," Eli took a pause, "then you need to let her go, Eno. You and I both know it is the right thing to do. God does not want you dating someone you never intend to marry; whom you never intend to love."

His answer was so cold and matter of fact that it caught me of guard; who did he think he was anyway? Didn't he have compassion on me, his brother, who was caught between chaos and crazy? I mean how many girls had told him that they loved him?

"I was to scared and confused to answer right then, I am not sure what I should say about all of that. I need time to think." And pray, I thought to myself.

"Well, why didn't you tell her that? Don't leave her hanging, Eno, she has put a lot on line to date you. If her dad ever finds out before the right time, he will end your relationship. So, you owe it to her to step up or back out." Eli looked at me concerned but firm in his conviction; he was not budging.

"Dude, just let me pray on it and think about it some more and maybe I will have something. Right now, I am confused and it is not exactly the best of time."

Eli nodded, "Ok, but don't take too long. You need to come up with more than just "something.""
I made a face and then moved to get up.

"You aren't still going to church, are you?" there was an accusation to his tone as if he would rat me out if I did.

"Yeah, I am still going to church. Like I said, you stay home if you want, but I am going."I gave him a stubborn look that voiced by impulsiveness.

He shook his head disapprovingly, "I am coming; the reason I am coming is to make sure you don't do anything beyond just watching the church. I will not let Lindsey get harmed by your recklessness." The way he said that put me in unease; it conveyed too much feeling for just protecting an innocent bystander.

My brother is not telling me something.

"Ok, sure but hurry up; it's 7:40 and I have five minutes to get to the gas station before I make Lins even angrier." Eli nodded and ran of to get his shoes.

I should have been more concerned about the events at church, but instead Lins' words hovered over me and made my headache. She loved me; Lindsey Sinclair loved me, and all I could do was hang up the phone. I felt bad that I could not just echo her words, but I was afraid and I was unsure...I was in crisis. I had always considered myself a lucky (or blessed) guy for having Lins, because she is what every red-blooded male wants in a girl; but I had overlooked the fact that one day she would confront me with those words and I would have to make a decision, a commitment.

And I was not ready to make a commitment.

"Ok, I am ready. Let's go and make sure we pray on the way." Eli sounded stressed and worried all of a sudden; I could also tell he was avoiding my eyes.

"So, we are going to ask God to bless the disobeying of our parents and possibly getting Lins in danger?" It was an honest quesiton, because it did not seem right to pray for God's help when you were probably not doing what he would want you to do.

"Yeah, I am praying anyway...maybe he will have mercy on our stupid selves."

I nodded and backed out onto the driveway, onto whatever awaited us that morning.

We should have stayed home.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 6:21 am


My phone continued to get louder and louder, a setting I really began to resent with a passion. What the hell...who would be calling me at...I looked over at the boxer-covered alarm clock and saw that is was 6:21 am. It was 6:21 am on a Sunday, normally the most boring and chill day of the week.
My head felt like what I had always imagined a Medieval blacksmith shop sounded: metal on metal with sharp scrapings. The metal on metal was the sound reverberating in my head and the scraping caused by the many beers I had the night before. I wanted to go and make myself permanently acquainted with my toilet. Yet, my phone would not stop ringing/beeping and so I had to go deal with it first.

I got out of bed and immediately the room pulsated. Ugh, when am I going to learn? I looked around for Amber, Jennifer, Chelsea or whatever her name was whom I had shared a bed with; wherever it was I spent the night. Good, it will make it easier to escape if the phone does not draw her out wherever she is hiding. I saw a note on the pillow and twinged when I recalled how many movies I had seen where some guy had left a note before the girl woke up. It was intriguing to see a sort of a role reversal. I'll take a look at this in a moment, I thought as I stumbled to my phone.


"Hey Church, its Barney; did I wake you?"

Oh c'mon Barney it is Sunday freaking morning what do you think?

"Nah, I was just waking up Barn, what's up? Is something wrong?"

"Is something wrong? Heck yeah, there's something wrong! Chuck, I got a huge story for you; you are just never going to believe it."

Suddenly my hangover was converted into an adrenaline rush; I had been looking for a big story to help me get noticed with some of the major networks. I did reporting for the local paper but I had always wanted a shot at broadcast journalism. Tom Brokaw was my favorite anchor from my media studies when I was pursuing my journalism degree in college. I had graduated Suma Cum Laude, but still had not be able to find a job in broadcast journalism. Instead, I had to settle for a pitiful job at some local paper where most of my story suggestions were ignored and assignments given to other reporters.

Barney was one of my informants, but he was not a particularly good one, often giving me crap to work with. Like the time he told me about a supposed sex scandal in the Mayor's office which turned out to be visits from the Mayor's publicly unacknowledged daughter. Yet, something about his tone suggested to me that he had stumbled onto something big. Needless to say, I was very interested.

"What is it Barn, what do you have for me?"

"Well, Chuck it has to do with some churches..."

Churches? What was he talking about?

"What do you mean churches? Are we talking about some sort of sex scandal? Some Christian leader in town say a racist remark publicly? Some church get caught endorsing a candidate? What are we discussing?"

"No, no man, its nothing like that. Look, I just got a call from a friend who said that several pastors of some rather prominent evangelical churches got text messages talking about a new Executive Order, I wrote it down here..." I heard him shuffling with some papers, "Oh yeah, here we go, Executive Order 16661 and they were warned by the same number not to go to their churches today. The number is a blocked or restricted number, so there are no details on who sent it."

This is what you woke me up for Barney. My hangover was coming back with full force and I was beginning to think about tossing my cell phone out the window. Why did Barney think a kid's prank was a huge story? Some hackers could have easily accumulated all of these numbers and decided to bring the churches to a halt for a Sunday. I would find it pretty hilarious if I were involved with something like that, never being a fan of organized religion.

"Barney, are you, this has got to be the worst tip you have ever given me...Are any of these churches even taking this seriously?"

"I mean, I don't know yet, its too early to say. Churches early services normally don't start till like eight unless there is a sunrise service. But you might find this interesting; according to my friend the churches that were contacted were the churches that signed the Church Transformation Pact a week ago."

The Church Transformation Pact was signed by a bunch of evangelical church leaders who wanted to declare their common solidarity on many issues that affect how people in our country live. I thought it was going to be another Christian hate document talking about hating abortion (and the people involved) and hating homosexuals. However, I was surprised to see that it was more of declaration of action and goodwill rather than another banner of hatred. There were still the appeals to orthodoxy, but who cares as long as they benefit everyone and start the work of bringing more people together. If there was a good purpose for organized religion, I guess that would be the big one.

"That is interesting, Barn, but don't you think that makes the likelihood that this is a hoax increase?"
Barney paused on the other side of the line.

"No, Chuck I think this is for real. Something in my gut says something is going to happen to these churches."

"But Barn, an Executive Order is from the President? The President is a Republican and a..."

"Yeah, a Christian, I know. It does not sound right out all, but my gut Chuck, tells me it is."

The President of the United States was Nathan Cartwright, the former governor from the state of Oklahoma and a favorite on the list of many Right-wingers. Since the fall-out from the "Verona experiment" the right-wing Republicans had pretty much controlled the country. They were elected by angry individuals who did not know who the Founding Fathers were or what the Constitution says; they simply wanted another change and they fell for the rhetoric. Despite valiant efforts by Moderate Democrats and even some independents, we had been unable to remove the Republicans from power and they were slowly starving all of our government programs except defense and homeland security, but we needed those after Muslim, religious extremists nuked the city of San Francisco about ten years ago. We were all too willing to be more safe. Still, President Cartwright was a Pentecostal reared Christian who referred to God more than any other president; it did not make any sense for him to act against the churches; especially evangelical ones.

Considering all of that, I was not about to go with Barney's gut; I could not go to my boss with a text message. I needed to have something more to go on or I would be laughed out of the office and possibly out of the job. As much as this would be a curiosity and perhaps grab a back page spot, it was not front page news.

"Barney, thanks for the call but I need something more." Anything more...

"Well, if you want to see if there is anything to it, Chuck, there is one of those churches about 15 min outside of downtown; the event, whatever it is, is supposed to start at 8 am. If I am wrong, then no harm. If I am right, I just made you star, and don't you forget it either."

I copied down the church's address from Barney. It was probably going to be a bust and a waste of gas, but I did not have anything else to do and I needed to escape from this house before its mistress reappeared and tried to convince me to become her life partner.

"Thanks Barney, I will check it out. Take care." I hung up the phone, spun around and began gathering my things, fishing for my pants and going on a hunt for my shirt. I found my shoes and laced them up real quick then went over to look at the note on the mystery woman's side of the bed.

It read:

Dear Charlie,

Thanks for a fantastic evening; I had a great time with you. I got called into work and had to leave before you woke up. There is some cereal in the kitchen and milk/juice in the fridge. If you touch anything else, I will know it; you won't want to find out what will happen to you if you do, trust me on that. Once you have eaten, please lock up and see yourself out.



Celia, that was her name! My head still ached and I was grateful that she had left me something to eat. I went down the stairs of a pretty modest, but not cramped house to the kitchen where I found the cereal and milk and poured myself some juice. There was a Sunday paper on the bar and I almost went for it when I remembered Celia's ominous warning in her letter. Wisely, I decided to just eat, drink, and stare.
Once, I had finished I found my way to the front door, locked it up, and was about to shut it, when I realized that I did not have Celia's phone number. Whoa Chuck, why do you want her number, just get out of there!However, I went over to the phone and scrolled to menu that told you the home number and I even found her cell number. For some reason, Celia's chauvinistic approach of getting rid of a one-night-stand was intriguing and I suddenly want to get together with this woman again and not for sex; ok, for more than sex. I could not believe I was putting her number in my phone, pretty sure that I would be using them.


By the tone of her note, I would probably have to reckon with this later, but for now I would live with it.Crazy, I thought as I passed the wall clock that read 6:46 am. I walked out the door, making sure it was locked and casually strolled out to my Honda Civic. I was walking down the walk when I noticed an old couple out enjoying the morning and staring at me, shaking their heads disapprovingly.

Go inside you old prunes; when was the last time you two were intimate?

Then an awful image filled my mind and I quickly brought my thoughts back to the task at hand. If the event was supposed to happen at 8 am, I had time to stop by Starbucks and get some coffee to help wake me up and get rid of the last vestiges of my headache, and I had to time to scope out an ideal location to observe the church. I did not want to actually go to the church, just in case there was actually something to this text message.

None of this makes any sense, but if it is true, I owe Barney...and I managed to grab Celia's numbers.

I had no idea why that thrilled me so much, but it did and I made sure I smiled out at the two old foggies as I left.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 6:01 am

I grabbed my purse, my keys, and a coke real quickly and made a dash out the door; I didn't even tell my husband Dave what was going on. The call from Katherine, Pastor Neil's wife, had shaken me to the core, not because of anything she said; on a normal day I would have laughed at her and called her ridiculous. No, what really freaked me out is that that same evening I had wretched nightmares.

They were all about something happening to the church.
I jumped in my eight year old Toyota Camry, threw it in reverse, and floored it out of my driveway, hitting my mail box in the process and I am sure waking half the neighborhood. Oh well, I never really liked that ugly mailbox anyway (I had secret fantasies of blowing up that doo-doo brown eye sore). Tires squealed as I pealed onto the street doing about 50 in a 25 zone and giving poor ole Mr. Landers a heart attack as he jumped out of the way on his morning jog.

The orders were clear: get to the church, shred everything possible, and make sure to take out all of the hard disks that contained the church's sensitive information. I am not one for potentially destroying all forms of church organization and function (I typed up all that info for goodness sake), but I was confident that my dreams last night, and that really strange text message this morning meant the same thing. If you would have asked me to prove it I could not have, but it was one of those feelings that God gives you to get off your fanny and do something.

I was on the interstate now; speed reaching a shocking 100 mph. Thank our good Lord that there were not any people out on the road, else I would have sent them (and me) barreling into eternity. As I was nearing the exit, my phone rang. I picked it up and read the name:

Kurt Armstrong

Kurt was the Administration pastor for the church and he had been the one to support the hiring of Pastor Neil amidst serious opposition to him by some of the older folks in the church. Kurt believed in Pastor Neil and the things that God was saying and doing through him. I knew why Kurt was calling me and I had already prepared my answer.

"Hello, Kurt." I said not without stress and irritation.

"Liz, tell me you are not going down to the church to destroy our records..." Kurt's voice was strained and every syllable accentuated worry and some resentment.

"Kurt, I cannot explain to you why I think Pastor Neil has not flown the coop, I just know that there is something to this and I have to get our information away from that building."

Silence on the other end of the line.

"Liz, I think the whole freaking church has gone mad this morning," he paused breathing deeply, "Do you realize what is going to happen with when brother George hears about this? He will have both Neil, you, and me thrown out on our rears. I took a major hit for Neil when he first came on staff; this is just too much, Liz." he seemed so stressed that he was on the verge of tears.

I looked down at the clock: 6:21.

"Liz, I...please tell me you are not going to destroy our information; promise me that you will just take the disk. It is going to be hard enough to reprint the roles when we figure out that..."

"Kurt," I had to explain this as delicately as possible, "I had dreams last night that had to do with something awful happening to the church..." I could not believe I was telling him this, "...I think that God warned me about this; it is too complicated to explain over the phone..." he was silent and I was nervous, " I am asking you to please trust me."

Kurt breathed heavy on the other end and then almost screamed into the phone:

"We are supposed to stop the whole church because of a text message and now someone's bad dreams!?" he was literally about to lose it over the phone. "Liz, do what you have to, but I hope that you understand that we are all going down for this."

"Kurt, I..."

But before I could finish my thought I ran right by a sitting police car; there was a cop in it. I said words I would not normally say looking down at my speedometer which to my horror said 70 mph (the speed limit was 40). I just knew that I was going to get pulled over and that I was going to get arrested. I prayed a really quick, really desperate prayer to God and braced myself...

Nothing happened.

I looked in the rear view mirror to stare mystified at an empty road; no police were in pursuit; no lights and no blaring sirens. I had myself a little hallelujah worship service for about five minutes till I finally arrived at our empty church parking lot. To my surprise Kurt was already there and I could tell that he intended to stop me from going into the church.

I lurched into the handicap spot by the dorm, shoved the gear into park, and literally vaulted out of the car up to the office entrance, keys in hand. Kurt recognized me and began to rush to intercept me, there was no avoiding the collision and I was wondering if I would have to fight dirty to get in the church.

"Kurt, I don't have time for this; according to Katherine, Pastor Neil said that whatever is going to happen st eight, so you need to get out of the way and let me take care of this."

Kurt looked intense, but he fished out his own keys and opened the door. "Liz, I am here to make sure we can save as much of the data as possible and to try to head off anyone who may get the idea to try to come down here and stop whatever is going on."

This was a definite surprise; especially since his entire demeanor screamed that he would rather tell me to go home and forget any of this every happened. I was glad he was willing to help, but he was still furious and aggravated with me.

Kurt opened the office doors and we all but ran down the hall toward my office.

"If you are here, Kurt, who is making all the calls to the leaders of our church?" I was not trying to accusatory but that is what Pastor Neil had asked him to do and he was here instead.

"Lorraine is taking care of it right; she knows how to deal with some of the seedier folks..." Kurt's emotions were getting to him, "Besides, I need to make sure you do only what is necessary and that you don't encounter the wrong people while doing it."

We turned toward my office and I unlocked the door; the first task was to shred all of the paper copies of our rolls; it was a good thing that I insisted on them being in my office. I immediately grabbed whole stack and ran off down to the office shredder, Kurt right behind me. I was half way through the first stack when my phone rang.

It was David.

"Kurt, I need you talk to David for me, I am way too busy to talk to him right now." I handed Kurt the phone and he answered. "Hello, David its Kurt..." Then he walked around the corner to his office explaining the situation to Dave. While Kurt was talking to David a managed to finish shredding the first stack of rolls. Even though our office was equipped with a quality shredding device (upon my insistence), it still took several precious minutes to take care of the first stack.

I ran back down to the office to grab the next stacks. If you are wondering how I managed to heft massive stacks of paper it simply goes back to my "wonder woman" days working for UPS making parcel deliveries. I had always been a strong woman, but that job gave more muscles than a lot of the guys I dated. I actually met Dave while out on one of my deliveries. He was a floor manager at a Best Buy where we both went to school. We fell in love, switched careers and cities, and ended up here. I still was rigorous about keeping up my strength.

So, I lifted another stack, was on my way out the door, when in my path was Brother George Sinclair.
Brother George was an older gentleman who refused to use nicknames; he called you by your first full name, I guess he figured his seniority gave him the right. Despite his age, Brother George was strong and had an ostentatious bearing that made it hard to stand him, unless of course you were his type. He also had a demanding, unyielding attitude that caused people to give him what he wants. Despite Pastor Neil's efforts, Brother George remained the head deacon, always criticizing and making life difficult for our young pastor. There he stood, brooding at me from his haggard, stretched face.

"Elizabeth, just what the hell are you doing with our church rolls?" Brother George's voice was menacing and he seemed like he was more than willing to do physical harm.

"Brother George, I don't have time to explain..."

"You had better have time to explain!" Brother George was just as angry as Kurt, but at that moment I wanted Kurt back in there; they could dispense with each other while I took care of my God-given task. "I want you to know I am going to have this entire staff axed. The calls I have been receiving this morning have been simply outrageous! All of this nonsense occurring because our idiot pastor got pranked on his cell phone? A text message? You expect us to shut down the whole church, over some zit-faced teenagers idea of a joke?"

I was not about to explain my dreams to Brother George; it would just make things worse. "Brother George, you don't understand..."

"No, you don't understand Elizabeth; you are gonna march those rolls back into your office and then you are going to reprint the ones you shredded," he paused glowering, "And then, you are going to hand over your keys to this office and you are going to go home. Are we clear Ms. Browning?" Brother George was not going to move and it was clear that he was going to make me do as he wished.

"Brother George, you need to get out of Liz's way." Kurt's voice was a welcome relief and I backtracked toward the sound of his voice. Kurt had emerged from his office and was now visibly trembling at having to deal with Brother George at this stressful moment.

Upon hearing Kurt's voice, Brother George's temper came out, "Kurt, just what the hell are you letting happen in our church? Have you lost your mind?"

Kurt was firm but shaking, "Brother George; I think that the threat is credible. Pastor told me that his friend Derrick Mason, also a pastor in another state received a similar message," Kurt was clearly uncomfortable with having to relay this information. "Based on that and other things," he glanced at me, "I think it is wise if just take this seriously in best interest of the church."

Brother George stared at Kurt like he was stupid or more accurately retarded, "Have you not heard of teenage pranksters with access to the internet?" his reply was very snide, "Kurt, you have more sense than to listen to this crap, or maybe you don't," Brother George was going for the kill, "you helped get that idiot in here as I recall."

Kurt stood his ground but I could tell he was having trouble defending Pastor Neil. He wanted to agree with Brother George; he wanted out of this mess. Yet, as he did before, Kurt stood on principle.

"George, go home. We will take care of this. The staff, elders, and deacons have been informed. I am asking you to trust me..."

"Trust you?" the words were more of an accusation than a question, "Really, Kurt; you want me to trust you? You are the main reason that that man got in here in the first place! What are you going to let him do next, permanently close down the church building? Or perhaps you will let him install a coffee shop in the sanctuary so he can hold all of his "new-age discussions?"

Pastor Neil believed strongly in reaching people with spiritual, but not Christian inclinations. He would go to local coffee shops and enter respectful discussions with pagans, Wiccans, Muslims, Jews, and other various groups of spiritually-minded people. He was rather well received and people loved to talk with him and Katherine. However, such outreach "techniques" made him the enemy of the more conservative, traditional establishment who would rather him stick to teaching hellfire and condemnation on those who don't believe. Pastor Neil believed in Christ as the only way and he believed in hell; but he did not dwell on hell and he believed the best way to show that Jesus was the only way was to demonstrate it.
Kurt, despite his support for Pastor Neil, was not a fan of these discussion sessions.

"Look, Brother George, that would never happen and it is totally besides the point. The point is that the church could be in danger and we are not just going to sit back and watch." That was Kurt's final say on the matter.

Brother George's face was flushing red; as red as the tomatoes I used in my stew last night.

"I had hoped that you would see reason, Kurt." he showed mock disappointment, "But since you can't I am here to inform you that I have secured emergency powers by a majority vote of the deacon board." His eyes gleamed with triumph as he said it. "As of this moment, this church and all of its facilities are under my supervision and oversight." What he meant was "control" but he was careful not to say it. "You and 
Elizabeth are to turn in your keys to me right now and you are not to come back to this office, pending investigation."

Kurt's face turned the same shade as Brother George's and it looked as if the two were going to square off, but just when it looked like they would fight, Christ Arndts and Julio Hernandez; the Youth and Worship pastors came into the office. I was glad to see them; if they could get Brother George to leave we could borrow some time.

"Brother George, did you come to help us take care of the church info?" Chris' question was innocent but I saw Julio roll his eyes at his naivety.

Brother George started but recovered, "No, Chris I have come to take care of this fiasco by making sure that everything stays where it is. Whatever, you two came to do, I want you to go on home and not worry about it. The deacon board has given me the authority to deal with all of this bull-hockey; so see yourselves out of here."

Julio spoke up, "George, go home. You know the church constitution does not allow the deacon board to choose a dictator from their ranks even in a crisis. Pastor Neil would be here doing this himself if he were not on vacation so I am asking you nicely to leave and let us take care of this." Julio never liked Brother George and had to deal with his subtly racists remarks ever since joining the staff.

"Well, look here Sancho Panza, I don't need you telling me what I can or cannot do, so unless you want out of here faster than speedy Gonzales after cheese and back working in the fields, I'd suggest you go home." Brother George just could not help needling Julio being Hispanic.

Rage flared on Julio's face and Chris had a confused expression. Finally, Kurt spoke up, "George, you either get out of the way or we will get you out of the way; either way we are going to finish what we have come to do and we will accept the consequences for it later." Kurt was now getting up some nerve with two other staff members present.

"Is that a threat, Kurt?" George demanded in soft, menacing tone.

Kurt refused to answer; his face was iron and Julio and even Chris soon joined him in opposition to Brother George. Brother George faltered, suddenly looking scared and began to back out toward the side exit. "All of you are going down for this! Every last one of you! I am going all right, but when I come back it will be with the people in this church who still have sense in their skulls! I might even bring, oh I don't know, the police!"

George stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind him.

Everyone collectively sighed but Kurt said quickly, "Ok, that means we have even less time than I thought we we were going to have. Liz knows what to do, ask her about what needs to be done. I will be in my office trying to make some calls." Kurt then walked quickly back into his office.

"Ok, guys we need to get all of the hard drives, zip drives, and flash drives, plus any DVD/CD that may have information about church members information. We don't need to destroy these we just need to make sure they get out of here."

Julio and Christ both nodded and began going to work. I picked up the stack of rolls and once again marched toward the shredder. I tried not to think about trying to explain to David all that was happening; he would understand, of course, but it still was not easy to tell your husband you just lost your job over dreams and a text message (let's not forget the mailbox). I shredded as fast as I could hefting stack after stack of rolls. Finally, I shredded the last stack and headed to Kurt's office. Kurt sat at his desk, his head buried in his hands, he looked five years older in a matter of hours.

"Kurt, the shredding is done. Are you going to be ok?"

Kurt, looked up it was evident that he been crying, "No, I will not be ok, Liz. I had about a hundred voicemails on my phone. Everybody thinks I have gone crazy, there is even a group of folks countering Lorraine's calls saying that church is still happening as normal." Kurt once again put his head in his hands, "Liz, if Neil is wrong, we are all out of our jobs and I will have lost a church home I have had for 20 years, all over a stupid text message." He seemed so discouraged and I wanted to hug him, but that was inappropriate even in crisis.

"I have a feeling that it is not even going to matter; if this is as serious as Pastor Neil says it is, then we may not have our jobs or a church anyway."

Kurt stared out the window, "What is going on? There no answers! There are weird text messages and freaky dreams but no answers." We sat in silent for awhile before I asked about my husband.

"What did David say?" I asked kind of timidly.

Kurt's faced turned white, "Liz, he had the same kind of dreams you did. He called Pastor Neil about it and Pastor Neil told him what was going on. Liz, there is something not right with all of this..." Kurt now visibly started to cry and the urge to hug him had to again be fought off.

After a few minutes of both of us crying, Julio came into the office he looked exhausted but accomplished. "I think we got everything Kurt; we need to get out of here before George comes back."

Kurt nodded and we both immediately got up. I grabbed all of my things and Kurt handed me back my cellphone. All four of us walked out of the office doors to the outside. When we reached the parking lot Julio laid a hand on Kurt's shoulder and said, "The staff is in full support of Pastor Neil, we are all meeting at the Cracker Barrel in twenty minutes to discuss what steps we may need to take next. Liz, you are invited as well." With that he and Chris both ran to their cars and I carefully placed the box containing all of church's electronic information in my trunk. Once I was in my car, Kurt sped off to join the other two. I followed suit and opened my cellphone to call David.

"Hey sweet heart, are you ok?"

It was so good to hear his voice, "Yeah I am fine. The church staff is meeting at Cracker Barrel in 20 min." I looked at the clock and saw that it was 7:10.

"Ok, I will meet you there. Love you."

I leaned my head back on the seat and just drove.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Executive Order 16661: 5:23 am

I woke up bleary eyed and kind of dazed; it was Sunday morning and the clock registered in at 5:23 am. I looked over at my wife Katherine, who was fast asleep and completely oblivious to the blaring sound that meant I had a text message in my inbox.

Who would be texting me at 5:30 in the morning?

I rolled out of bed, dragging myself to the dresser like one of those cavemen in the Smithsonian; grunting and making stiff robot-like movements. This had better be important. I reached over and picked up the phone letting it flash to life nearly blinding my still sleep-heavy eyes. I squinted a little and tried to read the identity of the person who destroyed my slumber.
It was a blocked number.

Great, some kid thought it was funny to randomly prank call me on Sunday morning...

I almost deleted the message; I thank God that I changed my mind. There was just a compulsion, something I had felt only a few other times in my life; a compulsion that came before big moments. So, recognizing that this may just be some really odd bit of divine providence, I opened the message:

"Executive Order 16661 has been issued. Do not go to church this morning; if you do they will have you."

I could not believe what I was reading; what was this person talking about? Executive Orders were "laws" issued by the President of the United States, and what was with the creepy number, 16661? It was not exactly the famed Revelation "number of the Beast," but it was too close for comfort. Who was this? Why was he/she warning me about this? How did he/she know about this?

I was visibly shaken, my mind went numb and I could not think straight. I was a pastor of a rather large church, but I was out of town on vacation and staying at a hotel not too far away from the church Katherine and I had planned to go to that morning. I was suddenly afraid, not so much for Katherine and I, but for our congregation...for many congregations. I had to know what was going on...the way only to find out was to text the number back:

Excuse me, sir or m'am, if this is a joke it is not hilarious or funny. I am pastor of a large church and I do not at all find this amusing, so I demand to know who you are and what you are talking about.
I sent the text and waited. I waited for what seemed like hours; there was no reply. I almost gave up in exasperation when my phone lit up; the same blocked number.

It is not safe for either of us for you to know who I am; this is not a joke. If you value your congregants you will begin calling them and telling them to stay home. Also, you will spread the word to as many pastors as you know and you will have whoever is...

The next text came: charge of your church's records to delete your membership roles and shred the paper copies. They need to do so now and be gone before 8 am, that is when they will be coming. I need you to trust me and do what I ask. Do not text this number again.

I was too numb to really think, but I shrugged out of it by the grace of God and ran over to the bed, shaking Katherine awake.

"Wha...Neil, what's wrong? Is everything all right?"

I tried not to break down in a panic; it was insane but something told me this was no hoax and that we were all in danger.

"Katherine, I need you to do what I ask and ask questions later, can you do that?" Katherine nodded, but fear and concern began to etch across her beautiful face. I continued, "I need you to call Liz and tell her to shred the church Sunday school records and take the hard drives, jump drives, and flash disks out of the office. I also need you to call the kids and tell them they are not to go to church today; that is not a request but an order."

Katherine eyes lit up in terror and she formed words on her mouth, but did not say them. Instead, she ran and grabbed her phone and began dialing numbers. I knew I could not call everyone in the church, but I could text all of my staff, elders, and deacons and then try to call as many as I could. They were never going to believe me; they were going to think I was insane. I opened up my contact lists and began going through the names when the phone rang.


"Neil, hey its Derrick Mason...I am sorry to wake you up so early but I am freaked out."

Derrick Mason was a pastor friend of mine with a nice size church as well; we had met at a pastors' conference in Atlanta and had connected almost instantly. We would call each other all the time to see how each of us was doing, to discuss theology/church trends, and to pray for one another. I had even had him speak at the church on several occasions.

"What about Derrick?" but somehow I knew what he was going to say.

"Neil, this is crazy, but I got this text this morning..."

"About Executive Order 16661? Yeah, I got the same text, man. I am as freaked out as your are."

"Neil, I am sorry, but what the hell is going on? I am not sure what to do about this..."

"Derrick," I was trying not to lose it, "I think this is serious. I was told to shred and get rid of all of my church records. Also, I was told to tell as many congregants as I can to stay home." It pained me that I had not been able to text my leaders because of Derrick's call.

"I don't know, Neil...what if this is some kind of weird joke? Who knows who is behind it; it could even be an attack of Satan..."

I wanted to comfort Derrick and I wanted him to be right...but at the moment I needed to entrust him to God and call my congregants.

"Look, Derrick. You have to do what you think God is telling you to do. I hate to just drop you but I have people to call; I will talk to you soon."

I would not normally hang up on a friend, but I felt an enormous responsibility to text my elders. I went down the list making sure to get every pastor, elder, and deacon on the message. Once I was sure

I had everyone I wrote:

There is no time to explain; please see this as something that is out of the ordinary and as an emergency. I need you to contact as many people in our church as you know; get your care group leaders in on it too, and tell them not to come to church this morning. I know you have many questions, but please I believe this is from the Lord and I will explain myself later. Just don't go to church this morning. I will keep in touch.

I sent the message and exhaled; the clock on my phones said 6:01 am.

"Neil, Liz said that she has no idea what kind of madness is going on, but she also has the same foreboding you do. She has ran down to the church to take care of the shredding and to get the hard disks. The kids promised me they will not got to church; now you need to tell me what is going on."

I was about to explain when the phone rang.


"Pastor, its Kurt what's going on? Seriously, I have my wife frantically calling people telling them not to come to church. There had better be a good explanation for this."

I knew I could not explain to every single person what was going on, but maybe telling Kurt would get the message to everyone and to Katherine who was still waiting for me.

"Kurt, Derrick Mason and I both received messages from a blocked number talking about some Executive Order and how we needed to stay away from church; I was also told that I needed to destroy the church's records or at least take them out of the building itself. I do not know who sent it or why, but I need you to trust my intuition and discernment on this."

There was silence on the other end. Then Kurt raised his voice,

"Pastor, no offense, but how the heck do you know this not just some really bad joke. How do you know that it is not somebody trying to frighten people from attending church? You expect me to just accept something you relayed from a text message with a blocked number? Am I hearing this right?"

Kurt was angry and confused, even a bit irritated. He could be right; it could all be a huge hoax. If so, I was willing to take the heat for it; I was responsible for the spiritual and now the physical well-being of my congregation, so if it meant me getting fired, so be it, but I was not going to purposely put my congregation in danger.

"Kurt, if this is a terrible mistake, I will take the blame...but I am begging you to trust me on this and to be my spokesperson to the rest of the men. I cannot talk to all of them and I have to text some of our fellow churches to warn them...please let all of the staff and leaders know that you will be the contact."

"Pastor, this is either the most foolish thing you have ever done or a message from God himself. Ok, I will take the calls and the heat, but if this is just some stupid prank, the buck falls on you sir."

And with that Kurt hung up. Katherine was lying on the bed, looking at me with an unreadable expression; I had hoped she had been listening.

"Neil, it is not like you to do something like this...that is what really has me worried. What is going to happen today?"

I loved her more than she could imagine at that moment, she was priceless to me and I went over to hug her just for a moment, so that I could let her know it was all going to be ok. I held her and she started crying and I kissed her head.

"I don't know babe, I don't know...but whatever it is God will take care of it. But right now, I have to warn the other pastors in our community, they need to know about this."

"What if you are wrong?" it was more of a hope than an accusation.

"Then we have nothing to worry about; I have a feeling though that there is more to this than a text message...God help us if it is true. There is no telling what Executive Order 16661 is."

Katherine leaned back against the bedpost and stared out into the sunrise; I began dialing numbers.