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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.



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