Through a Mirror Dimly
The Pastor sat alone in his study, listening to the pounding rain and fuming with anger over Curtis—righteous anger. In a queer sort of way, he did not want it to subside too quickly. The young fool! he thought, pounding his fist on the desk top. This ministry could be his someday! But he’ll just throw it all away by marrying that divorced woman!
He got up from his desk and paced the floor, his mind deep in thought. He had long been concerned over the changing values of younger generations. He considered most of today’s youth irreligious, humanistic and narcissistic. He knew of pastors who were spiritually prostituting themselves by compromising the scriptures in order to please their spiritually immature congregations. “Ear-ticklers!” he called them out loud. “Purveyors of fluff for bucks, that’s whet they are! Dream merchants who peddle a sugarcoated gospel of peace and prosperity and personal pleasures! Whatever happened to consecration, sacrifice and obedience?”
In his mind, he was and always would be a staunch defender of the faith. His reputation hinged on his unquestioning belief that the Bible was inspired by God. He considered his exegesis of scripture to be of the highest intellectual, academic, and theological integrity.
He returned to his chair and propped up his feet on the desk He reached over and turned on the radio, hoping that some Christian music would soothe and inspire him while he worked on his sermon. And it would help drown out the dreary and monotonous patter of falling rain. Even with the music, it took several more minutes for the Pastor’s anger to subside.
Thinking of Curtis brought to mind memories of his nephew’s parents, Michael and Shirley. Curtis was only a totter at the time it happened. His mother was Amanda’s younger sister, and Michael was fresh out of seminary and a member of the Pastor’s staff. On top of that, Michael was the Pastor’s protégé. What high hopes he had had for Michael’s career. But Michael had a mind of his own, and over the Pastor’s protests became an Army chaplain. He was in Vietnam little more than a month when word was received that he had been killed in a Viet Cong mortar attack. Six months after Michael’s death, his distraught wife took an overdose of sleeping pills.
Why, God, why? the Pastor still questioned after so many years.
Little Curtis was only two years old, orphaned and left to be cared for by Aunt Amanda and Uncle Desmond, who were childless. Amanda insisted they adopt Curtis. It was unthinkable to allow him placed in a foster home. She loved Curtis and raised him as her own son. In a short time he was calling her “Mother,” which greatly pleased her. But the Pastor continued to think of the boy as his nephew. He was adamant that Curtis address him as “Pastor” or “Uncle.”
As Curtis grew into adulthood, the Pastor groomed him to fill Michael’s shoes, with the aim that he would someday “inherit” Morehouse Ministries. But Curtis fell short of measuring up to Michael. He was only an average student and lacked his father’s charm, intellect and aggressiveness.
At age nineteen Curtis had eloped with a woman of twenty seven. The Pastor and Amanda met her only once, so they knew little about her. As expected, there came a divorce.
The Pastor shook his head, thinking, Only by the grace of God was I able to work through Curtis’s divorce from that adulterous no-good and salvage his reputation and career. And now he wants to place everything in jeopardy again by marrying that divorcee! What a blemish to the family name! How wrong for Curtis to expect God to honor such a sinful union!
The Pastor swung his legs off the desk and leaned forward, resting both arms on the desk top. He wrung his hands in anguish.
The grandfather clock struck the quarter hour. The Pastor looked over at the old timepiece. The relic had always been a faithful companion that alerted him to the time every fifteen minutes. Lately, however, he had come to resent the old clock because it was a constant reminder that time was moving on, running out, and never to be recovered.
The Pastor sat back in his chair and admired his study. It was a monument to his years of ministry. He was satisfied that it properly reflected the image of his personality and position—the roominess, the polished oak paneling, the massive fireplace, the glorious trophy wall, and the expansive shelves of books. His collection of scholarly tomes on theology and history numbered more than six thousand. And there were scores of rare classics, most of them secular novels.
In the early years of the Pastor’s marriage, he and Amanda never missed an opportunity to browse through a used book store. They spent countless evenings in front of the glowing fireplace at home, reading new acquisitions and discussing them, often times well into the night.
Prompted by the remembrance, the Pastor looked at his study’s fireplace. It was crowned with a mantle made of imported Italian marble. “The gift of a friend,” he was always quick to explain to first-time visitors, to dispel any notion that church money might have been spent on such opulence. Mounted above the mantle were large, gilded-framed oil paintings of his mother and father, grandfather, and, of course, Amanda.
Grandfather Morehouse was a stern looking man, bald and sporting mutton chop sideburns. He was outfitted in a black suit, which was customary for men of the cloth back then. The Pastor remembered his grandfather as a great man of God. Years before the Pastor was born, his grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher, traveling the eastern plains of Colorado and western Nebraska and Kansas, holding evangelistic crusades and prayer meetings in Limon, Burlington, Goodland, North Platte, and other small farming and railroad towns.
The Pastor always regarded his grandfather as his role model, more so than his own father, who was also a preacher. His grandfather had been a coldhearted, insensitive man, but the Pastor overlooked this and thought of him as being strong in the Lord and obedient—totally uncompromising when it came to God’s commandments. That’s the way hellfire and damnation preachers were in those days, rationalized the Pastor. As one might expect, by the time young Desmond entered adolescence, he learned that measuring up to his grandfather’s expectations was the only way to earn acceptance. He parlayed that to his relationship with others, even with God.
There were vast differences between the Pastor’s grandfather and father, especially in their philosophies of ministry. Grandfather Morehouse started his ministry preaching the gospel on the hot and dusty dirt streets, then graduated to preaching in saloons on Sunday mornings. Eventually, he gave up his horse and wagon for a Model T Ford. In the last years of his ministry, he traveled with two assistants in a caravan of three Model A pickups and held revival meetings in tents. Entire farm communities turned out to hear him preach. Wherever he went he was the house guest of well-to-do farm families. His assistants slept in the tent. Offering plates overflowed and there were brisk sales of heirloom Bibles and inspirational books written by Billy Sunday and other popular preachers of the day.
In contrast to the Pastor’s grandfather, his mild-mannered father started his pastorate in an unimposing storefront church near downtown Denver. Years later, the growing congregation built a small church building a few blocks away.
Pastor Morehouse could not remember any display of affection between his father and mother. He attributed this to their advancing ages. When he was born, his mother was in her early forties and his father was approaching sixty.
His father spent a great deal of time visiting church families, usually at dinner time, so he was rarely home until late evening. The Pastor considered his father’s portrait over the fireplace to be as nondescript as his personality and life had been.
By contrast, the Pastor’s mother was a strong-willed woman who ran the household and managed the family finances. She also served as the church secretary and administrator.
The Pastor took after his mother’s side of the family. He became a visionary, like his grandfather before him. Ambitious and aggressive, he was not content to merely sit back and let people come to his church. Instead, he went out to the masses as his grandfather had done. Not by horse-drawn wagon, of course, but by radio, by television, and in recent years over the Internet. He often wished that his father and grandfather had lived to see him go on television and to witness the incredible growth of Mile High Community Church.
Amanda’s portrait was the Pastor’s favorite of her. A brunet with warm brown eyes, she was captured on canvas with a lovely smile and sparkling eyes that, to this day, caused the Pastor’s heart to quicken. Oh, how I miss you, Amanda, he thought, his eyes glistening. Your pretty face and sweet, soft voice.... You kept our home so tidy—always had supper waiting for me when I was late. And all those tireless hours you spent doing little things around the church. You were always helping people. And they loved you for it. Everyone loved you. No man was ever blessed with a better helpmate! We had a perfect marriage, Amanda; indeed, a marriage made in heaven!
Not wanting to slip further into melancholy, the Pastor sought to divert his thoughts. He again looked at the fireplace. Gracing its sides were two small, round end-tables made of elephant’s feet. Mounted on teak wood bases, their highly polished toe nails glistened, even in the soft lights of the study. They were gifts from a tribe in Ethiopia. Its leaders gave them to him in appreciation for food and clothing the church provided to the tribe during a time of devastating drought.
Ah, what publicity my mission to Ethiopia brought, remembered the Pastor. And what a shot in the arm for my television ministry!
He smiled to himself and basked in rekindled pride over the great amounts of money he raised on television.
His eyes scanned the bookshelves. Most of the books were purchased from the church’s research budget. Except for the rare ones, which were either purchased by himself or given to him by admirers.
A section of the bookshelf framed a large-screen Sony, on which he previewed his television programs. It was the best TV set money could buy, he prided himself. The Lord deserves the best!
Another wall was devoted to a display of framed and mounted certificates, citations, medallions, honorary doctorate degrees, and sundry other awards given to him over the years. Among them were plaques presented to him by-the National Religious Broadcasters for his television and radio ministry, and by the Christian Booksellers Association for his several best-sellers. But it all seemed so long ago.
His pride and joy was a small collection of autographed photos of himself with Richard Nixon and every President since. The Pastor had preached for every one of them at White House chapel services.
There were three other autographed pictures of which he was particularly proud. He was in all of them, posing with some of the most respected preachers and evangelists in the world at that time; men whom he considered his contemporaries: Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell.
Other photos were of the Pastor with rich and famous corporate moguls, movie stars, and politicians. Several had spoken before his congregation and appeared on his television program. Celebrity appearances always drew more viewers—and more donations.
In years past the Pastor received many personal gifts from admirers. A church member who once owned a Cadillac dealership donated a new model every year to Morehouse Ministries for the Pastor’s personal use.
Another executive routinely arranged for his company’s Lear jet to fly the Pastor around the country for speaking engagements. Other wealthy friends—with second homes in Aspen, Scottsdale, and Orlando—made their retreats available to the Pastor for holidays, vacations, and sabbaticals for writing books.
But now the gifts weren’t as plentiful or as valuable as in earlier years. Times had changed. People had changed. And Pastor Morehouse had changed.
Almost lost in the clutter of celebrity photos was a small oil painting given to him years ago by a now-deceased church member. Though it lacked in artistic quality, the Pastor was intrigued by the subject. It was a crucifixion scene that portrayed Christ, flanked on both sides by the two criminals.
What intrigued the Pastor was that one of them was pictured in the foreground and sported a saintly, glowing halo like Christ’s. “Praise God,” he often commented to visitors, “even the worst of sinners can become saints.”
The Pastor’s thoughts snapped back to the present and he realized he had been wasting precious time when he should have been working on his sermon.
The radio’s music crackled with static, then thunder rumbled in the distance.
Continue to Chapter 5 >
© Frank Allnutt. All rights reserved.