Pray or Prey
By Jack Aiken & Torry “Moose” Martin
Pastor Mack woke with a start. The vague impression of a big, snarling Alaskagray wolf chasing him lingered around the edges of his consciousness. A feeling of anxiety persisted as if an unknown danger had transferred from his dream world to his present reality. Even after getting dressed and having a good breakfast conversation with his wife, Annie, Mack could not shake the anxious feeling.
Pastor Mack just could not seem to get going and arriving a bit late at the church. He realized his secretary, Bertha was already there and deep into her work. He hung up his coat and greeted her with his usual, “Good morning, Bertha, how are you?”
“I’m just dandy,” she responded, while waving an envelope at Mack, “but I don’t know how you’ll be feeling after reading this letter.”
She extended the envelope to Mack, who hesitated momentarily before accepting it.
Bertha continued, “Somebody done slid it under the door, and it don’t say who it’s from. I know ’cause I checked it.” Bertha then gave her gum several good solid smacks while pointing at her desk lamp. “Held it up to the light.”
Mack’s heart sank. He had been the recipient of anonymous nasty grams before. He reluctantly ripped open the envelope, and glanced at the end of the letter. Sure enough, it wasn’t signed, just as Bertha had said.
Oh, boy, he thought, stand by to repel boarders.
It was one of those but letters. “Pastor, I love you, but. …” It contained the usual stuff about how God had revealed to the writer that Mack had a secret sin in his life and, if he didn’t repent, God would judge him. Beside that, he was a poor preacher, and the way he conducted the services was always quenching the Spirit. After repeated assurances of the writer’s love, the letter closed with, “My friends and I will continue to join our hearts and hands in prayer for you.”
Yeah, Mack fumed, I’d like to join my hands, too — right around your scrawny neck!
After he fantasized for a few minutes about the dire consequences he would like to inflict on the unknown writer, he bowed his head and simply said, “Lord help me deal with this and learn from it.”
Bertha opened Mack’s door just as he tossed the now wadded up letter toward the trash can, which he missed. Bertha watched it roll across the floor. “Ya got a call on line one. It’s Pastor Thor,” she said while bending down to retrieve the errant paper ball from under Mack’s couch. She then stood up, and gracefully lobbed it across the room and directly into the trash can. “Nothing but net,” she said, while giving her gum a smack and exiting the office.
Mack picked up the phone and pushed the button for line one.
“Hiya, Mackie! How’s God’s man of faith and power today?”
“To tell you the truth, if I tried to cast a mountain into the sea, it’d probably fall on my head,” Mack replied flatly. He then gave Thor a brief synopsis of the love note he’d received.
“Sounds like you need a shoulder to cry on. Got time for lunch today?” Thor inquired.
“Well, I’d like to, Thor, but I’m trying to catch up on things and. …”
“Aw please, Mackie! The women’s ministry is having a tea party here today and everything’s pink.” He sighed heavily. “Seriously, I’m ’bout to toss my crumpets.”
Mack chuckled, “Okay, then. But you’re buying.”
“Great. I’ll meet’cha at the North Slope at noon. Oh, and make sure ya bring yer letter, Mackie. I wanna see it.”
Puzzled, Mack hung up the phone and eyed his trash can with suspicion. As far as I’m concerned, that note’s right where it belongs, he thought. Nevertheless, to honor Thor’s request, Mack retrieved the malicious missive.
A few hours later, Mack and Thor found themselves pulling into the restaurant parking lot at the same time. The two walked together into the ‘North Slop’ as people not so affectionately, called it.
Amy, the waitress recognized them from the Ministers Only Breakfast, aka the M.O.B., and seated them at the front window. “Maybe you guys will give this place some class,” she said, with her tongue firmly in her cheek.
When she returned with the coffee they ordered, Thor inquired about the “Blue Plate Special.”
“Well,” Amy drawled, “I keep telling the owners they’re gonna get sued for false advertising ’cause the plate ain’t blue, it’s brown, and it ain’t a plate, it’s a bowl, special depends on whether or not you like stew.”
Amy looked at them expectantly. “Wanna try it?” she asked.
They both nodded and Thor replied, “How could I pass up the Brown Bowl Ordinary?”
As Amy departed with their orders, Thor wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter. “Did ya bring the letter?” he asked.
Mack took the wrinkled paper out of his pocket, and slid it across the table. Thor read it carefully then threw it on the table, giving it a slap with his hand.
“Cain’t believe they had the nerve to sign this ‘A Concerned Friend’. That’s like the so-called ‘Blue Plate Special’ … claims to be one thing, when it’s really another.”
Thor stretched his arms and sighed before continuing. “Nope this ain’t no letter from a friend. It’s a note from a troublemaker and that makes it a blessing.”
Mack set his coffee cup with a clang. “A blessing? How do you figure?”
“ ’Cause it lets ya know something’s going on in your church. It’s sorta like the devil done tipped his hand. Ya see, Mackie, it’s clear to me that this here letter-writer is settin’ out to create some dissention in your flock. I mean, they flat-out threatened you here that if you didn’t change yore ways, there’d be spiritual … what’s that word they used?”
Mack supplied the answer. “Repercussions.”
“Yeah, them things. Now, I figure if they took the time to write to you, then they undoubtedly took time to talk about you. Or at least they will soon. But like I said, now you’ve been tipped to it.”
Thor took a sip of his coffee before concluding, “And ya know what they say, ‘Fore-warned is four-eyed.’ ”
“I think you mean ‘Fore-warned is fore-armed.’ ” Mack corrected.
“No, I mean ‘four-eyed’. This here letter oughta make you put on your spiritual glasses, so you can see through the smoke. See, somewhere in your congregation, Mackie, there’s a mighty big tongue on fire, and it’s spitting Hades flames.”
Thor took another big swallow of coffee, leaned in close and squinted his eyes before continuing, “Now, speaking as one with experience, let me tell you, yore best response to a fire is to bring in the brimstone.”
“Brimstone?” Mack inquired.
“Brimstone! You know, fight fire with fire!” Thor said, sitting back in his seat.
“Lemme tell ya a story,” Thor continued. “ ’Bout 2 years ago I had me a delegation show up at my office, two women with their husbands — mousey-spouseys, I called ’em. They started off pretty much just like your letter. Said I wuz quenching the Spirit, not giving them the freedom to worship the way they wanted.”
Thor gave a little snort as he continued, “Well, they yammered on ’bout how they was more spiritual than me, and how I was deaf as a post when it come to hearin’ the Lord speak. And I just sat there saying nuttin’, until one of them reckoned as how I had a religious spirit, and they had come to cast the devil out of me.”
Mack shook his head in disbelief.
“Straight fact,” Thor flatly stated. “Well, that was just more than I could take, and I had me a Popeye moment. Ya know, ‘I stands all I can stands, an’ I can’t stands no more’.”
“Did you grab yourself a can of spiritual spinach?” Mack joked.
“Naw, I didn’t need no spinach. Sumthin’ just rose up in me, and I got up, leaned over my desk and said, ‘The Bible says that rebellion is the same as witchcraft, and I can tell as sure as I’m sitting here, that ya’ll are a rebellious bunch. Now you witches better git outta my sight right now, or, by all that’s holy, I’ll do some casting out myself.’ ”
A smile crept over Thor’s face as he remembered the ensuing scramble.
“I have to ask, did you ever see them again?”
“Nope, and just between us and…” he gestured upwards, “You-Know-Who, I gotta admit I didn’t handle that very good. I did eventually have a chance to apologize to them, but they never did darken my church door again.”
Silence reigned until Thor said, “Mack, there ain’t much you can do to avoid these personal attacks, or to prevent predators from a-comin’ into your flock ’cept to pray. Pray for patience; pray for discernment; pray that the work of the evil one will be showed up afore he can do any harm.”
“So basically it’s pray or become prey,” Mack mused.
Thor paused and briefly looked at Mack. “Now that there’s a sermon title and I’m stealing it. Pray or Prey.” Thor jotted the sentence down on a napkin. “My congregation’s gonna think I’m pretty smart for that one, so don’t you be out in public owning up to it as yours,” Thor teased.
After saying their good-byes, Mack got into his car and headed back to his office, and as he drove, he continued to think about the events of the day: his dream, the letter, and finally, his lunch with Thor.
He was only a few hundred yards away from the church, when suddenly a lone wolf began to cross the highway in front of him, and halted halfway. As Mack skidded to a stop, it seemed as if the wolf looked at him defiantly, straight in the eyes, then sauntered off.
In that moment, Mack somehow knew in his spirit that he had not received his last anonymous letter. He also knew he was going to need a special anointing from God to identify the wolf in sheep’s clothing that threatened to harm his flock and its shepherd.
Mack parked his car in the church lot, and got out to head toward the building. Fore-warned is four-eyed; Pray or be prey, he thought as he walked, recalling Thor’s wisdom.
He opened the door to the sanctuary and climbed the stairs up to the balcony, which he considered to be his personal prayer closet when services were not going on. As he took a seat on a pew, he couldn’t help but feel thankful for a good friend like Thor who reminded him that God had the answer for spiritual wolves, whether they were in sheep’s clothing or not. With that in mind, Pastor Pickens closed his eyes, bowed his head, and began to pray.