For the past twelve weeks, I have made it a point to walk past our local Church of the Nazarene and peruse its prayer box. That’s essentially a mailbox into which everyone can throw a prayer request.
I was nice and always signed mine with my name, street, city, and phone number and email address because you never know if God has a followup question and wants to call or email or come for a visit and then it’d be awkward if He had to peruse the very, very, badly maintained local phone book.
My prayer requests were pretty standard: peace in the Middle East, marriage equality, better science curricula in schools, that stuff. And a pony, because I figured while I am asking for the big things I’ll throw in a doozy so if He can’t get around to the peace thingie He can tide me over with a pony or something. Last week I lost my keys so I added that as well.
So yesterday I finally got the followup visit. Not from God, He seems to be somewhat busy right now, but He sent three of his ground personnel, a Mr. Heinlich, a Mr. Faustwanger, and a Mrs. Pirbach-Schleissinger. If, what they say about “as the master so the servant” is true, then Mr. Heinlich was the biggest servant, he looked like God. At least like the pictures I’d seen of God which, admittedly, were all Monty Python skits. Big white beard, a little like Santa in leather, with long hair and a tattoo of a cross on his arm. Mr. Faustwanger would have fit twice into me and six times into Mr. Heinlich but, of course, they’re Christians and in that particular religion it’s not allowed for one man to fit into another man.
Mrs. Pirbach-”call me Ruth”-Schleissinger looked the right kind of angrily ascetic to bring me right back to second grade. I expected to have my hands slapped and so I kept them in my pockets and only once, pretending I had to go to the bathroom, took them out to pick my nose and get some blood flowing again.
“You have been putting prayer requests into our prayer box,” Heinlich opened the conversation. Why, yes, I had. Was there anything wrong with them? Should I maybe include a self-addressed and stamped envelope so God could get back to me better? Or was He as unhappy with German Post as I was and preferred a FedEx envelope?
“We do not think you are taking this seriously,” Pirbach-Schleissinger added. Of course I am taking world peace and marriage equality seriously. Dead serious, because that’s about the extent of the dangers of not having both. I admitted to not being serious about the pony, however, apologized and asked if I could change the pony to a toilet brush and a ten-pack of AAA batteries, both of which I very, very, seriously needed.
“Can we come in and talk to you about Jesus,” Faustwanger inquired, looking around the hallway nervously. Maybe he was worried I already had a pony and didn’t want to be stampeded by it for denying me a second one. “Sure,” I said, inviting them in and offering some wine and cheese, because that’s what good hosts do. Which reminded me to amend my prayer wishlist and add wine and cheese, just in case my guests were hungry and needed more than what I had in the house.
My living room is small, somewhere between comfy cupboard and airy storage closet. Walking down the hallway, we passed the kitchen. “That smells heavenly,” Pirbach-Schleissinger said, and I remember wondering if I wanted to go to heaven if heaven smells like coq au vin every day. It gets stale, you know. I offered food and Pirbach-Schleissinger declined, getting elbowed by Heinlich who quickly added a few words of assent. Sure they’d like something to nosh, he said, it’d been “one of those days.”
Souls to save, Jesus to talk about, I understood. Back in my younger days I have been selling book club subscriptions door to door and, while compared with eternal life, the rewards were somewhat unappealing (a self-heating hairbrush or a 2 cup coffee maker were our most favored new subscriber gifts), terms and conditions seemed to match, especially the whole coveting something clause since many of my customers were left to covet and never received the ordered books.
“What’s that,” Heinlich asked pointing at the plates I was heaping. Poulet de Bresse au Vin Jaune et aux Morilles, I explained, adding another spoonful of morels to the plate. “It’s to die for,” I told him. “Speaking of dying,” my visitors were now arranged along my couch, legs tightly pressed together, the only touched knee being one’s own, their bags neatly laid atop, Faustwanger began. “He died for your sins.” “The chicken?” I responded somewhat confused. “No, Jesus. He.” Ah, yes, I understood. I wasn’t quite sure what this had to do with ponies, toilet brushes, or prayer requests in general, but there had to be a link. “We’d like to tell you about Doctor Joseph Pomeroy Widney,” Pirbach-Schleissinger continued. I admitted to being confused. Surely they had to be making that name up. Wasn’t his name Jesus? Last name Christ? I knew a Christ once, working in returns at a German shopping center. I always thought it’d be fun if he named his son Jesus. Or Bob. Bob Christ has a great ring to it. Instead he named him Andreas which condemned the poor kid to a life of unabbreviated first names because no one wants to be THE Andy Christ. Or maybe some do. Still, being a Christ means to come from a great line of experts in returns, only the mall had a thirty day return guarantee, not just three days.
I placed the plates on the coffee table, fetched wine, and returned to my three visitors deep in prayer. “No need to pray,” I explained, “I am only using fresh, local, ingredients.” Last time I got anyone sick while cooking was owed to fish of dubious provenance. Which taught me a valuable lesson about great deals on salmon from the back of a rented U-Haul truck.
Silence descended upon the room as Faustwanger, then Pirbach-Schleissinger, and finally Heinlich dug in. “The secret is in the bacon,” I explained, “I am making my roux with equal parts of butter and bacon grease, that gives it the extra kick.” “So you are an atheist,” Heinlich asked, wiping wine sauce from his beard. “No, I am a cook,” I responded, “atheism isn’t very profitable these days, what with Dawkins having the market covered.” Maybe I imagined things but at the mention of Dawkins each of my visitors must have hit a piece of garlic or peppercorn, frowning and coughing ensued. “But you do not believe in God and Jesus,” Faustwanger added. “One day we lost a lobster in the walk in. Three weeks later we found her, she was still alive and tried to pinch the line cook who was having a liquid lunch,” I responded, “if that’s possible, everything is possible. Does my believing in Jesus make it easier to get the pony?”
“Well, the thing with the pony… I don’t think God wants us to pray for a pony for you.” It wouldn’t be for me, I responded, I wanted a pony so I could do pony rides for sick kids in the hospitals. “We could pray for their quick recovery,” Pirbach-Schleissinger offered. “I think a pony would be more fun between x-rays and being cut open, though,” I opined. “Sure, but that’s not how God works,” she said, elbowing Heinlich’s attempts at stealing her remaining Poulet de Bresse. “Have you ever asked for a pony?” I was grasping for straws, watching my pony and toilet brush become less and less likely, world peace just wasn’t as much fun if I couldn’t ride around on a pony to enjoy it.
“Of course not.” How did they know it didn’t work? “Because God does not give out ponies” Maybe because no one ever asked him. “He is omniscient, he knows without being asked.” What was the praying for, then, if he already knew? “It is how we talk to God” But if he already knows … is he sending passive aggressive notes about needing more communication? I had a girlfriend like that once. “No, it’s just how we do it.” But I was really pissed off when my girlfriend called me at 3am about things I already knew. Maybe God wants to do all those things but because we keep praying him at 3am he doesn’t get enough sleep to get around to do it.
Pirbach-Schleissinger mopped the remaining sauce, wiped her face, and seemed to make a decision as to my pony. “Well, Mr. Luster,” call me Jonas, Mr. Luster is my father. At least that’s what he and my mother claim. There was a nasty rumor in school once about that. In any case, call me Jonas. “Ok, Jonas, I think we should just leave you some literature and maybe see you on Sunday in church?” Sure, do you think I should take out the pony and add the batteries? “How about you leave it to God to know?” I think I can do that.
On the way out, Faustwanger opening the car doors for Heinlich and Pirbach-Schleissinger, she remained behind. “Some literature for you,” she said. “And here is my card, from my day job.” Realtor. “I’d be putting in a good word about your pony if you could send me the recipe for that pressed chicken. It was indeed,” she blushed, “to die for.”