Poor Mrs. Featherwit could barely speak, she was crying so hard. Luce Featherwit did his honest best to console her, but the tragedy was just too much for her nerves; she was a wreck, and that’s all there was to it.
“No, I really don’t think the abominable Rev. Sloughheart did it,” Luce kept rubbing his wife’s back. ‘Abominable’ had always been her term for Fen Sloughheart; Luce used it now to more closely identify with the sobbing love of his life. Normally more comfortable being stern and grouchy, he was out of his territory now. And he always hated times like these, but ole Luce always stepped up to the plate and played the part of good husband. “And I don’t think he hired anyone either. I think he’d be too afraid of the culprit being caught and spilling the beans. One thing’s for sure: Sloughheart does not want jail time.”
“Well … then … who in the world?” she managed to ask.
“My hunch is, it was an overly zealous member of his church … someone who already had an axe to grind. You know, those people can really be fanatical anyway. Hell! They’re practically a cult, and Sloughheart is their feared and beloved teacher-preacher, guiding them through the dark wilderness of this dying world. Shit! It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to find out it was a coordinated effort on the part of several members of his church cult!”
Now Luce may or may not have realized it, but he’d actually hit on something the police and other officials were already considering. After all, Joy Brighterday was a prominent member of the community, but more than this, she was in a very real sense iconic. She was symbolic throughout the surrounding area of well educated, moderately evangelical, sensibly progressive women … professional women. This was one reason radio and newspapers loved to interview her, or even get a comment or two on some story for an article or broadcast. This was one reason she’d been asked to serve on so many committees, both religious and secular. This was the reason she’d been invited to lecture at both the colleges in Splinterbit and Grand Oak. Yes, she was an icon of sorts for many people; however, for some she was an idol that needed smashing … figuratively or otherwise.
“No, I really can’t imagine Rev. Sloughheart doing it,” Able surmised in a low voice. Rue and Bane had only been asleep for an hour or so after collapsing from sheer exhaustion. Moxie wasn’t quite sure what they would do when the boys woke up, but it would be one hell of a day whatever they decided. “Sloughheart just doesn’t have the nerve. Besides, I just can’t imagine him sneaking his huge bulk around that effectively. You know, he’d have to be like a hippo-sized James Bond or something.”
“Or something,” Moxie didn’t laugh at Able’s analogy. She couldn’t laugh at anything right now, but she did agree: It couldn’t have been Sloughheart. “Maybe he hired someone? I don’t think he’s beyond that, especially since he probably feels like Joy is to blame for everything going wrong in his life right now.”
“No, he’s not beyond something like that, ethically speaking, because he’s really not an ethical man … or, if he is, then his ethics are very warped and self-serving.”
“Well, yeah, of course; that’s the whole point,” Moxie perked up a bit. “He is at the center of his world. Revolving around him is his immediate family and church community, and further out is the larger community and world. His valuation begins at the center, with himself, and moves out accordingly. So it’s always, inevitably ‘take care of number one first,’ then maybe others. Of course, even taking care of others would necessarily be self-serving. You know, it’s just tragic that Sloughheart is not the only one who lives by this twisted ethical standard.”
“But, then, there is another ‘ethic,’ if that’s what it is, that can be very insidious and dangerous, too,” Able responded. “And it’s definitely an other-serving ethic; in fact, I’d say it is an ethic of idolatry, where one centers his or her life on another person and valuates everything in direct connection with that central idol. This is not difficult for me to imagine, of course, because that so precisely defines the environment of Ebenezer Bible Church it’s sickening.”
“Hmmm,” Moxie considered, “so it’s not too difficult to believe that someone might commit murder – or attempt murder – for an idolized religious leader quite freely … without anything to gain personally.”
“Well, nothing to gain except, perhaps, approval and appreciation, first and foremost from Sloughheart, of course, and then also from the congregation.”
“Wow! Now that really is cultic … and scary as hell!” Moxie shook her head. “Then again, I shouldn’t be too surprised. It’s not like that sort of thing is new. I guess it just really hits home when … well, when it happens at home.”
“Ron, I’ve just been walking around downtown Splinterbit, talking to residents, and getting their reactions to the shooting of Rev. Joy Brighterday. One word pretty much sums it up: shocked. Right now I have with me the Rev. Noble Goodwin, rector of St. Julian Anglican Church. Rev. Goodwin, would you say that fairly sums up your reaction to the shooting?”
“Well, of course, we’re all shocked, but more than that I’m deeply saddened … horrified, even angry,” Goodwin’s baritone voice rang out over Splinterbit Radio’s afternoon broadcast.
“Yes, a lot of folks have expressed a great deal of grief and frustration…”
“Well, yes, but I think it’s really more than frustration. I think for many of us it’s genuine anger, or I might say – and rightly so, I believe – righteous indignation. You see, any shooting is horrible, is criminal and tragic, of course, but this is quite evidently something more. I think deep down inside we all know this is something more fundamental than one crime being committed against one person. I think it’s more of a collective crime, really, being perpetrated against an entire group of people, and against an ideology…”
“You say, an ideology. Do you mean you believe this shooting was also meant to be some kind of statement, perhaps social or political?”
“Oh, most certainly,” Goodwin answered emphatically. “I firmly believe that, tragically, the Rev. Joy Brighterday was an ideological target. She symbolically represented, for our larger community, progress and sensible, level-headed fairness and goodness, and not everyone liked that; not everyone wanted the breath of fresh she brought to us socially, psychologically and spiritually … and, yes, I suppose, politically as well, at least indirectly.”
“Thank you Rev. Goodwin,” the reporter replied. “Well, Ron, the rector of St. Julian has just offered us an interesting take on the tragic shooting of Rev. Joy Brighterday. We’ll continue walking the downtown area this afternoon, interviewing residents, but for now, back to you…”
“Of course, I haven’t changed my belief about women in the ministry, especially pastoral ministry, or women holding elected office and whatnot,” the Rev. Grim Brusque looked squarely at Dr. Sage B. Wiseman. “But that doesn’t mean I relish the fact that Joy Brighterday’s been shot. No, heaven’s no! And I pray for her full recovery, in fact.”
“Well, good; that’s great to hear,” Wiseman replied as she took another sip of tea. They were sitting in Rev. Brusque’s office at Mt. Gilead Independent Bible Church. “I think, though, it would do some very real, tangible good if you spoke publicly, condemned the shooting and asked for prayer for Rev. Brighterday. There’s obviously quite a representative minority, at the very least, of … well, more of the fundamentalist-type Christians in Verdure County, and the surrounding area for that matter…”
“Look Dr. Wiseman, I know you don’t like me, and you don’t like my church or any fundamentalist Bible church, and you don’t agree with our beliefs, or how we choose to live out our lives,” Brusque said quite pointedly, “so why are you here … really? I mean, do you really care that much about Joy Brighterday? You told me you don’t really even know her that well. So what’s the deal here? What’s really going on?”
“O.k. All the cards on the table, then,” Dr. Wiseman answered. “I can see you’re not a man who likes to beat around the bush or engage in small talk, much less insinuations and innuendos. I’ll get right to the point, then. The Rev. Fen Sloughheart is and has been quite a prominent figure in this community, in this whole area; the Rev. Joy Brighterday has been and is prominent, too. Recently, as you know, Rev. Sloughheart’s wife both charged him with abuse and filed for divorce. She went straight to Rev. Brighterday, who has been helping her in various and sundry ways. All of this is well known, naturally, but there’s something else … something else far more, shall we say, weighty; an undercurrent that’s been flowing beneath our community, as well as communities across the country, for a long time. It’s powerful, and it’s potentially quite dangerous.”
“If you mean to say that fundamentalist Christians are dangerous, I’ve heard it before and you can stop right there,” Brusque held up his hand. “I mean, of all things! You know you’re sitting in the office of a fundamentalist pastor, for crying out loud! Do you expect me to agree with you?”
“No,” Wiseman said rather rigidly. “No, actually I never imagined you would, but then I’m not here to convince you of my personal convictions, nor am I here to be convinced of yours. I’m here making an appeal. You see, I’ve noticed as far away as Grand Oak where I work that temperatures are running high among strongly fundamentalist Christians, particularly those who follow Rev. Sloughheart’s television and radio ministry. They’re convinced he’s innocent; they’re also convinced that he’s being attacked … and many of them have blamed Joy Brighterday, directly or indirectly. Now Rev. Brighterday has been shot – and, no, I’m not accusing or even speculating – but this can possibly cause an unwanted reaction. What I’m saying is simply this: We need to jump ahead and get in front of any truly unmanageable problems before they begin. We need to go ahead and try to cool things down before they really do get too hot. You see, Rev. Brusque, I’m not here primarily about church or religion. I’m here for you personally … because you’re also a well-known personality. We have plenty of ministers and religious leaders from various backgrounds speaking up about this incident – and unfortunately two or three have been rather inflammatory – but we have yet to hear from the conservative, fundamentalist Christian community. There are folks out there who need to hear at least one voice from that sector of society … and that one voice, I hope and pray, will be yours … to help calm things down, before they get out of control.”
“You really believe it’s that bad? That things could actually get wildly out of control … here? And all because, Lord have mercy, Joy Brighterday was shot? Are you sure you’re not borrowing trouble…”
“No,” again came Wiseman’s emphatic retort. “No, not at all Rev. Brusque. I wish like everything I were, but I know I’m not borrowing trouble, and I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not missing the mark in asking you to make a short and simple statement. Please … go on record today condemning this horrendous and unjustifiable act, and ask for pray on behalf of the Rev. Joy Brighterday.”
“Dr. Wiseman, there are other Bible-believing Christian pastors in the area. Why did you choose me? Was it random selection … my last name starts with a ‘B’ and so it was the first fundamentalist pastor’s name you ran across in the phone book?”
“Not at all,” Sage Wiseman chuckled. “No, it was not at all random. You see, I was at the one and only Rally for Righteousness meeting, or revival, and I heard you speak. What you said that night was, to say the least, quite astounding. It really caught me off guard. Point in fact, it was not what I was expecting from what I thought would be just another legalistic, Bible-thumping, hell-fire and brimstone, fundamentalist preacher.” Now Rev. Brusque laughed. “But evidently, from what you said that night, you’d had quite an epiphany, perhaps life-changing, so I knew you’d be the man, the minister … well, the one to whom I needed to appeal. You see, after what you said that night, I just have to believe that, deep down inside, you know you can speak to people of the more conservative religious persuasion – fundamentalists, if you will – and they will listen.”
“You sound like you’re trying to prevent a revolution, Dr. Wiseman.”
“Maybe. Like I said, there’s a strong undercurrent … and it’s swelling. We don’t want it to overflow its banks, so … we need Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics and Catholics and, yes, Independent Bible church pastors and leaders speaking out with one voice, condemning this gross act of violence, and all such acts of violence, and we need the religious leaders of our community to call for peace and prayer.” She paused, reflecting. “Will this stop all crimes? Unfortunately, no. Will this even stop all acts of violence? Again, unfortunately no, but it will help. I believe it will help immensely.”
“You know, you’re right about that day. Like I said that night, the Lord really spoke to me, and he spoke to me very powerfully. It was an epiphany, and it certainly was life-changing. In fact, it transformed and revitalized my whole ministry…” Now it was Brusque’s turn to silently reflect. “I’ve never been happier and more … tranquil in my whole life. I’ve never felt so complete.” He paused again. “O.k. Dr. Wiseman. I’ll do it; I’ll call the station and make a statement, but only on the condition that you promise to tell me more about yourself and how it is that you ended up at the Rally for Righteousness. Something tells me there’s a story there.”
“Deal,” Sage Wiseman smiled, “and thank you, Rev. Brusque. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Later that evening:
“Thank you for tuning in to Splinterbit Radio Central. Folks, we’ve been following the shooting of Rev. Joy Brighterday all day today, keeping you posted and up-to-date on the latest news. We’ve also been interviewing residents from around the area about their thoughts and feelings, and we’ve had quite a bit of feedback, of course. Now we have just received an unexpected statement from the Rev. Grim Brusque of Mt. Gilead Bible Church. We will now read the entire statement to you, noting that this statement has also been sent to the various area newspapers as well as other radio stations. With that, the Rev. Brusque says:
Like so many residents throughout our community, I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the shooting of Joy Brighterday. Despite having some important differences of opinion and perspective, I was horrified that anyone would gun down a woman walking up to the front of her home after work, especially in the presence of an innocent child. This crime is horrifying and is to be rightly condemned by one and all. Accordingly, I am reaching out to all those who name the name of Christ Jesus, believe in His Word, and strive to walk in His way, and I am asking you to pray. Pray for the recovery of Joy Brighterday. Pray for the quick apprehension of the one who committed this heinous crime. Pray for his (or her) salvation. Pray for all of our law enforcement officials that God will guide and direct them in their tremendous duty. Pray for all emergency response personnel and all of our city and county officials that they will seek the glory of the Lord and the good of our community. And pray for the peace that comes from above. Let me be perfectly clear: No true Bible-believing Christian will rejoice or even tolerate the kind of crime perpetrated against Joy Brighterday. On the contrary, every true Bible-believing Christian will pray, and will pray just as I have requested because this is the clearly stated will of God. Thank you, and God bless you. God bless our community, our region, and our country. Amen.
“Well, folks … quite an unexpected, but clear and forceful, statement from the Rev. Grim Brusque of Mt. Gilead Bible Church. Wow! This was certainly unexpected, but … most certainly appreciated, too. Thank you Rev. Brusque.”