Another Look by David Faust
My great-uncle died in 2000 at the age of 95. Uncle Floyd was a colorful character and a master storyteller. A retired preacher, in his later years he ministered to nursing home residents by playing the accordion and singing for them. Uncle Floyd wrote down some of his best stories and gave me a copy of them before he died.
As a boy, Floyd owned a half Collie, half Shepherd dog. One day Old Rover jumped over a wire fence, caught one leg in the top wire, and hung there howling in pain. Floyd ran toward the dog but his father warned, “Don’t go near Old Rover. He will bite you.” Grabbing a pair of pliers, his dad cut the top wire of the fence and set the dog free. Instantly the dog stopped snarling and howling, licked his sore leg, then put his tail between his legs and crawled to Floyd’s feet as if asking for forgiveness. While the boy hugged the dog, his father explained, “When the dog snarled at you, it had nothing to do with you. He was just in pain. When Rover gets out of the fence, never hold against him the way he acted when he was stuck in the fence.” Uncle Floyd used that story to teach about empathy and forgiveness.
His stories included a letter he received from a man who was in his mid-fifties:
I am writing you this letter tonight from a lavish motel room because I am painfully alone and have plenty of time. I used to sit in your church and smirk as you were pleading for lifetime marriage vows, strict marital fidelity, and shared parenthood with the whole family spending time together. I had a much better lifestyle in mind than that. I wanted my gorgeous girl to come to me fresh from the perfume bottle smelling like roses, not out of the laundry room smelling like diapers. So I haughtily walked out on the tiresome routines of wife and children, marriage and home life, and sought out the most glittering one-night stands our area could provide. I threw back my shoulders, breathed deeply the air of individual freedom and indulgence, and told myself, ‘This is the life!’
Well, I’ve had it my way now for five years, and tonight at this very hour my former wife and children are gathered around a Christmas tree in a distant city singing Christmas carols while I’m sitting alone here in this motel, knowing there’s not a single person in the world who cares whether I live or die. I would gladly trade every cheap thrill and glamorous binge I’ve ever had for just one postcard from that little group around the Christmas tree, even if the card only said, ‘Merry Christmas, Daddy!’
My favorite story Floyd passed along is one called “The Secret Elders Meeting.” I’ve heard similar accounts from others, but this one happened to him. At age 24 Uncle Floyd was called to minister with a church that had a terrible reputation for its treatment of preachers. (Most of their ministries lasted two years or less.) Floyd’s immediate predecessor was challenged to a fistfight in a board meeting. Fifteen years later, though, Floyd was still there and the spiritual climate was greatly improved. Floyd went to visit an elder who was on his deathbed in a local hospital. The elder said, “I want to tell you why you are still our minister after 15 years when no predecessor of yours ever lasted more than a year or so.”
He told about a phone call the elders received from their chairman after Floyd had been with the church for one year. “We all knew exactly what was coming when he summoned us to a secret elders meeting,” the elder remembered. “As soon as we all were in place, the chairman said, ‘Well, I’m sure you know why we’re here. We’ve got a new preacher. He’s been here a year and as you’ll all remember, I’ve often called you about now to vote for a dismissal. Well, the Lord has been dealin’ with me! Every time a problem comes up we blame it on our preacher and throw him out. Well, the Lord’s been showing me that the trouble hasn’t been our preachers, it’s been us—and a lot of it has been me.”
The chairman of the board continued, “Tonight I’m proposing a radical change in our procedure. I’m going to lay my hand on this Bible and vow before our Lord that I’m going to do everything I can to help our preacher build our church into a power for good.” The elders gathered in a circle, laid their hands on the Bible, and tearfully asked the Lord to forgive them for fighting with each other and with their preachers. They said, “Together, Lord, we pray that we can build a body for you in this city that will make both you and us proud and happy to be part of it.”
The frail dying man lay back on his pillow, and quietly said, “Well, there it is. I just felt you ought to know why you’re still our preacher and we have a strong, influential church in our city 15 years after your coming to us. You and the Lord together brought one old, hardheaded, influential board chairman to the place where he would say, ‘The Lord has been dealin’ with me!’”
Uncle Floyd went on to serve with that church for 44 years.