A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris
I’ll be honest: I don’t get this section. At all. It just doesn’t fit.
So, Gwen goes with Peter to his church, Valley Fourth Memorial Church.
Gwen hadn’t really known what to expect, but it surely wasn’t what she found at Valley Fourth. One thousand people attended and everything was so informal. The singing was energetic.
Translation: Valley Fourth Memorial Church was an evangelical megachurch like every other evangelical megachurch. I grew up attending one myself. Everyone always made a big deal out of being relaxed and energetic and open to all comers, but the actual preaching and teaching was very conservative and traditional. It’s like they wanted to throw off the fuddy duddy church image, but without giving up any of the actual doctrine. Because apparently if you’re all hip and cool everyone forgets that you believe the world was created 6000 years ago and that gay people are going to hell.
“These people are really vibrant,” she commented to Peter during one of the songs.
That is not something I can actually imagine someone saying.
The prior Sunday, Gwen had attracted attention coming in late to a smaller fellowship. She appreciated being a bit lost in the crowd of this larger church—although a number of people who knew Peter well immediately noticed that a striking woman was with one of their most eligible members.
My gosh. It’s like Peter walks around with this aura of handsome manly manliness following him. Does his skin shine, I wonder? I mean think about it—the giggling candy striper volunteers, the nurses who pounced on Gwen after Peter visited the hospital to ask who THAT was, and now everyone’s staring at Peter again, because apparently he attracts attention like no one else. Peter the Magnificent, Peter the Brave!
Or maybe I should try not writing this blog post after 11 pm next time, because I’m having a really hard time taking any of this seriously.
Next we learn that the pastor, Scott Lind, was preaching through the book of James. The sermon this particular Sunday was on the power of prayer.
As Pastor Lind began, Gwen remembered that she had prayed last Sunday for victory and that her prayer had certainly not been answered. She wanted to know why. Why hadn’t God answered her prayer? The pastor had at least one visitor who was an instant skeptic.
Gwen listens intently because she wants an answer to her question—if prayer is so powerful, why didn’t God answer her prayer for God to give her success at her hearing last Tuesday? The pastor explained that some troubles are minor and some are more serious, but that we should bring all troubles to God in prayer regardless. And of course, he told lots of stories of answered prayer, but he didn’t answer Gwen’s question.
And then we get to the fire and brimstone part of the sermon.
“Friends, some of you may be facing the most serious troubles you have ever faced in your life. But as difficult and trying as those circumstances may seem, unless you have personally accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you face another kind of trouble which is far worse than anything we can ever face on earth. There are troubles which last forever. And such troubles are the unfortunate destiny for every person who dies without Jesus.”
And of course, there’s more about everyone being sinners and the price of sin being death. “That’s what each of us deserves for our own sins,” the pastor says. And then it gets weird, because the pastor starts talking about how if God were a righteous judge he would have sentenced everyone to hell, but that instead he chose to give up his innocent son to pay the penalty for sin, and Gwen starts drawing parallels between this and her own situation. Which, what?
“Jesus could have said, ‘Hey, this is unfair, why am I being punished for something I never did?’ In fact, God Himself could say, ‘Why should my child be taken from Me to pay for something that was made necessary by the sins of all those other people?’ But he didn’t.
. . .
Gwen was absolutely frozen in place. The illustrations chosen were too close to her own situation for her to miss the point. She clearly understood. But at the same time, her heart could not get over the stumbling block of last Sunday’s unanswered prayer.
Um. Okay. I suppose we could try to imagine that Gwen’s like God and Casey’s like Jesus, but come on. That doesn’t actually make any sense at all. Jesus was a grown man who chose to die for the sins of humankind, and Casey is simply a small human child. I suppose, in some way, Gwen finds parallels in the pastor’s words in the same way people find meaning in Tarot cards. The pastor finishes with a call to pray the sinner’s prayer, but Gwen doesn’t pray it. Instead, she prays this:
“God, I don’t understand all this. I’m asking one more time. Please, please, help me get back Casey. Please, God.”
Note that Gwen has never been an atheist. She’s always believed in God, she just isn’t a churchgoer, and religion doesn’t play much of a role in her life. And neither do her two sisters or her coworkers, apparently, because going strictly by what Farris does and does not show us, Gwen doesn’t seem to have any friends.
Aaron and Lynn rushed over to Peter and Gwen immediately after the last song. Lynn struck up a friendly conversation with Gwen. Aaron turned to Peter and whispered, “Who is she?”
If Peter has an aura of handsome manly manliness, Gwen has an aura of helpless feminine prettiness.
“She’s my new client you told me to witness to.”
Aaron had been watching Peter watching Gwen during the service.
Someone wasn’t paying attention to the sermon.
“You’d better be careful,” was all Aaron could say without prolonging the side conversation.
And yes, he’d better, because Peter is breaking ethical guidelines left and right in this case and doesn’t seem the least concerned.
Peter nodded, a bit red-faced.
For serious, Peter. Now, I’d like to know what Gwen and Lynn talked about, but we don’t get to find out, because they are lady-persons and their conversation must fall under the heading “small talk” and thus be unimportant.
Back in his car, Peter asked, “Well, what did you think?”
Question: If Gwen had hated it, would she really be in a position to say so? This is her lawyer, and is currently her only hope of getting Casey back on Tuesday. Indeed, this is her lawyer who is currently working her case for free. That ought to create some rather concerning dynamics at a moment like this.
“It was very nice. The people were very friendly.”
Way to say as little as you can, Gwen. Unfortunately, Peter doesn’t take the hint, because he keeps prying. He wants to know if it was different from her past church experiences, and what he she thought about the sermon, and then what she thought about the substance of the sermon. Way to push, Peter.
I mean look at this line:
Peter couldn’t resist. He was, after all, a lawyer. He pounced on her evasive answer.
Yes, Peter! You’re a lawyer! You’re her lawyer! Now might be a good time to remember that!
So Gwen tells Peter about her prayer the previous weekend, and about how God didn’t answer it. “That’s what I kept thinking about the whole time,” Gwen said. And then we get to what is perhaps the oddest sentence so far in this entire book.
Peter didn’t have a quick come-back.
Say what?! Any evangelical child who spent even the smallest amount of time in youth group could answer that! That’s like the oldest question in the book! How does Peter not have an answer on the tip of his tongue?! Here, let me help you out, Peter: “God always answers our prayers, just not always in the way we want him to.” “Our human minds can’t always see it, but God has a plan and everything happens as part of that plan.” “Sometimes God answers our prayers by telling us ‘no,’ because he has something to teach us or wants us to grow through an experience.” This is easy!
After a long pause, “I can understand why you would think that. I hope you will give God another chance. I’ve not only been working on your case, but I have been praying a lot for both you and Casey.”
Their eyes met and lingered.
Warning! Warning! Red alert! Inappropriate eye lingering!
Gwen didn’t know what to think, but she was deeply touched that this man who was a total stranger to her five days ago, would care so much to take time to pray for her.
Someone needs to talk to Farris about common usage. He either needs to add a comma after “man” or take out the comma after “ago.”
“Thank you for praying, Peter. I asked God again. I’ll wait and see what happens.”
“That sounds fair,” Peter said with a degree of heaviness.
What. No that does not sound fair. The former evangelical in me is absolutely horrified by Peter’s responses here.
He realized that not only was the fate of Gwen’s custody of Casey riding on this hearing on Tuesday, but Gwen’s view of the reality of God might be affected for a life time as well.
And this is exactly why Peter should be explaining to Gwen that prayer doesn’t work that way. I don’t even believe in God anymore, but even I would have remembered to tell Gwen that God isn’t an ATM! I’m getting the scary feeling that I’m a better evangelical than Peter is, and I’m an atheist. Seriously, what is this?!
All I can conclude is that those lingering eyes were just too much for Peter, and made all of his carefully learned doctrine fall right out of his head.