(We join Mack Ore in this tale as a skinny teenager, living out his student ministry experience under the hardcore youth pastor known only as “Slick”)
Later that fall, our church board voted to expand the youth budget to pay for the free donuts Slick wanted to hand out at our first See You at the Pole event. The irony of the concept had not yet struck me: praying in public to be seen in spite of Jesus’ words to the contrary in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, maybe our Personal Lord and Savior never anticipated the evangelistic force of crème-filled donuts eaten around the stars and stripes. If he had, he probably would’ve added a footnote to those rather restrictive prayer instructions.
Our first time praying around the flagpole earned mixed but memorable results. Slick picked me up at 6:30 am sharp. Already seated in the van was Amber Morgan, a senior that smelled like honeysuckle and whose bangs cascaded in curls of golden glory. Ministry leadership apparently came with more benefits than those found in the bakery.
“What’s your favorite kind of donut?” I asked her.
“Ummm,” she said.
“Mine’s Boston Kreme. I like the pudding inside better than the white icing.”
“I don’t really eat donuts,” she said.
I bet if you married me, I could change your mind. You should try a Kruller, that’s a solid starter donut…
“I’ll need you guys to be high energy,” said Slick. “We need as many signatures as possible, ok? Make sure you pray real loud, too, so others are encouraged to join in.”
We picked up the donut boxes at the bakery and stacked them on the van seats. By the time we arrived at school, we’d lost a dozen sprinkled ones due to a sudden turn, and at least four Boston Kremes for unknown causes. Millie Morton met us near the bus circle in the grassy island sporting the flagpole. She was the Saint of the Kitchen in our church. All congregations have one; the person who knows where everything is located in the cabinets and coordinates the food-featured events in the multi-purpose room, the Kitchen Sensei you ask when you raid the church fridge and want to know if the pie is good or not. Millie had two tables out on the lawn, covered in red plastic sheets, a handwritten poster hung between them reading:
“Sign-In for SYATP Here!”
Students from various youth groups trickled into the space around the pole, staring at each other like they’d stumbled alive from a car wreck. Slick set up a boom box and played Petra’s latest cassette. You could only hear it if you were standing next to the donuts. Amber’s posse of the Dream Girls of Chastity arrived as I bobbed my head to the inspirational lyrics. I started a sixth donut.
Slick brought the mob to attention with his patented two-finger swine whistle. “Thanks everyone for showing up today for our first annual See You at the Pole prayer event! We’re super pumped you guys showed your faith today by boldly coming in early to pray. Let’s gather around close to the pole and kneel. Put your hands on each other’s shoulders or hold hands. Let’s pray for God to win our school this year!”
I didn’t want to pray out loud. My prayers always ended with a rushed just-be-with-everyone-in-Jesus’-name-amen. Luckily the other churches brought their heavy hitters so there were no conspicuous silences in between spiritual warriors. My arms started aching in the third prayer. By number five, my knees felt like they were in a concrete vice. Intercessory stamina weak, I came perilously close to breaking prayer protocol and standing up, but a pagan interruption saved me.
As a Baptist kid droned on about saving souls, the grumbling muffler of Steve Blain’s jacked up pick-up truck broke our reverie. Steve wasn’t just the class clown of the seniors; he was the poster boy for King James donkeys. He reversed his truck until the back tires were on the grass lawn, and started revving the gas while it was in neutral. Cranking up AC/DC on his high-end stereo system, he hung his fat weasel face out the window, stuck out his tongue, and made the devil’s horns with his hands.
All prayers ceased.
Boom Box Petra didn’t stand a chance.
Slick made eye contact with me and nodded towards the big blue truck with a “Go take care of that will you, bud?” look. I’m not sure why I got the call. And I still don’t know why I answered the call.
I stood up and wove through the crowd towards Steve. The Christians tried to focus on prayer, but I heard the murmurs as they watched scrawny Mack Ore march to face the Popular Pagan. I pictured myself as Moses, winding through the panicked Israelites, stuck against the edge of the vast sea: Fear not, people of God, I go to make a way for you.
Steve stared me down as I arrived.
“Would you mind turning that down? It’s hard to pray.”
“WHAT?” He yelled, pretending not to know why I was there.
“WOULD YOU MIND TURNING THAT DOWN—“ He cut off the music suddenly and my voice boomed out “IT’S HARD TO PRAY!”
His maniacal laugh cackled into the vacuum created by my words. He peeled out on the grass, flinging clods of dirt on Miss Millie’s tables and the leftover donuts. Later we learned he received a three day suspension for destruction of school property, but no mention of the heretical infraction of interrupting a prayer meeting.
Praying is hard though. We know we’re supposed to do it more frequently but we just don’t. If I could do it all over, I would’ve taken Steve some donuts as a peace offering instead of strutting up to him like I intended to cast him down with my holy aura. Peacemaking with glazed donuts seems more like Jesus, but back then I was David and he the dirty Philistine.