(an excerpt from the upcoming memoir, Death by Breakfast by the Rev Mack Ore)
Later that fall, our church board voted to expand the youth budget so youth pastor Slick could hand out free donuts at our first See You at the Pole event. Those events always struck me as funny. You’re praying in public to show people you care about your school but you only do it for one day. There’s also that verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says don’t announce your prayers in public. Maybe Jesus never anticipated the evangelistic force of powdered crème-filled donuts eaten around the stars and stripes. If he did, he probably would’ve added a footnote to those rather restrictive prayer instructions.
Our first time praying around the flagpole earned mixed results. Slick picked me up at 6:30 am so I could help with the donut distribution process. Amber Morgan was already in the van. She was a junior that smelled like honeysuckle and looked like the lady writhing on the cars in that Whitesnake video. This ministry thing had benefits.
“What’s your favorite kind of donut?” I asked.
“Ummm,” she said.
“Mine’s Boston Kreme. I like the pudding inside better than the white icing,” I said.
“I don’t really eat donuts,” she said.
“I bet if you married me, I could change your mind,” I thought. Maybe I could convince her to try a Kruller, that’s a solid starter donut…
“I’ll need you guys to be high energy. We need as many signatures as possible, ok? Make sure you pray real loud too so others are encouraged to join in,” said Slick.
We picked up the donut boxes at the bakery and stacked them on the van seats. By the time we got to the school we’d lost a dozen sprinkled ones which had slid off the seat, and at least four Boston Kremes due to unknown causes. Millie Morton met us near the bus circle in the grassy island that held the flagpole. She was the Saint of the Kitchen in our church. Every church has one, the person who knows where everything is located in the cabinets and coordinates the food-featured events in the multi-purpose room. The person you ask when you find leftovers in the church fridge and want to know if that pie is good or not. Millie had two tables out on the lawn, with table cloths and a poster 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. Bus circles were always awkward places…glad we could add to that. 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 and I bobbed my head to the inspirational lyrics. I started a sixth donut.
Slick whistled everyone together.
“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 into the school 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-God-in-Jesus’-name-amen. Luckily the other churches brought their heavy hitters so there were no conspicuous silences in between prayer warriors. My arms started aching in the third prayer. By prayer five, my knees felt like they were in a concrete vice. My intercessory stamina was weak and I knew I’d have to break prayer protocol and stand, but I was saved by a sudden interruption.
As a Baptist kid droned on about saving souls, the grumbling muffler of Steve Blain’s jacked up pick-up broke our reverie. To call Steve the class clown of the seniors was a disservice to class clowns. He was more like the poster boy for King James donkeys. He had reversed his truck until the back tires were on the grass lawn, and was revving the gas with the truck in neutral. All holiness ceased. Steve cranked up AC/DC on his high-end stereo system and hung his fat weasel face out the window. He stuck out his tongue out and made the devil’s horns with his hands. Petra didn’t stand a chance.
I looked around to see who was still fake-praying when 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 Philistine. I pictured myself as Moses, winding through the Israelites, panicked and 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!”
Steve cackled a maniacal laugh into the silence my words created. He peeled out on the grass, and flung clods of dirt on Miss Millie’s tables and the remaining donuts. I heard he got suspended three days for destruction of school property but not for interrupting a prayer meeting. I’m pretty sure up in heaven St. Peter entered in some detailed notes on Steve concerning Judgment Day.
Praying is hard though. We know we’re supposed to do it more 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 was going to smote him with truth. Peacemaking with glazed donuts seems more like Jesus, but back then I was Elijah and he was a prophet of Baal.