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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chapter 2: Does a Beer do Anything to Tempt a Guy?


The Alley, at Glendale Racquet Club

            “Do you think a beer does anything to tempt a guy?”  Jasmine is wistful, looking at the next table over.  Mindy, Jasmine’s tennis partner, sitting next to her, looks over to the small round table with three twenty-something racquetball players drinking beer, and teases, “Sure!  It begs, ‘Drink me, please!’”  Jasmine rebukes herself for asking such a curious question.  She’s been so careful, especially at church, and, even more especially, at Glendale.  Until now.  What if they figure out what she’s referring to?  Or, worse, whom?  Their laughter, thankfully, suggests they haven’t.
 “’Drink me now!’” Mindy continues, “It cries out from the bottom shelf in the refrigerator!”  “Next to the orange juice!” Gabbi pipes in.  “That’s exactly it!” Kristina exclaims, “I even ask my boyfriend, ‘why isn’t the orange juice begging you to drink it?’ ‘Nah,’ he says, ‘Only the beer can talk to me!’”  As her three friends break into peals of laughter, Jasmine sighs relief they don’t appear to be on to her.  “And nothing’s ever their fault!” Gabbi continues.  “No, of course not,” says Kristina.  “Can I tell you my latest with my boyfriend?”  Please.  Jasmine hopes her face won’t show her urgency to change the subject.  As Kristina begins to share a story about her cat and her boyfriend, the waitress arrives with their pop, ready to take their lunch orders. Whew!  That was close.
Gabbi and Kristina are Jasmine and Mindy’s favorite opponents.  The foursome can usually be found at The Alley, Glendale Racquet Club’s sports bar, for brunch on Saturday, after a close match of tennis.  All four joined Glendale the same year, quickly discovered they make an ideal competitive match, and became fast friends.  None of Jasmine’s tennis friends attends Quail Canyon Community Church, nor for that matter, does anyone that she or her mixed doubles partner Davie know of.  They had both agreed to be on the look-out at Glendale, and at church, for anyone who might frequent both places.  Amazingly, as far as they knew, they were the only two who were members of both Glendale and Quail Canyon.  Jasmine prays this is still the case, or she’ll surely be found out -- especially with mistakes like that.  She wonders if it’s okay to make such a prayer.
Mindy attends a Methodist church; Gabbi calls herself a “typical Catholic,” meaning she never goes to Mass; and Kristina keeps her distance from all things church.    Reflecting on Kristina’s anti-church views, Jasmine is almost tempted to make another “mistake.”  Early in their friendship, when Jasmine first mentioned her attendance at Quail Canyon, Kristina replied, “I like Jesus.  But I don’t like church.”  She discounted her need to attend with a cliché phrase Jasmine had heard before: “My relationship with Jesus is a personal thing.”  Whenever Jasmine hears people say that, she rolls her eyes, thinks it’s a cop-out, and isn’t about to trust their “relationship with Jesus” could be too “personal.”
But Kristina’s story is complicated.  She had probably caught Jasmine rolling her eyes, so she took the chance to share her story.  Kristina was raised in what she calls “an ultra fundamentalist church,” strict home, and was homeschooled through elementary school.  She’d have been homeschooled all the way, just like her two older siblings, had she not “taken the matter into her own hands.”  For middle school, she had made up her mind: either she would refuse to do any of the homeschool work her mother assigned to her, or she would attend a regular school and work hard for good grades.  To her parents’ credit, they agreed to the latter and enrolled her in a private Christian school.  Kristina would have preferred the local public school, but the compromise was fair, and she more than kept her end of the deal, graduating Salutatorian from The Springs Christian High.  As proud as she was of her academic achievement, Kristina says she’s more proud of her real challenge: pretending all through school that she gave her whole heart to Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior. “If church makes me ‘love him with my whole heart,’ he won’t get my whole heart.”  At that, Kristina looked up to the sky and said, “Sorry, Jesus!  Hope you understand!”  Jasmine smiled, “I bet He does.”  “Thanks,” said Kristina, “Too bad my parents don’t.”
Jasmine knew Kristina would understand her story too.  Maybe too much.  Wishing not to get scarred by Kristina’s cynicism, she resisted her temptation to spill the beans.  She pondered whether she could still “love Jesus with her whole heart” and not go to church.  She had been willing to trust the possibility for Kristina, but for no one else, least of all herself.  Now she was seeing it in a new way.  Could it be possible for her too?  Could she hold a strong bond with Jesus away from church?   
Jasmine found herself surprisingly pleased that she was about to find out.  Even her husband Tim had taken the news admirably.  Sure, he was dismayed, and she was working to regain his trust, but Jasmine was grateful he was secure enough within himself he wasn’t letting her indiscretion ruin their marriage.  Nor was he even upset with Davie.  He admitted he was a little flattered the youth pastor had taken a liking to his wife.  When she reported to him the order of her exit, he replied, “Isn’t this between us?  You, me, David, and his wife Pam?  Why does the church have to get into  it?” 
“Because David’s on their staff.”
“OK, so they can check in, but they don’t have to kick you out, do they?” 
“I don’t think so.”
“Her I’m the one who should be mad, and they’re the ones over-reacting.  I didn’t know our church was run by such jerks!” 
Jasmine was startled.  She had never heard her husband talk like that about anyone, least of all church leaders.  He had always respected them, and now he was red in the face and calling them names.  She had been sweating over what his reaction to her news would be, and she had imagined anger like that, but directed at her, not them.  Now she was silently smirking that he was instead enraged at the church.  Could the church’s harsh treatment have helped to deflect her husband’s anger against her?  If the eviction had been a favor, a chance to find out first hand if she could “love Jesus without going to church,” and even a deflection of her husband’s anger, then why was she still so bothered by it? 
It really wasn’t the blackball that mattered.  It was the implication gushing out of the elder’s words, tone, body language, and aura.  It was his “prayer” that wasn’t in any way a real one.  That prayer disturbed Jasmine so much she replayed it like one of those unshakable radio jingles, and she had the interaction and the prayer fully memorized.
“Don’t return to this church or contact Pastor David ever again,” commanded John Prager, the head elder.  Jasmine could almost hear his thoughts: How does this happen and why am I stuck with the job of dealing with it?  She was tempted to reply: Because you signed up to be an elder?  And accountability is what elders are called to do?  Instead, Jasmine took the safe road: “I came here to ask for accountability.  I thought I would be receiving prayer.”   The elder smiled, “Don’t worry.  We’ll keep you accountable.  You did the right thing by coming to us.  Just stay away from church, make no contact with David, and you’ll be just fine.”
Then, to placate her, he put his hands on her and prayed.  But in place of a prayer of thanksgiving for taking a wise course to move forward in truth, love, and purity, it was quite a different sort of prayer.  “Our Father in Heaven, thank You for bringing this young lady to us.  We pray You will forgive her.  In the Name of Your Son, help her to flee youthful lusts.  Cleanse her heart, purify her mind, and transform her by the renewing of her mind.  Thank You for your great mercy upon this repentant sinner, Lord.  Amen.”
Mr. Prager – she had always known him as “John,” but Mr. Prager seemed more appropriate now – shook his head, sighed, shook his head again, and muttered, “Women.  Always the thorn.  Always the tempters.  I'm sure that was St. Paul’s thorn – women.”  Why was he assuming she had tempted him?  Does a beer do anything to tempt a guy?  If a guy’s tempted to drink, do they call up the beer can, look sternly in judgment at that can, and tell that beer can where it can no longer go? 
Why hadn't she had the courage to ask that question of the church elder?  No, like a wimp, she stood there silent.  The elder then looked at her and spoke the last words she had heard spoken by anyone at Quail Canyon:  “You’re just like Eve.”  
© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.

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