I remember, once upon a time, being in an online discussion with some fellow Lutherans about Satan. One highly excitable participant simply couldn't type "Satan" correctly; he kept spelling it "Satin," and then after several more posts "Satin" morphed into "Stan." One of our group noted there was perhaps a theological point to ponder here: That as Christians, trusting in Christ's saving power, the name "Satan" no longer has the power to terrify; Christ's victory over death and sin reduces the Prince of Darkness to...well, Stan; annoying old Stan, reminiscent of the ineffectual, almost pitiable devil in the original Bedazzled.
I'm here to tell you, I've met Stan twice in the past week.
Today some online acquaintances and I have been doing theology with a belligerent young chica who's really pissed at the God she doesn't believe in (hmmm...been there, done that); her initial question was a supposed hypothetical about "someone" who wanted to believe in God but just couldn't, and why a good, loving God wouldn't prove Goddself to this person in a definitive way. And of course, every attempt to respond to her was shot down as an unacceptable answer to her question. I checked out this individual's profile for a clue as to where she at spiritually; it says she's a member of The Church of Satan. Well, alrighty then! ("What have you gotten me into now?" I asked The CEO.) My assessment of Stan's disciple: Methinks she doth protest too much. She will be in my prayers in the days to come...and remembering God's subtle but relentless efforts to pull me back into the family fold, I have every confidence that this person will receive the same attention, sooner or later.
But the second story is maybe the better one.
The neighborhood of my church was recently invaded by a notorious member and self-identified minister of the Christian Identity Movement. These are not nice people -- they are vicious racists, anti-Semites and homophobes; they're also, if you can stand to read their literature or listen to their ranting radio broadcasts, total wingnuts whose goofball theology and conspiracy theories would be downright hilarious (did you know that the Queen of England is a major player in the great genocidal Jewish conspiracy against "the white race"?) if you didn't stop to consider that these people seriously want to kill lots of us, to the greater glory of their ideal society. Anyway, this guy had created a stir in a downstate city a few years ago and was pretty much run out of town by a coalition of community and religious leaders. So, needless to say, the residents of the little hamlet where my church is located were none too happy when he showed up with the moving van. And my pastor wasn't exactly overjoyed to keep finding him on the parsonage doorstep wanting to engage in a theological sparring match.
Fast forward to last Monday, the day my mom died, when my pastor drove me the hour-and-a-half back home in his own vehicle because the weather was horrible and I was alone and falling apart. "Don't worry about your car," he told me. "I'll get someone to drive down there with me and we'll drive it back up here." I figured he meant one of our parish farmers or retirees, or maybe one of the teenagers from our youth group itching to put pedal to metal.
Later that afternoon I heard a knock on the door. It was my pastor. My Intr pid (inside joke -- it's missing the "E"; actually, it should be missing the "IN")was parked in my garage."
"I'll introduce you to the guy who drove my car back up here while I drove yours," he said. And then he added, sotto voce, "And some day, when you're up to it...do I have a story to tell you." He looked back down the driveway, and I followed his gaze to find his Jeep, and an older man standing next to it, looking very uncomfortable. "Hey, _________," my pastor said, "this is the person I was telling you about. LutheranChik [not my real name], meet _________."
It was the Christian Identity guy.
"I'm sorry to hear of your loss, ma'am," he murmured, eyes downcast, digging his toe into the gravel. He looked small...like a bashful little kid.
"Thanks," I found myself responding. "Thanks for helping out." It was like thanking an SS officer for bringing around a nice bottle of wine for Passover.
The tiny part of my brain that was capable of rational thought at that moment was alternating wildly between Divine intervention is happening here and [Pastor's name], what the **** are you doing?
The day of Mom's memorial service, I found out what the **** my pastor was doing. We had some quiet moments before people started arriving, and during that time he told me about a conversation he'd had with this guy that Monday. "We both claim to believe in the same God," my pastor told him. "We both read the same Bible. You're taking what you read and turning it into conspiracy theories and reasons to hate different groups of people. Here's what I do with what I find in the Bible: I help folks who are hurting. I read Scripture and give Communion to shut-ins and scared people in the ER. I ride herd on a bunch of squirrely teenagers and try to teach them something about God. I comfort families who've lost loved ones. I do things like driving a car back from an out-of-town hospital so the owner doesn't have to drive 75 miles home alone in the rain after her mom has just died. I've read your literature and listened to your tapes so you'll know that I know where you're coming from. So why don't you follow me around for a day and see how I'm living out my Christianity?" And that's what had happened; that's how the guy wound up in my driveway.
My pastor told me, "Maybe I'm naive, but I have to believe that no one is too far gone to be touched by the power of God."
Like I said, I've met Stan twice in the past week. And I have to tell you...despite all appearances to the contrary, I don't think Stan is winning.