It's been a quiet millennium in Lake Wobegon, my hometown, right there on the edge of the prairie. The Sidetrack Tap got lots of business on Monday night, with the Packers game. True, this is Minnesota, but if the Pack is playing and the Vikes aren't, you watch the Packer game to root for the opposing team and make fun of their cheesehead gear. Well, when the Seattle team won that game on a botched referee call--after ten minutes of making Packer fans sweat it out--you would think Minnesota would rejoice. And admittedly, given the extreme nature of the situation, you did hear a small "wooo" at the bar. But most Minnesotans stayed true to nature, and immediately thought: this is too good to be true. It must be a harbinger of the end times.
Actually, the Track crew wouldn't have necessarily gone straight to the end times if it hadn't been for Pastor Ingqvist, who had had a round or two with the neighbors and a bad day to boot. He had gotten together with other pastor buddies from the area to gather for Monday breakfast at the Chatterbox Cafe and what they called "the sin report"--you know, Agnes Hatterfoot stuck her thumb in her daughter in law's pie at the potluck, that sort of thing--but no doubt about it, this week's report was bad, really bad. Maybe it was the election or maybe it was the end of summer and all its hopes, but everyone seemed to be out to hurt each other. Churches coming apart, families spitting at each other, and the police blotter took up half the newspaper page. They'd never seen such a thing. Then Fr. Wilmer came to visit for a cup of caffeine and mentioned he had presided over 12 funeral liturgies in one week at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. Pastor Ingqvist stared at him and mentioned he had seen quite a few funerals in the past month as well, and knew some of his flock were on the edge, but he thought it was a fluke. But 12 in a week! Think of it, that's more like a war zone than a prairie town. How did you do that?, he asked Fr. Wilmer. "Caffeine," asked Fr. Wilmer. "Why do you think I'm here, for Luther's catechism? I'm here because I'm out of coffee!"
Then Pastor Ingqvist went to the food shelf to drop off the church donation for the month, and ran into a family, a mom and three kids, receiving their weekly allotment: some hamburger helper, cereal, and two jars of peanut butter. He was OK until he heard the mom stage whisper to the youngest child, a boy of three, "I know you haven't eaten since Saturday night, but we have to wait until we get into the car." As he stood in shock, he registered that they were leaving, and quietly followed them, stopping the mother and giving her the cash in his wallet--eight dollars. As she opened her mouth to say anything, he touched her shoulder, shook his head, and walked quickly away.
What is going on? he thought. I've seen sin, death, and hunger, but.... Dear God. And then he thought: the apocalypse.
He was immediately a little ashamed he thought of that, after all, he was an ELCA minister, not some gullible fundamentalist hack. That 2012 Apocalypse thing is surely a hoax, he thought. Surely it is. But how to explain all these events? He went to the office and moved directly into paperwork for the Lutheran conference, collections and attendance and income and debt report, because nothing takes one's mind off the impending apocalypse like bureaucracy. It is the perfect inoculation against dangerous biblical interpretation and cultural malaise. He was just about through the projected church budget for the next biennium when he heard a clop. Then another. Then a steady clop clop clop clop clop. Horses, he thought. Are the Amish in town again? He looked out the window. Nothing.
So when a parishioner met him outside the office and suggested he watch the evening game with him and his friends, Pastor Ingqvist thought, why not. Judy is out of town, and after all, how does one act in the impending apocalypse? Does one go home and watch Dancing with the Stars? Reheat the weekend pizza? Read Revelation for the preview? Besides, this has to be a fluke. So he agreed to go to the Sidetrack Tap.
When the ref bungled that game clinching call, the bar cheered in its Minnesota fashion, that is, with reserved bloodlust. But Pastor Ingqvist felt a growing chill as the ten minute delay grew longer, and longer. When the bad call stood, he got up and walked outside. Looking north, he saw a strange light in the night sky, a shimmering red something, eerie but almost beautiful. The Northern Lights? If it's the northern lights, I should be enjoying this. But...could the apocalypse be beautiful? Does that three year old have food still tonight?... He shook his head. Stop this, he told himself. Except, according to Scripture, it could happen, anytime. Maybe those 2012 people aren't on to anything, but even a dead clock is right twice a day. Maybe...
He went home, fed the cat, and went to bed. On a whim, he called Fr. Wilmer. "Sorry to bother you, Father," he said. "But I was just wondering--did any more parishioners of yours die this afternoon?" "Did you see that game?" he thundered. "I've got a couple Packer fans in the parish and I'm expecting a call any minute!" After guffawing a bit, he said "Well, Irene Donahue died this afternoon, may she rest in peace. It was expected, after five years in the home. Why do you ask?" "No reason, I guess," Pastor Ingqvist replied. "I'm just thinking strange things. I need to sleep. Take care of yourself, it could be an odd night." "Really?" asked Fr. Wilmer. "Why do you say that?" "Oh..." he paused. "The game. The game ... may be over. It's good to remember that the game may be over anytime, and ... we can fight about the calls, but at some point, it won't matter, Wil. It just won't." Fr. Wilmer held a long silence over the phone. "John. It's not a game. It never was. But I go to sleep praying I am found on the right side, when that call comes. I'm sure you do as well. We can pray for each other tonight."
And so the light shimmered a little more peacefully over my little town, for one more graced night.
That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where--in days past--all the women were strong, all the men good-looking, and the children, above average.