Revisiting The Visitation: Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, bereaved former pastor Travis and young current pastor Kyle go to a local ministerial meeting. It’s Kyle’s first time, which provides a convenient device for Travis to introduce the other pastors.

Kyle picked me up a little before ten the next morning and we rode together. In a town the size of Antioch there isn’t much time to discuss anything while on the way to somewhere, so I found myself talking fast.

“Morgan Elliot’s the only female minister. She used to copastor the Methodist church with her husband, Gabe, but he was killed in a car wreck three years ago. Nice gal. I wouldn’t call her a liberal, but she’s definitely not a fundamentalist either.”

Remember Morgan. She’s going to be important later. Also, let’s take a moment be completely unsurprised that a female pastor is “not a fundamentalist.” Gee gosh willakins, Travis, I wonder why that is?

“Paul Daley’s a kidder, and he likes being Episcopalian as much as you like being Pentecostal. He’d genuflect at a light pole if it had a cross piece on it.

Al Vendetti is as Catholic as the Pope himself. His father was Catholic, his father’s father was Catholic, his oldest sister is a nun in Philadelphia. I got into a religious argument with him once and he finished it in Latin. But listen, you respect him and he’ll respect you.”

Peretti is generally really good with characters, but he does lean on stereotypes from time to time. Every pastor at this meeting is a caricature of mainline catholic and protestant clergy as they’re perceived by conservative evangelical Christians.

Peretti definitely knows his audience, and they’re not Presbyterian. Reformed Presbyterian, maybe, but not mainline.

“Bob Fisher’s Southern Baptist, so he’s sound and solid. Just don’t get into a doctrinal dispute with him. He doesn’t like being disagreed with.”

Note that Bob is a jerk, but he’s a “sound and solid” Southern Baptist, so he gets a pass.

Once they arrive at the meeting, an intimidating character named Armond Harrison (remember him too, he’ll also be important later) challenges Travis’ right to be there, since he’s no longer an active minister. He seems to be the only one who has a problem with it, and the meeting continues.

They start talking about the strange things that are happening around town. Multiple people have seen “angels” and visitors from out of town are camping out at the Catholic church hoping to see the crucifix weep. The discussion starts out civil, and quickly devolves into a shouting match as the ministers argue about the cause of these miracles.

And here’s where Peretti’s experience in church leadership really shines through, because this scene is perfect. This is exactly how this would go in real life.

Morgan tries to express an opinion and is interrupted at least three different times. Kyle brings up demons and the mainline pastors are all “who, whoa, WHOA.” Someone accuses the Catholics of worshiping the crucifix. Everyone yells about judgement.

Anyone who’s ever been to a leadership meeting about a divisive subject has been in this room, and if you haven’t, watch the excellent documentary The Armor of Lightand wait for the moment when four conservative evangelical leaders find themselves on different sides of the gun control debate.

Mark-Evangelist
It’s still better than the old days, when a theological dispute might have ended with someone being drawn and quartered. 

So Travis and Kyle leave the ministerial meeting. Kyle is very upset, not because things got so ugly, but because no one agreed with him.

“You just sat there!” Kyle huffed as we drove across town. “These are lead pastors, ministers, people answerable to the Lord for how they lead their flocks and they get off on this stupid, wishy-washy, tolerance stuff – that’s Morgan Elliot’s bag, right? She and that Burton what’s-his-face. She’s some kind of liberal, feminist, radical, politically correct female pastor type, and all the men in there don’t want to stand up to her, right?”

Okay, so let’s go back a moment here and remember that Morgan is outnumbered 15 to 1 by the men in this room, and when she tries to speak she’s constantly being interrupted and challenged.

But look how scared Kyle is that Morgan is somehow magically dominating all of the men in the ministerial meeting. The dude is freaking out. From now on I think I’m going to refer to him as Fragile Kyle.

Fragile Kyle, by the way, talked twice as much as any pastor in that meeting, but he’s emotionally wounded because no one rushed to pat him on the back and tell him what a good boy he was.

Travis defends Morgan by saying this:

“She’s a widow, and she made sense.”

I’m not sure why “she’s a widow” is his first line of defense here. Does a woman have to bury a husband in order to have credibility? Or is he saying she can’t be a “liberal, feminist, radical, politically correct female pastor type” because she was once married to a man?

Finally the conversation turns to Armond Harrison, and oh boyyy did I forget this part. Armond Harrison is the leader of a local cult, nominally the church of the Apostolic Brethren.

“They consider the whole church one big extended family, so they move the kids around from family to family wherever Armond wants them to go. Armond usually requires the young women to live with him for a while so he can teach them about sex – whatever his view of it is, anyway. They, uh, do things.” I wanted to cut this short. “That’s about the gist of it.”

Fragile Kyle is justifiably horrified by this.

“But he’s a heretic! He’s a pervert!”

“Nobody’s asking you.”

He yelled at me. “What?”

I tried to explain, even though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t do much good. “Kyle, in the long, drawn-out scope of things, it’s really none of your business what the Apostolic Brethren do and believe. You can preach the truth just as God called you to do, but what Armond and his bunch chose to believe is up to them and you’re better off just leaving them alone. If you don’t believe me, just try to break up their little church. See how far you get. After you fall flat on your face, you can thank God you still live in a country where heretics like Armond Harrison can still roam free, because his freedom is your freedom.”

I bolded that last sentence because that’s not religious freedom, Travis, that’s child abuse and sex trafficking.

I’d like to be able to give Fragile Kyle some credit here for being horrified, but he isn’t horrified because children and women are at risk. He’s horrified because Armond Harrison is allowed to be on the same ministerial as he is. Once again, it’s about Fragile Kyle feeling threatened.

And like most fragile people, he lashes out, hitting Travis with the most condemning of all Christian phrases.

“You need to come back to the Lord, Travis.”

Travis bails out of the car and decides to walk home. Good call, Travis. Now maybe you could call someone else, like CPS or the police.

Next time in Chapter 4: Things get weirder, somehow.

 

*Everyone should watch The Armor of Light anyway because it’s fantastic. And it’s on Netflix now.

 

 

 

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Revisiting The Visitation: Chapters 1-2

Frank Peretti is generally defined as an author of christian fiction, but in terms of a broader genre, most of what he writes is supernatural horror.

The prologue of the The Visitation is all supernatural horror. An unidentified person suffers through an agonizing crucifixion, and his cries to God go unanswered.

He cried out, but in the cauldron of his sun-boiled mind he heard only the voices of his accusers and the ringing, ringing, ringing of the hammer – sounds that would forever haunt his memory and echo through his nightmares.

“You’re a child of the devil,” they said. A child of the devil who needed to be contained.

A child of the devil?

He cried out once again, and this time, a voice, a mind, answered and a power coursed through him. Suddenly, he could bear the pain and make it fuel for his will. With burning will, he determined he would live.

And living, he knew what he would do.

The first chapter brings us back to reality, back to a soothing rural scene somewhere in Washington state and a young woman with real life troubles.

While on a walk, she sees someone. A young man who knows her name and offers a cryptic message: “Your answer is on his way. Be looking for him.”

In the next scene, an elderly parishioner of the local Catholic church is cleaning the sanctuary and sees the tears running down the face of a wooden crucifix. When he touches the damp wood, his arthritis is miraculously healed.

In the final set-up scene, we’re introduced to the congregation of the Antioch Pentecostal Mission. Some of the women gathered in the parking lot see Jesus in the clouds, holding a dove (but not everyone sees it. At least one person sees a rooster).

Then the book jumps to first person narrative, and I had forgotten that Peretti switches back and forth between first and third person in this book. The first person character is Travis Jordan, the former pastor of the Antioch Pentecostal Mission church. The new pastor, Kyle Sherman, is filling him in on the vision in the clouds.

And here’s another thing I had forgotten about this book. It’s a lot of inside baseball. Two pastors discuss various personalities within the congregation with the kind of brutal honesty that’s seldom seen in christian fiction.

“Dee is a follower with followers. Meg Fordyce has a little prayer and praise meeting at her house once a week, and Dee gets over there pretty often. Just put it together from there.”

I could see a lightbulb coming on, but Kyle apparently wasn’t comfortable with my drift. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Kyle, it’s simple. Meg told Dee about Sally seeing an angel. That means someone else is getting a special visitation from God that Dee isn’t getting. You don’t get something from God without Dee getting it too. She won’t allow it.”

Their meeting ends when Travis’ sister Rene arrives. This is where the reader learns that Rene has been cooking and doing laundry for Travis since the death of his wife ten months ago. She’s no longer happy with that arrangement. It’s time for Travis to pull himself together.

After Rene leaves, Travis glances out his window and sees a man, with long hair and a beard, dressed in a white robe. He runs outside, but the man is gone.

In Chapter 2, we get a little more insight into Travis’ life since his wife’s passing. He goes to a local tavern (a place he never would have gone while he was a pastor, because they serve alcohol) and talks with the locals while he eats.

They’re all talking about the strange occurrences that have been happening all over town, but Travis keeps his to himself. Peretti goes to great lengths here to show the division between Travis’ life within the Pentecostal Mission bubble and outside of it. Here, he’s eating with people who are not “church people.” They wouldn’t feel welcome in a Pentecostal Mission church. But Travis feels welcome among them, because he no longer sees himself as “church people” either.

There’s also a flashback to his first meeting with Kyle Sherman.

Imagine a tired old dog, lying in the road, suddenly finding itself wrapped around the axle of a speeding truck. That’s how I felt my first five minutes with Kyle Sherman.

Kyle is young, idealistic and on-fire-for-the-Lord. He reaches out to Travis with the best of intentions, ready to “take this city for Christ!”

Travis doesn’t respond well to this.

“Now you listen to me.” I said it slowly, and I know I sounded downright vicious. “Have you even asked this town if it wants to be taken for Christ?”

He goes on to pour out his frustrations. The fruitless attempts to evangelize and revive. The day-to-day grind of just trying to keep his church running and whole. Kyle is nonplussed by this. He chalks Travis’ tirade up to bitterness and continues on his way.

Coming up in Chapter 3: Things get real at the local minister’s meeting and stereotypes of mainline clergy are vigorously applied.

 

 

Revisiting The Visitation

One of the things I really enjoy on other blogs is when the author re-reads a book they remember from their childhood or adolescence and writes about the things that stand out to them now. For example, Samantha Fields has taken a critical look at Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, former homeschooler Libby Anne has been working her way through Michael Farris’ Anonymous Tip, and Fred Clark wrote a scathing and hilarious commentary on the popular Left Behind series.

I’ve decided to give it a shot, and so for my retrospective review I decided to dust off (literally, we need to clean off the bookshelf more often) Frank Peretti’s The Visitation. I was an avid reader of Peretti when I was growing up. His tension-filled supernatural horror stories were by far the most exciting thing you could find on the shelves of the local Christian bookstore.

peretti

My copy of The Visitation actually belongs to my dad. He got it as a “thank you” gift from the Bible club at the high school where he taught (I know this because it’s written on the inside of the cover). The book was released in 1999, which was the year before I went to college. I must have packed it up and taken it with me, and my poor father never got it back.

It’s one of those books that I kept, all of these years, through multiple moves and bookshelf purges because it was very meaningful to me at the time that I read it. As I was considering doing this, I was trying to remember what exactly it was about the book that spoke to me at that place in my life and the only thing I could directly remember was a quote from one of the minor characters of the book.

I’m probably paraphrasing here, but she says, “I never gave up on God. I just needed a break from all the church stuff.”

And that’s where I was in 1999. At the ripe old age of 17, I was totally and completely burned out on church. I didn’t talk about it much, because I assumed that endless optimism was the ideal, and that cynicism reflected some moral failing on my part.

I didn’t go to church much while I was in college. I tried a few things, a few places, a few campus groups, but they all had the same feel to me. They all had the same resounding message that I just needed to go back and do it better. Love Jesus more. Read my Bible more. Pray more. Aquire the fire. Be a crusader for Christ.

None of it spoke to me. But The Visitation did.

Coming soon, Chapter 1-2: supernatural horror, real people, and tired old dogs.