Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Short Fiction--Iron John comes to Willowhaven Church (i)

Since we're on our way to northern Minnesota, I thought I'd run an old story I'm not sure was ever published because we're soon to be in the backyard of Robert Bly, who I've always admired and whose writing career soared when he came out with a book titled Iron John. I read it. Very strange stuff.

That book was (and still is, I suppose) an attempt to revitalize maleness by creating a new mythology for men, most of whom have been taking a hit since the advent of women's lib (talk amongst yourselves). He advocated some odd stuff in that book, which Frank attempts to communicate to the steering committee at Willowhaven Church. After I read Iron John, I thought it would be cool to have some heady male converted to Bly's macho faith, then try to bring that madness home to his evangelical church. 

It's strange, I know, but so is life. Anyway, here's the story of Frank Knol's departure from Willowhaven Church, a sad day.

Sort of.  

The night Willowdale lost Frank Knol, Pastor Buntz was out of town at a seminar on relationships held, of all places, in Las Vegas, so he couldn’t make the meeting. Diane (the "other woman," as Butch like to call her) had season tickets to the symphony, so she wasn’t there either. Grady Fisher was at his daughter's Girl Scout banquet.

That left half a steering committee and no quorum: Mona, owner/operator of a highly successful bridal shop in Calumet Mall; Butch, a self‑made man, a plumber with a fleet of six Roto‑Rooter trucks; and Alan Simpson, a mortician who Butch thought as short on guts as he was long on sweetness.

Maybe things would have been different if the steering committee had been operating at full‑strength. Then again, maybe not.

When Frank Knol came in, he shook hands warmly all around—too warmly, Butch thought, since the only men he knew who pumped with two hands were truck salesmen and politicians. Frank was wearing what Mona thought of as the painted smile of a circus clown.

"Folks," Frank said, "I'm here to say that I've been to the mountain."

Butch thought that was great. "How's skiing?" he said.

Frank shook it off with a smile. "That's not what I mean." He gave Butch a consoling nod. "I have a dream."

Frank Knol came to the meeting on recommendation of Pastor Buntz, who had passed Knol's proposal along to his steering committee, a hybrid group of church loyalists Buntz created to supervise what he called "the vision thing." A steering committee was an idea he had picked up during a weekend in Cleveland, where he'd scouted a blossoming mega‑church.

"What I mean is," Frank told them, "I've seen the future, and it is us."

Mona folded her arms over her chest because she'd already caught wind that Frank had been out in the woods beating his chest, bonding with other males, behavior she recognized immediately as very, very dangerous.

"Now you know that I've always supported women's issues at Willowhaven," Frank said, deferring to Mona, "and I don't want you to misconstrue the direction of this great idea."

Butch stared blankly. Alan, who sat alone in the love seat, hid behind his coffee.

"This has nothing at all to do with women," Knol said, sitting back and adjusting his shoulders. "But it is a fact that the church today‑‑in many places‑‑is proportionally heavy with women.You all know what I’m saying."

Butch didn't know what that meant, but was quite sure his wife would have thought it shouldn't have been said like that in public.

"Now gentlemen‑‑and lady," he nodded to Mona, "what I see coming is a church like the former Soviet Union's‑‑nothing but old women‑‑and I shouldn’t have to explain the repercussions of such a thing on society." He looked around, seriously. "What I'm saying is, the church has to make bold moves in these perilous times, and, Lord help us, we're in perilous times."

"The recession," Butch added.

"No, Butch," Frank said, "worse—the loss of men, the loss of manhood."

"Loss of men?" Butch said. He was trying to line all of this up with a weekend ski trip.

"That's right‑‑you see it everywhere around you in our society."

"You do?" Butch said.

"Everywhere‑‑take a good look at mainline Protestant Christendom." Frank sat forward on the soft chair and used both his hands like paper cutters. "Today, it’s all women.” He pointed a finger. “I want you to try to see it this way. A man goes into a dangerous forest and sees a pond. And suddenly a hand comes up out of the water and grabs the man's dog."

It's a horror movie, Butch thought. The guy's seen a horror movie.

"So he goes back to the castle," Frank said, "and rounds up some men who empty the pond for him. And down there at the bottom, they find a hairy man‑‑a man named Iron John."

Mona moaned audibly because she knew he’d read some kind of macho book.

"See, we've buried this hairy man—all of us men have. We’ve buried the hairy man—that’s what I’m saying."

Iron John, sure, Mona thought--she’d read a review of that book. Lots of chest-pounding around camp fires, male bonding, blood brothers and all of that. "And you think we ought to unleash the beast," she said.

"It's not a beast," Frank said. "that's where all you women are dead wrong."

Butch's mind scrambled—an economic depression, a hairy man, a beast in a castle, dead dogs, and a ski trip? What’d any of that have to do with church?

"We need a place where men can be men," Frank said, still up on the edge of his chair. "In this church, we need a place where men can help each other find Iron John."

“Iron John,” Butch knew the man, knew him well. “Sure, pot‑bellied guy,” he said suddenly. “Used to pitch for Westminster Presbyterian. Mean riser. An old guy.”

Alan Simpson coughed lightly into a soft fist, kept that pointer up.

"So what's the point?" Mona said.

"The point is that if we're running a truly alive church here, we've got to respond to the spirit of the times," Frank said. "And one of the great tragedies of the time is all about the loss of manhood in our culture."

Loss of manhood? Butch could feel his cheeks fall into a deep blush.
Tomorrow: Frank reveals his plan to refurbish maleness at Willowbrink Church.


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