[ Chicken Man appeared in The Northcote Anthology of Short Stories. Harold Shaw, 1992. ]
+ + +
BS100 Introduction to Exegesis: 4 credits.
The first task of exegesis is to understand what the writer actually said in the language and setting of his day. This means that the student needs to become acquainted with the grammatical, lexical, textual, literary and historical aspects of the biblical text, and he/she needs to know and use the various exegetical aids which are at his/her disposal.
The ring of the phone was an annunciation. He welcomed it as a relief from the blank screen and maddening blinking cursor of the desktop computer, a graduation gift. He let the phone ring a second time. It still gave him pleasure to have his phone ringing in his own office. That the office was tiny as a monk’s cell made it all the better. He lifted the receiver with the reverence due a holy relic. He put it to his ear and listened for a brief moment before speaking. “Pastor Greg.”
“Hello, Reverend. This is Sam Rivers. I got a problem, Reverend, and I thought you could give me a hand.”
Pastor Greg tried not to sound delighted. The Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Only one person had voted against his coming to “Witness in the Valley Baptist Church.” Eloise, his part-time secretary, had as much as told him it was Sam Rivers.
She had said it round about. “Everybody was just thrilled to have you coming, Pastor Greg. We haven’t had a full-time man of God for better than five years, and he was so old we suspected God had called him home two or three times already and he just wasn’t paying attention.’ ”
Then she had puffed herself up a bit and added, “’Course, one man spends so much time with chickens that he hasn’t much more brains than one.” That was all she said, but with a congregation of fifty-five, counting the two newborns, it didn’t take much to figure out that Sam Rivers had been his lone critic.
NTOIO Introduction to Greek: 4 credits.
Presentation of fundamentals pertaining to the Greek verb, noun, and clause with respect to forms and simple relationships (syntax). Reading and understanding of materials with elementary vocabulary. Equivalent of a year of Greek. Offered as an intensive course each summer (July, August and September). See page 56.
“Yes, Sam. Of course. I would be very happy to help you in any way I can. In fact, looking at my schedule book here I see that I am completely free all day. When would be a good time for you to come in?”
“No, Reverend. It ain’t no office help I need. You’ll have to come out here.”
“Well that will be fine, Sam. What do you say I swing by there after lunch today?”
“I don’t eat lunch myself. You be here after you’re done. I’ll be waitin’.”
“Yes. Right. I often skip lunch myself. Actually, I try to jog a lit . . .
“And don’t wear no preacher’s clothes.”
BT212 The Church: 3 Credits.
New Testament picture of the church (exact term and parallel terms, phrases) in the light of the historical situations where the people of God of the New Testament period are described.
He turned down the long dirt driveway at the crossroad, just beyond the undulating wooden bridge. He had stopped by the parsonage to trade his vest and coat for a sweater. To be safe, he’d also thrown his running shoes in the back seat.
Sam’s house seemed less a man-made thing than a random outcropping of the ground. It gave a general impression of whiteness. Its clapboards met only grudgingly at the corners. Green and black asphalt shingles spread over the roof like a disease.
To the left and behind the house was a long, low metal shed, offering a dull reflection of the sun. Sam Rivers stood at its door. He began walking toward the car.
“Thanks for coming, Reverend.” He looked the pastor up and down and gave a slight shake of his head.
“More than happy to, Sam. I haven’t had a chance to get to many people’s homes yet. I like getting out of the office to where people live.” The pastor half-turned to move toward the house. “How can I be of help to you?”
“It’s over here.” Sam turned and started walking toward the metal shed. The young man followed carefully behind.
Sam pushed the door open and they stepped inside to a world of wire and artificial light and vibrating life. It didn’t seem possible that so many living things—brown, white, yellow, red, and mottled—could be in one place. Rows of wire cages, four layers high, ran into the darkness at the other end. A high-pitched babel and slightly acrid smell swept around the young man. Wrinkling his nose, he registered the scene through squinting eyes.
“It’s the chickens, Reverend. I need help with’em. Some’s still laying and some ain’t. With four in a cage, ain’t no easy way of telling which ones is and which ones ain’t. I wouldn’t a asked you, Reverend, except you maybe know Ethel died last year and I ain’t got no one now to share this place with. After last Sunday’s sermon, I figured this here was the kind of thing you were talking about.”
PR214 Persuasion in Preaching: 3 credits.
An analysis of the techniques of persuasion as applied in preaching. Emphasis on contemporary persuasion theory in regard to gaining attention of the audience, motivation, persuasibility, audience analysis, ethos, and ethical implications.
“You start this side of the aisle and I’ll start the other. Put the layers back in the cage you gettem from and just toss the others out here in the aisle. I’ll take care of them after.”
Sam turned to the cages then stopped and walked toward the door. “You get started Reverend. I got to feed Jesse.”
“Our goat. Be right back.”
The pastor felt like Moses sent back to Egypt to free his people. Surely there must be an alternate plan.
He knelt on the dirty floor of the shed, peering in at the chickens as though they held the key to the mysteries of the world. He unlatched the door to the cage. He waited briefly, hoping one of the hens would offer itself for examination. None volunteered.
He reached tentatively for a small mottled chicken in the far corner of the cage. At the first touch of his fingers, it became a small cyclone, leaping and squawking and thrashing about. Pastor Greg’s hand was out of the cage and back at his side before his brain could form the command.
He found himself trembling and wanting to curse. He closed his eyes for a moment, hopeful that when re-opened he would see anything but chickens.
But chickens he did see, hundreds of them. Above his head as he knelt on the floor, there seemed a heavenly host of chickens, clucking to him strange tidings he could not understand.
BT204 Christology: 4 credits.
A study of the origin, meaning, and usage of Christological titles in the primitive church. Special emphasis will be placed on the pertinent Christological passages. Includes a study of quests for the historical Jesus.
Pain and confusion competed on his face. He stared again into the cage, the four hens returning his questioning look with cocked heads.
There seemed no escape. He tensed his stomach muscles and reached again into the cage, this time with both hands. Catching a red and white chicken, he pulled it out, keeping its wings pressed to its body.
It occurred to him that he didn’t know what he was looking for. How was he to know if this was a layer or a freeloader? He held the hen up close to his face, hoping to read in its eyes the answer to this and all questions.
The door of the shed slapped open and Rivers returned. The pastor stood up quickly, holding the red and white hen. “Well, I got one here.”
“I see that. I’ll start on this side.”
The young man shuffled a little.
“Yes. I’ve got this one here. Let me see. I’m having just a bit of a problem knowing whether this particular hen is still laying or not.”
Rivers was reaching into the cage on the opposite side. “Two fingers she’s laying, one finger she ain’t.”
Two fingers she’s laying, one finger she ain’t. What did that mean? He raised the chicken up and glanced at its feet, but quickly lowered it again. ‘Chickens don’t have fingers. Chickens DON’T have fingers,’ he repeated to himself.
He decided to watch Rivers out of the corner of his eye to see what he did. But he saw only the brown workshirt of Rivers’ hunched back, constellated with patches of sweat.
“Two fingers in the vent shows it’s stretched. She’s laying. Only one finger—she ain’t.” With that, Rivers put back the hen he had in his hands and reached for another. Pulling it out, he turned to the young man. “Got it, Reverend?”
It was a revelation. This was the life of a chicken. Chicken eschatology. Two fingers, you lived. One finger, you died. Productivity is reality. Lay and let live. Feed for those who feed; death for the rest. It made him want to laugh, to cry.
All afternoon and into the evening he checked chicken vents. Two fingers—back into the cage. One finger—thrown out into the aisle. Two fingers—another year of grain in the dish and water in the bottle feeder. One finger—a twisted neck and a quick trip to chicken eternity. One finger, two fingers. One finger, two fingers. One finger, two fingers. It was the great chicken judgment.
And what about those in between? What about those that were more than one finger, but not really two? Who was he to judge? What if he were wrong? The responsibility was too much.
No, he concluded. The undecideds went back into the cage. He would take a stand at that point. Somewhere in the great scheme of things there had to be room for grace.
All afternoon and into the evening.
By nightfall he was exhausted and clouded. His hands and forearms were a crosshatch of scratches. His clothes gave off an unprecedented smell. His back had given up sending sharp pain messages to the brain and now settled for a steady knotted ache. Rivers had been deaf to his attempts at conversation, moving silently and efficiently away from him down the rows, casting out the undeserving, making his decisions quickly without apparent struggle or regret.
The young man, however, moved slower and slower. In his weariness he became rebellious, saving every third one-finger slacker, then every other. He started judging by the color of beak or the cock of the head rather than vent size. By the end he lost all criteria, even picking some of stringier looking chickens off the floor and sticking them back in cages when Rivers wasn’t looking.
BT219 The Lord’s Supper: 3 credits.
This seminar on the Lord’s Supper will deal with its historical origin, textual variations, theological meaning, and practical significance. Different church traditions will be examined and time will be spent discussing the Eucharist in ecumenical dialogue.
The pastor spent the entire next day in the parsonage, the phone off the hook. He wandered from room to room. He tried reading short bits of scripture. He wept. He laughed nervously. In mid-afternoon he packed his car. An hour later he put everything back.
He did not eat all day. As darkness came he went to the kitchen and pulled the silver spike handle of the ancient refrigerator. The only thing in it were a few jars and a bunch of purple grapes.
He reached without enthusiasm for the grapes, then closed the door and leaned against the counter. He surrendered to the great weakness in his legs and slid slowly to the linoleum floor, the back of his head coming to rest on the bread drawer.
Not long after he heard a single knock at the front. It took him a few moments to want enough to stand. When he opened the door a cool wind blew over him. He watched a pickup truck pulling away, its headlights carving a narrow path through the darkness.
On the porch was a metal bucket. In it were three headless chickens, plucked. A scratched note lay on top of one of them. “For your help. Eat them all before too long.”
The young man lifted them into his house, greeting them as he would a friend.