In the spring of 1994, during my final semester of college, I took a short story writing course. It sounded like a fun way to end my college experience, and it was. I still remember the stories I told then, and I regretted that I didn’t have a chance to take more fiction writing classes. 24 years later I asked myself, “Could I still do this, write fiction?” This little story was a chance for me to get back on the bike again and see if I could still ride it.
At the end, though, I realize I had a few things going through my mind. The monster is a reappropriation of an Indiana story. The town of Crawfordsville experienced the Crawfordsville Monster as a “horrible apparition” back in 1891, and most think all they were really seeing was a flock of birds. The more head-scratching explanation is that it was a deflating balloon with cat passengers (read the article; I’m telling you, you can’t make this stuff up). I’m curious about stories like this that every town has, myths and monsters and the stories that get passed through the years.
My hometown in Missouri was settled by mostly German people. I remember reading how the St. Louis paper accused it, and other communities of German immigrants, of not being pro-America enough during World War I. Digging a little deeper, I was curious about the suspicion, and sometimes even mob violence, German immigrants across the country experienced during that time. I don’t know of any Underground Railroad-style operations to hide German immigrants, but in a work of fiction anything is possible. I was interested in the anti-immigrant feelings of the time because all of it sounds a little similar to what I hear in the midst of the chest-thumping nationalism of our day, and I thought there may be a story here that we’ve forgotten.
Reading my story I see, too, how I had in mind the experience of GenX pastors in this time of mainline church decline. Mike & Kenny see both the experience of their older church members who wonder why it’s not like it was in the past, but they see too the experience of younger people who they know probably wouldn’t ever be drawn to their churches. They’re caught between two worlds, trying to keep up an institution that serves the needs of the past while trying to pull it toward the change it needs to keep it relevant for the present and future.
But, finally, I think friendship was on my mind. Most clergy will tell you, quietly, that ministry can be a very lonely experience. One pastor told me, at my ordination, to not neglect friendships because ministry is socially isolating. I’ve learned, in my 20 years of ministry, how life-giving friendships with other pastors can be. It’s often only among other pastors that pastors can be themselves and allow real friendships to happen.
So thanks for following this serial novella. At the end of the story I’m sad because Mike and Kenny have been journeying through my mind all summer, and I miss them already. I’d like to rebirth them in a parallel universe, in a real novel format, with a different monster to follow. So, we hopefully haven’t seen the last of these guys.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict