Posted by: Botolff | May 8, 2009

“Most” – The day of my living funeral.

This is a big post, but a small piece of my personal story…

Have you seen the movie “Most“?  It was nominated for an academy award for best live-action short.  It’s a 33 minute Czech film about a father who is a bridge operator on a railway system, and his son who goes with him to work one day. 

Most Movie Cover

If you haven’t seen the film, forgive me for giving away the ending, but without an explanation of the ending, I can’t begin to explain to you why the one and only time so far that I have seen the film, it had such a dramatic impact on my life.  And without seeing the film, you will not be able to grasp the power that this film had in the lives of people who were with me when I saw it.  Please see this film!

The very short of it is that in the end, after sending his son to fish on the riverbank near the train bridge, his father goes up in his operator’s tower to wait for the train.  The father gets distracted and the train comes early.  His son, seeing the coming of the train is trying to get his father’s attention and isn’t able to do so.  He climbs down in the gears of the bridge looking for a way to put the bridge down so the train will make it safely across.  In the meantime, his father hears the train, goes running to his tower and realizes his son is in the gear system of the bridge.  The father has to make a last moment decision to try and rescue his son, or pull the bridge lever and let him die in order to save the masses in the oncoming passenger train otherwise bound for the river.  He pulls the lever.  The train and its passengers survive…his son does not.

This film is a tragically heartwrenching depiction of the sacrifice necessary for salvation, and a powerful story of a father and son.  It’s quite a film to choose to show on Father’s Day in a church.  This is where my story comes in…

It was about 7pm the night before Father’s Day 2008 and I made my second to last phone call to the head elder of the church that was getting rid of me the next day.  I told him that I was wondering what the plan was for the morning, considering that it was supposed to be my last Sunday, my going away celebration, and no-one had told me what was happening yet.  He said, “Well, we got you a cake, but I haven’t talked to the pastor about what we’re doing.  Guess we haven’t thought much about that yet.”  As you can already tell, there was no intention of honoring me on my “day of celebration.”  Quite the contrary actually. 

So, I told him, I have two requests right now… 1) “I don’t want any group prayers of blessing for me.”  2) “I don’t believe tomorrow is a good time to talk about who is responsible for what in this situation.”  He said he agreed and that he expected that this would be a “great opportunity for everyone to say goodbye.”  On the other end of his arrogant and dismissive words, I was pretty much silent.  I told him I would see him in the morning. 

After taking the evening to think about it, it was again obvious that they didn’t care about me or my well being.  As a result, I wasn’t going to allow them to act like they did and make people think that we were in agreement with each other.  So, I called the head elder the next morning, Sunday morning (Father’s Day), and told him to let all the elders know that I didn’t want any physical contact from any of them that morning.  No hugs and no handshakes.  When you have been abused by people, you begin to learn the subtle tactics people use in order to abuse you more and leave you with the shame of it.  I wasn’t going to allow that to happen to me in a physical way that morning.

I intentionally got to church late, found a spot in the middle of the sanctuary and proceeded to choke the tears back as I sat silently through most worship songs, prayers and announcements, all the while knowing I was in the middle of an attempted crucifixion and the people around me had little understanding of what was happening.  I had already had my garden of Gethsemane moments prior to that day, and I had to choose if I was going to just walk away from the day, or try to be there for the people that I trusted cared about me as much as I cared about them.  I decided to go.  Other ministers I have talked to did not go to their own living funerals, and I now understand and respect why.

I labored to not let the agony of my soul become the focus of that morning.  I even smiled at some of the elders in hopes that they would see that I was still a kind man. 

We got about twenty minutes into the service and the pastor got up and spoke.  He very briefly mentioned that we were going to be watching a film that morning and that it was a pretty powerful one.  Then, much to my horror…our whole congregation watched “Most.”  It was the first time in almost four years of my ministry there that the whole service was pretty much taken up by one film.  And the first time I had seen people get up and walk out right before an inevitably tragic and traumatic ending.  It was so heavy you could cut the emotional trauma, and manipulation, in that room with a knife.  A knife seems like a pretty appropriate tool for what was happening.  Within minutes after the film was over, without addressing the trauma of the movie, the pastor announced that everyone should be aware that this was my last Sunday (they sent a letter to the congregation the previous Monday, abdicating any responsibility for the situation, and giving the congregants 6 days to get ready for my departure).  He said that there was a cake out in the lobby and that everyone could come by and share their words and cards with me.  Then he looked at me and simply said two words…”Thank you.”

That was the most wicked “thank you” I had ever received in my life.  After all the lies, manipulation and threats I had endured up until then, it was all I had in me not to look back at him and say “If this is how you thank people, you are much more wicked than I gave you credit for.”  I held my tongue, slowly nodded my head, and returned a look that should have clearly said, “You and I both know what you’re doing.”  He quickly turned his gaze away.  Oh how kind words like “thank you” can be used like a snake in a box; wrapped in fine paper and ribbons, and delivered in broad daylight for everyone to see in just such a way that people might believe a well-wishing gift is being passed on.

What a uniquely “ironic” series of events.  Traumatize your congregation with a film about the sacrifice of one for all, don’t say one word about any of the trauma you just created by showing the film, share your “kind” words with the one you are sacrificing right before the eyes of the trainload of people you just “saved”, and then leave the person you are crucifying to make the rest of your victims feel better from the trauma you had just put them through.  Wow.  How crafty is that?  No wonder the congregants are so loyal…and blind.

After the service was over, the elders and pastor left the building and drove off.  I didn’t have to worry about physical contact.  Every single one of them disappeared, and left me to deal with my own trauma from the film while fielding the handshakes and hugs of a traumatized congregation who decided to stick around for my living funeral on the heels of such a tragic story.  Guess who was the staff member left responsible for locking up the building after my funeral was over?  That would be me.  With one person by my side, I was the last one out of the church that day. 

Wicked.  Not a “mistake.”  Not “poor planning.”  Not “insensitivity.”  Not “misguided intentions.”  Not a “misunderstanding.”  Wicked.  Just plain wicked.  And it wasn’t just wickedness pointed at me.  It was pointed at the fathers, and the rest of the congregation that day.  If anyone sets you up to endure that kind of trauma, and then leaves you hanging after it’s over, they don’t care about you.  They care about themselves.  And I have countless examples from my own experience to prove it.

I close this post with tears.

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Responses

  1. Wow…what else can I say? Thank you for sharing a piece of your story. I don’t understand how people can be so evil… I’m so sorry you had to endure that!

  2. Me too Keelie…me too. Thanks for your sympathy. What’s even harder to believe is that your words echo only one other person’s who shared something similar with me that morning. Over a hundred people just walked away from the story they themselves were manipulated into, and never said a word to me about it.

    Thanks again for commenting. It felt good to have someone acknowledge the evil in it all.

  3. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to hear/read of your experience before now. I react in much the same way as the other comments, … I am outraged. I admire the courage and strength you have and are displaying. May you witness a just judgment and receive your due reward for your sacrifice. I pray that both of those are greater than I can imagine!


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