Dr. Ray was an odd duck. He was a retired professor, a life-long bachelor and a loner. Dr. Ray was, more often than not, the “odd-man-out” in the spiritual community of which I was a part. As a leader of such communities, it is not unusual to have folks like Dr. Ray in the mix. After all, most every odd duck still needs a flock to call home. Sadly, most people found Dr. Ray so very odd and strange that they simply stayed away from him, not because they were mean, but because they just didn’t know what to do with him or what to say to him. Even for me, to try to talk with him was often an exercise in futility.
Not too long after my arrival in Dr. Ray’s hometown, a woman named Barbara approached me in the church social hall. She pulled me aside and, in a confidential whisper that dripped with conspiracy, said with deep conviction, ”PJ, you have to do something about Dr. Ray.”
Having been sucked into the quicksand of a set-up more than once, I asked her innocently, “What’s wrong with Dr. Ray? Is he sick or something?”
“Well,” she said, “He’s Catholic! EVERYBODY thinks it’s terrible!”
What Barbara said was a half-truth. Dr. Ray was not a Catholic. He was, however, a life-long Methodist who acted very much like a Catholic. On Sunday mornings, Dr. Ray would sit in the front row of the church, in front of the pulpit, dressed in an all-white suit, Episcopal red shirt, slim black tie and cowboy boots. Before and after every prayer, he would dramatically cross himself and, anytime I or any other clergy-type drew near, he would almost double over in a slow bow. I kind of liked it. It felt good being king for a day! Although it certainly was rather bizarre behavior, Dr. Ray really was not hurting anybody, so I thought for a moment and then said to Barbara, “You’re right. Dr. Ray is way too Catholic to fit in here. The last thing we need is a replica of Pope John Paul II floating around in our sanctuary.”
“So what are YOU going to do about it?” Barbara demanded.
I replied, “I am going to tell Dr. Ray that YOU and EVERYBODY else here don’t want him around. I’m gonna kick him out of the church. I’ll call him tomorrow and see if he can get together with us. YOU and EVERYBODY else who wants to ex-communicate him, however, must come to the meeting to share your concerns with him face-to-face, before I ask him to leave. It’s only fair. He has been here a long time.”
Horrified, Barbara said, “That’s mean! YOU can’t kick him out!”
I said non-anxiously, “Oh yes I can. As pastor, our Methodist rules are quite clear that I can kick out anybody I want.”
Of course, this is not quite true. It was just a little bit of a fib, but it served its purpose.
“Well, you can’t do that,” she said firmly.
“Well, I suspect that Dr. Ray is not going to change much, so I guess he stays,” said I.
Frustrated with her uncooperative Pastor, Barbara left.
Dr. Ray stayed, bowing and crossing himself, dressed in his red shirt and cowboy boots.
And…I enjoyed a few more years of being treated with a reverence not befitting my true self.
I sometimes wonder where some religious folk get their ideas. They claim to be guided by the Bible or Koran or some other Holy Book, and yet they clearly pick and choose what they like or dislike. They also decide who is in or out, who is “normal” or “odd.” All the Holy Books that I have read, however, advocate for and embrace those who are on the outside looking in or who are odd ducks looking for a flock. My guess is that in the eyes of the Divine One, that’s not only an eternal truth, but also a thing of beauty. What could be more beautiful than a wounded pigeon or a few bedraggled sea gulls flying in formation with a flotilla of ducks or a gaggle of geese?
The Dr. Ray’s of this world will always be invited to fly with me, if for no other reason than that there are more than just a few very odd quirks about yours truly. I think inviting all the “odd-ones-out” to join in flight might also result in leaving “no-one out.” We might even be winging our way closer to the One who created all us odd ducks in the first place.
John E Holt, Cotuit, Massachuesetts