by Matt Muilenburg
Tiny Crucifixes (the ones without Jesus; His presence ups the price considerably)
1,000 Eggs (the plastic kind, obvs.)
Candy (the knockoff brand)
Truth (not the knockoff brand)
That Picnic Table to Your Right
Step One: Promise the Children Candy
No, you don’t sound like a pedophile, silly. You’re a man of God playing Yahweh's Greatest Hits, from Genesis to Golgotha. The parents at the park trust you for this reason alone. And look: you have an audience ten times larger than any you've had any Sunday and there’s still fifteen minutes before the egg hunt. Hallelujah! This Easter Saturday is your Super Bowl Sunday. It proves that God chose you like he choose Mary’s womb. Now act like a Mary and preach that Truth!
Step Two: Reflect on Good Decisions
Holding the hunt at your new church wasn’t an option. Imagine welcoming hundreds of sheep into the former car dealership, the roaring semis at the truck stop next door drowning their enthusiasm? No one would’ve come beyond those you already shepherd. The park, though, has jungle gyms and ball fields. Your church could never be this fun.
Step Three: Welcome Everyone
Hey, there’s someone familiar: that tall guy in the back. He was the editor for the paper that featured your family. He left that position recently, didn’t he? Good for him. He never seemed happy there, feeling like an outsider in a community that’s terrified of such.
What’s his name? Matthew, right? Such a nice Christian name! And look—Matthew waved. Bet you’d be swell friends (Side note: Forget about the time you offered to help him move. Surely, you made Matthew uncomfortable, seeing as how you’d literally just met him but felt so emboldened by your new standing in the community that you offered to help lug furniture, suggesting that he welcome you into his life without knowing anything about you. His uneasiness made you uneasy. How foreign a feeling!).
But that’s holy water under the bridge. He’s here now with his wife and little boys. Maybe introduce him to your wife and three kids (and is that another one I smell baking in your wife’s very un-Mary womb?).
Step Four: Love Your Sheep
Your flock has grown considerably in a few months. Their wool is so thick that you might need to trim around their eyes if they’re to continue seeing (reminder: even blind sheep produce wool). They’ve migrated to your aluminum chairs from the Catholic mansion’s wooden pews. So—what religion are you anyway? People have wondered, sometimes aloud. You’re neither Catholic nor Presbyterian, the only religions they’ve ever known. Simply, you’re a Christian who abhors tradition. Amen.
Step Five: Avoid the Opinion Page
Matt’s replacement at the paper is going to be here today to take pictures. Nothing moves print like photo spreads. Let’s just hope there’s no Letter to the Editor chastising you for bringing your off-brand Christianity to town. You couldn’t take that again. Who knew a love of the Lord could be so divisive? Not you (nor Matthew)!
Step Six: Consider the Ridiculousness of the Letters Cursing Your Arrival
A welcoming community, my ass!
It’s best you forget that nonsense. Focus on the matter-at-hand.
Step Seven: Segregate!
Since most egg hunts are Darwinian (ugh, Darwin!), place the lambs into age groups. Disregard the grumblings of the sheep who have children of different ages. Jesus never had siblings; he turned out fine!
Step Eight: Ignore the Ignorers
Matthew’s taking his kids to the three-five section. Isn’t one of them just two years old? It looks like many parents are disregarding your rules. Oh, how frustrating! Remember this: though they ignore you now, they’ll worship once they slide into your aluminum.
Step Nine: Just This Once, Abide By St. Something-or-Other’s Church Bells
That’s ten bongs echoing throughout town like the community’s subconscious. Time to preach!
Step Ten: So Preach!
This is your coming-out party, you debutante of Deuteronomy.
Climb that picnic table.
Look down on everyone.
Click on that bullhorn.
Then ask the kiddos if anyone’s ever died for them.
Step Eleven: Uhhhhhhhhhhh…
Has anyone ever died for you? Brother, that ain’t gonna work. Sure, the Truth hurts and the lambs need to hear it, but for His sake, this ain’t kosher.
Well—at least everyone’s finally looking at you.
Step Twelve: Make Things Worse
“God died for you, for your sins. We should have died on the cross instead."
Step Thirteen: Wish They Were Ignoring You Now
Just look at Matthew, staring like you suggested he Abraham his little Isaacs. You can read his oldest’s lips: “Are… we… going… to… die?” OF COURSE! But if you have faith in God, you’re not really going to perish. It’ll be like moving to a new neighborhood.
Death and taxes, remember, and Jesus hated just one.
Step Fourteen: Next Year, Consider Hiring a Proofreader
Maybe a copyeditor would have opposed We’re all going to die, which is why we celebrate Easter. Why didn't you hire Matthew for help? Rumor has it that he helped another holy man edit a series of books for a new church up in the big city.
That Matthew though—so dismissive. He’s probably been that way forever, pushing aside those who push the Truth he was schooled on as an altar boy. He doesn't believe any of what you just said, doesn’t want you to come near his kids.
You know what—they can just leave! They live nearby in that stupid little house Matthew never let you enter.
Matthew isn't leaving.
He's taking out his camera.
He’s drying his sons’ eyes.
And he's taking a picture!
Despite everything you said, he wants to remember today! Hallelujah!
He’ll never again talk to you, of course, will never sit in your aluminum chairs, will never accept your friend requests on social media. But for now, at least, he’s staying.
The candy worked.
How sweet it is!
Matt Muilenburg teaches at the University of Dubuque. His creative nonfiction has been featured in Southern Humanities Review, Barnstorm, Atticus Review, Storm Cellar, Superstition Review, and elsewhere. Matt holds an MFA from Wichita State University and is an associate editor (fiction) for Southern Indiana Review. He lives near the Field of Dreams movie site.
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