The Influence of Modern Decadent Culture

It all started rather innocently. Or so it would have seemed to those involved. Nobody intended to hurt anyone else. It started during the special collection for the needy taken up early in Advent in order to buy needed supplies to distribute just before Christmas

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, place, or event to anything in the real world is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2023, Henry E. Neufeld

Fred Lewis, senior saint and fixture in the small town and its largest church, was putting a $50 bill into the offering plate. He pitied those who couldn’t get what they needed at Christmas. Unfortunately, he was getting slower as he aged, and a little less precise with his fingers, and he pulled a receipt out of his wallet along with the bill. He didn’t notice until he had dropped both the money and the receipt into the offering plate.

Now he might have just suffered the embarrassment of having to look for the receipt later, but it was an important one. He intended to return a tool that he felt had not lived up to its advertised quality to the hardware store, and he knew the owner and the manager would insist on a receipt. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was the principle that mattered. They would give him his money back!

So he reached back into the offering plate and grabbed the receipt. Fortune again did not favor him, as he grabbed not only the receipt, but his $50 bill, and a couple of others as well. He fumbled to get the money back into the offering plate and to keep the receipt, and finally, having accomplished his goal, passed the plate along with a self-deprecating apology.

It might have stopped at that, but …

At dinner that evening, Elfrieda, who was a widow, and a center of social activity for the church, and who had been sitting just down the row from these events told the story at the church social to gales of laughter. She did not intend to imply that any money had been actually taken from the plate, much less that such a pillar of the community as Fred Lewis might have taken it. But it so enhanced to story to end it with: “Who knows where all the money ended up?”

In the normal course of small-town gossip, the whole thing might have ended right there, but Elfrieda had told the story so well, and so many people whose fingers were not nearly as old managed to repeat the story. As stories will, it got edited. By the middle of the week the town barber was heard telling the man whose hair he was trimming that he (the barber) had heard that Fred Lewis had taken $50 from the offering plate. He assured the man that this couldn’t possibly be true and that he had just heard it, but wasn’t it funny how such things got around.

Wednesday night, Fred Lewis didn’t show up for the study in the church. Fred always attended that study. People wondered if he was not feeling well. Nobody thought of the story going around because, of course, nobody believed the story. Or nobody admitted they did.

Joyce, head of Caring Ministries for the church, started to go check on Fred, but as she was heading that way she recalled hearing that he might have taken money from the offering plate. If he was in great need, she could forgive him, she thought, but she wasn’t ready for the conversation. So she skipped that visit and headed on out to visit some shut-ins.

What had actually happened was that Fred had found himself in difficulty sorting out his medication, and after several tries and repeated checking had finally taken the pills he thought he should. He ended up with an overdose of one medication and none at all of some others. It might not have been fatal, but his heart was giving him some trouble, and those were precisely the wrong medications.

As Joyce walked by on the other side of the street, Fed Lewis was unconscious in his living room recliner. Of course, nobody suspected that.

It was Friday afternoon when the new doctor in town, notified by his office nurse that Fred was not there for the appointment he’d asked for on Wednesday, decided to go check. You might think it odd that a doctor went to check on a patient personally, but this young doctor had come to the small town to practice old-fashioned medicine. He’d been burned out in his residency. He’d almost given up medicine altogether but had been attracted to the idea of the simplicity of being a small-town doctor. So he checked on his patient and found him dead.

The young doctor did everything right. He called the police. He suggested the possibility of the mixup with the medications. The county coroner ruled it (correctly) as death due to an accidental overdose.

Then somebody, nobody ever remembered who, wondered out loud whether the overdoes had, in fact, been accidental. Perhaps Fred Lewis had heard the things that were being said about him taking money from the offering plate. For a man of his character it might just have been too much. People dismissed this as ridiculous. But it was said and dismissed in furtive tones over and over again.

Then someone mentioned that they thought they remembered that the doctor was sitting next to Fred Lewis in church. Who was more likely to be the source of the story? Perhaps the doctor, rather than being the self-sacrificing hero who had come to provide good medical care to the small town was actually the cause of Fred Lewis’s distress. It didn’t matter that there was no evidence that Fred Lewis had ever heard the rumor, but nobody thought of that.

If it was possible that the doctor had started the rumor, then perhaps he had contrived to cover up evidence of a suicide so he wouldn’t be blamed for the vicious, even pernicious rumor that had made the fine old man decide he didn’t want to face life any more. Any number of people said that this story was also ridiculous, but that didn’t stop people from spreading it.

When the young doctor was found dead in the woods near a hiking trail, everyone in town assumed it was suicide. “He knew he had killed Fred Lewis by the rumor he started,” said several pillars of the town’s society knowingly. Nobody took note of the coroner’s report that said the young man had hit his head on a sharp rock, knocked himself out and then bled to death.

As the story spread through the town the consensus was that modern decadent culture just didn’t prepare people for real life. If the doctor had had any guts at all, he would have owned up to his responsibility, faced the music, and moved on.

What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark! 6 And the tongue is a fire …

The Revised English Bible. (1996). (Jas 3:5–6). Cambridge; New York; Melbourne; Madrid; Cape Town; Singapore; São Paulo; Delhi; Dubai; Tokyo: Cambridge University Press.

Image credit: Adobe Stock  pathdoc Not public domain

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