He walked up and started right in. “I’m minister at the church just down the road and some of my congregation tell me you’ve been preaching on this beach.”
Gaff’s eyes flew wide and his mouth dropped open. He stuck his hand out, offering to shake. “Name’s Gaff.” He looked at the fishing gear all around him and didn’t think he needed to explain why he was here.
The man looked at Gaff’s hand as though it were a snake coiled to attack. “I’m Wally Redmon, Reverend Walter Redmon. My church is two blocks down.” His chin jerked in that direction. He stood there looking as though expecting Gaff to engage in fisticuffs.
Gaff watched his visitor wondering where he’d go from here, and why.
Hands on hips, anger shooting out all around him. Wally rocked on his feet, uncomfortable in the silence. “I’m here to tell you to cease and desist. You are not a trained minister, so stop preaching to my people.”
Gaff looked all around to see if Wally might be addressing these comments to someone else. No one there. “Me?” Feeling at a disadvantage sitting, Gaff stood. Then an idea. “What exactly am I doing that offends you?”
Feet in a strong stance, planted wide and ready for a fight. “You’re preaching the Word and telling people how to live their lives without the proper training.” Once started the waves kept right on breaking around him. “Have you read the Bible? Have you gone to Seminary to learn about the Bible? I’ve had good teachers train me in what the Good Book means, especially the Gospels. How much have you studied the history of the church or how to tell people how to save their souls? I’m trained to teach people about Jesus’s teachings.”
Gaff watched as Wally finished his rant and the energy drained out of him like water leaving a tidepool. He shook his head. “Help me understand your concerns.”
Wally started to say something, but Gaff held his hand up, palm out. “My turn.” He looked to Mother Water for help with this. His voice was calm and low. “I am a fisherman, sitting on the beach casting lines out into the ocean. People come to visit me. “ He glanced at the flag flapping in the wind. “Many come because of the flag… the skull and crossed leg bones. Some leave a part of their burden with me by talking about the troubles in their lives.”
He looked at Wally through squinted eyes. “Am I right so far?”
Wally nodded, but was stopped from talking by Gaff’s outstretched hand.
Gaff closed his eyes to see. “I talk about the birds and fish and clouds, things of nature, to give people an idea of how things fit together. Sometimes when they hear my stories, they see how all the creatures on the planet are part of the same whole. Sometimes they see their own lives differently and figure out how to be happier… Is this what you understand?” Gaff looked at his visitor.
Wally nodded. His nod was answered by Gaff’s.
The old fisherman looked at the sand as he dug a toe into it. “A lot of times that means to understand and love people who used to make them mad. What I don’t see is what’s wrong with that.”
Wally hesitated a tick before he realized he could answer. “You quote the Bible, a book you haven’t studied.”
Gaff nodded, patient. “You are right, I haven’t read the Bible all the way through. I guess it isn’t enough that I’ve gone to church all these many years listening to the readings and the sermons explaining them. I guess it isn’t enough that I’ve practiced living the two Commandments that Jesus gave us in the New Testament.” He squinted at the tip of his rod, no sign of a catch.
The old fisherman sighed a sad one. “I don’t much quote the Bible or any other book for that matter even though I’ve read plenty. What I tell people comes from the love in my heart, not from some words I’ve memorized… and no piece of paper can certify that love.”
Wally sputtered, but didn’t say a word.
Again, Gaff looked into his visitor’s eyes. “I didn’t need a piece of paper to teach my wonderful children nor to love my Julia. So I don’t understand why I need some piece of paper to show people how to allow more happiness into their lives. I love the people who sit on my cooler… Well, most of them… I’m filled with incredible joy when I see them walk back down the beach with a hitch in their step. I don’t tell them what to do or how to live their lives. They might see themselves in my stories and learn more about life. Do I need a paper for that?”
Wally blurted out his words. “Only a pagan talks about Mother Water like it was a human… corrupting my people. You’re barbarian.” His hands jammed into his hips again, full of fury, hard enough to make a bruise.
Gaff shook his head. “No, Mother Water isn’t a person, but God can speak to us through anything. This is His world and He uses all of it to teach us. A big part of what’s troubling our planet is that we don’t love her enough. So does it offend you if I love the planet and take care of her? Is that why I need a paper and some letters behind my name? Those letters’ll give me the right to encourage others to take care of the planet so we still have a home?” He looked at Mother Water and the creatures around her.
Wally sputtered. No words came from him.
Gaff grinned and looked into the minister’s face, challenging. “Let’s have a contest, you and me. Let’s see who can love our people the best and can help them to grow strongest. Let’s see who can have the happiest lives, filled with joy. Let’s see who can allow our wives and children to be the healthiest and happiest, not spoiled, but knowing they’re really loved. Let’s see who can live a life most like the one that Jesus modeled for us.”
Wally looked puzzled for a moment, but seeing no negative, nodded his agreement. The corners of his mouth threatened to turn up in a smile.
Gaff checked the tip of his rod. Did he have one on the line? It was wiggling. He turned eyes back to the minister. “You know, the only two emotions are love and fear. Fear can be called by so many other names, so many… Love can, too, I guess. No matter what nametag it’s wearing, though, you can still recognize it.” He shook his head. “If what you’re seeing or feeling isn’t love, it must be fear. Whenever you feel fear, it’s time to find out what caused it and boot it out of your life. A life filled with love is a magnificent thing—everyone should have one! You, too.”