The Hymnals: A Journey into the Root of Bitterness

NOTE: It looks like Yahoo’s issues are going to take a while to resolve.  They are dealing with a much larger issue right now affecting all contributors.  Fortunately, this was not published as an exclusive piece, so here is the story “The Hymnals: A Journey into the Root of Bitterness” in its entirety.

“I can’t believe it!” he yelled.

“Roger, you need to calm down,” she said flatly.

“They took them!”

“Roger, you don’t know that.”

“Listen!” he loudly said to Norma. “I know they were in the briefcase when we arrived at services! They were there! Someone stole them!”

Norma frowned at Roger. “Why would someone steal HYMNALS?”

“People will steal anything!” he quickly shot back at her. “The church is filled with hypocrites!”

She sighed and gave up. She knew there was no reasoning with him at this point. He would just become angrier and angrier.


Roger was sitting at the diner (these were the days before coffee shops were so common). The pastor walked in and went to the table where Roger was sitting. “Thank you for meeting with me, Roger, but I thought it better to meet face to face.”

“Well, I appreciate it, Mr French. I’m not so sure there’s much more to say than when we talked on the phone.”

Mr French sat down across the table. Someone went over to the jukebox, put in a quarter and started playing “American Pie”, which had become quite a hit the past five months after hitting number one that past January. “A long, long time ago…” began the lyrics.

The waitress came over, and she asked if there was anything she could get either of them. Mr French answered, “I just want a cup of coffee for now.”

“OK,” said the young brunette. She turned to Roger, batted her eyes a bit, and asked, “And anything for you?”

“Well,” he slowly said, “there is one thing you could get me.”

“And what might that be?”

“You could give me my heart back,” he answered. He then let out a huge “Ha, ha, ha!” as though he told the funniest joke in the world.

The waitress batted her eyes again and smiled at him, and then she said, “I don’t know! I might want to keep it.”

Roger chuckled a bit lower at that, but he was enjoying the show. He then said in a more serious tone, “I guess I’ll have a coffee as well.”

“OK,” she answered, “I’ll be right back with your coffees.”

Mr French was politely smiling the whole time, and when the waitress left, he looked at Roger and asked, “So how are things going?”

“Oh, I’m alright!” answered Roger as though he were trying to convince himself of that.

“You seemed pretty upset when we talked on the phone.”

“Well, it’s a church! I should be able to set something down and not have it walk away!”

“I understand, Roger, but remember it’s only three hymnals.”

“But, they were MY hymnals!” he said as he got a little more serious but tried not to raise his voice too much.

Mr French took a deep breath, and then he said, “I realize that, and you have to have faith that it will all work out. Meanwhile, becoming angry will do you no good.”

“I’ve been angry my entire life. For some reason, people just seem to have it in for me! When I went to school, I got in trouble every day because people would be *******s every day! I finally quit after the fourth grade because even the teachers wouldn’t take my side. All of my life! Now, even in the church, people want to take advantage of me!”

“Roger, think about what you’re saying, would you? You cannot keep stirring up all this anger inside, or it will lead to a root of bitterness. The Bible warns against this.”

“Mr French, are you trying to stick up for someone stealing my hymnals?”

Mr French sat back in the chair, trying to collect himself after being confronted with such stubborn, raw emotions. “Roger, it might be best if you don’t come to services for a while. You need time to cool…”

“So, that’s it?” Roger interrupted, speaking a little louder. “Take anyone’s side but mine?”

“I am on your side, Roger.”

“No, you are not!” With that, Roger got up and left the diner.


“Mrs Phillips?” asked the man on the phone?

“Yes, this is she,” Norma answered.

“This is Deputy Oliver, ma’am, of the Butler County Sheriffs office. We have your husband here at the county jail. We picked him up for DUI. He is unable to call you himself, so we’re calling you to let you know.”

“What should I do?”

“Well, it’s still early in the morning…”

“Wha-, what time is it?” Norma fumbled around to turn on a light so that she could see a clock.

“It’s 3:54, ma’am.”


“The judge doesn’t come in until 6:30, but he won’t be holding court until at least 8:00. When your husband appears before him, the judge will set bail.”

“OK,” she answered. The deputy gave her further instructions for bail and how to find a bondsman.


“What happened?” Norma asked.

“I got into an argument with Mr French,” Roger answered.

“I know,” Norma answered. “He called. He said I was welcome, but that you needed some time to think. That doesn’t explain why you got arrested, though.”

“Well, I went back to work.” He shrugged.


“And, I got into an argument with the secretary.”

“Roger, why?”

“Listen, she’s just an old ***** anyhow. You know she sleeps around with her boss.”

“No, I don’t know, and her boss is YOUR boss.”

“Yeah, well, since he has a thing for his secretary, he fired me.”

“So, why didn’t you come home?”

“Why should I? I’m a grown man! I’ll do what I want!”

“So, drinking has made it all better?”

“Sure!” he answered with confidence. It makes me forget all about this ****!”

“Does it?”

“Of course it does. Why?”

“Did it make you forget you’re driving as well? Now you have legal problems on top of all of the other ones! How are we supposed to pay for all of this?!”

He got a grave look on his face. Finally, he said, “I don’t know.”


From the office of: Joe *****

Pastor General, ********* Church of ***


To: Roger Phillips

**** **** Street

******, Ohio *****

October 1, 1999


Dear Roger,

I received your letter, and I thought I would answer personally. I’m sorry that you feel that the church has caused all of your ills and problems over the past 20 years. You did not state the nature of these difficulties, so it is difficult for me to address whatever issues you may have had. However, I need to ask you if this is realistic. Surely, not every issue and problem you’ve encountered over the past 20 years can be traced back to the church.

As far as your request for an apology is concerned, I have already apologized publicly several times for incidents that have occurred within our church’s past, and I would hope that you would consider those apologies as applying personally to you.

I understand that you feel the church stole some hymnals from you. I have three on my shelf gathering dust, but one has the back torn off, I’m afraid. Please consider them yours. If I find one that is in better condition, I can give you that one as well.

I also understand you had an issue with Mr Greg French. In particular, your letter say he was “arrogant”. I have known Greg for a long time, and he has always come across as a humble servant of God. I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I find it hard to believe that he was acting in an arrogant manner. Perhaps you are taking his comments out of context or too personally? Again, you did not state the circumstances, so I can only guess at what is going on.

I have enclosed an article with the apology that has been published publicly for some time now. Please read it over and understand that we want to heal all wounds.

In Christ’s Service,

Joe *****

Pastor General


Jim was going through the bags upon bags of stuff. It was quite unreal. His mother was such a pack rat. All his life, Jim remembers his dad complaining about how much Mom was a pack rat, but after she died, he never went through any of it. Which was worse? The pack rat or the rat who kept what the pack rat had even after her death?

It was a mostly tedious chore. However, Jim came across old pictures, letters and such that were treasures to any family historian. He did his best to give or throw away the unnecessary stuff (and, there was a lot of unnecessary stuff!), but still keep what future generations may or may not care about.

Jim found a box addressed to Roger Phillips. He strained to look at the date on the postage. “That’s odd,” he muttered. “Dad left the church years before then, and as far as I know never returned.” He opened it and pulled out a letter of apology. After the pages of the letter was an article detailing an apology by the pastor general to the entire church.

It seemed surreal, as though Jim were only listening to one side of the conversation. What was the letter that Dad had sent? What was it that he felt so upset about decades after leaving?

Jim reached into the box again. He pulled out some bubble wrap around something heavy. He carefully pulled at the tape, but it didn’t easily come apart. Evidently, this part of the package had never even been opened. Rather, it was like the box was opened, the letter read and then the letter was placed back into the box and set aside, never to be given another thought. Jim got out a knife and carefully cut the tape and unwrapped the objects contained inside.

Inside, there were three hymnals. One he recognized from when he was a kid. It was a purple hymnal, as purple was the color of royalty. As children of The King, it seemed appropriate at one point to have a hymnal in royal purple.

The backing on the purple hymnal had evidently been either worn or torn off. However, opening it up, the pages were only somewhat yellowed by age. Given the length of time and neglect, it actually seemed in halfway decent condition, except for the back of course.

Jim flipped to the front, where a note had been taped to the inside. The tape was weak with age, but it still hung on, albeit loosely. Jim read the note:


Dear Mr Tenchill,

Pastor French has been busy traveling to other church areas, so we thought we would give these to an elder in order to find the rightful owner. It seems our inquisitive son, Jake, had grabbed some hymnals when our back was turned, and they wound up in our briefcase by mistake. We did not discover this until we went to do our weekly family Bible study at home.

Unfortunately, Jake also seems to have ripped the back of the hymnal. Tell whomever claims it that we will gladly pay to have the cover replaced or they can have ours in its place.

Thank You and God Bless,

**** & ***** ********


Jim pondered what to do with the hymnals. He pondered why the hymnals were so important to Dad enough to complain about them. He pondered what all of this meant, as well as why Dad left the church to begin with, for he never really knew. All Jim knew was that Dad was often angry. Dad was often bitter. Dad would get depressed and drink too much, which always made things worse.

Somehow, Jim knew the hymnals were significant to Dad becoming bitter, but he did not know why. Even if he knew the story, would he understand?


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