Father Thomas starts on the Yucatan Peninsula. Yah, yah, I read Koontz’ Odd Thomas novels. Literary coinkidink. Thomas Chan was born to Mayan parents in the Hospital General in 1983. He is average height and build for the Mestizaje. Tommy was born with a cleft palate that explains two things: falla exógena para prosperar and a nagging suspicion that he is a symptom of generations deep curse on his parents.
It is fashionable to tag a fate as immutable and thus, Fr. Thomas ought to be pitiable. He also ought not to improve his position beyond the photo of him at age 3 staring up at a gringo photographer. The cleft palate repair was remarkably good. He was adopted by an American family when he was four. Bit by bit, all of the medical problems he had at adoption were treated and cured. He was a favored child in his Southern Baptist Church. One thing I’ve learned from Fr. Thomas is that priests don’t talk about their studies unless pressed. Protestants are in love with credentials. We would use a Doctor of Divinity as a marker of authority. Priests sing the Psalms end to end every week. Fr. Thomas, like his church, has that quiet authority that comes from a history that goes back to the cross.
Poor Father Thomas
More than a few missionaries have arrived in the village sure that they can bring us to Cheeezus and a first world paradise. They think he is one of the villagers needing Cheezus. Then the missionaries ask Father Thomas if he is saved and the fun starts.
Here is the thing. Some of this first world largess makes a mess of things in the third world. Missionary tourists have expectations of us. The village in our valley is small. No traffic lights, one gas station, the club where I stay when I am there, and a smattering of squatters huts. When missionaries show up to build a church it’s a huge deal. It costs us a lot. As much as the missionaries bring they eat us out of house and home. Then they build a church that we can’t keep open because there is no way to pay for the water, sewer, heat, and electricity for it. The last group’s church is a depot for the village’s trash.
Which explains why Fr. Thomas isn’t at the head of the line to greet another group of Evangelicals who think we need a church. He leaves that to Saito-san. Saito-san gets saved every week in the summer by one more group of missional tourists. It’s something to see. Saito-san does a great job getting healed by the spirit.
The Only Correct Bible is the King James
One adamant missionary from a beautiful non-denominational mega-church asked Fr. Thomas if he was saved, citing John 3:16. “Si. ‘Porque tanto amó Dios al mundo que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo el que cree en él no se pierda, sino que tenga vida eterna‘. ¿Recuerdas 1 Corintios 13: 4: El amor es paciente, es bondadoso. El amor no es envidioso ni jactancioso ni orgulloso. 5 No se comporta con rudeza, no es egoísta, no se enoja fácilmente, no guarda rencor. 6 El amor no se deleita en la maldad, sino que se regocija con la verdad. 7 Todo lo disculpa, todo lo cree, todo lo espera, todo lo soporta‘?“, asked Fr. Thomas.
The adamant missionary knew Leviticus by heart. He’d heard Matthew 28:19 as an accusation that he not done enough. Fr. Thomas got accused of being evil. To which Fr. Thomas agreed. He is evil to those whose literary eyes never drift from the KJV and whose soul cowers at the slightest whiff of dissonance as a sure sign of the devil.
The next day that missionary boy spent the day in the cathedral learning about the stations of the cross. The boy who would save us began to learn that his small life in Christ obsessed with coming correct was a tiny lamp nearly out of oil. The light of Christ given off by the whole church was brilliant. He who would save us began learning how much he didn’t know about Jesus. It shook him.
The Other Odd Thomas
Fr. Thomas is odd. He left the valley and learned to live in the light. The blood of the cross transfused his valley water. He hurt as he surrendered to the blood of the lamb. The pilgrimage out of the valley started with Baptist missionaries who adopted him.
Tommy’s gringo parents flipped through a couple different New Age utopian communities a year. They hungered for simple living and self-reliance. Mayhaps not the fault of the communities they chose, but of those Eros was king of the gods. They came to Cheezus in a small town, Southern Baptist Church with a preacher who was sure every day was the day of rapture.
Tommy ran away at age 13 to ricochette from jail to church to street to the beaches of Vietnam to Antifa to a bar in Merida seeking purpose and vision or at least something to numb the chronic angst. He only knew that he did not want the gestalt bestowed on him by his barely present adoptive parents.
One of the deep lessons he learned is that feelings were weapons. He had to be perfect for his parents because a backslide would devolve into hours of cray-cray prayer where even asking for water was a sign of the devil. So, Tommy became an overachiever. The devil can be incredibly motivating while he eats your soul.
The Baptists have a trope they ache for. The one where someone in the pews is overcome with spirit and makes a public prayer of acceptance. It doesn’t always happen that way. Jesus is, if anything, an absurd, thick-necked and stubborn revolutionary. It would be out of character for him to stick to a Baptist trope in every case.
I argued with God for decades. He won. For a while I needed my questions answered. Over time, Christ’s love and mercy leaked into my valley water and turned it into wine. For the last decade, I have been slowly letting Jesus fill me with the blood of the cross. It hurts much of the time. Things that are not of the cross die. I won’t have it any other way.
Right Between the Knockers
Tommy’s altar call happened at station Twelve of the Cross. The Southern Baptism of his adoptive parents just never felt right. It could not be that the only way to view the world was as a table offering souls to eat. Death had to have a meaning beyond the threatened fire and damnation burned into him if he did not come correct. He was in Merida during the Festival of the Dead, staying with a Mayan family as an exchange student, and went to a cathedral out of curiosity. There was a monk in a pew near the Twelfth Station.
My love of Christ has been a slow surrender. Tommy’s turn came in a nervous breakdown. One moment he was taking selfies of with the icon of Christ’s death and the next he was in on a bed in the priory. Sometimes Jesus kicks you in the nuts. Tommy became Fr. Thomas after such a kick.
Tommy returned to the US hungry for the body of Christ. His new love of Catholicism and taco de pescado got him shunned by his adoptive parents. He could not go home again so he made is way back to Merida and the twelfth station. It began as a novice. The journey continues as Fr. Thomas serves as clergy for the valley. We keep him busy.