I realized that I was so busy and scatterbrained last week that I forgot to acknowledge that last week was four years since I started this blog. Thank you so much, loyal readers, for sticking with me on this adventure.
As church dismissed and the congregation filed out of the building, my mind was on one thing: a quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon at home. Today was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and church was noticeably emptier than usual. In a university town like Jeromeville, everything gets less crowded on major holidays, when students go home to visit their families and do not return until the very latest possible minute.
I went back to Plumdale to visit my family for Thanksgiving. Growing up, we always traveled north to see Dad’s side of the family in Bidwell for Thanksgiving. But now that my brother Mark was in high school and playing basketball, his first tournament of the year was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we could not travel far from home. We had a small Thanksgiving celebration at our house, and my grandparents on Mom’s side, who lived nearby, came over. I came back to Jeromeville last night, because my bike was here, my computer was here, my family was not doing anything particularly noteworthy the rest of the weekend, and I liked being able to be on my own. Sam and Josh were around the house for the weekend; neither of them had to travel far for Thanksgiving, with their families both nearby, across the river in Capital County. Sean’s family was farther away; he would not return until tonight. I had the bedroom to myself for another several hours.
Of course, my Sunday afternoon was not as quiet as I was hoping. Jim Herman approached me as I was headed to the parking lot. Jim was a scrawny-looking man, older than me, probably in his late thirties or so. He did not have a spouse or children as far as I knew, but he seemed well-connected around church. He had told me before that he was a real estate agent. When I made the Dog Crap and Vince movie earlier this fall, Jim had asked if he could help, and I appreciated having another person to run the camera.
“Hey, Greg,” Jim said. “Can you help me out this afternoon?”
“What do you need?”
“I need to borrow your car. I’m showing a house in Woodville, and I don’t have a way to get there right now.”
I was not entirely thrilled about someone else driving my car. What if something happened to it? “I don’t know,” I said.
“I won’t be gone long. I’ll bring it back by three o’clock. I’m really in a bind here.”
I had heard a lot of talks and sermons recently about showing God’s love by helping and serving others, and Jim was a church friend, so I figured I could trust him. “Okay,” I said. “I walked here, but you can follow me home and leave from there. Be back by three, because I need to go grocery shopping later.”
“Okay. Thank you so much.”
My Ford Bronco had two separate keys, one for the door and one for the ignition; this was common in cars from that time period. When we got to my house, I took both keys off of my key ring and handed them to Jim. “I need it back by three,” I reminded Jim.
“I’ll be back here soon,” Jim said. I went inside, trying not to worry about the car.
I noticed a message on the answering machine. “Hi, Greg,” Mom’s voice said on the recording. “I just wanted to make sure you got home okay, since you never called when you got home last night. But I know you forget sometimes. Let me know you’re okay.”
I rolled my eyes at Mom being a mom and worrying, but she had a reason to, since I had forgotten to call. I dialed the number, and when Mom answered, I explained that I was fine.
“Glad you made it back,” Mom said. “How was your day? How was church?” I explained that I had let Jim Herman borrow the car, but I was a little uncomfortable with that, and having second thoughts. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with that either,” Mom said. “And it’s still our car, technically. What happens if he wrecks it? Then you’re stuck.”
“Yeah,” I said, knowing now that I had screwed up.
“I’m sure you trust this guy, your church friends seem honest, but please don’t let people borrow the car again.”
“I won’t,” I replied. Mom and I made small talk for another few minutes, but we did not have much to say since I had just seen her and Dad the day before. After we hung up, I tried to take a nap, anxiously awaiting the return of Jim with the car.
Jim did in fact return the car on time, undamaged. “Hey, thanks again,” he said. “Can you take me home now?”
“Sure,” I replied. I drove east on Coventry Boulevard just across the railroad overpass to Jim’s apartment. I tried asking him about his showing, how it went, but he gave answers using some real estate words I did not understand. It seemed like his client had not made a decision yet. Jim said I could just drop him off at the entrance to the parking lot; I waved and turned back to my house. Something told me that I had dodged a proverbial bullet, with Jim having brought the car back intact. Something also told me that I would eventually have to confront Jim, that he would ask me again to borrow the car and I would have to tell him no. I had an excuse this time, though.
My chance came three days later. I got home from class on Wednesday afternoon, and the light was blinking on the answering machine. The message was from Jim, needing to borrow the car again tomorrow for another property showing. I did not look forward to conflict, and I was nervous to call Jim back and tell him no, but I knew that I had to. I called Jim back, and he did not answer; I left a message on his machine explaining that my car technically belonged to my parents, and they did not want me letting others drive.
About an hour later, I was in the living room, doing homework while watching reruns of The Simpsons. The phone rang, and Sam, who was in the kitchen cooking something, answered since he was closer. He called me over, indicating that the phone call was for me.
“Hello?” I said.
“Greg,” Jim said over the phone. “I really need to borrow your car. If I can make this sale, that would be huge for me.”
“I understand,” I replied. “But I can’t help you. I don’t own the car. It isn’t mine to lend.”
“Look. I’m really in a bind here. I promise nothing will happen to the car.”
“Can you rent a car?”
“I can’t afford it right now. Just let me borrow your car. What would Jesus do? Jesus says to help those in need.”
Was Jim right? Was I being un-Christlike? Jesus made it clear that all earthly possessions paled in comparison to the rewards of heaven. But did that mean that I must put myself and my driving record at great financial risk so that a friend could do his job? Was it worth disobeying my parents? “I told you,” I said, “It isn’t my car, and the car’s owner said no.”
“Look at the early church in Acts,” Jim said. “The believers had everything in common. No one was in need. By leaving me in need, you’re sinning against the Lord.”
Jim had Scripture to back up his point, but his aggressive tone certainly seemed un-Christlike to me. After a pause of a few seconds, I realized that I had Scripture on my side as well. “One of the Ten Commandments says to honor your father and mother. So I can’t let you borrow the car without dishonoring my father and mother.”
“Have you read Acts?”
“Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira when they held back their money and didn’t give everything to the Lord? They died. They fell down and died on the spot. Paul writes in Galatians to bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. This is the law of Christ. It’s what Jesus is calling you to do.”
“I’m not lending you the car,” I said. “I feel caught in the middle here, and you’re unfairly taking it out on me. The car is not mine to lend, and as much as I want to help you, I can’t.”
The conversation continued for another several minutes, with Jim twisting Scripture to make the point that I was a bad Christian for not letting him use the car, and me trying, with great futility, to reason with him. By now, Sean and Josh had emerged into the living room, and all three roommates intently observed my phone conversation. Sam began miming hanging up the phone with his hand.
“Jim,” I said, “I told you, I can’t lend you the car. If you can’t accept that, if you’re going to continue to rant at me like this, I’ll have no choice but to hang up on you.”
“You’re a brother in Christ,” Jim replied. “At least I thought you were. But right now you aren’t acting like it. Are you really saved? Do you know–”
I hung up the phone without letting Jim finish the sentence. I sat at the dining room table, emotionally exhausted, not even going back to the couch and my studies.
“Good for you,” Sam said.
“Who was that?” Sean asked.
“Jim from church,” I explained. “He was the one holding the camera when we made the Dog Crap and Vince movie with the kids from The Edge.” I told Sean about the time I let Jim borrow the car, and Mom telling me not to do that again. “Am I in the wrong here? Was it un-Christlike of me to say no?”
“Not at all,” Josh replied. “You said it wasn’t your car to lend. And Jim definitely has some problems. I know there’s been some issue before with him wanting to volunteer with the youth group, but the parents aren’t comfortable with his behavior sometimes.”
The phone rang as I was talking to Josh. I did not answer, because I assumed it was Jim continuing his rant. I let the machine answer the call, and after I heard the beep, I heard Jim’s voice say, “The law of Christ. Look it up.” Jim then hung up.
Josh never said anything mean about anyone, so the fact that he characterized Jim as such really made me feel like Jim had some serious problems, problems that I did not want to get mixed up in. But I did not know how to deal with Jim’s problems, and I had a feeling he would not just leave me alone.
Friday was the last day of classes before finals. On Saturday afternoon, Andrea Briggs invited a bunch of us from the Abstract Algebra class to a study group at her apartment. Actually, Andrea Wright invited us, but I still thought of her as Andrea Briggs; she had just gotten married a few months ago. She and her husband, Jay, lived in an apartment complex at the corner of Coventry Boulevard and G Street. The C.J. Davis Art Center, where I had seen a now-defunct band perform a benefit concert a while back, was across the street.
I got home a few hours later, feeling much better about the upcoming Abstract Algebra final. When Sam heard me walk in, he called to me from the living room. “Yes?” I replied.
“Your friend left you another message.” Sam pointed to the blinking light on the answering machine. I pressed Play and listened to Jim ask to borrow the car again, then launch into another rant about how I was a hypocrite and a bad Christian. After about a minute or so, I deleted the message without listening to the rest or calling him back.
The following Sunday after church, I asked Dan Keenan, the college pastor, if I could talk to him about something. “Sure,” Dan said. “Wanna come to my office?”
I followed Pastor Dan to his office and explained the situation with Jim. I also told him that I was wondering if Jim was right that I was being a hypocrite. “First of all,” Dan said, “you’re not doing anything wrong. I think you’re handling this just fine. And you aren’t the first person who Jim has done this to.” I nodded as Dan continued. “Jim will often find someone who agrees to something that he wants, then he will continue to harass and manipulate that person. He claims to be a real estate agent, but he lost his license some time ago.”
“Oh,” I said, suddenly realizing that I had been taken advantage of to a much greater extent than I had thought.
“You said he’s living in an apartment now?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“I don’t know who set him up with that, but he’s been homeless for much of the last few years. He doesn’t have a stable job or a stable living situation. He used to be a leader with The Edge, but we asked him to step down when he was stalking some of the kids at home.”
“Wow,” I said. To me, the events of the last week made Jim seem annoying but relatively harmless. This allegation made him sound much more dangerous. No wonder the youth group parents had complained about him, as Josh had said. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have let him help with my movie, with kids around. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. No one blames you for that. But if he won’t leave you alone, call the police. Other people have, and they’ll know that he’s still someone they need to keep on their radar. Jim has been in trouble with the police before, so hopefully that will get him to leave you alone.”
“I will,” I replied, not exactly enthused about having to call the police on someone I thought was my friend, but ready to do what it would take.
“Would you be willing to submit a written statement about your interactions with Jim?” Pastor Dan asked. “The church board was looking at actions we could take after the last incident, and now that he is harassing someone else, we need to revisit that.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I just hate that it has come to this. It sounds like Jim really needs help.”
“But he won’t admit he has a problem,” Dan explained. “And no one can really get that kind of help without admitting that there is a problem.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ll write that statement and email it to you.”
“Also, be careful. Watch for him stalking your house. He’s been known to do that before. Make sure you lock the doors.”
“I will,” I said, a little more scared now. I had not noticed anyone outside, but I did not like thinking about this possibility.
The following day, while I was studying for finals, the phone rang. A few of us who had been to Andrea’s study session on Saturday had exchanged phone numbers, and I thought it might have been one of my classmates calling to ask a math question. But it was Jim, asking if I had repented and decided to let him borrow the car.
“Please stop calling me,” I said. “My answer has not changed, and it won’t as long as you keep ranting at me and twisting Scripture. If you don’t hang up now, I’m calling the police.”
“Calling the police just proves you’re not following the commandments of God. It says in the Bible that we must obey God rather than human authority–”
I hung up and immediately called the police. I explained my situation to the dispatcher. “There’s nothing we can do right now, but if this person continues to harass you, you can look into filing a restraining order. What is this person’s name, and what is his relationship to you?”
“He goes to my church. His name is Jim Herman.”
“Oh, we know Jim,” the dispatcher said. “We know him very well. We’ll add your complaint to our files. Have you notified him that you’ll be getting the police involved?”
“Hopefully he’ll leave you alone now. Just let us know if he doesn’t.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Jim did leave me alone after that, for the most part. I did my best not to interact with him at church, although we did cross paths a few more times over the years. I got a letter from the church in the mail a couple months later; I opened it and began reading. “We are writing to inform you that the Board has voted to remove Jim Herman from the membership roster of Jeromeville Covenant Church,” I read. I assumed that I was on the list to receive this letter because the statement I wrote was part of what led to this decision. About a year after that, I was still a volunteer for The Edge at church, and as the kids were getting picked up at the end of one rainy night, I saw police car lights outside. I poked my head out the door and watched as an officer led Jim away in handcuffs. Apparently, the church had a restraining order prohibiting Jim from being on church grounds during youth activities.
I spoke to Jim once more, in 2001, a few months before I moved away from Jeromeville. I was walking home from church, still living in the same house on Acacia Drive, when I saw Jim going through the dumpster of the apartments across the street. He made eye contact, and I said hi, because it would have been awkward not to. We made small talk for about a minute, ending with him asking if he could borrow my car to go to a job interview. I said no, wished him well, and walked away.
I saw Jim in person without talking to him one more time after the conversation at the dumpster. It was July of 2002, I was living fifty miles away in Riverview, and a bunch of my friends from my church there were driving up to the mountains for the weekend. We stopped for dinner on the way at In-N-Out Burger in Jeromeville, the one that was under construction at the time that Jim was leaving me harassing messages. After we sat down with our food, I spotted Jim sitting alone at the other end of the restaurant. “Don’t make eye contact with that guy,” I whispered to my friends. “Avoid him. I’ll explain later.” Jim did not see us.
Many years later, in 2021, I was scrolling Facebook. Someone shared a post from a page called Arroyo Verde County Crime Watch, warning parents of a pervert living in the community who often sat in areas with outdoor tables and benches. spying on young girls. The author of the post was the mother of a teenage daughter; she explained that this pervert got her daughter’s name from looking over her shoulder at something she was writing. The mother told the man to leave her daughter alone, and the man said, “There’s no law against reading. I didn’t do anything wrong.” The mother explained that she had contacted the police, and that this man was well-known to them and had been doing this kind of thing for years. I looked at the attached photo; sure enough, there in the picture, seated at a picnic table in front of a familiar sandwich shop in downtown Jeromeville, was Jim Herman, now aging and gray but still clearly recognizable.
Seeing this made me sad. Jim and I were friends once, at least I thought we were, and he really was helpful when I was making my movie. But now, over twenty years later, Jim had not changed one bit. Jim claimed to have such a fervor for Jesus, and he clearly did have a lot of knowledge of the Bible, but his delusions had kept him from truly advancing God’s Kingdom and using his gifts for good. Jim needed professional help, yet he denied this and refused to get help for decades. All I could do, all anyone can ever do, is pray that Jim will truly be healed of these demons before it is too late, and before anyone else gets hurt.
Readers: Have you ever had someone harassing you like this? Tell me about it in the comments.