Thursday, August 19, 2004


I worked briefly with a stout Pentecostal country boy named Jason, who made for a good friend when he was backslidden. Youthful religious training had instilled in him that he was either a Fundamentalist, or a sinner bound for the Harrowing of Hell. Like many of his ilk, he believed other denominations “may or may not” make it, and most certainly, were “not living in the Fullness of the Gospel.” I gloried in never knowing their Yonder, Angry, Hostile, Vindictive, Eternal Holiness. That was not the YHVH with which I was familiar. Often, Jason “backslid” for mere 20 minute stretches—his soul in utmost jeopardy in the duration—so he could watch his favorite TV shows, or hear a song on the radio. He once fell an entire weekend over one strawberry Wine Cooler. It never failed to amaze me how entire lifetimes of loving (if flawed) service to Jesus Christ could be met by gruesome torments of eternal flames and the vile unending rapes and molestations of a million wild demons in a raging Sea of Sulphur…all because you faltered for one moment.
Jason caught me at a transitional time. My career as a youth minister was over, as was Church-life and my short-lived radio show. I read my Bible—I hadn’t completely abandoned Christianity—but I sprinted as far from Organized Religion, and its terrific assumptions, as one could without a rocket-pack. I explored mind-mangling fields of Philosophy and Comparative Religion without fear. If I was going to leap fences and see the world around—risking my immortal soul in the process—I would, sure as Gehenna, do it longer than 20 minutes, and for things of far greater gravity than a dirty joke or Hollywood sex scene.
I always listened to Jason. I tried to be a friend, even when he didn’t—he occasionally had to “cast the unbeliever far from him.” I feared being mauled by some millstone hurled at my neck, or perhaps an attempt to “cut off what offended him.” But I never encouraged him to violate his conscience. Jason was innocent, and I respected that. It was sort of quaint. Once, we had paused at a red light, when a fixed-up sports car—driven by two scantily clad, perfectly tanned young females—pulled up beside us. Both our eyes were fixed, and leering—mine verifiably apostate. As the light changed to green, we turned to nod at one another, and grinned. “Yeah, I know, man…” Jason said slyly—and in utter seriousness, he added, “They don’t make those with spoilers anymore.”
Absent from church awhile, he returned one Sunday—to chase some girl. The girl left with the Usher Boy, and Jason left with his body-weight in guilt—convinced he had been “called” to preach. I’d preached a few sermons in my day, and while he might not dig my theology, I could certainly show him how it was done. I had been Pentecostal, too. But as a Backslider, even my basic technical advice could be tainted of the Devil’s foul perversion. This was to be “all God:” the Anointing would be his skill in speech; notes were unnecessary—because the Holy Spirit would speak through him. Still, I tried to explain that the Lord just didn’t go about possessing people and such. They taught that even in Bible College.
But all of my learning had become infected with Iniquity on account of my “fallen state.” Thus even casual suggestions of how to hold the microphone were suspect, and not to be trusted. But this Fallen Angel tried very hard to help that fledgling Bible-thumper. I wanted him to succeed, because I knew how The Call could make God real to you. I remembered The Call—and that one never truly forgot messing it up. So I pushed. It was a good sign that his pastor agreed to let him do this—even if it was on a Sunday Night (home of the try-outs, you know). I asked Jason what he was preaching. He said, “About Jesus.”
I asked, “What about Him?”
Jason replied, “He was the Son of God, was born, and lived, and died, and rose from the dead.”
“That seems like a lot of ground you’re covering. Where are you going with all of this?”
“In the main sanctuary.”
“That wasn’t what I meant. Uh… What point are you trying to make about all of this?”
Jason replied, “That He was the Son of God, was born, and lived, and…”
“Uh…hold on. Let me see your notes. You did reconsider the note thing, yes?”
“Yeah….” He handed them over. I looked. I wept as the angels might, come Sunday. He had hand-transcribed the entire Gospel of Luke, and beneath each verse gave a play-by-play of what was happening. But this was not Motorcross, or Baseball. This was the Art of Public Speaking In God’s Name.
“Jason,” I sighed, “What is your point? What are you trying to say about this? What are you trying to communicate about these Scriptures you’ve so lovingly written down?”
“Um…Well they pretty much say it all, man. I don’t need to add anything. They…uh…um, pretty much speak for themselves. I guess I’m just saying that I believe it, and that that’s what they said.”
“I see.” It was the whole “Jesus said it/I believe it/And that settles it!” thing. That was very Pentecostal, I reckoned. It wasn’t my fight—I had to let him hang by his own noose, now. I recommended praying before church. Most ministers have special places they pray in before taking the pulpit. I was sure his pastor would share space with the Rookie. Jason then decided that he wanted to pray for a full two hours before the service. That could be stretching it. But then again, I had read his notes.
He settled for 30 minutes. I had never been to Jason’s church, but was resigned to be “good,” to not stand out, nor pick any fights with those Bored Soccer Moms who sought “Signs and Wonders.” I carried a basic KJV Bible. I wore basic black, but was careful not to “goth out.” I tied my hair back neatly, and away. I trimmed my goatee. I sought to look inoffensive, and be uncontroversial…for just one night.
I wanted the Lord to come NOW, and save me from His followers. But most of these were really old, and—as I suspected—would nod off before Jason hurt himself. He took the pulpit, stuttering and fidgeting endlessly. He went straight through the Gospel, pointing out what was going on like a sports commentator. By the time he got to the Resurrection, he had run out of material. “…and He rose on the Third Day. That’s what the Bible says. And, well…uh…that’s about it really.”
I could hear the crickets. I wanted to clap, but I wasn’t sure he was done. He kept adding little post-commentaries, slogans he saw on Christian T-shirts. The pastor, watching him flail about like a beaten catfish, took the microphone. He paraphrased what Jason had tried to say (“Jesus said it/I believe it/That settles it!”). He was astute in his summary, quickly and cleverly playing off this entire service as an extended Testimony session. Jason had simply “expressed how God had chosen to reveal Himself to him, and that God made Himself real through the Scriptures.” It was very slick.
Thus Jason was at once “saved,” and likely by the hand of God, before he even made the altar call.
Jason and I sat with the pastor and his wife in the church office after service—wherein they counseled that the Lord might be calling the boy into music, instead. When they spoke with me, I carefully considered every statement, lest I embarrass Jason. I thought I did fairly well, until I later got the feedback. His pastor suspected me of being involved in Satanism. Huh? What did I say? Jason then informed me that it had nothing to do with anything I said. The pastor thought I was courteous, and knew my Bible well. He suspected me of being a Satanist, I was told, because I had dressed completely in black. That was all.
I asked, “And if I had dressed in green, would I have been a Leprechaun?”
To this, he replied, quite seriously, “Well, it might be discernment. The anointing of Satan is on your life. It all comes through in the wash, brother.”
I struggled to decide if he had intended that pun. I decided that he hadn’t. I was reminded of when The Call, by my voice, also fell on deaf ears…because God’s moving upon the heart, and healing of man’s spirit still left the average brain untouched in its Free Will.
And Free Will dictated that the heart was lifted, the body and spirit were healed, and that the eyes were affixed onto my tie or sweater…and that the fruit of any tree be judged by the graffiti on its branches—in desperate search for Satan’s backward script upon its limbs.

And the moral of this story, I suppose, is that the Moral make great stories.

But I still recall a time when I was no better. And I left venomous, verbose volumes in vast varieties, featuring feeble fables of faltering faith, mass martyr-mad moments of militant morality, and numerous nervous narrow-escapes of near-nonsensical naivety. Yes folks, I was once Swallowed by the Light, that shines ever upon those that forever snore. For the Light at the End of the Tunnel were the Headlights of an Oncoming Truck—driven by a Holy Driver, who resembled His own dashboard icon. The winking Christian Fish on His sacred, wind-blown mud-flaps sang a righteous roadkill chorus as it passed…

“Jesus is Lord, but Life is Funny—
And Jesus Saves so we’ll know to Invest!
And Jesus loves the Little Children,
But the Host wishes they’d bring nicer guests!
And God helps those who help themselves—
But will refrain unless upon request.
God’s without Time—and Time is Money;
Thus the Devil’s Union pays the best—
For the Minimum Wage is sin and death…
And God won’t let you die…
Because your every breath is a test.”

Cynical? Bitter? Heretic? Moi?