Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 1

I've thought about this for a while . . . writing a modern version of Solomon's almost fruitless search for meaning.  I've said before that I've seen many parallels between Solomon in Ecclesiastes and Holden Caulfied in A Catcher in the Rye.

This will be a fiction story. I will draw, maybe 10% from my own experiences, about 60% from the experiences that others have had and told me about and 30% pure fiction. So, here goes.  A word of warning, in my attempts for candor and dealing with reality, that there may be sensitive subject matter.

Chapter One

I remember the preacher well. He was a large man, seeming bigger than life to a six year old. I was sitting on my mother's lap and I was startled with the man's shouts . . . "Today is the day of reckoning!  Get right with God before it is too late!  Enjoy his peace . . . or you might wake up in the lake of fire!"

I didn't understand what he was saying, but I could imagine a lake of fire and it scared me. Holding my mother's hand as we walked out of the church and climbed into our old, white station wagon I asked (as soon as the door was closed), "Mommy, could I wake up in a lake of fire?"

She looked back at me with her big curvy back glasses . . . "No sweetie. That lake is for bad people.  You're a good kid."

"But mommy, why was people going up to the front of the church?"

"Oh, they were going up to get saved."

"Saved from the lake of fire?"


"How can I get saved from the lake of fire?"

"Sweetie you're saved now . . . but some day when you are older, you will need to go up front to . . . so that you can be saved forever from the lake of fire and find God's perfect peace."

I never forgot that conversations. A few times in subsequent months I asked my mother again if I was old enough. She told me that when I was twelve I would be old enough. When that magic age came I was so nervous. I hated the thouhts of going forward in front of everyone. What if I said something stupid? What if I fainted!?  But I was also afraid I would wake up in the lake of fire.

The preacher would walk across the floor of the church each Sunday, holding his big brown  Bible up in his left hand.  It looked flaccid, being draped over his hand like a wet rag.  He would pound it with his index finger of his right hand and tell us how we could find meaning and purpose in that book.  He told us how we could be fulfilled by following the book.

From the earliest days of my existence I had a candle flame in my bosom. I called it Sophia. It was a flame of wisdom or reason. It wanted so much to know truth. The preacher told me that this life was only a flash, and reality was Heaven. Sophia told me that it would make sense that I would give all my focus on Heaven.  I not only wanted to walk up front, join the church, get baptized . . . but to be a preacher too. I wanted to preach and bring others to Heaven and out of the lake of fire.

After walking forward, I did feel that supernatural wave go through my body. Sophia was yanking at my shirt tale and whispering in my ear that maybe that euphoric feeling was a sense of relief of getting it over with. But I wanted to believe in the supernatural.  I was so pleased to be entering the world where everything would start to make sense, where I would have that persistent peace and meaning.

The day of my baptism came.  I met the pastor at his office in the afternoon. The church was warm. The pastor looked heavy without his blazer on.  He smiled.  I sat in on the sofa in front of his desk.  He came and sat beside me.  "You, my boy, are embarking on a whole new world.  All your problems will fade behind you and you will only know the peace of Jesus.  Everything starts to make sense when you are working for the kingdom of God."

He put his arm around my shoulder.  "Son let's go over what's going to happen tonight."

He stood up and described how he would walk into the bapistry first. He would say a few words to the congregation and then motion for me to walk down the steps into the cold water.  "Okay, boy stand up here."  I stood up and faced to the pastor's right as my body was perpendicular to his.  He reached out and pulled me close. He put his left hand up between my shoulder blades and his right one over my forehead.  "I will have a handkerchief in my hand, which I will place over your mouth and nose."

Then he started pulling me backwards, "Now relax boy, I will support you."  He tilted me backwards and pulled me close to him. I felt his privates pushing into my side. I felt so embarrassed. Certainly he didn't realize that his privates were poking me . . . only I noticed it because my mind was so un-spiritual. The pastor was such a spiritual man, that I'm sure that he didn't notice his privates . . . ever. My Sophia flame was confused by this . . .  but she was silent.

My Baptism was complete. I reasoned that I should put all my energy in the church, since it held the keys to a life of meaning and peace. I never thought about that night in the Preacher's office until a couple of years later.  One day my mother came into my bedroom and spoke to me, "Bobby, you've been helping out so much in the church and I very proud of you."  I felt happy to having won her pleasure.  "I have something to ask you and this is only between you and me," she said.

I felt confused. "Sure mom."

"Has preacher Taylor ever touched you in an inappropriate way?"

I felt this sense of horror.  Immediately the night in his office came back to me. But nothing else had happened. "Of course not mom. He is a man of God. Why would you ask me that?"

My mother looked troubled and she sat down beside me on my bed.  She looked down at her hands as they were folded on her lap.  "Honey, don't ever say anything about this to anyone, especially your father but a long time ago, pastor Taylor did something very bad to your brother."

"He touched him?"

"More than that.  I know it is hard for you to understand right now, but . . . well . . . the preacher raped your brother."

I felt dizzy. Nothing made sense. The feelings rushed across my face so rapidly that I couldn't put words on them, but Sophia could.  It was the fact that all I had known to be true and good was now on its head.  How could this man of god, whom I was trying so hard to emulate, be doing something so horrible, more horrible than any of the bad things that those who didn't know Jesus were doing. Instantly a thousand sermons came through my ears, in one and out the other, like a endless tread of dental floss.  These were sermons about how the Holy Spirit helps us to live godly once we knew Jesus. How things were very different between those who had the Holy Spirit and those who did not. Then, like a huge knot in the floss, a question tore through my brain.

"Mom . . . how could you sit in that church each Sunday and listen to that man if you though he did such a horrible thing?"

"Son, he is a good man.  He is the best preacher this little church has ever had.  He has brought many people to the Lord. He has raised a lot of money to add on to the church and to expand and pave the parking lot. We have even given a lot of money to missionaries.  He just has this one area that is dark and I don't even pretend to understand . . . but Bobby, all the good he has done outweighs the bad."

My world was collapsing around me.  There was no meaning any more.  Sophia was screaming in my ear, lies, lies lies . . . they have all been lies.  The notion of the Holy Spirit making us resistant to sin . . . all of it lies!  There is no meaning in the church, in walking with Jesus . . . or with Heaven.

I pulled away from the church after that.  I never spoke a word about what I knew about pastor Taylor.  I tuned-out his sermons until I was sixteen, then I just didn't go back.  It was all vanity, and chasing after the wind. None of it made sense any more . . . all lies.

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