Posts Tagged 'truth'
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FICTION IN NEED OF REVISION/EDITING BEFORE PUBLICATION (SS6)
That’s what is written on the manila envelope–SS6 indicates Short Story #6. The first twelve pages are missing, and I recall why: My fiction writing instructor suggested I trash them, and begin the story at the bottom of page thirteen. Now I wish I had the first twelve pages–this draft for a short story was written in 1992, and I see no need to revise/edit much of it, if any, since so much time has passed. Yet take heart–unlike Unfinished Kill, this story has an ending! I begin with the scratched-out portion of page thirteen:
. . . Book of Numbers. It was a goal he was trying to impress upon everybody–to read the entire Bible by the end of the year. In this story, the Israelites are given the go-ahead (and really commanded) to scout out an inhabited land to take as their own. It’s stories like these that keep me from believing the entire Bible as the Word of God. So I was a little defensive, as we read this in the living room, though I tried not to show it. If some great voice blared out from the sky and told us Americans that we could just conquer Britain or France or Brazil, and take whatever we wanted–most of us would think it were the voice of the Antichrist or Satan. But the Israelites were, according to the Old Testament, told to take whatever land they wanted, and kill whatever people they wanted–and the Church of Christ accepts this as the Word of God–along with most other Christian denominations and sects. It had always seemed to me, as I attended Magnolia Christian School, that those people spent much more time on everybody but Jesus Christ. And sadly, I later found other churches, including United Methodist, to do the same. I think the Church, in most of the world, is afraid of the words of Jesus. For it’s alot easier to live the life of a hard-liner and a yuppie-materialist jerk, if you listen to Moses and Paul instead. Still, I tried to listen objectively. And the lesson wasn’t bad–something about facing life’s challenges, despite reservations about them. At any rate, it didn’t matter–I had an outside purpose for attending these Bible studies. I was Columbo–or a National Geographic reporter, studying a culture group. They could kick me out the door of that pink house, and I’d still have something to write about. Yet I wanted things to go smoothly. They were people, despite their ways. Some of those girls could develop into after-hours girls, and some of those folks could actually become friends. And maybe I could be a Pied Piper of words and deeds–leading these people away from their somewhat repressive backgrounds. So I went along with the study–even volunteering to one day lead a Bible study, after David asked me about it.
David closed the meeting with a prayer insinuating, somewhere, that reading the Bible–from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21–was necessary for salvation. This pissed me off–and reminded me of the fundamentalist ideas I was taught at Magnolia Christian School. Yes, I was a reporter in the midst of a foreign, and somewhat primitive tribe–but I was determined to restrain myself from any outbursts or emotional giveaways.
David made two appeals before the meeting was over. He asked that we each invite someone to the Bible studies–and this was the first time he spoke directly to me, by name, in an appeal. He also said he planned to paint the sign in front of the church Saturday morning, and would like some help–to “show appreciation” to the church for setting up the Christian Life Center (in what I knew as Mr. Chapman’s old house). Several people volunteered–I even hinted that I might be there.
But Saturday morning arrived, and no one was at the pink house or below the church sign at the time agreed on–10:00 a.m. Then I checked a few more times–whenever I was driving that way. No one showed up. And the sign still needed painting by nightfall. I didn’t have alot of time to paint, because of an upcoming Music Appreciation exam–but I’d thought this would be a good way to get to know these people better, and to show them what a trooper I could be.
So I called some of them (I was given a phone list at the first meeting). And only two of them were home: James, who was asleep after an all-night lock-in. And Gary Hofius–the only one in that circle who’d been a classmate of mine at Magnolia Christian. Gary hadn’t been to the meetings for a while–so I invited him. We laughed as we said goodbye–it was good to speak with someone I knew from so many years before.
And as I called the folks who weren’t home, I got to know their mothers. I was a perfect gentleman–though I wondered what those mothers looked like–and wondered if I’d ever meet them, under nicely embarrassing circumstances.
Well it appears that I will have time to study for this Music Appreciation test, after all–though I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I will try to call David after a while–to ask what happened about painting that church sign. I could never reach him yesterday, and I get more and more curious as to what they decided to do. In the meantime, I will list all the people I can distinctly remember–who attend the Seven Days Church of Christ young adult Bible study, at the Christian Life Center:
Janice Adams–a sweet girl, with long, strawberry-blonde hair and freckles she hasn’t outgrown.
Cathy Diehl–a dark-haired girl, pleasingly plump, with a cute face–who sat next to me on the couch, at the last meeting. She’s very quiet.
Wendy Lovett–the first girl I spoke to, on the first night. She seems to be the leader of the females of the group. She is somewhat reserved, but is a generous hostess.
Debbie D’Arcy–the girl who charms my snake, even to this moment.
By the way–though I remembered the first names of these people, I had to refer to the Christian Student Center Directory for the last names.
Monday, February 3
At the meeting of the West Mobile Toastmasters, I delivered my first speech since attaining CTM (Certified Toastmaster) status. I am working toward the ATM (Able Toastmaster) level, which requires fifteen more speeches. My goal is to attain ATM status before the year is over. For the first of these fifteen speeches, I read a short story I’d written. It had some risque moments, but those didn’t seem to bother my older, professional audience at all. And the evaluation of my speech was definitely positive. I wasn’t dressed up, on the outside, when I went to the Bible study afterward–but on the inside I was glowing. And throughout the Bible study, I remained in my public speaking-mode–gesturing and making profound statements.
For the first time since I’d begun coming to the meetings at the Pink House (literally painted pink), I was only a few minutes late. The living room door was closed, and the folks were singing those simple songs–too loudly to have noticed my entering the house. They gave me some polite hellos, as I pulled back the door. And David offered me his chair, as he looked for another one. I wasn’t about to make myself comfortable in the chair of a regular, since I was new to all this. So as soon as he brought in a harder chair for himself, I politely took that one. And I placed it in the center of the long room, so I could get a reporter’s view of the entire space and the people who occupied it. Then I lowered myself into it, making myself as comfortable as possible.
There were two guests to whom David called our attention. One had come alone. He had a mustache, and more than a few wrinkles. But his countenance was the most peaceful of anyone in the room–this he later attributed, indirectly, to his joy about being saved, and seeing all those saved young people. His name was Billy Green.
The other new guy was Jerry. Jerry had brought his wife, their little girl, and their newborn baby along. His wife said very little–but Jerry was a talker, like me, and like Billy. All my life, I’d been raised around men who hardly spoke at all (most notably my father)–letting women verbally dominate them. So it was nice to be around some men who liked to converse, and discuss ideas. It was also refreshing to attend a meeting with two people as old, or older than I, for a change. Jerry appeared to be in his late 20’s, and Billy in his late 30’s. In his introduction, David hinted that these two men were instrumental in establishing the Christian Life Center–and I got the impression that they were some kind of leaders in that church. Presently, I found that Jerry was to hold the Bible study–or devo–that night.
Jerry’s experience in leadership roles was evident, as soon as David turned the program over to him. His Bible study contained a cross-section of verses taken from the Old and New Testaments, which gave advice and insight on the subjects of fear and courage. Most of them I had read–like Jesus’ appeal for us to “take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” But some were new to me. After Jerry’s devo, I couldn’t help but express to him the organizational skill he showed–how it was quite like a good speech. And I invited him to a meeting of my Toastmasters chapter, though he seemed barely interested.
After the official close of the meeting (though they often just run into a close)–everyone resumed conversation, which they had carried on before the meeting, and strung through the meeting slightly. The baby boy, in his little seat-bed became a conversation piece. And most everyone wanted to look at him. As always, I was amazed at the smallness of the baby–especially that of his fingers. And it occurred to me–there was a sense of community in these people. At first I’d thought it inappropriate to bring a baby and a small child to a Bible study (they probably had no babysitter at the time). Then I re-examined that thought–as I looked onto the baby, to whom his parents seemed so attached, and the young people who knew each other like family–who stood around the room, and around the baby. I received images of the Amish, the Acadians, and different tribes of the American Indians. These groups maintain a sense of family and community that many of us have lost. And this Church of Christ group was reminiscent of these. The Church of Christ is set in its ways–I knew that already. But what I hadn’t really examined was this family and community way of life. I realized, as I gazed down at this baby, that I was an outsider in this group. And I thought of what these simple-living people could contribute to the culture in which I had grown up–and what my native culture could contribute to theirs. But most of all, I thought of what each of these people could share with me, as an individual–and what I could share with each of them. The fundamentalist ways of the Church of Christ folk–to which I’d been exposed too thoroughly–still carried a few touches of annoying ignorance. But the fear of this way of life–which I had acquired as a child in that somewhat dominating school–was fading, as I encountered these people from the perspective of an adult.
At the start of the meeting, I had asked David what happened to plans to paint the Seven Days Church of Christ sign on Saturday. He said they had painted it–but not until after 2:00 in the afternoon–everyone was running late. I had looked to that experience for an opportunity to really get to know these people. So I looked to another–I asked him about the gathering he had recently announced, every Sunday evening at 7:00. It is a purely social deal, with movies and other recreational things. He confirmed the time, and I told him I might be there. He seemed to be hiding this Sunday gathering from me. If he was, perhaps it’s because they expect me to attend their Sunday night church service first–since the social is right after church. Or maybe I’m just not accepted by the group enough yet to be included in its social activities.
Nevertheless, I intend to visit this Sunday night gathering. Unfortunately, this after-church social coincides with the weekly Singles Network dance at the Econo Lodge, on the Causeway. But the dance costs $5.00–the Sunday social costs nothing. Sometimes I’m grateful that I’m poor. Because just a little bit of money–or the lack of it–can make decisions for me. I’ll probably skip the dance, and attend the social at the Christian Life Center. My curiosity about these people is a craving. And I hope Debbie and her girlfriends are equally as curious about me. A bowl of popcorn in the dark can be the slowest aphrodisiac–and the most effective.
Sunday, February 9
The sky outside my apartment window is almost perfect. Yellow seems to permeate everything, from the pine trees to the winter grass to the brick buildings. I’m going to some open place, like the municipal park, where I might get some studying done for tomorrow’s Music Appreciation class–or I might just play. Not surprisingly, I have no money left to splurge on that singles dance at the Econo Lodge. So I’ll be engaging in some more reporting at the Christian Life Center. As mentioned, I plan to attend the social gathering there. And through the week, I’ve come up with another idea. I’ve realized that, during those nine years of attending Magnolia Christian School, I never attended a single service of the Church of Christ–anywhere. I don’t even recall stepping into a Church of Christ sanctuary, unless it was a part of the school. So this may be a first. I plan to attend church this evening, at the Seven Days Church of Christ, before joining the college kids at the Christian Life Center. After all, they will probably be attending church too. However, it is not my intention to regularly attend church there. I am not Church of Christ, and I am quite defensive about this. The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life checking for sins, like lice on my skin. I’ve become involved with these people to be a part of the solution, not the problem.
The reason I am writing this journal entry before the church service is to make a few predictions–then to see how correct those predictions were. Like Jean Dixon, I make predictions based on what I envision. Unlike her, I make these predictions based on the experiences I had and the things I learned at that little Church-of-Christ-sponsored school, rather than star charts and Tarot cards. My hands are placed firmly on the crystal ball, and here is what I see:
I’m greeted by cautiously friendly faces as I walk through the doors. My 6-feet 3-inch frame is slightly scrutinized, as well as my beard. But the ushers let me into the sanctuary. The decor of the sanctuary is simple–in keeping with standards prescribed by the Apostle Paul, whose teachings the Church of Christ seems to follow more than Christ’s. The baptismal font is like a large tub, since the Church of Christ strongly believes in baptism by immersion.
The structure of the service is similar to those of most other Protestant denominations, except that there is no Apostle’s Creed or minister’s spoken blessing as in my United Methodist church. And the songs are just like those I’ve been singing at the Bible studies–sweet, but simple (I’d like to teach them A Mighty Fortress is Our God, or O God, Our Help in Ages Past, or Christ the Lord is Risen Today).
The sermon is simpler than those I’ve heard from my United Methodist minister. And it deals more heavily with the subjects of sin and death and Hell.
At the Seven Days Church of Christ, I am not at all surprised to encounter a few people I knew at Magnolia Christian School–some of whom I haven’t seen for twenty years:
Mr. Hollinger–who lectured me on whether or not I wanted to dig ditches the rest of my life, after catching me asleep in his study hall.
Coach Vines–who taught me to drive a car (one of the few coaches I ever knew who could teach another subject well, besides football–the best driving instructor I’ve ever known).
Mrs. Crowley–who’s more permanently affixed to that big plot of ground than the hall lockers.
After the altar call (when visitors are urgently requested to come forward, accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and join this church), the preacher dismisses the congregation–and I head toward the Pink House for the young people’s social.
The accuracy of these visions will be tested in less than two hours. And now that I’ve made these predictions, I am more eager than ever to test them.
There was one major prediction I made before attending that church service–that not all of my predictions would come true. And this proved correct.
I had called ahead to find that the service was–as always–scheduled to begin at 6 o’clock. It began a few minutes after that, but close enough. In the hallway, after entering through the back way, I saw someone who looked familiar. He said, “You look familiar,” at the same time I did. He had never been a teacher of mine, but I remembered he was very active in the affairs of Magnolia Christian School. Mr. West still had curly hair, just like his two sons who had been in a grade above mine. I knew he had been on a committee at the school, and had much to do with changes–especially on the grounds. But I couldn’t recall what those changes were. So his recognition of me–especially with my beard–prompted me to ask myself how many other people would find my face familiar.
Mr. West and another man talked with me a few minutes. This caused me to walk into the sanctuary late–and I felt a clench of fear in my chest. I had not been to a church service–anywhere–for over a year. And now I was returning to a service in a place that could not be more foreign–for the purpose of obtaining story material. But I made my way into the aisle, with a Toastmasters stride. I stopped when I thought the preacher said, “Let us pray,” then continued when I realized he had actually called out the title of a hymn selection. Highly conscious of the few eyes that looked at me, I moved on, until I found a seat toward the center of the building. The voices of the congregation were moving through the second or third line of the hymn. And a woman in the pew behind me gave me a hymnal. They don’t waste any time, I thought. But at least they notice me. And I quickly became aware that there were no musical instruments–not even a piano. This was the way that was taught at Magnolia Christian. The Church of Christ had an unusual logic–if it’s not in the Bible, don’t include it. So it came back to me, during the singing, that–since there was no mention of musical instruments in the Early Church–they didn’t believe in having them here. And how strange that this became beautiful, in this unusual sound method. I recalled what my Music Appreciation teacher had said this quarter–that the human voice was the most perfect musical instrument in existence. And these voices of this Church of Christ congregation took on an orchestral quality of their own.
Presently, the last hymn was sung, and the program moved into the sermon. The organization of this service was unlike any I’d ever seen. Instead of the usual choir songs and calls for prayer requests, which I was used to–there was no choir–and the service moved right into the message of the preacher. It became like a huge Bible study. The preacher called out Biblical passages, and the congregation followed along, as he read out loud. And there were plenty of Bibles in the racks.
For a reason still unknown, Debbie and Janice surprised me when they came to sit down at my side, with girlish smiles. I wondered where they had been, but I slid over to allow them room. They looked good–real good–in those Sunday dresses that showed just enough leg to make me smile. And I could not keep myself from showing off, as I turned to each scripture verse with Bible-drill proficiency. My Bible class teachers at Magnolia Christian had required me to learn all the books of the Bible for recitation. I still knew that skill–and I could almost thank those teachers–as I became the prepubescent boy again, playing big-shot to the girls beside me. Debbie’s cheek was inches from mine, and I could have kissed her. And I could have put my hand in her lap.
The preacher was fat, and his jowls could well have been perceived as a mark of credibility, in the fundamentalist seminary circle. He usually resembled Jerry Falwell, slightly. And sometimes, when he’d cock his head back to make a point, he would resemble a certain 35-year-old maladjusted, yet intellectual, stubbly-faced man who lives in my apartment complex. But this preacher’s face was smooth-shaven. And his manner was much less fiery, Swaggart-like, and Falwell-like than I’d expected. He didn’t really holler–just spoke loudly. And he didn’t pop balloons of controversy, as much as he simply taught words from the Bible–at their face value–as he interpreted them. And I had to admit to myself that I agreed with much of what he said.
He operated according to a surprisingly well-organized outline that everyone was issued. I had not been able to get one of the blue bulletins with the outline–so Debbie reached around for an old one, and handed it to me.
Interesting way to do it, I thought. He shares his weekly preaching outline–or a section of it–with everyone else. His Bible verses were so numerous that I couldn’t count them–and still can’t. The verses were taken from all over the Bible–and there was a large number of scriptures from the Gospels. Maybe these people follow Jesus’ words in church more than in the adjoining school, I thought. But this is only one service.
Tonight’s topic was idolatry. The preacher began with lots of stuff on the adoration of false gods by the Israelites, after their release from Egypt–and on the idols of other nations, like the “fish-man” god of the Philistines. “The Philistines placed the stolen Ark of the Covenant before their idol–and the idol kept falling down on its face before the Ark–can you imagine that!” cried the preacher, with a defiant chuckle.
The man had no idea there was a spy in the audience critiquing every word and sound–gathering material for a homework assignment. And the job was not as simple as I’d planned. I had become personally involved in the service–thus I could not be as objective as necessary for writing about it. I was also somewhat frustrated that the people weren’t as clearly one-way as I’d envisioned. The preacher was supposed to be some stupid redneck–but he wasn’t. He was a man who seemed to believe in what he was saying, though he also seemed to enjoy displaying his gifts. His sermon was intelligently done, and well-organized. He was constantly running behind, time-wise, and he didn’t get to cover all the points of his outline equally. But he could still deliver in a way that my Toastmasters chapter would approve of.
I thought of all the preachers getting in trouble with the law these days–swindling money from parishioners and TV audiences, molesting children in their congregations, getting involved in all kinds of vindictive political power movements. As with any minister, I tried to imagine that man participating in any sins like these. I could not very well do that. Sure, I didn’t know what kind of life he led “behind closed doors”–but he wasn’t like Jimmy Swaggart–no sins (other than a little touch of vanity) were evident in his words. He was human. All these people around me–regardless of their often narrow beliefs–were human. This made the gathering of information for my short story annoyingly difficult. The preacher said, “The gods we make for ourselves are not the true God. We must not worship idols–we must respect the truth.” He was right. And I had to know the truth about this place and these people.
The only thing really hell-fire about the preacher’s sermon was his tone. He used the word, warning, several times–God’s warnings to us. And I still could not ignore the sin-picking that often occurred in his message. Yet the man had thought this stuff out. The idea of constantly coming to this place created a sensation almost identical to that of being sent to the principal’s office in that little parochial school. And this sermon and the manner of its preacher were nothing compared to that of my United Methodist minister. But I had given myself an assignment. I had assigned myself the job of a National Geographic journalist–studying a relatively obscure tribe. I did not have to take on the ways and beliefs of this tribe that were foreign to me. But I was expected to study the tribe until the deadline: the end of Winter Quarter, 1992.
After about forty minutes, the preacher wound his message up to the altar call. He had been able to devote only a fraction of the time on the last few points of his outline, since he’d gotten so far behind. And I couldn’t figure out if the outline was just too long, or if he’d spent too much time on his favorite topics. The individual speech evaluating, in Toastmasters, had affected me more than I’d thought!
Like the sermon, the altar call was not as shocking as I’d expected. And I waited for the chimes of an organ to call the service to a close. But there was no organ, no piano, no bells. The congregation started getting up to leave after we sang the last line of the closing hymn.