With the world in hellish turmoil, with no credible end of the torture in sight, a Christian person would think that this would be a perfect time for the Lord God to make an appearance, or at the least, throw us a bone. I would be satisfied with a fireworks display or something on television, but God doesn’t work that way; it appears he likes to keep us on the hook. Again, it’s a biblical thing.
My first remembered experience with religion was in my sixth year. A Fort Worth boy, dragged to the Poly Baptist Church to witness the near-drowning of my young father while being Baptized by a zealous preacher named Reverand Toby.
Someone in my family, an aunt or a cousin or all members thereof, thought that father’s soul needed saving, or at the least, a near-drowning to ensure his path to Heaven would be an honest one. I suspect it was his mother. She was a championship sinner with no way to redemption, so sacrificing her only son to Baptism might also gain her entry to God’s domain as a parental guest. Quite inventive she was. I also suspect that the bottles of hooch and the 38 special in her traveling suitcase would also be overlooked as she accompanied him through the pearly gates.
The Sunday of the Baptism was as hot as I can remember. The small church, a wooden frame affair, was surrounded by trees, so no breeze entered. Religion and suffering are one and the same. July in Texas is considered the perfect month for all the above. It’s a preview of Hell to come. Something to remember the next time one thinks about committing many deadly sins.
There I sat next to my mother, my less than a year old sister on her lap. My clothing was sweat-soaked, and I could have wet myself and not have known it. The summer heat radiated from the floor to the bottom of the wooden pew. Hell was just below us, just in case we wained from the word being preached, and for a moment lost our grip on believing; Satan could reach up and drag us down. It was all very convenient. I had no concept of sin or what it took to reach the depths of Hell. Of course, kids don’t bother with such nonsense.
An hour of Preacher Toby pacing the floor from wall to wall. The chorus of big-haired women behind him, punctuating his performance with Amen’s and Haliluahs at the appropriate times. The pulpit held the preachers’ Bible; it rested there, of no use to him. He didn’t need no leather-bound Bible; he knew everything required to scare the liver out of everyone in that church.
The sermon concluded, and the Baptismal commenced. Father was the last on the list.
Mother had dressed him in a new white shirt and black tie. He resembled the television star Steve Allen. The shirt was starched to the point of cardboard, allowing him minimal movement. One would think if a person was to be dunked in a tank of water, a swimming suit or at the least, a robe would be appropriate wear. But, nope, Baptist like it real; fully dressed in your best clothes, shoes, watch, and wallet included.
Father’s name was called. Entering the pulpit from behind a velvet curtain, he climbed into the Baptising tank. I found it odd that a church would have a small swimming pool at the alter. A waist-deep concrete tub full of unpurified water. How would one know that the occupants didn’t release a stream of pee into the sacred water in their moment of personal repentance? It’s a natural response akin to pissing in a swimming pool or a lake. Father stood in the holy waters awaiting his deliverance. He carried the look of a trapped man; no escape route was available, so his fate was sealed.
Preacher Toby wasted no time. He asked Father if he was ready to accept Jesus and be bathed in the Holy waters. Father mumbled a few words, and the preacher pushed him back into the waters of the sacred Jordan. Minuets passed along with lovely words and passages, and still, Father was immersed in the Holy waters. A hand, then an arm, then two reached up, flailing about. Finally, a leg broke the surface, and a shoe flew off. Still, Preacher Toby continued his blessing.
Looking back, it was common knowledge that father was a country musician and made his living playing in the beer joints along Jacksboro Highway. Preacher Toby figured since my father was a fully certified sinner, an extra dose of saving was needed.
With no assistance from Preacher Toby, my father made it to the surface with seconds to spare. Sputtering and coughing, on the verge of death, he rolled over the side of the cement pond and lurched toward the side door of the church. Holding my baby sister, my mother grabbed me by my bony arm, and we made a hasty beeline to the car. Father was there waiting. Dripping wet and defeated, he looked like death on a china plate. Mother drove us home.
I’m not sure what this recount has to do with the current state of our world, but I felt the need to share it.
Religion is a slippery slope for most folks. You either believe, or you don’t; there is no maybe or middle ground. But, the forces of good are believed to be greater than those of evil; it’s written in the book. So, we need an intervention or a sign from God that one evil man will not dictate the end. But, if that is the plan, let it be quickly done and with a gracious smile.