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Faith and Practice, MO

I was baptized in the cool, clear waters of the Rocky River by an elderly country preacher just outside my small hometown in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The event was witnessed by my large extended family and a few others and made the local newspapers as few people still used the river over an indoor, and heated, baptistery.

It was meant as a symbol of my coming Christian service. I was to be a new type of believer; a genuine, straightforward man of God who compromised none at all. The voice of one crying in the wilderness.

I took my wife and infant son and headed west. In a few short months I was to begin my formal training as a preacher.

We crossed the Appalachian Mountain chain, the Mississippi River, and eventfully came to the Ozark Mountains, the end of our modern pilgrimage…and the beginning of my revelations…

The college (which I will not name here, but whose identity can be easily discovered) possessed a beautiful campus in the downtown of a midsize Missouri city. The sizable campus covered three, maybe four, city blocks and grew a little every year. The city was a hot bed of religious education and numerous denominations have Bible schools, missionary training camps, and headquarters in that Middle American city.

There was a round, brick and cement fountain in the middle of the campus that always showed up on brochures and catalogues for the school. Typical of religion, new comers were wooed with the beauty and awe of the huge gymnasium, nice dorm rooms, and new chapel and garden. They were not shown the other side of things. They were never told of the cold way people were treated. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about my apartment.

We lived, ‘we’ being my wife, my infant son, and myself, in the married dorms. Basically, cheap, Housing-Authority quality, cinderblock buildings with one bedroom and a living space that included the kitchen. We were on the first floor, next door to the daycare. The dorms were right across the street from the classroom buildings. I would come home between classes and take a nap sometimes.

I also worked for the school as a maintenance man. One of five–which was a joke because I knew next to nothing about it. I got hired on a fluke because I was a boiler tender in the Navy and had some painting experience.

One of my favorite tricks was to get the boss on a roll about how evil Pentecostals were or the no-prayer-in-public-school issue and intently listen to his rants when we were supposed to be working. He fell for it every time. He was easily worked-up and was plagued by fits of nervousness. It was fun to see just how bent he would get about something. I can still hear him scream, “Carl Sagan is goin’ to bust hell wide open when he dies!” It was so comical because Sagan had been dead for years and apparently no one informed my boss.

Our families went to Taco Bell for lunch together one day. It was when Star Wars was being rereleased for its twenty-fifth anniversary and Taco Bell had Star Wars toys for the kids. One of my boss’ daughters got a toy and showed it to him. He asked what it was and she told him that if you held it up to your forehead it would change colors and reveal a special message from The Force. Man, he came unglued. He went on and on about how Taco Bell was teaching kids to take the mark of the Beast. He snatched it from her hands and ripped the toy up. Everyone in the place was looking at him. The look on his face when she said The Force would reveal a special message if you held it up to your forehead was priceless.

I messed up and mentioned one day that I liked George Strait. My boss had a field day with it. He began shouting about how George Strait was a pig. He actually called him a bastard. He said that a drunk driver killed George Strait’s son years ago and now Budweiser was sponsoring his tours. To my boss that made George Strait the worst kind of hypocrite. He said that he knew George Strait would bust hell wide open.

My boss should know what he was talking about when it comes to hypocrites. He spent months telling me about the evils of TV. He said that Satan had grabbed America by the throat with all the sex on television. He would shout that Satan would not get him through TV. One night I went over to his house to look at a paper he had written on the Holy Spirit and caught him off guard. On his TV set two big-breasted women ran down the beach to the Baywatch theme. Their hair was flowing in the wind, their eyes were lustful, and their breasts bounced. My boss grabbed my arm and pulled me into his bedroom to get the paper. He thought he had gotten away with the whole thing when his daughter ran in and said that his favorite show was on. He tried to act innocent by denying it, but she said, “it’s your favorite show. The one with the women on the beach.” He turned three shades of red.

Of course, he did not hold a monopoly on hypocrisy. For a brief time I went to his church. The assistant preacher delivered a sermon on the vices of Disney. His text was the story in Judges where Samson ties torches to the tails of foxes to burn a Philistine crop. I know, it sounds like a chapter out of Greek mythology, but Christians still think this absurd story is actually historical. I do not know how he got from foxes with torches tied to their tails to Disney, but he raised Cain. He said one of the most important things that all Christians should do is boycott Walt Disney theme-parks, television programs, movies–and especially merchandise–because Disney has a ‘gay day’ every year where homosexuals were encouraged to attend.

The mortal enemy of every fundamental Christian. Not a Satan worshiper. Not a rapist or murderer. But an unsuspecting, innocent gay couple who had never hurt anybody and were trying to enjoy an all-American day of Mickey and Donald. I knew I wouldn’t be wearing my Winnie the Pooh tie around that church for a while. He spent an hour running Disney into the ground.

A few weeks later his wife invited us to their house for Christmas. Care to guess what kind of wrapping paper they had on the presents under the tree? Or what kind of ornaments they had hanging on the tree? Or what movie the kids were watching? Or what those kids got for Christmas? Or even what the little girl had on her shirt? ALL DISNEY!

While I’m on the subject of Christmas, it’s as good a time as any to mention how my boss felt about trees. He used to get sick to his stomach at the slightest mention of a Christmas tree or even the sight of one. He would quote some obscure passage in Jeremiah where he says the people go out into the woods, cut down a tree, carve an idol, and prefer it to God. Somehow, this meant a Christmas tree to my boss. So he did not have a tree in his house on Christmas. But his family did exchange presents. A different friend of mine, who also worked for the school, had a tree, but did not believe in giving out presents. It would’ve taken both of them to have a real Christmas.

My boss finally suffered a breakdown. I went to visit him at home and he was sitting in his recliner in his underwear and a pair of big, fluffy Garfield slippers, watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons, eating Frootloops and drooling all over himself.

The last incident that triggered his current state of stupor was a visiting missionary. The missionary was trying to raise enough money to get to Somalia or somewhere like that and came to the school seeking aid.

My boss lived in a small frame house that the college campus had swallowed up years early and now allowed students who worked for the school to live there at low rent. The missionary owned a camper he traveled in and asked my boss if he could park it at his house for a few days. Of course my boss was eager to help and offered to let the missionary use a water hose and an electric extension cord both run from the house to the camper. The few days turned into weeks and my boss’ utility bills began to skyrocket. Then the missionary enrolled in a class and actually started school.

My boss was irate, but did not say anything because he felt like the missionary was a fellow man of God and that he would shortly move.

Months later not only was the missionary still there, but he had put up a clothesline and a TV antenna as well.

I don’t understand why the missionary didn’t just go squat in Somalia the way he did in my boss’ yard. Apparently, he was very good at it.

Well, to shorten an already lengthy tale, about six months of that was about all I could take. I packed up my family and what I could fit into a rental car and disappeared in the middle of the night.

A year later I inquired about the stuff I left behind and was informed that it had all disappeared in the first few days after I left.

I wonder what they did with all my son’s Disney toys?