Growing Up Christian - - - Or Not!
“You little knuckled headed Ediot” Willie’s drunken father shouted “git back here so I can git my hands on you! I'll teach you to wake me up!”
Willie just kept going as fast as his little '5 year old’ legs would carry him. That was young Willie’s life to this point. What could be worse? Just keep reading!
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The Church of the Most Holy Named Saint was built on a hill over looking the village of Stanleyville in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The building was a huge gothic structure which looked like it should be located in medieval Europe instead of twenty first century USA. The building totally dominated the landscape and seemed to dwarf the village below.
We usually think of church buildings as happy places, where people are free to worship their Creator with a song in their hearts and a forgiving spirit for others but not so this edifice. There was an air of gloom about the place and it seemed to visitors (when there were any) to have a feeling of foreboding doom. The few visitors to the area shuddered when they first laid eyes on the building. If they looked closely (or maybe it was just their imagination) they would swear they could see shadows slowly shifting around a corner of the great building or slithering behind a nearby tree.
The Church of the Most Holy Named Saint was the only church building in the valley, mostly because Albert Stanley owned most all the land in these parts and nothing was done in this vicinity without his knowledge and usually his permission.
There was another congregation in the valley which had tried to build their own church building but something had always prevented the successful completion of their project. Once they actually did get a building built but an "accident" occurred with the newly completed structure which unexplainably burnt to the ground. This, however, didn't stop the determined band of Christians, who just continued to meet each Sunday morning in member’s homes for worship service as they had been doing for quite some time.
Mr. Albert Stanley was the Chief Bishop of his cathedral and he had hand-picked the rest of the leadership. Since he paid to get the cathedral built and he owned the land on which it stood, Bishop Stanley believed he could do anything he pleased on the premises. (And he could.)
The cathedral's former minister had disappeared and no one seemed to know anything about his whereabouts. A new young minister, who had just graduated from a seminary, was called to take over the vacated position. His name was Willie Wilson.
Willie got off the bus in a small town about fifty miles from the valley in which Stanleyville was located. This was as close as Willie could get to his destination using public transportation.
A member of The Church of the Most Holy Named Saint was sitting on one of the benches, close to where Willie disembarked from the bus.
When he saw Willie get off the bus, he got up and pointed to Willie, pointed to Willie's bags and then pointed to a black stretch Rolls which was parked at the curb about ten feet in front of the bus. Willie retrieved his bags from the bus and followed the strange, silent man to the car. The two of them got in the limousine, the strange man in the front and Willie in the back, as he was directed, and they were off to - to - - - Willie didn't know where they were going.
It was a two hour drive to the valley but no conversation took place between the driver and passenger. The driver had a strange distant look in his eyes and seemed to have a hard time focusing his attention on the curvy road, as he herded the big car up into the mountains. After a couple of tries at striking up a conversation, Willie gave up and thought better of the idea. He decided he didn't want to distract the driver from his duties, lest they both end up in a ravine somewhere.
It was just starting to get dark when the big limo came to a screeching halt in front of the sinister looking church building. The driver got out without a word and motioned for Willie to get his bags and follow him. The driver led the way up one hundred steps, which curved gracefully up to the big double doors at the front entrance of the cathedral. The solid oak doors were rough hewn, forty feet high and a foot thick.
The driver pounded on one of the doors with the huge gargoyle shaped door knocker which was attached to the door for just such a purpose. The sound reverberated inside the building for a full minute before the sound faded away.
Disturbed by the loud knocking, a flock of bats came swarming out of the church belfry which towered two hundred feet above the two men's head. After a five minute wait one of the big doors swung open, ever so slowly, on complaining massive hinges. It made a sound like the cry of a lost soul who had just been condemned to hell.
There in the doorway stood an old bald headed man with a toothless silly grin. The small amount of hair which he had left around the lower edges of the back of his skull was stringing down to his shoulders and matted together in clumps.
In a cackling voice he welcomed "Come in, Mr. Willie Wilson. The Bishop has been waiting for you! Please walk this way."
The old man turned and slowly started down the forty foot high corridor in a slumped over, limping gait. Willie walked very slowly behind the old man, trying not to pass him or collide with him.
The floors of the hall were made of smooth marble, inlaid with mosaic tiles but the walls were of rough hewn limestone. There were many wide cracks between the huge stones of the walls. Every twenty feet or so, there was a dim light, of unknown origin, shinning out. At every one of these locations there was a statue of what appeared to be a gladiator of Rome or some kind of religious idol. The old man would hesitate a second at each of these statues and give a little bow.
After twenty minutes of this torturously slow travel, the pair came to a door which was almost as massive as the entrance doors. The old man knocked on the door with a knocker very similar to the entrance knocker. Again the hall reverberated for a minute to the sound of the knocking.
After a few minutes wait, a muffled "Come in." could faintly be heard behind the thick door. The old man laboriously tugged open the door just enough for Willie to squeeze through and as soon as Willie stepped inside, the door slammed shut behind him with a loud thud.
The hall had been dimly lit but this large room could only be described as dingy and stifling. It had a strange musty odor which seemed to drive all the air out of Willie's lungs, as he had to make a conscious effort to continue to breathe enough air so he wouldn't pass out.
As Willie's eyes became accustomed to the darkened room, he could just make out the form of a very fat man, who could only have become that huge through years of despotic living. He was sitting behind a massive oak desk which was twelve feet long. The desk's side panels were covered with ornate carvings of what appeared to be gargoyles and demons. The walls of the room were lined with book cases from ceiling to floor. A bed of huge proportions was located on one side of the room. There was a huge fireplace at the far end of the room which was large enough to burn logs eight feet long. This fireplace was the only source of illumination in the huge room but the remains of a fire had burned down to a dull glow of embers. The floor was carpeted with a rug so thick that one had to make extra effort to raise his feet a few inches each time he took a step so that he wouldn't trip and fall.
The fat man finally spoke "We've been waiting for you, REVEREND Wilson." (He put extra emphasis on the word "reverend", as if he were saying it in sarcasm.) "My name is The Right Reverend Bishop, Albert Stanley. Just in case you're wondering how you got this prestigious position at our glorious church, I'll be frank with you. I've been watching over you, for many years. In fact, since you were a small child. I know that you are a man of low self esteem and that you have had a difficult life. You don't know this, but The Church of the Most Holy Named Saint has been paying your living expenses and your tuition at the seminary since you began there. Before that, we were instrumental in getting you assigned to the right foster home so you could be raised in a ‘neutral atmosphere.’ You have very low intelligence and you had a very hard time getting passing grades in high school and at the seminary. You wouldn't have made it this far without a lot of help from my under cover people. In short, REVEREND, you have been hand picked and trained especially for this position and you must do exactly as you are told. But it's not as bad as it might sound. You will be paid a salary of fifty thousand dollars a year, as well as have access to our private stocks and all the pleasures of our facility."
"Now, let’s get down to business. Here at the church we don't like to hear our ministers talk about high and lofty morals. I know you weren't taught those kinds of things at the seminary, because I run the seminary and I control the content of what is being taught there. I pass judgment on who is hired to teach and I pick the books that are used in all the classes.”
“Not many people know who controls things at the seminary - you should be proud to be one of the select few. I'm able to fool a lot of people into thinking that you students are learning true religious values at the school. The professors are picked because they are liberal scholars who don't believe in God. Most of the professors think they are deity themselves, because they think they understand all mysteries. The fools! They should realize that money is more important than anything! But back to business.”
“We like to have things go nice and smooth here - and in my other churches, so that no one gets too serious about religion. We have a great body of tradition here which must be upheld - our traditions are much more important than any teachings from the Bible. We believe that the church is an evolving organism, which is here to serve us. Any teaching and preaching has to reflect our wants and needs today, not some musty set of precepts of righteousness which reflected peoples needs two thousand years ago. Besides if you watch your ‘Ps’ and ‘Qs’ this can turn out to be a very great opportunity for you. This is your ‘training ground’ so to speak, a stairway to bigger and better things. I own churches in all the big metropolitan areas. These churches are my real money makers.”
“If you learn to do as you are told here, you'll be promoted to one of these big churches. You will be pretty much ‘in charge’ and run things to suit your self, as long as you suit me and bring in money. The positions start at an annual salary of two hundred thousand and you can have as many women from the congregation as you want. They're all eager to please their minister in every way. But remember, we only teach what the people want to hear - none of these moral rules from the Bible which only suppress people’s rights and individuality. People who go to my churches have the right to do anything they feel like doing. We're here to sell them forgiveness, if they happen to feel a little guilty later. It will be your job to make them feel just guilty enough to buy a pardon from me but not guilty enough to do anything crazy like repenting and actually turning to God as some misguided souls seem to want to do."
Willie stood there frowning during this one sided conversation with ‘The Boss’.
Willie never thought much of himself because he had come from an abusive home where his father drank himself stupid every day and his mother had such emotional problems that she lived on wine and valium. The family was on food stamps but his parents always traded them for money, (fifty cents on the dollar), so they could have the money for cheap booze and drugs. His family lived in a flop house in the slums, paid for by welfare. The only reason Willie survived as a baby was that there was an old black lady living in the same building who had compassion on him. Each day she would see that Willie got nourishment and was cleaned up. She would sing the old Negro spirituals and hymns to him to comfort him. She even bought food for the little tyke out of her own money (which she couldn’t afford). When Willie had just learned to walk the old lady died, leaving Willie to fend for himself.
Willie had been beaten and neglected most of his young life but he learned early where the best restaurants were located. He had to sift through restaurant dumpsters to get food in order to survive. Willie would pass by a restaurant and look in and see all the people enjoying everything they wanted to eat. Willie couldn't understand how they could have so much and he had so little. He always brought the best looking food home to his mother and father but they usually weren't interested in food.
When Willie started to school, he was a dirty little street urchin with a runny nose. As he came into the class room for the first time, one of the prissy little girls looked up, pointed at him and said "Booger" for obvious reasons. The nickname stuck with him all through his school career, which was lackluster to put it mildly.
Willie had a brilliant mind but no one knew it. No one expected anything from a child of his appearance and background. The first time he took a test he got a perfect score. The teacher made such a fuss about her suspicions that he had copied form a girl next to him (who also had a perfect paper and perfect looks and manners, therefore the expectations to deserve perfect marks) that he never again made that mistake. He knew all the correct answers but he always answered some of the questions incorrectly so the teacher and his classmates would like and accept him.
Willie was sometimes the topic of conversation in the teacher's lounge. One of his teachers commented "Isn't it too bad about that ‘Booger Boy’. He just can't cut it, but he has such an intelligent look out of his eyes. Isn't it a shame?"
The only really happy time he could remember, was during his teen-ager years. Willie started to attend a mission church which was located in the slums where he lived. They would give Willie a hot meal and the preacher was kind to him. Willie didn't quite know what to make of this ‘kind treatment’. No one had treated him that way before but he finally learned to trust ‘Preacher Brown’ the minister of the Old Mission Church.
The preacher taught Willie about the Bible and God's plan to save sinful mankind. Preacher Brown told Willie that the Bible said "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and "No one is righteous - no not one”. But God has made a way for sinful mankind to come back to Him. God is a loving God but He is also a righteous God and a God of justice. Justice demands that the price must be paid for wrong doing. The wages of sin is death. God wants all people to come back to Him, but because of their sin they cannot. Because of this dilemma God sent His only Son to earth in the form of a perfect, sinless man called Jesus. Jesus was without sin but he took all of our sins upon himself and willingly went to the cross and was crucified. He took man's punishment, not only in a physical sense but also in the spiritual sense (which is really the most important.) Now, if we come to God through the way God has provided (by accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives) we can be acceptable to God. As God's word says, "It is the only name given under heaven where by we must be saved."
Willie studied with the Preacher for six months, then he surrendered to the Lord and was baptized (for the remission of his sins) into the family of God.
Soon there after, things went wrong for Willie. Both his mother and father died in the space of six months and Willie became a ward of the state.
As an orphan who belonged to the state, Willie was no longer allowed to continue to live in the same neighborhood - no matter that he had taken care of himself from the time that he was able to walk. He had to go to a foster home where the people just happened to be atheists. Willie was not allowed to mention God or moral values and obligations in any way. Willie still loved God but he wasn’t allowed speak about it to anyone. Therefore, he drifted in his Christian life until he had forgotten much of what he had learned about God. (But deep down in his heart he remembered the good times and that he belonged to the Lord and that God loved him.)
After Willie graduated from high school he was destined to live on the streets once again. He was such a poor student (he didn't fit the preconceived mold) that no one was willing to give him a job. Then out of the blue, from an anonymous donor, Willie received a full scholarship along with stipend to go to some kind of religious college. Willie wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Now Willie understood who his benefactor had been. He was to be the pawn of this church and would have to do the bidding of ‘The Bishop’. The small amount of self-worth which Willie had been able to acquire was shattered. He stood there numb, hardly hearing the Chief Bishop's seemingly endless one way conversation - but deep in the hidden recesses of his heart a remembrance stirred. "My power is made perfect in weakness." Willie stood there dazed as the Bishop droned on and on in a hypnotic, monotone voice. He was speaking about how the office of the Bishop was to dictate the spiritual life style of the church and the church belonged to the Bishop. What ever the Bishop wished must always be carried out - if need be by hook or by crook.
Willie was stunned by this theology. The professors at the seminary didn't believe the Bible was "The Inspired Word of God" but they thought the Bible's religious concepts were sometimes advisable to follow if they were convenient or profitable at the time. They taught that most people who went to church, would like to hear a few quotations from the Bible thrown in to every sermon, as long as these quotations didn't ‘step on their toes’ and make them feel uncomfortable.
Willie was totally confused at this point so when the Bishop paused to get his breath, Willie blurted out "If I can't use quotations and moral values from the Bible, what can I say in my sermons?"
The Bishop pulled a large volume from a near-by book case and pushed the book across the desk toward Willie. "This is your study book he said. There are ‘ready made’ sermons at the back of this book. All you have to do for the first few services is read one of them to the congregation. After you get used to the kind of things I expect you to say, you can work up your own sermons. You don't have to worry too much about your sermon's content or even your delivery, most of the congregation won't be able to sort out your words anyway. Most of them will be high on one kind of drug or another. This is also part of the function of our church, to supply our members with what ever they need to feel good just as long as they continue to give us a generous donation. By the way, as I mentioned before, as minister of this church, you have free access to our supplies. In your case, you might not need too many drugs - you seem confused enough already."
(Willie wouldn't use drugs in any case, whether they were free or not. He had seen what drugs had done to his mother and father and other people with whom he had come in contact in his neighborhood. He was smart enough to see the results which drugs had always caused.)
"Well REVEREND Wilson, this meeting is over. Take the book to your room, which we have so generously provided for you and study it. If you need anything and I do mean anything, let Mr. Shagnasty know about it."
The Bishop pushed a button under his desk and said "Mr. Shagnasty, show the REVEREND to his quarters." The old man appeared outside the room as if by remote control and again struggled to pull the big door open. With candle in hand, he motioned Willie to follow him down the corridor. The pair began the same kind of maddeningly slow journey through narrow corridors and down winding staircases until they came to a small door, deep in the bowels of the building.
Mr. Shagnasty unlocked the door and pulled it open without too much effort this time. It was a thick door, but much smaller than the other doors had been. It was only five feet high, so Willie had to stoop to gain entrance to his room.
As Willie entered the room he saw a bed, a small desk and chair and a wall cabinet. A supply of candles and a box of matches could be seen inside the cabinet, which had no doors. The walls, floor and ceiling were cold gray stone which seemed to have been carved out of the base of a mountain. There was a crude rest room, of sorts, at the far end of the room and running water which ran out of crack in the wall all the time.
Willie stood there, suitcase in hand, as Mr. Shagnasty shut and locked the door behind him. Willie sat his suitcase down and groped his way through the pitch blackness until he found a candle and the box of matches. He removed one of the big wooden matches and struck it. The instant light seemed to blind Willie for a moment but he was soon able to put the match to a candle wick as his room lit up once more. Willie put his newly acquired book, which he had carried under his arm all this time, onto the desk beside the candle. He walked over to the bed and sat down with his head in his hands, as he muttered to himself "Well, like it or not, it looks like I’m here for a long time."
He began to think back over his life, trying to figure out how he had come to be in this sorry predicament. He thought about his early life, when it had been a struggle just to stay alive. He thought about his drug dependent parents and about the Mission Church. How good life had been when he was in the old church building and how he had felt safe there for the first time in his life.
He tried to remember some of the things which the preacher had taught him about God's plan for saving sinners. He thought about his parent’s needless death, when they were both thirty three, and then he remembered that Jesus was thirty three when he was crucified for our sins. This helped Willie to remember some of what Preacher Brown had told him - - "Yes, that was it:
(1) Hear God's word from the Bible.
(2) Believe what you have heard.
(3) Repent of your sins and turn away from doing wrong.
(4) Confess before men, that you believe Jesus is God's one and only Son and that you take Him as your Lord and Savior.
(5) Be baptized for the remission of your sins in obedience to the Lord's command and receive the gift which is the Holy Spirit of God.
(6) Live a Christian life which means to love God, love other people as much as you love yourself and to produce the kind of fruit in your life that will bring glory to God.
"YES - - that's it! - - I remember! I remember!"
Willie didn't understand what was happening to him but a peace came over him like he hadn't felt for a long time - in fact, since he had been baptized so many years before. He was locked in a prison but his spirit was free again! He lay down on the bed as he began to realize how exhausted he was from all the things which had happened to him today. As he lay there he remembered what had happened to Joseph as is recorded in the Old Testament. How a lot of bad things happened to Joseph but God turned it around so that good was the final result. Willie prayed for strength, understanding and increased faith so he could do God's will - no matter what kind of situation he might have to face in this terrible place. (Willie didn't know how terrible this place really was.)
Willie fell sound asleep, the sleep of the innocent, because he knew the Lord loved him and was continuing to forgive him as long as Willie continued to confess his sins to the Lord and did his best to turn away from sin.
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