By John Thomas Tuft
The Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Holiness and High Tide stepped to the front of the huge tent set up under the trees at the edge of town, just beyond the stockyard, slaughterhouse and Fred’s Gas n Go. It was time to begin the annual summer “Covered in the Blood Revival and Gifts of the Spirit Reunion, Make Way for the Parousia” meeting, baptisms optional, and the crowd, sweltering in the folding wooden chairs set up in the pungent saw dust, leaned forward, ready for the show. Time to get right with All Time High Scorer Touchdown Jesus and erase all debts, cross the Ts and dot the I’s for another year of sinning as a chosen one among the lucky to be saved. Can I get an Amen? The ushers had quietly insisted that all those in attendance please turn off their cell phones. No one wanted to be caught looking at the latest picture of Kim Kardashian or some other overhyped ingenue in the national pastime of seeking public attention. Souls are on the line, and decorum matters.
Tonight’s message is geared to proclaim Jesus as the final winner in the Game of Thrones, whether the masses longed for a baffled king composing hallelujahs, or not. That is, right after the “Name It and Claim It” offering is received in the straw baskets thoughtfully provided by the good ladies of Martha’s Cupboard and Gluten Free Bakery, with the Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater claiming that the good Lord named a couple thousand dollars in the baskets, and by God, he was claiming it! With the purest of intentions and aspirations, he holds high his official copy of the Highly Inerrant Word of the Almighty, leather trimmed, red letter and gold edged pages of the official court of King James Bible and Study Guide edition. The pages are stained with both sweat and tears.
“God bless his word. God bless the United States of America and its flag. And our president,” shouts the Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater, flecks of spittle scattering like fairies in the bright beam of the spotlight. “God is angry.” He starts to gain his rhythm as he paces the stage, back and forth between the American flag and the Christian flag, handy for crusades of all kinds. The good folks of Outtheheckwayhere County lean a little further in, mesmerized. “But God is gracious. God is setting the rules. But God is righteous. For God so loved the world. But God hates our sin and wickedness. We owe God a debt. We owe God our lives.” He pauses for emphasis. “But Geez-us…but Gee-zus…paid our debt. On the cross. Sacrificed his only son. With his blood, we are saved. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only…” He starts to recite, but the audience all knows how it ends.
“Repent, I say. Geez-us is the way. Repent and be born again in the blood of Geez-usss!” And the beat goes on, until the old tent is rockin’ and rollin’, sweatin’ and swayin’. Then it’s time for the payoff. The Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater gives the altar call. The folks of Outtheheckwayhere fall silent as “Just As I Am” struggles for a hold in the thick evening air and in the troubled consciences of the humbly faithless and seekers of solace. The good reverend controls his impulse to scream it louder, needing that shot of good feeling and ‘job well done’ that keeps him going. Instead he begins to weep, imploring the gathered to reconsider the offer on the table.
At that moment, a man enters the back of the tent and makes his way forward. He is middle age and is wearing scuffed boots, jeans, and a tee shirt with a bright rainbow imprinted on the front. The spotlight catches the sweat vapor steaming off his silver hair as he approaches the stage. “Welcome brother,” says the The Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater. “Confess and be washed in the blood…” The man raises his arms out to his sides. The music stops and the crowd forgets about the heat as the man’s soft voice carries on the ghost of a breeze. “I’m in debt to God? Why do we spend so much time trying to reassure ourselves that we got it right?” The spotlights casts a shadow of the man with the outstretched arms across the steps and the wavering wreaths of vapor appear like a crown dancing across the face of the good preacher.
“I, too, have an only son. My son served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. My son is a proud, loving human being. My son loves teaching children. I love my son and my son loves me. But he is gone now, taken too early. He was turned on and scorned by those who succor fear. I watched his blood stain the ground around his body.” He turns to face the good folks of Outtheheckwayhere County, tears glinting in the fierce light. “My son, my only son,” he weeps and clutches the front of his shirt, “died because of WHO HE LOVES!” The power of the anguish in his voice echoes until it shatters the bulb of the spotlight, plunging the revival into darkness.
Those who were there that night report that when light was restored, the man was gone. But they marveled that his shadow seemed to be burned into the saw dust and steps of the stage. And every time the Reverend Harvey Wallbanger Rainwater looks in the mirror, the wraiths of a crown shadow his face.
Words are magic and writers are wizards.