By W. Scott Parker III, RfR Volunteer —
Carnival’s coming to town! In a small town, in the 1960s, this was big news. Where the most exciting thing was an occasional fire, this was really big news. Lights! Music! Rides! And the odd folks who would appear from the surrounding area.
The hucksters, with their practiced smiles, would encourage you to come on down, just as you are, and play their “games of skill,” where one was never quite skillful enough. Roll the ball on a piece of plywood with various “winning” landing holes. Throw the ring on the bottles. Sometimes, the Chief of Police would come through and close them down to the groans of the players. Would that he had looked for money-making schemes elsewhere in town. There were quite a few.
The churches. I was eleven and resistance to attending was futile. “No, we’re not going to talk about it. You will go.” Driving force for my mother — Faith? Highly dubious. Maintaining reputation in the community? Yep.
Like the carnival, the lobotomized smiles creeped me out at church. I sensed the whole thing was also a facade of lights, music, and there was the biggest ride of all… you know, the one to heaven. The “respectable” adults went regularly to this local carnival. That certainly gave it some credence in a child’s mind. Unless, of course, as in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” they were all in on it! I had friends who were still smarting from their personal Santa Claus betrayal. But there was still one saving grace (pun intended), one thread left for me; i.e.: “preacher was called by God!”
Wow! I mean wow!!! Miracles were as common as blood and suffering when Jesus was around. Then for the next two thousand years; curiously, zip, nada, squat as to miracles. Not even water to wine, a minor miracle but one that I would consider useful.
But in the nice, quiet, unassuming man we all knew as Pastor Robinson, we had a real, live miracle walking amongst us! We could see him and even touch him should we wish to! Did no one else understand the gravity of this!?
I could never imagine him drunkenly, slurring pickup lines to a woman at a beer joint when his “call” came. Not Pastor Robinson. My “vision” was him at home, ensconced in his moderately priced, fabric, easy-chair, smoking his pipe (enjoy it while you can pastor!), slippers on, reading his newspaper. And, he hears a voice.The booming, sonorous voice of Cecile B. DeMille, “John (I made that up. We never knew his first name), go out and preach my gospel!” “What?, Who?, What?” They go back and forth like this for a while until “John” is convinced God is truly calling him and he eventually puts down his pipe, “heeds the call,” and becomes Pastor Robinson. (Cue HBO Title Heavenly Chorus)
And that’s when I come in, eleven years old, very inquisitive, persistent, and frankly appalled that this modern-day miracle is being given short-shrift! Yes, they referenced it a lot, “Preacher was called,” “When Preacher was called,” “When I was called,” etc. sans any footnotes. But, I noticed that they would say it matter-of-fact like as they might say, “Preacher got a new Chevrolet.” So disrespectful I thought!
Our Sunday School Teacher is before me with her very red-painted lips, wan smile, and dancing eyes. She must have triggered me by saying “it” again. I knew the carnival was a con but this Baptist thing, “Preacher was called!!!” The carnies had bent that plywood just enough to ensure you would never land on the money holes. The rings would actually fit on the bottle heads but only the carny knew the throwing trick.
Surely, this august body of townsfolk weren’t en masse pulling our young legs! I was naively curious about this miracle that had happened, perhaps in my lifetime, certainly in my parents’! “Mrs. Goodson, Pastor Robinson was called by God?” “Yes, Scott.” All right! I continued digging for those miraculous details.
As I did, I noticed her bright red lips getting tighter, creating a frozen “smile” that was at once funny and frightening. Well, mainly frightening. Like the Alien pulling his lips back for his “I’m gonna pop you.” routine. And, the eyes were no longer dancing. There was a hint of terror in there. I was clearly on to something, I continued to push. And, after a few more minutes of this, Mrs. Goodson had had enough.
“It was in his head!” she screamed at me. I was stunned. It took a few seconds for me to absorb what she had just said and its implications. . . . . . in his head? In his head!? In his f*cking head!!!??? Even at eleven I knew that this was tantamount to her saying, “He made it up.” or “He imagined it.” or “There’s no evidence.”
These “good” people, just like the experienced carnies, had been lying to me all along! It was all bullsh*t!
“In his head!!!” Jesus Christ.