Monday, September 29, 2008

Lesson #1: Cats, as a species, are not Southern Baptists.

When I was a young boy, like many other normal American boys, my family was preparing to embark on a journey to a far away place. Most people refer to this as...vacation. To me, with my large, vivid, never-ending imagination, it was much more than that.

My dad had spent days loading up the truck and camper in preparation for our week long trip to Hawkin's Lake. This was the destination chosen for this years "vacation". There was little room to begin with in our truck camper and by all indications, from the amount of "survival rations" that he had packed into it, we were in for an incredible adventure. We had kerosene lanterns, pots, pans, blankets, chairs, boxes of matches, utensils, etc. It seemed that everything that we owned, we were taking. Of course this meant only one thing....We were certainly never to return.

In an attempt to excite my siblings and I, my dad who's imagination I must have inherited, spun a few tales. He told of the rugged mountains unsurpassable by the many expeditions that had tried. The thickened forests that was home to the largest known land animals that ever inhabited the planet.
"Some say that T-Rex himself still lives in the woods that surrounded the lake."
If you were quiet, very quiet.... you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him and live to tell about it. The lake itself was as deep as the ocean. It surely was full of alligators and sea monsters, thought to have been extinct, unknown to exist today. He told of fish that had been caught the size of full grown adults. Oh, then there were the Indian burial grounds nearby, where in the quiet of the night, one could hear the war chants from ancient tribes that haunt their final battles.

Needless to say...We were all going to die.

So with this train of thought, I began preparing. I said goodbye to my neighborhood friends. I played with my toys that I couldn't take with me and carefully packed the one's that I could. I spent time in my room and memorized how comfortable my bed felt and how nice my freshly washed bedsheets smelled. My pillow....I could take. I would lay in bed listening to the safe sounds of a normal, lower-middle class neighborhood and savored every but of it.

I covered all the bases. I talked to GOD who was my constant companion even at this young age and HE comforted me. Growing up with a strong Southern Baptist foundation.....we were at the church whenever the doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday evening and in the afternoon for a cover-dish meal when someone could think of a reason to have one. We attended most Wednesday evenings for bible study and filled the rest of the week with thoughts of when we were going back to church.
But things were different now....I payed attention. I replaced the hours of sitting next to my mom on a hard church pew, taking a pencil and filling in the letters in the bulletin that contained circles (ie. a,b,d,e,o,p,q) and replaced this with....sitting next to my mom on a hard church pew and.....listening.
As well as any child could, I hung on every word our transplanted Southern Baptist preacher would shout out. Fire and Brimstone, guilt, honor, tithing, sit in that pew until you butt cheeks hurt or "y'all surely go to Hell!!!" It was difficult to say the least to understand the thick, southern Mississippi draw as he yelled and carried on. He would start out slow at first and I could make out what he was saying quite well at first.
It wasn't until the hand-fans came out, the volume went up and the preacher's jacket came off that I had a problem...and a problem I certainly had. I remember leaning forward on the pew so that my toes would be able to touch the floor as if this extra push would help me understand. It really wasn't my "hearing" that was was my "deciphering". I was able to understand about every fifth some least in part. I just kinda....filled in the rest.

I remember his name....Pastor Dupre Gowan. He was a big man. No, he was a huge man! His voice bellowed off the walls and ceiling, off the ceiling fans and onto the piano and then finally off the wooded pews that filled our little church. Mom never had to worry about me falling asleep for if I did ever begin drifting off....I would jolt awake by one of Pastor Dupre's rant and raves. You see, baptist preachers, especially Southern Baptist preachers, rant and rave. They would get wound up and in between words they would utter completely meaningless sounds. I don't know exactly how to explain other than immediately after exhaling a colorful, multi-influxed number of words that may or may not make sense he would need to inhale. As he would inhale quickly, his vocal cords were not fully disengaged. This would create a sound that I have yet to hear anywhere else in society.
This sound would indeed vary among different preachers but never vary with a single preacher. In other words, one sound would be linked to one preacher...and they all were unique. So unique that we could identify a visiting preacher in the first few minutes of his rant by his sound. Pastor Dupre Gowan's sound was a "HEH!" Let me attempt to demonstrate. It was something like this: (please feel free to insert your favorite southern accent)

"Have you been walking the path of rightiousness...HEH...or are you walking down the dark path of Sin?....HEH. Jesus has been where you are...HEH...Jesus will guide you through...HEH.
Jesus is the only one who can save your eyes on Jesus?...HEH...or are your eyes on the Devil? HEH. Will you put your trust in the world...HEH...or will you put your trust in Jesus? HEH."

Now, before I receive a pulpit full of hate mail....let me clear up a few things. I don't mean to make fun or belittle being raised Southern Baptist. Also I do not want you to think that I am being disrespectful. Pastor Gowan was a wonderful man that meant a considerable amount to me in my younger years. A mental picture I am painting.

Back to the story.
So there I was prior to my death by some awful circumstance that was waiting to befall me on our family vacation. I said goodbye to all my friends and possessions. I cherished the memories of my childhood. I was proud and brave. I left no stone unturned. I was prepared to accept my fate, no matter what it may be.

My mom woke me at daylight the morning of our departure. I wondered if she knew the horrors that awaited. She told me to get dressed and hurry to the camper that we would soon be leaving. So this I did. With a melancholy spirit I surveyed our happy Ohio home and headed to the camper. My two brothers and sister, all older than I, were doing the same completely unaware of the doom that awaited.
I walked out our house and sped to the backyard to run my make believe baseball diamond one final time. With head low I solemnly walked toward our camper. I reached down to pet Whiskers, our cat, for one last......

OH LORD!!!! Whiskers!!!! I forgot whiskers!!! How could I have forgotten my bestest friend in all of the world. We ran together. We played for hours. I had even taught her, or she taught me, to play hide and go seek between our row of pine trees! Whiskers!!!
"Can she come with us??" I begged!!!
But then I realized that if she went with us she would surely die. How could I take my best friend in the whole world to a place so horrible? So I grabbed her up and ran into our backyard to quickly say goodbye. She knew. She knew that the end was near. I could tell by the way she looked at me. She rubbed her tail under my nose different than she had before. Her purr was even different. How could I tell my little friend that I would never see her again?
Then I thought of it!

Several weeks prior at Memorial Baptist Church, between a Sunday morning service and a covered-dish dinner, we had a special service. It was called....let me try to remember....Oh yeah....a Baptismal Service. It was where Pastor Gowan and some others who recently accepted Jesus into their hearts so that they wouldn't "die and burn in Hell for all eternity...HEH"...went into the back study, changed out of their church clothes into jeans and T-shirts and entered our baptismal. This baptismal was essentially a large tank the was elevated and behind where the choir sat, behind the pulpit where Pastor Gowan preached. It was there where they were "Saved from eternal Damnation...HEH."
It went something like this: "Did you "brother or sister so-and-so" accept Jesus into your your personal Lord and Savior...HEH?" They then would answer with a fearful look and shake their head acknowledging that they had. Pastor Gowan then dunked them head-first into the water while he cradled them in his big arms and uttered what sounded like...
"And in the Hole Ye Go!!"
Then that was it. They were saved from eternal damnation and would ready to go to heaven.

I wanted this for my Whiskers!! Now I knew that i wasn't a preacher but I certainly didn't have the time to find one. Well, it had rained the last few nights and my dad was putting on a new addition to our house that extended off the side of our house. I spent many hours watching the men work while standing on our back sun porch. The water from off our roof filled a low spot on the side of our porch off the back of the house. It was here where I decided to assure that Whiskers, my best friend in the whole wide world, would someday join me in Heaven.

I picked her up and cradled her in my not so big arms. I carried her up the steps and onto our back porch to the far left wall that overlooked our own private Baptismal. With cat in hand I stretched out my sleeveless, skinny little arms. With my best Pastor Dupre Gowan impersonation I announced for all onlookers to hear:
"Do you Whiskers accept Jesus into your little cat heart...heh."
She looked at me as if she didn't understand the magnitude of the moment. My grip grew tighter as she began to squirm a little as the "Spirit of the Lord began getting a hold of her...heh."
"In Jesus' name...In the Hole Ye Go!!!"
I then released my increasing grip on Whiskers to enable her to be dunked in the muddy puddle Baptismal next to my porch.

This is the exact moment when I learned Lesson #1.

Because Whiskers wasn't a Southern Baptist, or any kind of Baptist as far as that goes....she did realize the "magnitude of that moment". But Whiskers "magnitude" was completely different than mine. Her magnitude consisted of clawing and climbing up anything, ie. naked, skinny arms, to keep her from dropping like a sack of potatoes into that cold, murky rainwater.

Who would have known....cats must be Catholic.

Excerpt from "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Imagine yourself setting foot on a journey. This journey traverses uncharted terrain, much like pictured. You set out alone without preparation, without supplies, without insight of what you may encounter. The time is evening. The forest is dark. Thickened mist rolls over each mountain and slides slowly into the valleys just to crawl heavily up the opposing hillside. Cold, moist air is parted only by the quickened breath of the unknown. The sounds of the forest, some distant, some eerily close, echo off majestic stands of trees that reach through a blanket of looming clouds. A storm is heard off in the distance, the last ray of sunlight succeeds in reaching the leaf covered carpet only to quickly fade away.
You walk up on two trails. One to your left, the other it's mirror image. A pending decision. You stop and kneel in the crossroad. You pick up a hand of soil and allow in to filter through your fingers. No answers here. You look down each path searching for the smallest of clues.
Faintly you see what appears to be a dim light on one of the paths. One second it becomes clearer, other times it disappears behind the cover of the forest. It appears again and looms closer...and brighter. You are able to make out an embodied figure lifting high what appears to be a lantern. The figure moves closer. The darkened path becomes more like day.
A friendly, familiar voice calls you by name. You are found. Your heavy breath becomes light again, as if in the sun. The correct path becomes are saved!

Let us all be like Beacons on a Hillside so that....may not even one, travel alone.
Excerpt from "The Journey Learned" copyright 2008