it’s a long way down from here
I was eighteen, living in a small town in upstate New York, working at an old five and dime. Times were hard, but we made do, for the most part. Work was just something to pay the bills. My life revolved around two things. Church and writing.
I’m not sure that anything I wrote at the time could be considered good. A lot of poetry, most of it either self-righteous religious tripe or self-loathing religious tripe, depending on my mood. I was working on a novel that was…well I guess we could call it religious fantasy.
It was a martyr’s story, a heroine persecuted for her faith.
It represented what we were taught at our little mission church. The devil was out to get us. He lurked behind every friendly smile, every relationship that wasn’t grounded in and sanctioned by faith. No one could be trusted. Not even other Christians, because most of them were only pretending. They were blasphemers and we had to protect ourselves.
At the same time, we were to reach out in faith and guide our lost brethren home. And revel in our salvation, give thanks and glory to God that we were chosen and snatched out of the darkness of our former lives.
I was studying to become a minister myself, such as studying is needed for such things in organizations like that. It doesn’t take much, and certainly doesn’t require a college degree. We were pioneers, missionaries in a hostile world, answerable to God and not man.
There was only one problem. The more I studied, the more I started to question. The more I questioned, the more I studied. I had notebooks filled with ideas and questions and frustration at not finding the answers. When I went to our preacher for guidance, I was told that I needed to pray more or that I was being set upon by demons of doubt.
Our preacher had a way of making sense of things that made no sense, and as long as he was talking I was right there with him. Then I would walk away and it would all fall apart. On top of this, I was running the song service and I learned something in that little sound booth.
I learned the art of manipulation. In fact, I was proud of my ability to take the congregation, no matter what mood they came in the door in, put them through a series of songs and deliver them in the exact mood the preacher wanted them in. He wanted them worked up and on fire, I had a set of songs for that. He wanted them vulnerable and ready to cry, I had a set for that too. I even had and extended set for the mornings he came in and said he didn’t want to preach, just go straight to the altar call.
I was really rather proud of the way I could handle those days. I would start them rocking, take them up and up on praise and hollering, then bring them down until I left them weeping and wailing and crying out in tongues and emotionally wrung out.
Give me an hour and our sound system, I could make that congregation sing and dance and praise the heavens.
The bible tells you that pride comes before the fall. While I may not believe that the bible is the unfailing word of God anymore, I can tell you that it does get a few things right.