Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 3: Not Saved by the Ushers

The mysterious young Jesus Person neighbor girl asked me--me--an atheist/agnostic/, seeker, rebel, hippy guy--for a ride to church. Going to church held absolutely no appeal to me, but spending time, even half and hour, with this girl did. Perhaps I could find a way to give her a ride but avoid sitting through a church service. A plan began to form in my mind and was, from my point of view, brilliant. I would wear my favorite very well-worn hippy bell-bottom jeans, the ones all faded and frayed and with the knees torn out. A white T-shirt would be good and, in spite of the sultriness of the evening, I'd wear that old army shirt emblazoned with Magic-Marker peace symbols--the one I'd sewn a large American flag,upside-down, on the back of. And, just in case all that was not enough to get me denied entrance, I went barefoot. Yes--that would do the trick! I had it all played out in advance in my mind: Of course, the ushers would deny me entrance, she would go to the service; I would take a walk and smoke a cigarette or two, Afterwards, we'd go for a coke and conversation and I would explain to her why I could not possibly be a Christian what with all the derss codes and regulations etc. At least that's the way I'd envisioned the evening unfolding. I was in for a rude awakening. As we pulled into the parking lot of All Saints Episcopal Church, I noticed something unusual--there were more than a hundred, perhaps two hundred, young people, most of whom looked like hippies, milling about on the expansive lawn of the churchyard. Something was seriously amiss, especially my plan for getting barred at the door of the church. Just then, as I turned my dad's station wagon into the parking space, Cher excitedly pointed toward the lawn and exclaimed, "There 's pastor Lonnie, he's really cool." "You mean that guy with the beard, in the muslin shirt?" I asked. "Yes, wait 'till you hear him--he's really anointed" she said in a low whispery voice which seemed one of admiration. I could see that my carefully thought-out plan was shot. I hadn't come up with an alternative as we got out of the car and headed for the lawn--she eagerly, me very reluctantly. Before I knew it we were seated on the lawn, everyone singing "cum-by-ya" and a guy to my left slings his arm over my shoulder in brotherly fashion. The muscles in my shoulders and back tightened, but I sought to look cool and unimpressed. "Oh no" I thought, "The Jesus people again--I can't seem to get away from them." As I contemplated this unexpected turn of events, Lonnie began to preach a gospel message with passion and plenty of happy hippy feeling. As I listened to the young preacher tell me how Jesus had died on the cross for me and was seeking me out like a lost sheep and all I needed to do was to open my heart to him and I'd be born again and have a whole new start in life because God loved me more that I could ever imagine, and loved me even no matter how many sins I'd committed and if I were to come to Jesus He would put a whole new plan for my life into effect if only I'd open my heart and invite Him to come in and be my Lord and Savior. I was unmoved and appeared, like I had for years carefully practiced appearing, aloof, skeptical and unmoved. I felt very out of place, here with all these Jesus People singing love songs to some Jesus I know had died two thousand years ago. The whole thing I considered to be completely absurd. I couldn't wait to get out of there. It wasn't to be. Someone who knew me from Poly High came up to me, threw his arms around me and exclaimed, "Denny, praise God!--it is so good to see you here brother!" That last statement irritated me greatly and I challenged him by informing him, "Hey, I just gave someone a ride here, I'm no part of this, I just happen to be here and don't know what in the hell all you people are so excited about."

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