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JUST ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN

 

- Sorry this report is so late. I’ve had trouble writing it – it comes out too harsh. It still is – but better than it was.

 

25 of 52  Trip Around The Sun - Bethel Baptist Church (Repeat)

 

Sunday, October 20, 2002

 

Have traveled about 281,000,000 miles.

 

Thoughts during the week:

 

The meeting last week at Bethel (Southern) Baptist Church was so well executed and enjoyable that I decided to see if it was a lucky week. I’m going to repeat and visit them again. I will attend the adult Sunday School class again – and this time, if they invite me to ask questions, I’ll not hold back.

 

Considering our new-found appreciation for how awful terrorism is, I’ve been trying to decide what some of the dangerous beliefs are – that would allow followers to support the leader of terrorist activity:

 

1.     That “We” are the only ones who are correct or authorized.

 

2.     Believing that Good and Truth are the same thing.

 

3.     Blind Faith. (That we ought to have Faith and not have Doubt.)

 

4.     That our emotions are as dependable, or even more so than our thoughts.

 

 

The Visit:

 

Bethel Baptist Church – Attended Sunday School and regular service.

 

Brotherton road – just off Felicita.

 

This was again one of the better meetings I’ve been to so far.

 

But I was a good deal of trouble in the Adult Sunday School Class.

 

I went about half way through the class without saying anything, but I guess the look on my face revealed that I was having questions.

 

They were talking about Jewish traditions. The teacher said, “They must have been Baptists – they sure had lots of feasts!” Laughter.

 

The whole discussion was so friendly – about the Jews and their ways.

 

So then the teacher said, “Chuck – you look like you have questions.”

I said, “Yes – but my questions are very hard.”

 

He said, “Oh – we like hard questions. Please ask them.”

 

(Ok – I guess that was fair warning – )

 

When speaking of beliefs, I used “we” instead of “you,” as it’s better manners – more inductive of introspection instead of just being accusative.

 

I said, “Well – we’ve been discussing the Jews with such a friendly attitude, but don’t we believe that they will all burn in Hell forever and ever because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior? How can we be so happy and relaxed in this discussion?”

 

Answer essentially: “We’re happy about all that God does – we’ll understand later.”

 

I said, “I’m thinking of my Dad. He was an atheist who loved his fellow man. He died about a year and a half ago. He suffered so before he died. I hated to see him suffering – and knew even more than before how much I loved him. Do we believe he is suffering even more now? – Burning with no end - in a fire prepared by a God who loves my Dad?”

 

“Yes.” One said, “My own father also – we must accept Jesus to be saved.”

 

I said, “And what about my Mom? She accepted Jesus as her personal Savior all her life – tears came to her eyes when she spoke of Him.”

 

“Well – sure – she’s in heaven.”

 

“She was a Mormon.”

 

“Silence.”    I put that in quotes because it was loud silence.

 

Someone finally said, “It depends on if she really accepted Jesus.”

 

Now notice the difference here. First it is, “One must believe in Christ and accept Him as their personal savior.”

 

Then a word is added for Mormons: “Must really accept.”

 

What this means is that one must accept – but also get the technical things right – that He is not literally the son of God, but is God. If you mess up on that understanding, you burn forever.

 

“But I just told you she did accept Jesus.”

 

“Yes – but does she believe he’s the son of God and not God himself?”

 

I said, “Oh – that’s another requirement – we have to get the technical things right also?”

 

Silence.

 

I said, “Now let me get this straight – You say that my good Dad is burning in Hell forever – and my dear little Mom is also – that God loves us so much – and that I ought to come and worship Him with you and praise Him for all this? You have beautiful meetings – a kind of pretense that all is beautiful – yet underlying beliefs that are so ugly I can’t believe anyone would accept them.”

 

They said, “Mormons just think they’re right and everyone else is wrong.”

 

“Agreed – they do.”

 

Mormons have some ugly beliefs also - just different ones. And indeed, one of them is that they are the only ones whose religious work is honored by God – that is, the only ones who can perform a valid baptism, for example.

 

“I’m not here to argue for the Mormons – I’m looking for the possibility that there is anyone at all around who actually believes that God does not do evil things – ever. When evil occurs – it is we who do it – and then we like to say that God did it. That way we can pretend that the evil is good. It’s not a mystery that it is bad to kill babies. That’s not something “We do not understand.” We understand it just fine, and we know it is wrong. But if we say that God killed the babies – then it’s good.”

 

Burning one’s loved ones forever is also not good. No good person would participate in such a useless punishment, where no improvement is possible. God, being good, would not – and it is not a mystery that this is so – it’s obvious to anyone.

 

He also would not put a curse on some of his loved ones – like some Halloween witch – as Mormons believe He did to the whole great Negro race. They teach now that the curse has been lifted – but most Mormons still believe the curse was real. Things like this, along with many stories in the Old Testament are just that – stories. They are supportive of such things as our own prejudice.

 

After class, they assigned a knowledgeable man to talk with me. (Nice guy.) After some discussion, I asked, “How can you believe in this burning Hell – from a loving Father?” He said, “What do you mean? I haven’t even mentioned Hell – you have a dozen times – you seem to be very interested in it. I answered, “I’m interested in why people believe things. I could mention astrology many times also in rejecting its tenets. That wouldn’t mean I’m attracted to it. God is only good – He is not evil, as you describe Him to be. You also could use the word astrology in arguing against it. I think you like not to use the word Hell – because you are secretly sensitive to how ridiculous the idea is to have come from a loving Father.

 

You say He’s good – and then describe Him to be a terrorist. My interest is less in you, however, than in my own religion. We teach that He sent an angel to kill babies and all the other firstborn of the Egyptians to soften Pharaoh’s heart. This is we saying He’s good and then describing Him as a terrorist. I do not feel critical of you specifically – but of the whole need of humans to believe these awful things. Why can’t we decide that God is good – make that our assumption – instead of assuming the Bible is correct exactly as written – why not assume that God is good – and then measure the writings of people by that measure? If they say He’s bad – or that He does bad things - they lie or err.”

 

The main meeting:

 

Just as last week – this was a wonderful meeting. (Perhaps I should have skipped Sunday School. On the other hand – you can’t get any of the nitty-gritty just listening to a speaker.)

 

I paid a little more attention this time to the combo of instruments.

 

Two guitars – One trombone – Two drummers – this time an adult on the drum set – and the seven year old (or so) on bongos. (Turns out the seven year old was substituting last Sunday for the adult drummer.) Two French horns. Exactly 40 in the choir. (Good guess last week.) One grand piano.

 

Now the next thing is interesting in view of what my thoughts have been about. The first song – exuberant and praising was called:

 

“GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME.”

 

“So,” I thought, “He doesn’t kill babies after all.” Just a sarcastic thought.

 

The bottom line is that God is good because He is defined as being so – no matter what He does, it’s defined as good. I suppose He could be a child molester, and that would also be good – just something we “will understand later.” I knew of a minister in West Virginia – who took turns taking every man’s wife to bed with him for one night. This was to prove he was not subject to temptation. Each man was expected to provide his wife for the purpose. Some may have left this congregation – I don’t know – but those who stayed – believed this was ok – because the man was their minister – a man beyond temptation. This minister could have done anything – and they would have considered it good.

 

There are all kinds of evil gods in history – We don’t need one of these.

 

The song was actually quite wonderful – I wish they believed it in a way that God does only good things.

 

There was much other wonderful music – definitely too jazzy for us – but wonderful.

 

There was another: “If We Are Marching to Zion.”

 

I wondered, “What is Zion to them?”

 

Then there were the words, “The Beautiful City of God.” They were speaking of heaven.

 

I think we think about Zion more as a Heaven on Earth – and probably the other also eventually.

 

The minister’s talk (his preaching, as they call it) was also quite wonderful – even better than last week, which was also exceptional.

 

He had many visual aids. He lays them around on the floor – and goes to get them as needed. Usually, they bring humor into the talk.

 

He had two long cardboard boxes tied to form a big cross. He held it up and declared that the cross is always beautiful – and that he liked to make crosses out of all kinds of things. He said we should have “cross-eyes.” (A little laughter.) Then he put on a pair of dark glasses – each lens covered over by sort of ice-cream stick crosses. (Big laughter.)

 

He also made some points about the dilution or impurities that get thrown into our lives. He said he likes to find drinks while he’s on the road other than sodas. So he went into the store at the gas station and bought a bottle of water. “It was awful,” he said. “I looked at the label: (Water with caffeine added.)” “It’s difficult not to be polluted.”

 

 

Then he went into the main part of his talk – which was the subject of “US” and “THEM.”

 

On one side of the stage, he lifted a big sign that said “US.”

 

Then he walked over to the other side and lifted a sign that said “THEM.”

 

He talked some of how we tend to separate the world into us and them in many ways.

 

He talked of when he went to ministerial school in New Orleans. After arriving there, he was asking for directions. Someone told him to go about a mile or so and then turn left at the cow dunk.

Them has a cow dunk. Us didn’t even know what a cow dunk is.” (Laughter)

 

He went to the side of the stage and picked up a big clear plastic tub. Then he picked up a stuffed toy cow (A very cute one) and tossed it into the tub. “They do this to cows in New Orleans.” (Laughter)

 

He should be on Jay Leno – he’s really quite good at this.

 

He said that God makes no distinction between US and THEM.

 

He had us all repeat: “God”   - “God”  “Makes no distinction”  “Makes no distinction”

 

“Between US”  “Between US”  “And THEM.”  “And THEM.”

 

He talked of the Apostle Peter. He picked up the “US” sign. Peter happened on a group of nice gentiles – and was getting friendly with THEM. He walked with the “US” sign over to the “THEM” sign.

 

But then Paul and some others of US approached. Peter, when Peter saw the US approaching, he withdrew from the gentiles a little embarrassed that he might be caught being friendly with them.

 

You can get where this is going – and he did a good job.

 

With one exception – he kept saying that the THEM he was talking about is a group of other “believers” that are different in some way. Non-believers are not even part of an acceptable THEM.

 

Now this is mine – not his:

 

Repeat after me:  “God”  “God”  “Makes a Huge distinction”  “Makes a huge distinction”

 

“Between US”  “Between US”  “And THEM.”  “And THEM.”

 

“He brings US”  “He brings “US”  “To Heaven,”  “To heaven”

 

“And He burns THEM”  “And He burns THEM”  “In Hell.”  “In Hell.”

 

“And US love it.”  “And US love it.”

 

The THEM who burn forever is almost everyone on the Earth.

 

(We probably won’t kill Sadam. We’ll kill his babies – and we’ll cheer. We did it before.

We hate THEM with a passion.)  We can hope there are plenty of US who would not want to do this, but then, we believe God set the example.

 

 

I always liked a poem I first saw in The Reader’s Digest: I’ll get the words wrong –

 

(Wo – isn’t this internet a wonder? I just stepped out from my report – put down the words “that took them in,” and there was the poem – so here it is:

 

  They drew a circle that shut me out.

  Heretic, Rebel, a thing to flout.

  But Love and I had the wit to win.

  We drew a circle that took them in.

- Edwin Markham

 

The music minister, after the preaching, along with a good pianist, sang a medley of songs to honor the senior citizens of the congregation. Then they had a luncheon – all served in courses – for all the seniors. One of the Sunday School people invited me to join them, so I did. They had sourdough rolls to die for – and real butter – and choices of things to drink. (I really do like iced tea.)

 

 

25 of 52  Trip Around The Sun - Bethel Baptist Church (Repeat)

 

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