Thursday, June 5, 2014

Milestone: Testify!

"Cheery" is not a word I would use to describe my workplace these days.  Circumstances have made it very much the opposite, generally speaking.  A recent edict from on-high, reducing staffing on our workhorse international aircraft and eroding our ability to provide excellent service as a result, makes "cheery" an ever more elusive state.

That edict was the thesis of a post in a social media group that I help administer.  Its author suggested that "Pastor Reece" would need an epic "revival" to help with this issue.  After addressing the issue, I suggested that the word revival evoked vivid memories and images for me and asked the question, "should I expound?"  A positive response to my question elicited the following:

"At Arbor Hill Baptist Church in Cherokee County Georgia, revival is traditionally held in mid-July, when summer is at its most tempestuous.  As a child, I felt God's breath on the back of my neck, warm at the beginning of service, cooling, almost chilly, as the inevitable evening thunderstorms rolled in as service reached a crescendo. I mentioned that our revival was held under the arbor. That arbor was and is to this day a huge, timber frame structure whose roof is sheathed in corrugated metal. The posts and beams were rough-hewn from local timber in the 1800s. The hard, purposefully-uncomfortable benches were also hewn on-site. The comforts of the congregation were not the primary concern of those in charge (further evidenced by the outdoor "conveniences" in service until the late 20th century). 

At service time, sometime after "supper" (the evening meal in the South), temperatures were in the 90s at minimum. The funeral home- furnished church fans (hardened paper stapled to a Popsicle stick) did little to abate the inferno. 

As benediction was said (sometimes, a "spirit"-enthused hour), I would silently pray for rain. By the time the visiting preacher ascended to the pulpit, the clap of thunder and flash of lightening had begun. God is great!  The storm was usually preceded by a gush of cooling wind, announcing the coming relief. 

Imagine the wonder of an 8-year old, raised in the faith of fire and brimstone when God's nightly show started!  "Awesome" has become such a trite expression through overuse and abuse. 

Through the eyes of a child, THAT was AWESOME!  I remember the change in the smell of the air as lightning flashed and it became infused with ozone or positive ions or whatever God used to make it smell so heavenly. I can smell it as I sit here typing on my phone with just my right thumb, 46 years later!

(I was sitting standby for a Delta flight from Atlanta to Houston when typing the above.  The below was written once onboard & in flight.)

Lest I give the impression that my approach to my revival experience is cynical, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  Much of who and what I have become has a direct link to the Southern Baptist tradition.  Conversely, I've had to overcome many of the stigma and assignations Southern Baptistry places on me and people like me in order to thrive in life.  Isn't it ironic?  That which is intended to give one spiritual succor takes it away at the very same time!

Thanks to Delta's hospitality (19C) and inflight wi-fi, I'll continue with the revival experience...

The sweetness of the relief (rain) from hellfire and damnation (July heat) was tempered by the very literal soul-pounding of the crashing thunder, streaking lightening and fiery rhetoric from the altar.  At a young age, I was very aware of who and what I was and even more attune to my tenuous standing in the eyes of my church and community.  My spiritual guides had this young boy believing that the thunder and lightening were God's address to the abomination that I represented in His eyes.  I cannot adequately express the self-loathing that a child of 8 is capable of feeling.  God knows ALL, especially one's deepest secret.

One night, the service was mercifully short, as was the evening thunderstorm.  The thunder rolled into the distance quickly, followed by the flashing skies and ominous clouds.  As the Sun began to set, the sky parted and radiated crimson on the remaining, dispersing cloud-cover.  The same clouds which had seemed so threatening earlier, seemed so much friendlier, almost gentle, forgiving.  The cloud shadows formed in the setting sun formed recognizable shapes and objects.  The air had "that smell". 

That was the night that I finally felt I would be okay, that my life would be worthy.

God was transfigured in my life that night and it had very little to do with the revival.

When I return to the arbor these days, the memories flood back:  I can almost see Reverend McGaha wiping the froth (literally) from the corners of his mouth with a white handkerchief.  I smell the fresh pine sawdust on the ground, smell the communal body odor of simple, honest, God-fearing people fulfilling their commitment to God and their community. I taste the icy cold water drawn from a well and shared among all the children using the same enameled tin dipper, one at a time.

I momentarily feel the angst of an 8-year old sinner, forlorn and damned.  And then I look up to the sky and remember.

It will never be that way again."

I found the following link in my Facebook feed this morning.  Coincidence?

Not to me...

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