Good morning, y’all. We hold out hope for cooling rains over the weekend. Even with the threat of lost power due to lightning strikes and/or high wind, we could still use a cool off from the rain. The asphalt is not melting yet but the heat is building up in all things constructed of metal. Grabbing hold of the door handle on the maintenance shed was like grabbing hold of the hinges of the gates of Hell.
Speaking of the gates of Hell, Summer Revival 2010 was purposed for keeping the flock on the straight and narrow and out of the grasp of the devil. Tent number one was going to be the hot spot for salvation on this Tuesday night. The Reverend Dale E. Bread was opening for the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson, both strong orators. The Elders had given Dale E. Bread high marks on his first night, and it would be interesting to see how he fared against big league competition. Dale’s altar call had been good and his serpent skills above average in his first night’s audition. Now he would be placed in front of the biggest audience he had ever preached to, to gauge his skills. Would the hundreds of extra eyes unnerve the Reverend? The question was soon answered.
The Reverend Dale E. Bread could not have displayed his Florida roots any more if he had stood before the crowd and done the Gator chomp with his arms. He was dressed in a white linen suit, peach colored shirt, peach and blue flecked tie, and white patent leather loafers. His blonde pompadour hair was coifed perfectly and contrasted elegantly with his tanned skin. Without fanfare, he broke into “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, A capella, and his rich baritone voice filled the tent with wonderment. By the third verse the crowd was singing along and swaying to the rhythm as if following the flute of an Indian snake charmer. What happened next was unprecedented in revivals held at the Little Church in the Valley.
Reverend Bread looked out over the crowd stretched out before him, and in a rock steady voice, proceeded to deliver a sermon entitled “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. The same sermon delivered by the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson, the night before. Now, it is fairly common place for preachers to poach sermons from one another, particularly snippets. There are, in fact, several repositories of sermons that preachers can draw from, in whole or part, to get a particular message to their flock. Actually copyrighting the “word of God” becomes problematic, though. Would a preacher sue another preacher for copyright infringement for a sermon that was supposed to have been revealed to them by the holy spirit? Well, the Reverend Dale E. Bread thought not, and proceeded to deliver Hap T. Johnson’s message, but better.
There were no singing interludes, no breaks for glossolalia, no breaks for singing and medicating, just hard hitting word of God for fifty minutes. At the end of his sermon, Reverend Bread broke into, “Just As I Am”, and proceeded to walk down to the floor singing while reaching into the serpent box. Without hesitation he pulled out a six foot timber rattler an proceeded to wave it all about his head and torso while he did a very fervent “tap dance for Jesus”. Music scholars would have marveled at how the Reverend’s feet were flying at ninety beats a minute while his voice maintained the slow dirge like rhythm of the hymn. As he placed the snake back in the box, the Reverend broke into speaking in tongues, but there was something different. At odd intervals, the words, “Come”, “on”, and “down” could be heard amidst the gibberish. It appeared that the crowd heard the message, and they came on down, almost as fervently as they did for the Right Reverend Johnson on the first night. The aisles were full.
Unlike the seekers of salvation the night before, these pilgrims were not tagged with their affliction, nor were they asked to reveal their personal details. They were escorted to the Reverend, who then determined their ills by skin color, body structure or pattern recognition. If the stated diagnosis was not correct, the Reverend accepted the correction with, “and you also suffer with psoriasis”, or whatever the afflicted had revealed the correct ailment to be. He then proceeded to grab the afflicted by both ears and give them a good shake. Next, he placed his hands on the believer’s forehead. He gave a great squeeze and then a push, sending the afflicted into the waiting arms of a church Elder. The “healed” were then asked to give testimony of their healing, only if they felt healed of course, and then led back to their seats. Reverend Bread’s healings went on for well over an hour and cut into the Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson’s time.
Normally, this would have been fine. Hap was contracted by start and end time, and losing a few minutes would not have hurt Hap’s feelings. Tonight was different though. This upstart redneck from Florida had just delivered Hap’s number one sermon. Not as good as Hap, mind you, but had done a right credible job. The upstart’s serpent skills were excellent, and he had done a fine job of displaying techniques learned in Healing 101. He was also doing a fine job of working the crowd and he seemed to have developed a real rapport.
At 8:30PM, Hap had his piano player start playing “Faith of Our Fathers”, while the Heavenly Hummingbirds moved center stage. The crowd in front of the altar took the cue and began heading back to their seats. Reverend Dale E. Bread pushed the last believer into the waiting arms of the Elders and ran back up the steps of the stage to deliver the microphone to Right Reverend Johnson. Hap took the microphone without as much as a glance at Reverend Bread, and caught up with the Heavenly Hummingbirds mid verse:
“How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.”
Hap’s format for every service was identical, with the exception of the theme. For the first ten minutes tonight, Hap extolled the virtues of time honored traditions, of following the belief systems handed down from generation to generation. For the second night in a row, Right Reverend paused his sermon to “speak in tongues” for about three minutes. After a return to this world, and a sip of water, Hap took off again for twenty minutes straight on why good Christians should reject all of this “New Age” bunk being forced on them from the TV and schools. He spat out the words “secular” and “humanism” as if they were burning his tongue. Right Reverend Johnson left no doubt that “modernism” was not the path of the righteous.
As Hap shrugged his shoulders to cue his piano player to begin playing, “How Great Thou Art”, he reached in his vest pocket for his anti-anxiety pill. Turning from the audience to swallow the pill, Hap took the opportunity to bend over and give his ankles and calves a furious scratching. It felt like the rash was spreading exponentially, in spite of the creme that had bought at the Walmart in Blairsville. The Elders were passing the plate as Hap rose and turned back to the audience. Hap joined the Heavenly Hummingbirds for the final two verses as he watched the Elders work up and down the aisles.
The last ten minutes of the sermon were spent condemning everything that had been invented since medieval times. Hap kept peppering the audience with questions, “Do you think you will get past St. Peter carrying an XBox?”, “Will you sit with the Heavenly host and watch your flat screen?”, “Will you be able to drive your Lexus on the streets paved of gold?”. Towards the end of the sermon the crowd had figured out that the answer to every question was “no”, and they rewarded Hap with a negative response to his queries in unison. Hap shrugged his shoulders and the piano player went into, “Softly and Tenderly” as Hap made his way to the floor for the Testament of Faith and altar call.
Once again, Hap’s security reached into the appropriate box and pulled out a pre-approved serpent for the Testament of Faith. Hap moved about the circle with the snake held high, while tap dancing to beat the band. He varied his routine slightly to throw out some “tongues” as he moved from radius to radius. As he handed the snake back to his security, Hap had a momentary lapse and let the snake’s head go. The snake dangled by his tail for a moment before the security person swooped in and took charge of the situation. Right Reverend Hap took the opportunity to scratch his ankles and calves again before turning back to the congregation.
The aisles were filled again with poor souls seeking redemption and rehabilitation. Hap worked tirelessly “his wonders to perform” until 10PM, at which point he waved to his piano player. The piano player began playing, “Just As I Am”, and the Heavenly Hummingbirds chimed in. Reverend Hap headed back up the steps to the stage and placed the microphone back in its stand. The Right Reverend leaned into the microphone and repeated his signature sign off; “I think we’ve made a good start you all, and I hope you can come back tomorrow night and share in the miracles we’re about to perform.” With a quick wave, Hap bounced off the stage and went directly to his tour bus. He did not stop to fraternize with the crowd, or sign memorabilia.
The Right Reverend Hap T. Johnson was irritated, and it wasn’t just the rash.