Blast from the past…
By Ron Goff
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an inner struggle trying to find “God’s” path. As a child of about four, I recall asking my mother whether she thought I would go to hell. She laughed and asked where in the world I got an idea like that. I had recently attended Kindergarten Bible school where I learned that Jesus would take all the good little children to heaven with him. Since I was a pretty rowdy little fellow, I figured I might be in a tight spot. This fear was exacerbated by the prayer Mom led me in every night. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should DIE before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Daddy, God bless Mommy, God bless … everybody I could think of including my pet turtle – but not me”. Crap! …I thought, “Why do I have to ask the same thing every stinkin’ night? I must be on some kind of shit-list like the one they say Santa Claus keeps on me – otherwise I wouldn’t have to try talking God into taking me with Him … over and over.”
After Mom left the darkened room, I’d discuss tactics with my Teddy bear. I wasn’t exactly sure how I might die in the night but figured it might have something to do with the monster that usually lurked among the clothes in my closet. I’d seen him several times, ready to spring on me from the shadows there. I would duck for cover beneath the sheets while the Teddy bear subdued the monster. The bear couldn’t kill the beast, but could beat it into submission. The exhausted monster would then take refuge beneath my bed. It then didn’t have the strength to come out for the rest of the night but could grab me by the ankle should I be foolish enough to make a run for the bathroom. I wouldn’t go to bed without that bear until I was thirteen and had developed the bladder of a racehorse.
I believed in the protective power of the bear. I couldn’t figure out what Jesus was, other than dead. They had killed him a long time ago – I had never seen him and he had never done anything for me. My trusty bear was always right there with me. I spent the next fifty years trying to believe in Jesus and never got it done. There was always in me, an unconditional belief in God, the Creator, that I have no explanation for. It was there before I realized the unthinkable complexity and vastness of the universe.
Most of my childhood religious education took place in the Methodist Church. I had attendance medals strung all down my chest. I was even interested in Bible study. I later did some time during my teen years in the St. Olaf Lutheran church. Not really believing in Jesus got to be quite a burden and I got just exhausted trying to get everything right. “Something must be wrong with me, I simply don’t fit in”. I got burned out on religion at seventeen. I figured I’d do my best to be a “good” person and let God explain things after I croaked.
The plan worked pretty well until 1967. A buddy of mine in Vietnam exposed me to some literature from the Worldwide Church of God. I was ecstatic! All the stuff made sense. They didn’t refer much to Jesus and what’s more, they were “Ruffles and Flourishes” THE ONE AND ONLY, TRUE CHURCH OF GOD! Not only that, they were led by none other than a God called, “end-time” apostle! Hot damn! It don’t get any better that that! … Wait a minute … “end times”?
I was a helicopter pilot at the time and had the luxury of being in a reasonably secure location most nights. I was like a hungry law student with my studies. I devoured every bit of Worldwide Church of God material I could get my hands on – which was prodigious. I also determined – regardless whether or not I got tossed into the Lake of Fire I was damn sure not going to hang around for the great tribulation.
Upon leaving the service, I spent about three and a half years bouncing from one Worldwide Church of God congregation to another in several different states. Although I was certain this was the “true church”, I found the people very aloof. There was some kind of invisible shell one couldn’t penetrate. They never seemed to speak from their heart and always gave me the impression they were subtly interrogating me as to my motives and dedication to the church. Regardless, at one point I even packed up and moved to Big Sandy, Texas with the hope of becoming a minister. Thank God I was rejected.
About October of 1971 found me attending a Worldwide Church of God church at Fargo, North Dakota. I think the minister was AWOL from the Gestapo – believe his name was Blackwell. (Excuuuuse me, MR. Blackwell) I was faithfully tithing and had lost several great job opportunities because I refused to work on the Sabbath. It was there that I became suspicious regarding the authenticity of our great apostle Herbert W. Armstrong. He was flitting all over the globe in a church owned jet – a Boeing 727 if memory serves correct. Anyway a damned expensive way to travel. Meetings with heads of state were commenced with a gift from Armstrong – things like a $30,000 Steuben crystal statuette. He could explain till he turned blue in his “holy” face about how a perceived pauper wouldn’t be received by a king this was bullshit. I knew many people who were doing without in order to feed this madness through their tithing. One particularly poor farmer I knew couldn’t properly feed his children, much less clothe them. One week, his family ate nothing but potato soup and crackers yet he handed over fourteen dollars (about $90 today) in tithes on the Sabbath.
Every other church I’d been involved in had a program to take care of the needy – the farmer’s needy family was supporting a rich man. I never saw a dime’s support from the Worldwide Church of God church for any of the congregation. Private requests were made for so and so to help what’s his name but not a penny from the tithes. “Farley! …That dog don’t hunt!” It also violated every precept in the Bible regarding fellowship in the church. FUBAR! Even though I somehow still suspected the Worldwide Church of God was the true church, I left them and hoped they were not.
Still “spiritually hungry” I got swallowed up by The Church of the Nazarene. I was subdued there for a bit over five years as I started a family. They were much more into Jesus and the ministers … excuse me … pastors were much more personable than the Worldwide Church of God block-captains. Unfortunately they were just as whacko as the Worldwide Church of God – was kinda like going from the NFL to Canadian football – different rules, same game. They even had a separate Manual of rules that “explained” those of the Bible for these modern times – the damned end times again. You didn’t find out about the Manual until you were committed (literally) to the church and admitted as a full member. As a right of passage, you proudly become a “Manual carrying member”.
No; smoking, dancing, drinking, movies, “decadent” music, association with outsiders, short hair for women, long hair for men, pants for women ad infinitum, would be tolerated. I’ve gotten so I’ve forgotten what rules came from what church but I do remember that the Nazarenes had no heartburn with pork. (Genteel hearts skip to the next paragraph, expletives coming) As Bruce Willis said, YIPPY-KY-A, mother fucker! Hello ham dinners! Pizza too!
Nazarenes are heavy into going to the altar for “spiritual” healing through the “laying on of the hands” by the elders. I felt need and participated on a few occasions. I experienced a “rush” type emotion as numerous hands touched my shoulders, head and back amid prayers of supplication. The holy spirit in action, huh? Felt great and I did feel … “cleansed”? Of course I later experienced exactly the same feeling upon hearing “Mannheim Steamroller” playing “Silent Night”. Some of the violin passages are absolutely … brilliant!
Nazarenes are also much more susceptible to demon possession, speaking in tongues, and free roaming demons all over the place. Once they finally get “into the spirit” during services a lot of syncopated arm waiving and moaning breaks out. I always wondered why it took so long to talk the holy spirit down from above. We were already dedicated to this worship service when we walked into the church. What was different an hour later? Nobody seemed to moan or perform the wave (more NFL stuff?) until they got really primed up for it. I believe I went to the altar about it … later providing some pretty impressive wave action myself.
The main problem that began to raise my eyebrows was the fact that all the churches I’d attended had many parts of their basic doctrine that contradicted each other. I wasn’t too concerned with the Methodists and the Lutherans because they were mostly just “church goers”. Their pious behavior was usually left at the doors of the church on the way out and their day to day life was not much affected by the church. The Nazarenes and the Worldwide Church of God were a horse of a different color. They talked the talk, and walked the walk. They didn’t eat, breathe, scratch, spit or F*** (only use that word once per topic) without determining the proper church guided method. What was more disturbing was the fact that I began to accept as “truth”, the doctrine that I was currently being pumped full of. Initial concerns and doubts faded with time and exposure. The longer I stayed, the more I conformed, but I realized something wasn’t “kosher” about the process. Armed with this attitude, Sister Beulah Frump (name changed to protect the guilty) pried me away from the Nazarenes.
The head living “saint” where I attended church was Sister Beulah Frump. She was considered such a pure spiritually advanced soul; she veritably floated from place to place, buoyed up by the holy spirit. She frequently had visions that were presented for the edification of the congregation.
My sister Connie (name changed to protect the innocent) had been in the Nazarene church for about five years before I arrived from the Worldwide Church of God. The Nazarenes allowed poorer folks to work off their tithe obligations by working for the church. Connie literally slaved away the best years of her life for the church. She was also heavily dependent on prayer for everything from parking spaces to food money. She was convinced it worked too and got understandably upset when I asked her why God had time to give her a parking spot but not enough to save the little girls, who were tortured, raped and murdered …but I digress. Regardless, Connie was and is a very gracious lady, wonderful wife, mother and sister – truly dedicated to her religion.
As my sister grew in stature with the church, Sister Beulah Frump started finding more and more “constructive criticism” (not judging mind you … right!) to aid in Connie’s spiritual growth. This crap culminated with my sister being publicly accused of adultery with the pastor! That would have been devastating enough but half the congregation believed it! The entire congregation split up over the affair. Most went to an offshoot branch of the Nazarenes across town with Beulah. I had a departing poop slinging contest with Sister Frump and bid a fond adieu to organized religion.
I’d since been stumbling and wondering about God for the past couple decades. Never prayed to him for material things but did frequently for direction and the quality of “believing” in Jesus. Things had settled into a mind numbing status quo. Then, 9-11.
After initial shock, I came running to the Internet. Oh my God … the end times … Armageddon! What’s going on with The Worldwide Church of God? Where are they gathering to depart for the place of safety? “Wonder if I’m to late? I’m gonna’ be just like the sinners banging on the tar-pitched planks of Noah’s Ark as the heavens opened for the deluge! Shit! I knew it. I KNEW it!”
What I found on the Internet was The Painful Truth. I was never very surprised at the shenanigans of Jim Bakker, Tammy, Jimmy Swagert, Oral Roberts etc. but I was flabbergasted at the depth and scope of Herbert W. Armstrong’s debauchery and callousness. The apostle has no clothes and feet of shit! I consumed everything I could get my hands on at the PT site and read Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason”. It’s a must read. I couldn’t believe it’s been around since 1794 and I’d never read it. I vaguely remember something in the Nazarene church about it being one of Satan’s works – to be avoided at the peril of your mortal soul.
Isn’t that strange? Those are the exact tactics of the National Socialists in Germany sixty years ago. I shook my head at the ridiculous book-burnings yet accepted organized religion’s subtle method to accomplish the same end. Satan indeed! How damned blind can a man get?
It’s been a dynamic and exciting three months. I am of course outraged at the WTC /Pentagon atrocities but it’s been the catalyst that’s ended a lifelong struggle for me. I’ve found like-minded souls who’ve spent just as much or more time pouring over a holy Bible, who’ve also determined it’s aptly named … it’s full of holes and full of S***! (Previous rule applies) The guilt of never being quite good enough is over. I’m still a bit disoriented at the sudden freedom. The reason I couldn’t find the true church is because it doesn’t exist. I might as well have wasted my time looking for the fountain of youth.
I’m in virgin territory. I still have a profound belief in the Creator but He no longer scares me. I no longer feel atheists (A Theist) and agnostics must either be evil or just plain stupid. In fact I’m strangely and a bit disturbingly more in harmony with their view of the cosmos than that of any Christians I know of. Don’t get me wrong, I feel wonderful and don’t fear the future. I just have fifty years of baggage to unload.
I had forgotten about the Teddy bear and the monster of fifty years ago – funny because they have always been with me – the church and Satan. I’ve removed the wicked veil of faith from the bear, revealing his lying heart. He never had any power and neither did the monster. They only existed to give purpose to each other and make me a slave to them both. They died together!