Childhood Lost 20
Stranger on the Train
Heading into the darkness, I never looked back. I was free of parents, brothers, church, and, most important of all, free of those f__king Herbert's. No more cages to be locked up in, no cows to milk or brand. No eternally pissed off god to ineffectually attempt to placate. I could go where I wanted and live as I pleased.
I reached Malta around six a.m., had ham, eggs and coffee for breakfast at the Great Northern, then wandered over to the station. I stared around at the handful of souls in evidence and after watching their machine-like antics began to conceive a genuine pity for them. They were trapped, doomed to a life of fulfilling exterior expectations. I, on the other hand, was unfettered. The possibilities were endless...the future infinite.
I decided to flow with fate. Whatever train departed first, that I would get on. The station master informed me that the next train out was at ten a.m., westbound through Great Falls, Whitefish, Kalispel, Bonners Ferry, and Spokane. When it pulled out two hours later, I was on it.
The spacious cars and comfortable seats were, for the most part, unoccupied. "All the better to indulge my antisocial, never mix or join in proclivities," I thought, sardonically.
I was surprised to discover that those sweeping judgments rankled. In the end, I concluded that although I didn't mind people hypothesizing the worst about me, I would prefer that they left some room for doubt, just in case they were wrong. Nevertheless, in the interest of image self preservation, I would do nothing overtly to change their minds, while doing everything in my power to facilitate their delusions. As long as they believed I was cold and vicious, the more likely they were to leave me alone.
Prairie lands flowed past outside in grim unending shades of brown, as if spring never sojourned on this dreary patch of earth. Euphoria continued to course through my veins, however. I was intoxicated by an utter and complete freedom which was now mine.
A voice interrupted my private reverie.
"Would you mind if I sat here?"
I glanced up. A pleasantly featured man of middle age and average height stood before me in the aisle. With the obvious availability of empty seats, I wondered immediately why he would choose to sit across from me and, "Yes," I thought, "I do mind." But what I said was, "Sure, have a seat."
"Thank you, young man," he nodded graciously.
He sat down on a portion of the seat directly opposite me, chucked a black brief case to one side, unbuttoned his suit jacket, loosened his tie and settled back.
"And where might you be going?" he asked conversationally.
"If I knew, I probably wouldn't go," I replied without hesitation.
"You're not going home then?"
"Homes are just places where people eat, sleep, and f__k each other while they figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. I don't need their problems," I responded icily.
"You know what are you going to do with the rest of your life then?" he asked with apparent interest.
"I haven't the faintest."
"Perhaps there is more to our meeting than chance then," he suggested.
"And this is my lucky day, right?" I drawled.
"Have you been saved, young man?" he inquired seriously, choosing to ignore my sarcasm.
"Yeah, I slipped out the back door a couple years ago and saved myself."
He regarded me thoughtfully for awhile before speaking. "Do you respond so caustically to everyone?"
"Only on good days."
"Who did this to you?"
"Robbed you... of the innocence and trust which should still be yours," he demanded.
"Reality," I responded sardonically. "It sucks us all dry; innocence follows shortly thereafter. Trust, on the other hand, is neither inherent or innate. It's a measure of faith between two parties. As such, it can't be stolen, only betrayed."
"Why do you think the Lord came?"
"He never told me."
"He came to restore trust and love, between all his children. He came to find and save you; you and all others like you, hasn't anyone told you this?"
"The way I heard it, he came to send me and people like me straight to hell and save those chosen few who were willing to spend all eternity kissing ass," I countered.
"No, son, absolutely not! The New Testament is full of Christ's personal example and his own explanation for why he came, listen to his words." He produced a Bible from his coat pocket and thumbed expertly through well worn pages."
" 'I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' Again in the beatitudes, Christ blesses the poor, the sad, the meek, and the merciful." He peered out at me over the scriptures as if I were the one lost soul in an entire congregation he was determined to save and, with the barest hint of a twinkle in his eyes, continued, "Though you are not outwardly meek, you surely fit in several of the other categories."
"And one thing above all you should remember, it was not the prostitutes, hobos, cowboys, or runaways who both demanded and arranged for the death of our Lord, but rather the ministers, priests, lawyers and politicians; those who considered themselves righteous."
"On one occasion, when Jesus sat and ate with common people (described as publicans and sinners) the Pharisees, who were the priests and lawyers of that era, demanded to know why he was mingling with such people. His reply was eloquent; 'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.' And I say to you that if Christ walked the earth today, he would take your part. He would fight for you, he would die for you, and you can know that because he already has died; for you and all his children."
"Don't allow the sheer number of his children, your brethren, to dilute the magnitude of that love. Yes, he gave his life for us all, but if you had been the only one he still would have died for you alone, that by his death he might save you with his life."
"Seek for the lord while he may yet be found, though he is not far from any of us, and you will find rest from your burdens, peace in your soul, and love in your heart. You need not fear anymore, child of God," he asserted softly, "read the book."
"I have, many times."
"What did it say to you, personally?"
"That I'm evil, beyond redemption and doomed. I find little peace, or love in those sentiments."
"And you believe that?" he queried gently.
"About ninety percent of the time," I answered resignedly.
"Have you ever read it straight through, cover to cover, or do you just read chapters or verses here and there?" he probed.
"I've read it through half a dozen times and, having done so, I can see why most people, including preachers, prefer to read and preach only selected verses, because you see, taken in aggregate, read like a textbook, it makes no sense. It contradicts itself from chapter to chapter and often times verse to verse."
"Show me a contradiction." he requested kindly, offering me his Bible. I promptly opened it to the first chapter of the first book and read verse three. "And God said let there be light."
"You doubt God created light?" he asked, the faint trace of a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.
I shrugged, then continued, "The first thing God did in the creation account of Genesis was to create light, he then divided that light from darkness, called the light day and the darkness night and, verse four concludes, the evening and morning were the first day."
"I see no contradiction there." he stated unequivocally.
"Ah! but read on. Try verse fourteen. And God said, 'let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth... and God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night, and he made the stars also.... and the evening and the morning were the fourth day.' So, where did the separation of darkness from light, day and night come from on day one, when the sun, moon, and stars weren't created until day four?"
"And you find that contradictory?"
"On the surface, perhaps, but before I respond do you have any other examples?" he inquired thoughtfully.
"Yes," I replied, thumbing hastily through the first few chapters of Genesis. "Here, in chapter four, verse fourteen. Cain, after being cursed for the murder of his brother Abel, tells the Lord that his punishment, to be driven forth as a fugitive and vagabond upon the earth, is too great for him to bear. Because, he says, it shall come to pass that everyone who finds me shall slay me. Now, if Eve was the mother of all living, and Cain and Abel were, as Genesis recounts it, her first and second born, then why couldn't Cain find a safe place to hide, where did all those other people he was afraid of come from, and last, but certainly not least, where did Cain get a wife?" I demanded, closing the book decisively.
He stared kindly at me for the space of a minute before speaking.
"Well", he began, "I can certainly see you've read your scriptures. I'm equally certain," he added, "that if requested you could produce numerous other such examples, many no doubt from memory. Correct?"
"You got it." I replied tersely.
"There are any number of plausible explanations, some of which you've no doubt heard. God, for example, could have created light out of anything and thus didn't require the sun, moon, and stars for that purpose. As for Cain, due to the inordinately long life spans common to those days, perhaps Adam and Eve had, by that time, produced so many offspring that they really had heavily populated the known regions about them. Regarding the origins of Cain's wife, well, popular theology has it that she must have been his sister."
He paused for a moment, gave a deep chuckle, then added, "Personally, I find it hard to believe that the Lord chose to propagate the human race through even the temporary medium of incest, but you never know." He looked at me with a merry twinkle in his dark brown eyes, "Judging from the collective progress of our species as a whole, it might explain a good many things!"
"As a collary, you might also ask the following," he continued. "If incest was the sexual medium by which the human race survived and if, as the good book tells us, God is the same yesterday, today and forever, then why in Leviticus eighteen, verse eleven, are the marital and sexual unions of brothers and sisters forbidden, and in verse twenty-nine described as evil and abominable? The Bible can become contradictory if one's premise regarding it is presumptuous. However, it makes perfect sense when viewed in a proper context."
"What context might that be?" I asked skeptically.
"That it is a reflection of the culture which generated it." He replied. "Notice who the heroes are, Noah, who after miraculously surviving the flood, plants a vineyard, makes some wine and proceeds to get drunk. Abraham, who was so afraid that the king of Egypt would kill him for his beautiful wife Sarah, that he lied to the sovereign and told him she was his sister. The king believed it, took Sarah into his harem, gave Abraham sheep, oxen, cattle and servants in exchange for her and, if the Lord hadn't put a stop to it, Pharaoh would have married her."
"Look at the lives of Moses, Saul, David, Solomon and all the others you're no doubt familiar with. They were all as imperfect as you and I yet, the Bible is their story, their story, not God's story. That's important. For you must agree, is it a surety that we are not to emulate their lives but, rather, to learn from them as we walk with God. Our journey and our stories should be as uniquely ours as theirs were theirs. After all, how many carbon copy personages do you find in scripture? If you look at the Bible as a collection of examples through the changing times and seasons of human experience with God then, and only then does, it all make sense."
"What about the tenet of divine inspiration?" I respectfully inquired.
"Nowhere in the Bible is God recorded as having made that claim," he answered. "Various biblical authors claimed that distinction for themselves. And they may have been, or really thought they were. However, they also make mention of such non existent constructs as the foundation of, or the four corners of, the earth. These understandings were obviously reflective of the scientific knowledge of the day and certainly not representative of God's wisdom. I would remind you also that many of the atrocities committed throughout history, from the crusades through the inquisitions of the dark ages, to the machinations of Adolph Hitler who claimed, in private at any rate, to be the Messiah, were all accomplished under the questionable auspices of divine inspiration."
"So, how do you know the difference between inspiration and imagination?"
"The easy answer is, it's not important that one know, but if you must, judge all things by the life and words of Jesus," he replied with a smile. "The authors of the four gospels, when writing about him, were merely reporting the events and activities of Christ's life. They recorded what our Lord said. Being perfect, his life, deeds and words should, unlike all others in the Bible, be just as relevant and meaningful today as they were those long centuries ago. You will find, if you look, that they are; no fault can be found in them. We, that is any human, can emulate Christ's intent in any epoch of history and not seem too far out of place. Try emulating Abraham, Moses, Hosea, or John the Baptist to name but a few, these days. Yes," he grinned as I nodded in gradual understanding, "I think you see the difference. Christ's example was one of love and tolerance for all. He didn't have to rely on inspiration from exterior sources, then filter it down through his own ignorance and prejudices to determine its meaning. He was, and had been always. He knew all things. His words were simple, eloquent, eternally correct... The Bible is a mirror, let it reflect you and you won't stray too far off the straight and narrow," he concluded.
"What faith are you... ah.... I don't even know your name."
"Allen," he said kindly, "and I have no faith, if by that you mean what denomination am I affiliated with. I am a child of God, much like yourself."
"You don't attend church then?"
"I do... yes... from time to time," he answered slowly.
"Which one?" I persisted.
"Whichever one I am closest to when I feel the need for going! Ah! But you want to know which one you should attend, right?"
"Well, that depends on you... and your unique spiritual needs. Let's see, you've obviously spent a great deal of time in church and one church in particular, at that. It must be a fundamentalist congregation, otherwise you wouldn't believe you are already damned. Furthermore, you must still believe much of what you were taught, otherwise you wouldn't feel so hopeless and angry about it all. And you must know inside your soul that, normal human failings aside, you are not the devilish creature you believe yourself to have been portrayed, otherwise you wouldn't have concluded that God is unfair."
"That not very instructional," I remarked.
"If you asked my advice it would be this: begin your journey where you left off, at your old church, wherever and whatever that may be. You have unfinished business there. Until you can either stay or depart in peace, the harmonies of life will escape you, truths will pass unrecognized, and for you there will be no rest. Return to your battle, and this time win it, for otherwise you will carry your enemies with you all your days. Make them walk on their own for a change," he whispered vehemently.
"You're right," I agreed after several thoughtful minutes. "I'll never find peace running away from a war. The problem I have with my church is that while I believe many of their basic doctrines, the means by which they derive their theology is horribly flawed."
"Suppose ten people watched an accident occur, a hit and run involving a brown, newer model Chevrolet, driven by a skinny, curly headed Caucasian. These people are all decent honest citizens. Not only wouldn't they lie, they have absolutely no reason to lie. The police arrive on the scene, the ten are then interviewed and asked to give written statements regarding their recollections of the accident. A comparison of the witness's information reveals that three of them reported the car as being blue, two thought it was beige, one thought it was dark red, while only four reported it as brown. The driver was described as fat and bald by four of the respondents, crew cut and average build by two, while being correctly envisioned as thin with curly hair by the remaining four. Now I ask you, why did so many of these people lie?"
"Maybe they didn't," I suggested. "Maybe they reported what they really thought they saw."
"Correct, my young friend," Allen nodded approvingly. "Absolutely correct. But it gets even weirder because, you see, we all carry our own personal proclivity to see things differently into every facet and nuance of our lives. We are, each of us, as mentally, spiritually, and physically distinct as our fingerprints. Because of this we all see God differently, and it is for these reasons that it always will be impossible to establish a truly universal religion which strays much beyond the common sense dictates of the Ten Commandments. This postulate further, if you stop to think about it, neatly answers the age old question, Why so many gods?"
"These tenets, as you may well imagine, are not and never will be popular with either secular governments or the clergy. Primarily because they are quite rightly perceived as threats to the power and authority of those respective hierarchies. Nonetheless, I believe it to be a fact that, as long as individualities are muzzled, or otherwise constrained out of fear and ignorance, that our species will never achieve its full potential. It's all right for you to be different," he said kindly. "That is your birthright; don't sell it for mere social acceptance as Esau sold his for a bowl of lentils."
"I never liked lentils all that much anyway," I replied with a laugh.
He smiled, nodding in acknowledgment.
We sat for some moments in silence and, for the first time in hours, I looked out the window as the outskirts of a sprawling town slid into view. The train slowed perceptively and began braking gently as all too quickly we arrived in the station at Great Falls.
Allen stood up, collected his brief case, and held out his hand. "This is my stop. Goodbye," he said, evenly.
I couldn't think of anything meaningful to say, so I shook his outstretched hand and said, "I'm not well versed in good-byes."
"I know," he replied softly, "but you don't have to be. I'll see you in heaven child." And with that he turned, walked down the aisle, and disappeared through the door... Within minutes, or so it seemed, the train was rolling west.
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