First Church of Christ, North Dallas.
Wednesday late-morning . . .
On the way back from my meeting with Dr. Monica I had a wild hair to go into this church. It’s on the corner of Valley View and Webb Chapel, and I walk by it almost every time I leave my apartment.
This particular church, it’s clean and crisp, as if it was made to perfect religious specs. To fit the design of what a church should look like, I guess they have industry standards. The walls of the church are the same reddish brick that they used in the landscaped walkways that lead to the main entrance. There is a large set of steps leading to an even larger set of white painted doors.
These doorways look big enough to drive a tank through without scratching the thresholds, and I can imagine people pouring in on a Sunday morning, all dressed in their finest clothes, trying to impress the big man upstairs.
As I walk towards the church, for reasons I’m not completely sure of, I noticed one of the doors cracked slightly open. Since I’m not well versed in the ways of religion, I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is for entering a place of God.
I’m not trying to buy myself an unexpected bolt of lightening or a freak killer bee attack. Smite, smote, whatever you call it . . . I don’t want it.
So I just walk on up and knock a few times. I wait. If anyone is here, they aren’t answering the door, or they just can’t hear me. I glanced back towards the parking lot, having this eerie feeling that kind of grabs me out of nowhere. I’m wondering if I missed something.
I’m not sure why I was suddenly paranoid like this. This whole God thing, it’s so new to me that everything is suspect. Like if every nuance, each religious sign I see, is legislated by some group with an agenda. A spiritual Cold War.
Really, I don’t know how I feel about the concept of a divine being, or if I’m just searching for another explanation to my situation. On the one hand, I have this Book of Sighs—supposedly a secret addition to the Bible—telling a dark and sinister story that I know they don’t teach in Sunday school. So, at least as far as the book is concerned, there is something biblical going on here.
And if I concede that the book is a legitimate document, then it seems I might have to give God a serious consideration. Whether or not I admit to it, that’s probably why I’m standing here in the doorway of a church.
I pry open the heavy door, slipping in under the audible cover of the squeaking hinges. Once inside, I smell incense, but not like at Ms. Josephine’s Shop. They’re much more corporate, more mandated and uniform. I bet I could find this clean, coffee and Christianity smell all across the country, in every church I enter.
As my eyes adjust to the dim light, I realize I’m in a small lobby. There is dark grey carpet, and several sets of smaller double-doors that appear to lead to the main church area—whatever they call that. Still I see nobody. Still I hear nothing. They say that the House of God is never closed; nor, I suppose, empty.
Count me as undecided on that.
I walk to the nearest set of double-doors and give them a gentle nudge. They open quite easily, and there is a dramatic difference in pressure in the main auditorium area as I enter. This is a lot like the stadium seating at the theater we were in last night. Although, with a much shallower angle of decline. And no naked 40-foot queens.
Slowly, I make my way down the pathway between the rows and rows of hard-looking seats. I can picture kids squirming around almost uncontrollably while some preacher goes on and on about things that kids aren’t trying to listen to. These chairs, they look so uncomfortable—designed like those chairs in the food court, at the mall—and they are so tightly packed together—like at the theater—that I can’t understand how anyone could enjoy this.
But then, here is that suffering that Ricky was talking about. Maybe the joy and elation of faith has to be mixed with equal parts discomfort in order to be really appreciated.
Everywhere I go for answers, I end up with bags full of questions. My mind is one tangled question mark with three little dots after it. In progress . . . All solutions are forthcoming, or in flux. It’s like a television drama that doesn’t ever give you enough information to stop watching it. Lost. Yeah, it’s a lot like watching Lost and trying not to blow your brains out.
I walked about halfway down and then stopped. I guess I was waiting for something extraordinary to suddenly occur. Although my litmus for extraordinary may be skewed by my recently discovered ability to walk among the dead. But, I don’t know, I was hoping for a sign. Some divine insight that points me in the right direction. Maybe not a burning bush, but something.
And I got it.
“Sir,” a voice beamed from behind me, “. . . we’re closed for cleaning, right now.”
I turned and nodded, laughing to myself. The House of God is never closed . . . except for cleaning. I had asked for a sign, and I got what I came for. I made my way back up to the small set of double doors and a young man, probably in his late twenties, was holding open the door. His head was cleanly shaved, with the hint of a black mustache starting to show. My guess is that he’s been trying desperately to grow the thing for years, but with little success.
He had deep-set blue eyes and a calm, almost meager, manner about him as if he used to be a monk, or an insurance agent. His clothing was modest—jeans and a dark green sweater.
“We have a service at five-thirty, if you’d like to attend,” he said politely, looking me up and down. I guess he’s trying to figure out if I’m in the saved, or to-save category.
I smiled, nodding to him as I walked by, and headed to the tank doors.
Then he followed me, asking, “Sir . . . is there something you would like to talk about? Did you have some questions?”
I turned, studied his face. He looked like a kind and compassionate man. The type of guy who can truly empathize with his congregation. Who really does care about his flock.
“. . . Can I help you get closer to God?” he continued, his words full of tolerance and humility. This guy probably did want to help me.
And I smiled at this nice preacher man, realizing that a sincere, faithful, devoted, unwavering man of God, he wouldn’t stand a chance among the monsters that lurk around in my world. Guys like that, they’d never make it past the first spook.
He believes in good because he has learned it in books, and desperately hopes it exists in and around him. His faith is based on words on a page.
I believe in evil because I have seen it.
Ignorance is truly bliss.
“Maybe some other time,” I say as I head out into the bright sun.
This man of the church, I think he was scared of me. I think that he might have seen something that I was only just now realizing. For better or worse . . . I’m a kind of monster, too. The depths of my nature are only now being explored by Ricky, Ms. Josephine, and I.
A bit of humanity.
A splash of divinity.
Standing on the cusp of devastation.