The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God. The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

Childhood Lost 05

DOOMED

I was not enthused by these similes and platitudes for it was lamentably clear to me that I had been born far too late. The way I saw it, by the time I would be old enough to enjoy drunkenness, debauchery and white sugar instead of brown in my koolaid, the saints would have taken over, sin in any meaningful sense of the word would have become a logistical impossibility, and everyone but me would be disgustingly righteous.

As usual, I left these joyous gatherings with a growing sense of despair knowing as I did, that I, and I alone, in the entire f__king universe was lost forever. It was only a matter of time before God got around to punching my ticket and I knew it. I would be snuffed and that would be almost, but not quite, that.

Incorrigible children such as myself had one last thing to look forward to in the Wonderful World Tomorrow, our own personal resurrection.

Since Herbert's beliefs didn't quite square with even a generous interpretation of scripture, three resurrections instead of the usual two mentioned in Revelation were required. The first resurrection was strictly for those souls who, during the course of their tenure here at the hind end of the universe, had lived holy and righteous lives. The good guys, as it were. They would be brought back to life as members of the God Family with all the powers and prerequisites of Godhood and, together with the rest of the newly immortalized saints, would fan out across the entire globe bringing truth, justice and the American way to all who desired it (and even to those who did not).

A second resurrection was to take place one thousand years later. This event was for those who, throughout history, had never heard of Herbert Armstrong, his Radio Church of God, or God either for that matter. These biblical illiterates would then be brought back to life as mortal humans. That this resurrection also gave otherwise unemployable kings and priests a ready supply of serfs and oafs to rule over was not lost upon the chosen. Under the stern (but loving!) governance of the "first born", these heathens would be taught to lead moral and productive lives. After a respectable but unspecified period of time, a judgment regarding them would then be entered into the heavenly ledgers.

Successful graduates of this worldwide version of Ambassador College would then be graduated as vassals second rate and given minimal positions of subservience under the holy rule of the first born, and this was completely understandable. After all, they were there first!

Resurrection number three was reserved for creatures such as myself, pagan swine who knew the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny, but liked them anyway. Besotted beings who had begun to notice girls' legs (and other even more unmentionable anatomical landmarks which there were, as yet, no technical names for) and wondered, "Do these luscious creatures possess the same interesting attributes as the dusky ladies of the National Geographic?"

The mere contemplation of such depraved concepts was proof, and I knew it, that I was bound for hell on a B-52. One's tender years or lack of baptism were not considered mitigating factors in cases such as mine. Anyone who had sat through Church services year after year obviously did so because God was working with them, offering them front row seats in his kingdom. That they were forced to do so against their will was inconsequential. Those who had heard the word and the truth were responsible for such knowledge and the penalty for failing to heed such a high calling was final. Eternal death.

But before this merciful gift from above could be bestowed upon the incorrigible, one last ritual remained to be performed: the third resurrection itself. The only group brought back to life for this final and last goodbye were the bad guys. They would be paraded before the saints who would passed swift and certain judgment upon them. They would then be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone reserved for Satan and his demons and all burned up.

When the words "incorrigibly wicked" appeared together in the same sentence, I knew they were talking about me. After all, during my tenure as a preadolescent I had lied, cheated and stolen; shown disrespect (from a safe distance) to my parents; embarked upon tantalizing anatomical explorations with the neighbor girl in our hay barn; smoked, cursed and played hooky. Who else could they mean? I was wretched and despicable, the very epitome of sin itself. I had committed so many unpardonable transgressions in the ten long years of my life that for me there was no hope. That being the case, I was tempted to just say, "F__k it!" and quit trying. If I was going to burn anyway, it might just as well be for a worthwhile cause. But worthwhile causes were hard to come by, especially for wicked ten year Olds, so, for a time, I had to content myself with causes which were not so worthwhile.

Following the Feast of Unleavened Bread, there was a fifty day dearth of festivities until Pentecost. But the way it was written up in the Bible made it hard to decide whether Pentecost should be observed on the fiftieth day following the last Day of Unleavened Bread or whether one should count fifty days and then celebrate it on the fifty-first day, or if it really began at sundown on day forty-nine. Fortunately, God at last revealed to Herbert the proper day (for the decade of the fifties at least) and the matter was temporarily settled.

The were three other feasts the first born were required to attend, Trumpets, Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Trumpets was celebrated more or less like all the previous feasts. Four hours of sermon in the morning, a two hour reprieve at noon and four more hours of listening to what abominable little bastards human beings were in the afternoon, after which everybody went home and waited for the sun to go down so life could be begin again in earnest.

Atonement was unique however, so much so that many of the unconverted, including myself, often wondered how it came to be called a feast in the first place. To start with, no one was allowed to eat or drink anything from sundown preceding the feast to the sundown following. There was, unfortunately, no shortage of spiritual meat at this festivity. If ever there was a clear cut case of insult not only being added to injury but of insensitively violating her as soon as the lights were out, this was it.

Sermons of any type are a drag, that's why people have to be threatened with hell and damnation to sit through them, but Atonement Day sermons were the worst. The subject matter of which always reflected the meaning of the day itself. On this Great Day we were told where sin came from and reminded that since Adam had sinned, all had sinned. Transgressions were geometrically progressive in Herbert's version of God's view on things. Any budding hope I might have had for a merciful deity overlooking my world class transgressions was annually dealt a low blow at these proceedings.

As humans we were God's children, now doubt about that, but we were also carnal, filthy and altogether depraved. We were, we were told, worthy only of a screaming death in that great Christian barbecue coming soon to worldly neighborhoods everywhere.

It didn't matter how good we tried to be, or for that matter if we had personally never committed a single sin in our entire lives, we were liable for Adam's screw ups as well. This was well nigh intolerable, in my estimation. It was bad enough to be sentenced to death for my own voluminous iniquities, but to have to pay for the sins of people who had f__ked up and died centuries before I was even born, was incredible.

Fortunately, sermons such as these usually offered a glimmer of hope near the end. If we were all as good as we could be (which wasn't too damned good in the best of times), if we dutifully obeyed those omnipotent twenty-three year old shepherds whom the Lord had chosen to rule over us, if we faithfully surrendered thirty percent of our gross unadjusted income God, just maybe, would grant us salvation. But there were no guarantees.

At any such sermon's end, the faithful were worn to a frazzle. It was tough enough for anyone to have to sit for hours and listen to what a hopeless piece of shit they were, but to have to do it on an increasingly empty stomach while suffering from the debilitating effects of rampant dehydration was torture. Brotherly love was always at a low ebb on this day. The after services glad handing and gossiping which usually passed for fellowship was almost entirely absent. Brethren, for the most part, just gathered up their Bibles, grabbed their notebooks, kicked their kids and headed for the door.

That there was no one to stand in the middle of the pathway to the refrigerator five minutes before the sun went down and say, "Drivers, start your engines," was just as well. For before that golden orb had slipped into the boudoir of the night, the jackals had descended, gulping down jugs of brown sugar koolaid as if it were the nectar of the gods, insanely cramming handfuls of potato salad into ravenous maws as if it were the last supper, devouring cold fried chickens whole until, at last, the feeding frenzy abated, and all that remained were empty jugs, greasy bones and upset stomachs outraged by the sudden introduction of food where once was void.

There was an unspoken thought which was on every child's mind on days like this which was sometimes voiced by a parent who could get away with it. "Thank God we only have to do this once a year!" To which we were allowed to say, "Amen."

Last in the annual series of feasts was the Feast of Tabernacles. Of all the feasts, this one was almost as eagerly awaited by children of the church as Christmas was by children of the world and for the same holy reason, personal gratification. God had inspired Herbert to hold this feast in Texas, where cowboys came from. So he bought some property near Gladewater, with church money of course, and commanded all members to mosey on down, rent motels, or stay in tents on his property for a week and just kick back and enjoy the scenery and the daily sermons. To finance this temporary trans state exodus, members were to set aside ten percent of their gross income for an entire year, every year.

Thankfully (Texas weather being what it is), this last feast didn't occur in the summer but rather in late September or early October. Children of the first born thus were forcibly dragged kicking and screaming from public schools and compelled to endure, in my case, a cross country road trip from Washington State through magical lands which other children could only dream about. The great coastal forests of Oregon, the badlands of Utah, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the colorful landscapes of New Mexico and the Texas plains all rushing by in kaleidoscopic color, and all I had to do was sit and watch. Of course, there was that disagreeable bit about a week's worth of sermons, but the ride down and back seemed worth it. Not that it made up for Christmas and Halloween, but it helped.


Chapter 4

 

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