If God had become a man, instead of Jesus, he probably would have been my Dad. Where Papa (his Dad) would have been storming the temple, turning over tables and beating up the moneychangers, my father would have been putting up with the wanderings of the children of Israel for forty years and sending them manna.
To give some perspective to this story, Papa learned to write with his right hand, my Dad wrote with his left. And then I came along writing with my right, and I suppose if I had had a son, he would be writing with his left.
Where Papa was hot-tempered and unpredictable, Dad is even-keeled and steady. Where Papa was easily distracted, Dad is focused. Papa had an inflated self-esteem, Dad is humble almost to a fault. Papa was loud and boisterous, Dad is quiet and soft-spoken.
Until, that is, he stepped up to what he called the “sacred desk.” That unassuming man that we all know and love, when behind a pulpit, miraculously became a holy ghost filled oracle of God. To this day, I have not figured it out. My reason would hear a man quoting an entire book of the Bible as though it was a seven digit phone number, but my consciousness would see a man shouting and speaking in unknown tongues.
He would rail against sin as eloquently and fiercely as the most passionate hellfire and brimstone preacher, and yet, I’ve witnessed that same man reason in calm and patient tones with a threatening coal miner crazed with moonshine. I’ve seen him preach so hard that his false teeth went flying across the church, and yet, I’ve seen him gently mentor and encourage young preacher boys around the intimacy of our kitchen table. I’ve seen him work two and three jobs in order to better serve his parishioners, only to have those same people ride roughshod over him because he wouldn’t live in the ramshackle and dilapidated house where they wanted him.
I witnessed with my own eyes a lunatic mountain lady attack and hit Dad with a family Bible while he was in the pulpit; trying to cast the demons out of him. She and her friend Delsea were furious because Dad had brought a message the Sunday previous using the text First Corinthians 14:40, “Let things be done decently and in order.”
He was addressing the fact that every Sunday morning the two of them would get up to sing (you must understand that in our Pentecostal tradition—anybody and everybody that felt God leading them to sing would sing—whether God had anything to do with it or not) and the “spirit” would take hold of them and they would sing, dance and show off sometimes for an hour or more ‘til nobody was left but us five Elrods and the two of them.
Dad finally got tired of their charade (not to mention he had to play piano for them the whole dadburned time) and decided to publicly address the fact that church should be somewhat more orderly. It was that fateful moment when they decided to take the Bible into their own hands and cast him out.
Those mountain people eventually ostracized Dad to the point that we moved down to the big city for a while to take a rest. The Lord’s work can be mighty trying at times. It seems that most churches I’ve known are filled with rejects from normal life and little people who finally have a chance to act big. Even though they haven’t earned the chance. A little power is a strange thing, and a little religious power can be downright mean.
I once heard a wise old black preacher, Dr. F.G. Sampson, tell this story, “General God went to Captain Jesus and asked him to send Lieutenant Holy Spirit to the barracks to make sure the Christian troops were ready for battle against the spirits of darkness. Lieutenant Holy Spirit came back and somewhat reluctantly said ‘Sir, I’m sorry to report that we are unfit for duty.’ General God replied, ‘Lieutenant, why is that, are we worn out from warring against the Devil and his legions?’ The Holy Spirit replied, ‘No sir, we’re not ready because we are so bruised and battered from fighting among ourselves.”
Dad believed in fighting for what’s right, but when it came to family he didn’t cater to disputation. One Sunday afternoon at Nanny and Papa’s, us kids were watching the electronic television, paying no mind to the normal shouting and arguing that frequently happened between Nanny, Papa and Aunt Jane Jane. Evidently Nanny and Jane Jane had tried to spread their malignant admonition by ridiculing Mom’s attempt to style her hair. As tears silently coursed down Mom’s cheek, Dad quietly pushed his dinner plate forward, got up from the table, took Mom in his arms and walked out with us kids in tow. As that now familiar quiet permeated the car, Dad drove away.
A few blocks down the road, he pulled over to the side of the road, and laid his arms and head on the big steering wheel of his beloved Chevy and began to sob. Mom gently and tearfully placed her lovely arm around him and waited until he was through. Except for family funerals, it was the only time in my life I saw him cry.
The church people and now his own flesh and blood had sapped the strength right out of him. As he wearily raised his head, he turned to us and softly said, “We will not raise our voices in our home; we will treat each other with respect and love. I cannot control what goes on in that house, or the church, but I can say what goes on in our home.” It was the most powerful sermon I ever heard him preach.
This is a rough draft excerpt from Chapter 3 of A Renaissance Redneck In A Mega-Church Pulpit.