I spent my grade school years attending a Christian school. Every Wednesday, a pastor from one of the area churches came to the school to preside over a chapel service.
One day, a new pastor showed up. He was young, good-looking and well dressed in a blue gingham button-down. He had a flashy smile that invited anyone to talk to him, but something about it seemed off.
Mister Stephens, the principal, introduced him as Pastor James, a habit that confused the hell out of me. Why was I encouraged to call the holy men by their first names and required to call other adults by Mister/Missus Lastname?
Pastor James and Mister Stephen’s shook hands while we clapped out welcome. Looking back, I know what was off about the guest, he was too neat. His work boots lacked scuffs as plainly as his face lacked both lines and all color associated with abundant sunlight. His fingernails were clean and neat, hands smooth and white. However, his outfit resembled a city boy’s attempt to look country.
“Hey, guy! How are you today?”
A handful of the good students answered him with polite enthusiasm. I leaned forward, curious to see if this new pastor with the squeak in his shiny new diploma would employ the scare, bribe, bluff, or guilt strategy.
“That’s good! That’s good. I’m sure God thinks that’s good. You know…God loves each one of His children? Everyone who has accepted Jesus as his, or her, personal savior, is very special to the Lord.”
Definitely guilt, I thought and fell into selective listening. I’d heard it all a million times before. Accept Christ as your savior and guarantee that you’ll go to heaven, regardless of your true intent and what a person did afterwards. Out of thousands of pages contained in the Bible, that one piece had the power to save or damn a soul which made me wonder what was the point of memorizing the two dozen hand-picked verses they’d drilled into us since first grade. For that matter, what was the point of reading the entire Bible or sitting here listening to a lecture on maintaining a good spiritual life?
“It’s so simple and easy,” every teacher since Missus Williams to the collection of junior high instructors told me. Still, I stubbornly refused to conform to their views. Maybe I knew at a young age that few things worth having came so easily. Or maybe I resisted out of sheer defiance. I could have lied to them, faked my way through an impassioned profession of faith, just to get the teachers to stop harassing me in front of the class and the students from declaring my condemnation on the playground, but lying was worse than taking the harassment. After all, what was it Hondo said the Comanches thought of liars?
So, I retreated into myself, wondering where the novel I was working through would take me next. I think it was The Virginian: Horseman of the Plains. That would’ve been the first time I read that novel.
Missus Lawrence leaned up from behind me.
“Are you paying attention?”
I nodded mechanically and went on daydreaming. Why waste a whole hour of sitting still turning the same Roundup soaked soil. Next to me, Jen had her eyes closed in perfect rapture. Leave it to a pastor’s kid to know just how to act in church.
“What if I gave each of you $10?” the pastor said, and my interest piqued as he reached into his pocket as he drew out a handful of bills and contemplated them.
“You know what? I WILL give each of you $10!”
He started picking bills from the clump and handing them out.
“Mister Stephens, would you help me, please? There are more in that bag there.”
It was a plastic shopping bag which until that moment passed for trash in my perception. I eyed the wad in the pastor’s hand with suspicion.
Mister Stephens worked his way up one side while the pastor worked his way up the other side. As he handed me a bill, folded in quarters, a stir stared at the front.
“How come you got $10 and I only got a dollar?” a third grader blurted.
I unfolded the bill in my hand. It was smaller than a real bill, and printed inside was an explanation of how I was a sinner and needed to accept Christ as my Savior in order to be saved and become a person worthy of present company.
Three rows up the third grade class descended into an argument over who deserved more money. The only problem was what they fought over was a paper-thin veneer. They just weren’t wise enough to realize it.
It took the pastor and Missus Williams tag-teaming to explain that the purpose of the bills’ exteriors was to draw people in so they would read the message inside. The third graders stopped arguing, but they looked far from pleased. To this day, I wonder how many people actually read these messages wrapped up in false advertising. My bet is one glance tells them they’ve been duped and they throw it away the same as I did.
Anything, be it a person, place, thing or idea, that has to be wrapped up in a lie is not worth a person’s time. More importantly, anyone who willingly uses lies to sell anything, is not worthy of trust regardless of the package they come in. The trick to this, is figuring out what is lie and what is truth, or fact, if you think more like Indiana Jones.