Kingdom: My Last Performance

In the shadows of the sanctuary, as she had been for the last three weeks, Kelly sat passively watching, hearing and observing as though the passage of time was a sleeping aid. Since my last musical performance she had gradually allowed less and less light to be around her, cloaking what kind of girl-spirit was working in her, even as our meetings became “Revivalistic” ones, overflowing with prayers and worship offered up with extreme reverence.

While she dozed through the three meetings since “If I Had My Way” was performed, something was revving up through our meeting’s hymns and prayers; it was as though the Spirit of the Living God was begging action from our puny band of Kingdom villagers.

Pastor Harold, nearly complete with his Master’s Degree in theology, was a relentless bull dog chewing on the scriptural text for each evening’s gathering.

That night, Harold nibbled at the bottom line of his talk for nearly fifteen minutes until at last he savagely bit into the meat contained in Jesus’ own words in Luke 12:3-5:

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

“But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Harold nodded to me as he closed, “If God is watching your every word and loves you enough to give you this warning about what you say, how much more will he be watching your every action? Fear God! Fear God! Fear God! Not just tonight listening to me, but fear Him in every part of your life. He will judge every one in the end, and those who are lawless will not have a place in the Kingdom of God.”

On cue I stepped up to the podium and ripped into the song I had been practicing for a month. It was a sweet little cover of Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law.”

Voice, fingers, strings, and rhythms strummed out torrid beats of another realm. In the vacuum of my performance there was a convergence of all my hates, loves, sorrows, joys and hungers. For two minutes I was out of my body and head and drew from the shadows of the sanctuary the one girl who I would have least expected to be moved. Kelly. As the last moments of concussive chords charged from my guitar, the air was resplendent with God’s holy truth. And as if drawn out of a spooky fog by my plaintiff crooning she rose from her chair and moved towards the front.

Kelly stopped at the steps to the platform staring up across the pulpit at me with eyes set to storm from the edges of a deep purple sullen sea. Her eyes did not close during Harold’s benediction and neither did mine. I listened to Harold’s prayer hoping that Kelly’s actions meant she had come forward to pray, worship and give her life to Christ. But it was something else in her soul that was seeking to connect with mine and I could not stop looking into the purple seas that beckoned me to wade in. At the final “Amen” she started up the steps.

“I never knew,” she said as she joined me on the platform. The meeting was closed and the other kids were leaving and laughing and shouting out the last lines of the song. “The Law Won!”

Her hand touched mine for a moment as her tormented face, young and pretty seemed to peer through her own place of darkness directly at me. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“It was nothing,” I said pulling my hand away from her as though my skin had been burned. I searched her face. In an instant I recognized what I had done. It was something I had been working on for over a year. I wanted to produce out of nothing a devoted fan. Here she was.

It wasn’t stardom or a craving for the spotlight, I just wanted to know if I had it in me to conjure up a “following.” But I could feel in my soul that this was something just a bit beyond me if not for a dark, evil promise. It could be a promise of fame and fortune. I could have if I wanted it. It would only cost me a little bit of my soul. “A small price,” a voice or something eerily near to my ear seemed to infer. “Such a small price.”

I had, it seemed, drawn Kelly out of the shadows. She had been unaffected by everything in this world until tonight. And then… All the chords, notes, lyrics, torment, pretending, acting, and choreography brought her youth, adoration and vulnerability into my sphere of influence. For good or bad, she was opening her life to me. Something in the darkness whispered, “its all yours.”

I felt physically ill all of a sudden. I never despised myself more than I did at that moment. I’m not sure what I said to her after that but the result was I never performed again as I had done that night.

Twelve miles away, though very much out of touch with what was at work in my life, my mother sensed some disturbance in my universe. This was the 60s. No one could have posted a video to Youtube. Telephones were not available for personal use from the church, and who would have cared about what was happening with Kelly and me at that moment anyway.

Perhaps she knew that I had been shut away from my family for too long and perceived the wickedness developing in a way that can happen to Secret Agents with Secret Vaults. Its hard to analyze actually, but she knew there was trouble rising up out of the pool of girls she imagined were awaiting my amorous commands. However her intuition worked, she probably was close to being right.

She called to me from the front porch to come in the house before going to do my chores. Instead of the pajamas and robe she wore to watch Sunday night TV, she was dressed in a simple cotton dress with her face all made up, as if she were on her way to church. She even wore the dangling ear rings dad had given her two wedding anniversaries ago.

“I don’t think you should be a part of that youth group anymore,” she said. I wasn’t surprised by her suggestion, but was curious about the calmness in her communication. No accusations or sermons on the evils of sex. I added a dab of depression to my already forlorn appearance.

“Alright,” I said and walked out the back door to the barn to feed Carla, our prized Guernsey. “What’s the use,” I said to her and scratched a spot behind her ear. She pushed back against my fingers in appreciation. “You know I’ve been thinking about running away. I can’t quite figure it out though. What would I do?” Carla snorted and it tickled me to think she might be laughing at my dilemma.

“Your right of course,” I said, rehearsing a Johnny Rivers song in my head. “I’m a Secret Agent, right? I just have to get better at it. There’s only one problem Carla – I’ve run out of ideas of how to do that.” I took Carla’s long low “Moooo,” to be her dearest expression of sympathy for my lamentations, but then the violent shake of her head against my hands probably meant: “Less talking and more scratching!”

It would be years before I truly understood what happened that night, but now I know. That night, after my performance, and for the first time, the Holy Spirit of God had come to give me direct guidance. He used my feelings of sickness and revulsion to show me graphically something repugnant to my Father God. Suddenly I had a fear of the one and only Holy God. The One who held my life next to His tender, merciful but uncompromising heart.

I believe God had shown something to my mother as well. All of the fullness of who the world could say was me was now crammed into my Secret Vault. But mom knew there would be girls. She was determined there would be no girls. To that end, every avenue that could offer an interaction with the opposite sex, outside of school, had been cut off except “Youth Group.” That now too was closed.

Maybe it was time to get a job.

 

Kingdom: If I Had My Way

I played clarinet in the school band. I sang in the church choir. In honor of my 14th birthday I was given a guitar, a book of the 100 great folk songs of America, and the 1962 number 1 hit album “Peter, Paul and Mary.” My destiny was sealed.

By my sophomore year in high school I had taught myself to play guitar and sing like Glenn Yarborough. I added twenty-seven of the dreariest, darkest most depressing songs ever written to my repertoire. I was a hit at church summer picnics playing for the potato salad, baked bean and hot dog crowd. I even performed at a few ice cream socials. Eventually I was booked into a Sunday morning service introducing, what would become my signature song for the next decade: “Early In The Morning.”

My friend Kim was overjoyed with my endeavors to be a rising folk singing, protest song writing star like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. She even helped to write a few of my more morose, depressive tunes. And when it seemed I would perish in my Junior year Chemistry class, she encouraged me to change my major from College Preparation to music. By some miracle my parents agreed. Instead of learning useless experiments I found myself in the high school “A cappella Choir” singing tenor.

In the spring of 1965, preparations were underway for the high school “A cappella Choir” presentation of “The Sound of Music.” Kim, who spoke less and less about our engagement and more about how great it was to have such a great brother like me, was playing Maria. Actually she was Maria.

With a bittersweet mixture of joy and sorrow I saw Kim’s star rising. I had not thought of her as beautiful, but something vibrant and joyful was beginning to blossom in her. She was in fact morphing into a total beauty. Her voice, angelic, sweet, sultry and pure made me smile as few things could. With so much self indulgence, and narcissism developing in my life, Kim’s celebrity status began to distance us. There were fewer rides together on the bus. Our intimate conversations were growing fewer and far between.

When we did meet she seemed to look at me with a sadness that reminded me she was going away soon.

“Did you like the play?” she asked me on the Monday morning bus ride after the weekend performance.

“Not really,” I said. “I mean I was moving scenery all night long, I didn’t get to see much of it.”

She took my hand and waited until I turned to look at her. “You thought I was great though, didn’t you?”

My eyes burned with the tears I was fighting back. My throat was tight as if my body had produced something to cram up into my esophogus. This was the moment. I had rehearsed a thousand times what I wanted to say to her, but instead of coming out of my mouth it all seemed to want to gush out through my eye gates.

In misery I only thought once more of the words I wanted to say, “You saved my life Kim. You’re like the best sister I could have ever had and I don’t want you to go. Not now. You are beautiful, gorgeous, amazing and the truest friend I have ever had. I can hardly wait to see you in the morning and I pray for you every night. I know you are beyond me in every way and you have a big life out there somewhere, but I will always love you because you rescued me from teen-hell. You made me feel worthy of love and kindness. You own my heart and you always will. My dearest sister please don’t leave.”

Instead I bent my head towards her and mumbled a: “you were very good.”

I felt her body, soul and mind stiffen. Our one moment of truth was passing as we rolled into the industrial end of town. The pear orchards were in full bloom. The hills around the town were a lush green for the first time in months. The temperature was to be in the mid-eighties that day. I had smiled when I saw Kim dance up the stairs of the bus. She was wearing her favorite white skirt and a floral print blouse. Her hair, which she said many times, “drives me crazy,” was full of life, cascading in vibrant shades of gold, auburn and bronze.

“Look Kim,” I finally said, daring to look into her face that was streaked with a few of her own tears, “I thought you were cool. Better than that Julie person. Way more cool.”

Thankfully she laughed and wiped her cheek with a tissue that appeared from no where. “I was pretty good wasn’t I? Not as good as that Julie person, but I’ll get there.” She let her smile linger as she searched for what more needed to be said. “I’ll write you when…well you know, when I’m on my way.”

“I know you will,” I said, having heard it a thousand times.

As the bus rolled into the school parking lot, Kim squeezed my hand.

“Listen, Carl is going to be picking me up and will drive me to and from school now. You know now that he’s my…”

“Carl? Mr. Christopher Plummer!”

“Yes Carl. We’ve started dating, I told you that.”

“I know you told me. But I didn’t think you meant it. And as a Captain Von Trapp, he was pretty lame!”

“I thought you didn’t see the show?”

“Well I was kind of drawn to the bad parts so I saw a lot of your “Captain.” Kim laughed and gave me the look I had seen for the last couple of weeks. It was her version of cute and she puckered her lips as if to kiss me.

“I will miss your dark moronic ways of looking at life,” she said.

“And I am going to miss you sis,” I thought.

“Anyway I’ll see you in choir and at lunch with the gang. Just like usual, right?”

“Right.” But she was truly Carl’s girl now, and her conveyance out of my life just served to affirm that I was right to stay cool. Never want anything too much or count on having anyone to have and hold in this life forever. I knew in the days of preparing for Kim’s inevitable exit from my life that the “Sound of Music’s” happy ending was such a magnificent lie that even the glorious Miss Julie Andrews couldn’t make it believable to me.

That evening, with these affirmations tucked safely into the Secret Vault of my soul, I began working on the message I was to bring to the Sunday night youth group. As a senior member of that group I traded off giving the message with youth Pastor Harold.

My text was from Judges 16:4 – 31, the story of Sampson’s betrayal by Delilah and his ultimate destruction as he, after twenty years of battling Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, finally killed more of them in one moment than he had in all of his life.

I had thought of a thousand ways of making the message relevant for my group. But on that Sunday night, casting off the last tie I had with Kim, bending into what I believed to be my “Lonely Troubadour Destiny” I did not even try to find an application. I just read the verses that meant the most to me:

“And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.’

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.

And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” (Judges 16:28-31)

My message, in the end, could not deliver to my peers the immense amount of hope they would need for the coming days, weeks and years. Instead I just let my message serve as an introduction to my song: “If I Had My Way.” I was ready to give the performance of a life time. All I had needed was a few impressionable, floundering souls to be my audience. I was on my way.

In This Wicked World

As I viciously tore my fingers across the strings of my guitar, my voice growled out the words with such an intensity that I was physically gone at the song’s end. Without so much as an amen, I packed away my stuff, stole away to my car and prepared to leave for home.

As I glanced back towards the church an image captured my attention and then was so indelibly engraved on my mind that it haunted me during the ride home, through my night’s sleep and for many waking hours of the next week. It was the image of a face. It was the image of the face of a girl who stood just within the rim of the low church lights. She stood within the farthest edge of the light radiating from the church parking lot’s illumination. She watched intently as I packed away my gear. For the next several Sunday evenings I was always aware of her shadowy presence waiting; as though it were waiting – waiting for my permission to materialize as something real from the edge of night. Kelly.

Kingdom: My First Angel

With the loss of my first love Margie, I developed an extremely morose countenance that helped divide me away from troublesome beings who might have wanted to be my friend. Not that I didn’t have a few friends, but generally they were diagnosticians come to investigate what my problem was. My family knew what my sullen attitudes were about and chose to ignore my darkening moods.

My father’s answer to everything was to “work-it-out” on the farm. I dug trenches, plowed the fields, tended the orchard, raised a lamb, cut and pitched hay. But rather than be the antidote, farm work gave me time to furnish my Top Secret Soul life with idols that I could bring to life in ever increasing exotic scenes. Farm work also gave me the one thing an underachieving 8th grader needs at school, an excuse for why my homework was not being done.

A starlit night arose over the dark road of my soul on the day after my Spanish teacher, Mrs. McNalish died. Her name was Miss Maria Montoya. Beautiful, graceful, and young, I had never imagined a teacher could be so full of life and light. She became central in my fantasy world and the cause of even more scholastic underachievement. But suddenly poetry made sense. Love songs from my parent’s generation became my favorites. I had no aptitude for Spanish but as a tribute to Miss Montoya I became obsessed with all things Mexican and all things beautiful.

Her eyes were made of the deepest darkest chocolate ever created and were precious jewels that sparkled in a soft round face belonging to another realm. She took a throne in the my soul where she became guardian of my Secret Vault of thoughts, dreams and fantasies. Her voice, rich, full and melodic was hypnotic and while I could not assimilate and make mine the knowledge she possessed I embraced her warmth and sincerity with a new level of love and devotion that displaced my feelings for Margie, mother, home and family.

She was only a dream, remote, ethereal and unattainable but thoughts of her comforted me in a way that nothing else in life could. I began to write. I began to draw. I wrote secret notes to her and drew the eyes that were often the last vision of my day before going to sleep. In those days girls seemed to be saying things to me but I could not imagine that they would one day be remotely as womanly and precious as Miss Montoya and I did not return their kindness with anything but blank detachment.

Several weeks after taking over my Spanish class, Miss Montoya asked me to stay after school. My facade of cool almost burst into flames and my love for her nearly revealed. It was the greatest test my Secret Vault would have to endure. But without even the slightest blush I simply said, “Yes Miss Montoya.”

There is no way to explain our little conference. Mariachi music filled my ears, and my heart beat to the rhythm of the guitars and bass. I believe she wanted me to know that I was an awful student.

I think she wanted me to apply myself and show her more aptitude for one of the most romantic languages on earth. It is even possible that she promised to not age a day and would wait for me when I graduated high school and we would run off to Mexico City where I would become a circus clown and a bull fighting novelist and she would be a teacher in a private school for over achieving rich kids. Who knows. I was just thrilled she actually knew who I was.

Her place of reverence and eternal love harbored in my faithful soul would last at least another week or two.

That same day the school bus home bound routes changed. They pushed my departure time back twenty minutes. Instead of the usual route up River Road, my bus went directly to Walt’s Superette instead. For the first time we met a bus dropping off high school students from the big town down south. I rarely looked up from my writings and drawings to witness anything that might be stirring the universe around me. I did not see a blessed force forming to build a new roadway into my sullen soul.

She was a girl. But this girl was on the border of becoming a woman and she had the impropriety that is born into the master race of humanity that are destined to become actresses, movie stars, and great singers. The Debbie Reynolds, Doris Days, and Sandra Dees of this world. With a wry smile and three quick sliding steps she took me into her world, offering to be my bride if she could sit next to me. I may have nodded, but I’m sure she was sitting down before our engagement had been fully arranged.

As she settled into my life she slipped her arm through mine and took my hand. I smelled the apple/cherry blossom perfume she wore as she leaned her head on my shoulder. “I’m Kim, what’s your name?” I told her. “You know that name suits you, it means handsome you know? And you are one of the cutest men I have ever met.” Internally I squirmed but outwardly I stiffened my spine.

“Now about our engagement,” Kim continued, “I want a June wedding but I think we should wait until I graduate high school and have gotten a part in a Broadway show. I am breaking my neck for our choir director Mr. Johnson to learn my part in our production of Carousel. I mean the singing is great. I’m an amazing singer. You’ll have to come and see the show, I’ve got a real cool spot in it. But the dancing. Do you like to dance? I bet you do.” She was an ocean of words that hummed out of some deeper depths of the great seas of the world.

” You know I bet you are a great dancer. You seem very athletic too. And those eyes and eyelashes. I’m surprised the cute girls on the bus haven’t swooped in to take you away from me.”

I heard some shrieks of laughter behind me and I was glad that I had developed a hard outer shell because I could feel the heat of severe humiliation rising in my soul. “Now listen…you know I love you with all my heart and I think our marriage will last an eternity, but I think we should have separate beds after we’re married, don’t you? I mean I love being close to you darling, but when I sleep I really need my space.”

The bus ride that day seemed to go on forever. It was time enough to establish Kim’s likes and dislikes about everything, (or so I thought) and to elicit from me my undying devotion to her though I had no idea what she was talking about. These things would grow crystal clear in the weeks to come.

I had never really appreciated the sight of my family’s farm as much as I did that day. As we rolled into the huge “S” curve where the road skirted our back ten acres I just barely croaked out the words, “this is me!” I was ready to jump to the front of the bus a good hundred yards before the bus stop, but Kim held me close.

“I’ll see you in the morning handsome,” she said and as she let go of my arm she leaned into my face and put her lips ever so lightly on my cheek.

Over the next two years my engagement to Kim would be our secret and one that I would come to cherish. It was a long time before I could be as free with her as she was with me, but she always seemed captivated by my joys, sorrows, pains and frustrations and often drew out of my Secret Vault a humorous way of looking at my vow to be a secret agent in the world of despots, fascists and abusers.

I learned through Kim that a spouse should be your best friend. I learned that love could be chaste, and pure and reverently holy where you truly want the best for the other person. I learned that your spouse would be the one to place you on a pedestal even though there is no way in God’s great universe you deserved it.

One other thing I learned through Kim, or more precisely about Kim – I think she was an Angel sent to me by the Lord God Almighty to save me from taking my own life.

As my relationship with my family grew distant and cold, Kim was always there to help me through it. And there were a few times when I held her as the disappointments in her life became to great for her to bear. We laughed together and cried together. Then one day, as oddly as she had entered my life, she made her exit and I would never hear from her again.

I would learn under the careful tutelage of my youth pastor Harold that in the Kingdom of Heaven there are Angels. Scripture illuminates the many roles Angels perform. They are emissaries, warriors, and worshipers of the Most High God. They are also guardians of his beloved creation – mankind.

Angels were spoken of in the writer’s exaltation of God the Son Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:14

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

The place of Angels is revealed in a warning Jesus gave to all mankind in Matthew 18:10

See that you do not despise one of these little ones (children). For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

God Himself said of His relationship with us and His Angels in Psalm 91:9-11

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

My actual, God assigned Angels, would be vigilant to protect me in the many years to come and to the Lord God Almighty who created me I give my praise, honor and worship. And I pray His blessings to be on Kim, my teen Angel, where ever she may be. Amen.