"I'm not too big for a
challenge and there's no challenge too big for me," the Quite Reverend said, wildly
over-gesticulating as if he were playing charades with a tent full of the sight impaired.
"Because when I see a challenge coming my way, it's not only me that picks up the
gauntlet, it's not only me that gets the adrenaline flowing and the hackles all prickly
and raised, and it's not only me that crouches way down low in the most fearsome karate
stance you ever did lay your eyes on, ready to wrestle the Powers of Evil to the mat. No,
brothers and sisters, it's not just me, for I am never alone. And if you wisely choose to
join me on the well-worn path of righteousness I can promise that you will never be alone
either, for the Lord our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Lamb and the Shepherd, is always
standing with me, ready to fight side by side, blow for blow, and we are alwaysyes,
I said alwaysvictorious! For he is the undefeated champion, the winner of
every bout by a knockout. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you he who was, still is, and
always will be the heavyweight champion of the world: the King of Kings, Jesus
Christ! Say hallelujah!
"So be it 'til the end of
The Quite Reverend paused at the
edge of the stage and used a handkerchief to wipe the beads of sweat which dotted his
forehead. Tucking it sloppily into his rear pants pocket, he surveyed the crowd, his eyes
pausing on each elderly, anemic, or crippled target as his well-honed Infirmity Sensors
picked them out like Day-Glo ostrich eggs in an Easter egg hunt.
"Is there a soul somewhere
in this tent that needs saving?" he asked quietly, his eyebrows arched high. "Is
there one among you who is in need of healing?" He turned and walked to the podium,
then suddenly wheeled around to the audience. "No there is not!" he spat
out, causing the crowd to jump in their seats and loudly suck in their breath as one.
"There is not one soul under this tent that needs saving because as Jesus Christ is
the puppeteer pulling the very strings of my life, every single soul sitting before me
today needs saving, and needs saving now!"
He pounded his fist on the
podium, then looked up as if he'd just been stricken with an idea. "Brothers and
sisters. You're probably wondering just how many souls will be saved today. I can hear
you. I know you're sitting in your seat right now saying to yourself, 'There are only so
many souls he can save in one afternoon, so how does he decide which souls to save and
which not to save?' Well I want you to stop your fretting right this very minute, because
there will be no rationing of soul saving, there will not be only one to a customer, not
while our Lord Jesus Christ is doing the saving. Listen here! I'm not gonna save just one
soul today, and I'm not gonna save just two souls. I'm gonna save every last soul in this
here tent and I'm gonna do it for one unbelievably low price! And that price, brothers and
sisters, is ab-so-lute-ly free!" He lowered his voice and raised his eyebrows
questioningly. "'How can he do that?' you might ask, and if you did Id tell you
right here and now it was a darned good question. Well the answer is simple, my
friends." He thrust out his chest and let his voice boom out, "I can do it
because the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III saves souls in volume! Volume!
While the Quite Reverend was busy
orating, his two navy blue-suited assistants were circulating through the audience, their
eyes scanning the crowd like a Sectarian Secret Service, stopping to whisper to a few
select people. Each person they spoke to nodded his or her head, then was led to an area
at stage right where they were lined up single file. By the time the Quite Reverend had
hit "Volume! Volume! VOLUME !", the lengthening procession at the
side of the stage included a young girl on crutches with her left leg in a full cast which
had been signed by her entire school class, the most prominent signature being a huge red
"Eat Me"; Rachel Weinsteen, a teenage girl who was living proof that God has a
sense of humor, since thanks to a port wine stain covering fully half of her face since
birth, Rachel had absolutely no need for a nickname; a boy with his right arm in a sling,
cradling the half cast which shored up his wrist, freshly broken the day before when he
jumped off his parents' garage using the living room curtains as a parachute; a
ninety-three year-old man whose hands had been long gnarled by arthritis but who really
didn't mind since his memory was so full of holes the size of the Grand Canyon that he
didn't remember ever having had full use of his hands and therefore didn't miss it; and a
mother of three whose sudden and unexplained case of alopecia areata caused her to
go completely bald when one day all her hair remained in her stocking cap when she pulled
it from her head. The Quite Reverend's assistants only spoke to one person who declined to
join the assemblage: Jose Rosenbloom, who had a hard time convincing them he wasn't
hydrocephalic and there was no reason he should be paraded in front of the crowd.
"Before we pray for the
eternal salvation of the masses, let us not forget the here and now needs of those who
require help in this life," the Quite Reverend continued. "The Lord is
"Amen," the crowd
"Jesus Christ is perfection,
"But man...man is the very
epitome of imperfection. Man is but a festering pimple on the buttocks of our
Saviour, but as he is a forgiving and understanding Saviourpraise be the
Lord!he forgives us our flaws and understands our weaknesses." The Quite
Reverend walked to the line-up of people at stage right. "While some of us are
blessed with but a few insignificant flaws, others have more than their fair share. Could
it be that the Lord is testing you? Perhaps. Might he be punishing you? Maybe so. Is he
pissed off at you? Possibly. But you must never forget that the Lord Jesus Christ will not
test you, punish you, or stay mad at you forever. He wants you back in the fold. He
wants you to dedicate your life to spreading the good word. He wants you to
live the sweet life." The Quite Reverend looked directly at the injured reserve lined
up next to the stage and pointed at them in his best Uncle-Sam-Wants-You poster imitation.
"Jesus Christ WANTS to
He eyed the people his assistants
pulled from the crowd like a chef searching for the ripest tomato and walked up to the boy
with the half cast. He took the boy's good hand and lead him onto the stage.
The Quite Reverend heard the
snake-like hissing coming from behind him but ignored it, knowing that maintaining his
oratory momentum was crucial to serving up an inspirationaland
He put his hand behind his back
and flicked his fingers, waving off whoever it was who was distractingly trying to get his
attention from backstage.
The Quite Reverend turned and
glared. One of his assistants was poking his head through the part in the curtains. With
the slightest crooking of his index finger, and an extremely nasty scowl, the Quite
Reverend motioned his assistant to come forward.
"We've got a problem,"
the assistant whispered into the preachers ear.
The Quite Reverend arched his
eyebrows and pursed his lips in a grossly exaggerated show of shock, signaling his
assistant "You're not kidding" just as clearly if he'd been close captioned for
the common sense impaired.
"The collection baskets are
gone," the assistant whispered.
"They can't be."
"They are," the
assistant said. "We've looked all over and they're nowhere to be found. What the hell
do we do now?"
"Where were they?"
"Beside the door in the
trailer where we always keep them," the assistant said, "but they're not there
"No collection baskets, no
money; no money, no paychecks," the Quite Reverend said with finality. "Find
The assistant hurried to the rear
and exited through the curtain. The Quite Reverend pulled the young boy to the center of
the stage and placed his hands palm down on the lad's head. He paused dramatically to
regain his focus.
"Jesus died for you, he died
for me. He died for our sins. Don't close him out of your life for another precious
second. Open your mouth and open your heart. Call out to him and say 'Jesus, come into my
life'! Invite the King of Kings to become a part of you, to partake of your daily
existence. Jesus Christ has the power to heal if only you will let him."
He cradled the boy's broken arm
in his hands and closed his eyes. "Let us pray. Dear God, I open my heart to you and
I invite Jesus Christ to come into my life. I confess Jesus is the Lord of my life and I
renounce all other Gods. I ask you to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me. Now I thank
you Lord that I am a child of God, that I belong to you, that I confess with my mouth that
Jesus is Lord and on the authority of the word of God I am saved from my sins. And I
belong to you. Give me the power, fill me with your holy spirit so that I will have the
power to live for you the rest of my life in Jesus' name. Amen."
He quickly unwrapped the ace
bandage from the boy's half cast. "I ask you Jesus, in return for this sinner's
eternal commitment to your word and your work, knit these bones and heal this boy's
arm!" Hoisting the arm up high, he removed the right-angled plaster splint and
dramatically tossed it from the stage with a flourish.
"Move your arm," he
loudly told the boy, "for the healing has been done."
The boy tentatively began to flex
his arm, then stopped and looked up at the Quite Reverend, who grasped the boy's wrist
with one hand and his upper arm with the other, quickly and firmly straightening it with a
snap. The boy's eyes popped open wide as he sucked in a hard breath and groaned loudly
from the pain.
"Don't be such a baby,"
the Quite Reverend whispered harshly in the boy's ear.
* * * * * *
"Praise the Lord!"
the Quite Reverend announced to the crowd. "It's a miracle!"
"Hallelujah!" the crowd
yelled as another of his assistants came to lead the shocked youth off the stage.
"We still can't find the
baskets," the assistant whispered to the Quite Reverend, trying to appear as casual
as possible yet failing to hide just how frantic and frustrated he really was.
"Keep looking," the
Quite Reverend hissed.
As the assistant escorted the
boywho was cradling his arm and moaning rather loudlydown one side of the
stage, the Quite Reverend triumphantly walked to the other, where he looked down at the
arthritic old man who gazed back at him with a sphinx-like smile wondering just where the
hell he was and why in the world this used car salesman was strutting around the stage
like Monty Hall hosting Healing for Dollars.
"Wheres the sandwich I
ordered?" the old man said loudly. "This isnt what I wanted.."
"Please join me on stage in
a celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ," the Quite Reverend said with a smile as he
stepped down from the stage.
"I don't care how low your
cheeses are priced, I asked for a liverwurst with sliced onion and relish on toasted wheat
bread and that's exactly what I expect to get."
"Ask and ye shall
receive," the Quite Reverend said as he grasped the man's elbow and eased him toward
the steps to the stage.
"Of course I don't want
seeds, young man. Seeds are in rye bread. Seeds are on rolls. I asked for wheat bread. My
God, man, no one puts seeds in wheat bread."
"Please come this way,"
the Quite Reverend said as he lead the old man up the stairs to the stage. "Now step
up. Very good, now one more. I must ask you to hurry or you'll slow us down and it will be
impossible to catch up."
"I didn't say anything about
mustard, slaw, or ketchup. Are you deaf, young man? Besides, do you have any idea
how disgusting liverwurst would be with ketchup?" The man stopped and looked
quizzically at the Quite Reverend. "You're not the regular boy here, are you? No
wonder I'm having so much trouble getting my order. What have you done with Carlos?"
The Quite Reverend finally
maneuvered the man to the center of the stage. The old man stood hunched over, his
claw-like hands dancing at his sides.
"Jesus Christ died for your
sins, as he died for mine," the Quite Reverend intoned. "It's a fact. And the
sooner you accept that as the truth, the sooner you take him into your heart, the sooner
you will bask in the peaceful serenity that your life was meant to be. Please, don't waste
"Seconds?" the old man
asked, "I haven't even gotten my firsts yet."
"For while your time here on
earth is shortbut a milli-microfraction of the blink of the Lord's eyeyour
days in the blessed company of our Saviour's heavenly bliss will be for all eternity. Yes,
brothers and sisters, I said all eternity! So open your mind, open your heart, open your
mouth and say 'Jesus, enter into my life'!"
"Where?" the old man
said as he looked around the stage. "What the hell are you talking about? My wife
"Roll out the red carpet and
invite the Nazarene into your sacred temple. If you're in pain, Jesus has the cure. If you
can't walk, Jesus will be your crutch. The King of Kings is the author who can rewrite
every scene of your life, and you are merely the crippled actor."
"Triple decker? Who asked
for a triple decker?" the old man said, throwing his hands up in resignation.
"Aw, the hell with it, I'll take whatever it is you made. A man could starve to death
before he got anything to eat around this place."
"Those who accept Jesus
Christ as their Lord and salvation shall live the good life. They will prosper,
spiritually as well as financially. They will be fruitful and multiply. They will receive
their just deserts.
"I don't want a piece of
fruit for dessert," the old man said shaking his head, "but if you've got a
piece of pound cake with strawberries I'll take that. And it might be a good idea to put
the order in now so I'll get to eat it before I die."
"Jesus Christ, and only
Jesus Christ, has the power to heal," the Quite Reverend said as a strong shudder ran
through his body, beginning at the top of his scalp and working its way down to his toes.
His muscles tightened, causing him to stand statuesquely erect, adding a full three inches
to his height. His eyelids fluttered, then slammed shut. The silence stretched on until it
was taut enough to snap. Suddenly, his eyes popped open and he stared straight ahead as if
in a trance, focusing on a vacant point about thirty feet in front of him and twelve feet
above the ground.
"Khirin onjoy esta du
brahn," he began. "Er lestin, su lestin, frontov endron rawter stimp."
The old man squinted at the Quite
Reverend, shook his head to clear it, then poked the tip of his gnarled index finger in
his ear and wiggled it around.
"Bine frendo ent krehen
deste gratuland trone. Bine shindiery roke int chatu ent frever conen. Du statuen gibling
weenan krut forman. Estra dombron ilie fontage, derider steagrone almy prine, esta bine
riton siten torkey."
Jackson Robert grunted loudly.
About ten minutes before, his eyelids had become heavier than a hypnotist's suggestion,
finally losing all resistance and sliding shut. Although it felt so good and peaceful with
them closed, decorum and the fear of his wife's wrath"It's not fit to embarrass
yourself and your family by falling asleep while listening to a man of
God"caused him to keep popping his eyelids open. But with each repetition his
willpower ebbed, until with the third closing of his eyes he serenely gave in to the urge
and fell asleep, drifting off into a dreamland that carried him back to his youthful
Saturdays in the synagogue listening to the rabbi, the cantor, and the rest of the
congregation chanting loudly in the Hebrew he didnt understand. The sound was so
lifelike he felt certain that were he to wake himself up he would still be able to hear
"En brein gwide tor ritches,
dron litasure avdiser, duron ent duron poron torstis curmunt," the Quite Reverend
loudly droned on.
Erta's eyes opened wide as she
realized that the Quite Reverend was standing before her speaking in tongues, live and in
person. "Here's where all that practicing in front of the TV will finally pay
off," she thought, for she had still been trying to memorize his frequently broadcast
She stood up. She shook her body,
starting from her head and working her way down to her feet until she looked like a bad
imitation of an epileptic. She clenched her fists and tensed her muscles, standing on her
tiptoes to make herself feel taller. She fluttered her eyelids, or at least tried her
best, for unlike most girls during their teen years, Erta had never spent time in front of
a mirror practicing the flirtatious eye action. As a result, it looked like she had a
cinder in each of her eyes. She closed her eyelids tightly, then opened them again,
staring directly ahead at the Quite Reverend.
"Ditashun erhy ent swithe du
mense," he continued.
"Forfin toofy nortin
shtort," Erta said in her best approximation of his previous week's televised tongue
"Correge deekin ersand
tules," he said, lowering his eyes so he could see who was speaking along with him,
albeit in an obviously very different tongue.
"Hotten totten eben
ozen," she said, her voice growing louder as she became more confident in her
The old man strained to look at
Erta, then turned back to the Quite Reverend. He put his palm over his left ear and pumped
it lightly, as if using a plunger to clear the stoppage that was interfering with his
"Bine deste melad pring,
foron dinum est," the Quite Reverend said, cocking his head and leaning forward in an
effort to better hear what Erta was saying.
"Raisin treason rainy
season, bumper stumper needs no reason," Erta continued, her voice rising in volume
and pitch until it dominated the Quite Reverend's.
"En valden tro, en dutshun
orgine....." he said as he let his voice trail off.
"'Twas brillig and the
slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe," Erta shouted out, her lone voice
filling the tent. "Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey. A kiddley
divey too, wouldn't you?"
She stopped as she suddenly
realized hers was the only voice she could hear. The Quite Reverend was standing at the
front of the stage silently watching her. So were all of the people sitting in front of
her, who had spun around in their seats and were now staring at her. She turned and looked
around the tent. Every pair of eyes was upon her.
"If I wanted Chinese food I
would have asked for it," the old man said loudly as he walked off the stage shaking
his head in disgust.
Erta smiled sheepishly. She took
a deep breath and sat down, closing her eyes tightly and pursing her lips. Jackson
Robert's chin sank to his chest as he let out a loud snort, cutting through the deafening
silence and startling him awake.
"I can't understand a word
anyone's saying," he groggily called out, not realizing he'd left his dream synagogue
"Shhh," Erta said,
poking her husband in the ribs with her elbow.
"What do you mean I can't be
bar mitzvahed in English? It's the only language I know," he continued,
suddenly stopping as he not only realized he was awake but also remembered where he was
sitting. He looked around sheepishly.
Erta closed her eyes and cradled
her head in her hands. Speaking in tongues along with the Quite Reverend was even harder
in person than it was at home. And definitely more embarrassing.
[ Chapter 29 ]