Chapter 1 – Come Alive (or Revive Us Again)
Way back in the days of black and white TV, I remember finding a grasshopper, picking it up, then placing it onto the live wire of an electric fence. Thinking for sure it would come back to life and jump right out of my fingertips.
But it didn’t.
Was I doing it wrong? A second attempt was given. I was saddened by the fact that it didn’t come alive when touching an electric wire, because I’d seen it happen in the movies.
In ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) the Creature (Boris Karloff) would come alive when given the power of electricity. All it took were two electrodes and the creature would sit up!
But the electric fence did nothing. The grasshopper stayed dead.
This seemingly small experiment in reanimation would stay with me, deep inside for many years.
Death became something I feared, daily. From elementary school, middle school, and into high school; the news was always the same. I would get off the bus, walk into the house, and there the TV set would broadcast a tally of how many troops and civilians had been killed in Vietnam.
It bothered me deeply. This because every able-bodied male at age 18 was considered for conscription, to be drafted – and would go to Vietnam. My being drafted was an unavoidable, inevitable date penciled on the calendar.
During the nightly news there was an advertisement, a perky little jingle for Pepsi cola. It sang out, “You’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give!”
But no sooner had the song been impressed into a boy’s mind, than word came that Emmons Johnson had died in his home. Oh, I knew the house – as it was only a few blocks from my grandparents’ place. Besides being my uncle Ken’s dad, Emmons was a fine, loving man; and a hard worker. So as the family gathered to care for and support Alice during her time of bereavement, in the mind of a child I weighed things quite literally.
Pepsi said, “you’ve got a lot to live…” But not Emmons. Not the people in Vietnam.
This is what I thought about as a child.
Come Alive in Flannel
When my grandparents would take me to Sunday school, my grandmother would teach a class using flannel board figures. Flannel board Moses, Joseph, and Jesus. They all had robes, and they all stuck well to the flannel board. It wasn’t the same as watching Johnny Quest or Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings, but it was interesting. The flannel board characters seemed to represent good versus evil, like Batman fighting The Riddler.
On Easter, the evil flannel board figures would put flannel board Jesus on a flannel board cross. He would die. Flannel board Jesus would then come back to life, raise His hands up high and proclaim that death had no sting!
We would then have juice and a snack.
In the real world, as far as I could know, everyone was dying. If it wasn’t our leaders like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy; it was the sons of the people my grandparents went to church with. Our neighbor also died. And just like the grasshopper, they did not come back to life.
Death puts an obstacle in front of believing that there is anything like eternity. The finality of death is not very open to adjustments. Death is a thief, a gruesome and menacing harvester of life. Death is a door that shuts tightly and forever.
Death happens Non-Stop. I was taught that dinosaurs once ruled the Earth and then they all died. Life that emerged from the seas came on to the land and then died. Fossil records show where every creature died – in the exact place they did so. The Sun will one day turn into a red dwarf and emit no heat and we will die. That was my textbook schooling.
I grew up in the Cold War era. The threat of extinction by nuclear war was ever present. The reminders never went away. Civil defense sirens mounted high on posts throughout the town went off every day at noon, just so no one would forget it was lunch time or that impending doom could occur while enjoying a liverwurst sandwich.
On radio and television, the Emergency Broadcast System played a very unsettling tone along with “the broadcasters of your area, in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and other authorities, have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency”; assuring us with the knowledge that we would have proper warning.
THEN we would all die.
But be sure to hide under your desk first.
I could never wrap my head around flannel board Jesus raising His hands to the sky and saying to the other flannel board characters “death has no sting!”
And as if it were a radio signal coming from another planet, I have an Aunt (whom I dearly love) who was a Pentecostal on fire…and awaiting Jesus imminent return. Her Jesus was coming to destroy the devil with power and might, with horsemen, and rivers of blood. Graves would open and people will come alive, rising from their caskets then up into the clouds. Jesus was going to take her and those who were like her away with Him to heaven. Everyone else would be thrown into a pit of fire. In other words, Everyone else dies.
This was a lot to take for a 10-year-old.
I was given two dichotomies. Flannel board Jesus was easy to manipulate, but always smiling. The Jesus of rapture had a sword dipped in blood.
It didn’t make any sense and caused me to push away against anything that had to do with God. This I had to keep to myself, so as not to hurt my grandparent’s feelings ~ or get into a conflict with my Aunt. I decided to follow what I was taught in school, that there is no god, that everything dies and becomes a fossil.
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