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« on: May 02, 2008, 03:57:09 PM »

October 04, 2006
I returned to the hills of Western North Carolina for my 50th High School reunion and to the church in which I was raised. The fog and mist lie in the valleys where the Great Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge Mountains and there's still enough of the original Buncombe County to leave a lump in your throat. My grandfather was a beloved Baptist minister at the Calvary Baptist Church but after he retired, we went to the West Asheville Baptist Church. Although there was a lot of "hell, fire, and damnation", there were great values there. There was also a lot of guilt to be found where i went to Sunday School, Church, Baptist Training Union, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, and Thursday Night choir practice. They were basically good people who practiced only what they knew and believed. In my teens, it sent me on a search that still continues.

Yes, I do believe in God but find (Him, Her, It?) in other people and especially in the music. I respect your beliefs because they are deep inside and make you who you are. I don't think God needs to be worshiped. God just needs to be inside you because the gift of LIfe has to come from somewhere and what you do with it marks you as a human being.

I bring all this up because I went back to my old church for a Sunday service, Rather than one minister, they had three and the hour was much like a Broadway show. They had a small brass ensemble. a huge choir, and three 40 feet video screens where the words to the hymns were displayed as part of Jesus's robe blew in the wind with a shot of the upper right side of the cross. Remember, this is happening simultaneously on all three screens. I recognize that these and all churches have to compete with the contemporary world but found it all disturbing. If I am to be honest, there's probably nothing wrong with it but there was a LOT of money in that church including a gym, a music suite, and an entirely new set of buildings. Two giant satellite dishes set side by side. For this place to run, it had to cost millions.

I was watching very old women as they watched with eyes as dim as the kerosene light they grew up with. Maybe the same thing was running through their minds that  was going through mine.The very essence of Christianity is it's simplicity: "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You."  Wearing his white robe, the message remained the same from the "main preacher". If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, you will go to hell. Well, I'm here to tell you when i was 10 or so, I was saved more often than a porn file. When "Just as I Am" was played, about a dozen kids went down there because they were "scared to death".

I missed what I most remembered which was plain and simple times of open hymnals and open hearts. I missed seeing my breath in the air at Christmas after practicing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from "the Messiah", all the time fervently praying that I didn't do the extra "Hall..." at the end. It was always the music I remember the most. If you haven't heard one of those old hymns in 50 years, the words will never leave you. "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In The Garden" were sung almost every Sunday and then there was the kids character: "Gladly, The Cross-eyed Bear". The ones that were sung on this September Sunday were newer and more contemporary.

There were some wonderfully warm moments with two women who were adults when I was young.  Jimmy Gibbs brought his mother Velma who was so kind to me and was a member of the family.  Like just about everybody else, she chain-smoked when I knew her but kids know, you know. They feel kindness when it's there.

Lottie Robinson was there too and she used to babysit me at the church when I was really little. She was my mother's best friend. She's 90 now and had not forgotten anything.

The immediate surroundings have not changed all that much and for a moment it was easy to go back to 1950 where I would wait for my mother to change out of her maroon choir robe. I sat in our 49 Plymouth(to be mine 5 years later) and listen to the radio. She would drive us home where she would put an apron over her Sunday Best and fry that chicken. Daddy never went and I would cry myself to sleep as a kid because he wasn't "saved". That's a memory not easily forgotten.

They were of green hills and blue mountains but they followed me to California where now they lay in Inglewood Cemetery directly beneath the approach to LAX.

So I went back to church. But in spite of the brass and pageantry, the highly polished pews with velveteen seats, and the high tech presentations, the message was still basically one of fear. If you don't accept, you go to Hell.

It's really why I left.

Ron Lyons
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