According to Google, my trip should have taken 17 hours. It took almost 23. Google doesn't take into account stopping, getting gasoline, buying a fish burger on the run at Burger King or what have you. Once I hit the midpoint of PA, I couldn't find a hotel to stay in for the night. In most, guys in mud-spatted Jeeps were wrenching in the parking lot and getting heroically drunk. In others, there was a fishing tournament clogged with boats from every North-eastern state and at least three provinces. So I drove through the night, not even remembering what I said to customs.
Yes, I drove. I didn't want the expense, but more that I wanted to see the east coast as much as I've seen the west coast. The trip took me through South Carolina, where I stopped at a farm stand and bought an Amish cure-all, sampled some peach cider and took a handful of CDs from a local church. I stopped in North Carolina where they had a fantastic humidor, but missed out on the huge outlet shop which the humidor replaced. I saw Virginia, the absolute majesty of the mountains as the road snaked through them. The light started to fall as I crossed through West Virginia and Maryland - and probably will see Pennsylvania and New York State on the way back. I wanted to see them during the day, but as time dragged on I just fought fatigue and made it to my destination on fumes.
I had intended on wearing out Sirius XM enroute, but out of curiosity's sake popped in the first CD I got from the church. I love listening to sermons - a good, well thought out lecture or story based on a Bible verse can be quite intriguing. It takes a lot of work to write a good sermon, and most roll their eyes and sleep with their eyes open once the preacher gets started.
I spent many hours listening to the rest.
This pastor was clearly kicked out of his church, and his group founded their own church, moving the entire congregation to a renegade Baptist convention. This I learned over hours and hours of listening to the life story woven into the invective as the miles ticked by. As much as I learned about his theology and the points he made about the Old Testament, I heard in his own personal story.
In the Episcopal Church and others, there's a lectionary year. Your sermons, therefore, are usually based on the readings of the day. But in the Baptist world the topic is typically something at random, or based on some other criteria. So it was novel for me to hear a Sermon based on an idea, referenced by different Scriptures. Also, their emphasis on the Old Testament - because after all, that's where God does his smiting.
I had never really and truly heard a fire and brimstone, hellfire sermon in all its terrifying glory. "THE WORST PLACE ON THE EARTH IS WHERE GOD TURNS HIS BACK ON YOU! WHEN HIS MERCY RUNS OUT! HIS LONG SUFFERING RUNS OUT! AND YOU ARE LOST FOREVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER! AND EVER!" Tables pounded, neck veins straining, voice screaming in impossibly louder and louder and louder ejaculations of righteous fury. Sobering stuff.
I mean, the whole concept of Hell is something that a lot of the more liberal traditions skate on, but Jesus' take on it is not one of punishment, or obeisance, or what have you - he likened the world, in the absence of God, to slide towards entropy, destruction. That there is something in this world that mixes the good with the bad, the evil with the holy. And at some point, the one has to be separated from the other. The metaphors used are burning garbage, and separating wheat from chaff, or wheat from tares. Jesus told his followers NEVER to fear - but to take his hand and trust in him, as one would throw out a hand to someone in the ocean to pull him to safety in a life raft.
Preaching like that on the CDs makes God out to be a monster - some kind of tyrant who orders you to get right with him, or be tortured forever. As Bill Hicks once mocked, "Thank you, loving God... for all those... options."
That being said, some of what the man said was insightful, and I learned some of the corner cases of the Bible into which we rarely go. I drew different conclusions from him from them - but I don't fault the man for trying to save his flock and others from what he believes to be a horrible fate. Even the most condemning, fire-breathing preacher is working out of some kind of love. They genuinely believe that most are headed for an awful doom and are trying to save others.
So I got out some good writing paper and my fountain pen and wrote him a letter, thanking him for making his sermons available. We may differ in terms of method, outlook, theology, and approach - but we both still care very deeply for the world and the obligation to spread the Kingdom.
Another node is coming on my thoughts on this, but it was sobering to listen to an alternative viewpoint. It really brought home to me why so many respond to even the barest mention of the word Christian with visions of fear, hatred, vitriol and condemnation.