The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
G.K Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World
At 09:30 am the bed would creak as their father roused from slumber, by 9:50am he’d be scratching his way towards the kitchen at which point the two children would bolt out of the house like fine bred stallions at the Races.
Dusty flip flops hanging off their feet they’d only stop for air once reaching the safety of their neighbour’s cassava patch, a well-practised move repeated every Sunday. This morning the elder child told the younger, “You didn’t brush your hair, here, squish these,” handing the younger sibling an assortment of green leaves. The younger child rubbed the leaves together forming jelly sap which she ran through her hair. The older child was nine, her petite features and short stature made her look the same age as her five-year-old sister.
From their hideout they saw their neighbour pour out some water from the cooking pot. That was her first dish done, boiled cassava, which meant that almost an hour had passed since their dash. It was time for their arrival. They entered the old wooden church which sat on short stilts just as the pastor was praying over the collection.
Making a beeline for the back pew they proceeded to plonk their little butts on the tiniest empty spaces when the eagle-eyed church usher walked towards them like the parting of the red sea; large, intimidating and languorous. He pointed out two empty spaces in the first pew that would accommodate their buttocks generously and marched the two children there. They walked obediently hoping all eyes were still closed in prayer especially their mothers.
They had timed this Sunday well. Only the sermon was left which would take an hour; unless of course the bald former policeman who took the sermon three weeks ago was back. In that case he would take two because his sermon included all the thieves, murderers, fornicators and idolaters he had arrested during his long spanning career. There were lots of people in hell, the two children were sure of this. They spent the rest of that Sunday afternoon trying to figure out who they knew would be there.
This pastor who was about to take the pulpit looked promising. He had a full set of hair and his superior follicle genes ensured that he even had a full growth above his upper lip. A man can’t be too perfect so to balance this off he had weak eyes which were covered by thick bottom-of-coke-bottle glasses. The children shifted uncomfortably in their seats when he glared down at the congregation, his pupils magnified through the lens.
The sermon this Sunday was on the woman caught in adultery. Again, they did not know what this meant but from the pastors tone she was probably headed for hell as well. They wondered if the retired bald policeman had once arrested her too.
Mr. Coke bottle glasses was a good story teller. He relayed how the adulteress was caught (but not by that policeman) and was being dragged out in the city square. The crowd judged her picking up any rock they could find “…stones, rocks, boulders” yelped the Pastor. As his tempo increased the stones increased in size and so did his pupils. The younger child who had vivid imagination got on her tiny jandaled feet and shouted at the Pastor, “Maqa U’a” (No Don’t).
There was a hush in the church. The usher walked towards the younger child and as he did the older child got on her feet as well, arms outstretched protecting her little sister.
The walk home after the service did not include their normal stop at the corner shop. As soon as they reached home their mother imploded, “Your children will be the death of me”, directed at her husband. She was an eloquent speaker relaying events accurately albeit hilariously.
When she reached the bit where “…both their arms stuck out like chicken wings to match their chicken hair…” the children could not contain themselves and rolled on the floor with laughter.
“Get me the belt,” said the father (before you call social services keep in mind this was Fiji in the 80’s where belting was a way of life, but everyone lived.)
The belt was fetched and the younger one resembled an inebriated demon possessed man.
“Au na mate, Au sa mate”, (I will die, I am dead) she screamed even before the belt landed on her behind.
By the second strike she was on the on the ground yelling in broken English what the pastor had said at the end of his sermon, “If you no shin, cast the stone”.
The children’s father dropped the belt, hugged them and said he was the last to cast any stones.
You see life was a series of choices, he said, religion was a choice and the choice were theirs. That the Jesus their father had experienced was one who stood in church and disrupted the status quo. Jesus had allowed his faith and ideals to be scrutinized, tested and trialled said their father, but some modern churches which carry His name hesitate to do the same. They judge rather than love those that make different choices to them and that is why people like him had chosen to spend Sunday alone.
So, it was that crazy day in church back in the 80’s that taught those girls the beauty of choice. The now grown women have a religion that had not been forced on them but the result of wrongly casting many stones and finding that the Godly ideals they held could be tested and trialled and not found wanting.
Food for thought
Why do we Christians drive others away? My mother if fond of saying “Maybe our lifestyle is the killer”.