Life is Fiction: Does God Have A Hit Man?
June 6, 2012
The good reverend had come to Bangs, Texas, although no one could quite figure out why, with all of God’s creation and handiwork in the world, the good reverend had chosen to gather his flock and await the Lord’s return to earth on one of the most godforsaken patches of terrain left on earth.
It didn’t make sense. Of course, some didn’t think the good reverend made a lot of sense either. But he had seen the vision. He had heard the voice of God in the stillness of the night. And the voice told him to go to Bangs. The end time was at hand.
Bangs looked like the end of time: alkali hills, scrub brush, scrub grass, dry creeks, a land that settled for two inches of rain when the world was destroyed by flood, a country so hot that if you saw a dog chasing a rabbit during August, chances are both were walking.
The good Reverend Heze Terrell had traveled the highways and back roads of America, preaching beneath, he said, the largest white tent in the world. It would hold as many as five thousand sinners a night, and he kept it full.
He had begun his ministry during the 1960s with a sad little caravan of broken down cars and pickup trucks, and now he was driving a Mercedes and had his own airplane.
God had been good to Brother Terrell. No. Brother Terrell had been good to Brother Terrell. He called himself the end time messenger and a modern-day prophet of God. He was big on the prediction business, which is why he had left the main road and wound up in Bangs.
The good reverend had experienced a revelation. He had seen the vision. The Lord is coming back, he said. Or Russia is sending its bombs to destroy America, he said. Either way, only here and with me can you survive a great tribulation.
The message to his followers was as simple as the Ten Commandments. Sell everything you have, he told them. Sell your home. Sell your car. Bring God the money and give it to me. It’s time to start anew. And, by the way, if you leave this tent with a dime left in your pocket, you will drop dead before you get home.
So they become poor. And the good reverend became rich. And they all journeyed together up the long winding road from Brownwood and into the empty pasturelands of Bangs. And they came by the hundreds from all regions of the nation, and the folks in town simply shook their heads and called chosen ones who made their way to and from the big white tent each night Terrellites. God have mercy on their souls.
Brother Terrell sold small lots of land to his legion of disciples for eight hundred to twelve hundred dollars a plot. But he wouldn’t give them a title. He made them pay their own taxes. And when they died, the land would revert back to the church.
Thus spake the good Reverend David Heze Terrell.
The Terrellites were in a quandary. They feared God. They feared the Russian bombs. But most of all, they feared David Heze Terrell. His was the voice of wrath.
The voice of wrath made the sheriff mad, and he made life as miserable as he could for David Heze Terrell.
“I’m not gonna let him get away with it,” the sheriff told me one afternoon.
“With what?” I asked
“Stealing,” he said.
“Fornicating,” he said.
“Can you name the Ten Commandments?” the sheriff asked.
I told him I could.
“The preacher’s broke every one of them,” he said.
“Can you prove it?”
The sheriff grinned. “If he hangs around long enough I can,” he said.
When the good reverend walked the streets of Bangs, the sheriff was right behind. When he stood to preach at night, he was staring at the sheriff who was staring back from the darkness just outside the tent. When he passed the collection plate, the sheriff was watching each dime that bounced and each dollar piling up. When he drove away at night, he could see the headlights of the sheriff’s car trailing after him in the shadows. He was always there. Back in the shadows. Always watching the con man, the scoundrel, the performer, the prophet.
One night, the good reverend closed his Bible and suddenly quit preaching about God. He stood in the pulpit, raised his hands, and condemned the sheriff. “If he doesn’t leave us alone,” Brother Terrell said, “God will strike him down.” He paused for effect. “God will strike him dead,” he said.
I walked with the sheriff away from the tent after the last soul had been saved, re-saved, and resigned to become a Terrellite and asked him, “Are you concerned?”
He shook his head.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I’ve spent a good deal of time reading the New Testament in my life,” he said. “I’ve searched the scriptures from one end to the other.”
“Find anything important?” I asked.
“God don’t hire out as a hit man.” He grinned.
The end of the world did not come to Bangs, although few in town would have recognized the difference. The Russian bombs did not arrive either. The good reverend also prophesied that Richard Nixon would commit suicide over the Watergate scandal. He prophesied that Pope John Paul II would die less than a year after taking office. He prophesied that America would suffer a nuclear war. He prophesied that the planet Mars, for whatever reason, would explode.
The good Reverend David Heze Terrell was big on the predicting business. It’s just that none of his prophecies ever came to pass.
He saw visions. He had revelations. But none of them had anything to do with the IRS. They should have. The sheriff said he would be able to prove something if the good reverend hung around long enough. Tax fraud was as good as anything.
Brother Terrell thought he had a cash business. Love offerings was what he called them. People just kept putting money in buckets and the pockets of an apron he wore while he was preaching. Surely love offerings were tax exempt. They weren’t. The sheriff was keeping count.
The good reverend woke up one morning and found himself surrounded by white concrete walls instead of a white tent, and the whole place was filled with sin and sinners and lost souls to save. There was only one problem, and it cut Brother Terrell deeply to the bone. They were as broke as he was, and what good was a soul without a price tag?