I sat in the midst of them, right in the heart of the nest.
Probably about 300 of them tonight all packed into the church. Well, they call it a church but actually its more like a modern day concert hall. Australia doesnt really possess many buildings over a few decades old. I prefer it. The sombre cold unfriendliness of churches in England was enough to put any kid off God for life. Most especially since they were generally built on lies, and a lot of a blood. Bad history hung in an English church like a decaying last fart in a coffin.
There was an insanity here tonight though.
I had come to see the Machine Gun Preacher do his thing, the real live-in-the-flesh one, not the movie or the actor. For some reason I hadnt really considered that I was walking into the habitat of the Christian. Why? I guess I was overly excited at finding the flyer advertising his imminent arrival at a small church in Nowra just 30 minutes drive away. I had come across the flyer at a rummage sale. I'd wandered off into the kitchen of what appeared to be a site of religious service when not a rummage sale. There I saw the small pile of leaflets, picked one up, and was surprised, having just seen the film last week, that it was so quietly advertised. Even so, I just had to go, the missus, Miss P, was equally as excited.
So we went. Of course it wasnt advertised much because Christians dont need to advertise outside, they have their own network. God looks after his own. But fate had clearly intervened and put his message in my path. Sure, I am a spiritual sort, 'no atheists in a foxhole' right? but if truth be told, I consider my evolution to have passed through Christianity on the way to a more likely and experiential truth. I left Christianity behind aged about 13.
We met him at the door. The Preacher, not God. He was signing books and chatting. Again, the preacher, not God.
There weren't too many people, but what people there were, were those kind of people that seem somewhat intense, and have about them an air of self-righteous, falsity and cut-throatedness. Or maybe it was me. But they are out for themselves, you can smell it. I guess everyone is really, but not everyone uses the same methods as Christians to hide that fact. They feign 'the love of god' use it like a weapon to coerce others unto their will. They dont see it like that though. Due to an extended upbringing in a religious school, and subsequent personal realizations about the various 'truths' in the bible, and concern about just how easy it is to interpret anywhichway you like, I tend to get royally fucking annoyed by Biblically based God-botherers quite quickly.
I held my tongue.
Besides, the MG Preacher interested me.
'Can I get photo with you two' I asked and promptly iPhone snapped Miss P with Mr Sam Childers, aka the Machine Gun Preacher.
'Don't you want one?' she asked, after we had done.
'Nah' I replied.
'You are shy' she laughed. But I wasnt sure it was totally that, I just didnt need me to be in the whole super-star phenomena. I wanted to talk to the man. I wanted to measure his soul.
It took about 1 minute. He was a good bloke. Obviously tough, though I would say more in his convictions and general good-bloke-edness than as a fist flying, gun-slinging, Rambo, but then you could never be sure with people. He just looked like another chequer-shirted, dirty jeans, rather nicely tanned, Harley riding hill-billy of a yank with handlebar moustache akin to Yo-sammity-sam.
I didnt get time to ask him much, other than his take on the Kony affair. I had my suspicions about it all and he confirmed them; Kony was 7 year old news. Kony was never the real problem, the problem today was President Bashir in Sudan with planes, bombs and oil. and the US had just dropped 10,000 'peace-keeping' troops into the country.
So my suspicions that 90 percent of the problem actually came from the demand in the West for slaves/diamonds/oil, was confirmed.
'...My friend in Uganda says...' I was burst in upon, and the conversation hi-jacked by some red-head behind me. She was clearly taking over and muscled in without any kind of acknowledgment to my existence. I stepped back. At the same time, a tall young man in hat and glo-jacket, suggesting he worked at the church, muscled in from the other direction.
'I just have to say, you are crazy man, but total respect to you' he said to MGP.
I stepped back further, it was like being mobbed by pecking seagulls going in on my bag of chips I had just let drop. I had that sudden sense of indignation at being usurped, but put it bed quite quickly. It was the Christian thing to do.
We stepped into the main hall, and walked down the front to take up a good seat. And it was within ten minutes that I realised we had taken up roost right in the midst of the heart of them. In fact I think we had taken someones reserved chairs as a couple of people came by and shook my hand, pausing for a moment as if wanting me to say something. I just smiled, lazily and ignored them. Then the pastor came to sit on one side of us with his wife, and a little after MGP turned up, and sat in the seats next to him, and then two more , very vocal, inner-circle, 'personal friends of god', sat beside us on the other side and took to shouting things like 'Praise be the lord' and 'hallelujah' or 'Jesus, yes Jesus hears you Lord' really loudly any time anything happened that remotely gave them the excuse to make an exhibition of themselves, I realised my error in seating choice.
Every few seconds it went off, right in my ear. 'Praise Jesus' 'God loves you' . I had a mind to tell them to shut the fuck up, I knew Christians wouldnt have the balls to throw me out, but I was in their nest, and it was their safari. Even so, it seemed annoying and false to be shouting at God all the time. It was so Evan-fucking-gelical. And was a twenty second reminder of what horse-shit people are willing to believe if you can get them to do it en-masse.
After the Christian band finished, during which time everyone stood up and sang except me and Miss P, I could always count on her for some satanic rebeliousness, the Pastor cut a few jokes about him becoming the 'shotgun preacher' and then played the trailer for MGP - the film, afterwhich he gave the stage to the man himself.
'God be praised!' I muttered.
He said a few things about his current situation, his businesses including restaurants in Ethiopia, a motorcycle work-shop in US, a clothing line in US, a security firm in Uganda...this guy was like Richard Branson on the quiet.....and how all of them were doing so well it was enough to be able to fund all these other charities as a result and all of this was....because of his relationship with God.
'This all began' he said, 'When God spoke to me and he said - Sam, you have got to go to Africa'
He said it in a way that couldnt be misinterpreted and he repeated it and made sure we all knew it really was God that spoke to him.
And it was at that moment that I realised just why I had come, really.
I found myself in a quandry right then.
It was the way he said it. With absolute conviction in his eyes that God actually spoke to him and told him to go to Africa. I had measured this guy, and I generally had some good radar like that. I liked him, I felt I could have a normal conversation with him, I felt he was on the same mental level. I felt you couldn't pull the shit over his eyes, and sell him some crap. He had been in fights, got down and dirty in life, done the druggery, the thuggery, who knows maybe even the buggery too but when he found God he hadnt turned into some total nut job. He was clearly still a normal person you could tell from talking to him. Until that sentence came out of his mouth.
It carried so much with it. Think about it.
'When God spoke to me and he said - Sam, you got to go to Africa'
So God actually leaned down from his cloud and spoke, God being a white man and dressed in a white tunic with a long beard and chummy disposition if you are one of his sheep of course, and spoke directly into your ear? Are you having a fucking laugh mate !
I was in the midst of a turmoil.
On the one hand I had read this guy and he didnt seem to me to be a bullshit artist, and yet here he was telling us all that God actually spoke to him.
God actually spoke to the Yorkshire Ripper too, and most of the other serial killers and told them to do what they did.
Saying God told me to do it, was a fucking psycho statement not to be taken seriously and generally hinted at Uber-meglomania.
But my usually rather excellent radar was not triggering with this guy, he was straight up genuine enough to mean what he said.
I was spinning, this did not compute, what was going on.
'God be praised' came up from one of the zealots behind me.
'I hear you Lord, oh yes I feel you there, hallelujah!' came up from another
MGP ramped it up a gear on the stage. Pacing now, preaching it up. Hill billy styleee. The crowd was going with him. Lapping it up.
I turned to look back , nods of approval. people shaking their heads in alignment to his words. hands in the air here and there. Some standing, swaying in his miracle glow. Those looks in the eyes that I never now how to adequately describe, but somehow suggested a total self-delusion on an egotistical scale way beyond anything the mind can self-detect, and supported, endorsed by a multitude of other fakes, all with their own agendas.
These are NOT my people. I was thinking, and turned back around.
Something was happening inside me. It felt like the fuckers were hypnotising me. It was that need to belong, that feeling you wanted to be part of your fellow man's community, not left out alone in the cold of the universe, and you would do anything to make them welcome you in. I felt it tug at me. I felt alone, I felt inexplicable fear churn up from within, I felt alone there in the midst of all of it. preying on my sense of abandomment. I suddenly was really alone, and small, in the big, cruel universe and needed a hug. shit! It was getting to me. This is how the church got them all. Believing in the fear. Fuck this. I shut my eyes. Went to the place I knew, the place I had learnt to go to survive the tough.
not more bullshit.
Aaaah, that was better.
It was all ok really. I didnt have to believe in their Goddy agenda and shit, just because they all did. They werent going to attack me. Besides none of them really knew that I was not one of them. So long as I shut the fuck up, it was all going to be ok.
Once I had calmed a bit, I opened my eyes again, and started to listen once more.
'And God said to me, Sam, you got to go and build this restaurant in Ethiopia....'
Oh, for fucks sake !
But I was stabilising in the midst of the nonsense. And it brought it up for me again; the real reason I was there.
I am not against the idea of God. I just have issues with 99 percent of the people who spout about religion. Sometimes I come across someone I think is genuine, following a belief like MGP, into their convictions. They are generally leaders of people, ploughing fearlessly into the unknown and following their destiny. These people interest me. Malidome Some, Martin Pretchtel are examples, and now Sam Childers. Sometimes they are God botherers. I dont hold that against them as such, but I want to know what gives them that conviction. That was why I was there. I needed to find my conviction, my drive. I lacked it in life. And I had noticed that when someone believed in God, they had that conviction.
I was there because I could relate to MGP in lifestyle, then he had had a change that led him to an unflinching conviction. unshakeable. He thought it was God. maybe it was. I wanted to know.
I needed to find that conviction which I lacked. I knew this was a fact because there was a bunch of stuff I wanted to do in my life , that I just couldnt do, simply because I could not find the conviction to sustain them in the way they needed. Music was a perfect example. I didnt do it much because I lacked conviction in it. I had lost it along the way.
But it was in hearing the conviction from Sam that it was 'God talking to him', that I hit a massive inner conflict. Such statements were untenable to me. It was nonsense. God didnt talk to people. But when people, like Sam, said they did, it gave them access to that unflinching conviction. It was the drive to do what they had to do.
It helped if they were part of a community, like that of the Christians, that then supported it. This was all kind of smacking of delusion on a grand scale, to enable you to believe in yourself. It wasnt good enough for me. I couldnt kid myself with that. But it seemed like Sam could. Yet. the contradication came in the fact that I sensed this guy would not lie to himself on that level.
So what was going on ? I wasnt totally sure, but it was clearly time for me to go in search of some answers. Fate had made it so, brought me here tonight to witness this conundrum.
It was time for me to go looking for God.