This Present Darkness: Chapter 13

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So it’s Sunday morning and our little community church is meeting together. They are all small and fragmented and such but “Hank had to admit the whole atmosphere was more peaceful.” I’m not sure what to do with that. I mean, would it be more peaceful after an almost evenly split vote like that? Maybe if everyone in opposition left? I don’t know, I’m skeptical. Seems to me like this is the sort of thing that people keep talking about. Whatever. We get a list of people who are hanging out in their usual spot, including Duster who is feeling much better. Also some of the “not-so-actives were there for their usual once-a-month drop-in” and Hank makes it a point to give them “special glances” and smiles so they know they are noticed. Okay, I know he’s supposed to be being pastoral here but again, I think he sucks at it. Perhaps it would make more sense to just go up afterwards and chat with them rather than giving them all your seductive glances and shit. Okay special glances, whatever. Also, do people who only show up once a month really want you to notice them? Is that high on their priority list? I know this is a thing that evangelicals believe, that everybody is upset if they don’t get all the greetings but I can assure them that this is not true. Especially those kinds of greetings. And last but not least, it would be super awesome if Hank would stop thinking of people purely in terms of what they do wrong. Like the “not-so-actives” for example. I’m so tired of typing out hyphens.

So Mary plays piano (of course she does) and they’re singing hymns and new folks come in and sit in the back like you do. These are apparently the Forsythes, who I think the angels talked about on the list of people they were gathering. So I guess some people they were literally gathering.

Hank feels unexpectedly joyful this morning and he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s the new people or the vote or Grandma Duster being okay (I guess she’s Grandma Duster now) or maybe that giant blonde fellow in the back. He must be a football player. Sigh. So right now he can see the angel? Why? So he preaches and he preaches out of Isaiah 55, starting with “Seek the Lord while he may be found” and ending with “and all of the trees of the field will clap their hands.” No, I will not type out the whole thing. There are online Bibles, you can look it up. The point is apparently that Hank loves this section and gets all smiley and excited while he’s explaining it and some people are just staring and obligated but some people are leaning forward and super into it and the blond man even shouts an Amen. Sigh. Hank keeps getting words and figures it must be the anointing of the Spirit. Which is one of those weird things, God giving you words that aren’t your words and you know in most cases that’s a sign of psychosis maybe but in religion it is a sign of favor… it’s an odd thing.

The demons are upset and cringing, trying to cover the ears of the “people they owned.” Okay, so like they do own people and yet there’s no mention of guardian angels in here and nothing in this world makes any sense. Anyway. Hank’s sermon was as “soothing as a buzz saw to them.” I imagine that was true in general. I mean, it works weirdly both ways in this, right? Satan’s minions trying to cover the ears of their charges, God’s minions trying to open their hearts or whatever. It’s supposed to be different because I suppose the holy spirit is working for the angels rather than the angels doing it directly but I feel like it is less different than they think it is.

Also there is a weird little skirmish at the door where the angels refuse to back down when Lucius tries to bring reinforcements, says that they are just full the hell UP with demons and no more and they spit and yell at each other and Lucius stomps off cause he has better things to do and who wants in that stupid church anyway?

So after the sermon the people split with some people running for the door and some people running straight for Hank, which is kind-of a weird image to me but I guess it’s such a small church that maybe that’s doable. He meets the new blood, who are named Andy and June and Andy tells him how amazing that was and they find out about each other. Here is what they find out. Andy owns and runs a lumberyard, June is a legal secretary, and they have a son who is on drugs and needs the Lord. Um. Well, that’s a hell of a 5 minute conversation to have. Also they are newbie Christians themselves.

Then they explain some things that are bizarre and very hard to cope with on several levels. But none of them in the ways they expect. First they say that they left the United Christian church because they were “starving” and they heard about Hank getting in trouble for being so obnoxious with the Bible and they thought, here is a guy we must meet! Second off, there are many hungry people in this town and all the churches have died. But not really died, they’re all still there, just without preaching. They have friends who have dropped out of three or four churches, they name names. They tell Hank that there are many “sheep without a shepherd” (which are basically his number one turn on words) and that the churches around here “don’t preach the gospel.”

Now. I need to… okay. First off. This is one of these things where they are brand new Christians (well, relatively so) who magically know all the correct evangelical phrases for everything. Part of being born again is getting a new vocabulary, I guess. It’s just annoying. Also do they have any NON-Christian friends? Were they friends with them before or did they ditch their others?

More importantly, however. Where did all these other churches come from? This is literally the first time another church has ever been mentioned. Until this moment we had no reason to believe there were more than two churches in this town where the newspaper only comes out twice a week. Who goes to these churches? He makes a point of saying the money is there. Who pays for them? I thought all the money people were going to Young’s church?

Finally, what are the odds in any tiny town of have more than one liberal Christian church? I mean, seriously. Like there’s the UU’s, who haven’t even been mentioned. And maybe like another. But what are the odds of three or four churches in this place not preaching God’s word? And what does that mean anyway? Are they all preaching about saving the whales? Or are they teaching the Bible but it’s not “anointed?” Because I just cannot believe that this town would have more than one actually liberal church in it. Which we still don’t even really know what that means in Young’s case but assuming it is.

Right at this moment Mary walks up and she is very happy and is about to introduce Hank to… why where did he go? He was right here. That big blond man who was sitting in the back? He wanted her to tell Hank “the Lord is with you, keep praying and listening.” Andy asks what on earth they are talking about and they’re like you know, that hulking blond monster man sitting in the back row, right behind you. And then June’s eyes are giant and Andy starts laughing and clapping and almost dancing. Because you know what? They didn’t see anyone there. PRAISE THE LORD!

********

Okay I… just need to type out this first paragraph because it is disgusting and I can’t do it justice.

“Oliver Young was a real showman; he could work an audience right down to each tear or titter and time it so well that they became just so many puppets on a string. He would stand behind the pulpit with incredible dignity and poise, and his words were so well-chosen that whatever he was saying had to be right. The vast congregation (SERIOUSLY, you confusing jackass. How vast can it be???) certainly seemed to think so; they had packed the place out. Many of them were professionals: doctors, teachers, lawyers, self-proclaimed philosophers and poets; a very large segment was from or connected in some way with the college. They took fastidious notes on Young’s message, as if it were a lecture.”

I’m not even sure where to start with this except it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We didn’t get a rundown of the professions of the people at Ashton Community Church, just a list of names. Presumably they were just “good hardworking folk.” The one man we met had sort-of an upper blue-collar job. Owns and runs a lumber mill. His wife is a legal clerk. Okay money, for sure but they’re not super educated professionals. Not like these people. People who I have to assume, based on this paragraph and based on everything we’ve read so far, have been over-educated, have been sitting for years in those schools that we know are Satan’s strongholds. People who are too smart, value the wrong things. People who take notes on a sermon like it is a lecture. Which is an insane thing to point out in a critical light because… I knew many people who took notes on sermons. I didn’t because frankly who could care that much but a lot of people did. I always remember reading occasionally in places that you shouldn’t take your phone to church, shouldn’t be fact checking things. These were problems. But do you know how many factual errors were in my pastor’s sermons? He once preached, apparently completely sincerely, that Christianity was the fastest growing religion in the world. I stared at him for the longest time and was like that’s a lie. Like the simplest google search will tell you that’s a lie. And I did the simplest google search and it was! A lie! Or just that he couldn’t be bothered to look. Anyway. The point is that the disdain for these people in this paragraph is both disgusting and typical of much of the American Evangelical church and it turns my stomach.

So Marshall is in church being disdainful of everyone in it. He is bored by the sermon and so he’s thinking about all the questions he will ask Young when this nonsense is done.

Young is busy preaching about how there we are all inherently divine because God made us in his own image and again it is insane to me that there would be a church preaching this (much less the implication that it is all the churches) because anywhere I grew up that would be enough for people to at least mutter about picketing. Like it’s a big fucking deal, you don’t just bring new age mumbo jumbo into the church, certainly not that openly.

Sandy and Wonder Boy are in church because Wonder Boy said that he would go to church if Sandy would go with her folks and she agreed and Marshall has to admit that he seems to be having a good influence on her and is able to communicate with her in ways that Marshall cannot (low bar, man, low bar). “Shawn seemed a gentle sort with a real gift for refereeing.” Okay. Sure. Marshall is happy his family is together and in church but he does not feel good about this church and his daughter is one of the note-takers so you know that doesn’t bode well and he knows it would be easier to let everything be but he can’t do that because he is a Reporter. Sigh.

The service ended “punctually at noon” which again seems like a slam to me? I guess because Oliver has planned it all out and there’s no room for God or whatever? But most churches I ever went to ended pretty much at similar times because you know. Daycare and kids needed to eat and people liked their routines and honestly if the sermons ran over 20 minutes or so people got antsy. You want hour sermons you go to someplace like Mars Hill. That is unusual though and even they end at very set times (or did) because they had a ton of services.

So they go talk to Pastor Young and Marshall introduces him to Sandy and he’s so happy to see him and he TOTALLY KNOWS WONDER BOY, has known him since he was a tyke, presumably when he was brainwashing him into creepy submission. Marshall once again starts pushing the professor Langstrat thing once his family walks away, saying something about how his sermon sounds like things she says and it’s so awkward to imagine this because he’s trying to greet people and do his pastor thing and here’s Marshall at his arm being like “But don’t you meet with this evil woman once a week? DON’T YOU? DON’T YOU?” And he’s like heh… cute baby!

Finally Oliver says he must have misunderstood before, he totally knows who that is, yes many of them know her, not a big deal. Marshall pushes on the private sessions thing and Oliver gets annoyed because wtf, Marshall, there are not words for how none of your business this is. He asks him if there’s something specific he wants to know and Marshall insists this is his job and apparently everyone important goes to them so the people of Ashton totally want to know. Marshall, the people of Ashton do not care. He suggests maybe go as Langstrat herself and Marshall assures him he will but he wanted to give him a chance to answer first, to be HONEST.

Young’s voice got a bit strained. “Marshall, if I seem to be elusive it is because what you are trying to pry into is protected by professional ethics. It is privileged information. I simply hoped you would figure that out without my having to tell you.”

Of course there’s no REASON he couldn’t have told him that immediately because “privileged information” is not an embarrassing thing to hide but Marshall obviously doesn’t take this as anything, he backs away for now because Young is “cool, very tough and very slippery.” Marshall, you are the WORST.

******

Oh god, demons.

Okay, We’re going to rush through this because like most of this shit I don’t think it matters. Rafar is going to meet his masters or higher ups somewhere. There’s a giant ugly place with spiritual darkness. It’s in a mountainside. It’s very like… dragon’s cave sounding. There’s hundreds of demons.

When he comes inside he is announced so I guess it’s a palace of some kind. There’s a lot of terrible description of “evil swirling” in the room and the size of the demons all around him and how maybe he could not take them in a fight which we should be very impressed by because he is very big, as we know. So he meets up with The Strongman, which is the absolute worst name we’ve run into yet. It is not his real name because it is forbidden to speak his name. No, really. He’s not Satan but he’s super buddy, buddy with him. He’s gross looking. His hide hangs down. Lots of jewels.

Basically he gets all up in Rafar’s face about everything, Tal is in town and why the fuck hasn’t he taken care of shit and he should know better. Rafar tells him everything is going to be fine, he is totally good with Tal, they are in love and they will work it out. Also he’ll take care of the newspaper man because that’s so easy it barely even requires mentioning and the saints of god are not a concern and neither is the heavenly host and everything is COOL, man. Just chill out. So those were his orders somehow. It wasn’t orders so much as him telling him everything was fine.

Oh, also, in probably “important” news, we discover that The Strongman is confined in this mountain with all these demons somehow for some reason. And until they deal with this problem of Tal and stuff it’s going to stay that way. Is that The Plan? To get another giant demon out of a cave? Whatever. So then Rafar leaves and roars a lot and gets super hurt and angry because they just don’t trust him anymore and ever since that ONE TIME that Tal knocked him into the abyss for a while they make fun of him and won’t let him play reindeer games, but they will totally see when he and Tal work things out forever, they’ll see. He’ll be honorable again. Totally he will.

Also, by work things out, I guess he means that he will “gut Tal and scatter him in shreds and pieces across the sky” because angels and demons have WEIRD kinks. So does that mean angels can be killed? Or is it temporary? Who knows. Maybe we’ll find out someday.

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