Bible Belted Black and Blue

by Bob Sherod

This presentation was delivered to the congregation of Mountain Light UUC on 2009 April 19.

Originally I was going to call this "You are the Bible", but there is only one title: "Bible Belted Black and Blue". I am not knocking the "Good Book". After all it has unbelievable power, and therein lies the problem. Wherever there is power there is abuse. They go together like love and arranged-marriage.

I was not from the Bible Belt, but both of my parents were. My father was from the Deep South, Thomasville, Georgia, and my mother was from Jerry Falwell Country, Virginia. My dad totally absorbed the harder virtues: courage, persistence, thoroughness, and accuracy but expressed few of the softer ones like patience and acceptance. The men on his side of the family were fighters both with the fists and during the Civil War with the gun. One of them got shot in the areas I had the most trouble after my stroke: the head and the foot.

My mom had her tender side, but could rarely see beyond her obsession with morality, laying awake nights worried about naked animals running thru the woods. Her father invented a machine gun, but someone stole the patent. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Both of my folks parlayed their religious values into successful careers. My father became a hard shell news reporter covering the bloodiest battle in World War II, Tarawa. He emerged unscathed and with a best seller to boot.

Our home in Washington, DC was lined with war books. Boom! Boom! Boom! My mom rose from a sickly child with rheumatic fever to become a fashion commentator on radio, with no body there running naked thru the woods.

This mix of Bible and violence and morals didn't really hit me until about the 4th grade when I heard a radio program in which this man goes berserk in church and runs up the aisle and stabs the preacher in the heart in the middle of his sermon. I didn't enjoy my Episcopal church for a long time after that, afraid that might happen to me. I didn't carry a knife. I couldn't reach the preacher's heart and didn't have the strength to penetrate.

Possibly something else bothered me. It was a high church, with the preacher high in the pulpit, with sometimes a far away voice. God at a Distance… unreachable as if you have to make an appointment to see Him.

I think this distancing is a major sin and technology feeds into it: dropping bombs instead of hand-to-hand combat, talking on your cell phone making hair-pin turns at 90 miles an hour and instead of love letters in the sand, tail by e-mail. The Episcopal church, however, is at the forefront of most major changes among traditional churches: the first Female Bishop, the first Black Cardinal. It is a sound church, but did not have enough personal touch to sustain me through some rough times.

Unable to follow instructions at all, the US army was my Waterloo. I received an honorable discharge but experienced combat fatigue as a finance clerk, the easiest duty in the military. What do you do when you have shot nerves and no church? You sell everything you have to Follow Freud.

vMy problems did not exactly shrink down to nothing, but I got something from it. My grip on morality subsided some, and I no longer sweated naked animals running thru the woods. My berserk fears reappeared after I read in the newspaper about a man gunning down about 10 Innocent victims in the post office. All of a sudden I am almost afraid to mail a letter, but then this sinister smile spreads across my lips, and I think "maybe they weren't so innocent after all "Maybe they were a few guilty ones." I imagine pulling out a submachine gun and spraying the joint, laughing like Jack Nicholson, eyes shining.

For some strange reason the fear subsided. (Maybe I could see how silly it was. So instead of cops and robbers why not berserk gunmen and innocent victims.)

My church hang-ups weren't over, however. Around 1970 there I am at the alter in the Episcopal Church taking communion and imagine "Screw You" written on the soles of my shoes for all the congregation to see. (Better than stabbing the preacher.) I have heard other people say they get strange thoughts and feelings in formal church settings. It was more a reflection of Suburban Sprawl than church. It marked my going from religion to spirituality which soon I found in the Anonymous Programs.

Most of those in The Anonymous programs have been Bottle Belted Black and Blue with founder Bill Wilson gleaning many of his ideas from the New Testament. I did not have a drinking problem but was in Skid Row emotionally. The Anonymous programs had one thing I never knew existed — Acceptance. I knew about top ten, supreme court, man of the year, yard of the month, but not Acceptance.

The anonymous programs are ideal for those who go too fast in the fast lane, but how about those who go too slow in the slow lane. There is Norman Vincent Peale, Reverent Ike, The Secret, Zig Ziglar – and of course metaphysical religions like Unity, Science of Mind, and possibly Christian Science. These are powerful disciplines, but they focus so much on the high and the mighty, they forget about the down and the dirty, Freud's territory.

At any rate I got into the Church of Religious Science and got a false sense of confidence and quit my limited job to be a free lance writer. I was not entirely ready for the change which indirectly lead to my stroke in l977. (Bible Belted Black and Blue metaphysically.) Thank God the metaphysical churches are excellent for physical healing as I went from one in ten to live to a fairly normal life style in a few months and ultimately to finishing the Peachtree Road Race l7 times.

Religious Science, Christian Science, and Unity view all parts of the body as a spiritual component, and practitioners heal themselves first before the client. The key to all this is to reduce the ego least you get Bible Belted Black and Blue.

There are self-improvement disciplines which include both the High and The Mighty and The Down and The Dirty like the Escalen institute which took the dynamics of group therapy and applied them to well people. So instead of going from insane, barely functioning, you go from normal to spectacular. Their Bible Belting included ruthless honesty and the encounter group. Like Freud it does get down into childhood trauma, but in doing so you make a new decision about your life. Instead of "I will never get a man or woman; you declare I will get at least fifteen."

I went on an encounter weekend in 1970, and although I benefited greatly, when I got home, I never wanted to be phony so much in all my life.

Werner Erhard's EST also featured both the highest and the lowest using the corporate concept with its trainings in hotel ball rooms, with over 100 people. It had a lot of Zen, only instead of a master snapping you with a stick the trainer calls you an asshole. From Enlightenment to Insultenment, I suppose. EST had one idea which is the crux of this talk, and that is you must experience something past present and future to be fully alive. Both the best and the worst.

I used this tactic one Peachtree when my legs tightened up terribly after a nasty fall. At a particular intersection instead of trying so hard to keep my balance, I just imagined falling face down on the sidewalk, and once I did that the fear broke, my legs loosened up, and I had a good race. (Somewhat the same principle as going berserk in the post office.)

I hit the jackpot in the early 1980's at a Sufi Healing Conference in the Mountains of North Carolina with spiritual heavyweights from all over the world. I was introduced to yoga where I thought you just made a pretzel of yourself and hummed.

I attended Yogaville, an ashram near Charlottesville, Virginia in l984-85. It was a spiritually tight community, somewhat like a monastery, only a lot more colorful with healthier food and smiling faces. My job was to glean quotes for the publication. I learned about yogic powers, siddhis, and did my media mind go wild. Levitation, moving objects with your mind, mental telepathy sure beats blasting away in the post office for newsworthiness.

Proof of Yogaville's effectiveness was my finishing my first Peachtree after I left, in 1985. I had failed twice previously.

None of this "Enlightenment" seemed to help me supplement my disability which I had to do driving a cab one night a week in downtown Atlanta. Sometimes my left foot would hook under the brake making the job doubly dangerous. I was getting increasingly irritated at the young Rap fans and threatened to put them out of my cab, making it triply dangerous.

I finally beat the Rap by moving to Maysville, Georgia about 65 miles NE of Atlanta. Maysville is the Bible Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt. There is nothing else to do there. So I read the Holy Bible from cover to cover, not missing a single name or number.

This showed me why the Jews are so good with money and why we have so many Jewish doctors. The New Testament accuses them of killing Love, so they must go to other dimensions of the mind – like Leviticus where they are always examining things and like Numbers which gets you in trouble. "Like put a Number on you, the Numbers racket. I am all for a New and Improved Testament proving everyone gets the Cross – Some The Double Cross.

I received a healthy inheritance in Maysville and like the Prodigal Son blew it in the Big City, and then in 1997 returned once again to small town life: Bible Belted Black and Blue. "The first church I see in Ellijay I am going to," I tell myself. It was the Catholic Church… "The second church I see I am going to…" It was the Pentecostal. "The third church I see I am going to…" It was First Methodist, and I stayed there about three years. They visited me regularly in Fannin Regional and helped me get back on my feet at home. I left when they began playing musical ministers.

Don't get me wrong. The Catholic Church and Pentecostal churches have healed and helped a lot of people. They are just not for me. (God at a Distance?)

I went God hopping for about three years when here comes 9-11 and about eight of us come crashing into Mountain Light. About five of us stayed a few years but then asbestos got the rest of us. I am the only nine-elevender who attends regularly, but even then I play hooky every once in a while, and I am pretty darn heretic about it, making up my mind to really get something out of a traditional service. In fact doing this sparked the idea for this talk. I never could understand it when they said "Jesus died for you… He shed His blood for you… He bore your sins on the cross."

And then the magic word popped in my mind. Inoculation. Isn't that what happens when you go overseas and get a shot. You are getting a small dose of the disease so your immune system can fight off its full punch later on. So I believe Jesus took the brunt of our shortcomings so we could be ready for what came later. Jesus experienced people at their best and at their worst. When someone experiences who you really are you feel acceptance. So Jesus accepted all parts of humanity and of himself also.

And what was His reward? You guessed it, the Cross. So let's narrow that Distance we have been talking about. Let's go to the Cross. With the economy the way it is you will have to supply your own nails. But our Cross-Carrying caddies are knocking 20 pounds off the weight of each cross.

Any volunteers? I will go into the past and show how it is done. My Crucifixion date was the summer of l972. I had just been published in The Atlanta Magazine after three failed attempts. Plus the publication had assigned me an article, leaving space in a future issue for me. My mind was all Palm Sunday. I could see the check, the by-line and becoming an established freelance author. Famous with women hanging all over me at cocktail parties. Jubilation! Everything but palm leaves and riding around on a donkey.

But then when I had all my notes in front of me, and was all ready to write, the Pharisees in my head ganged up on me. "Too wordy… Too awkward… Weak verb… Showoff adjective… Insubordinate clause… Errors all over the place. You will probably get sued… You will be held in disgrace.

On the other hand my Dudley Do Right side tried to come to my aid. "Your honor is at stake… You gave your word… They did not deceive you… They paid you didn't they?… Your reputation is at stake."

It finally came to a trial. The Pharisees verses the Dudley Do Rights. Then here come da judge. Here come da judge. He reviews all the evidence, all the pros and cons. He shrugs his shoulders and says: "Whatever."

Then his Barabas cat comes up to me and says, "Hey, Bob let's go out and kill a few." The Dudley Do Rights break out into loud sobs. The Pharisees think about what laws we might break.

Barabas and I kill more than a few and three days go by and one to go before deadline, article virtually untouched. Barabas and I play tennis. I rupture my Achilles tendon charging the net, and they have to drag me off the court. Barabas talks me into going to a church function that night and the minister asks my hearts desire. No problem. "Finish that article I practically scream." The Dudley Do Right Cells cheer.

When I get home I collapse in my chair, my work in front of me. My leg hurts so bad I can't get up and get coffee, or thumb thru magazines or make phone calls. I am nailed to my commitment. Article due that morning. Still I manage to fall fast asleep and when I do so my head drops and my nose hits one of my typewriter keys. Click!

"Great story," Barabas cheers. "Why don't you hand that in. They wanted it short and to the point. Let's go and kill a few more brews. Then go and drink up your check."

I finally kick him out of my apartment, and tackle that article again, but fall sound asleep. I am Dead to the World. I go down deep into my subconscious mind. I come to this cave guarded by muscular cats with arms folded. I hear this booming voice:


So I go down deeper into my subconscious. I find another cave at whose mouth are three beautiful women. I see a sign in front. "You must be born again."

Once again this booming voice: "NO ROOM IN THE WOMB. NO ROOM IN THE WOMB."

I wake up with a jolt, blink my eyes a few times and then finish that article in about an hour. One draft!

I proof it. "Not bad," I say, and smile: "the Crisis within, it doeth the works."

So the morale of this tale is no matter how bad things get remember you are not being picked on, tried, tested, Bible belted black and blue… You are being inoculated.

And no matter how obnoxious the person is. They are giving you your "Who Shots."

Delivered on 2009 April 19 at Mountain Light UUC. Use of this sermon, in whole or in part, is prohibited without the express permission of the author.