When reading my hometown paper this week I came upon the Obituary Section and read that one of my old high school teachers has passed on. I knew "Mr. B." fairly well, and remember him as something of a cold fish, a hard ass teacher with a streak of the anal retentive in him. I don't believe I ever saw him smile and I don't ever remember when he wasn't defending the hard and fast mandates of "the rule", never granting exceptions for human foibles. In reading the Obit, I learned that Mr. B. retired to a second career as a preacher. That got me to thinking about some hard facts about religion and why churches so often miss the opportunity to connect with young people while they are still impressionable, while one might touch these young souls and move them toward a life of meaning and productivity. And why teachers often succeed in doing this with far greater success than preachers.
I saw that Mr. B. had retired from teaching and turned to preaching in one of those "brimstone and hell fire" churches that insists that all humans, absent the grace of repentance, absent from the rite of baptism, and absent the word of God, are bound for the hot embers of hell. How fitting. Mr. B. had already began to practice that cold and hard treatment of his fellows while teaching the basics of General Business to high schoolers.
And how sad that Mr. B. couldn't summon up compassion and understanding for young impressionable students who are more than capable of being inspired toward being better human beings. I think back on those handful of teachers in my life, teachers who made a difference, who inspired me to a love for life long learning, who, through their own dedication, left lasting positive impressions still relevant half a century later.
If our church leaders were only that capable! And please understand, I'm not condemning all churches or all organized religions! I'm speaking of those churches who must remind you daily just how filthy is your soul, how corrupted is your heart, those churches that always assume the worst of the human condition, and fail to see the beauty our creator instilled in all of us! Sadly, too many of these churches reap just what they sow! They produce flocks who, through fear of condemnation, show up every Sunday, revel in the rants, the fire and brimstone blatherings, then return home to embrace a hate for anyone who won't march in their own personal versions of a salvation band!
It is true that some churches and some preachers teach the tenants of love and forgiveness, who reach out to the homeless, to those who've strayed too far from a platform of simple human decency, who offer comfort and solace to the sick and sick-hearted. Bless them! Those that offer a "Sunday shelter" from the savagery of everyday life, who exist to establish a circle of love for their parishioners are to be praised and commended.
Yet, too many churches today espouse a hard, cruel road to heaven, who condemn other churches whose beliefs differ from their own, who breed hate for others who prefer a more secular but still loving lifestyle. I believe that's so sad because they alienate as many people as they "collect".
So, I sit here this morning, reading the obituary of a long ago teacher, a teacher who failed to make a connection with me, who believed in the "straight and narrow", who was not inclined to round up the "lost sheep" as Jesus himself might have done. Instead, it was the more secular teachers who dwell fondly in my heart, who reached out to me and touched my heart through their benevolence toward their fellow men.
I guess I've learned that hell fire and brimstone may work for a small child, or an adult with less intellect, less capable of personal reflection...but it's not a strong sale for those of us who spend a lifetime contemplating the nature of our inner souls.
Rest in Peace, Mr. B. Perhaps, having passed over, you will have finally learned that our creator is far more compassionate and far more accepting than anything you might have dreamed of.