Even so, the next day, after reading in the Bible my father had pressed into my hands the past night, I chose to put on my glasses again; not out of fear, but out of the knowledge that I needed to function in the visible world. Two things my father had said that evening that struck me deeply. First, “Now it’s time for you to grow, son.” Then, “God has given you this gift for a reason. Use it wisely and only for others.”
The big question was, how? Certainly, what I saw could benefit others. Besides, unlike other Christians who had to accept by faith who was saved and who wasn’t, I could simply see it. But how could I tell them, how should I approach this incredible gift? I mulled over this that next week without coming to any conclusion. I went about my usual routine, though I added to this a few more visits with Mrs. Chung and we talked about what it meant to follow Jesus. I found myself constantly wanting to read in my Bible: it was so rich, so fulfilling, so different from when I was younger, and I read it because it was what a good Christian boy did.
Despite all of this, I was still traumatized by my visit to my parents’ church. I’d known those people too well to be able to stomach the way they looked without my glasses; so I went to church with Mrs. Chung. She attended a tiny congregation that met in a mid-sized, white clapboard church over on the other edge of town. There were perhaps thirty souls in a sanctuary that could easily seat upwards of a hundred. They were all clustered about the pews, obviously part of various cliques within the church. Mrs. Chung sat up near the front where she could hear the pastor, a large, sandy-haired man with a red beard that was graying at the edges. I guessed he was probably in his late 30’s, but he seemed older. I slipped my glasses off so I could read along in the ancient hymnals and was greeted by a nightmarish landscape. The pastor shone, but he was bruised and battered, one eye blushing purple, and a deep gash across his forehead. His teeth seemed to have been knocked out and his voice was tired and resigned. Beside the glorious Mrs. Chung was her grandson Don, who was also shining, though without armor, and over in the back was another family that shimmered, but they were subdued, as if they were afraid to let the light out. The others had the usual battered, emaciated and corpse-like features I’d come to expect. Except for three, that is: these were some of the scariest humans I’d ever seen. They were large and strong-looking, but there was something wrong with them. It was like they had two faces. One instant they had human features that were ghastly and greedy, emaciated and empty; but in the next moment they were scaly and beastlike, with round, fish-like mouths filled with fangs. Their eyes went from hollow sockets to bright orange orbs and back. They sang along to the old hymns with seeming gusto, but when the pastor stood up to preach, the dragonish faces hissed and spat while the human ones snickered and nodded. When I slipped my glasses back down the monsters morphed into two men, one elderly, the other in his middle years, and a woman who must have been close to fifty. These studiously avoided me after the service, as did most of the rest of the congregation. Only the shining family and the pastor greeted me and showed any interest in me. I was really not surprised at that, knowing who they truly were.
After we left, Mrs. Chung insisted on taking Don and me to lunch at the diner in the building next to ours. We made small talk and I found out that Don worked at the local electronics store. He had to go on shift that afternoon, so he ate his food quickly and left, making me very happy, because I wanted to talk to Mrs. Chung about what I’d seen. Her face became serious as I described the sights, especially the three monsters.
“Yes,” she sighed when I’d finished, “I figured that this was the case about our church. Poor Pastor Charlie suffers so much. I pray for him, but I know that there are those who want him gone. And he’s lasted so much longer than our previous pastors. If only we could find a way to remove the obstacles, I know the Lord would bless our church.” She heaved another sigh and looked away, face pinched with sadness. “And yet it’s just Pastor Charlie, Don, the Reichs, and myself who are interested in growth. No one else cares.”
“Then why don’t you leave?” I wondered, surprised.
“Because the Lord wants me there, young man,” she replied sternly. “As long as Pastor Charlie is in the pulpit I will remain and cover him with prayer.” She paused and looked away again. “Though he probably won’t be there much longer. His wife hasn’t come to church in nearly three months. She won’t even talk to me, and we were very close before this. I don’t know. It breaks my heart.” I reached out and put one hand on hers.
“Is there anything that I can do to help?” I asked.
“You have already helped, Sam,” she said resolutely. “Now I know the troublemakers and I can pray for a chance to confront them. You can pray as well. That will be the greatest thing you can do.” I felt warm all over at this affirmation, but it mingled with a melancholy at not being able to do more.
The discussion followed me the rest of that week and I attended church with Mrs. Chung one more time. This time the younger male monster turned his attention to me.
“How do you like our church?” he asked me after the service.
“It’s all right,” I answered, feeling something in the pit of my stomach squirm. “I like the sermons I’ve heard.” He sneered at that.
“You did, did you?” he snorted. I felt I needed to justify myself, but was uncertain as to how to do that.
“Well, your church is different from my parents’ church,” I pointed out.
“You’ve only got one pastor and one service. They have multiple Elders and two services: a worship service and a teaching service.”
“Oh, you’re a Brethren,” he snarled, the name a curse on his lips. “We’re Baptist. We don’t fellowship with Brethren.” And he turned on his heel and stalked off, leaving me shaken. What did Baptist and Brethren have to do with anything? Who cared what the order of service was or who ran the church or who taught? I couldn’t really wrap my head around that one. Regardless, I now felt very unwelcome at Mrs. Chung’s church and decided to go somewhere else the following week. After all, there were several other congregations around the area. There was bound to be one I’d fit into.