In God We Trust (but Where Is He?)
Down at the Pub One Evening
I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.
So there I was again, at the corner pub, minding my own business as I do. It was Monday evening and very slow as Monday evenings often are. Christina was seated behind the bar on a stool with her feet propped up against the cooler underneath the part of the bar where I can usually be found. She was busy reading some book. The only other soul around was Glenn. He usually comes in on these nights as they are the quietest nights in the pub.
I like Glenn. He's kind of quiet. Always polite and seems to smile at most things. A very pleasant person. When he comes in he always does the same thing: He'll walk in with a three subject spiral bound notebook under his left arm and orders, in a happy way, 'Three fingers' of Stoli's in a rocks glass, neat, and glass of Dr. Pepper - light on the ice, please". Then after he makes eye contact with me and nods, he places himself about three-quarters of the way down the bar, under a lamp, then opens the notebook, pulls out his blue Pilot G-2 pen and starts writing. Often he will be there until Christina reminds him when closing time is looming. Sometimes others come in and he will have a brief conversation or play a game of Cricket on the dart board. But once the talk is over or the game has been won, he's back to the bar with his pen in hand.
That was what he was doing this evening when Preacher Taylor surprised us all by walking in with his bible tucked under his right arm. The preacher is a tall man. But as he is tall, he is as narrow. That is to say, he can stand to eat a few more hamburgers from time to time. He also has one of those faces that when he was smiling you really couldn't tell if it was a truly happy smile or a diabolically happy smile. There was something about his eyes that gave me the 'creeps'. He looked at Christina and did it - he smiled. "Preacher Taylor..." she managed to get out. I think that she has the same feelings about him as I do.
"Christina, my child, Good to see you! But, where oh where were you last Sunday morning?"
She wasn't about to say that she was enjoying her only day off lounging around with her boyfriend. She started to speak in a nervous manner. "Well... um... I was... you know my momma was..."
"Truth is", he interrupted, "you were out of Cool Whip, right?"
She had that 'deer in the headlights' look that gave me the impression that maybe she had been using Cool Whip in some way last Sunday morning. "W-w-what? she stammered out.
"You were out of Cool Whip", he smiled at her. Knowing that she didn't know the reference, he began explaining it to her as he slowly walked towards the brass rail. "You see, some years ago...", he began then switched sentences suddenly and said, "May I have a bottle of Heineken please... Thank you." He then placed his Bible on the bar.
He smiled at her as she retrieved the beer, opened it and set it down. He took a long swallow and put the bottle down and sighed an 'ahhhhhh'. He then continued, "Some years ago I arrived at a certain woman's home on a Sunday afternoon. She seemed caught off guard to see me as she opened the door wearing her robe. I also noticed that her hair was not as neat as when I was would see her in town. I asked her why she wasn't in church that morning. Her response was 'I was out of Cool Whip'. Before I had a chance to ask what the meaning of that was she immediately continued. She told me that she had spent that entire previous evening preparing apple pies to bring to the social that we have after morning services. But after she had gotten up and dressed 'complete with makeup' and as she was walking out of the door with the pies she remembered that she had forgotten to get the Cool Whip to serve on the pies. She said that it would be a sin to have pie without Cool Whip, so she didn't go. This happened several Sundays in a row and each time when I would visit the same thing would happen - I would get the same story from this lady with the messy hair wearing a robe. Then I got an idea. I went to her house the next Saturday about eight in the evening and knocked on the door. She opened it and gave me a very surprised look. She was all dressed up from head to toe and it appeared that she was entertaining a few men-folk with wine and song and the possibility of more things to come, if you know what I mean. I smiled at her and handed her a bag full of Cool Whip containers and said to her, 'See you tomorrow morning' and turned and walked away. You know... she hasn't missed a Sunday since." Both Christina and Glenn laughed a quick laugh at his story as he took another, but smaller swallow off his bottle.
"What brings you in here this evening, preacher?" Christina then asked.
"Well I was down the street doing a little 'witnessing' and as I walked by here I thought that I'd pop in to see what souls I might save. And if there were none, I'd just have a cold one."
"But are you allowed to drink? I mean, being a preacher and all..." she seemed confused.
"My little lamb, no where in the Bible does it say that you cannot drink. But it is Paul who suggests that you shouldn't drink to access. 'Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit'... that's Ephesians chapter five. Verse six." With that the preacher took a long guzzle and finished the bottle and in a very professional way made use of his hands and eyes only to ordered another one.
While Christina was getting rid of the empty and replacing it with a fresh one, a voice was heard saying, "Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper." Proverbs twenty-three, verse thirty-one. King Solomon wrote that bit."
Everyone turned to Glenn. He was smiling at the preacher. Christina looked at him and then at me. We both were amused as this was the first time when he had joined into a conversation without being invited. Then she and I looked at the preacher. He had his green bottle in mid-drink when Glenn had spoken. I think it caught him off guard. Wiping his lips with the sleeve of his coat the preacher turned and smiled broadly at him. "Mr. Glenn Crane. So nice to see you, but I didn't know you were versed in the Bible. After all, you never mention Him in the articles you write. I do read your writings. For the most part I like them."
"And I have heard a few of your sermons... and likewise, I like them... for the most part. They are very entertaining. But that's what we both do, right? Entertain?"
The preacher walked a little closer to Glenn - his smile had gone away a bit. "Is that what you think I do? Entertain?"
"Of course, that's what all of us do. Every man, woman and child. Each creature that crawls on the ground, swims in the sea, flies through the air, burrows into or sprouts from the earth... we all entertain. And everything entertains just one thing in particular - God."
"But it's all more than that...", the preacher began.
"Not in the big picture, preacher."
"I'm not so certain that I follow you, son."
It was clear that Glenn didn't like the 'son' comment as they are about the same age. Then dismissing it, he answered. "God created everything, right? Everything in this universe was made by God... that is if you subscribe to that aspect of philosophy or religion or faith or whatever you may call it. The question is then, 'Why'?"
"For His glory, my friend. Everything was created for His glory. To glorify Him." he said looking towards the ceiling as if to the heavens and not Tom the guy who rents the apartment over the pub.
"For His glory you say. To entertain Him I say. You can see it in His work by looking at this planet alone. Look at the creatures here! Why were they created? All they seem to do is get born, spend their lives reproducing and finding food, or being food, and then die. They do not sow or reap. They just... exist. Some are very smart, in fact most are very smart. They have to be to survive any decent amount of time here. And that's the entertaining part for him for Him, albeit that would seem to be just a bunch of re-runs by now."
"Ah, yes", the preacher responded, "but they don't have free will, like we do, so that's what they do."
Glenn smiled as if the man of God just said exactly what he wanted him to say. "And what does God do?"
"What do you mean? He takes care of us."
"How? Does He ensure that there are no floods? Does He make sure that there are no diseases or plagues? Does He prevent murder, child molestation, famine, fire, asteroids, accidents, bad poetry, addictions, broken hearts, train wrecks, plane crashes, incest, stealing, hatred, lusts, racism, lies or cheating at tic-tac-toe? The answer is not an uncertain 'no'. And why? Because he created everything and along with it He tossed in free will for we creatures. Any why is that? To entertain Him."
The preacher sat down on a stool staring at Glenn while taking another long pull off of his bottle. Finally he spoke. "So that's the way you see it, huh?"
"How else is there to see it? I mean, He created this beautiful world as it is and then decided to throw in a few rules, limitations... boundaries as they may be, and all designed to set us up for failure. In the Garden of Eden, He told Adam and his second wife, Eve... you do know about Lilith, right?"
The preacher nodded but Christina said, "I don't. What about her?"
Glenn turned to her. "Google or Bing 'Adam and Lilith' or if you feel like exploring Jewish legends read The Alphabet of Ben Sirah. Fascinating stuff that is almost never mentioned in mainstream Christianity." He turned back to the preacher and picked up where he left off. "So there they were, Adam and Eve, in the garden. Gods says you can have all of this stuff and enjoy it and live forever. Just one thing, don't eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. If you do, you will die. I'm sorry, but seems to be a little unfair. Why did He put the tree there, of all places in the universe, if they weren't supposed to eat the fruit. Why was the tree created to begin with? If He didn't want us to have knowledge at all, why grow a tree that would produce fruit to give it? And on top it all off, He had given those two free will. Why? I'll tell you why: THEY WERE SET UP TO FAIL!"
He realized that he kind of shouted that last part out. Recomposing himself he took a large sip of his vodka and before swallowing it took a sip of the Dr. Pepper, then swallowed. He waited a moment for the liquids to descend completely before continuing. "They were set up to fail. To 'get the show on the road' so to speak. For entertainment. It was like a 24/7/365 documentary-romance-comedy-drama-murder mystery-tragedy all rolled into a non-stop movie that He could sit back and watch. After all, He quit interacting with the humans a long time ago. Sure He was around for Moses and Elisha and Ezekiel and few others in the Old Testament. Then nothing at all for hundreds of years until the New Testament when Jesus is baptized. And then only one sentence. Where is He? Where has He gone? Did He leave? Is He sick? Did He die? Did this experiment of His either get too large to handle or did it fail or bore Him and He's done with the lot of us leaving us off to our own devices equipped with nothing more than a bit of knowledge and free will?"
I looked at the preacher in the mirror on the back of the bar. It was the only way I could see his face as his back was to me. Suddenly, he looked old. He finished his beer and motioned for another one. It was deadly quite in the bar as Christina made the switch of bottles. You could see that the preacher was thinking hard and deep.
More softly, Glenn continued. "With the free will given to us, He also gave something else, and I don't think that He really meant to. With free will gave us the ability to doubt. I'm not so sure He planned on us doubting His word. Doubting Him. Doubting that He exists. But we do."
Glenn made another drink in his mouth as before, swallowed and looked at the preacher, smiling a friendly smile. After a moment he spoke again. "But from that doubt, faith is born. And faith is the basis of all religions. Right?"
The preacher took another drink off of his beer, then said, "So that's what you think of God? Some sort of being that set the rules so that we can fail for His entertainment."
"Sometimes I do. But I'd rather like to believe that He's more of a writer and He writes us into His tales for His entertainment. That we really aren't real, just random thoughts in His mind. And after all, and this is just a rhetorical question, how much control do we really have over our lives, anyway? I feel like that I'm no more than a character in a some story that someone is writing most of the time. Do you ever feel that way?" With that, he turned back to his notebook and began writing again.
"I don't believe that God is that way at all." The preacher wasn't looking or smiling at anyone at all, just in a general direction. "I feel His presence in me, in all that I do. He provides for me and does ensure that my needs are met. When I pray, my prayers are answered. Not all of them and often not immediately... but many are. I see Him in all that is around us."
"I'm not doubting that all of this world was created by some sort of greater intelligence. I just wonder why and where is He or them or whatever? To what purpose was it that all of this was created? To, as you say, His glory? Is that what this is all about? A living monument to His glory? If that is the case, then... well, it's not much of a monument with all that is wrong or evil in the place, now is it?"
The two men just sat there and stared at each other for quite some time. Glenn finally broke the tension with a smile and the silence with this words. "Preacher, I know that these are questions that have been asked by mankind for a long time and maybe they will be answered when we die and we actually go to 'a better place in the sky' as the song says. I attended and was raised in the Baptist church from the time I was born until the day I left home. All of those years of learning about God and Jesus and all of the Old Testament stories, poems and prophesies along with all of the New Testament accountings, letters and the one grim tale at the end are engrained into my brain. But when I left my home to see the world, to go to college, to serve in the military and find out just what's out there I found myself questioning much of all that stuff. I question my faith and more importantly I question God. And between them both... over all of the years... I have not had one single answer given to me. Not one. I like answers. I don't like silence. Even an 'I dunno' from God would change so many of ways that I think. But all that I have heard is silence. You seem to hear Him. Or do you really? Is it Him or just a voice that your mind creates to comfort you? Believe what you want. And I hope that all of your preaching and practicing and praying are being heard and seen and appreciated. I really do. As for me, well... I think you know how I feel."
With that, Glenn turned but to his notebook. The preacher said nothing, in fact no one did. He just finished his beer, put some money on the counter and turned and walked out the door. I watched him wander down the boulevard into the night. Christina tendered the money and picked up her book although I don't think that she was really reading it. She kept looking out the door, then to Glenn and then off into space. She then realized that the preacher had left his bible behind but was too far gone to get it to him. She just stuck on a shelf under the mirror.
Eventually, Glenn left and Christina closed down the pub. She and I went to our beds. As I laid there in the dim light I thought about the sermon that was given by a man not of the cloth. I considered his words for a while. My last thought before I drifted off was what if I were just a character in some story that someone else was writing?
Why the Name Dr Pepper?
Theories abound about the origins of the soft drink's name. One conjecture is the "pep" refers to pepsin. In 2009, an old ledger book filled with formulas and recipes was discovered by Bill Waters while shopping at an antiques stores in the Texas Panhandle. Several sheets and letterheads hinted it had come from the W.B. Morrison & Co. Old Corner Drug Store (the same store where Dr Pepper was first served in 1885) and faded letters on the book's cover spelled out "Castles Formulas". John Castles was a partner of Morrison's for a time and worked at that location as early as 1880. One recipe in the book titled "D Peppers Pepsin Bitters" was of particular interest, and some speculated it could be an early recipe for Dr Pepper. However, Dr Pepper Snapple Group insists it is not the formula for Dr Pepper, but is instead a medicinal recipe for a digestive aid. The book was put up for auction in May 2009, but no one purchased it.
Like many early sodas, the drink was marketed as a brain tonic and energizing pick-me-up, so another theory holds that it was named for the pep it supposedly gave to users.
Others believe the drink was named after a real Dr. Pepper. One candidate is Dr. Charles T. Pepper of Rural Retreat, Virginia, who may have been so honored by Morrison either for having granted him permission to marry Dr. Pepper's daughter, or in gratitude to Pepper for having given Morrison his first job. However, Morrison lived nearly 50 miles from Rural Retreat, and Pepper's daughter was only eight years old at the time Morrison moved to Waco.
Another possibility is Dr. Pepper of Christiansburg, Virginia.U.S. Census records show a young Morrison working as a pharmacy clerk in Christiansburg. One of the following pages of this census supposedly shows a Dr Pepper and daughter Malinda or Malissa, age 16. Since census takers of the period were walking door to door, and their census entries were on following pages, it seems likely that Morrison and the family of Dr. Pepper did not live very far from each other.
Courtesy of Wikipedia